May 16, 2017

Clicking for gold

The awards season is kicking off again and one of my favourite award festivals has announced the winners for 2017. Let’s look at some of the gold recipients from The One Show…

I’m sure that I have featured this as it won big last year at Cannes. It was probably not eligible for last year’s One Show which is why it’s still picking up gold in 2017. It’s great to see Virtual Reality done differently. No headsets in sight. Just a bunch of excited school children having a collective experience thanks to the power of digital. Created by McCann New York + Framestore for Lockheed Martin, this also won Best of Interactive. It’s always great to hear the stories behind brilliant campaigns so check out this article from 2016 in Adweek.

Education seems to be the trend for award judges, judging by this next gold from Hello Monday for National Geographic. Incredible footage allows anyone to experience life as a bear in Yellowstone park. You can see the case video here. Below is a description of the project from the agency…

“Working with National Geographic’s team of editors, journalists, producers, and researchers, we’ve gathered this incredible footage into an engaging online narrative focused on the distinct paths that each bear roamed. Utilizing the geo-coordinate data captured with every 20-seconds of footage, we’re able to pinpoint the bears to the exact geography of Yellowstone. Combined with expert analysis from researchers Kerry Gunther and Nate Bowers, delivered as intermittent audio captions, we gain a deeper understanding of the bears’ activity as uncovered by the POV footage and their unique characteristics. And, of course, Hello Monday couldn’t resist adding the extra hand-touch with watercolor illustrations and pencil-drawn portraits depicting the beautiful, mysterious life of each bear.”

All the other gold winners went to gaming projects. The first is for TBWA\Chiat Day and their Gatorade Match Point game with Serena Williams. Released just in time for last year’s US Open, this  Snapchat game honoured the amazing legacy of Serena Williams. Titled Serena Match Point, the 8-bit game was available on ESPN’s Snapchat Discover channel, and featured 22 levels — one for each of the record-tying 22 Grand Slams that Williams has won. The game let users play as Williams against a range of different opponents, and featured simple controls. You just needed to tap one of three on-screen tennis balls to serve, and tap left or right to return the opponent’s shots. If you missed three shots in a row, you go back to the beginning of Williams’ career.

You can try playing the game by clicking this link.

Next is a project that uses gaming for a good cause. Sea Hero Quest by Saatchi & Saatchi for client Deutsche Telekom.

The game has been played by over 3 million people and has become largest dementia study in history. Sea Hero Quest, a collaboration between Alzheimer’s Research UK, Deutsche Telekom, game designers Glitchers and scientists, has generated the equivalent of 9,400 years of lab-based research since its launch in May 2016.

Experts hope to use the data to create the world’s first global benchmark for spatial navigation, one of the first abilities affected by dementia, and to develop the game into an early diagnostic test for the disease.

Finally, in these dark times we live in it’s fun to imaging the end of the world as we know it. This project for Ubisoft by BETC Digital Paris does just that.

The full story behind the campaign can be read here. But if you are too lazy to read it all, in summary “this choose-your-own-adventure style online experience, darkly dubbed an “end of society simulator,” plays on our secret desire to learn the answer to the question, “Will I survive the crisis that extinguishes 99 percent of humanity? ‘Collapse’ plunges you directly into the action. It kicks off with a creepy message: “You have been infected with an unknown breed of smallpox. You are patient zero. Because of you, a worldwide pandemic is about to start. Based on real data, discover how long it takes for our world to collapse.”

Fun for all the family.

March 31, 2017

AI and the end of advertising

A few months ago, I embarked on a mammoth task of writing a series of six science fiction short stories about artificial intelligence (using the name Christopher Hart to avoid ruining my professional reputation or confusing readers of my non-fiction book The UX of ME). In Brandjack, the third in the series, I tackle a subject closer to home. It’s all about advertising and imagines how AI could end up replacing just about everyone in the agency world – even the creative team.

