Author: Anjali Ramachandran, Head of Innovation
Yesterday I organised our third internal planners’ conference. This time we decided to theme it around Cannes as a few of us went to the festival and thought it only made sense to share some of the best inspiration with the rest of our crew here. Farrah Bostic reprised her talk on brands as APIs that she did at Google Creative Sandbox (thanks Farrah, you rock!), and we had the other PHD’ers who went speaking about what they learnt too.
I sat through a fair number of talks at Cannes in the hope of uncovering some emerging themes for our industry. There were so many intellectual and entertainment powerhouses that I was sure I’d be able to observe over-arching trends over the week. I wasn’t disappointed: in my talk I shared what I was able to put together over the immense amount of material I learnt about through that week.
I started with a clip of a robot called Fonzie built by a company called Robosavvy that is involved with the design and development of robotics, 3D printing and related products. We saw the live demo during the Wired/Lowe talk and almost everyone gasped in wonder, including me.
It was no easy task paying attention to all the talks in a place like Cannes with the sun and the sand constantly beckoning, but I think I succeeded. I’m either a loser or a geek -whichever way you like to look at it!!
So key themes: the importance of art and culture in creating emotionally sensitive and culturally aware people, and therefore better work
Dame Vivienne Westwood urged people to become their ‘better selves’ by exposing themselves to art and culture; in her opinion that’s when we’ll see less problems like climate change or for that matter, the banking crisis, because selfish individuals are typically at the helm. This sentiment was echoed by Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, with regards to giving children a breadth of experiences in art and culture so that they become sensitive to the needs of people from different cultures and better able to design and create things that always put people before technology and market. They both encouraged visits to art galleries, museums, and places that were outside the realm of our mental comfort zone. Bill Buxton said with reference to designing and building products, it isn’t just about the technology, it’s as much about what it makes people feel. When you sell something, you’re selling them more than just a ‘thing’ and we need to change our mindset if that is indeed what we think. It’s emotions, behaviours, social and cultural reference points.
The Next Big Thing: large-format screens integrated across devices
In three of the most future-facing talks at Cannes, John Underkoffler from Oblong Industries, David Rowan, Wired UK’s editor and Bill Buxton from Microsoft Research spoke about large and responsive screens.
John Underkoffler was the chief computer visionary behind the well-known Tom-Cruise starrer Minority Report back in 2002 (he did a TED talk in 2010 which is worth watching if you’d like to know more about him). He worked on a brief from Steven Spielberg who was very keen that all the technology displayed in the film was thoroughly researched, and as a result Tom Cruise’s character used interfaces designed by Underkoffler that were very much grounded in reality.
In an interview with the famous critic Roger Ebert who passed away recently, Spielberg in fact said:
I wanted all the toys to come true someday. I want there to be a transportation system that doesn’t emit toxins into the atmosphere. And the newspaper that updates itself… The Internet is watching us now. If they want to. They can see what sites you visit. In the future, television will be watching us, and customizing itself to what it knows about us. The thrilling thing is, that will make us feel we’re part of the medium. The scary thing is, we’ll lose our right to privacy. An ad will appear in the air around us, talking directly to us.
Devices like the iPhone, the Kinect and even retina scanners already do exist and we are well on the way to other interfaces becoming a market reality.
I showed a Verge video that took a look inside Oblong, fascinating stuff. One of the most interesting things they are working on is a technology called G.speak that enables the development of multi-user, multi-screen, multi-device, spatial, networked applications. They are currently working with global Fortune 500 companies and government agencies to build applications that use G.speak, so it’s very real.
Mr. Underkoffler, Mr. Buxton and Mr. Rowan all mentioned that the next frontier for technology and communication to conquer would be to get large and linked screens responding to human gestures, a progression of the likes of Microsoft Kinect (‘the human hand is the single best gestural tool, and with devices like the mouse we disable it’, in John Underkoffler’s words) and then to get them working seamlessly across multiple devices. Oblong Industries is already almost there, if their current work is anything to go by.
Some of the technologies that got a live demo on stage during the talk by David Rowan and Chacho Puebla were Google Glass and the Puzzlebox Orbit, a small device which you can control with your mind – yes, that’s right.
More seriously though, it wasn’t all about technology for the sake of it. One of my favourite new technologies started out as an Indiegogo project: Scanadu. It is a small scanner that can analyse your health in minutes and actually diagnose the cause for any illnesses. All these are tremendously useful things that start out to solve a problem and make people’s lives better. From a brand’s POV, that sort of approach can really change what people think of you.
Third, I noticed how many sessions focused on authenticity in marketing: brands working to have increased resonance with the zeitgeist and their audiences by fitting in instead of standing out
Conan O’Brien, Anderson Cooper, P.Diddy and Coke spoke about how the brands that succeed will be those that understand the times we live in and have something to offer rather than simply shouting out messages in traditional TV ad breaks. As Conan O’Brien said, marketers tend to want entertainment personalities to ‘look into the camera and smile’ when they can technically do that in the privacy of their home; what they should be doing is working with them to create content and experiences through which they can be remembered. P.Diddy, whose latest project – the new music channel Revolt – aims to be like an ESPN for music specifically aimed at young people, said that brands need to be authentic in this day and age because with the experience of technology and communication that young people have today, they can ‘spot phoniness a mile away’. Coke also mentioned how they aim to ‘capture a disproportionate share of popular culture’ in a similar vein through light-touch interactions with the audience. Coke, Creative Marketer of the Year 2013, are interesting because they aren’t afraid to throw stuff at the wall and see which sticks. Not everything they do is great, but i give them points for trying. Every single thing they do isn’t a hit either, but a lot of them are, and you can clearly see how they don’t shy away from trying new things and going all out to become a part of culture rather than interrupt culture.
