Box-trolling: Amazon and Coca-Cola home-deliver their futures

I’m always interested in what brands do when you invite them into your home.

Amazon is awesome; the agency I work for does work for Coca-Cola. Which is awesome. Both gave us new ways to buy recently — Amazon via the Alexa software interface on the Echo (which I reviewed here); Coca-Cola via a website that lets you order custom-printed bottles, the latest extension of their “Share a Coke” efforts that tipped off in Australia back in 2011.

Both buy-flows ended in home delivery, and since each represented an opportunity to reward/reinforce a desired purchase-behavior change, I wondered: what would each of these powerful brands do with that chance?

Amazon Echo : O Alexa, where art thou?

I used Amazon’s Echo to order laundry detergent. I’d never ordered laundry detergent via Amazon, so a Bezos-ian algorithm generated a recommendation for Tide, and I went with it. I figured that since (a) Amazon has made no bones about their desire to get into replenishment; (b) Amazon and P&G are experimenting in the innovation space with products like “Dash”; and (c), this was my first voice-driven buy from Alexa, it might be interesting — so many new purchase behaviors! aligned with multiple strategic and business goals! I prepared to have my mind blown.

But Amazon was pure Amazon. Efficiency uber alles, nondescript box, packaging materials haphazardly thrown in.

Love, Amazon-style
Love, Amazon-style

No shipping info. No receipt. No acknowledgement in any way that this “Tide Ultra Mountain Spring Scent Powder Laundry Detergent 68 Loads 95 Oz” was the end result of a romantic foray with Alexa into the future of commerce, Bezos-style. Maybe there were operational issues preventing Amazon from customizing Alexa-driven out-bound shipments, but even the email acknowledgement of the order failed to mention Echo, Alexa or anything new or different. My family, excited to see an Amazon box, scratched their heads at the box of Tide banging around inside, and thought it was a mistaken shipment.

Coca-Cola: Shared the love

Coca-Cola (a company used to having other people put their products in your hands) was the opposite.

I ordered the custom bottles after my youngest son said “Dad, Coca-Cola has names on the bottles, but I never see MY name.”

Coca-Cola says hello
Coca-Cola says hello

Fluid ounce for fluid ounce, I overpaid, but I the experience blew me away. The box was like a present, red and happy and all “share”-y; opening it revealed protective packaging that unfolded like arms going in for a hug; custom bottles with names and a little card inside got the whole family talking.

IMG_2970Coca-Cola goes in for the hug

Look: Alexa is magic, but Amazon only delivered a product.

Coca-Cola is a product, but Coca-Cola delivered magic. And now my kids have those custom bottles sitting beside their beds.

What will your brand do when it’s invited into someone’s home?

Dinosaur Interface and Bathroom UX

What’s your favorite dinosaur?

Most folks go ‘later-Mesozoic’, for a Cretaceous bad-ass like T-Rex, Spinosaurus, Triceratops, etc.

Few go for the earlier ‘betas,’ those sausage-fingered, blobby dudes, with the ‘fresh-from-the-primordial-sludge’ smell. If a museum DOES feature these earlier lizards – we’re talking deep Mesozoic, here – it’s usually a  ‘blob-on-a-rock-clearly-regretting-the-terrestrial-move’, or a half-hearted mural in muddy colors of blockheaded stumpy things. Those earlier guys barely feel like a footnote, despite kicking out a boatload of iterations and lasting hundreds of millions of years.

Cut to the “Internet of Things,” “smart”, sensor-embedded environments. And the Burgerville bathroom.

Now I LOVE Burgerville. It looks weird when you type it, but it’s SO GOOD. I  recently went to use the restroom at the Burgerville restaurant in Gresham, OR. It went something like this:


I come in and notice the water running in one of the three sinks bathroom empty, faucet going full tilt, handle up.

Mental note: “idiot didn’t know it wasn’t automatic!”

I push down the handle and shut it off. I do my stuff, then when I go to wash MY hands, I wave them  in the area of the sensor under the faucet a few times before I remember, again, it’s a manually-operated sink.

I turn to the soap dispenser. I’m thinking “manual”. I’ve been primed for this user experience – I know how to navigate.

