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If your fridge breaks, shouldn’t you be able to ask it what’s wrong?

Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

Are we headed toward a future where we could have a Nike+ for laundry soap?

Andy Hobsbawm believes there should be. The founder and chief marketing officer of Evrythng , a London-based firm dedicated to "making products smart," says that Internet connectivity embedded into products will be a more important way for marketers to forge relationships with consumers.

Speaking at the Institute of Communications Agencies' FutureFlash conference in Muskoka, Ont. on Wednesday, Mr. Hobsbawm predicted consumers will likely have to wait until the end of the decade before such things as embedded chips with their own connectivity make the products in their homes fully connected. However, he said the rise of smartphones and other mobile devices is making it more possible for companies to offer an expanded digital relationship along with the products they sell.

"What if a product had its own digital life?" he asked.

Because consumers will find it creepy to have products acting autonomously, such as having their "dry-cleaning talking behind their backs," he said that rather than making products smart on their own, the marketing potential is in allowing consumers to speak with their products more – and have control over how those products serve them.

Editor's Note: An earlier online version of this article misspelled Evrythng.



Mr. Hobsbawm cited a campaign that liquor company Diageo did last year for Father's Day – and which the company will be rolling out again this year. The "Raise a Glass to Your Dad (Because He Raised You)" campaign encouraged men to buy a bottle of whisky for their fathers for the holiday. Buyers were given the option to check-in by scanning the bottle they bought; they were then given the chance to personalize a short film as a tribute to their dads, with their own photos and messages. The recipient could then scan his gift to see the tribute from his son. "In effect you're personalizing what was otherwise a generic product," Mr. Hobsbawm said.


This smart thermostat gets to know a user's schedule, programs itself to save energy when its owner is out of the house, and connects with his or her smartphone to allow for remote control. So even if you forget to set it, it will set itself – and can easily be overruled by communication from its human.


Music products

A guitar embedded with connectivity could allow its owner to check-in to access chord charts to learn to play a song, for example. If its owner is looking up blues music, it could send a promotional offer for heavier strings. And if its owner wants to start a band, it could find nearby owners of other instruments with comparable proficiency levels, Mr. Hobsbawm said.


A camera with connectivity – its own "digital profile in the cloud," similar to Facebook for inanimate objects – could have a "digital locker" with all the user manuals, warranties, tips and tricks, and other material in one place. A connected camera could also offer its owner mini-tutorials on how to photograph better, based on the types of pictures the owner has been taking (night shots, for example, or action shots.)


If your fridge is broken, Mr. Hobsbawm said, there is no reason you shouldn't be able to ask it what is wrong.


"This is particularly interesting if you're in the consumer packaged goods space, where you make a high volume of products," Mr. Hobsbawm said. With that volume comes a certain amount of anonymity – but by making them digitally connected, it opens up a world of more personalized connection to consumers. That has already enhanced Nike's ability to market its products to people who use Nike+ to manage their entire fitness lives; it could provide a model for connectivity in more industries in the future.

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