One of the loftier goals associated with the increased adoption of smartphones is the creation of the ‘the internet of things’.

More than just a catchy phrase, the idea is that digital technology can be used to connect everything in the physical world to the web with smartphones acting as a universal remote to control our surroundings.

The opportunities that this presents for brands were discussed by Evrythng’s Andy Hobsbawm and Diageo’s Venky Balakrishnan at Econsultancy’s JUMP New York event.

Hobsbawm began by highlighting examples of products that are already blurring the lines between real life and digital, such as a central heating system called Nest that learns to control the temperature of the owner’s home based on their previous behaviour.

Another example is a BUPA app that allows the user to access nutritional information on any grocery product by scanning the barcode.

If you look at the web today is it dynamic and personalised, but none of this exists in the real world. Everyday items like chairs, cars and bikes do not have this kind of intelligence.

There is therefore a huge opportunity for brands to allow consumers to personalise products using the smartphone as a controller. 

But how does this work on a practical level without incurring massive costs while reengineering products?

Diageo’s whiskey bottles

To demonstrate how the internet of things might work in practice, Balakrishnan highlighted a Diageo campaign that allowed sons to personalise a whiskey bottle bought as a gift for Father’s Day.

It was driven by a desire to take advantage of increased consumer use of smartphones in-store, with a recent Econsultancy survey showing that 26% of US consumers used their phones to compare prices and check reviews when in bricks and mortar stores over Christmas.

The solution it came up with was to put QR codes on the back of whiskey bottles that allowed the buyer to embed a personalised video message using a web app. The recipient could then access the video by scanning the code.

As a result, the use of digital media transforms the whiskey into a unique, personalised gift rather than just any other bottle. 

Without going into specifics, Balakrishnan said that the brand met KPIs on sales increases from the previous year and outperformed its ROI targets. The campaign also allowed Diageo to collect a great deal of consumer data.

There’s no reason that other physical products can't have more digital services and products embedded in them.

But as with all trials, not everything went perfectly. Balakrishnan highlighted five lessons the brand learned from the campaign:

1. Build it and they won’t come

You might spend ages building the most incredible campaign, but if you don’t tell people about it they won’t come and see it.

Brands need to create awareness at scale on the benefits of interacting with new technologies.

2. Keep it lightweight and effortless

Balakrishnan said that brands tend to grossly overestimate how much time people are willing to give them. New forms of digital media have to be easy to access and understand, and effortless to act upon.

3. You get one shot at this

If people scan it and it’s a waste of their time, they wont bother to do it again. Brands must ensure that every interaction is valuable and rewarding for the customer.

4. Get your ducks in a row

What began as a small piece of digital innovation touched almost every part of the business including the supply chain, IT, legal, marketing and sales.

Therefore marketers need to be aware of the wider impact of any new trials.

5. There are two types of innovation

If you’re going to work hard innovating and raising the ceiling, you need to dedicate just as much time in getting the fundamentals in place.

The more you innovate, the more you need to fix the basics.

David Moth

Published 30 January, 2013 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Comments (7)

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Ajay Abraham

Very interesting. Does Diageo print custom labels and ship the bottles as a gift wrapped present to the customer? Im interested in how long it took them to roll out the entire idea.

over 5 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd


I wonder if you did any back ground research on this: or just passed a Press release through.

A key fact you didn't mention: is that this trial happened in Brazil:

But I liked this quote:
"The more you innovate, the more you need to fix the basics."

Certainly true when we're measuring client sites and see how often cool new marketing features may not join up with a site actually works!

over 5 years ago

Simone Kurtzke

Simone Kurtzke, Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Robert Gordon University

Hey David,

just wondering about the spelling? In Scotland we spell Whisky without an 'e' :P - would you be able to change that?

On a related / unrelated note (not sure which!) - the video references Bob Dylan's song 'Subterrean Homesick Blues' and we've just referenced the same in the follow up to our 'Shetland Ponies in Cardigans' promo last week. Here it is FYI -

More info on the ponies here: - be in touch if you're interested in finding out more :)

Many thanks, Simone

over 5 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Managing Editor at Barclaycard

@Deri, I was reporting from an event, there was no press release.

@Simone, the only reason I went with the 'e' was because that's how he spelt it in the presentation. It did feel unnatural though ;)

over 5 years ago


Russ H

Whisky is the Scottish spelling, whiskey is the Irish. The distinction between the two (besides hte country) is that Irish Whiskey has to be triple filtered, whereas Scotch rarely is.

over 5 years ago


jason stone

for something that gives anyone a hangover, this is quite sweet even for fathers, and touching albeit schmaltzy. anyone thought that giving a whiskey still instead would be more 'fatherly' or manly perhaps? that's just me though.

over 5 years ago

Simone Kurtzke

Simone Kurtzke, Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Robert Gordon University

@David: thanks for the explanation :). Just seeing Diageo doesn't have any non-Scottish whisky brands I don't think... but yes, people do get it wrong so fair enough :P

over 5 years ago

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