During my research for the story, I read a lot of interesting articles which give a glimpse of where things are headed. Jason Jercinovic, global head of marketing innovation and global brand director at Havas, is a regular speaker at industry events who talks about the power of Cognitive Intelligence, which he describes as “an output of using cognitive services and technology to understand more insights at an individual or personal level”. In this article in AdAge, he says “There’s a mistaken belief that C.I.’s greatest value to advertising and marketing will be in bringing just efficiency to data and analytics. Traditional CRM or customer insights offer a limited understanding of the customer as a real individual. Cognitive insights demonstrate remarkable value to brand and consumers, as the marketing output is customized to the individual rather than as a member of a persona group or cohort.”

In Brandjack, a fictional company called Cognitising is not only able to predict what each customer will respond to but also uses AI to generate the creative work itself. It’s not so far fetched. Just last year, McCann Group Worldwide launched a competition to see if AI could beat a human creative director in developing a TVC. People were asked to vote which they liked without knowing which one was generated by artificial intelligence. The human won by a very small margin. Below is the AI-generated spot. Read the full story here.

Should agencies be scared? Is it time for creatives to start looking at alternative careers such as writing short scifi stories? If you listen to what companies like Coco-Cola are saying then you might have cause to be worried. In this Adweek article, Mariano Bosaz – the brand’s global senior digital director, says that his long-term vision would see AI being used by his team for everything from creating music for ads, writing scripts, posting a spot on social media and buying media.

Bots are the first signs of automation of the consumer-facing brand voice. Programmatic advertising is already playing a major role on the back-end of things. Will Coca-Cola bypass agencies completely 5 years from now?

This interesting article on CNBC covers a lot of ground, showing what’s happening in the advertising industry when it comes to artificial intelligence. Alan Schulman, managing director of brand and creative content marketing for Deloitte Digital, brings up a good point about the human equation. Marketing is about speaking to real people so can AI truly understand how to deliver an emotional message? To quote Schulman, “The promise of what AI will be able to do is to start to knock on the door with emotional words or knock on the door of what will lead to emotional decisions. But at the end of the day, conception or ideation is a human thing. Advertising is such an emotion-based industry. Algorithms don’t feel. People feel.”

Will advertising become “cognitising”? Will Cognitive Intelligence replace human art directors or copywriters? Anything is possible. So just in case, I already registered cognitising.com as my plan B 🙂 It’s yours for $1 million.

If you’re interested in my take on how AI might change advertising, my latest short story Brandjack is free to download from 31 March to 2 April (California time) for Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks. This, and the other short stories (AI-themed science fiction with a twist of humour) are part of a series called OUTMODE. Links to Brandjack can be found on the official Facebook shop. A total of six stories will be published by July. Enjoy (even if it’s a little unsettling)…

 

December 8, 2016

Only the brave

In the advertising business, either traditional, digital or somewhere in between, every so often you come up with an idea that you know will be amazing. So you do everything in your power to convince your client that it will be brilliant. You tell them passionately why it answers their brief, why the audience would totally love it, why it would get everyone talking about your product and that it can actually be made. Yet something happens, the client shows a flicker of fear or confusion, they might whisper to each other and you know that something isn’t going quite like you imagined it would. In your mind you pictured the client moved to tears of joy, leaping out of their seat to embrace you as suddenly you’re transport to a stage where you’re receiving that Grand Prix. But instead you’re faced with quizzical faces and a damp squid descends eerily over the meeting. Today that all came rushing back when I saw this project for Lexus featuring a car covered in LED. It’s a year since I presented the very same idea to a client. OK, it’s only advertising. But when you live and breathe this every day it’s heartbreaking to see that another client was brave enough to say yes – let’s do it.

How do you help clients be more brave, to take leaps and try things that have never been done before? Some agencies have a knack for it but then clients for there expecting it from Droga5 or R/GA. For many mere mortal agencies it’s a real challenge. Many clients have limited budgets and want to make sure that your project will get results. When you’re presenting an idea that is innovative there are no prior examples to use as backup. So you have to anticipate the arguments that will come up in the client’s mind. If you’re doing something new with technology try creating a prototype or demo to show something is feasible (this is how we sold another project to the same client which was a huge success). Your client’s priority is not being brave but selling cars, toothpaste, computers or whatever. Put yourself in their shoes and show how bravery can also lead to amazing results. Don’t just expect the client to feel the same way you do.

