Can Apple Do for Wearable Ads What Facebook Did for Mobile?

Marketers predict brands will latch onto smartwatches

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TapSense this week unveiled what its programmatic ads for the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch will look like, exhibiting a buy-one-get-one-free mock offer from Starbucks. It's at least the second tech company to reveal a programmatic offering for wearables in the last few months, coming on the heels of FitAd's debut with Amtrak.

This will be a space to watch in 2015—especially if Apple Watch becomes remotely close to as popular as the iPhone. Wearable device sales are generally expected to achieve significant growth over the next few years, according to researchers. Rest assured, marketers will pay to test return on investment with the emerging formats, and the additional revenue stream could be a boon to CEO Tim Cook's company.

"Apple has the opportunity to seize this market of wearable ads, just like Facebook has seized mobile," said Esha Shah, manager of mobile strategy and innovation at Fetch.

So we asked digital marketers what brands—in addition to Starbucks, the most obvious one given TapSense's ad mockup—are most likely to test Apple Watch advertising this year.

"There are a lot of opportunities with multiple verticals," commented Doug Robinson, CEO of FreshDigitalGroup.

Robinson then rattled off 10 names: Sephora; Target; McDonald's; Best Buy; Barnes & Noble; Macy's; Nike; Whole Foods; Cialis; and Humira.

Brian Klais, CEO of Pure Oxygen Labs, offered up Nordstrom, REI and Kohl's as possibilities. "Hyper-local ads and coupons could be part of that, as should larger ad opportunities, like voice-based mobile search," he added.

Indeed, advertisements on one's wrist seem ripe for direct-response opportunities.

Shah of Fetch pointed to data as an attraction to retail marketers. "Brands will be able to measure offer redemption and foot traffic," she said. "Measurement and impact on [return on investment] are the key to a modern ad campaign."

Like Klais, Shah is intrigued by employing Apple Watch to zero in on consumers based on location and other elements. "For example, BMW can target Apple Watch users to come in to test drive their new BMW 6 Series models," she said. "McDonald's can target users on a hot day with a coupon for a cold drink or an ice cream."

And Brian Cohen, evp, group director at Catapult eCommerce, said to keep an eye on Smoothie King and Dick's Sporting Goods, echoing his peers' thoughts about location targeting.

Whether or not their promos perform on time will determine if Apple can become, as Shah suggested, the Facebook of wearable advertising.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.