So, folks, it’s that time of the year again. You drag your sorry self out of bed at 5.15am to finally kick start that healthy New Year’s resolution (hey, it’s OK, January doesn’t really count!). With a green smoothie in hand, you arrive at the office and promise yourself that you’ll make your time that little bit more productive this year.
Sitting at your desk, green smoothie in the bin, coffee now in hand, looking back at 2015, you think. Wow, so much ‘happened’ in the advertising, digital and tech space last year, half of it, I didn’t even have the foggiest about! How did a Kardashian’s bottom break the internet? Why isn’t anyone clicking on our banner ads? What’s a hotline-bling? VR, AR what’s the difference. ARRRRGGHHH!
You add another resolution to your (ever-growing) list. Stay on top of all that cool s*it this year!
Well, this is where I can help. If you can’t make it to one of the hipster/digital/music/film/start-up/marketing/chin-stroking festivals this year, let me enlighten you with my thoughts. You’re welcome.
*Note. This post got completely out of hand, so I split it into three parts!
2016 will be the year…
VR/AR goes mainstream
You might think ‘so last year’! And you would be right to an extent. There has been A LOT of talk about VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) over the last couple of years, but 2016 will be the year we finally see both go mainstream. VR in particular. With the much-anticipated consumer release of headsets from Oculus, Sony, Samsung and Microsoft, and the continued growth of Google Cardboard, which brought VR to the masses via smartphones.
2016 truly is the year Virtual Reality becomes big business.
VR’s obvious application is in gaming, coupled with additional peripherals such as Sony’s wand controllers or the Omni motion platform, VR is set to take gamers to a heightened sense of involvement through fully immersive play.
But it doesn’t stop there. VR will be much, much more than just a gaming device. Story Studio, a new in-house production arm of Facebook’s Oculus aims to help filmmakers figure out how to produce VR film projects. Travel brands can bridge an experience thousands of miles away with a consumer in their own home or showcase resorts in glorious 360°. Journalists and news organisations can bring an immersive experience home from the front line, increasing the emotion and empathy felt by their reporting. Healthcare professionals treating burn victims can transport their patients to a world of snow and ice as part of their treatment, or for the surgical simulation of complex procedures as part of a surgeon’s training. The health and fitness industry will deliver immersive training experiences that could see cyclists training on Mount Blanc. You could even find yourself on stage with your favourite band as they perform live.
The challenge for VR is that it is very much a private experience. The hurdle will be how it becomes a more social experience similar, for example, to going to a cinema with friends. As a result I think a number of the more interesting uses will likely fall outside of a branded environment. But that’s not to say, as marketers we shouldn’t be exploring the opportunities for brands.
If attention is the new currency for marketers, VR is the dream solution we have all been crying out for.
So what about AR, yes it’s been around for a while, but we are only now seeing its potential with devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Google-backed Magic Leap. AR adds a layer of interactivity over the top of the real world, as opposed to immersing you completely in a virtual one (think where Google Glass was heading, but with greater functionality). Where VR feels more suited to entertainment, AR is a device for information (not to say that AR games won’t be something quite astonishing).
As an example, imagine a tour of an art gallery, with contextual information delivered as a virtual layer between you and the works of art, or creating an entirely new retail experience for buying a new car. In fact, Volvo is already experimenting with AR as a way to reduce the footprint required for a new car dealership – even to the point of a store within a shopping centre, where consumers interact with each of the cars and their features virtually, through AR.
If you want to know more, check out this comparison of the two devices.
The computers get smarter
This might be the most important trend, not only for 2016 but of a generation. It’s certainly going to be the most important topic of our future. Those for and against its on-going development will argue long into our future about the respective pros and cons. Even the great physicist Stephen Hawking has repeatedly warned about the impending robot apocalypse, perhaps we should pay attention… is Skynet a reality?
So, what is Artificial Intelligence? Well, unless you’ve been living under a very real rock, you would have read, heard or watched something relating to AI over the last year or so. Most of us, however, still just associate it with sci-fi movies Star Trek, Terminator or Minority Report, but AI is a broad topic and ranges from computers within devices such as your phone, to home automation systems like Nest, self-driving cars, or IBM Watson, a machine learning platform that processes natural language and reveals insights from large amounts of unstructured data. Watson famously competed and beat actual human players on the game show Jeopardy!
Artificial Intelligence will be the ultimate disruptor, and some argue that even skilled professions like law, accounting and architecture will not be immune. Others suggest that AI will actually make business less cold and robotic, as business owners and employees are freed up to create a genuine connection with customers. Did you know that Associated Press releases over 3,000 articles generated algorithmically? Moreover, journalists LIKE working with the robots, because they write all the stories based on factual events that don’t require an opinion, freeing the human brains up to write the most creative pieces. Or, how about this new piece of music (use link below) based on compositions by classical composer Bach. This new piece was written in 1 second using an algorithm, based on a musical ‘dictionary’ of Bach.
No matter what your perspective, 2016 will see AI become the new battlefield for the ultimate unfair advantage. Now, I’m not saying that this will be the year that AI goes mainstream. We are a galaxy far, far away from that moment. What we will see is the discussion around its implementation really heat up, while big brands will beg, steal and borrow to ensure they have the upper hand when it comes to leading this multi-trillion dollar race. Google bought Deepmind, a British artificial intelligence company (founded in 2010), for somewhere between $US400 and 500 million. Apple has recently paid an undisclosed sum for Emotient, an AI startup that can recognise facial expressions and, therefore, gauge people’s reactions to adverts.
So what does it all mean for us as marketers and agencies? Are we the first on the executioner’s block?
Personally, I think not. In fact, I can see the creative industries being at the forefront. I see AI leading to a world of hyper-personalised and relevant advertising, especially online. Implemented correctly, I see it affording marketers the opportunity to be seen as valuable, as we deliver the right message at the right time on the right device. As long as we know our boundaries when it comes to privacy, I see a shift away from being ‘advertised to’, to becoming relevant in the consumer’s purchase journey.
As we move beyond this year, AI will affect every industry vertical. Combined with big data and advances in cognitive technology, artificial intelligence will change how we behave as consumers, specifically, our intolerance for brands that don’t live up to our heightened expectation of service delivery. But by giving computers the ability to create, learn and evolve, we, as marketers, will create our greatest opportunity, to free ourselves up from the day-to-day work, to discover other creative avenues to connect with consumers.
Want to know more? Check out these other great articles on Artificial Intelligence.
Steve Mair is BCM’s Digital Creative Director