Skins as a Form of Branding Opportunity
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Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
This study makes an attempt to understand the business of ‘skins’ and the various ways it can be made a part of Ambient Media to offer more branding opportunities to advertisers. This involves various forms of skins, its multiple applications, and the ways in which it can provide branding opportunities.
Skins are the 2nd generation products that can be applied to any external surface and are printed and used for personalizing or branding devices or surfaces. The concept of skinning was introduced in the US 5 years ago. Since then the product has found its way in Europe and South East Asia. The business of skins is at a very nascent stage in India. The scope of this dissertation is to analyze the use of ‘skins’, where every surface is brought to surface quite literally, as a medium to interest and engage consumers. With ‘skins’, no space is left mundane and dull as long as there is an opportunity to style it and brand it.
The research undertaken for this purpose was exploratory in nature. It was broadly executed in 2 Phases. The first phase was the stage of Secondary Data analysis wherein extensive review of existing companies and practices in the domain of skins was conducted. This is to investigate various business models around skins. The first phase also included Primary Research by interviewing consumers through a qualitative, depth interviews. This facilitated a grasp on what the consumers think about brands and their innovations in branding. It is primarily to check how different mediums affect them, and what affects them the most. Phase 2 of the Research Design involved in-depth qualitative interviews of 5 Brand Managers and 5 Industry Professionals (mix of Media | Advertising | Retail | Industry Veterans). The Phase 1 Primary Research results will be used to provide better insight into the interaction with B2B respondents.
These interviews were helpful in getting insights to substantiate the secondary research and the consumer surveys. Once the data had been collected, it was analyzed to facilitate opportunities and make generalizations. The factors that companies would take into consideration were Licensing of brands, Personalization through Brand Designs and various Manufacturing processes that enable production of high-quality skins. Also, new technological innovations that can aid skins to be developed as more functional and engaging for the customers were necessary. Based on the findings, certain models were identified and conclusions were drawn.
With the media industry growing, new forms of media are sought after regularly. This study enables one such potential form of Ambient Media to make its way into the advertising plan of Brand Managers. Although a lot of international companies have made their contributions to the medium of skins, its time India opened up to this phenomenon.
The need to be different, which stems from the need to be noticed leads to multiple changes in the environment. Some of these changes are fads, the others determine the future. Seen from a brand manager’s perspective, some of these basic human desires can lead to a plethora of opportunities for them. One of these opportunities is discussed below. It deals with the domain of modified aesthetics.
As more and more portable gadgets and other forms of electronic and technological means are consumed by us every moment, their usefulness continues to expand. But just carrying the latest gadget which looks like everyone else’s version of that latest gadget is not enough anymore. So why not personalise it. Better still why not use the investment as a branding opportunity. Not only gadgets, there are innumerable surfaces available today that are waiting to be utilised. Advertisers have the opportunity to brand all surfaces through skins. These surfaces can be identified as:
- Wall skins: walls, cupboards, mirrors, drawers, doors, etc
- Fleet skins: cars, cabs, biked, aircrafts, trams, buses, trains, etc.
- Devices skins: laptops, mobiles, music players, all appliances, etc.
The idea of making electronics or any other product more personal is that the real world can also start acting more like the online world. Similar to how one can change their online profile anytime they want, so can they have their most loved brands or their favourite images on their phone or car! These products known as ‘skins’, not only make your common device look stylised, but also protect it. These skins that can be pasted on any exterior surface are soon becoming extremely popular within a very short period of time. They are a dream come true in the ‘customization’ arena.
This application has created waves worldwide and is now revolutionising the way mundane products are being presented to the world. Apart from this key use, there is the Branding Opportunity that ‘skins’ bring along. While personalisation is fast becoming popular, it is not the key issue here. What the scope of this dissertation is to analyse this innovation as a new format for Brand Managers. It will not only open up new branding prospects, but also be included in the fast and upcoming category of Ambient Media.
