May 25, 2021

The Evolution of Advertising in the home


This article was originally written by Neil Cooper and published on

The state of advertising is constantly evolving and adapting to the times. Always has been and always will be. This has never been more prominent than in the last year. Suddenly, overnight, brands were forced to shift from considering how best to reach people in town centres, on commutes, and at events; to joining a global arms race with their competitors for one thing - ownership of the home.

With people everywhere confined to their living rooms, brands had to get creative and consider news ways to reach people - the ramifications of which will last long past lockdown, and the technology now available will shift the ways in which products have a presence in our homes and daily lives. We’re now at the point where many wonder if their cereal box might become an entertainment touchpoint for themselves, or their children, sat on the kitchen counter.

This may inspire panic, but firstly - this idea is nothing particularly new or revolutionary. The principle of mainstream branding and packaging design has always considered ways of encouraging purchase past the point of being picked up on the supermarket shelves. Once it’s convinced you to pick it up off the shelves, it needs to then convince you to do so again and again. Cereal boxes are a prominent example - it’s the reason why the ‘cereal box prize’ has existed for over 100 years, the first being Kellogg’s Corn Flakes back in 1909, including a moving-pictures illustrated booklet featuring dancing animals. Meanwhile, modern-day boxes of Weetabix display ‘HAVE YOU HAD YOURS?’ in huge type font on their boxes, attempting to subliminally tie itself to your daily routine. Two different approaches to achieve the same goal.

Technology has allowed this practice to evolve in different ways. Kinder Bueno have recently implemented AR engagement to bring their egg surprises to life, and LEGO have enabled some of their product boxes to come alive using in store augmented reality, showing the model and characters fully built and moving. By adding value and experience to their customers, they’re hoping the customers will in-turn add them to their shopping baskets. There are certainly some barriers to this type of work though - they require investment to work - but why spend money on someone who’s already purchased your product? When the majority won’t even use it?

This takes us to the crux of the matter - how can brands use such tech in a cost-effective, meaningful way in order to become more prominent in our lives? At Rehab, we believe it comes down to four important factors - convenience, usefulness, sustainability and authentication, which will all drive how we interact with products in the home in the years to come.

For example, imagine a tech solution that allows kitchen products to know when they’re depleted, and auto-order a refill when needed? Imagine fridges with scales that could do this for milk, or a toothbrush that monitors usage and knows when to re-order toothpaste? This could reduce plastic, reduce food waste, add convenience to people’s lives, and encourage repeat purchases all at once.

NFC tags are an extremely interesting way brands can do this, and you can expect to see them more and more in the near future. In short, an NFC (Near Field Communication) is a wireless connection that can quickly transfer information to and from your mobile phone. They’re extremely small, don’t need a power source, and can be built into things like stickers and product packaging. For example, you could build an NFC into a food product to bring up recipe ideas simply by tapping your phone on it, or you could build one into a make-up product, bringing up a video tutorial instantly. Such tech allows products to transcend to a new plane of usefulness, and thus make a case for being further integrated into our everyday lives. 

The important point to stress is that the additions must be genuinely useful in order to work. We’ve seen NFC-enabled football shirts, but they didn’t take off as they barely added any value to customers, really only offering competition entry and access to music playlists. They didn’t lean on any existing user behaviours to make it valuable. By not adding any genuine value, the effort comes across like an arrogant flex rather than an improvement, which will put people off. Instead, a better idea might have been to use them to prove product authenticity, or offering them on limited edition kits - as the pair constantly compete against bootleg knock-offs. Major brands like Disney could also deter bootlegs from the same mechanic, what if they built NFC’s into limited edition items? If that could work here, why not build NFC’s into high-end luxury products? One brilliant feature of NFC’s is that they also have a notably low barrier to entry for users - when they work well, you barely notice they’re there.

We touched on sustainability earlier, and there’s certainly opportunity for technology to aid businesses goals here too. To support actual business goals. It needs to. We’re part of By The Network, an independent collective of global agencies, and a fellow agency, Farm, recently worked on a large database of household products, showing how much carbon needed to produce the product and get it into your home. They then paired with Mastercard - where products bought would automatically be added into your own personal database upon purchase, seamlessly building up your own carbon profile with minimal effort. My Fitness Pal does something similar with calories based on scanning food barcodes, so are brands missing a trick with NFC’s? In both examples, by making the tech as smooth and seamless as possible, there is real opportunity to allow people to understand which products make their lives better, encourage repeat use of the right ones, and help establish sustainable product choices. I think this is a really, really interesting place for brands to explore, specifically whether brands can help influence consumer behaviour to log and track consumption. If brands could gamify the experience, or offer a reward of some description (which based on our own Yougov research, is one of the key drivers of building consumer loyalty) then the opportunity to build meaningful relationships and really do the ‘right’ thing is huge. 

The take-home message is that the competition of the future isn’t about which brands can shout their message the loudest in your home, it’s about the ones who can utilise tech to enhance their usefulness and the way we interact with them to become an integral, valued part of our lives. You might just wonder how you ever lived without them.

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