This undated image provided by Amazon.com shows the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project that Amazon is working on in its research and development labs. Public relations experts say the announcement was a clever way to generate publicity around Cyber Monday.
Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos called it an Octocopter, but it was also a great way to deliver publicity.
On CBS's "60 Minutes" Sunday night, Bezos said the ecommerce site is testing a program where drones will deliver packages weighing up to five pounds in 30 minutes.
"I know this looks like science fiction — it's not," Bezos said, causing social media outlets to light up with news of the coming drones.
The interview generated widespread buzz that spilled over into Cyber Monday, the busiest online shopping day of the year, when 131 million Americans are forecast to participate, according to the National Retail Federation.
'Top of mind'
Experts say this was precisely the point (although they do, to be fair, expect drone delivery in the coming years).
Matt Briton, the founder and CEO of MRY, a tech ad agency, said that the way Bezos announced the program makes it a publicity stunt.
"It's all about owning the moment, and this is the moment that an ecommerce retailer needs to own," Britton said, adding that it's now overwhelmingly the biggest story in tech media right now.
"There's this sort of sensationalist headline created from the interview," he added. "Over time it becomes less about the drone story now and more about Amazon being top of mind."
Brew PR Founder Brooke Hammerling said she noticed an explosion of tweets following the announcement among social media influencers, adding that Amazon's strategy was "very clever."
Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at media services company Horizon Media, said the timing has made the retailer front and center.
"Would this have had as much impact if it was in May? I think it would get as much press but wouldn't generate as many sales," Adgate said.
Challenge to the program
Typically, tech executives do not talk about specific product releases that are more than a couple quarters away since doing so gives competitors a chance to catch up, MRY's Britton added — further evidence that Bezos might have had more up his sleeve than merely wanting to announce a new product.
Still, Gene Munster, a Piper Jaffray managing director and senior research analyst, said the real competitors probably have enough intelligence to know about the program already.
"Even if you know what they're doing, it doesn't necessarily mean you can defend yourself against it," Munster said. "There's a train coming their way, and there's nothing they can do about it."
Although Bezos said the drones could be in operation in as little as four to five years, Munster doubts it could get truly off the ground — so to speak — until at least 10 to 20 years from now.
"The technology is there, but the challenge is the safety side," he said, adding that the retailer would need to obtain Federal Aviation Administration permission to fly the drones to customers.
—By CNBC's Katie Little. Follow her on Twitter @KatieLittle
Amazon says testing delivery by drone
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First published December 2 2013, 10:43 AM