The application programming interface or API is the way we connect things online with other things online or even, with the Internet of Things, connecting things online with traditionally offline objects. This makes what an API can enable fairly limitless — or at least as limited as your imagination. While we usually focus on its ability to streamline workflows and web design, there are creative teams going beyond what we ever could have imagined to make impressive impacts and unique moments of our lives, all with APIs. From UNICEF, to vodka, to smart vending machines, today we highlight the awesome ways APIs are changing the way we think, drink and interact.
How APIs Are the Next MacGyver:
The Swedish team of Deportivo is made up of PR and design revolutionaries that use APIs to enable technology for education and entertainment, pushing innovation into various mediums. They created the world’s first Twitter fashion for social activism, and, working for UNICEF, they built a drinkable sweat machine to create awareness that 84 million people don’t have steady access to drinking water. They’ve also projected the shadows of “invisible children” onto the walls of urban streets to drive home the loneliness of abandoned youth.
Everything they do for their clients, who range from MTV to nonprofits, is concentrated on breaking digital boundaries and creating a memorable and viral marketing campaign. The backbone behind about 85 percent of their awe-striking ideas is an API.
“We love APIs because APIs are like having your own MacGyver. They do a lot of the hard work. Secondly, they solve a lot of tricky problems. And third, you can be very creative with them,” said Avrid Dyfverman, Deportivo CEO and creative leader. There’s no doubt that Deportivo has the creativity of 80s favorite TV hero, but how does Dyfverman think APIs can be as useful?
- APIs help connect people.
- APIs help make products social.
- APIs help enable important messages to be spread.
- APIs allow for creativity by connecting objects, websites and technologies that have only been separate before.
- APIs enable that all these things can be done securely.
So, for Deportivo, how does an API-driven creative process work? Like with all creative firms, it begins with a conversation to discover their client’s needs and the problems to be solved. Deportivo then brainstorms a creative solution, considering how they can leverage unique mediums, connect surfaces with the Internet of Things, and, with virality always in mind, plan to execute impactful social media campaigns.
“we consider APIs to be a part of the great palette”
Whether by building their own APIs or using open APIs like Facebook and Instagram, APIs have enabled Deportivo to connect art and technology in revolutionary multimedia ways. Whatever the medium, Deportivo is pioneering API integration — whether being the first to use the Facebook API Graph, creating an app that lets you send your heartbeat to a loved one, or through their efforts to push public relations boundaries.
Data Modeling & The API: Programming A Virtual Bartender
How do you safely expose your brand and accelerate your social media and mobile presence? If you’re the Absolut Vodka brand, one data-filled, human bartender video-generating, powerhouse API is the secret ingredient to your multimedia mix.
According to Eva Sjökvist, project manager and product owner for Absolut Vodka’s API and mobile apps, data modeling is the first step to making a brand programmable. “How [else] could we program our data and what data to share with our markets?”
Sjökvist joined the vodka company in 2011 with two purposes: to help Absolut take advantage of the modern digital consumer landscape, and to help build a stronger technological communication bridge between Absolut and Pernod Ricard, the French alcohol powerhouse that had bought the previously independent vodka brand three years earlier.
Before this, Absolut was centralized, pushing their brand and marketing from Sweden. Now, they had to filter marketing through a much larger team before reaching the end consumer. This change in structure led Absolut to re-imagine how they would filter data and push their marketing initiatives.
Sjökvist was hired to architect the technical specification that would act both as a bridge between Absolut and Pernod, and as a marketing distribution channel to sell spirits. Her team set three levels of goals: from the technical perspective, from the marketing perspective, and from the consumer perspective.
Absolut’s Technical Objectives:
- Shorten time to market
- Lower cost for new devices
- Streamline assets globally
Absolut’s Market Considerations:
- Look beyond “Flavor of the Month”
- Look beyond latest marketing campaign
- Win more market share
The marketing campaign was based on positioning the Absolut brand as the easy answer to these quandaries:
- “I have a bottle of Absolut, but I’ve no idea what to make.”
- “I’m at a bar, but I’ve no idea what to order.”
And what was the common denominator discovered among these seemingly divergent situations? Drink recipes. Sjökvist and her team began to consider every aspect of a cocktail. They quantified ingredients as well as methods of production — shake, strain, muddle — as a piece of data.
“We went through all that data modeling and it really helped us to understand the importance of knowing what your possibilities are,” Sjökvist said, pointing out that a bar has rather specific limitations and data sets, “which helped us because that meant we could program them and we could define them,” based on the set of actions performed.
Beyond data, they needed a lot of product photos, which is expensive at this magnitude, so they instead took fewer images of various empty glasses and then generated images based on how bartenders construct drinks, each with a distinct feel, colors and textures.
From that they built the Absolut Drinks Database and API documentation, which includes:
- More than 3,500 drink recipes
- High-quality images for each drink (printable up to A3)
- More than 500 ingredients
- Drink recipes with step-by-step mixing instructions
- Drink meta data, like difficulty rating and glass type
- Translations into many languages
As Sjökvist said, product ownership creates innovation. That innovation pushed the API to the next level. The team wondered “could we take the 28,000 mixing steps and combine them together and edit them into video?” And so they did. As the intro video says, the Absolut Drinks video film generator blends together shots of each and every step of the drink-making process with a result “so convincing that you’d think a single exhausted bartender had made 3,000 drinks.” All the result of comprehensive data modeling and the creative API.
Watch Eva Sjökvist from Absolut present at a Nordic APIs event in Stockholm.
The Creativity of the API is Nearing Limitless
Now that the Internet of Things is allowing us to connect previously offline items with online ones, limitations are quickly eroding as the human imagination ventures into new technological territory. It will become harder and harder to distinguish between the cloud and hardware. Take Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of the smart thermometer Nest. Is it hardware or SaaS? It’s both.
“That’s the evolution that you’ll see. You’ll see stodgy old products that aren’t really integrated with anything and these really innovative SaaS products that are integrated to everything,” said Joel York of Chaotic Flow.
Even vending machines have been disrupted. Cantaloupe Systems uses APIs integrating IoT with SaaS to optimize all things vending machines, including real-time feedback and the ability to eliminate all bills and coins entirely with smart payment options. Coca-Cola’s vending machines are now self-diagnosing, automatically looking up available repart contractors nearby and sending a text via Twilio to submit a detailed service request. Smart vending machines are even making their way into large ad campaigns (Milka chocolate’s ad involved strangers holding hands to receive free candy out of a connected vending machine).
What’s Next For Creative API-Enabled Marketing?
Now with the transcendence of non-connected devices into the cloud, the potential is limitless for APIs to influence marketing on all fronts. So, What are you working on? What is the next creative API-enabled marketing genius? Tell us about it or comment below and you just might be featured next on the Nordic APIs blog.