Everywhere I turn in the industry, I hear the same conversation: Traditional marketing is dying and the product itself is becoming the marketing, the advertising, the branding, all in one. And in the world of product development-as-brand, Nike is held up as the clear standard-bearer. But if the product is now the brand, then what is Nike’s signature new product, the Nike+ FuelBand, saying about both of them?
In case you aren’t part of the tech and advertising community (One wag on Twitter noted, “Congrats, Nike, you’ve hit your goal of 100% penetration of the advertising community”), the Nike+ FuelBand is a beautiful, simple LED wristband with great interface design and a state-of-the-art accelerometer that measures steps, calories and other movements to create its own metric, Fuel.
Activity good, math bad
The FuelBand speaks loudly and clearly of Nike’s devotion to the altruistic goal of making the whole world more active, not just pro athletes. The idea is simple—have an active day, and see how much Fuel you earn. Set that as your goal and beat it. It is gamifying life in a gambit to get you off your fat ass. Of course, the more active you are, the more product Nike moves. But that seems like an OK tradeoff. (And I hear you back there, snickering at me for citing “gamification.” But I’m allowed to since this is a product devoted to, you know, playing games.)
At the same time, though, the FuelBand is not so devoted to the maths, to “reality.” When I got my much-coveted FuelBand, I could tell something was off after only a few days. With strenuous exercise like running, the FuelBand’s estimates of calories and steps were accurate. But it was wildly off when it came to the idle connective tissue of life. Each morning I’d get my kids ready for school, and my FuelBand would happily inform me I’d burned 900 calories before I even left the house. That’s insane. And if two key elements of the secret sauce that is Fuel are “steps” and “calories,” then the entire metric is sketchy.
So I emailed Nike and asked them if something was defective. Here was the key part of their response: “The device is not intended as a calorie tracker or pedometer. It is an estimate of your activities throughout the day.” Hmmm.
But maybe that’s OK
It’s hard to be mad, even when I feel Nike is misleading. Because there is something kind of adorable about the fact that the FuelBand gives so much weight in its metric to the mundane crap we have to do every day–getting a kid into a car seat, walking two blocks to a meeting, carrying groceries. It’s exercise tracking as positive daily affirmation.
And now that Nike just made the exciting move of opening up the FuelBand API, we’re sure to see further intriguing mood enhancements, such as a Shuffle-based app that “monitors a person’s activities throughout the day to figure out when a person needs to hear what…”
This is all cool stuff, and I genuinely love how the device and the app look and feel. If you close your eyes and don’t think about the fact that Fuel is as fictional as Unobtanium, it can still work as an incentive to keep you active.
So, to be perfectly clear, the Nike+ FuelBand is beautiful and effective and totally lying to me, all at once. Welcome to the future of marketing.
Of course, it also happens to be a very cool watch.