My smartwatch as a billboard? No, thank you!

Wearable devices are on the rise, but does it also mean a reduced level of privacy and quiet as marketers start using our smart watches and smart glasses as advertising platforms?

Fred Flintstone smartwatch

Earlier this month, Google launched its Android Wear platform, meant to optimize Android for use on wearable devices like smart watches. Brands like Motorola, LG and others are working on launching products that run on Android Wear, with Motorola touting its Moto 360 as a radical improvement in how smartwatches look and feel.

If you’re not convinced with the rising popularity of smartwatches, Google Trends says that the term “smartwatch” peaked in late 2013, and the term is again beginning to experience an uptick in interest this March. The term is even more popular than “wearable“.

Wearables are, indeed, the way of the future. We’re already carrying smartphones in our pockets virtually everywhere we go. Wearable smart devices — whether Android or other platform — will just be a natural extension of these connected devices. A possible cause for concern among consumers, however, is that marketers and advertisers are taking heed, and might soon be pushing messages to these connected devices, resulting in ad overload for the rest of us.

Ads become more personal

Our wrists might be the next billboards for advertisers, says Todd Wasserman at Mashable. It does make sense — as consumer devices, smartwatches need to be priced competitively. And what better way to recoup an investment in research, development and manufacturing than by offering services and products for free or cheap, subsidized by advertising?

Smart devices offer much more value than traditional billboard advertising, however. Because smart devices can keep track of our location, preferences, context and even conversations, there is a better likelihood that the ads we see will be more attuned to what we are likely to buy. Analysts say that advertising on smartwatches can involve hyper-targeting, which means ad messages should be delivered at the right time and place. It makes sense to advertise the latest sale while you’re walking near or past a store window, for example.

In one scenario, the level of interest can even be gauged through biometrics. Smartphones are already exploring this, with the Samsung Galaxy S5’s heart rate monitor, for example. Even the Nike Fuel Band can keep track of your vitals. How would you feel about marketers targeting ads at you if your device senses interest or excitement through a rise in heart rate while browsing at a store?

Blurring the lines?

Smartphones and tablets are already considered to be a “fourth screen” in marketing, with these devices supplementing (and often supplanting) other media like the movie theater, TV screen and desktop computer. Wearable devices are even already starting to blur the lines between your body and your devices. Wearables are designed to be attached to your body most of the time, which means digital advertising through this medium might become more intrusive than on smartphone or desktop screens.

The challenge here for both marketers and users is how to make marketing messages relevant and enjoyable enough that users won’t mind the fact that their eyeglasses or watches are pushing promotional content. For one, advertising on devices as personal as watches and eyeglasses would likely require an opt-in from users. Without users agreeing to the occasional marketing message, this platform would not be a useful one for brands and companies.

Frankly, I consider myself to be old school in that I prefer the look and feel of a mechanical watch, as I often marvel at the mechanical genius behind the miniature gears, springs, dials and wheels in these timepieces. However, I wouldn’t mind going digital and receiving the occasional ad if it will help me learn something new, or if I can save some money in the process. But I still consider wearable devices like wristwatches as something more personal than a phone, computer or tablet, so this is a small exception.

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