At last year’s Super Bowl halftime show Lady Gaga was the center of attention, but another bright attraction also caught spectators’ eyes. Hundreds of Pepsi-sponsored intel drones lit up the night sky in a synchronized spectacle of light:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT_BqmTgOUw&w=1300&h=600&rel=0 ]
Drones, small, remote controlled aircraft, aren’t mature technology yet, but they’ve already come along way and are common enough now that many brands are starting to investigate their use for a number of applications from aerial advertising to delievery services to guerilla marketing campaigns.
A large number of brands and startups are jockeying for a place in a market that some analysts believe will be worth over $127 billion by the end of the decade. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers analyst Piotr Romanowski:
“The cost of drone technology is falling so quickly that a number of everyday applications are becoming cost-efficient.”
At the moment, legislative hurdles are still an impediment to rapid growth. Government agencies from around the world are hoping to have adequate safety and regulatory frameworks in place before the sky is buzzing with remote controlled and autonomous flying machines.
An Industry Takes Flight
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published the first rules for drones in 2016, which limit most commercial operations to daylight hours. The rules apply to drones under 55 pounds and specifies a flight ceiling of 400 feet. Additionally, operators must be over 16 years of age and certified every two years.
Another restriction, that the aircraft cannot travel out of the operator’s line of sight, has forced etailer Amazon to perform some of its testing on foreign shores. The company is flying the latest generation of its Prime Air drones in rural and suburban U.K. regions. It’s newest prototypes fly out of sight of operators, and one operator can control multiple drones:
But the FAA’s action was seen as a step in the right direction by the fast-growing drone industry. 700,000 to 1 million drones were sold during the 2015 holiday season alone. Chinese company DJI, a leading manufacturer of quadcopters, called the step a milestone.
The company’s spokesperson, Adam Lisberg, said, “The rules show that FAA thinks drones, which are useful for utility inspections, construction surveys, agricultural monitoring, university research and search-and-rescue, can safely share the skies with passenger planes.”
Stateside, convenience store chain 7-Eleven made headlines by beating Amazon to the first commercial delivery by drone. Aided by technology partner Flirtey, a shipment containing donuts, coffee, and Slurpees was flown autonomously to a private home in Reno, Nevada.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEm7bI_meQY&w=1300&h=600&rel=0 ]
“The company first selected a store from which to deliver, and surveyed customers within a one-mile radius to see if they would be willing to take part in the pilot program.” 7-Eleven’s Chief Marketing Officer, Jesus Delgado-Jenkins, called drone delivery “the ultimate convenience for our customers and these efforts create enormous opportunities to redefine convenience.”
Facebook, never one to leave a new technology unexploited, has a drone program of its own in the works. But, the social network intends to use its flying platforms to deliver internet service rather than physical goods. It’s Aquila drone, a high-altitude, long-endurance solar airplane, is being built to beam internet coverage to the 1.6 billion people worldwide who still lack access.
Look! Up in the Sky!
In addition to serving as delivery platforms for goods and services, drones are also poised to disrupt the advertising sector. For decades the high cost of airplanes and helicopters limited aerial advertising and filming operations to well-heeled clients. Inexpensive and ubiquitous quadcopters have already started shaking things up.
“Drones offer a different perspective that captures people’s attention. They allow marketers to be more creative and innovative by using angles and shots that weren’t previously practical–often at a much lower cost.”
Innovative brands are also finding creative and fun ways to show off the novelty of drones.
SportChek, the largest Canadian retailer of sporting goods modified a DJI Phantom quadcopter to drop a baseball from several hundred feet for Toronto Blue Jay outfielder Kevin Pillar to snag. Previously, the brand created a viral video of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos winging pucks at practice targets mounted on drones.
Mountain Dew produced a spot showing a group of dirtbikers hunting down a quarry of drones. The brand is also investing in the growing sport of Drone Racing, opting to be the title sponsor of the DR1 Invitational, a two-day drone racing event that airs annually on the Discovery Channel.
Senior marketing manager Michael Craig told Adweek: “Mountain Dew is most comfortable when we are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, whether it be technology, style or just having a damn good time.”
Right now drones are still mostly fun and games, but a serious industry is all but certain to emerge in the next few years. The opportunities for inventive marketing via drone are about as expansive as the skies themselves.