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Vox pop: What's fuelling creativity?

October 30, 2019 | 9 min read

The big battleground today is customer experience. And when new(ish) technologies such as AI and programmatic become part of their lives - creating new behaviours, building opinions, and even helping win elections - the creatives sit up and take note. Therefore, we asked The Drum Network members 'what are the top trends in tech fuelling creativity?'

Creativity bulb

James Wood, head of Earnest Labs Earnest

Voice-enabled content, like Alexa skills and Flash briefings, will be central to creativity in the next five years. It’s easy for brands to start using voice tech in creative ways today – for example by creating and sharing short, informative clips that are relevant to your company, industry and audience, covering anything from new offers and product launches to company or industry-wide announcements. We’ve recently helped Vodafone Business launch its 5G offering in the UK using a range of sound and audio tactics, including Alexa Flash briefings. But looking further the opportunities are endless – games that can be played using just voice, helpful content that can be provided by brands through voice tech, interactive skills that bring a brand’s promise to life. The future’s exciting.

James Wilkins, managing partner, ICF Next UK

Just as technology has transformed our clients’ worlds, so too has it transformed the creative agency. But tech is nothing without people, stories and the human experience. Gamification sounds like an old word these days, but as a tactic it is just starting to mature. Using it to trigger powerful, tech-enabled emotional connections with brand communications is something really interesting, and a lot of fun. Meanwhile AI, machine learning, AR, digital assistants and wearable tech are becoming more tangible, affordable and better understood – for clients, agencies and audiences alike. But as the importance of personalisation continues to grow, perhaps the biggest emerging trend (and the least predictable) will be 5G.

Coris Leechman, director, Impero

Location-based AR experiential is growing considerably, as is the tech that is fuelling creativity and offers greater opportunity to retail brands. With the retail sector struggling across the UK, retailers are looking to AR to create real-time engagement at high-footfall locations to drive sales. Shoppers are looking for more than the transactional aspect of the purchase, they want theatre through experiences – AR could be the answer. A great example of smart AR activation is the recent Dallas Cowboys ‘pose with pros’ in-stadium fan activity, which brought the team to life (figuratively) for fans – it allowed then to be photographed with their favourite player. And, with 50m+ impressions (still climbing) on social media, they have really engaged with the experience.

John Campbell, managing director and founder, Rabbit and Pork

I was very fortunate this year to visit teamLab Borderless, an interactive digital art museum in Tokyo. The experience is like no other: a huge unmapped museum with a mix of digital sounds and textures you can interact with, letting you weave through and connect with the technology without ‘boundaries’. Borderless offered a vision of the future, rather than the past. Above and beyond the construction itself, technology was also a key mechanism in the creative marketing of the event, by nature of how ‘Instagrammable’ it was. Where other ‘experiences’ ban the use of devices, visitors here were regularly prompted to share their experience with their virtual connections. It’s this double play of technology at the core of both the experience itself and its marketing that makes teamLab Borderless in Tokyo one of the single best uses of technology to enable creativity in the past few years.

Andrew Girdwood, head of media technology, Signal

Belief in a free and ad-supported internet is in retreat, and the search for alternatives is fuelling creativity. Ad-blockers are common – even Google’s Chrome is taking part, and Mozilla is part of the $100m Grant for the Web fund that hopes to scrap ads entirely. Apple continues its pro-privacy policy, locking data away from marketers. However, from this crucible comes creativity. Sites like Patreon are booming; startups such as Coil are trying to (finally) get micropayments working, perhaps rewarding enjoyment rather than impression counts; Ko-fi allows people to donate to their favourite creatives; and some communities are using crowdsourcing such as Kickstarter to survive. Other content creators are reimagining affiliate marketing as a way to pay the rent. Twitch, often mistaken as ‘just’ a platform to watch games, is one area where affiliate marketing thrives. Twitch broadcasters include affiliate links to their gear and earn commissions on purchases.