The fact is, you’ll probably lose more battles than you win. As a creative person you are the one that needs the most bravery. Not to come up with groundbreaking ideas but to see them burn down in front of you – only to come back later and haunt you. So I will leave you with this, another painful episode involving an idea we tried to sell to the same client and failing – then seeing it done a year later.

Grrrrrrrrr

October 19, 2016

Hit the auto-disrupt button

boom

Business disruption is high on the list of hot topics being discussed in boardrooms around the world. After seeing the effect that innovations made possible by the internet have had on certain industries (from music to movies, travel to takeaway food), many companies are looking at how to disrupt themselves before the dirty deed is done to them. In this recent Fortune article, How the Best Business Leaders Disrupt Themselves, we read how Netflix CEO “Reed Hastings knew that online streaming would disrupt his successful DVDs-by-mail model. He committed to streaming in 2011—and Netflix’s stock plunged 76%. Wall Street called for his head. But Hastings pushed on, and today DVDs are just 7% of the company’s business, while the stock is up 150% from its pre-plunge peak”.

For those business leaders looking to disrupt themselves, the big consultancies are there to hold your hand (and take your money). Just last year Accenture published a Guide to Self-Disruption with a focus on “Driving Growth through Enterprise Innovation in the Digital Age”. It includes some compelling arguments for disruption such as a recent Accenture survey which showed that 93% of enterprise-level executives said they think innovation is critical to their business, but only 34% said they believe they have a well-defined innovation strategy in place.

One of the “digital” agencies that I most admire is R/GA. They have baked disruption into their DNA from the beginning. In a recent speech in London at a Guardian event, founder Bob Greenberg had this to say: “We’ve never been disrupted – we’re really thankful for that – so we create our own disruption every nine years”. He went on to say that he thinks the next version of R/GA, which is due around 2021, will be the ‘Agency for the Intelligent Age’. That means mixed reality, artificial intelligence and robotics.

So with all this disruption going on, why do so few people apply this to their own lives or careers?

The truth is, we set ourselves on a career path that can be very linear, determined to make it up the ladder but rarely questioning if that ladder is really right for us. Working in the advertising business for so long, I often wonder why in such a creative industry people tend to put themselves in the very box they encourage their clients to think out of. You’re an art director, you’re a planner – and so on. Stick to your chosen patch and wear the right shirt. But what if we could disrupt ourselves a little more? Maybe we would discover a whole new talent. In this 2012 article in Harvard Business Review, Whitney Johnson gives some examples of people that took a left turn and found exciting new opportunities. She writes about “Martin Crampton, a former research scientist and math teacher from Australia. He parlayed a stint as a developer and demo specialist for a software company in Melbourne into a decade-long marketing career, first at the software firm and then at two multinational manufacturing companies (Bic and Stihl), before starting his own consultancy. In 1993 he leapt into another profession and, with his partner, created Australia’s first national real estate portal (before Realtor.com)”. Being open to disruption can have a hugely positive impact on your life. It might not lead to dotcom fortunes but it always opens up new doors. More than anything, it stretches you, challenges your own set ideas and you always end up meeting some inspiring people along the way.

I’ve been disrupting myself since I was 20 years old and decided to overcome being an introvert and bought the loudest shirt I could find. Disruption seemed to be instinctual. Yes, it has been very hard at times and hasn’t always led to success. From mounting an exhibition of modern art in a Paris gallery (and not selling one item) to producing an electronic music soundtrack for a Chinese photographer’s slideshow at UNESCO, to moving into digital marketing in 1996 when it was still in its infancy or shifting continents more often than most people change hairstyles, it has been and incredible journey which hasn’t always been comfortable. You’d think by now I’d want to settle down. If anything, I’m being more disruptive to myself now then ever before. A year ago I decided to do something I’ve never done and write a book. It’s already published and helping me shift my career into a whole new area – including making the decision never have a permanent job again. Disruption became a way of life for me and I realise that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I do believe that we can all benefit from a little auto-disruption in our lives. They say “change is good”, but I’d go one step further. Change that you actively choose can be a truly liberating experience.

