Are drones the next big thing in marketing?


The CES expo hall and a new Sheraton campaign point to drones becoming a hot-ticket for consumers item in the near future. Can the same be said for marketers?

Through the end of the month, Sheraton is randomly selecting consumers to receive prizes such as battery extenders for mobile devices, Sheraton resort vacations, GoPro cameras, and drones. In order to win, all they have to do is experience a flight delay and tweet about it with the hashtag #delightdelaysweeps.

According to Orbitz’s recent holiday study, 6 percent more Americans plan on traveling this holiday season than last year. And while this December has been unseasonably warm, cities like Denver and Minneapolis can be counted on to have snowy winters. Of course, Sheraton is aiming to appeal to people whose flight delays require a hotel stay. If you suddenly need to spend the night someplace, wouldn’t the hotel that may give you a cool prize be the first one to come to mind?

The Sheraton hotel packages are an obvious prize. The chargers, headphones and battery extenders make sense, given the airport connection. GoPros and traveling go hand in hand. But the drones are an interesting addition. While GoPros have proven themselves popular, drones haven’t gotten full mainstream adoption just yet.

“I think many people see drones only as toys or weapons, when in reality, they are useful in a variety of additional commercial settings,” says Michael Gorman, editor-in-chief of Engadget.

“I don’t know about drones being the ‘next big thing,’ as they are a niche product with pretty specific use cases. That said, I don’t think you’ll be seeing a drone in every home anytime soon, but I do think that drones are generally becoming more commonplace,” he adds.

Based on what I’ve seen from next month’s Consumer Electronics Show, that’s certainly true. Only virtual reality, which is just starting to come into its own, has been the subject of more emails. And of course, if something becomes popular with consumers, advertisers are right there, too.

Drones made a big splash at Cannes last summer, when Twitter launched its @Dronie account on Vine and posted airborne selfies of ad executives and Patrick Stewart (obviously). In the year and a half following, many brands have gotten behind the technology.

“For me, drones have enhanced marketing, first and foremost, in terms of production value,” says Niklas Lindstrom, head of interactive production at Droga5.

“Drones have made it possible to film scenes that otherwise, would be much more difficult to pull off,” he adds.

The aerial views allow for some arresting, Red Bull campaign-quality shots. It was a drone that allowed Patrón to shoot its virtual reality distillery experience from the perspective of a bee. For Valentine’s Day, U.K. florist FunnyHowFlowersDoThat used its “Cupidrone” to drop roses all over the Italian city of Verona, all the while showcasing the beauty of Romeo and Juliet’s hometown.

As drones have gotten bigger, brands have figured out more ways to use them, beyond as a way to shoot better videos. To promote The Fantastic Four, Fox set a remote-controlled drone on fire and sent flying through the sky a la the Human Torch. Cheetos took its annual Halloween prank videos to the next level by dressing up a drone as a banshee to scare consumers answering their doors.

“The most successful campaign is Amazon’s PR play on its drone delivery system. It makes Amazon look really progressive as a company and that it’s really at the forefront of logistics and customer service,” says Lindstrom.

Two years ago, CEO Jeff Bezos revealed a plan for Prime Air on 60 Minutes. According to the proposition, drones can deliver Amazon orders as quickly as half an hour, provided the items ordered weigh less than five pounds and the recipient lives within a 10-mile radius of an Amazon distribution center. Prime Air has yet to come to fruition, though the company did share its most recent update just before Cyber Monday.

More than anything, the mere speculation of Prime Air demonstrates the role drones will likely play in the future of marketing. They’re already making campaigns better from a visual standpoint. But as they grow in popularity and ownership, they’ll make brands better, as well. Prime Air isn’t exactly marketing, at least not in the traditional sense.

But it kind of is because wouldn’t the very existence of such a thing further promote Amazon as the go-to retailer for absolutely everything? Who doesn’t order stuff online and want it ASAP?