Vox pop: What is the best use of tech powering creativity?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

What has been the single best use of technology to enable creativity of the past five years?

For marketers and advertisers, faced with jaded generations of people craving true novelty, the challenge today is in using technology to accelerate their own creative efforts, to cut through the noise, and ultimately to create works of art in their own right. We asked The Drum Network members to shed some light on the their favourite tech that has escalated creativity. There was no holding back!

Polly Atherton, managing director, Stir PR

When British Airways launched its "Look Up" campaign in London's Piccadilly Circus, it presented us with a creative idea that must have sounded plane crazy at the ideas stage. It had developed and embedded custom-built surveillance technology into a video billboard to track its own passing aircraft causing the young boy featured on the digital hoarding to walk along, look up towards the sky and point at the flight. The billboard even displayed the aircraft's actual flight number and destination. This was a wondrous execution. Usually planes flying overhead are perceived as a nuisance and a noisy racket. Or they become a regular sight that gets overlooked by passers-by.

However, this seamless integration of clever tech into something as usually innocuous as a billboard allowed BA to stir emotion and stimulate feelings of nostalgia, as it transported consumers back to their own childhoods. The tech played into a universal truth; it unlocked that magical feeling we all had as children when staring up at the skies and seeing planes fly by. This kind of technology and digital integration enhanced the creative beautifully, it did something truly different and unique and as a first of its kind, delivered a real immediate and lasting sense of wonderment. That is why I remember it still, so many years on. The addition of real-time data applied to the billboard to detail the plane's destination was a clear way to highlight the key PR message... the number of destinations the carrier, in this case BA, travelled to. But best of all it played into a real important point; if we all took a moment to pause from our lives and look up from the pavement, we might just see something special and be more appreciative of the world around us.

Meredith Mogensen, managing director, Wilderness Amsterdam

People think data is killing creativity, but instead we’re seeing how it sparks creativity. Netflix is a perfect example - the data-driven platform takes the risk out of delivering creativity by leveraging the drives, likes and habits of their users to predict cultural shifts and ultimately deliver massively popular content. This combination of personal connection and data-driven creativity is leading to better, more tailored conversations between brands and their audience. One hundred years ago, shopkeepers knew the name, size and preference of every customer that came through the door. Then came mass media where we hit millions of people over the head with the same message. Now, technology and data enable us to connect in such a way that we’re seeing brands go back to that shopkeeper model - where it’s a very personalised 1-to-1 conversation. This is both an opportunity and a threat. Brands who aren’t there and don’t respond will get left behind, while those brands who take the opportunity to engage and connect directly with their audience in a relevant, authentic way will take the lead.

Paul Bullock, head of content, Fastweb Media

Virtual Reality has made the biggest splash in recent years, and will continue to do so in the years to come. Just not in the way many think. While most people see VR as a space they can inhabit, like something from a science fiction movie, artists see it as a new, multi-dimensional canvas. Tools such as Google's Tilt Brush have broken down the boundaries of traditional art and pretty much created a new medium: something animator Glen Keane called "sculptural drawing" when he tried the tech out a few years ago. The opportunities available for brands and marketers are clear. Consumers are seeking new experiences that can actively draw them into a brand, and VR art offers exactly that: it’s something you can walk through, something you can really interact with. Also, it’s not just one thing. VR is a vast blank canvas and it’s up to every artist, every brand, every marketer to decide what they create on that canvas.

Matt Layland, senior digital designer, Zazzle Media

For me it has to be Pokemon GO AR - which remains in its infancy but it is growing. It brought AR to the masses and gave huge exposure to the technology – it achieved so much in such a short period of time. The bubble may have burst just as quickly as it grew but what was left behind was how AR was utilised and we can put a lot of that down to Pokemon GO shining a light on the technology.

Creativity and play go hand-in-hand and Pokemon was my childhood, I spent hundreds of hours as a child playing the games. Children hold the key to creativity – their imagination is something that many adults can no longer match. What Pokemon GO did was allow people to play and enjoy the immersive experience through their mobile devices. It got people outside, interacting with each other again. It might not be to everyone's taste and of course it wasn’t perfect but it was a hugely imaginative way of using augmented reality. I would say it is still yet to be matched three years after its original launch.

Sujal Patel, chief technology officer, iCrossing

The single best use of technology that’s enabled creativity over the past five years is cloud computing. Prior to cloud computing, teams were often bound by the cost of purchasing computing resources, storage and services, as well as the time and effort to build out these environments. This was one of the biggest creative constraints as it impacted the levels of image processing, video rendering, data computation, etc. that one could perform. It also took away time from technologists, as they had to put their efforts into building out environments, rather than working with creative teams to further drive the creative concept. With cloud computing, you have immediate access to spin up resources and can choose from a wide range of services. These can be used to develop your solution at a fraction of the cost it’d be to purchase them outright. An example of where this has been most impactful is data-driven creative. With cloud, we now have the capacity to put together and analyse large data sets, and can use these insights to drive creative. We’re no longer bound by computational and storage resources; instead, we’re only limited by our imagination.

Gray Dudek, co-founder and technology director, Giants & Titans

The entry of widespread 4G five to six years ago loosened the shackles on creatives. We no longer needed to consider the ability of the audience to be able to ‘access’ our creative experiences. Prior to this, when 3G and lower bandwidths were commonplace, we had to gracefully degrade the creative ideas that were to be shown on mobile devices because the data speeds back then just couldn’t give the full creative experience we wanted. Now with the roll-out of 5G this unshackling is pretty much complete. Anything that can give a fully creative and immersive experience on desktop can now be translated straight over to mobile devices without a single backward look. Arguably, with the many sorts of onboard sensors within mobile devices, the ability to craft rich, creative experiences has now surpassed those of desktop and the fast march forward continues.”