Ambient Media is the name given to a new breed of out-of-home products and services determined by some as Non-Traditional or Alternative Media. Ambient media advertising is a way of overcoming traditional method of advertising to get the attention of the consumers. Ambient media in a larger scale define the media environment and the communication of information in ubiquitous and pervasive environments. The reasons why Ambient Media has grown are:
- Decline in the power of traditional media
- Greater demand for point-of-sale communication
- Ability to offer precise audience targeting
- General versatility
While some see it is a fiendish way of getting an ad message into every nook and corner of our lives and on to anything that moved, yet it was the sector that was growing outrageously through the 90’s. It was argued that ambient alone never made any brand famous, and marketers would soon get tired of this faddish and whimsical medium. However, such judgements were not possible as ad revenues were unstable and fast changing.
Also, as media proliferation made it harder to get attention, advertisers look for other ways to place their brands before people. This can be via all sorts of locations and methods and often close to the point of sale. This is where ‘skins’ can come in and enable brand managers to make their brands be seen. As it is put over everyday use products, the opportunities will be numerous.
In today’s day, when one travels, it can be seen that all around, commuters work and play away on laptops, PDAs, iPods, mobiles, blackberries, sometimes all at once. Mobiles and pervasive media have truly reshaped the practices of travel. This provides tremendous potential for a business like Skins to enter the market. Apart from public spaces to use ambient medium, individual’s personal surfaces can also be used as a fresh medium of branding. Laptops, iPods, Mobiles, etc. all are new opportunities in the ambient media world which can be used for branding through skins. While it is true that Media images change the way we see and experience a city, why not make it aesthetic and meaningful.
Until now, out-of-home activities that engage the consumer like hot air balloons with slogans, digital out-of-home, and life size mascots for brands, etc. are considered the norm for Ambient Media. However, formats go out of fashion very soon, and newer ways to brand and reach consumers are sought by marketers.
In earlier times, brand positioning and promotions through mass media did the trick for marketers. Customers flocked to buy the brand that was advertised and that’s how many successful brands were created. However, increasing media clutter and reducing customer attention spans have resulted in decreasing effectiveness of traditional practices. Therefore modern brand managers have started using techniques like Brand Inclusiveness and Brand Engagement to conquer customer hearts.
Brand Inclusiveness: The brand can become a part of the customers’ lives through a planned presence. For example: a mobile phone or a laptop is personal belonging of a customer that is highly significant in today’s world. What better way of brand inclusiveness than to Brand these gadgets itself. Skins as a medium can be used by companies to as a branding opportunity by sending the loyal customers a skin each for these gadgets. These skins can be customised as per the customers’ gadget model and can then be used as both a branding and well as a style statement. The loyal group of customers would be proud to sport their favourite brands’ skins on their phones or laptops. This is a high level of brand inclusiveness for companies, where they can manage to convince their loyal customers themselves to become their brand champions, and hence, brand managers.
Brand Presence: Customers live busy lives and the brand needs to touch their lives in relevant ways. This requires the brand to be present at places frequented by customers. This can be done through a number of ways:
- Skinning cabs in urban cities with the branding of various products of services that are targeted to the cab-using population of the society
- Skinning Public Buses with the branding of various products and services that are targeted to the us-using population of the society
- Skinning tables at coffee shops with brands that compliment a coffee or such an environment
- Skinning conveyor belts at airports
- Skinning Elevators at public spaces like Corporate Offices, Government Buildings, Residential Societies, etc.
- Skinning PCO booths, etc.
Brand Engagement: Brands have realised the importance of the interactive approach t engage customers. This can be done through various co-creation ideas. So while, interaction can exist individually, a mix of skins (visual) and interaction can do wonders for a lot of brands. While skinning the vehicles or other such ambient forms can be a standalone practice, brand engagement would take this idea further. For example- If the cabs are skinned by a Credit Card brand, then the cab driver can offer pamphlets of the passengers. If the cab is skinned by a Chips brand, then free trials can be offered in the cab to the passengers (in case of a new product). Also, the passengers of a skinned cab can send an SMS to receive further information about the brand, to receive a catalogue, free trial, etc. A lot of ways to engage the customer are possible after the initial visual of the brand through Skins.
