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Marketers take touchy route to engagement via haptic feedback

Marketers are poised to capitalize on the opportunities haptic technology has created with its ability to recreate the sense of touch, increasing the mobile consumer?s recall of an advertising experience.

Brands such as Showtime, which recently leveraged tactile effects synced with videos in the trailer for its hit TV drama Homeland, recognize how making the viewer feel vibrations or motions in an ad can increase engagement and retention. With research showing that including haptic technology in an ad can double brand awareness, this potentially powerful new marketing tool is focusing attention on which avenue is best for engaging consumers on mobile via touch.

?There have been a few brands that have explored sensory experiences, specifically haptics, within their creative to create a more immersive experience,? said Ari Brandt, CEO and co-founder of MediaBrix, a New York-based company whose advertising platform is used in social and mobile games and is a leader in leveraging sound and haptics in mobile-application branding ads.

?I think we?ll see more brands leveraging mobile hardware that contains sensory elements that appeal to people?s emotions and create memorable, engaging experiences.?

Gaming world
A long-time gaming-world staple, haptic?s appeal is growing, not just among marketers lured by the promise of enhancements that increase consumer recall, but among content producers who are looking to enhance the viewing experience. 

Has haptic's time come? 

Years of mobile evolution have paved the way for consumers to accept haptic.

?Smartphone users have already been pre-conditioned to respond to haptics,? Mr. Brandt said. ?What?s the first thing you do when your phone vibrates? You look at it. Marketers have a big opportunity to leverage that pre-conditioned user response ? assuming they don?t take it too far.?  

Mobile hardware natively contains sensory elements that can stimulate people?s emotions and create memorable, engaging experiences. For instance, ads appearing on mobile devices that deliver brand messages by leveraging sight, sound and touch, will strengthen a marketers? ability to connect with users. 

The connection made through ads with sensory features is significantly more powerful than that achieved via standard ads.

Ultimately that leads to positive and engaging experiences, not to mention higher returns for brand marketers? ad spending. 

?We know haptics and sound can be a very important engagement-boosting tool for marketers,? Mr. Brandt said. 

Earlier this month, MediaBrix applied sound and haptics to in-app mobile branding ads, in what the company described as an industry first.

Citing statistics provided by Vizu, an independent, third-party researcher, MediaBrix said lift in brand awareness for products featuring sound spiked as high as 100 percent. Additional tests showed that other sound enhanced product performance metrics increased by as much as 40 percent.

In Showtime?s haptic experiment, the network?s minute-long trailer for its Homeland Season 4 premiere activated vibrations to simulate a bomb explosion. The purported blast appeared to cause the viewer?s mobile device to shake, offering the impression of a bomb detonating in one?s hand.

The program?s aim was to entice consumers to tune in to Homeland and drive app downloads. Downloading the Showtime Anytime app update on an Android device allowed the user to watch the enhanced Homeland trailer.

The initiative generated positive viewer response, according to Jason Patton, vice president and general manager of content and media business at Immersion, which worked with Showtime on the campaign.

Like other new technologies, haptic has its pitfalls.

From the customer?s standpoint, brands must be careful not to become too annoying or disruptive with their use of haptic. 

Making inroads in a lightly explored technology.

?They should partner with ad technology vendors that have thoroughly vetted sensory marketing features and have tested the mobile products to ensure they?re additive to the user experience,? Mr. Brandt said. 

?Ad tech vendors that incorporate sensory marketing should have an in-depth understanding of how specific sounds and vibrations?including the duration, frequency, tone and volume?can influence people?s specific emotions in their mobile ad products before they come to market.?

MediaBrix consulted industry experts when testing the sensory features for its mobile ads, including Roger Dooley, an expert on the subject of using brain science and sensory stimuli in marketing and sales. 

It also reached out to Julian Treasure, owner of the Sound Agency and five-time Ted-talk speaker on the hidden effects of sound and noise on human beings, how to improve one?s conscious listening and how to optimize sound for a brand.

Haptic?s strength is its power to drive users deeper into the digital experience through touch. 

Although human beings normally experience the world through five senses, they primarily use their eyesight to engage online, holding out an option for hearing.
 
?Think about what the rumbling game controllers did for videogames,? said Ken Wisnefski, founder/CEO of Webimax. 

?Maybe it didn?t seem like a big deal when video game makers first implemented the technology over a decade ago, but back in 2007, when there were rumors that Sony would take the rumble out of video game controllers for the third iteration of their Play Station gaming console, the gaming community went a little crazy, prompting Sony to do an about-face.?
 
?Touch screens have provided a decidedly more direct way to interact with apps, and most of us are familiar with this on our smart phones and tablets,? he said.  

?Taking that a step further, marketers can experiment with the placement of products on a screen to force gestures that are engaging with vibrations, sounds and visuals.?

Definitive gesture
The impact of Tinder, the dominant online dating app, says much about what haptic could become. 

Increasing retention through haptic feedback.

Testing revealed that the swiping functionality (swipe right if interested, left if not) is one of Tinder?s most fun aspects. Its influence has become pervasive, so much that swiping left with the thumb has become an understood and definitive gesture for rejection in our actual physical world.  

?Think about that when designing your app,? Mr. Wisenefski said. ?Haptic technology can provide a huge opportunity for marketers, especially on their mobile devices.?

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York.