Could RFID Technology Wearables be the Future of Event Giveaways?

Walking past the stands at a tech conference, you will undoubtedly receive more than your fair share of freebies. Over time these handouts have become more and more high-tech. First, it was pens and notebooks, now, if you don’t receive a branded cardboard VR viewer at a tech conference, it’s probably because they ran out before you got there. Much like technology itself, these giveaways continue to evolve. In the not-too-distant future, thanks to the kind of technology embedded in these freebies, attendees could be walking around the halls literally wearing their identities on their sleeves thanks to RFID wearables.

RFID T-shirts and Wristbands Tagging Attendees

In thousands of warehouses and retail outlets around the word, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags help keep track of stock by emitting signals with embedded information about the items that bear them.

This same technology is starting to allow exhibitioners at events to find out information about attendees without even having to speak to them. RFID could be used to tag bespoke event t-shirts, providing plentiful information about guests the same way RFID provides information about products in retail.

One marketer has posited that RFID-stored information in tagged freebies such as t-shirts, or even “tiny t-shirts for new moms” could put the “WOW” factor into events. Exhibitioners will be able to know the names and interests of guests, and will be able to appeal to exactly what they want and need.

The marketer compares this to the classic sitcom Cheers, but do you really want to walk into an exhibition centre where everybody knows your name?

How RFID Freebies Could Work

There are many questions that can be raised pertaining to the practicality of RFID-enabled giveaways, but some events are already using them. Lollapalooza, for example, has a “Lolla Cashless” scheme which allows festival-goers to pay for food and drink without having to carry around money. Eventbrite champions a similar RFID system, focusing on the way the tags could be used to manage entry flow.

Other events and conferences could implement the technology in a similar way, but with more emphasis on the data accumulation side of things than the entry and exit tracking. Guests could add their details and preferences to an online database when they buy tickets. When they get to the door, they could pick up a tagged t-shirt, a wristband or a lanyard linked to their account, and filled with their personal details.

Exhibition stands could eventually have RFID readers on them, allowing hosts to tailor their spiel precisely to the interests of their potential attendees.

Why Identification Apparel May Be the Future of Events

The advantages of having access to full personal profiles of all attendees at a conference are unquestionable for the exhibitors and for the company organizing the event. The event organizers could build the kind of big data-driven consumer profiles that would make Mark Zuckerberg’s mouth water. They could even follow Facebook’s business model, offering free attendance and selling the information to advertisers—or exhibitors—as a way to make money. These kinds of business models are becoming increasingly popular in the age of social media.

The technology is already catching on outside of events, too. One Swedish men’s apparel brand is selling a near field communication (NFC) RFID shirt, allowing wearers to emit business card information which can be read by the smartphones of passers-by.

For events, the applications of this could be manifold. As well as giving exhibitors access to reams of information about guests, it could also facilitate networking between guests themselves, particularly if the information is readable via a smartphone app. Used in this way, business events could be totally shaken up.

Creating a database of attendee information is only the first step. RFID tags can be an important part of an augmented reality (AR) setup. Many brands are slowly embracing AR in the retail sector. AR fitting rooms allow shoppers to hold clothes up in front of interactive mirrors, which then display live 3D images of what the customer would look like if they were wearing the outfits.

This could be implemented in events, too. Using either mobile phones, interactive mirrors, or Google Glass-style goggles, guests and hosts could see information such as the names and employers of other guests to help with the networking aspect of conferences. But it’s not just about networking. RFID-enabled t-shirts and wristbands could turn events into AR adventures, almost literally adding another dimension to the proceedings.

Thanks to tiny chips embedded into garments, events may become more interactive and more valuable than they ever have been before.

Read more about wearable technology at TechCo

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Written by:
Simon Davies is a London based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues and solutions.
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