Monday, February 1, 2016

death of the singular brand space

Is embracing diversity brand suicide?

Axe has been in the news for their new campaign, “Find Your Magic”. I don’t know if this will change the overall brand direction, or whether it is just a one-time blip to appease/attract alternative user segments.

Axe is known for its unapologetic depiction of masculinity (and chauvinism?), tapping in to lust and the desire. The “Axe Effect” has inspired young men across the globe with the lure of becoming savvier ladies men. This extensive reivew of Axe’s historical print work reminds us of the brand’s single-minded focus on being able to score under a range of circumstances. The brand often shows an aspirational image or situation and only once in awhile does its advertising actually acknowledge that its communication persona is different from its end-users, many of whom could be absolutely average guys.

There has always been a gap between how Axe presents itself with its ladykiller brand persona, and its end-users. With “Find Your Magic” Axe is now embracing and depicting their consumers – big nose, big hair, overzealous, geeky, disabled, and even cross-dresser or homosexual. Especially the latter two were surprising for a brand that has been so single-minded in the past.

The brand now even acknowledges that guys can be particular and finicky with their hair. A guy spending time "doing his hair” is just not part of the traditional idea of alpha masculinity. In Axe's accompanying “Instagroom” video series guys are shown blowdyring, meticulously combing, and styling with a range of products. Not even one all-purpose man hair balm, but an actual range of men's grooming products for all sorts of different styles. I'm not disputing that men have been metro for awhile now, but that a brand like Axe would suddenly claim this behavior and actively portray it seems far-off from their usual route.

A common advertising discussion is whether your target consumers want to see themselves in communication efforts, or someone more aspirational. Axe has always played squarely on the latter approach, a clear focus on portraying hyper masculinity. This move is an interesting one to embrace their audience as both consumer and communication focus.

***

As a non-target and general consumer I appreciate Axe’s new point of view. I will find it distasteful only if Axe goes back to the tired ladykiller when it launches its next body spray campaign (this one is for hair grooming). It would seem that consumers, or at least Axe’s audience, have matured (in mindset if not in age) and can more consciously call the BS on their former position. But as films and television have evolved to accommodate more complicated characters, and diversity debates are now bringing minorities to the forefront it seems only right and also fantastic that brands are willing to evolve.

As a planner, however, I wonder what it means when big brands that have worked so hard to craft single-minded spaces expand their position to account for complexity and diversity. Classic strategies laud Apple for becoming synonymous with design, Coca-cola with happiness, Volvo with safety, Axe for ladykilling.

Advertising strategies are made of focused audience portraits, singlular insights and single-minded propositions. What room is there within that framework for diversity?

This leaves me with more questions than opinions: How can brands truly embrace diversity while maintaining brand identity? Is diversity something that only established brands can truly claim? What happens to the single-minded focus when brands want and need to be congizant of a wider definition of people? Will this type of thinking lead to to a more in-depth psycographic study in order to find characteristics that appeal to a wider audience? Will ‘having a diversity POV’ become an integral part of the masterbrand narrative? Will depicting the consumer in the ad become more important to audiences? Is there really room for diversity in the brand persona? Will this change the strategic planning discipline?

So much to consider and what a gloriously mad time to be in advertising.


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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Are you smarter than your tea kettle?

So you think you're smarter than your furniture?
This Smarter iKettle 2.0 Wifi Kettle was a featured product on amazon.uk's homepage. It certainly provides a service but just becuase you can enable this type of technology, does it really mean you should?

Its features include

  • "Remote boil your iKettle from anywhere in the home.
  • Water Level sensor shows you exactly how much water is in the iKettle on the App
  • Make night feeds easier, remotely boil and be notified once the water reaches your desired temperature
  • Select any temperature between 20-100c to get the best taste from your chosen tea
  • Wake Up mode and home mode allow you to schedule your kettle at a time to suit you."

Just because you can, does it mean you should?

We will discover in the near future that there is a fine line between the concept of a "smart" house or "smart" life and what is actually a lazy technology-enabled life, e.g. use your app instead of your eyes to check "how much water is in the Kettle".

