A swell of anti-Google Glass sentiment is raising questions about whether resistance to the technology would prevent marketers from building applications for it.
Since Google made the connected headsets available to the public in May, its ability to allow users to access the Web, make phone calls, send texts, take photos and video-record what they are seeing has sparked protests from casinos in Atlantic City, NJ to the highways of the United Kingdom. Concerns have focused on privacy issues, the ethics of recording people without permission and eyesight distraction – raising implications for both Google Glass-related apps and the marketing of wearable computers in general.
“An anti-Google Glass movement raises concern for marketers as it raises levels of skepticism about the product itself,” said Aaron Kirchner-Loeser, marketing coordinator for New York-based Aurnhammer. “As businesses and even countries are already banning Google Glass, marketers face an uphill battle.
“Also, in order for marketers to see great success, Google Glass needs to become integrated into mainstream society, not only into the upper echelons of the tech world.”
Google declined to comment directly on the protests. Matthias Meyer, the Mountain View, CA company’s communications and public affairs manager, said Google already has debunked what it considers the biggest myths promulgated about the technology and addressed questions about related etiquette and privacy on its Web site.
The site says Google has no plans to include facial-recognition software that could identify strangers unless it could properly address the issues the feature would raise. It also dismissed the claim that Google Glass is potentially a spy device, because it is too conspicuous to be used for that purpose. The company also said arguments that the screen inside the right lens distracts the wearer are unfounded because the screen is positioned above, not in front of, the eye.
The negative sentiment, nevertheless, is seen as potentially affecting the making of Google Glass apps.
“Resistance to Google Glass could prevent marketers from building applications for Google Glass as there will presumably be a smaller reach for the product itself,” said Aurnhammer’s Mr. Kirchner-Loeser. “With a smaller reach and market, development may not be worth the investment.”
Google Glass online ad.
Google Glass is merely the latest new technology to bring societal challenges. When mobile phones added camera and video capability, the ability to use a camera phone became an issue in health clubs. Ultimately, people became more sensitive about using a phone in a locker room.
“As it relates to marketers, I believe there is an opportunity here to be a true innovator, but companies need to be aware of how Google Glass will be used and ensure there are controls in place to help prevent the negative use of the glass app and content that is created for it,” said David Hostetter, chief technology officer at Hipcricket in Bellevue, WA.
“Using good judgment is critical with any marketing campaign – regardless of using Google Glass or not,” he said. “Agencies and brands need to evaluate the application to create the right safeguards to keep the campaign in line with expectations.”
Smart marketing organizations will brainstorm with technical and privacy experts to find ways to embrace the new technology while protecting consumer trust, he said.
Given that just 10,000 to 20,000 units of Google Glass have been sold, concern is premature, according to Scott Swanson, president of global ad sales at Opera Mediaworks in San Mateo, CA.
“While Google has hinted strongly that they expect to bring advertising to the new generation of mobile devices, they have stated repeatedly that advertising should not be incorporated into apps developed for Glass,” Mr. Swanson said.
“That said, as in the early days of smartphone mobile advertising, brands want to be part of a new exciting medium, and as a result, we have seen early adopter brands like Kenneth Cole and Fidelity developing branded apps for Glass that embrace elements of the unique nature of wearables.
“With so few devices being used by consumers, it’s difficult for marketers to know how people will embrace the technology in the future, but we don’t think this will prevent marketers from testing the waters with app development,” he said.
For consumer adoption of Google Glass to take off, privacy fears and other concerns need to be overcome. That is the view of J. P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals for Cambridge, MA-based Forrester Research.
“Most marketers are thinking about Google Glass as a platform in which consumers will own Glass devices and the marketers will create Glass apps,” Mr. Gownder said.
“This is one model. The other model is the customer service model: Virgin Atlantic equipped customer service representatives in its upper class lounge in Heathrow airport with Glass, creating an excellent service experience [by using the headset to answer customer questions about such matters as destination weather and flight arrival time].
“If a marketer put out an app that became symbolic of the privacy challenges associated with Glass, that marketer would be in trouble,” Mr. Gownder said. “The minute your app becomes the poster child for a privacy violation, you lose brand equity. So marketers should tread carefully, particularly as it pertains to creating apps that allow Glass wearers to take photos of other people.”
Signaling the coming-of-age of wearable computers?
Google Glass is still in such an early stage that investing in related digital platforms is not necessarily the right move for marketers.
“Glass represents the start of a learning curve for future digital platforms that for most marketers, will be hard to ignore, covering a huge range of functions from e-commerce to medical applications,” said Dusan Hamilton, director of London-based This Place.
“That said, it is extremely early days and investing in such future platforms is not necessarily relevant for all marketers right now.”
The anti-Glass sentiment adds to the adjustments that marketers will have to make to accommodate Google Glass as a new mobile channel.
“Since Google Glass is more intrusive, users will likely be less tolerant to traditional marketing messages, advertorial content and non-targeted communication,” said Bill Magnuson, co-founder and chief technology officer for Appboy Academy, New York.
“Marketers who want to be more forward-thinking should look toward Android Wear or Apple’s rumored watch, since they are less intrusive, more likely to be adopted quickly and can be used in similar ways as Google Glass without the social stigma.”
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York.