Your Body as Brand Interface

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By Antoinette Hoes, CEO of Blast Radius / Wunderman

Your body? Yes, your body. Your body is the interface brands covet in their desire to bond ever closer and get access to today’s gold dust, your data.

Advertising has never had any scruples appropriating what it deems fit from the realm of technology and art. Looking at where technology and art have already gone with the connected body, the body as brand interface is bound to come our way.

Kevin Warwick, the much-debated former professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading worked for years on direct interfaces between computer systems and the human nervous system. Already in 1998 he had a silicon microchip transponder implanted into the median nerves of his own left arm. Eventually he could control a robotic arm through his own movements, or by just thinking of the movement.

Another pioneer, Amal Graafstra, is an entrepreneur whose company Dangerous Goods implants Verichips for purposes of identification, tracking and storing of information. And artist Xin Liu gives very popular workshops where she helps you get a tattoo of conductive ink that lights up your skin.

Nowadays the use of implanted RFID-tags or microchips is mainly discussed for purposes of identification, tracking and storing of information. When their use evolves in interacting with objects and machines, in payments and in enhancing people’s capabilities they become very attractive to brands.

It is hard to imagine a brand saying no to the opportunity to become ever closer attached to people and mine today’s gold dust: your data. Just think of the sports brand that brings you an implantable, instead of today’s run of the mill wearable’s. An implantable that not only measures your state of being and accomplishments, but actually enhances them. An implantable that sends your data to this, and maybe other brands, for them to better evolve and target their products and services.

Or imagine an implantable that help you gain access restricted, areas, products and services, like an employer in Sweden has already started to do for its employees. Or an implantable that brands might pay you to wear, and that you allow to nudge you into certain brand related behaviors.

Start-ups abound that develop products in this space. Wearable technology companies like Chiaro 'design beautiful  and bold products that make women feel happy and confident about their bodies’. They developed Elvie ‘your most personal trainer’ that helps women achieve ‘inner strength and control’ through training their pelvic muscles with an implement that looks remarkably like a sex toy. New kid on the block Thync created a low-voltage device meant to help people activate their body's "natural state of energy or calm."

It is all too believable that brands will want to enter this space. Even if the wearable’s and implants might – at first – be from third parties.

Are we ready to have our bodies implanted or otherwise ‘branded’?

Fears about bio-hacking as well as privacy concerns abound. With all the benefits big data brings, it is also a form of surveillance. Critical citizens and consumers do not trust governments or corporations with this. But, in 2004 the Baja Beach club already gave selected guests an implanted tag to gain entrance and pay seamlessly. And though that seemed nothing more than a publicity stunt recent research by VISA in Australia claims an astounding 25% of Australians are at least slightly interested in payments through an implanted chip.

I believe major brands will in the foreseeable future start to partner up with the tech companies developing in this area, or buy them. The opportunity is just too good to miss.