Ron’s Gone Wrong is a film about the friendship between socially awkward middle-schooler, Barney, and his friend Ron. But there’s a twist: Ron is a Bubble Bot, produced by the Bubble Company, which is basically Apple.
Bubble Bots, B Bots for short, are designed to be your best friend. Your extroverted best friend, at that, because they help you make other friends. Each B Bot connects to other B Bots through a social media platform provided by the Bubble Company.
Of course, the B Bot won’t just pair you with anyone off the street. It uses a special algorithm to make sure you’re compatible with your potential new bestie. It’s not dystopian at all!
Now on its face, Ron’s Gone Wrong is a silly movie in a sci-fi universe. But the technology in that movie isn’t too far off from our own. A B Bot could likely be manufactured by a major Silicon Valley company as part of some ploy to get us to buy into the metaverse.
So that got me thinking. Could you actually sell a Bubble Bot? Would people want it? If so, who?
Using the 4 P’s of marketing to sell Bubble Bots
The 4 P’s of marketing are Product, Price, Place, Promotion. They are cornerstones of marketing, and the idea of “4 P’s” dates back to the 1950s.
Get all the elements right, and you’re a lot likelier to reach your target market and make the big bucks.
Here’s how that would look for B Bots.
Product: what we already know about Bubble Bots
The B Bot is a personal robot that can play games with people, livestream, take photos, turn into a scooter, and much more. It’s basically a glorified upgraded phone mixed with a toy.
But you could argue the real product here is the algorithm. The B Bot has a specifically designed friendship algorithm to help its users find friends. This is actually a very realistic pitch, because that’s the basic idea behind Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other major social media platforms.
Meeting the needs of the B Bot’s target market
In the whimsical world of the movie, every kid owns a B Bot. Of course, the likeliness of making this happen in the real world is slim. Therefore, any business that wants to sell B Bots has to target a demographic that is likely to immediately benefit. Sure, the kids are the target user, but they aren’t the ones paying.
To break into the market, you’d need to target kids indirectly through a large institution that has a lot of money: schools. After all, the idea of B Bots is to help children make friends, and a strong enough pitch could get the attention of educators.
It’s true that not every parent would be thrilled at the idea of having their children signed up for a social media network at a young age. Not every parent would enjoy the fact that their kids are socializing with robots. But honestly, you could make a strong argument that the B Bot is an improvement on today’s status quo. Most kids have a mobile phone by the age of seven. It’s probably better for their development to hang out with robots who help them make friends than an uncaring, unfeeling brick made of plastic and silicon.
Kids are naturals when it comes to new technology. We saw this in the 1990s as kids adopted personal computers before their parents, and again as toddlers learned how to use tablets in the 2010s. In fact, robots are already being made in real life with kids and friendship in mind such as Aibo, Lovot, Alpha 2, Cozmo, and Olly.
Get into the school systems, and the B Bot is bound for success. School boards would need convincing that robots can benefit the kids and their educational institutes. Produce enough research and some of the more experimental schools will buy in, and others will follow suit if the results are good.
Just make sure the product is effective and safe first!
Price, place, and promotion: how to sell the Bubble Bot
The Bubble Bot has no price in the film, because nothing can ruin a fantasy faster than a steep bill. But given that you’d need to pitch to schools, the Bubble Bot would be sold wholesale. The price would need to be set based on what school boards are willing to spend and the price to manufacture the product.
Since many schools are public, you may be able to find some statistics on spending quite easily. Look those up and you will get a sense for how much you can charge. Assume that private institutions will be willing to pay a little more. If you’re looking to break into the market, you will likely want to start with wealthy schools with cash to burn first, then move onto other schools once the product’s usefulness has been proven.
Getting the first few buyers will be hard. After all, a 1,000 student school is going to need 1,000 B Bots, each of whom will probably cost a few thousand dollars.
We won’t lie to you. It’s going to be super hard to make that happen. The price is going to be a sticking point. If you priced the B Bot at the same price as an iPhone that costs around $1000, it may be nearly impossible to squeeze that into annual pupil spending in the United States. States spend between $7,500 and $23,300 per student per year. You’re going to have to go school by school, pitch by pitch, to build momentum. Perhaps you’ll have better luck in New England where spending tends to be higher.
An alternative way to handle price and place if schools are a no-go
Given how hard it could be to break into the educational market, it might make more sense to pursue retail distribution with a very high price tag. Instead of pitching to kids, it might make more sense to make an adult version of the B Bot first. This would dramatically alter the purpose of B Bots as they’re shown in the film, but could provide an effective way to get around issues with the price tag (and thus distribution – place).
