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Rise of the machines: emotions are something that algorithms can’t perfect

May 22, 2017 | 7 min read

The irony of this age of machines is that for them to be truly effective – especially in marketing, advertising and brand-building – the technology needs to be tempered with human emotion.


As we know well at Hall & Partners and TBWA, the best stories, the most creative messages and the most meaningful campaigns will always need to resonate with a plethora of human emotions to make them work most effectively. And that, as we show throughout our new Rise of The Machines report which as Omnicom agencies we jointly commissioned, is something algorithms simply can’t perfect.

So to benefit from this new age of technology, we urge marketers to tap into feelings by building a sophisticated culture around these devices – a reactive eco-system that feeds off the data tech creates with immediacy. According to Mark Liversidge, founder of Eight Magpies, a marketing advisory company, brands need to be prepared to take advantage of the way society is more blurred than it once was, creating a different kind of culture. He says: “Consumers of all ages are being influenced all of the time rather than, as before, when exposed to traditional media. They are making decisions more confidently and more quickly because they feel as if they have more exposure to data more frequently on an ongoing basis so their decision making process is far more rapid. So if consumers are instant, then so must brands be.”

Part of the way brands can build emotion through technology is to enhance the experiential side of things, a technique teams at both of our agencies pursue. We’ve showed how gamification, for instance, can be effective because it creates experiences to nurture the community around the game, and that creates unique emotional bonds.

Benjamin Pommeraud, general manager of Riot Games in Singapore, explains that a big driver of adoption of the biggest online games is the social factor. He says: “Interactions in games may be digital but they’re still human interactions. Just because you talk to someone via a computer doesn’t mean you aren’t talking to a person, sharing something real and true with them.”

The interactions are still real even though they might not be physical as are the emotions that that experience elicits. That’s why we believe that artificial reality is such an exciting advance in tapping into people’s emotions, a development that he believes will mean “technology and real-life relationships” will not be “incompatible at all.”

In our experience throughout our global markets, what machines have allowed brands to do is develop extraordinarily complex ways of engaging audiences’ sensory perceptions. It’s not just sight, as experienced with artificially ‘real’ experiences but sound, taste, smell and textures all of which can help bring a brand to life.

The difference, believes David Naidu at Friesland Campina, is that if brands are to utilise this technology properly they need to think of experiences rather than artificially-created worlds. He says: “Making provenance a reality – building artificial and virtual realities - gives FMCG brands the chance to offer customers a journey to the very roots of the brand, from seeing the places where ingredients grow, to the ways in which a product is made or even to learn from people that work for the brand. This can be especially strong for markets like China where the origins of a Western brand may seem aspirational, yet distant.”

Yet we at Hall & Partners and TBWA realise there is a danger that brands and marketers can be seduced by the machine-led capabilities at their fingertips. It’s all well and good creating complex, engaging experiences but unless it’s accompanied by an authentic conversation, the effect on audiences may be both shallow and short-term. Brands need to use these machines to target individuals. Dane Lim from the Economic Development Board in Singapore, says: “Remember we are talking to individuals. Technology gives us an opportunity to really talk to people in a more emotive way. We must make sure that we do our communications planning with human dimensions, that it has a face to face dimension to it.”

Clearly, machines still need to be guided by human input if these connections are to be strong ones. One way of doing that is to ensure that natural language matches the consumer’s digital footprint. The world’s leading tech giant also believes many brands forget that eliciting positive responses from consumers requires a very human way of thinking and talking. He says: “Natural language that relates to people’s personalities is how you create better experiences. That doesn’t mean, for instance, replacing people at call centres but augmenting people so that they know more about the customers with whom they’re having a conversation. How can we use customers’ digital footprint to enhance their emotional experiences through the machine, to make it more relevant and personalised, to get closer to consumers and understand their behaviour?”

What we have had confirmed by speaking with so many marketing leaders is that for brands to build on that emotional connection they must ensure that they not only engage with consumers but create genuine – and profitable – desirability. That’s how to create both the most memorable and meaningful experiences.

Ian McLernon, of Rémy Cointreau Global Travel Retail, believes machines can provide brands with that extra edge. He says: “Everything is about desirability. Exclusivity is perception, not reality, if you look at perfume and cosmetics, they’re available in most cities around the world. It’s the intangible of why you want something, you don’t need that bag, but you want it. And I think digital is one way of creating that desirability, giving more information about a product, why it’s the most desirable in the world, or why you should desire it more. Digital or technology isn’t a page in the brand plan, it’s part of everything we do. Internally and externally. That’s how to create desire.”

Machines, then, need to be emotional if they are to truly benefit marketers, say those we spoke to in compiling this report. It’s a belief that, as Omnicom agencies, we ensure is evidenced by our work. Speed, cleverness and connectivity are all important but unless the machines can ‘speak’ to consumers in a meaningful manner, elicit human emotions from them, their benefits will be reduced.

The article is the second chapter in a five-part series by TBWA\Asia Pacific and Hall & Partners.

An introduction, looked at the concept that the machines have risen, followed by the first chapter, which looked at how the industry is dealing with the fears around automation. The second chapter asked marketers whether they thought algorithms could perfect emotion. The third chapter argued that the true potential lay in using this technology to improve online and offline experiences. The concluding chapter reveals the practical things agencies and brands need to do to prepare.

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