Concern for Customers: Customers want their favourite brand to show concern for them. In this regard, there is a special kind of Skin called ‘Gripper’. A gripper has two parts. The small skin sticks to the back of the mobile phone, while the big skin sticks on any surface which has an angle. Mobile Phone brands or Telecom providers can use this product with a social message. The gripper helps hold the phone to the surface on the bigger skin. This will help highlight the use of mobile phones while driving, as the driver can stick the phone on the angled surface which provides holding the phone while driving. The phone often slips from the car’s dashboard, which now will be held in place by the gripper and enable the driver to take some calls on loudspeaker.
Also, Wall Skins can be used at key public places by brands in order to give out social service messages to the public at large. These wall skins can come in all sizes and will create large scale awareness if put at strategic places.
Hence, the inclusive brand image focuses on touching customer lives in a relevant manner. The brand needs to engage customers and the use of interactive media comes handy for this initiative. Hence a brand can conquer the hearts of consumers by showing concern and being available at all times, all places.
The scope of this dissertation is to analyse the use of ‘skins’, where every surface is brought to surface quite literally, as a medium to interest and engage consumers. With ‘skins’, no space is left mundane and dull as long as there is an opportunity to style it and brand it.
As we see that Media is evolving from Digital to Pervasive to Interactive, every brand needs to speak to the consumer at different touch points, so as to keep the consumer engaged, yet not be disliked. One example of ‘skins’ in the form of Auto wraps that is seen in the recent times in India is the branding on Cabs and other vehicles. For example: Meru cabs run campaigns of different brands for different periods of time. Here the Brand Alliance between Meru and the advertising brand leads to recognition in the marketplace. Clever messages can be put up for different target markets, giving brand managers an innovative medium to engage the consumer. It generated street level advertising.
What are skins?
Skins are the 2nd generation products that can be applied to any external surface and are printed and used for personalising or branding devices or surfaces. The concept of skinning was introduced in the US 5 years ago. Since then the product has found its way in Europe and South East Asia. Following are the basic features of skins:
- Currently, the Skins are made up of vinyl that is digitally printed and post printing it is cut either as per general dimensions or cut as per the device. However, this manufacturing process can change a per technology used or requirements
- Skins are available for mobiles, laptops, portable music players, gaming devices, cars, and any other external surface
- Skins are available in general sizes and custom made, where the skins are per-cut based on the device
- However, the concept of skins is fast changing as per various different manufacturing processes used. There are new hard cover skins also introduced in the market
A combination of fixed designs and the option of personalised designs is made available
The complete product range will be:
- Skins made up of Vinyl
- Skins made up of different textures such as Leather, Canvas, Jute, etc.
- Skins made up of Gel
- Grippers used to hold a certain product kept on a surface at an angle
- Wall skins
- Hard Cover skins
- Electro-statically charged skins
More and more technological innovations are leading to different types of skins being launched. However, all of these can be used as an Ambient Medium by companies for Branding.
The major manufacturers of vinyl skins are: 3M, Avery, Kodak, Mactech. However, there are other numerous vinyl manufacturers present in the market.
More and more technological innovations are leading to different types of skins being launched. However, all of these can be used as an Ambient Medium by companies for Branding.
Cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, iPods, Blackberries – all these personal electronic devices have changed the way we go about our everyday lives dramatically. Millions of people around the globe have embraced these changes and are sure of staying at the receiving end of cutting edge technology. Because technology inspires passion, people who are passionate about their gadgets are more often than not passionate about other areas of their lives such as music, sports, movies, art, fashion, etc.
Skins result from this passion. People get a chance to express themselves and personalise their electronics which helps them reflect their favourite interests. School children can skin their laptops to display their school colors or logo, cell phones can be skinned with their favourite design, Music Players can be skinned with their favourite artist, etc. The opportunities are tremendous.