At a high level, the market looks good. Personal robotics is expected to see nearly 40% growth in the next year, with the market growing to nearly $34.1 billion in 2022. A heavily modified version of the B Bot could function well in the market.
As adults become familiar with B Bots, they may be more open and willing to buy them for kids, as happened with smartphones over the last decade. This could make it possible to start by making a grown-up product while slowly pushing the B Bot back to its original kid-friendly vision. But don’t expect this path to be clear either: 66% of parents say it’s harder to parent today than it was 20 years ago due to technology.
More hurdles Bubble Bot marketing would have to clear to succeed
Let’s assume that you are able to get some school boards to buy some B Bots, though, for simplicity sake. That is, after all, much more in keeping with the original vision and is a conceivable path forward.
Figuring out the 4 P’s of marketing in the abstract is a good place to start, but at some point, you will run up against hard and unique business problems that must be addressed.
Even if Apple created a B Bot today, they wouldn’t see instant market growth. The product would need to mature over time. There would be bugs and software updates. It would take time for the product to be adopted.
So with that in mind, here are some things to look out for.
Make sure there is a real need to be met and a real desire to fix it with a product or service
The B Bot is meant to be your best friend, and help you get more friends. So you need to make sure that people actually need help making friends, or else the B Bot is dead in the water.
In a global survey about loneliness, 33% of adults admitted to feeling it often to experiencing it always, often, or some of the time. There’s no telling what that statistic will look like for kids, but we know that the need definitely exists for adults.
You might also wonder if feeling loneliness actually lead to purchasing products or services to fix it. The answer is yes, at least for adults. For example, friendship coaches help people find friends, manage conflicts, help people remove themselves from toxic relationships, and more. Whether or not schools or parents would be willing to spend money to help their kids escape loneliness is an open question.
Confirm the Bubble Bot addresses the need better than other products and provides a good user experience
In reality, no algorithm is perfect and the B Bot would be no exception. It’s a walking algorithmic friend-maker that can choose who you should and should not befriend. It makes it easy to make friends, but it also removes the authenticity and spontaneity.
And that’s assuming it works. If the B Bot isn’t really got at helping kids make friends, then forget it.
Making friends is actually a pretty complicated process. Just because you share something in common with someone doesn’t mean that you’re going to instantly become best friends. This study found that an average adult needs 50 hours to be casual friends, 90 become real friends, and then a sizable 200 hours to become close friends. For kids, these figures might be higher or might be lower – there’s no telling. But either way, you’ll have to answer the question: can the B Bot keep two kids together for long enough to become friends?
Notably, the B Bot in the movie works by using the Bubble Network. It’s a social network that knows who your friends are and then matches you with other friends with similar interests. The quality of the B Bot experience is going to depend on how good the network powering it is at helping compatible people match up. Will it work like online dating? Facebook? It’s hard to say.
Let’s also not forget that friendship isn’t always a two-way street. Sometimes friends are not who they say they are. Other times, a friendship just simply isn’t reciprocal. If the B Bot can’t account for these problems, then it could create bad experiences and make people sour on the whole idea of using them to make friends.
Make sure the Bubble Bot isn’t a privacy (and thus a PR) nightmare
Whenever a new technology comes out, people have gotten into the habit of asking: how does this company treat its users? In the film, the villain hates kids and wants lots of money and during the film, he turns all the Bubble Bots into surveillance drones.
In the movie, this is a scary threat played up for drama, but you have to wonder: what’s stopping it from happening in the real world?
Nothing at all. Data privacy is a constant hot topic in the tech world, and Facebook even threatened to pull Facebook and Instagram from the EU if it couldn’t share data.
Data is incredibly valuable to companies as it is used to make lots of money. For example, LinkedIn earned more than $3 billion in ad revenue from their massive 700+ million users. Youtube, which has over 126 million monthly viewers of all ages and has made $7 billion in ad revenue in Q4 2020 alone.
B Bots could make it easy for companies to bombard kids with ads both verbally and physically. Or they could share kids’ data for profits. If you are going to have long-term success, you need to both assure customers you’re going to take good care of their privacy and actually keep those promises.
Robot technology is developing rapidly, and so is the market surrounding it. It’s not wild to think that something like B Bots could eventually wind up in schools. It seems like the logical next step up in technology in the next few decades.
But breaking in the market will be hard. Helping kids make friends is not easy, and that’s critical to the success of the product. The price tag will be formidable, and that will determine how distribution is going to work. If you have luck getting B Bots into schools, you won’t have to do much else in terms of promotion. Otherwise, you’re going to have to get creative.
But this is all hypothetical for now, based on a silly movie! It’s still fun to think about, though, and who knows – we may very well see a B Bot in real life one of these days.