Go on, be brave – hit that auto-disrupt button…

Check out my latest disruption on my book website – www.theuxofme.com

September 27, 2016

Don’t you forget about me. How having a purpose can make or break you.

Simple Minds

At the start of your career, you don’t really have any idea how long it is going to feel. A lot longer than you imagine! Perhaps, like me, you’ve reached a point where you’ve worked for 30 years and are thinking that you’ve still got half that time still to go. Whichever situation you’re in, without having a purpose it’s going to feel like a long hard slog and potentially very unfulfilling. Worse still, by just drifting and not really committing to making a mark in your chosen career, you might find it cut short as others with more drive than you pass by. There is a danger that you’ll become obsolete.

Thinking about this brought to mind a clear example of two, dramatically diverging careers in the world of music. Back in the early 80s, the UK music scene was thriving with many new bands competing to be the next big thing. There were two groups that shared a similar sensibility, combining post-punk with new wave and a bombastic rock style. The music papers were buzzing about them. Their names were Simple Minds and U2. Both were young and energetic, but only one group became (and still remain) megastars. It was the band that was on a mission, one with a strong point of view that believed in something bigger.

U2 annoyed many people along the way and continue to do so today, especially when they give away their album for free by dumping it in everyone’s iTunes library whether people wanted it or not. Their combination of quasi-religious, save the world, “we are one” rhetoric has driven them forwards. Mostly thanks to Bono and his crusades for justice that always gave him something to say, even if their longsuffering drummer would rather he didn’t. Of course they are all excellent musicians, songwriters and performers who’ve chosen great producers to work with, but those things are not enough to sustain a music career. Meanwhile, Simple Minds (who I still love by the way) didn’t have much to say. They took a shortcut to success by recording someone else’s song (Don’t You Forget About Me) for the popular movie “The Breakfast Club”. They became massive for a short while, but without a strong purpose or message about what they stood for people eventually did forget about them. They are still around, releasing albums and touring the heritage circuit, yet they never did fulfill their potential.

Some people are naturally charismatic. Bono is one and Jim Kerr (lead singer of Simple Minds) is less so. I’m not suggesting we can all be like Bono, but we can think a bit more about trying to define what we believe in, to find an expression for that and let others see that we have something we stand for. It could help you sustain your career and make it more meaningful too.

An excerpt from The UX of ME: Career Optimisation Through Design Thinking. Available now on Amazon Kindle.

www.theuxofme.com

June 8, 2016

The Sponge Advantage

sponge

In a recent keynote speech, the controversial and celebrated architect Rem Koolhaas (who’s company designed the infamous CCTV building in Beijing) complained that far too many architects only talk to other architects and share the same views. The negative result being that they were becoming increasingly irrelevant and architecture as an industry is not keeping up with the “revolutions” that are shaping the modern world. Koolhaas said that “architecture has a serious problem today in that people who are not alike don’t communicate, I’m actually more interested in communicating with people I disagree with than people I agree with. We’re working in a world where so many different cultures are operating at the same time, each with their own value system,” he added. “If you want to be relevant, you need to be open to an enormous multiplicity of values, interpretations, and readings.”

You could say that the advertising industry suffers from a similar problem. Too many people looking for inspiration from what other agencies are doing. Creative teams scouring the award annuals to see what the best work is right now and looking for ideas how to do even better. If we could be more like sponges then perhaps our work would be more relevant and more innovative. I’m not talking about the kitchen or bathroom sponges but those still alive in the wild where coral has not yet been totally bleached.

According to Wikipedia, sponges “are multicellular organisms that have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them.” We should try being more open minded and let all kinds of elements flow through us. From pop culture to the high arts, youth movements or culture trends, science, politics etc. – the more we are aware of what’s happening out there the better we’ll be at transforming this information into communication strategies that will truly connect with the people we want to reach.

Another aspect of sponges that we can inspired by is their wide range of collaborations with other organisms. Shrimps set up whole colonies on the surfaces of sponges while green algae acts as an endosymbiont organism to help feed sponges in exchange for providing shelter. Before you sound the geek alert, consider how being much more collaborative could feed your agency with new ways of thinking or new technologies that will allow you to evolve, changing with the times.

