For a few hours on Tuesday, social media users were puzzled over whether Amazon Dash was an actual, Internet-of-Things invention or an early April Fools' Day joke.
The Seattle-based e-commerce giant introduced WiFi-enabled buttons for consumers to place around the house, letting them—by physically pressing the button—instantly re-order products like toilet paper and coffee through Amazon Prime. The small, plastic buttons are wired to the Amazon Prime smartphone app, which allows users to control purchasing restrictions such as quantity while stocking up on Tide, Huggies, Kraft (see image above), Glad and other packaged goods.
A nearly endless stream of Twitter users, like the one below, expressed doubt about the futuristic feature, wondering if it was real.
It's kind of sad (hilarious) that people _legitimately_ aren't sure if the new Amazon product is real or just an April Fool's joke.— Javier Soto (@Javi) March 31, 2015
Amazon then confirmed with multiple outlets that Dash is a genuine step forward in digital retail. "You should think of it as a physical representation of the one-click button from the website," Kinley Pearsall, an Amazon spokesperson, told MarketWatch.
So we asked a few branding experts about the strategy of releasing such a Jetsons-like, hard-to-believe product the day before April 1. Was it brilliantly orchestrated buzz or wrong-headed PR?
"Despite this [confusion], it is a stroke of genius the way it was introduced," contended David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision LLC, a public relations and branding agency, who also noted Dash's debut was favorable in comparison to the tepid response received by Amazon's Home Services division, which launched Monday.
"People are talking about Amazon Dash, including people who would not normally be doing so," he said. "More importantly, this attention that Amazon Dash is getting is no doubt leading people to check it out on Amazon and also check out the Amazon Prime program that it is offered through."
Adam Padilla, creative director at BrandFire, agreed.
"The April Fools' strategy was great," he said. "At first, you wondered whether it was real. And then when you find out it is, it's like a gift from God."
Padilla said he is a new father and already plans to put a Huggies or Pampers button next to his daughter's changing table. "It essentially replaces that panic button, where you are like, 'Oh shit, I am almost out of diapers,'" he remarked. "To know you can press the button and the diapers will drop-ship the next day—it's like a button out of the future."
Josh Feldmeth, CEO, Interbrand North America, added, "The fact that anyone thought this was an April Fools' stunt only suggests that the product might look too good to be true."
The launch plan appears to be intentional and was a savvy move, suggested Gareth Price, technical director at Ready Set Rocket. "[Internet-of-Things] devices have not yet penetrated the mainstream, so the April Fool's confusion will help bring awareness of the product to mainstream consumers," he said, "especially as the jokes are practically pre-written for late-night talk shows and Internet pundits."
Sean Cullen, svp at ad tech firm Fluent, echoed Johnson's earlier description of the April Fools' strategy as "genius."
"Even my wife sent this [Dash news] to me today," Cullen said. "Only Amazon can have everyone talking about and wanting a Jetsons-like button that allows you to order toilet paper. Even if this ultimately goes nowhere, Amazon will continue to be seen as an innovator in this space, thanks to ideas like this and their delivery drones."
"Maybe I am drinking the Kool-Aid," said Padilla of BrandFire. "But I think it's obviously very smart and also has practical use cases."