Soap Dispenser, Gresham Burgerville
Soap Dispenser, Gresham Burgerville

I press the dispenser to pump out soap. None comes. It doesn’t budge.

Because… it’s MOTION-ACTIVATED! The FAUCET was MANUAL, but not the soap dispenser.

I put my hand under, cursing. Nothing. I wave. Nothing. Wave again. Nothing.


The light is on, I hear it making machine-y sounding noises, so the power is working, but…THERE’S NO SOAP. Curse, move to sink on left. Hold hand under. Nothing. WAVE HANDS, soap dispenses onto countertop. Curse, place hand under, wave with other, get soap ON HAND. Seethe. Rub soap in, then place hand under faucet to rinse. Nothing. Wave. Nothing. Curse. Remember AGAIN that FAUCET IS MANUAL. Lift handle, rinse. Turn to paper towel dispenser.

paper towel dispenser, Gresham, OR Burgerville
paper towel dispenser, Gresham, OR Burgerville

Sign on front: ”pull down towel with both hands”, but no towel visible. Think: ‘YEAH, I GOT THIS, HOMES.’

Reach around side for those spinners (the ones they tell you to use if a towel isn’t visible?), probe with fingers, then hands. No spinners. Curse.

Pat up the sides through the wet tracks of those who’ve come before, until I’m patting the top of the damn thing. Nothing. Realize: must be a sensor underneath! Curse. Put hands under. Nothing. Wave. Nothing. Wave again – nothing.

Paper towel dispenser, Gresham, OR Burgerville
Paper towel dispenser, Gresham, OR Burgerville

Reach around, find a handle underneath – invisible, from my angle.

Pull handle, nearly tear dispenser from wall. Three realizations: (1) it’s a PUSH handle; (2) I’m not the first to pull; and (3) none of us ‘pullers’ have been gentle by this point in the chain of fail.

I push the dispenser back against wall, hoping the screws don’t fall out. I push the handle several times to dispense unapologetic towels.

VERY GENTLY take towel with both hands and tear praying dispenser doesn’t crash to floor. Dry hands.

As I leave, I notice some idiot has left the faucet running. Realize it’s me. Curse. Return to sink, push down handle. Leave.


The franken-tech clusterf— of incompatible systems exploding around us is the result of individual solution providers (soap dispensers, towel dispensers, faucet manufacturers, etc.) each tackling their use-case-in-isolation, with no-one fighting for an overall experience that feels right. That’s why we’ll be stuck waving our hands under manual sinks and standing in front of our smart home locksets with dead phone batteries for a while to come.

We are in the early Mesozoic Era of connected environments interface. And it looks pretty slimy from the Burgerville bathroom.

But it will get better.

We have to go from ‘use’ cases to ‘love’ cases. I don’t need a “smart” environment – I’ll take a “stupid” one…that cares a lot more.

Sausage-fingered-lizard UI will make way for velociraptors, and ultimately delicious, delicious chickens.

We’ll need experience designers and technologists who understand, deeply, the emotional weight of need states and our urgent journeys through them. They’ll need to grok us and how we’ll crash their parties and trash their assumptions with our messy, irrational, emotional selves – and love us for it. These folks won’t just build solutions we’ll use, but the experiences we’ll love.

Yes, please.

We aren’t counting our chickens yet, but we’re investing in a few and starting to break a few eggs trying to make irrationally beautiful omelletes – and I hope more people will, too.

We’ll love you for it.


Alternate Universe Plot Twist: Twitter Earnings Call Stunner

Twitter finally goes hard at @Hottopic, launches pop-up mall retailer ‘#TrendingTopic’, to sell Vine celeb merch + 3D printed accessories. ‘they’ve been riding our realtime coattails for too long over there,’ said @dickc, in well under 140 characters. ‘starting now, if it trends, we vends.’

Analysts rejoiced: ‘we all wondered when Twitter was going to take a swing at the cash pinata that IS mall retailing…I can speak for the street when I say Cinnabon and STRONG BUY, baby!’

yes, I’m kidding.

