The future of advertising could be drones

The future of advertising could be drones

Intel helped to harness the power of 1,500 drones to create spectacular effects to mark the opening of Iconsiam in Bangkok in 2018. Photo courtesy of ICOnSiam
Intel helped to harness the power of 1,500 drones to create spectacular effects to mark the opening of Iconsiam in Bangkok in 2018. Photo courtesy of ICOnSiam

Intense competition for the public's attention is forcing brands to be more innovative to stand out. Some are doing just that by using drones.

Aerial advertising is not entirely new, businesses have long hired blimps to carry short messages or company logos to gain attention in the skies. However, using drones is a new, technologically savvy spin on this niche marketing practice that could enable advertisers to fly banners, drop sample items such as T-shirts, cards or even beer, and deliver products during festivals, concerts, automobile shows and other campaigns.

This trend is gaining momentum in China. Earlier this year the South Korean car manufacturer Hyundai lit up the Shanghai skyline with more than 3,000 computer-controlled drones to promote the launch of its new premium brand Genesis, setting a new Guinness World Record for the "Most Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) Airborne Simultaneously". This followed drone-driven advertising by the luxury brands Coach and Bulgari as well as the local video streaming platform Bilibili.

Drones have also been used in other parts of Asia. In Singapore Coca-Cola used drones to drop off care packages to construction workers during the Singapore Kindness Movement to thank the workers for building the city.

Closer to home, a drone light performance was used to launch the luxury shopping mall Iconsiam in Bangkok in 2018. Staged along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the Intel-organised show used 1,500 drones -- more than the number used at the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea the same year.

While drone advertising is still in its infancy across most of Asia, where it is proving effective by virtue of its novelty, China is leading the way in making this practice more mainstream. For example, Bilibili's campaign used hundreds of drones to display a giant scannable QR code in the sky, demonstrating drone advertising's potential to create more seamless offline-to-online experiences by linking the physical world with a digital call to action.

People are also making more use of the sky as a high-tech billboard in China, from making marriage proposals to fans of the Korean pop group Blackpink writing Thai member Lisa's name in the sky with 200 drones, demonstrating that drone use is no longer considered a niche or new idea in this technologically advanced country.

China boasts some 7,000 commercial drone companies, mostly based in Shenzhen, which typically service agriculture companies or businesses with large amounts of land. Advertising is an emerging area for such companies, with high potential for growth as more brands compete for the attention of increasingly time-starved consumers.

Issues remain with the technology, including permit requirements to fly unmanned vehicles as well as cybersecurity, regulatory and insurance concerns. But companies wanting to try can take lessons from these pioneers in China. Quite literally, the sky is the limit.

Dr Thaweelap Rittapirom is a director and executive vice-president of Bangkok Bank. For more columns in this series, please visit

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