A large variety of skins are available for a wide range of electronic devices and new technology. They can be either individually designed or branded. Branded skins are a new way of companies to reach out to the customers. Brands such as Disney, NFL, Star Wars, Superman, etc. can be bought through licenses and sold to interested customers through multiple sales nodes.
Some articles have been reviewed to understand the Ambient Media market, gauge trends in the same, and determine need gaps for a product like ‘skins’. “India will overtake China next year to become the fastest growing advertising nation”, Jones, S. (2009)
Skin Care: The Sensual Surfaces of Objects
“Aesthetic modification of product form is common practice in industrial design. Designers are trained to create beautiful products, which not only provide an aesthetic experience to users, but also lead to enhanced profitability”, Boradkar, P. (2004). In fact, the desire to increase sales in a market that was flooded with too many goods is what led to the practice of industrial design.
This practice of alteration of the basic form of a product is often referred to at the ‘stigma of styling’ by industrialists and designers. However, according to this article, these changes undertaken by the designers are limited to the external surface of the object. The term used here for external surfaces or shells of objects is ‘skins’. These skins can have multiple meanings that are created by the designer, user, critic, etc.
Virginia Postrel, in her book – The Substance of Style, has argued that aesthetics has become a significant and an omnipresent component of everyday life in the US. She has gone on to say that it is clearly visible that we are increasingly becoming fond of beautiful surfaces in case of objects, environments, interiors, and our own bodies. There are multiple proofs to this theory of dependence on aesthetics – the popular profession of image-making, the makeover shows on television, innovations for the perfect product, the perfect look, etc. Style has seeped into our lives. This according to her is skin care.
It provides sensation and protection from the external environment. It is constantly in a process of change and regenerates itself on a regular basis.
The five major categories that signify the primary functions of object skins are: Protective Skins, Informational Skins, Sensorial Skins, Technological/Intelligent Skins, and Mythical/Fetishist Skins.
My topic of study here is the ‘Sensorial Skin’ which includes Visual Skins. These skins arouse admiration, fear, curiosity, contempt, etc. Social meanings of these graphics and designs can be traced back to the context, object, user, etc.
Hence, the article concludes that the process of styling or creating new skins is often practised in design consultancies and corporations, where the products only change appearance without any added utility or other value. Creative operations are performed on the skin to stimulate desire, but these are often justified as attempts to satisfy a wider range of user needs. This is said to be the role of commodity aesthetics to the ‘sexing-up’ of the object.
As ‘skins’ is the prime area of study, this article gave insights on the concept of a skin. Now, we move on to the next few articles on what is happening in the Media World and where it is headed, to understand the broader aspect of the use of ‘skins’.
The Future is Ambient
“Ambient Intelligence deals with the embedment of media in the natural environment on people”, Lugmayr, A. (2006). Embedding media into peoples’ environment indicates the need for the creation of a new form of media.
The article explains ambient media to create a mix of real-world objects in the natural environment of the consumer and also digital objects which are of any arbitrary form. The key feature of ambient is distribution rather than storage. There are 5 principles of ambient media mentioned:
- Ambience – media object is a service oriented asset space
- Intelligence – smart technology for content aggregation
- Distribution – distributed across a wide area of networks
- Self-organisation – aggregated either automatically or collaboratively
- Pervasiveness – accessible anytime, anyhow. Anywhere
The conclusion here is that: Ambient media is the future of multimedia which allows natural interaction and easy access to content anytime, anywhere, and anyhow.
How Ambient Media
Ambient Marketing is now making its way into the brand manager’s mind and fast becoming the new marketing communication discipline. Companies are looking at more and more ways to connect with the consumers, not only in private spaces, but also out-of-home. The article says that this sort of marketing can be called anything, but the challenge lies in taking it to the street level.
Greg Aithurton, Nintendo’s marketing manager says ambient exists in non-traditional media formats without direct interaction, whereas experiential goes a step further and actually interacts with the consumer – engaging them directly.
