4 ways drones are changing the marketing industry

Discover how drones are changing the marketing industry, providing new ways and tools to marketers and brands to gather data, launch products and engage with their audience.


Drones are an emerging technology. Only in the last few years, have marketers been able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by drones in advertising brands and products.

Even in such a short amount of time, marketers have been able to figure out different ways to use drones in their marketing strategies. Some of these ways, while still in their infancy, show a huge potential for the future of marketing. Find out which ones!

How Are Drones  Being Used In The Marketing Industry?

  1. Drones as a physical medium: they are used to physically reach consumers in new and innovative ways. Disruption potential: medium
  2. Drones as actors: they are used by marketers in video commercials as surprising flying objects bringing the “wow” factor. Disruption potential: low
  3. Drones as videographer tools: they are used in commercials to produce innovative video content and offer new perspectives. Disruption potential: high
  4. Drones as a hub of emerging technologies: integrated with other technologies (such as VR/AR*, cloud, IoT* etc), drones are opening the path to disruptive ways to gather data and market to target audiences. Disruption potential: huge!

*Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality, Internet of Things

1: Drones As A Physical Medium

Brands – and even small local businesses – are using drones to physically reach and astonish their customers. Drones can be simply, the new physical medium to advertise a product or a brand to the public.

In 2013, a few restaurants, such as the London-based Yo-Sushi, with its flying tray, experimented with drones to serve food to their customers.

2014 saw the first uses of drones as flying billboards.

The advertising agency Hungry Boys launched a drone-vertising campaign for the noodle shop chain Wokker. They used drones to carry small fliers past the windows of Moscow office buildings, promoting the shop’s lunch specials just before lunch-time. The agency reported an increase of 40% in the orders at Wokker restaurants in the area.

A few months later in Brazil, Camisaria Colombo, a famous Brazilian, men’s shirt store, flew several drones carrying headless mannequins in front of the executives working in the offices of Sao Paulo’s business district, Vila Olimpia.

Publicis Salles Chemistri, the advertising agency behind this event, used the “dronequins” to inform the office workers and passers-by of special offers available on Black Friday at the store:

In November 2014, TGI Fridays launched  the #Togethermas Mistletoe campaign. Drones were used at some locations belonging to the chain to fly to tables where couples were eating, inviting them to kiss under the mistletoe. The campaign was abruptly interrupted when a customer got injured by a drone in a Brooklyn, N.Y. restaurant.

FunnyHowFlowersDoThat, an initiative from the Flower Council of Holland, used a special red drone, called Cupidrone, to deliver roses to passers-by, in Romeo and Juliet’s hometown of Verona, Italy, on Valentine’s Day 2015:

Another interesting example of physical use of drones to advertise products comes from the theatrical launch of the new 2016 Infiniti QX30 model at Los Angeles Auto Show in 2015:

Advertising agencies like DroneCast and Hoovy offer “drone-vertising” services.

They use drones for flying banners, or for dropping promotional objects like shirts or gift cards, or for delivering specific products during events such as auto shows, festivals, concerts and various other themed events.

Dronecast Drone-vertising

Both companies looked quite promising in 2014 when they appeared on the scene, and the market seemed to be reacting well to their services.

However, FAA regulations in the U.S. became tighter on this type of commercial operation, in particular when launched in proximity to crowds or urban environments – and DroneCast, Hoovy and similar drone-vertising companies seem to have gradually disappeared from the news.

Even if advances in drone technology and the relaxation of laws related to commercial applications of drones were to take place, allowing more experimental physical uses of drones for advertising, I agree with Neal Burns, branding expert at the University of Texas at Austin.

In his opinion, quoted on Business Insider, drone advertising could become more popular, but not beyond a niche market.

I still believe that the real disruptive potential of drones in the marketing industry lies elsewhere, not in physically using drones on-the-spot or in drone-vertising.

2: Drones As Actors

At the very beginning of their boom in the commercial and consumer market, drones were perceived as strange flying objects – and they still are for the general public!

Marketers took advantage of the novelty of drones, using them as the main surprise factor in video commercials.

In a sense, Amazon was among the first of the big brands to use drones in commercials, when they launched a 2013 video to create buzz around their still-to-come Prime Air service. This revolutionary service would allow Amazon to deliver packages “in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles”:

But the real boom of drones filmed in commercials happened in 2014 and 2015.

In the last two years drones have played a key role in many brands’ promotional videos, acting as the surprise element, able to capture the attention of the audience simply with their physical presence.

