R/GA, Techstars and the Rise of Connected Devices

The Lab attended a demo day for the R/GA Connected Devices Accelerator at SXSS 2014. Powered by Techstars, the program showcased nine exciting startups that have been incubated and mentored at R/GA’s NYC campus in recent months. The common thread between these startups, as the name implies, is that they are all connected devices, products that have both hardware and software components and are connected to the Internet (and thus, your life). Of the nine companies that presented three in particular were particularly relevant to marketers looking to reach audiences:


Simply put, Ringblingz is smart jewelry. It is a ring that can light up in up to 300 different colors and/or vibrate. It is meant to make the most important smartphone-based notifications simpler to see and interpret, in that you don’t even need to look at your phone. First you pair your ring with the mobile app. To set up a notification, you simply choose a color, a contact, and an app that will trigger the notification (e.g. Facebook, Snapchat et al.). As the founders put it, a device like this that traverses the worlds of fashion and tech creates “wearable social currency”. Brands could leverage Ringblingz capabilities to deepen engagement with consumers who are using their mobile app and may want to be notified about deals or events.


Similar to Ringblingz, Hammerhead’s product “Hammerhead 1” seeks to change the way technology visually communicates information in a subtler way. The Hammerhead unit, rather than convey social interactions, is meant to provide directions for bicyclists. You pair the device with the Hammerhead app, which is loaded with crowd-sourced bicycle routes. You then clip the device onto your bike and stow your phone. The app communicates with the Hammerhead device and indicates directions to turn using patterns of flashing lights. This replaces having to look down at GPS on your device screen. Thus this elegantly enhances navigation for those on bikes while increasing safety.


Based on BLE beacons that retailers can distribute around their stores, the Footmarks platforms can beef up both a retailer’s mobile app as well as those distributed to sales associates. In one scenario, someone who has a retailer’s mobile app and walks into the store can be welcomed and served a relevant offer. This might even take the form of a discount especially tailored for that customer based on their loyalty and purchase history. In another scenario, a sales associate with a tablet can be alerted that a particularly valuable customer has entered the store, and can review their purchase history, wish list and other relevant information. While many different companies are duking it out in the BLE (aka “iBeacon”) space, Footmarks aims to make their platform more adaptive and secure than their competitors.

SXSW 2014: Some Interesting Location-Based Projects

SXSW has no shortage of official events, but there are many unofficial events worth attending. One such event that the Lab team swung by was the Location based Marketing Association (LBMA) “Retail Loco” event in downtown Austin. It featured a series of presentations and panels covering location-based marketing with special emphasis on the retail environment. During the keynote presentation by Asif Khan I took note of the following location-based  campaigns from recent years that I thought were relatively clever:

Parking Douche

Mobile app in Russia designed to shame people who park where they shouldn’t.


McDonalds Happy Table

NFC-enabled table triggers animated experience on a mobile device that follows you as you move it across the table. An entertaining game for kids.


Tesco Shoppable Wall

A digital OOH kiosk installed in Gatwick Airport that lets shoppers scan barcodes with their Tesco app and order groceries to be delivered to them when they return from their travelers.


eMart Wifi Balloon

A series of branded truck-shaped balloons floated around a city in South Korea. By connecting to these floating wi-fi hotspots, customers were served mobile coupons redeemable through the eMart mobile app.


Digital Billboard Collecting Donations

Users could donate to an organization supporting small business loans for African entrepreneurs. Donations from mobile devices are represented in real time by pennies forming a portrait on the digital billboard.


Volvo Trunk Delivery

A service called Roam from Volvo would arrange for your online orders to be delivered to the trunk of your car. Delivery people would have a one-time code to open your trunk and place your items in it.

SXSW 2014 IPG Media Lab Recap

Each year the IPG Media Lab sends a small team to the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin with three primary objectives:

  • Gather strategic insights on trends that affect the media and consumer behavior landscape
  • Find new technologies that are relevant to marketers
  • Create content that is useful to the IPG network, our clients and beyond

Over the course of the week we attended many panels, met with several dozen startups, and posted lots of content.

Download our SXSW 2014 Recap

Privacy Chat App Omlet Launches At SXSW

With both Assange and Snowden speaking at SXSW this year, privacy and surveillance have usurped much else at the Austin conference. It’s a fortuitous set of circumstances for Omlet, an app developed by Stanford PhD students and professors that gives users control over where the content they create is stored, controlled, and monetized. The idea is that the app decentralizes the location of the content, allowing users to manage their data in a granular fashion. It does this by linking with users’ Box and Dropbox accounts, accessing data from these available sources. Omlet does have some ideas about monetization, such as deals with these other storage services, but for now the app remains focused on usability and privacy before all else. It’s a sign of the times that, in the congested world of messaging apps, a new product has carved out an important space for itself by putting privacy first.


SXSW 2014: Deriving Value from Image Data

What’s a picture worth? Premise and Skybox discussed how their approaches to image capture are creating value during the panel “Shelves to Space: What Images Say about Our World.”

Premise catalogues images on a micro-level: it arms its global team of 1100+ members with smartphones and sends them specific photo requests, like storefronts or types of produce. Individually mundane, these images can reveal valuable insights when aggregated, from whether a product is available to health concerns. Deviation from the mean can flag governments or NGOs to potential problems, like food shortages, before it’s too late. And Premise isn’t stopping at one-way communication: ultimately, its goal is to provide value to its contributors by giving them information they can act on at a local level, similar to Waze.

Skybox, on the other hand, is truly focused on the big pictures: it builds and launches satellites to take photographs that “index the Earth,” which are then stored and analyzed in their database. As a result, everything from ship movements to oil supplies to humanitarian crises can be monitored from above. And unlike Google Earth, which tends to update every 36 months, each of the 24 satellites pass over a given area eight times a day, giving users like commodities traders and insurance companies the most current information with which to make decisions.

While their methodologies are vastly different, both Premise and Skybox show how images can be turned into data at scale, which can then drive decisions on a macro level. As cameras proliferate and image recognition technology improves, we can only expect that pictures will play a larger role in companies’ strategies.