From a single buzz to a story told with vibrations
The technology that powers haptic feedback has evolved, and now instead of being a single kind of vibration (perhaps with low, medium or high strength) there are ways to string together a whole series of vibration styles -- ranging in intensity, amplitude, frequency and duration -- to create a chronological "story," similar to a musical arrangement.
The content producer (the composer) creates a custom haptic-file of effects that are interpreted by the OS software, which can be easily embedded (via APIs) into the user experience of apps. When triggered by an event, like a tap, that file will play back a stream of distinctive haptic effects using the actuators, or motors, on the device.
Why is this such an important evolution? It means that haptic feedback now has uses beyond a “basic notification” -- an arbitrary buzz with no association to meaning. It's no longer a yes-no, on-off, black-and-white feature, but one with nuances. With sophisticated haptic effects, a producer can artistically portray a number of real-world scenarios, like the thumps of a heartbeat or a series of explosions. And this is how the door has opened for advertisers.
As a publisher, being able to augment your content with a custom series of vibrations, so that the user can physically sense the action -- not just see or hear it -- is an exciting opportunity. Game publishers have already been doing this; think of using the effect of a car engine approaching and then leaving, or the shimmering feeling of sunlight, to add a level of realism to the game.
Facebook recently announced 360-degree virtual reality video experiences, using Star Wars as an example. The user can tilt and move their phone for a spherical view to explore sand dunes, the ocean or a faraway galaxy. Now imagine if you added haptic effects to that experience; it would make it seem far more real and therefore more immersive.
For advertisers, then, syncing a haptic track to a rich media or video ad is another way to make the user feel more immersed in the ad experience. Early studies of the effect of haptic-augmented video ads have shown that 85 percent of consumers feel more immersed and as such have higher levels of recall, more completed video views and greater intent to share the content. For Entertainment brands, the study found that 15 percent were more likely to go see a movie after seeing a trailer with tactile effects.
Eliciting an emotional response
Haptic ads, however, are not reserved solely for movies, where the content of the ad is, in a sense, the product itself -- so making it feel more real lets the user get closer to the feeling of owning or consuming that product. Sure, there might be an ad that gives the feeling of driving a car or shaking a martini, which then pushes the viewer closer to purchase. But haptic feedback on a broader level is about restoring the sense of touch to an otherwise empty or flat, cold surface, thus making it more warm and humanlike.
Any video ad that tells a story -- whether it be a CPG brand with an emotional narrative designed to appeal to moms or a health & fitness company with a hard-hitting message about overcoming obstacles -- can use haptic tracks to supplement their audiovisual experience. If haptic feedback is incorporated thoughtfully and strategically in a video, it can amplify the content and draw out even more emotion from the viewer, making them that much more involved in what is happening on the screen. And “involved” is very close to “engaged,” which as we all know is the Holy Grail of marketing.
Haptics in 2016 and beyond
There are still plenty of half-open doors that could potentially be swung wide open in the coming year that would make haptic ads even more enticing. Support for haptics in mobile devices is just getting out of the gates. Although the current generations of iPads don't have haptic feedback at all, Apple’s enthusiasm for 3D touch will very likely deliver haptic support in all new iOS devices; and haptic ads could be executed on a large subset of devices, not just Android-powered ones, very soon.
It follows, too, that as more publishers and app developers adopt haptic technology into their user experiences, they could use different types of vibrations to alert the user to a particular kind of message, or help them differentiate. For instance, a certain style of "buzz" could mean that the ad being shown was a value-exchange model, or if they swipe a certain way, it confirms that the offer was being saved for later use.
Another interesting application is the use of haptic ads in feed-based environments. Enabling haptic feedback on a video that autoplays in a user’s content feed, if done well, could be a great way to get the user to stop the scroll and view the video, but without feeling intruded upon. Or there could be a soft vibration that indicates that while the sound is turned off, there is the potential for sound. We still have a bit of a way to go to make all of this a reality -- but it’s definitely worth exploring, to harness yet another mobile-first feature for digital marketing.