Coca Cola used drones in 2014 in its Happiness from the Skies campaign, created with Ogilvy & Mather Singapore and the nonprofit organization Singapore Kindness Movement. Drones were filmed while delivering Coke cans and love messages to Singapore migrant workers forced to live away from their families for long periods of time.

The commercial, which couldn’t be filmed in the US because of restrictions surrounding the commercial use of drones, was then used worldwide:

Drones were used as the “villain” in the spot produced by Audi to launch their Audi 6 model in March 2015. The ad, created by the advertising agency Venables Bell & Partners, was strongly criticized by some members of the drone community for the negative role played by the drones. I find it amusing:

Pepsi Max is one brand that maximized drones in their commercials.

In the video promoting Pepsi Max’s “What If…” campaign, produced for Pepsi by AMV BBDO, RSA and O.M.D., three drone-powered “Friend Finders” help solve the annoying problem of losing your buddies in a massive crowd gathered for a concert.

Another of Pepsi Max’s viral videos, created for the #LiveForNow campaign, shows drones acting as referees in an interactive soccer arena in the middle of Barcelona:

While drones still represent an element of surprise in a commercial, they are becoming mainstream and they will lose their “fresh surprise” factor soon.

Again, I don’t think this is the most innovative way that drones are changing the marketing industry.

3: Drones As Videographer Tools

From the very beginning, cinematography and videography have emerged as the epicenter of drone use within the marketing arena.

Marketers soon realized that drones were and are, not just an object able to surprise, but rather a powerful tool, able to curb the costs of traditional aerial filming, and create great and innovative video content.

As John Tidwell, founder of DronesX, said in an interview with CMO on the evolution of drones in marketing: when used for film or video “drones offer a different perspective that captures people’s attention. They allow marketers to be more creative and innovative by using angles and shots that weren’t previously practical–often at a much lower cost.”

The possibility to get low-cost, innovative content has been a crucial factor driving marketer’s adoption of drones in the video advertising space.

In the current environment, video consumption is growing and videos are effective in engaging with the audience, so marketers are producing more commercials. But the more commercials they produce, the harder it is for a video to stand out.

In this saturated market, marketers need compelling new perspectives in video commercials, and that’s what drones can provide, at a very manageable cost. And that’s why ad executives are increasingly using drones to make commercials.

Another factor which contributed to the growth of the market for drone footage in commercial videos was the 2014 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s change of policy in relation to commercial drone applications in the U.S.

Since September 2014, the FAA has allowed, with section 333 exemptions, the use of drones for film and television production and commercial production and this has seen the video advertising industry explode in the U.S., one of the biggest world markets for commercials.

Aerial MOB, a San Diego aerial cinematography company, specializes in aerial shoots for TV and cinema productions, and in drone-created advertising videos. They were the first FAA Approved Operator in the U.S.

In 2015, just a year after they got the FAA approval (which happened in Sept 2014), their business exceeded $1.2 million, with 60% of the revenue coming from advertising agencies, as reported by Aerial MOB’s CMO Tony Carmean.

Among Aerial MOB‘s clients are some of the biggest entertainment and media companies in the world like BBC, HBO, MTV and Warner Brothers, car companies like KIA, Peugeot, Hyundai, Infiniti and BMW and consumer brands like NIKE and Converse.

BMW 6 Series Astronaut (Commercial) – YouTube from Aerial MOB on Vimeo.

As Aerial MOB in the US, many other aerial filming companies, both in the US and in other countries, are taking advantage of this trend, using drones to create commercials for top brands with a more compelling and engaging message.

Just to mention a few, the London-based Surface 2 Air Media has worked with Puma, Canon, Google, Trek, Aston Martin and FootLocker:

Sergio Agüero – Dronie from Surface 2 Air Media on Vimeo.

Another great example is the Frankfurt-based Skynamic, quite active on the German market and abroad:

Drones are now being seen less as novelty gadgets, and the approach to drones and to their content is getting more mature.

Top brands are now starting to integrate drones and aerial content into their multi-platform campaigns.

In July 2015 GE (General Electric) launched #DroneWeek, a successful digital marketing campaign combining drones, Periscope and Twitter, created with the marketing firm The Barbarian Group.

Over the course of five days, the drone flew over five different GE facilities in the US, streaming the footage in real-time.

