Much of what will take place in the next 30 years is already set in
motion.  By accepting these trends are inevitable, the industry stands a stronger chance at remaining relevant, writes Chris Stephenson, PHD APAC’s head of strategy and planning.

See the full article on Campaign Asia.

“There are no experts in AI or VR…nobody knows how this is really done”, said author, visionary and Wired founder Kevin Kelly as he addressed the audience at this year’s Cannes Lions festival.

While there is no denying that there are lots of people working in these areas and billions of dollars being spent, Kelly’s point underlines the huge, unearthed opportunities – driven by a number of technological forces – that lie before us, at a time he describes as “the beginning of the beginning”.

Much of what will happen in the next thirty years – cheap artificial intelligence, ubiquitous tracking, robots replacing humans – is already in motion and all driven by these technological trends. Kelly explores them in his latest book, The Inevitable, and makes the argument that by understanding and accepting these larger inevitable trends, it’s easier for us to arrange our day-to-day relationships with technology in way that brings forth maximum benefits.

It makes sense then, if certain things are predestined, that to embrace them is the only way to remain on top of the coming wave of changes.

So what does this mean for advertising and marketing and what steps can we take today to better prepare us for tomorrow?

‘Cognification’ will be a central force

The role of Virtual Personal Assistants (or VPAs) will become essential to our decision making – navigating options for us, but also increasingly buying what we need when we need it, eventually without our need to tell them to do so. When that happens, the task of marketing will become not to influence a human to buy, but to agree with an algorithm to do so. Artificial Intelligences debating and negotiating amongst each other to fill our fridges, homes and lives with products and experiences.

In October this year Google will launch Allo – an AI-driven messaging platform that they describe as a VPA, able to make smart recommendations based on data from our online behaviour from across the entire Google ecosystem.

This cognification will lead to the breakdown of the current adtech landscape as we know it. The process of tracking people around the internet will be cognified, enabling advertisers to understand the consumer journey with radical clarity. For low-involvement categories this could spell the end of impulse buying, as consumers rely on their personal VPA for recommendations. This would remove the need for much conventional advertising, but create an elevated role for brand building communications to appeal to consumer’s brand preferences as options for their VPAs.

An early example of AI entering the ad world is Weather Co’s AI-driven ad units that people can interact with and ask questions.

So what skills should we equip ourselves with if optimising to the machine will be the greatest determinant of success? Upskilling now in the areas most transferable to AI, such as SEO, PPC and programmatic buying, is key for those on both client and agency side.

In May this year an AI-based SEM code self-activated for Lifebuoy that not only allocated its own budget but which also assigned assets in anticipation of the search queries.

On the agency side, algorithms will become competent at many of the roles that exist in the industry today, from marketing teams to art directors. Consider that already, McCann Erickson Japan’s AI Creative Director has taken on acclaimed TV writer Mitsuru Kuramoto to create a 30-second ad for Clorets Mint Tab, and this year in Cannes, Google won an Innovation Lion for its human-beating AlphaGo.

These roles won’t be removed from the process entirely, but will instead oversee the algorithms and focus on new opportunities for the business. Whilst inevitable, this won’t lead to the death of strategy and human thinking, merely the next elevation of it – the technology will be an extension of us.

Radical transformation is indeed inevitable, but with the global AI market predicted to reach a value of $23.4 billion by 2025, there’s a realm of opportunity which if grasped will ensure marketing has a crucial role in the boardroom.

Experiences as the new economy

The rapid advancement of virtual reality capabilities will give rise to cheap and scalable VR, which will make experiencing the extraordinary commonplace. Even the Presidential Debates are being streamed in virtual reality for the first time in history, allowing viewers to join up and have virtual viewing parties anywhere to watch Clinton and Trump fight it out.
Sectors such as retail and entertainment are expected to drive much of the changes in the application of VR, with more and more potential uses of the tech cropping up every week. Retailers, such as Austraila’s Myer, are already creating VR shopping experiences and Kantar Retail is trialling eye tracking to give real time information about reactions to signage, displays, products, packaging.

By combining the analytics from VR with AI, brands can suggest purchases directly to the viewer, with virtual shopping set to become an extension of online shopping and product placement in entertainment taken to the next level.

In travel, Thomas Cook took its first foray into VR with its ‘Try before you fly campaign’ and in publishing, the FT’s Hidden Cities Rio work saw huge increases in dwell time. Going forward, the real challenge for content creators, retailer and marketers is how to bridge the imagination gap to create completely customised virtual environments for brands to provide tailored experiences.


Track and Filter

When we think of tracking we tend to think of health and ‘the quantified self’ trend. But soon sensors will be in even the dumbest of objects, acting as their eyes and ears, recording every second of our lives.  This means tracking will become an almost imperceptible addition to our existence.

This is an exciting prospect for marketers – with such a bounty of data, the potential for hyper-targeted audiences for brands and products becomes thrillingly more sophisticated. Brands can even add utility by analysing and identifying patterns and meanings from data for their customers. Like a toothbrush brand tracking a customer’s brushing habits and offering feedback on how to improve.

Collecting data is the easy part; extracting meaning is where it gets more difficult.  And of course there’s the thorny issue of privacy.  But as Kelly points out, people say they don’t want to be tracked yet continue to feed the machine with data to reap the rewards: we’re all essentially gamifying our lives.

With a ubiquity of data comes the ability to customise and personalise our worlds, necessary and beneficial to us – and a challenge for marketing.

Disruptive brand communications in the future will rely on the ability to creatively combine disparate data streams to offer hyper-personalisation and cut through the noise. At the moment, marketers serve ads based on tracked data. In the future, ads will be made from linked data streams from unrelated industries. A pillow for example could be custom made based on sleep patterns.


A wide open frontier

AI, VR, ubiquitous measurement and algorithmic filtering are just some of the predestined forces that will shape and transform our lives and our industry. As Kelly says, “We are, and will remain, perpetual newbies. We need to believe in improbable things more often”. Accepting the inevitability of where we are all headed will enable us to not just survive the future, but thrive within it.