The advertising industry is becoming increasingly competitive so we have to find a competitive advantage. Just battening down the hatches and protecting what we have might not be the best solution. It might be just the opposite. Being open, collaborative and adaptable to the sea of change could be the answer. Sponges have been around for at least 580 million years so maybe they’re doing something right!

This post was inspired by reading this article on Dezeen. Thanks for the (non-advertising industry) inspiration.

May 23, 2016

Sharpen your pencils

pencils

Imagine if the Oscars and the Golden Globes had almost the same trophy, a bald nude muscled man standing on a plinth holding a sword. Like Jason Stratham in a homo-erotic King Arthur movie. Wouldn’t it be confusing? Well in the past week both the One Show and D&AD handed out pencil trophies to the advertising and design industry. Which pencil is more coveted than the other? Is one sharper than the other in terms of reputation? Let’s have a duel to the death as I take a look at what these two award  festivals recognised as some of the best work.

 

Round 1 – It’s a virtual world

Virtual reality is the buzzword of the moment. Until recently everyone talked about “transmedia storytelling” until the word trans came to mean something quite different. So what did the these rival pencil select from all the innovative VR submissions this year?

Y&R New Zealand picked up a Wood Pencil from D&AD in the Branding/Brand Experience & Environments category. But it’s not VR as we know it. With a real twist, customers thought they were in a driving simulator, only to find out they were experiencing the real deal.

In the One Show corner we have a different approach with this Gold Pencil winner in the mobile category. VR doesn’t have always mean wearing an anti-social headset. McCann Paris developed a mobile app for L’Oreal which let’s anyone apply makeup virtually. D&AD just gave this one a Graphite pencil 🙁

Round 1 winner – Hard to compare such different uses of virtual reality from two very different categories but I would go for One Show’s choice with the Make Up genius. A more useful and smart way to use VR that drives buzz and sales.

 

Round 2 – Advertising isn’t dead

Yes, there is so much talk about how traditional advertising is dying because everyone is too busy watching cat videos on their mobile phones. But even if the TVC doesn’t have the same power it once had when the whole family would sit around the goggle box for hours each evening, there is still nothing quite as brilliant as a highly-creative, well-crafted piece of film. Both One Show and D&AD celebrate this art and each has given pencils to what they think is the very best of the bunch.

adam&eveDDB continue to produce outstanding work for Harvey Nichols and this film using CCTV footage of real shoplifters continues that tradition. D&AD gave out a coveted Yellow pencil for this. One Show gave it gold but it seems just that bit harder to get the Yellow pencil.

As for One Show, my pick of the gold winners has to be this spot for Old Spice. They continue putting a splash of humour on everything and “Rocket Car” from Wieden+Kennedy is a worthy successor of the previous (legendary) Old Spice films.

Round 2 winner – I have to hand it to D&AD for choosing a worthy winner.

 

Round 3 – Let’s make a change

It’s still the hottest trend in award shows, brands trying to do good by showing the world how they should live, think, feel, act etc. Maybe I’m being a little cynical but we do live in a hyper politically correct world these days. Brands have to walk the talk or be slammed for not doing the right thing. So what stood out in these two rival award shows?

One Show gave a Best in Show Award to a brand that said no to consumerism. You might have seen videos of shoppers on America’s Black Friday fighting in the aisles for discounted biscuits. Outdoor retailer REI decided to live by its beliefs and close their stores on that day and encourage people to go outside instead. D&AD only gave a Wood pencil for this project – that’s harsh.

But there was one project that ruled both pencils…

It’s Y&R New Zealand that strike again with a winner that was recognised by both sides of the pencil war. It’s only fair to make peace and declare round two a draw as both the One Show and D&AD gave out lots of pencils for the McWhopper Peace Day project. Even if McDonald’s didn’t accept to pool their resources (and ingredients), the public took it upon themselves to unilaterally unite the Big Mac and the Whopper.

Round 3 (and overall) winner – In the spirit of peace we’ll bring the pencil war to a close, bringing these rival award shows together and declaring the final winner One&AD.

March 14, 2016

SXSW – OMG or WTF?

