The Problem with Advertising for Wearables

January 8, 2016

8:00 pm

It’s easy to get sucked into the hype surrounding wearable technology. The way some tech experts talk, wearables will be the biggest thing to happen since smartphones, and when looking at the potential capabilities, it’s hard to argue that point. Wearables represent the next step in technological progress, with even greater advances likely to happen in the form of embedded sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT). The first step in making all of this happen, however, is to get the general population on board with the idea, and that all comes down to advertising. If audiences aren’t receptive to the first true iteration of wearables, getting them comfortable with more advanced forms in the future might prove challenging. Now that we’re well into the latest round of wearable tech adoption, we can take a step back and evaluate how advertisers are reaching out to audiences. At the moment, it appears there are improvements that need to be made.

First, let’s look over some statistics for the people who are actually buying wearables devices. According to NPD, roughly one out of every ten adults in the U.S. owns a fitness tracker, the type of wearable device that has become the most popular. Interestingly, more than 40 percent of fitness tracker owners made more than $100,000 in yearly income, while more than a third (36 percent) are between 35 and 54 years of age. Smartwatches have trended toward the younger crowd, with 69 percent of smartwatch owners between 18 to 34, but unlike fitness trackers, smartwatches haven’t seen nearly as much adoption. Smartwatch owners also tend to be male (71 percent) while having a much lower income than the average fitness tracker owner ($45,000).

These, of course, are just numbers. When looking at the big picture revealed from the statistics, the overall situation becomes much clearer. Advertisers have largely targeted people in upper income brackets among an older demographic. In many ways, this mirrors the same strategy employed when cell phones first arrived on the scene. When cell phones were introduced, they were extremely expensive, to the point where only the very rich could justify purchasing one. Eventually, the price would come down, opening the market to more people, to the point where almost everybody owns one these days. While this might seem like a smart strategy for wearable technology, it actually represents a problem: advertisers appear to be targeting the wrong people.

Some wearables, like fitness trackers, may be somewhat pricey, but even the fanciest ones only cost a few hundred dollars, whereas the first cell phones were priced in the thousands. That makes wearables much more available to a wider audience. But the problems go deeper than that. Wearables have tremendous potential in multiple areas, but the one that many experts highlight is the benefits that could come from health tracking. Many people who suffer from chronic health issues would find much to be gained from having wearable devices catering to their various needs. In many cases, these are people from lower income brackets living in places where there are few physicians. Though they would be a rich audience for the potential applications of wearables, they are mostly overlooked since they don’t fit the mold of what an early adopter should be in the eyes of advertisers.

This perception of the early adopter may be flawed anyway. Many people from lower income families are unfairly labeled as lacking tech savvy, when the opposite may well be true. Considering the fact that studies have found most people discard their fitness trackers mere months after buying them, it’s clear the targeted audience isn’t seen value from them the way others might. Many advertisements also portray wearable buyers as athletes, when the most beneficial applications of these devices would likely be used for people who aren’t as physically active.

This isn’t to say advertisers should completely ignore the audience they’re targeting now. However, a more inclusive approach would benefit all parties involved. For now, it seems like advertisers have narrowed their focus too much, passing over fertile ground based off of a misperception. While many early adopters may not fully understand new technologies like the cloud or software-defined storage, they can at least understand the ways wearables will help in their everyday lives. If advertisers fail at this, the momentum wearable technology has seen could easily diminish, leaving the next generation of devices struggling to catch on.

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“I’ve been blessed to have a successful career and have recently taken a step back to pursue my passion of writing. I’ve started doing freelance writing and I love to write about new technologies and how it can help us and our planet. I also write for Dell every once and awhile.” – Rick DelGado