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How Xbox Kinect adds a new dimension to marketing

April 27, 2011

Ryan Engle is senior iOS developer at Mutual Mobile

By Ryan Engle

The November release of the XBox Kinect was a landmark event for businesses across industries – it is too bad not many of them have realized it.

Only a handful of companies have taken the plunge to use Kinect as a marketing tool, but, by and large, most have dragged their feet, preferring to let the technology mature rather than act as a guinea pig.

As hackers flex the muscles of the device, we are getting a clearer picture of just what can be accomplished, and marketers can still grab hold of a first-mover advantage to produce experiential campaigns nothing short of magic.

Where does Kinect fit in with mobile marketing?
As a tethered technology, Kinect has an awkward fit into mobile marketing.

It does not travel with a consumer the way an application might, or track loyalty in the fashion of a location based social networking.

However, similar to mobile marketing, Kinect offers a rich linkage between content, device and experience that leaves a strong branded impression on consumers.

The same way iPhone’s FaceTime and accelerometer technology wowed people, what Kinect can achieve is nothing short of magical.

The device’s attention-grabbing qualities make it a natural platform for experiential marketing, and its hand-free play means there no longer has to be a controller standing between the user and the experience.

Going beyond the game
Out of the gate, Kinect brought on several big sponsors to showcase what branding in Kinect could look like.

For Chevy, Kinect created a game putting players behind the wheel of Chevy cars and giving them virtual test drives.

The promotion effectively engaged people with the brand, but it only demonstrated Kinect’s most literal gaming uses.

Pulled apart, Kinect’s facial recognition, depth sensation and interactivity are all powerful abilities that can be leveraged in ways far beyond games.

Compare Chevy’s test drive promotion to a more subtle advertisement by Ford at the North American Auto Show.

While Chevy put people behind the wheel, Ford’s clever promotion actually put them into the advertisement, using the Kinect to superimpose a background behind the viewer.

Ford may not have pushed Kinect to its full extent, but it took a subtle approach that bridged the gap between display advertising and gaming.

Kinect’s definition as game platform can trap marketers in the conception that it is all they can do with the technology.

But with Kinect’s sophisticated interactivity, it can virtually put a product into a consumer’s hands, onto his body, or even take him to new places and let him explore.

Just as marketers had to push themselves to think outside the box with social media and Web, this is another medium where they need to learn to see past the obvious and uncover the possibilities.

Help From hackers
The real Kinect landmark was not even so much the release of the device, but the hacking that began afterwards.

Depth-sensing cameras, such as the Kinect’s, are not a new technology, but one that has been closed to marketers because of its high cost and closed code.

Even if you had the tens of thousands of dollars it took to purchase one, bending these industrial-grade depth cameras to new purposes was near-impossible.

What Kinect did is make the technology affordable and then presented an open source code that allowed Kinect to become a household item.

In the same way that Android’s open source nature has thrown the doors wide open for innovation, the hacking of Kinect has redefined what the device can be.

It was only six days after the release of the Kinect that the puzzle of how to hack into the device’s information feed was solved.

Since then, a burgeoning community of hackers has grown around the platform and is uncovering a vast collection of abilities.

A quick search on YouTube reveals some of the innovative ways they have found to use the data from Kinect, such as:

 Turning people invisible via background replacement
 Playing guitar sounds by simply motioning an air guitar
 Creating 3D graphics on a flat screen using head tracking
 Controlling lights, television sets and other electronics by motion
 Creating 3D maps
 Giving robots depth-vision
 Creating invisible virtual controls that let users push buttons on floors or table tops

THE BEAUTY FOR marketers is that the hacker community is effectively doing much of the work for them.

All the capabilities have been laid out. Now, marketers just need to figure out how to apply them.

For example, 3D head tracking could be used to create interactive store windows that let passersby look deep into displays, or view the interior of a car from the perspective of a driver.

Despite the head start hackers may have given marketers, they may also be one of the reason why marketers have been reluctant to apply Kinect in campaigns.

Even with the desire to be a first-mover, most brands are not on board with something as guerrilla as hacking.

However, in February, Microsoft responded to the vibrant hacker community by announcing they would release both an academic and commercial software developer’s kit for Kinect, and this may give some companies the validation that they need to start dabbling with this new technology.

Ryan Engle is a senior iOS developer at Mutual Mobile, Austin, TX. Reach him at

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