This is distinctly different from the current crop of digital-first businesses such as Uber and Airbnb that provide services that literally were not available before, i.e. personal drivers or a worldwide database of more affordable travel accommodation. However many of the new smart devices use technology to do what humans used to and still do absolutely fine in an analog way. Sure you can be a little smarter about something, i.e. "exactly how much water is in the kettle" vs. approximately how much water is in the kettle. But it begs the quetsion, is any of that necessary?

One day we will need someone to help us figure out how to manage technology in the home. Sure, some things will make life better and easier. But do we really want to be completely app- and phone-dependent? If you lose your phone will that mean you won't be able to enter your house, turn your lights on or, as the case may be, heat up water for your tea? And in the case that you are still able to enter, will your mouth suddently reject water that is generally hot and not the exact "temperature between 20-100c to get the best taste from your chosen tea"? Or in a slightly more paranoid but completely realistic scenario, do we really want to create more openings for hackers to enter our homes and spy on our babies, blow up our tea kettles or turn our rooms an unchangeable pink? (Baby monitor streaming, smart kettles, smart lightblubs.) Or lock us out of our homes and worse, let intruders or thieves inside? (Smart door locks.)

I might be in the digital practice from the marekting side, but the booming technology side is all-in-all, alongside occasionally being useful, baffling, ridiculous and terrifying.


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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

switching lanes


I give myself nine months at every new job, the length of time I stayed at my first company. 

I don’t tell myself to quit after nine, but I give myself this mental out in case things don’t work out. I don’t know if it is me too jaded or maybe just being prudent to go in thinking that there will inevitably be parts of the new experience that won't work. And just in case the negatives outweigh the positives, I allow myself to go.

Nine is a meaningful number because that first company was one I had reservations about, but grew to really enjoy and see great potential in. I didn’t quit but had to leave because the company closed.  
 
I was halfhearted the job at first. I wanted to work in advertising but with no experience, no agency was willing to take me. While I got offers from other non-agencies, the only job I was willing to take was at MTV Philippines. It was a short-term contract, the department was PR, and I figured it was still within the marketing communications sphere and it couldn’t hurt to get at least get some job experience. 

I don’t think we practiced PR in any sophisticated way. We would write press releases about new shows and events, and a big part of my scope was printing, packaging and labeling them to go out to our Excel sheet of media contacts every month. Work wasn’t particularly demanding, and I read my first fiction book in four years on the job. I even started to go to the gym almost every day.

It wasn't challening but it was extremely fun, the perfect first job for a fresh graduate. We had events almost every week and part of our work was to manage press at these concerts and parties. I don’t think I did much managing, but I did enjoy the copious amounts of alcohol served. I was also super young and felt cool because we had minor celebrities in our midst and I never got hangovers. 

Halfway through my contract I started calling agencies again. The parties were fantastic but like a real millennial I was worried about career growth. Somehow the digital team found out I was looking for work and invited me to join instead of leaving for an agency. I wasn’t clear on what they did exactly, but I liked the idea. My contract was renewed and converted to the digital team. 

Immediately they tasked me with creating content for our website. I started to take photos and videos at our events and interview the artists that would come to our studio. I started making (passable) webpages that went up on our site using manual WYSIWYG because the CMS was shite. I worked with our marketing and content teams to come up with integrated initiatives - we had the channel, the VJs, local content and the website. We even had media partners for additional amplification. I found myself thinking through-channels with an emphasis of course on digital. I managed our community which was, pre-Facebook, an email fan list. I loved it. It was dynamic and two-way and media-rich. I was sold.

I would have stayed longer, but by some twist of fate MTV decided to close. I was too young and junior to understand why we weren’t profitable enough to renew the license locally. But nine months after starting at a company that I was lukewarm about at first, I left with a strong affinity and a new digital orientation.

I still wanted to get into advertising but I took my digital aspiration with me. As I was looking for a new job the agency I had interned at called. The role was in accounts, which I wasn’t keen on. But it was advertising and I finally had an opening. So I took it. And I told myself to stay for at least nine months, at least as long as MTV, to give it a real shot.

I stayed with that agency for seven years.

Seven years.

