I have a hard time shutting off the marketing side of my brain as I’m out in the world. It’s less some obsessive dedication to my job, more of an interest in the social engineering of advertising. How do you effectively spur a person to action when you only have an instant? Even further, if you’ve managed to grab their attention, what’s the next step? It’s what I love about digital advertising, it’s such a nascent field and occasionally you’ll see something well-done among the sea of pulsing garbage that is the Internet. Even if I have no interest in whatever they’re pushing I can’t help but give the marketing person/designer who made something creative a long distance nod, knowing they likely had to fight through some hostile apathy to make it happen.
Quick tangent, I recently had a marketing company send me an unsolicited package trying to get me to hire their services. Inside was a Sea Monkeys kit with accompanying language equating raising brine shrimp with growing a customer base. It was absolutely brilliant and also the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. It was either an idea that caught like wildfire in their promotions department or some poor, insane soul put some shit on the line to make it happen. Good luck to them either way. (My Sea Monkeys died within a week, I think I got the knockoff version.)
I recently was targeted by an ad on Facebook for a location-based, augmented reality app and immediately exclaimed, “Ugh, you jerks got me good.” Whoever set up that audience targeting knows their stuff since that’s exactly the sort of thing I enjoy. I, of course, downloaded the app immediately.
Being out of touch with what’s playing in theatres I had no idea that the “Hidden Figures” they were referring to is indeed a movie. Things were a bit further obscured by the app being named “T Brand AR”, the division of The New York Times who in partnership with IBM made the app (?). A lot of cooks in this kitchen. A short trip around the app revealed that this is actually called “Outthink Hidden” and is indeed promoting the newly released movie. Outthink Hidden is just the sort of impactful name that screams “compromise”.
Outthink Hidden features some brief background information on the women in the film as well as some other overlooked brilliant minds in the history of American science. Mainly the app features a map marked with pins around the country, where if you travel to one of those locations, an augmented reality experience is triggered using your phone’s GPS and camera.
I’ve noted in many other blog posts that location-based apps like this one suffer greatly if there aren’t enough locations available. If you don’t live near one of the pins, you can’t participate.
Thankfully I work in Washington, D.C. where Outthink Hidden has placed several pins downtown near the monuments. During a particularly stressful workday I took the opportunity to use my lunch break to walk over to the U.S. Capitol and see what this app was trying to do. Arriving within the radius that Outthink Hidden needed to trigger the pin, I joined the hordes of tourists pointing my phone at the Capitol, though with a slightly different intent.
Outthink Hidden sprung into action using my phone’s camera, telling me to point it at where I would like to place a statue. I wasn’t standing in the most aesthetically pleasing spot so I ended up placing my virtual statue awkwardly in the middle of the sidewalk. Seems fine to me.
Outthink Hidden then routed me to the audio file and blurb about Ms. Johnson except disappointingly, it was the same information you can access without engaging in the location-specific part of this app.
Huh. At least I got a nice walk out it. As mentioned earlier, many location based apps fail when their points of engagement are geographically few and far between. However, offering the exact same content for reaching one of those locations as doing nothing at all is fully ridiculous. After checking out the iOS reviews it’s clear that the makers didn’t really intend for users to actually visit these places.
It seems to me that Outthink Hidden was meant to tick a box on the movie studio’s marketing checklist. “Digital engagement project with promotional partners.”
Outthink Hidden feels more like a proof of concept that somehow slipped across the finish line. I love a good interactive promotion and I hate to pan any attempt at an interactive digital project since it’s not often you see companies trying new things, but this was weak. Give the person who set up the Facebook targeting a raise, tell the people who released the app under the guise of innovation that they wasted my time.