The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) has taken some of the country’s brightest creative minds off to Silicon Valley and Hollywood on a mission to learn as much as they can in a week about how the technology and entertainment industries are shaping the way people and brands interact. The Drum will publish a column penned by one of the IPA’s group each day this week. Havas Media chief executive Paul Frampton offers his key takeaways from day one.
The first morning of the IPA/UKTI interactive West Coast mission started with an American breakfast at the British consulate and an upbeat intro around the adaptable nature of the Valley, in spite of the rise of ad blocking. The first stop was Twitter's new exec hosting area in their HQ in the centre of San Francisco. With beautiful serendipity, the Moments tab appeared within our Twitter apps and with it a new window in to Twitter's future as a mobile companion experience to live events. Twitter had us through the door and starting our tour fast but sadly we were greeted in a soulless corporate centre with no Twitter talent in evidence.
This contrasted with the Moments development which itself employs real people to curate content from the platform. Our colourful host, an ex journo-turned-Twitter evangelist centred in on the "power of now" and how Twitter had created an accessible front door for scalable, shared moments. We were aptly reminded that with logged out and syndicated content, Twitter touches over 1 billion users a month but barring a one-off TV spot, no plan seemed clear for surfacing Moments content outside of its current (already) loyal user-base.
The sense of scale was markedly different on arrival at the sprawling MPK campus, home to Facebook, Instagram and Oculus Rift, where we waited 15 minutes to have our ID's checked. An official Disney like tour guide keenly pointed out the sights including a vast array of fast food outlets and an analogue research lab (a printing studio to you and me) where Facebook's business mottos like "This Journey is 1 per cent finished" are mass produced. Facebook's Creative lead admitted that in the early days they failed to understand brands and storytelling. There was much talk about the meaningful moments that matter and how brands can be hyper relevant to those moments through personalising both message and distribution.
Facebook told us how they leverage their vast social graph to generate insights to inform the best ways to be meaningful as a brand, but admitted it had not cracked how to scale this to agencies and brands.
There was then a pivotal moment where the evolution of video to VR (Oculus) was likened to the same shift we saw a few years back from text to photo. Live, immersive demos had everyone in the room believing that VR was a new dimension for rich brand experiences. For brands, the opportunity in the short term, before the headset experience becomes more accessible, seems to reside with entertainment brands and experiential activity. Pre-seeding and creating additional content experiences for TV, film, gaming and music brands seems a total no brainer. Likewise, brands that already invest in building rich immersive experiences at events and through face to face brand activity should explore this. The Samsung headset we saw cost just €99 so the price point is dropping as a barrier to entry. The immediate need is for developers and content providers to upskill to create the content.
The analog research lab at Facebook
The final stop of the day was Neurosky, a fascinating business focused on using neuroscience to measure brainwaves. We were treated to a demo measuring appreciation based on levels of brain arousal which spiralled out of control on the arrival of the Star Wars trailer. Wearable tech displaying key health indicators via a mobile app illustrated that Silicon Valley is solving bigger problems than how to deliver better advertising. It struck me that joining data sets that measure brain activity along with today's rich behavioural signals could really accelerate the creation of better content and services that are meaningful to people.
What that then led me to think was that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Oculus and Neurosky all have one thing in common, people, but there was little focus on how real people feel about any of this new technology. Facebook's presentation was rather ironically entitled "People Matter" yet they proceeded to talk for the next hour of audience segments not people and of "shipping ideas", not crafting them. There was huge agency appetite in the room to bring briefs to the table but with Facebook having a team of just 100 focused in Creative across the world (up 50 per cent year-on-year ) the dilemma of scaling insight led, content rich ideas is a clear challenge on both sides.
Given there are still a paucity of compelling insight led cases for the platform, it became apparent that Facebook and agencies need to find smarter ways of collaborating. We discussed the potential of Facebook's creative team members sitting inside agencies for a period of time, scalable insight tools and or a Squared like up-skilling program. Somewhat ironically, it feels like a technology platform that better connects planners and creative talent on both sides and beyond is the missing link.
Twitter of course feels like a business under pressure to deliver scale but has a greater urgency post Jack's return and also a warmth and humanity to it. If Twitter could get better at curating personal and professional moments as well as it seems to have with events and news, then perhaps it could give Facebook something to worry about.
The resounding takeaway from our first day was that of the relentless force of the Facebook machine.
They may be less charming than Twitter but they have huge scale, a long term vision and with Oculus and Messenger in the wings as the next drivers of growth, you'd be brave not to bet on their earnings growth continuing.
Paul Frampton is chief executive of Havas Media and group managing director of Havas Media Group.