“CSI: Algorithmic Justice” will be really boring but maybe important

Hearings are being held by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee, led by Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich), to explore whether Computer-Driven trading and “Conflicts of Interest” are “eroding investors” confidence in the stock market. (sarcastic comment goes here)

The pull quote in today’s WSJ piece by Scott Patterson (“Venues That Pay Get Orders: Broker“) caught my attention: under the photo of Flash Boy-famous Brad Katsuyama on C1, Senator Levin is quoted:

“We’ve got to rid our market of conflicts of interest [COI] to the extent that it’s humanly possible.”

the piece ends with Katsuyama:

“Disclosure and transparency will help people make the right decision” about how they trade, he said. “Right now a lot of it is opaque.”

But this isn’t about humans or people. High-Frequency-Trading fueled boom/busts are the logical (if to a human, occasionally irrational) results of algorithms executing their instructions with ruthless precision at speeds faster than ‘humanly possible‘. Software’s conquest of Wall Street has reduced reliance on slow, error-prone, occasionally-moral human cognition to drive profits: the algorithms (self-correcting, self-optimizing) are out there, working for the “haves”, dimly visible only when they cause a trillion dollars to disappear. Logically, of course.

clement valla
Google’s Algorithms bring the merger of satellite images and topographic maps to their logical conclusion in Clement Valla’s “Postcards from Google Earth” series

Does the Permanent Subcommittee hope to hold code accountable for its actions? Perhaps you could bust the creators on the first rev of the software, but assuming a few generations of self-optimization, will the code’s functional autonomy insulate its creators from culpability? Holy legal fees, Batman.

PS: doesn’t the human-driven financial industry have a history of growing rich exploiting holes in systems? If algorithms are simply faster to those holes, but operate within the “rules”, can you blame them? and who (or what) will go after them? And what will we do if we “catch” them? Next up, a really boring “CSI:Algorithmic Justice”?

Engineering morality – and human values – into code is the debate behind autonomous cars deciding who’s life matters more, thermostats spying on you and financial algorithms causing trillions to evaporate. This ain’t going away, as we rely on software and algorithms – known and unknown – in more and more of our lives.

But here’s the thought experiment: Will an algorithm ever be prosecuted? What will the statute of limitations say about code that self-optimizes itself into an entirely new form nano-seconds after a ‘crime’? and what will the sentence be?

“Early Stage”

PIE startup KS12 has unveiled “Early Stage“: a videosprint about startups, startup ecosystems, entrepreneurs and storytelling.

“Early Stage” weaves the stories of the recently graduated class of PIE startups – AppThwackCode ScoutsLittle BirdLytics, KS12, and Stublisher – with insights gathered from a mix of entrepreneurial-types and PIE alums including David Embree, CEO of AthletepathAndy Baio of XOXO fame, Brad Feld of Foundry Group and TechStars, entrepreneur and former investor Robin JonesUrban Airship CTO and Co-Founder Michael RichardsonGeoloqi CEO and Cyborg Anthropologist Amber Case, Global Executive Creative Director of Wieden+Kennedy John Jay, and myself – and culminating in the PIE class public launch on Demo Day.

PIE has successfully incubated some great tech companies, but this year marked the first effort to bring in storytelling start-ups that served up more content with their technology, and “Earlystage” is further evidence that in an age of rapid change, storytelling is both a deeply human need and a business-critical skill.


we are hard-wired for ‘same day’

Much of the heat around the Walmart and ‘eBay Now‘ plans to test same-day shipping has been generated through the positioning of these efforts as a ‘retail/e-tail battle royale’ with pretty much everyone against Amazon.

Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic writes: “Walmart will send Internet-purchased items to you the very same day as online check-out, in 5 select cities…Amazon already offers that same quick delivery time in 10 cities…Walmart [has] 4,000 stores primed for this delivery option…Amazon…40 warehouse distribution centers. That means Walmart could offer same-day delivery to a lot more people in far more obscure places.”

Game on!

There are operational and logistical hurdles to overcome (and Amazon’s done this “e-mmediate” thing before – remember Kosmo?), but with the global near-ubiquity of mobile, marketers should pay close attention: when you can impulse-buy anywhere there’s a data up/down, every brand impression is a potential point-of-sale.

Imagine: on your lunch break, you see a Coca-Cola awning – a minute with your mobile, and Amazon ‘Same-day’ has a case waiting on your doorstep when you get back from work. All the light touches that add up to our personal brand experiences – vending machines, retail signage, delivery trucks, packaging, social media, and yes, advertising – are purchase-enabled product shelving in the infinite aisle of Amazon.