“Just slapping your logo on a pavement and hoping people will think you are cool won’t do very much. But if you can touch someone in a clever and relevant way, it can be really effective.”
The article says that ambient is not only about advertising in an unexpected environment, but the environment has to be relevant to what you are doing, and the unexpected has to fit well with the brand.
Another issue mentioned is that such marketing is good only for a couple of months, then it becomes passé and the consumers become aware of it, hence it blends into the mix.
The end note here is that ambient, experiential, or any of these sorts of marketing is not about measurement. It’s more about who you target. It’s not necessarily in a position to need to be measured.
Brands are accepting of ambient’s limitations, along with its unique capabilities. The key selling point is that an ambient campaign can deliver what many other mediums cannot – a closer touch point to consumers.
Ambient Media – How the World is Changing
Over the years, the competitive environment has multiplied and technology is on fast rise. However, only the media arena has changed, while communication planning remains the same. We are in a world of outstanding media possibilities, where non-traditional marketing has kicked in, and brands do not fail to surprise/shock us with their expert forms of presenting the message.
From using light-reactive inks, lenticular prints, 3D holographic images to Bluetooth and infrared technology, and PR stunts, ambient media has not failed to make itself noticed. Whether this is a Gimmick or a Strategy is discussed widely amongst media owners, as they get more and more clients and agencies that not only want gimmicks to work in their favour, but are also desperate to produce substantial campaigns that create long-term appeal.
An analysis of approximately 4500 case studies from 1997 to 2007 including ambient media show, that very few brands had a strategic approach while majority of cases are one-offs and some look like festive scams.
Whether these new formats are called ambient media, non-traditional media, branded utility, or experiential media, the effort should be part of a strategy that is based on a right idea. However, this ambient media should be part of the future communications strategy in order to make sure that these challenging efforts adapt to current trends and in turn to people’s lifestyles. Otherwise, any violation from the trend will lead to the advertiser’s worst nightmare – ignorance!
Reaching the right Consumer
Over the past decade, ambient advertising has become ubiquitous. Brands are seen jumping at the chance to experiment with novel media as fresh ways of promoting their messages to specific groups in appropriate environment. As wrap around ads on Taxi’s and posters inside changing rooms are delivering on marketers goals, the common principle is that brands have less money to work with, so it is vital that money works harder.
The article mentions three important routes to success for an ambient medium:
- Timing is vital. This means reaching someone just before they are about to do something else
- The mindset of the consumer when they receive the message. This means that brand message placement is crucial
- Lastly, it is important to match the environment with the brand message
Brands that advertise on niche media should be able to surprise, excite, and engage. Hence, advertisers should be wary of reaching the saturation point and thus losing effectiveness.
Centre of Attention
This is a time when TV audiences are fragmenting and new technologies are being launched, which enables us to avoid traditional advertisements, there is Ambient that can deliver captive audiences. Just when the consumers are poised to make a purchase, ambient cites its flexibility and capacity to be highly targeted, and delivers. Apart from that, there is little evidence to show that ambient media irritates consumers.
According to this article, some of the most successful examples of ambient activity are seen in trains, stations, step and escalator advertising, train wraps, tickets, etc. In supermarkets, there is trolley and basket advertising, floor ads, etc., all of which can influence shoppers at point of purchase. While today’s ambient sector includes products such as mirror stickers, ATM receipts, carrier bags, etc., there is also an opportunity to market brands on tabletops at restaurants, bars, etc.
The strength of the medium is that it converts a static message into an interactive one. Hence the need to develop newer formats every year, as marketers want the novelty for their brand, and not be the second or third to use an idea.
The literature reviewed here analyses in detail the different ways, in which Media is evolving, the growth of Ambient Media and varied practices. There are studies on the growth of Ambient Media in different countries, its acceptance by Brand Managers, and the successes of certain brands. However, what is not mentioned is how to make this ambient medium more consumer friendly by way of interactivity. My area of study being skins, the gap I wish to fill in with the help of this dissertation is how would a product like skins fit in the “Ambient” domain, and what are the possible ways of making this product more functional and more interactive for the consumer as well as the brand.