I only lasted in accounts for six months, but I asked to take a new task to launch and grow our digital services. I was eventually invited to make the career switch into planning, still with a digital slant. I got to set up my own planning team. If you count my time under the same agency brand, but moving to a different market, I stayed for eight.

Today it doesn’t even seem to be possible to stay at one place for that long. 

In my last two jobs I've only stayed for 12mos+. One that ended because of changes in global alignment, and the next because of value misalignment. 

This week I started yet again at another new place. 
I'm telling myself - nine months.

I've gotten so jaded and my new employers probably don't know that a couple of times each day I've had "fight or flee" moments, when things don't seem like they make sense, or when I'm taken aback by what seem like weird processes.

I'm pre-judging of course, and reminding myself to get a hold on the situation before I make a real call. I'm keeping in mind that nowhere is perfect and that what to keep in mind is potential. Inhale, exhale. 

It has been four days. 

And if I ever stop counting I'll know that I've found a new home. 

I don't know if I'll make it to seven years again, or eight, but not to be counting the days, weeks or months that I've managed not to leave would be a good start.

I'll let you know how I'm feeling in nine months......

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Upcoming!


  • Streaming is the new cable.
  • Gifs are the new flipbooks
  • Afterbuzz is the new formalist reading.
  • Gamification is the new CRM.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Remarketing Overkill

Do you ever get the feeling that brands are stalking you? Like no matter where you go online, certain websites are following you? I've noticed this before, especially with travel or shopping sites, but the ads die down eventually.

Recently, one brand has been so relentless that I couldn't help but notice how unforgivingly present it is everywhere I go online. Narrative Clip is EVERYWHERE. I clicked on one of their sponsored ads on Facebook because I find the idea of personal surveillance interesting. However at a current price tag of over $200 it isn't something I'm ready to buy. I can remember going to the site only once but with the pervasiveness of the Narrative Clip ads that followed, I'm trying to recall if I maybe visited it maybe a million more times. In any case, ever since, the ads have trailed me all over the web and social.

I saw the ad many, many times before I started to take screen caps every time I saw it again. These were all taken within a few days:

 


    


Too much?

Remarketing is a common practice in digital advertising. The rationale stems from traditional media buying which recommends a minimum frequency required for an ad to reach saliency. We are less likely to remember an ad, or want to buy something it is selling, if we see it only once. But at, say, six to ten times later, you are much more likely to remember it and possibly even be ready to buy it.

Digital advertising has expounded on this thinking. A consumer who is exposed to an ad and doesn't click is may not be interested, whereas someone who clicks through to the website is hypothetically more keen on the brand or product. That said, one-time exposure to the content may not be enough to persuade him or her to sign up, buy, subscribe or register. However given their level of interest (versus someone who had never visited the site at all) exposing them to additional calls-to-action even after they leave the site might entice them to come back and ultimately convert.

Most of the media campaigns I've worked on that included remarketing as a tactic showed higher click-through rates for remarketed ads. So if someone had visited your website before, they are more likely to click, re-explore and convert. This leads to better efficiencies and happier agencies and clients.

Narrative Clip's remarketing efforts, on the other hand, seem extremely wasteful. I had already decided, based on the initial website review (and price point) that I was not going to buy. Yet continued to hit me at an illogically high rate and wasted media dollars. The case made me think of ways that marketers and end up mis-using remarketing.

Here are a few things they and other marketers can consider when creating and reviewing remarketing plans:
  • Remarket based on the customer's journey. Level of interest should dictate how much to remarket, if at all. Do you want to remarket to everyone who visits the site, or just those who click through to an inner page? Are there certain calls-to-action that register deeper interest, e.g. A "Buy Now" button? In Narrative Clip's case, I did scroll all the way down the page to see the price, but as that was what turned me off, may not be the right filter to gauge whether or not to remarket.
  • Remarket with alternative messaging. The same ad that drew a customer to the site is probably not be the best way to get them to re-examine the product. How about an offer? This doesn't have to be a price-off, and can even be an existing mechanic such as free shipping. Other slants can include press reviews, awards, testimonials, additional features.
  • Activate frequency capping. When a customer has seen the ad X times and not clicked, they are probably not interested!