The idea behind this campaign was to tell the audience a story about GE’s innovations and the sheer breadth of technologies being worked on by the company, using the unexpected and unique perspective offered by the drone and delivered through Periscope, a channel not fully maximized yet by marketers.

Overall, the adoption of drones in the production of commercials has produced very interesting results and drones are well on their way to become a mainstream tool for videographers and marketers producing video content.

Technical improvements and increased knowledge of the potential offered by drones will contribute to further increase this market.

4: Drones As A Hub Of Emerging Technologies

As drones mature, and other emerging technologies take hold, the integration of these technologies with drones beckons, with the promise of capturing and using data for marketing purposes in entirely new ways.

Cloud, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things, Wearable Technologies: each of these technologies will be cross-pollinated with drones, and each of them, I forecast, will have a huge impact on the potential of drones in marketing.

Drones are already able to integrate with all these new technologies giving birth to innovative ways to create content, customize it and deliver the brand’s message to its audience.

The technology is ready, as Mariah Scott, Chief Operating Officer for Skyward, said to CMO: “We are now at the point where it isn’t necessary to be unduly concerned about the operational hurdles. The technology is ready for mainstream use”.

Some of the integration of these emerging technologies have already produced results within the marketing industry.

For example, drone acquired aerial content has been enhanced through Virtual Reality. The “Art of Patrón Virtual Reality Experience” is an immersive virtual reality experience based on Oculus technology and drone videos to promote the Mexican brand Patrón.

Created by New York-based creative agency Firstborn, this project takes viewers on an interactive journey to Patrón‘s Hacienda distillery in Mexico. The 360° perspective of the Hacienda facility was obtained by Aerial Mob pilots filming with 360Heros H3Pro7 mounted on seven custom drones.

Art of Patrón Virtual Reality Experience

Another interesting example of the intersection of drones and emerging technologies comes from the Singapore-based firm Near.

The company specializes in data-collection and location intelligence-based marketing and serves 26 million people monthly for 300 top global brands such as Adidas, Audi, IKEA, Pepsi and Pizza Hut – all looking for accuracy if they’re going to spend on custom, location-based segments.

Near tested drones to collect wireless data to be used for profiling its audience. The tests were conducted in 2015 in several key markets, including the U.S. (in Los Angeles). The drones, with cameras and phones turned off, collected publicly available Wi-Fi signals.

Using signal strength and other wireless data from passersby below, the firm can get the most accurate user information without GPS or Operator dependence, and then deliver hyper-targeted ads and other location and contextual-based promotions to potential customers, at the right moment and in the right place.

Adnear testing drones for future location marketing

As Shobhit Shukla, Near’s VP of Sales and Partnerships, explained in an interview with AdExchanger: “Drones are an interesting way to collect data because you can program drones along specific flight paths in a controlled environment (…). Drones allow us to easily do what would be extremely difficult in normal circumstances. The main reason we’re doing these tests is to see if we can use a mainstream format to collect more first-party data across markets”.

Even if the company had already been using bikes, taxis, cars, trains, and people on foot to collect the same data collected through the drones in the Los Angeles test, and did that in compliance with the privacy regulations of every market, Near‘s testing on U.S. soil caused a media stir.

The test was criticized for its questionable legality and for the privacy and data protection concerns it raised.

Still, the road to drones as tools for data collection for local, geo-targeted and proximity marketing has been marked.

Data collection is indeed one of the most promising fields, and I’m sure it will radically change with the integration of  drones with Internet of Things, Big Data, Wearable, and Cloud technologies.

The more these technologies progress (and the more regulations set clear limits), the more disruptive drones will be in this field as they are currently, in collecting data for other industries such as precision agriculture or mapping and surveying.

As CMO’s journalist Samuel Greengard writes in the above-mentioned article on drones and marketing: “UAVs will handle everything from mapping and geospatial data to collecting package delivery information and data reads from connected sensors and devices. This, in turn, will feed into business analytics systems that allow an organization to operate more efficiently while tapping the data for marketing and promotion”.

Beyond data collection and integration with mobile devices, more and more cross-pollination will take place in the near-future.

We are now just at the very beginning of a road that will see drones and other emerging technologies disrupt the traditional ways of marketing.

“The possibilities are limited only by people’s imaginations”, says John Tidwell.

I agree with him: the most disruptive ways drones will change marketing have yet to be imagined. I eagerly await the future of drones in marketing – it will be fascinating.

Researched and written by Marco Mancosu – Director of Marketing at Skytango™

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