From virtual reality to neuroscience, Mindshare's Huddle 2014 decoded some of the industry's biggest disruptors

Technological breakthroughs, from drones and virtual reality to 3D printing and developments in neuroscience, are fast reshaping the world as we know it. Mindshare’s Huddle 2014 event, for which The Drum was media partner, sought to help marketers get to grips with some of the most disruptive technologies.

Today the foundations for tomorrow’s data-driven economies are being set and everything from media, advertising and money to health, neural behaviour and education is being reshaped by technologies. We have arrived at what scientists call the ‘event horizon’, the point of no return, and at Mindshare Huddle 2014 visitors were invited to come together to brainstorm new ways to inspire and innovate for the future.

Mindshare’s UK chief executive Mark Creighton says the annual event, which comprises over 140 interactive sessions in a single day, is positioned to help brands cut through the clutter of today’s technology-saturated environment. “They can take a step back, explore and learn about what may help them in their business, rather than be paralysed by the choice that’s out there – and doing nothing at all can be more dangerous.”

Neuroscience

To say exploring the neuroscience in advertising is new would no doubt anger many who have long examined the emotional triggers in traditional TV ads, for example. Yet there is no question the process has advanced rapidly and was therefore a core theme throughout Huddle.

The Drum was among those to host a session exploring this topic, presented by neuroscientist Dr Beau Lotto who enforced that people are “delusional” and that our thoughts, creativity and actions are determined entirely by context – something brands must remember in order to provide great customer experiences.

Meanwhile, Nielsen was touting breakthroughs in neuroscience, giving demonstrations of its latest neuro headsets which it is currently using to map brainwaves around people’s responses to adverts. The company ran a series of psychological tests with visitors to demonstrate the power of the subconscious and how it influences our regular brain patterns, and also the importance of memory.

By simulating a home living room environment in its lab, it continues to map the brain responses of a core set of 24 viewers and their subconscious responses to ads, with the view to then incorporating the approach to the rest of its audience measurement panels.

Health

Health is one of the ripest areas for disruption and technologies have already begun to irrevocably change the fundamentals of this sector. 3D printing is just one example of how technologies are reshaping medicine, and was a dominant theme throughout Huddle.

Google has evolved far beyond its search roots and is experimenting in areas such as driverless cars and even health. One of the most inspiring demonstrations was by Amar Thanki, rich media creative technical consultant at Google, who broached the opportunities it has spied in 3D printing, cancer-sniffing particles, and smart lenses.

The tech giant has invested heavily into its X Lab and one of the first projects it has openly discussed is an ambitious project to create a pill that could test for cancer.

As cells become diseased, Google hopes to be able to detect the chemical signals they release via microscopic particles which travel through the bloodstream. “Maybe there could be a test for the enzymes given off by arterial plaques that are about to rupture and cause a heart attack or stroke.

Modern journalism

The BBC, the Guardian and the Financial Times all hosted sessions on the challenges of media brands competing for readers’ attention in an increasingly content-saturated online landscape.

The day’s content varied wildly, ranging from maintaining and growing brand loyalty to creating competitive content and investigating a perceived bias in mainstream media’s coverage of Islam and Muslims. Drones, and the role they can play in news gathering, are being heavily tested by various publishers including the Telegraph. The paper’s director of digital content Kate Day showcased how effective they can be, and how they are becoming one of the core technologies publishers can harness to ensure they stay ahead of the curve. She also delved into what effect 360-degree cameras, virtual reality such as Oculus Rift and 4G live streaming are having on journalism.

Yet it was ESI Media who stole the show – staging an interactive crime investigation to demonstrate the pressures of journalist deadlines. What better way to illustrate this than by asking a group to solve a murder mystery and report on it – could they create engaging content that only used the hard facts? That’s the task ESI Media gave them in this session – getting everyone involved by dressing them in full white suits, paper shoes and masks as they dusted for fingerprints and analysed blood splatters.

Room 101 – Data

Attesting its importance, there were no less than 12 Huddle sessions dedicated to data and how marketers could and should be harnessing it. However, one of the more interesting and actionable discussions was on the language marketers use around the subject.

Chad Wollen, group head of commercial innovation and future at Vodafone, argued that metaphors such as ‘Data is the new oil,’ are unhelpful. He suggests phrases like this allude to data being a source of power and money for companies and as a potentially hazardous matter if not handled with caution. He challenged marketers to come up with new ways of talking about it, such as companies being a bank for customer data. In this explanation, people can deposit as much or as little as they wish and companies are simply guardians of it.

Proximity

Proximity marketing has been hailed as one of the most compelling opportunities for brands, and Mindshare posed a major digital outdoor stunt at Piccadilly Circus during Huddle to demonstrate to brands what they can stand to gain.

Once people came within proximity of the screens, they were pushed to ask a question via the hashtag #asklondon, with their questions and responses then fed back into the screen in realtime.

“It was done to show the opportunities that digital out of home (DOOH) offers – that it can project people within a certain proximity into a conversation. So rather than seeing OOH as a static projector of messages, it can actually do everything from ask questions or give real-time information on what is happening, and the real opportunity will be when the OOH industry becomes closer to the mobile one,” says Creighton.

Virtual reality

Since Oculus Rift was bought by Facebook the whole concept of virtual reality (VR) has become more tangible for advertisers, and as such was a big theme at Huddle. Mindshare’s Creighton says this acquisition has propelled the notion of VR “beyond the gimmicky” and helped frame it as important.

“Oculus Rift represents the first incarnation of people thinking VR could have real value. There are only a handful of brands using it currently, but that will change once the cost of access for developers comes down.

“There are pilots being run in the US where a consumer can experience hotels via VR, and others were VR booths are positioned outside registry offices so after people have got married they can take a VR honeymoon. There will be lots more iterations of these things to come.”

This feature was first published in The Drum's 26 November issue.

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