When we have these remarketing conversations at work, I have to remind myself to park my consumer self who still finds this level of "stalking" quite unsettling. It is an accepted part of the landscape though and brands need to go easy on the new capabilities so as not to alarm consumers and freak them out unnecessarily.




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Monday, November 23, 2015

Multi-Funnel Digital Strategy

Have been thinking about a through-funnel marketing approach, and tried to have this ready in time for the YMMA Summit last year. Couldn't get the framework done in a simple enough way to present, but fleshed it out earlier this year. Happy to finally be able to share.


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Real-Time Marketing

I was asked to give a talk earlier this year on Real-Time Marketing. It is definitely a valid concern for many marketers, but I think it is more of a characteristic of the space rather than something to really strategize around. That said, it is an important consideration and can be cut up into many frames of thinking.


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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"Have perfected the ‘looking busy’ look"
"No longer worry about looking smart"
"Look forward to doctor or dentist appointments"


After many years as a disgruntled employee who has felt in turns or simultaneously overworked and underpaid, I now find myself a manager fearful of being quit on myself. Call it karma? For all the times I served a supervisor with a competitive offer or a resignation letter.

It hasn't happened yet but I guess it is only a matter of time. Good thing there are guides like this one that help me look out for the signs of unhappy employees. These are three of my favorite entries from the list. Noted with thanks.

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

problem-definition via ---- pics

The way you frame a question affects the quality of the solution.

In marketing we can sometimes focus too much on the answer without making sure we're doing our due diligence in defining the problem. Trying to get more people to keep X chocolate bar top-of-mind could be answered in an ifninite number of ways vs. trying to get people to see the same bar as something to buy for everyday occasion instead of only on holidays as previous marketing efforts had focused on.

Here is a masterclass in proper problem-identification.

Context and need: The pending re-authorization of the Patriot Act, which gave the US government vast access to citizens' private data, without needing to disclose the level of surveillance. Snowden sought to spread awareness about this by sharing government data with journalists. It was widely covered in the news, but John Oliver highlights how most/many Americans were still ignorant of the issues at play, and therefore remianed indifferent to the law's re-authorization.

Solution: Highlight the implications of US government surveillance using an issue that Americans are deeply passionate about.



PS/ Obviously I love this show. Mabuhay, John Oliver!
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Saturday, September 5, 2015

re-formatting

Despite new viewing habits, television content still sticks to old formats

Wet Hot American summer was released in one eight-episode go, the whole series immediately available to binge on. Netflix releases all their original content this way, starting with House of Cards in 2013. Un-Real, though aired on Lifetime, released the show's first four episodes onilne along with the on-air season premiere. 
I watched the first four episodes of Wet Hot in one shot, stopping only to find and view the original film. I am a TV binge-r, and habitually watch shows straight. I remember when my sister and I first binged on an entire season of The OC. We were sharing a room and even if she hadn't seen much of the show prior she started watching when I put the DVDs in. At the end of every episode we couldn't stop the machine from automatically playing the next one. We had started in the afternoon, stopped only to eat dinner and then continued to watch straight until 4 am the next morning. When we woke up we just resumed watching until we were flat out of episodes.

Straight shot viewing seems to be part of the engagement model. It is tough to watch one episode at a time, and unless I am deathly afraid to be spoiled (e.g. Game of Thonres), I prefer to hoard episodes. What is the reason behind this behavior? It could be loneliness or feeling like you just need to finish a show that you've already invested in.

Given this mode of viewing that studios feed by releasing entire seasons at once, it makes me wonder if episode specs will be maintained as viewer habits shift. Wet Hot still shows opening and closing credits, and the episodes fit the half-hour format. At 28 minutes per episode, they don't need to leave time for ads but still fit within that standard timeslot. House of Cards fits within the hour-long time slot. These are the two typical episode lengths aligned with how programming is planned and scheduled. However when people are watching television online and often practically as a mini-series, will episode lengths eventually change beyond these uniform durations? To mini-clip shorts or even feature length episodes?

