What's the Latest with Drone Advertising?

Posted on December 12, 2016 by Media Culture

Imagine, if you will, your morning commute to work:

The traffic’s slow, you’re barely awake enough to drive, but you’re trying to drink coffee and eat your breakfast and share something on social media as the slowly moving knot of cars creeps along. Then, out of nowhere, a sign. “¿Vas solo? Por eso ya nunca se ven los volcanes. UberPOOL.” (Translation: “Driving by yourself? This is why you can never see the volcanoes. UberPOOL.”)

It’s not a peek into the future, this is a window on the past—and Uber’s first real venture into commercial drone use for marketing.

This attack of the advertising drones took place in Mexico City during the morning commute, but drone advertising has been a slowly emerging field for the last couple of years. Mostly, it’s been used for closed events or to advertise other drones, but strictly using a drone for marketing isn’t exactly a new thing. Doing it in the middle of traffic was a pretty bold move on the part of Uber, though. Unfortunately for the world at large, Popular Science managed to confirm that this was an isolated incident, at least for now.

Moving from novelty to necessity?

In other parts of the world, drone marketing has been an experiment in progress for a while. For example, Business Insider reported in 2014 that a noodle shop in Russia used drones to carry fliers past office building windows to advertise the daily lunch specials around lunchtime. In 2013 in London, Paramount used a team of drones to promote “Star Trek: Into Darkness” with a choreographed aerial show.

These early examples, and others like them, simply demonstrate how well drones can be used to raise a stir. They’re novel, people don’t see them often and they’re really neat—who wouldn’t want to look at them? Staring at drones for the nifty factor is one thing, but moving them from that to real, true marketing tools is another thing. Uber used them as snarky little flying billboards, which is probably about as true to their nature as a drone with a sign can get.

Unlike airplanes with banners and blimps, when you’re using a drone for marketing it’s up close and personal—and they’re small. There’s not a bigger drone to fill the void between delivery drone and the Goodyear Blimp, so the question is how to take advantage of drones for their biggest impact. Dramatic, unexpected promotions, like UberPool’s in Mexico City is certainly one way. It caught social media on fire, after all.

Other marketing drones could spend their time being branding tools, simply spreading their company’s logo and information around as they go about their day. The red and white Pizza Hut drone would be welcome everywhere, and every time it flew by your office window you’d think about dialing up for a deep dish with pepperoni and extra cheese. The brown and yellow UPS package drone would make deliveries and collect packages that need to be shipped, all while displaying “” in bold letters.

Teaching marketing drones to dance

Intel recently acquired MAVinci, a company that is believed to have created the best in class flight planning software for drones anywhere on the planet, in a move that raised a few eyebrows.

Then there was the November 3 press kit and the announcement of the Intel Shooting Star drone, a super lightweight device fitted with lights that can be changed on demand and into “virtually limitless color combinations,” according to the company. Each drone weighs less than a volleyball, presumably to mitigate damage were one to unexpectedly fall out of the sky.

A fleet of Shooting Stars can do something no other drone currently in development can do: it can dance. Well, they can, as a group, be easily programmed to splash, spell and yes, even dance out whatever marketing message you might have in mind. Intel claims that a single pilot can operate hundreds of drones at one time with a single computer, giving them some real eye-catching power. Intel has some other models in process, but none can match the Shooting Star for sheer chutzpah, a vital characteristic for marketers of all sorts, even if those marketers are advertising drones.

Although drones may not yet have fully matured as a marketing tool, it is high time they were put to use where applicable. If you don’t have a captive audience in Mexico City, you might see about renting a group of dancing Intel Shooting Stars to give an audience at an outdoor event a show, or at least hire a few banner-toting drones to liven up the party.

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