ARC

If like me, you’re one of the people wishing you were at SXSW in Austin Texas (and not just for the BBQ), let’s take a look at what is happening this week that is truly innovative or utterly nonsense. There is a fine line between “what if?” and “so what?” that we all have to tread when we’re in the cutting edge game. Without exploration there are no breakthroughs but along the way there are so many ideas that leave you wondering “what were they thinking?” For those of us working in the commercial reality of marketing communication, we desperately want to propose the latest innovations and help brands do things first before anyone else – but often can’t justify it. Clients want to know what the ROI is. Not easy to provide when something has never been done before. It takes a brave client to go where no other brand has gone before without guarantees.

Let’s put aside the practical world for the moment. What interesting things have been happening at SXSW that could become future trends? For me, one of the surprising stars of the show has been Deloitte Digital with ARC (Audience Reactive Composition) that enhances the experience of festival goers through an “exploration of the future at the intersection of light, music and technology”. To me it looks like the interior of the Tardis from Doctor Who which is always a great place to start.

At first glance it could come across as something only Bjork might love but few others would appreciate, but take a step back and there is an interesting exploration around moving away from interacting through screens alone and giving people a more physical, tactile way to experience technology. In an interview with its creators Dave and Gabe, they talk about how “we are very visual as humans, but our muscle memory and tactile intelligence is incredibly powerful. The future of digital technology and interaction should speak to those physical properties”. Definitely an area which could develop into new ways for brands to interact with consumers. Find out more here: http://sxsw.deloitte.com/

japanhouse

One participant at SXSW that intrigues me (and definitely worthy of an OMG) is Japan House. I’ve always had a thing for Japanese innovation and Japan House continues to push the boundaries in strange ways that only the Japanese have a knack for. Just their description alone says it all as they “invite you to re-explore with us the eternal mystery of human nature. What constitutes human nature? What form will the extension of humanity take?” Go along for a taste of tomorrow’s world with robots, AI, new forms of mobility and 3D printed human organs. Find out more http://jpnhouse.com/

Still in the land of the rising sun, Sony is showcasing a lot of new tech with their Future Lab Program. While the name may not be very creative, what they have put together shows how much Sony is still a true innovator. One of the projects is simply known as “N” and is essentially (to quote 9to5google.com) a “neckband-like device that provides a cloud of audio that you can hear without the need for headphones. With no headphones attached to your ears, you can wear the device while running, biking, or driving without needing to worry about safety issues. The device also has motion sensing and GPS location tracking capabilities”. Get the full story here > http://9to5google.com/2016/03/13/sxsw-sonys-future-lab-shows-off-its-n-audio-based-wearable-other-projects/

One brand that is working hard to be seen as more innovative is Gatorade. Ahead of SXSW they launched a challenge called Bolt Breakers where tech companies such as Google and Twitter were invited to imaging how technology could help young, competitive athletes. The results can be seen at SXSW. The full story behind the initiative can be read here on Adweek. Not wanting to be left behind by other sports brands like Nike and Under Armour, Gatorade is really looking to transform itself to be known as a forward-thinking company dedicated to using innovation to help fuel performance.

The SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards is another chance to see what the future might look like. It really covers a broad spectrum of topics that you won’t see at other festivals. From Health, Med & Biotech to 3-DIY (best use of 3D printing tech), New Economy to Audio, Responsive Design to Visual Media and Wearable tech to name just a few. My favorite award is called SCIFI NO LONGER which recognizes achievements that before 2015 were only possible in science fiction. Check out the shortlist now and the winners after March 15 http://www.sxsw.com/interactive/awards/innovation-awards

3057747-slide-s-1-budweiser-goes-to-sxsw

I will end with what I think is a perfect example of a WTF moment at SXW. Budweiser is using the event to launch “Tackle Impossible: a Force for Safer Roads”, a U.S. initiative to “ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of young adults to tackle global road safety and help find innovative solutions to the problem of drinking and driving”. Good one, that’s like Burger King promoting veganism. Wassssuuuuuppppp!??

February 24, 2016

VR – Tomorrow’s World or Yesterday’s News?

