Let’s start saying that right now, at this very moment, I am sitting in my flat in Barcelona, drinking a wonderful French wine, enjoying an outstanding French foie, and that both these things are somehow related with the topic of this article. Surprising? Well yes, indeed. But quite precise, too. So sit down as well, relax, and imagine a nice yellow-colored liquor, softly shaking in an edgeless glass, inviting you to drink it slowly while I tell you a story about a Wifi network, an unknown neighbor and an exciting idea. This is the plan for the next minutes to come.
It all started a few months ago. I moved to my new apartment, and immediately made what any digital animal -as I surely am- would have done: open my laptop and obsessively search for a free-password wireless network. Unlucky me, I crashed into a bunch of pointlessly named signals, all of them extremely well protected with ultra-safe passwords. Bad luck. So I went for plan B: call an Internet provider and contract a connection at home.
So far, no big deal, until the big day comes: my brand new Wifi router arrives, and I jump on it to get a good DSL coverage in any single square meter of my place. But, hey, wait a second, to do that you first need to make a crucial decision: give your network a name. And no way I was going to chose another blank name such as “Ana”, “crazyboy” or “WLANCOMTREND34”. No, that’s not sexy, is it? Furthermore, imagine this poor guy at home, searching for an open signal, and crashing as I did into a list of useless names, all closed, all barred. Couldn’t we say something more relevant to him? Sure we can. In fact, the name of a wireless network can be considered as a kind of ‘low distance communication channel’. A bunch of neighbors read it daily, and most of the time they do so whilst desperately searching for a proper connection, which is a “in need-of-something” moment where many brands dream to find their consumers.
These thoughts lead me to the core idea of this article: I would set up the name of my signal advertising something relevant to the people stumbling upon it. The result was something like that: “WifiToSharefirstname.lastname@example.org”. I then confirmed the settings, pressed “ok”, set a password, and there you go: the message in a bottle had been sent. I just had to sit & wait.
The first answer came a few weeks later. I got an email at email@example.com. It was from a guy that had unsuccessfully been searching for a free-password network in order to check his email, chat a bit, Facebook a little, and so on. I answered back, and he happened to live in my building, a few floors up. We had a coffee, and finally came to an agreement. The deal was closed. Or almost closed, because then Florence showed up. She is the girl of the story. The guy’s roommate. The owner of a French foie’s shop located three blocks away from here, called “Mille et 1 Foie”, where she also sells exclusive French wines. Whilst enjoying the good black coffee, she commented on the peculiar use I had been doing of my network’s name, and then said “Couldn’t I use this idea for my own shop”. “Well, sure you could!” I answered. So I showed her how to set up the router in order to easily change the Wifi’s name, using it to advertise special events, products and so on. 30 minutes later the first “short distance personalized advertising channel” ever had been born.
The story ends up last Friday. I am having dinner with some friends in a restaurant, door to door with Florence’s delicatessen mini-retailer. At a certain point of the supper, I open my iPhone, search for a connection, and step into her network. The name on it is undoubtedly relevant to my interests: “MilleEt1Foi/MonbazillacForSaleThisWeek”. You might have guessed it: that’s my favorite wine. So the day after I pass by, and ask for it. She is happy to see me, I get a special price, and I come back to my place with a big smile on my face plus the wine plus a good can of foie.
It’s all real. it’s all true. What are the lessons of the story? There are several. First, if you have a wireless router, you also have a pretty powerful tool to say something to anyone around. Second, in the new media approach, anything already used can be useless, but something never used can become remarkable, surprisingly fresh and direct to the target, too. So, hey, be creative. Look through the window, think about your audience, and find a proper message for them.
If nothing happens, nothing’s lost neither. But in the best case scenario, you can end up drinking a good glass of wine, enjoying some French foie, and even getting to know nice people around. It’s worth trying, oh yes it is.
/ English review by Annette Spörel
/ November, 2008