Martin Bui, head of experience design, ORM

Mixed reality (MR) – the blending of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments where physical and digital objects appear seamlessly together. The retail sector is beginning to adopt this, and combining MR with both VR and AR to produce an experience that literally makes customers go “Wow”. Examples include Volvo, which is using Microsoft’s HoloLens technology to re-envision how people purchase their cars. Other brands are also bringing artificial intelligence (AI) into the mix, and using data to learn about customers’ purchase patterns to inform future brand experiences. The healthcare, travel and engineering sectors are also starting to adopt these applications and use them in exciting new ways, such as advanced surgery procedures or interactive design components.

Nick Barthram, founder and strategy partner, Firehaus

We’re now rapidly approaching a point where tech can manage in a certain range of situations entirely on its own, with little or no input from a human user. So how will this macro trend affect us, and our brands, and the way we ‘use’ human beings to fuel creativity? It’s worth breaking down what we mean by creativity. Psychologist Margaret Boden suggests there are three types:

1. Combinatorial – unfamiliar combinations of familiar ideas. Technology is already powerful here, because it is able to synthesise together huge sets of elements in useful ways. Human users are already used to being the ‘evaluators’, judging a combination worthwhile or not.

2. Exploratory, where existing conventions are used to generate novel ideas. Here’s where great tech advances are being made, as AI begins to pose new possibilities within particular frameworks.

3. Transformational, where a dimension of a conceptual space is altered so ideas can be generated that could not have been generated before. We see a taxi company without any taxis or a hotel chain without any hotels. This is the domain of the most powerful creativity.

It is here we find the optimum use of human beings, asking better questions far before we concern ourselves with creating better answers.

Jessica Owen, managing partner, Kazoo Communications

New tech is enabling us to reach new and old audiences in new, exciting and engaging ways. But these technologies come with their own challenges – for instance, how do we keep pushing the boundaries more and more? This means that ‘creatives’ are having to use and embrace technology in a different way to get attention in an increasingly noisy world. Typically, the most creative idea is born out of simplicity. Uber wouldn’t exist today if we hadn’t had 4G. I’m excited to see what 5G is going to bring, because we haven’t yet seen what it is capable of and how it will ‘disrupt’ our world.

Tech trends

Much of this tech has already been around for a while. But it is the creative and commercial realities of these technologies that are making it that much more compelling. We’ve highlighted the most exciting tech trends that the creative industry is talking about.

1. AR

Yes, AR, and not VR, which continues to rise in popularity. And not just gaming – from fashion, to retail, to even the education sector, the global AR market is reported to be on the precipice of an exponential growth spurt. Worth an estimated $16.8bn in 2019 and forecasted to hit $160bn in 2020. Predicted to be the next superpower of brands.

2. Voice

Voice-enabled technology has evolved to a level whereby people can access useful content quickly without having to lift a finger, according to James Wood, head of Earnest Labs. Between 2017 and 2018 the smart speaker market in the UK doubled in size, and current projections estimate that the global market for smart speakers will grow to $2bn by 2020.

3. Mixed Reality (MR)

Much like AR, MR overlays virtual objects (digital media such as animations, images, audio, video etc) onto physical surroundings. For instance, the collaboration of the Iceland art-rock band Sigur Rós with Magic Leap to create a MR experience called Tónandi, which represents a Sigur Rós track in the form of small, jellyfish-like creatures that react to motion.

4. 5G

Our so-called connected age is predicted to be revolutionised, and no, it’s not just about improved speed. The tech is expected to rewrite the rules for interaction between brands and people.

5. Better use of humans

2019 has been the year when there’s been a massive push back from regulators, government and people against the way new technologies are using our data, building AI, manipulating our behaviour. The hope is that an ethical consideration of tech will allow humans and their creativity to not just boost innovation through tech, but also control some of the outcomes, in a positive way. Also, let’s not forget AI, drones, self-driving cars, new platforms such as Twitch, or even an explosion of devices that are pushing all of us to continually measure our health and wellbeing.


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