Although I’ve been working in “digital” for 20 years now, I still try to maintain a level of cynicism when it comes to the next big thing. It’s that little devil’s advocate sitting on my shoulder that tempers my natural enthusiasm for all things tech. But I’d like to silence him for the moment and look ahead to where VR might go in terms of being a powerful marketing tool. Just think, when Facebook appeared nobody, guessed that it would become the advertising powerhouse it is today. When I was getting “poked” by people in the early days of the platform, I didn’t say to myself “this is going to transform the ad business”. Facebook wants to make VR a social experience, even though slapping a headset on is possibly the most anti-social thing you could do. But I won’t listen to my internal naysayer. As they said in the X-Files… I want to believe. So even though VR is a novelty right now let’s fast forward five years and imagine what it might become.

3038560-inline-i-1-google-volvo

Welcome to 2021 –the age of VR. Just like the early days of the internet, the biggest success stories of VR are porn and gaming. Being able to immersive yourself in the thrill of the moment has become the key selling point for VR. But brands have had to work harder to capture people’s attention in this VR future. Way back in 2015 we had already seen some early attempts at using VR as a marketing tool. Google’s Cardboard VR was used by Volvo to deliver an amazing Virtual Driving Experience.

http://www.volvocars.com/us/about/our-points-of-pride/google-cardboard

Another brand that created some early buzz about VR was Marriott with their Oculus powered teleporter that gave a full sensory travel experience.

http://travel-brilliantly.marriott.com/our-innovations/oculus-get-teleported

Marriott-Hotels-Teleporter

We’ve come a long way since then. Here, in good old 2021, VR has become mainstream. It has helped Facebook become the most valuable company in the world and every home has at least one VR headset. Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Apple along with Facebook are dominating the VR industry. Brands have discovered how to connect with consumers in new ways, delivering compelling experiences that capture the attention, are highly social and personally relevant. OK, enough marketing blurb. What does that mean from an end-user point of view? Many of my favorite brands are offering what has become known as ARX – Alternate Reality Experiences. I get to be hang out with celebrities as if they are right in front of me. My friends are there too, they look real thanks to high definition 3D avatars that are totally lifelike. Yes, these spaces we visit are full of product placement but these are brands I actually like. They are there if I’m interested and can interact with them, but otherwise I can just enjoy the moment, as a member of Beyonce’s band or helping Sherlock solve a crime. This isn’t storytelling – it’s storymaking. I’m amazed how personalized these experiences are. But then again, Artificial Intelligence is an everyday thing in 2021, so if it wasn’t tailored perfectly to me then something would be wrong. I spend hours wearing my VR headset since this reality is much prettier than the “real” world, especially now there are no more trees or wildlife in the city. I do all my shopping in the VR mall and my handy tactile orb gives me the sensation of touching (or even smelling) what I want to buy. It uses microjets of air to project sensations onto my hands so it feels like I’m holding that pair of shoes, those headphones or touching that self-driving car.

If I get bored of being myself I can step inside the head of any of my friends. See and hear what they are experiencing, reliving their (or our) best moments in full 3D video. If they’ve bought something new then I get to try it too, all thanks to the hyper-realistic experiences that VR brings.

——————

Back to reality now. It’s 2016 and VR is still in its infancy. For it to become mainstream and for brands to find it worth the investment it has to do several things:

1 – Be affordable (Samsung Gear VR is being given free with their new S7 phones)

2 – Be worth people’s attention (because there are plenty of other distractions)

3 – Be socially engaging (otherwise it will become a platform for loners and perverts – remember Second Life anyone?)

The geek in me hopes that VR will take off in a big way. After all the investment and excitement it would be a shame if it simply fades away and ends up forgotten in my drawer alongside my Minidisc player.