(And people LIKE instant gratification – the more instant the better. We are hard-wired for same-day. That’s why 3-d printing is the next industrial revolution and all this will change again.)

Granular sales attribution to individual brand expressions may be hellish, but if Amazon, eBay and Walmart (and their partners) enable infinite-shelf impulse-buy, could this be a way for CMO’s to use their brand footprints in entirely new ways to drive revenue? Could an unintended consequence of “Same Day” be a reconsideration of the right column for ‘Marketing’ on the P&L (revenue, instead of expense?), and with it, a reconsideration of the value of brand communications in the overall revenue mix?

I think it’s cool to get stuff the same day. Or even better: yesterday.

what do you think?



PIE unveils six new startups @ Fall Demo Day 2012

Begun four years ago as a collaboration between Wieden+Kennedy, entrepreneurs, technologists and brands, PIE is a constantly evolving tech-fueled experiment in business and creative innovation. After an intense three-month program, six members of PIE’s current class (codename: #blueberry) took the Gerding theater stage to show their stuff on October 5th, 2012.

If you couldn’t join Friday’s #demoday in person, you can get a taste of the event through photos, the livestream recording, or the individual presentations onYouTube.

Here was the run of show:

Little Bird – brainchild of @marshallk@mikalina@tylergillies (aided and abetted by @DGaff, @xolotl@brennannovack@peat) – identifies influencers by the quality (not quantity) of their connections. Just before coming on stage, AdWeekTechcrunchThe Next WebAll Things DVenturebeatBetakitDigital TrendsGigaOmWired, and the WSJ noted that Little Bird closed a $1MM round – led by Mark Cuban. Watch Marshall’s #piedemo presentation here.

Next up was a company that put the “experiment” into Portland Incubator Experiment: Code Scouts, PIE’s first non-profit startup. Founder/Exec. Director Michelle Rowley created Code Scouts to tackle both the worsening developer shortage  AND the chronic lack of women coders with a flexible training regimen + internship opportunities meant to “change the face of technology”. She used the #piedemo stage to describe the pilot program’s success and how she intends to refine and scale the offering nationwide. (see her presentation here.)

KS12 was another experiment for PIE: our first content-based, “social video” startup. KS12 co-founders Patrizia Kommerell and Gabriel Shalom want to build the future of events – starting with how they are documented – through a collaborative, on- and offline content-generation process they call a “videosprint“.  Onstage at #piedemo, they unveiled #earlystage, their current piece tracking fellow blueberries through PIE and the broader startup ecosystem. The finished ‘sprint’ is to be unveiled November 16th (follow their sprint liveblog here, and see their #piedemo pitch here.)

Appthwack co-founders Trent Peterson and Pawel Wojnarowicz are ex-Intel guys who saw the tidal wave of mobile app development blow all to hell on the cliffs of Android ecosystem fragmentation and built a testing solution for Android apps so good that Mozilla has made it a mandatory QA step for all Firefox-for-Android releases. Appthwack used the #piedemo stage to unveil their plans to expand their offering to serve mobile web (done, check) and iOS testing (in the next two months). “makes big data useful”: CEO James McDermott and CTO Aaron Raddon saw lots of reports coming out of current analytics platforms, but didn’t see that data making software smarter. Anyone selling anything is now competing with Amazon and its big data – Lytics offers businesses a chance to level the playing field in terms of personalization and automated business decision-making. Aaron tells how Lytics can be YOUR “Moneyball” here.

Stublisher CEO Kyle Banuelos believes collective experiences like concerts and sporting events are our  shared social roots, and the Stublisher team wants to reinvent how we experience events before, during and after, using geo-fencing and social streams to tell new kinds of stories. “What Wikipedia did for knowledge, we’re doing for experiences.” Kyle tells the Stublisher story here.

Oh: and this time, we HAD A BAND!

Sans Yoko, Sneakin’ Out, the #piedemo house band KILLED: click, hear

Renny rambles about things he likes, but mostly technology, culture, and marketing. Any resemblance to anything that seems like something his employers would condone is purely coincidental. As is his consistent and annoying use of the third person. Which he should stop.