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Posted at 04:02 PM ET, 03/09/2013

SXSW 2013: A tour of Google’s ‘Playground’

Google has a talking shoe — and it has an attitude.

The shoe is still in prototype, and Google has provided no estimate as to when it will reach store shelves.

“Our goal is really to figure out how you marry innovations in technology with marketing and advertising,” said Aman Govil, head of the Art, Copy & Code initiative and the company’s Advertising Arts team.

“I want to move people from thinking about digital advertising to thinking about advertising and marketing in the digital age.”

Govil’s team is investigating how companies can use connected objects, and visualized data to augment brands. For example, imagine if, rather than having an app in your phone that tells you how far you ran, your shoe told you. And if you woke up too late for a run, the shoe would tell you how far you could have run.

I tested out the shoe — well, a prototype — with the sensor technology at the Google Playground at SXSW on Saturday. As I ran through a series of simple obstacles a screen fed encouragement, compliments and prompts back to me. “Go! Go! Go!” it told me at one point, as I picked up speed.

“This is not a consumer product, it’s an experiment,” said Govil, going on to say that his team is charged not with inventing new products, but using already available products to create innovations. In other words, don’t think Google Glass. “Our goal is to shoe possibilities,” said Govil, over the thump of upbeat music and a milling crowd.

The shoe technology’s implications are wide-ranging. Imagine, for example, if RGIII had a shoe that sensed whether and how he was favoring his knee, and his training regimen. Then, via social media, fans could follow him in his own voice as he chronicles how far he ran that day and how he’s doing where he has pre-recorded updates based on certain types of data returned by the shoe.

It’s a hypothetical, but it could stand to change the nature of fandom in professional sports. “Ultimately, from our business standpoint, if people are going to do amazing things with building brands online, it’s not just us, the entire industry stands to rise from it,” said Govil when asked about how the tech could benefit Google.

Aside from offering its Chromebook Pixel for visitors to play with, now available for order, the company also offered the snacks and games that have become a signature component of its corporate culture.

But back to the gadgets — the company is also taking on your commute.

“If you think about driving, it’s a very boring exercise,” said Govil, “there’s no data on that for them. That time is disappearing into the ether. How do you make that a social experience?”

So Google is teaming up with Volkswagen to create Smileage, an app built on top of Google’s social network, allowing people to create a live photo album along a map — also provided by Google — to share the positive parts of your travel. The app is not exclusive to Volkswagen cars, spreading the brand potentially across all consumers. Photos, comments, videos and interactions generate a live, interactive map of your road trip. “It’s a social experience,” said Govil.

Then there’s the twist Govil’s team has applied to online video advertising, leveraging the Web to hypertarget the narrative of an advertisement to consumers where and when they are. So, if you’re, say, in Austin, and it’s raining, the ad will display the time and date, and show you video of a car driving through a rainy day in Austin and then associate other videos to craft a narrative around all of the data you make available to it. If you work in advertising, the subject of the ad works in advertising. If you have two kids, the subject of the ad has two kids. The goal, at least in part, said Govil, was to maximize on the little bit of time available to brands to keep viewers engaged and see where a brand fits in their lives.

“There could be a future where these type of things become the norm on the Web,” said Govil. “Don’t do digital marketing, do marketing for a connected world.”

If you’re at SXSW and tried out Google’s new tech, let us know what you thought.

The author’s brother works for Google but not with the Advertising Arts team.

By  |  04:02 PM ET, 03/09/2013

 
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