HUFFINGTON POST

Amazon's Drone Plan Is Essentially One Giant Commercial

12/02/2013 04:24 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Tacocopter, the taco-delivering drone that wants to bring you Mexican food. Or the Domino’s video that showed a drone delivering customers warm pizzas.

You know about these things because stories about their existence, or possible existence, have been immensely popular -- even though these flying gizmos are likely years and years away from actually autonomously delivering anything to our doorsteps.

Perhaps that's what prompted Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, to jump on the drone bandwagon. On Sunday, the company unveiled plans on “60 Minutes” for Amazon Prime Air, a program that uses unmanned copters to deliver products to Amazon customers within 30 minutes of ordering.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, conceded on "60 Minutes" that Prime Air is several years away from becoming a reality, and experts who spoke to The Huffington Post said even that’s pushing it. So why would Amazon, a famously secretive company that rarely responds to requests from the media, be so willing to show the service off?

Because Bezos knew we’d all be talking about it on the biggest online shopping day of the year.

“It’s certainly no accident that it came the day before Cyber Monday, which of course is the day that everyone’s attention is focused on online retail,” said Noah Elkin, a principal analyst at eMarketer, a market research firm. “This sort of announcement is just designed to give even greater share of voice to Amazon on a day that’s focused on what Amazon’s forte is.”

Soon after the “60 Minutes” report aired, stories about Amazon’s drones appeared in some of the web’s biggest publications (including this one). If you logged into Twitter or Facebook on Sunday evening or Monday morning, you’d have to close your eyes not to see some mention of the drone service.

According to Gnip, a company that provides social data, "Amazon" was mentioned nearly 600,000 times on Twitter in just the first half of Monday, up from an average of 366,000 times per day over the last 30 days.

A Google News search midday Monday returned over 1,200 articles, and Amazon created a page dedicated to Amazon Air that urges people to “check out this footage from a recent test flight.” That "test flight" promotional video already has nearly 4 million views on YouTube

Amazon would not comment on the timing of the announcement.

A 30-second commercial during “60 Minutes” runs over $100,000, according to AdAge. At that price, a 14-minute editorial is worth millions in free advertising.

Dan Lyons, an author and former technology writer, believes the motivations of Bezos, who rarely grants interviews, were more sinister. The appearance on “60 Minutes,” Lyons wrote in a HuffPost blog, was simply “smoke and mirrors” to shift attention away from an unflattering portrayal of Bezos in Brad Stone’s bestselling book about Amazon, after attempts to discredit the book were unsuccessful.

Now, suddenly, for no apparent reason this company that never tells anybody anything about any future products, ever, is showing off prototype drones that are years away? This is like Apple inviting Charlie Rose in to show off that 60-inch TV that it may or may not ever actually manufacture and sell to the public.

Why the change in policy?

Indeed, Charlie Rose didn’t mention Stone’s book in the 14-minute tour of Amazon's facilities. There was also no mention of other criticisms Amazon has faced, like working conditions in its warehouses or lawsuits about wages.

Considering the buzz surrounding Amazon Prime Air and the 14-minute news report that got so many people talking about Amazon innovation on Cyber Monday, Dec. 2 is shaping up to be a winning day for the online retail giant.

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