To understand how Skins as an Ambient Media can be made more interactive and functional for brands and customers
- To study how far ‘skins’ will be considered as a branding tool by brand managers
- To find ways to convert ‘skins’ into an engaging and interactive medium for advertisers
- To analyse the trends of Ambient Media and if ‘skins’ as a format can be included within its ambit
My study is primarily for the B2B customers. The customer base is divided into:
* Brand Managers who will use ‘skins’ as a branding tool
o Media Agencies – They will sell ‘skins’ as a new Ambient Media format
o Advertising Agencies – They will buy ‘skins’ as a new Ambient Media format for their clients
To do the above study, the following methodology is chosen:
1. Secondary Research
The research will be primarily focused on investigating the various business models around “skins”. This will give me a better understanding of the following:
a. Different applications of “Skins”
b. Different manufacturing process
c. Various features of the product
2. Primary Research
It will be qualitative in nature, using depth interviews.
This is to get a grasp on what the consumers think about brands and their innovations in branding. It is primarily to check how different mediums affect them, and what affects them the most.
- 10 men and women in the age group of 16-30
- 10 men and women in the age group of 30-60
1. Primary Research
This involves in-depth qualitative interviews. The Phase 1 Primary Research results will be used to provide better insight into the interaction with B2B respondents.
- 5 Brand Managers
- 5 Industry Professionals (Mix of Media | Advertising | Retail | Industry veterans)
Discussion Guide for Consumers
Objective: To understand what consumers perceive of branding and how different medium affects them
Lifestyle and Pattern
- Where do you live?
- What do you do?
- What is your typical day like?
- What personal gadgets do you own?
- Which are your 3 favourite brands?
- Why do you like them?
- Do you buy them yourself?
- Would you endorse these brands to others?
- Do you like seeing advertisements?
- Do you pay attention to a new form of advertising?
- What medium affects your purchase of a brand the most?
- Do too much media and too much branding bother you?
- Have you heard of Skins?
- What are the different kinds of skins that you know of?
- Would you notice branding through Skins, like, car skins, walls skins, laptop skins, etc?
- Would you purchase a skin yourself?
- Would you use a skin branded by your favourite brand?
Phase 1 (a) – Secondary Research
Current International Practices in the domain of Skins
AMBER MEDIA GMBH
This is a Germany based agency that specialises in innovative ambient concepts. It was founded in 2002, and has since then established itself in the out-of-home segment.
Amber Stix enables the advertising slogan to be placed directly in the desired target group’s immediate environment. It provides a surprise effect without disturbing the target. It offers a wide range of innovative possibilities and reaches whoever one wishes to reach with their advertising slogan. It ensures that the brand stands out from the crowd by trying out an innovative and an unusual approach.
Its product – Amber STIX
Amber STIX are adhesive skins that have an extra strong electrostatic charge. These Stix adhere due to their static charge alone. Hence they are different from the conventional adhesive skins. They don’t have to be pressed to the surface. They can remain in place for more than 6 months and can be recharged when needed.
AMBERMEDIA_amberSTIX_4 amber 3
Aldo Branding in front of the store Blood Diamond outdoor branding
Some of the features are:
- Adhere to most surfaces
- No residue left
- Bubble free
- Can be repositioned
- Removed and attached several times
- Can be recharged with Amber STIX charger
- Can be perforated
- 100% recyclable
Skinit, Inc. provides a large product line of branded vinyl skins for personal electronic devices. It is based out of San Diego, California. Skinit branded products can be offered by OEMs, global retailers, distributors, Internet portals, online shopping sites, etc. It is made with premium 3M material. Skinit is the global leader in business-to-consumer and business-to-business personalisation technology platforms and on-demand manufacturing for corporate clients. Skinit has hundreds of designs, famous brand names in sports, entertainment, art,
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