So we got a Microsoft Surface machine at Phenomblue a couple weeks back and the tech team freaked, as expected. Everyone from art direction to programmer to business development were all over the machine from the moment we received the thing from Fed Ex. After the quick and rather ravenous un-boxing, the attempt to follow terribly inaccurate documented setup procedures, and ultimately an undocumented trial and error period, we fired up this future box for a test drive.
From the first attract application (water) the machine captivated the entire audience surrounding this beacon of unfamiliarity. I was instantly filled with ideas and concepts that would not have manifested had I not seen what I was seeing. I ran my hand across the screen and I was hooked. From the look on the faces of the onlookers around me I was not the only one. Queue the dramatic music (or Rocky theme).
So, let's say this post skips the "Oh my God, this is so sweet" tech stuff and moves on to what I consider more intriguing industry impact. There are literally, tens of blogs popping up daily on Microsoft Surface who wholeheartedly report on every major (and minor) detail related to development and programming applications using the technology. My additions would be both duplicate and equally out-of-date.
I once read a major ad exec in AdAge quoted saying he felt that digital interactive media was too mechanic. He went on to say that the majority of experiences feel as though your working a machine. I think what he was driving at is that interacting with a machine is cold and mindless making the entire event familiar and therefore forgettable. Rarely do you get the opportunity as a branding expert to really engage your audience with an experience that is truly unique in not only the creative execution, but also the physical interaction.
A couple random thoughts..
TELEPHONES AND WALKIE-TALKIES
The problem with most digital agencies and interactive marketers in general is that they look at the "digital" space like a telephone instead of a walkie-talkie. The telephone medium is so familiar that it's extremely difficult to produce any creative using the device that makes the experience truly unforgettable. In most cases, successful telephone calls are the result of compelling content (ie. engagement announcement, job offer, birth of a child, etc..). Of course, that kind of content is rare and very hard to reproduce out of context. This makes the entire creative strategic process intense and expensive.
The walkie-talkie on the other hand provides an unfamiliar way to accomplish the same communication, making the content less important, reducing overall cost. It's the interaction with the device that feels unfamiliar or less mechanic. Simply changing the physical interaction opens up a new world of possibilities and greatly increases the chance for success, all because you drastically reduced the importance of creative by providing an unfamiliar interaction to make the message memorable.
So, just like my colleague alluded to in the AdAge article and I demonstrated in the example above, the interactive landscape HAS become too cold and mind-numbing. The answer can't be "more compelling creative". It has to be a physical change in the interaction to create that lasting brand appeal. That memory that triggers emotion and compels consumers to purchase. Look at the Nintendo Wii. Most industry experts agree that its content is lack luster compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3, but it's not the content your paying for it's the interaction. That unfamiliar experience with technology where it does not seem like your merely working the machine, but that your experiencing something new. Again, content is expensive and the Wii produces cheap content for the same (and in many cases) superior results.
Enough theory. So now we have Microsoft Surface. The Wii of offline interactive business branding experiences. The Walkie-Talkie of point-of-sale kiosks and interactive displays. The futuristic mash-up monster of the next generation of offline advertising and sales generation. That's right, mash-ups. It's all the rage online right? Everyday there is some new Twitter/GoogleMaps/Facebook/Flicker application that takes select services from each application to form a Voltron super app. In other words, mash-ups make 2 or more services more valuable by integrating complimentary features from each service into a master service that delivers where none separately could. The sum is greater than the parts. This is Microsoft Surface's destiny. When companies can figure out how to use these devices in engaging environments to sell non-competitive products that are typically in less engaging environments, a huge Surface Mash-up market will appear.
Below is a quick video of the Phenomblue un-boxing.