Emlyn Davies, founder and executive creative director, Bomper Studio

In the world of motion and 3D, technology isn’t killing creativity but enhancing it.

Advances have only provided flexibility and more tools to empower artists. The biggest development for us in recent years has been GPU rendering namely Otoy with its Octane render engine, which has elevated rendering quality straight out of the box. Before Octane, you had to move objects around, tweak lighting, camera settings, and mostly hoping for the best, press render and wait five minutes to see the result. If it wasn’t right, you had to repeat the steps, relying heavily on the artist's technical knowledge to achieve the desired results. Now, Octane provides almost real-time previews, meaning that you can change things on the fly such as lighting, materials, allowing the artist to experiment more within the look development stages of a project and conveying ideas quickly back to the client. This technology and art fusion puts the creative power back in the hands of the designers. Creative industries benefit from production agility, as more time can be spent on what really matters; the creative. This has given our 3D artists the chance to challenge their ambitions and embrace their natural-curiosity; giving them more freedom to play and experiment on the fly.

James Brown, director of group strategy, Zone

Atlas is a technology platform that helps you start a global business from anywhere in the world. Like PayPal, CloudFlare or Amazon Web Services, it is one of those quietly critical pieces of internet infrastructure available to everyone around the world - making it possible for anyone to bring their creative ideas to market online and at scale.We can all think of moments in our daily lives where a product, service or piece of content failed to provide the utility or convenience we needed, or a disjointed journey led to frustration. Yet the idea of starting your own business - imagining and creating the better customer experience that you want to see in the world - seems impossibly difficult. How do you even incorporate a company anyway? What does it mean to open up shop in America, while sat at a computer in Egypt? Just imagining the byzantine web of paperwork, regulations, fees and legal obligations is enough to stop most of us from even considering the idea. This is why Atlas was created. By using technology to automate the process of starting a global business, they’ve helped establish thousands of companies in over 120 countries. That’s why it’s my favourite example of technology unleashing creativity.

Charlie Hills, MD and head of strategy, Mando-Connect

The most exciting creativity enabling tech isn’t a single piece of tech at all. Instead it’s the rise of a multitude of new technologies that enable us to create experiences that blend the digital and real worlds. Consumers don’t see a difference between the digital and real worlds, and now, as marketers, we can create campaigns and ideas that seamlessly blend them as well. Just look at the new Lion King as a prime example of the blend of digital and real. AR is another one of our favourite tech developments. At the most advanced end of the spectrum we can see it used to create complete brand experiences that would have been unimaginable five years ago – look at Pokémon Go or Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. But it can also be used as part of more everyday marketing activities too. British Gas Rewards bravely developed the first ever use of AR in a loyalty programme for Easter 2019. Members could go online (no need to download a separate app) and take part in an augmented reality Easter Egg hunt – with the chance to win millions of prizes by helping Wilbur the Penguin (the lovable British Gas mascot) to locate Easter eggs. AR helped create an exciting, fun, family-friendly member experience – far more engaging than older, digital only or paper only mechanics would have achieved.

Jon Carney, chief digital officer, Europe & UK, McCann Worldgroup

As a liberator of creativity, it’s hard to think of a tool that democratises creative potential as much as Instagram. The visual, non-text nature of Insta sets it up as right-side brain catnip, not only delivering a lovely dopamine high from viewing other people’s posts, but also the simple joy of curating and crafting your own mini-photoshoot for your world to enjoy. The opportunity to capture and publish cool things we see in our lives has converted millions of creative pedestrians to photographers, environmental observers, and cultural reporters. This comes at a cost, Insta-friends with small kids can slowly kill you with their ‘sharenting.’ Foodies can bore you rigid by posting yet another plate of oh-so-whatevs nosebag. But as an enabler of funky D2C brands, it has no parallel. We see products that appear to have been born from people like us’ personal passions, that can easily find a global audience and be bought in a few taps. The targeting seems better than the off-piste Internet, I never see a mattress ad on Insta.In the last five years, Instagram became de-facto to the broadest set of users, younger and older – who would have known? For many the main social network of all. It’s grown faster than practically anything else – no doubt due to its simple gift to the world – augmented creative publishing.

Kat Robinson, global head of digital development, Way To Blue

Remote cloud connectivity for disparate services - a dry answer for a broad question, touching on the virtual. The plethora of software and design tools utilised by our team escalates almost weekly as technology and the skills to harness this grow and change. The ability to share across platforms (almost) seamlessly allows for collaboration at speeds we’ve never achieved before.

The low entry cost, ease of setting these up and automated tools that allow you to manage them results in a financially accessible service that opens the door for almost anyone to explore this space. And when it comes to delivering products and services in this space, our team can shift from building social media content and tools, to designing beautiful front end interfaces to becoming data analysts – all based on what our client really needs to achieve their goals, not just on a cookie cutter solution based on what we already have. Along with the ease of access, comes huge amounts of data. Take this data, and from this create information, which, when you apply some real smarts to this, can become knowledge – driving business clarity.

This transparency of data, usage, analytics etc can be a challenge when at the pointy end of visual design. However, there’s nothing like a little pressure to drive creative critical thinking – especially when the results can be so clearly measured. UX was a word rarely used word five years ago, but is a cornerstone of any design now and rather than being disheartened at the need for yet more skills, great developers thrive when faced with the more innovative work that challenges these concepts. The cloud provides us with remote access, and this removes both barriers due to location as well as broadening the talent pool to embrace more remote and underrepresented minorities.

Now that’s creative magic.

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