See you in five years…

 

January 4, 2016

Resolutions for the post-digital agency

fireworks

It’s the New Year and we all like to make resolutions. Some of us want to lose weight, exercise a little more and change some of our bad habits. What kind of resolutions could advertising & marketing agencies make to be better, leaner or more energized in 2016? For those that are still trying to become “digital” it’s maybe the moment to realize that the boat has already sailed. We now live in a post-digital world where it’s the new mainstream. But don’t despair, even the established “digital” agencies are not sure where to go next. Many are finding that what they offer is now a commodity and can be done faster and cheaper elsewhere. Some have also become lazy, copying the latest craze, getting consumers to do all the legwork (tell us your story!!), ####hashtagging their way to content overload or just being downright boring. As we look forward to 2016 it might do us all some good to capture the spirit of the pioneering work done during the first few years of the millennium before we all became so digitally savvy. Back then there wasn’t a bunch of successful cases as blueprints to follow. Everything we did was being done for the first time.

So my first resolution is to listen, take time to hear what the experts outside the traditional agency world are saying about what is coming next and how we can use this as a springboard for innovation. The fact is, consultancies could end up eating agency’s lunches for breakfast if they don’t invest in intelligence.

Forrester, in their 2016 Age of the Consumer predictions, puts forward many trends that any agency should be taking a closer look at. I picked out three that I think hold big potential for brands in the coming few year:

1 – Personalization.

As industry leaders we have to “understand and anticipate individual needs to deliver personalized experiences”. We have to be better at leveraging customer intelligence to gain real insights that can help brands gain mindshare and share of wallet.

 2 – Customer Experience.

Forrester predicts the need for “multi-discipline CX strategies to change internal operations”. While some companies are just “executing CX tactics”, the ones that will succeed leverage a “combination of people, process, and technologies” to “anticipate, and deliver on those experiences every day”. We need to think “above and below the visibility line”.

3 – Digital Leadership.

Today “digital” isn’t a discipline but the energy force that connects and runs through everything. Agencies need to understand how to work with their clients and help them to “embed digital into all parts of the business, harmonize virtual and human (e.g., in-store) experiences, and be able to rapidly shift to meet the hyper-adoption/hyper-abandonment behavior of customers”.

Download the full report here >

My second resolution for agencies is to be more observant. Be aware of what is happening in the industry and be ready to seize opportunities or react to threats. Social@Ogilvy issue an excellent report each year that observes and comments on current or future trends. This year is great reading as usual and also features predictions from 2015 that came true.

One of the topics that stood out for me was ad blocking. Just when mobile finally came of age as a powerful marketing tool we’ve seen ad blocking technology being unofficially endorsed by Apple. Agencies are going to have to work harder in order to earn the attention of the public. The Ogilvy report mentions how microtargeting is going to be necessary to reach people with content that they actually want to see. As agencies, we need to make it relevant and wanted. Otherwise our audience will be suffering from content indigestion.

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Of course content will continue to rule and video will see a major evolution. There is so much of it out there now you really have to be innovative to stand out The 360 degree video example for Star Wars on Facebook points the way to make really compelling content.

 

2016 will be the year everyone wants to try Virtual Reality. The Ogilvy report has several pages looking at this. With everyone launching VR viewers and various platforms offering immersive video there will be an avalanche of experiences to choose from – some much better than others. Of course, with all of these things you want to be part of something so new and exciting but there will be many hiccups along the way. Don’t expect VR to be the answer to everything. Anyone remember Second Life?

Check out the full report here >

My final resolution for agencies is to never stop learning. It’s a scary fact but clients are now more knowledgeable about the latest innovations than their agencies. They take the time to run workshops, they visit the headquarters of social media platforms and many clients have their own in-house innovation labs. How many agencies have the freedom or budgets to do that? Don’t rely on a “Head of Digital” to educate everyone in the agency. Make it part of every team member’s job description to stay up to date with developments. Give out subscriptions to websites like Contagious so every few days they can see what new things are happening out there. Start by sharing their 2015 summary of the Most Contagious work >

So those are my three resolutions for any agency (or agency person) wanting to stay relevant or even still exist in 2017. This coming year marks 20 years since I started working in what we once called “New Media” yet I’m determined not to stay in my comfort zone or repeat the past. Digital might be mature now but many agencies have stopped pushing the boundaries. If we all keep listening, observing and learning then we’ve got a good chance of inventing the next 20 years.

I will leave you with some opinions of what was the most innovative work from the past year. Let’s see if we can all do even better in 2016.