Why Marketers Should Care About Kinect

Last week marked a watershed event in the evolution of digital marketing, albeit one that received scant attention from digital marketers. But any event that promises to have millions of consumers earnestly waving at and talking to their televisions suggests a shift in behavior that no marketer can afford to ignore. I refer, of course, to the launch of Microsoft’s new motion-sensing, voice-activated gaming platform, Xbox Kinect.

Now, I know the Xbox Kinect reviews have been mixed. The consensus seems to be that the device’s potential is great, but the immediate user experience is, well, less so. And having tried Kinect, I will add my voice to that chorus. The giddy sense of awe I felt when the sensor first began to scan my movements was quickly deflated by the task of using this breakthrough interaction to fly around and collect coins in a box (in the Kinect Adventures game, which is packaged with the product). The main function of the game seems to be to prove that motion detection actually works; at least they had the sense not to name it Kinect Calibration Adventures.

But such bellyaching is like writing an eyewitness account of the Wright brothers’ first flight and complaining that there aren’t yet any direct flights from Kitty Hawk to Cleveland. OK, it’s not quite that presumptuous; if you shell out 150 bucks for a console add-on, you should expect to have some fun right out of the box. But a new gaming experience is just one small part of what Kinect represents in the Big Picture of human-computer interaction.

We easily forget how awkward and constrained our interactions with technology can be until something new comes along and shatters that artificiality. Why click a mouse or a remote when you can wave or talk? This is, to me, the great promise of Kinect: it’s the harbinger of more natural, physical, dimensional ways of interacting with digital content that’s been historically artificial and flat.

I beg your indulgence for one more analogy: everyone knows that Marconi invented the radio, except that he didn’t. It was probably a Russian named Popov, who tested a radio receiver a year earlier. While doing so, he was struck by lightning, and he decided that his device was, instead, a “lightning detector,” which was something the world badly needed. You really have to admire that kind of flexibility.

It won’t take a bolt from the blue for smart marketers to see Kinect’s potential as a lightning detector rather than a mere gaming platform. Brands like Burger King have signed on to have their products visually scanned into the gaming experience, but the potential goes well beyond that. What if you could shop in an etailer’s virtual boutique and try on clothes that are fitted to your scanned-in profile? What if you could take a virtual test drive that perfectly mimicked the driver’s seat experience?

I don’t expect this brave new world to be Brought to You by Microsoft, and if it were, it might be closer to Brave New World than I care to imagine. But props to them for volunteering for the scouting party—never an easy mission. I’m still waiting for the digital world to deliver my jetpack, but in the meantime, my agency White Horse is betting on the promise of Kinect and other new platforms to begin to deliver the digital experience we have long deserved—one that’s closer to the way we actually live in the analog world.