How to engage audiences through play
I’d be remiss if I hadn’t mentioned Jane McGonigal’s talk on gamification and what it can help people achieve, not just because PHD brought her to Cannes but because she is on to some very interesting research. As she said, games have been clinically proven to help people perform better (one of my favourite examples from the festival was one she mentioned: how Remission, a game where kids diagnosed with leukemia play to kill cancer cells, actually succeeded in improving their health – in fact Remission 2 has recently been released).
I came back and did a bit more research on the engagement economy in which we live. Jane mentioned that 1 in 4 gamers apparently called in sick to play Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on launch day, and Gallup came out with a report in 2012 that said that unengaged workers cost companies $2 trillion annually worldwide. Games can tackle this problem, not videogames necessarily but by using elements and qualities of gamification (I still cringe a bit when I type the word because it is usually associated with mindless gathering of points for points sake; this is not what Jane focussed on during her talk and not what I mean here either) like creativity, resilience and curiosity to produce better work.
Deloitte Review also recently released a report which covered many companies that are successfully using gamification to achieve better business results, such as Cisco, which used gaming strategies to enhance its virtual global sales meeting and call center company, reduced call time by 15% and improved sales between 8% and 12%, the insurance agency Aetna which used a game called Life Game developed by a company called Mindbloom to get people to stay healthy, Nike which has seen incredible success with Nike + and the Fuelband (whoop!) and a small startup called Recycle Bank which use games to get people to be more environmentally friendly – they are working with a company called Preserve through the Gimme5 app, which rewards people for recycling a specific kind of plastic (the kind you find in yoghurt pots) that are then made into other products.
Hiring from diverse backgrounds for diverse output
I went to a workshop on diversity by McCann where they referenced some of their work (the Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin, Nature Valley Trail View) and mentioned how having people from different backgrounds and interests helped them gain an insight into important societal issues and create impact.
In a panel on advertising and innovation, Adrian Ho, Founding Partner of Zeus Jones spoke about how the company has people who have a range of professional experiences, whether that is creative, media, design or more non-traditional backgrounds but the way the company looks at it they all bring different individual experiences rather than a specific way of working tied to their past. Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s Chief Creative Officer, and Lorraine Twohill, Google’s Head of Marketing both spoke about the impact of diversity in their respective companies; indeed Google’s Art Project, a Cannes Lions winner in 2011, was a 20% project by an employee who grew up in India and had a long-standing desire to be able to see the art collections in museums around the world. At Burberry, they have a monthly Strategic Innovation Council where people from different disciplines within the company get together to toss ideas about as well.
John Winsor, the founder of Victors & Spoils, an agency that crowdsources its workforce from across the globe also echoed similar thoughts about creativity drawing from diversity. I think very often planners in the West tend to stay insulated from some of the best work that’s going on in the world, and is something we need to be careful of.
The growth markets of the future: inspiration from the emerging economies of the South
Andy Fennell, Diageo’s CMO and Dale Tomlinson, Founder of Durban-based agency The Hardy Boys spoke about their experience working in Africa and how the continent is poised for growth. With facts such as Africa being the 2nd fastest-growing champagne market in the world, more Guinness currently sold in Nigeria than in Ireland, South Africa now having 71,000 millionaires which is more than that of Saudi Arabia and the UAE combined, and 80% of Kenyans now banking via mobile phone, we were told about the immense opportunity there. It is clearly a growth engine and brands looking to expand should be thinking of exploring opportunities there. Some of the work they mentioned included Guinness Africa Made of More (a competition which invites filmmakers to submit work showcasing the continent, open for entries now), the introduction in 2004 of Senator Keg beer in Kenya which provided a safer alternative to low-cost illicit liquor in the country, and the controversial Nando’s ad featuring some of the world’s dictators.
I also heard the last few minutes of a panel on India’s Startup Village in Kochi, Kerala, which Blackberry have invested in. It is the country’s first public-private technology business incubator. In the Western world, incubators like Y-Combinator and TechStars are now almost commonplace, but with access to private capital at a policy level through initiatives like this, Startup Village seems like a noteworthy project in Asia in the tech incubator space and one to keep an eye on.
The importance of saying No
Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at Ideo, Gareth Kay, Chief Strategy Officer at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Adrian Ho from Zeus Jones and Burberry’s Christopher Bailey all spoke about the better quality of work that is likely to emerge from being able to say No – to bad client briefs, and to bad ideas that come up in general when responding to them. Having a clear, consistent point of view on what you do and do not want to be associated with will make this choice easier. It will also help you produce work that you are more likely to be proud of.
I cannot stress this enough – if someone comes to you with a rubbish idea, be brave and tell them it’s rubbish. You’ll be saving a lot of people time, energy, money and reputation.
Lastly, another theme I saw popping up here and there was the importance of developing the attitude of a hacker – a creative hacker, who looks to personalize and add features to otherwise staid, boring products that become more useful. People who are constantly looking to improve marketing by being more relevant to people will stay in touch with what people want, not what a small group of people want, and therefore are more likely to be successful.
I ended with a 2-minute clip that has Conan O’Brien and Anderson Cooper on stage, because let’s face it I can never be as funny as them!
I feel my time at Cannes was really well-spent.