Entertainment formats are platform-driven. Except for cable shows, most television programs run for 22 or 44 minutes, leaving time for ads, as standard lengths that can be programmed into a pre-determined time slots. To signify the start of an episode there is often a summary of relevant events in previous episodes ("Previously on..."), which you might have forgotten if you're watching on a weekly basis. Many shows also have opening and closing credits that we associate with the start and end - which have to be in the show material itself becuase there is no external webpage that could include that information.

This reminds me of the intermissions that were once standard in movies. I remember seeing this when we were kids watching classic films on laser disc. As someone who usually has to leave the theater to go to the bathroom (thanks, RunPee), I wouldn't mind if more movies had an offical break. But on the other hand, why cut the action and lose momentum? It turns out that they used to need this time to change reels. "In cinema’s early days, intermissions were necessary to allow projectionists to change out film reels. When the French silent film The Loves of Queen Elizabeth opened in New York in 1912, it consisted of four whole reels and an individual intermission accompanied each." (The Outtake) Intermissions were a necessary, platform-driven spec.



I suppose that when the technology evolved there was suddenly no need to stop a film to change the reel, and this is one platform spec that has been changed.

Movies have always had a much freer rein on length and duration. To qualify as a film a material must be at least ninety minutes long, but they can go to LOTR lengths of three hours and counting. Will television programming eventually evolve this way as well?

While there are online-only content networks like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, most television programming is still tied to linear and ad-driven programming schedules. We still have "late night" TV, shows are still scheduled during a supposed "prime" time, morning programming is largely news-led and "daytime TV" consists of soap opears. Episode lengths are determined by the number of ads that will be run. It is still one timeline being mapped out by networks, with content and cost per hour, per minute, per second. In advertising time determines cost, a 15s material costs much less than a 30s vs. a 60s or, the ultimate TV luxury, the 90-second commercial.

As someone who views shows often by the season, hasn't seen a TV ad on TV in years, never watches the morning news and views late night shows at any hour of the day, I wonder what changes lie ahead for this particular platform. As we move online where units of time become less as we select our own non-time lines, I wonder what innovations we will see in entertainment formatting.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

I loved my MTV!


I’m watching Up Dharma Down tonight! I can't wait to see them live again. While this can't possibly be true I feel like the last time I saw them live was probably ten years ago. This has of course triggered my nostalgia and has me thinking about all that has happened since then, and how - holy crap - this is my tenth year of work.

My first job was at MTV where I got to spend hours and hours listening to live music. I had never been into the local rock scene the way some of my friends were, chasing after Urbandub when they were in Manila, cramming into Saguijo, delighting in the fact that we were watching Basti live in Jesus Christ Superstar.

The world was alien to me but working at MTV introduced me to a piece of Philippine culture and art that I had for a long time struggled to relate to. My siblings and I belong to an odd subset of Filipinos who grew up on more Western influences than local. Which is coincidentally what drew me to advertising. Completely faulty logic, now that I think about it as a planner whose trade is focused on understanding the local truths that make people tick. I always loved art, film, music and television, and wanted to have a career in that field. If I had grown up in the US I would probably have tried to work for a TV network or studio. In the Philippines though, I knew off the bat that I had no affinity for local television or movies. Given the available tracks in my Communication course in college, Advertising (rather than Radio, Journalism or Film) seemed like a media world I could relate to. There were many ads I remembered growing up ("Ketchup please, Luis", "Goodbye, Carlo!", "Magpakatotoo ka!", the Katrina Globe ad) and it seemed like an industry worth exploring.

My internship at one agency shop not only lived up to the hype but cemented my passion for the industry. Signed, sealed, delivered. Locked and loaded? A done deal. I fell hard that summer and despite a terribly tumultuous relationship I am still committed.

After graduating none of my idol agencies offered me a job, no matter how many places I sent my CV to. I was also having an identity crisis, not being able to decide whether the right field for me was accounts or creative. I didn’t even know then that planning existed! I had always wanted to do design and while I had enjoyed my internship, where I worked under a lovely creative team, I left feeling like the discipline was too dependent on eureka moments that you couldn’t quite plan for. This seemed like too scary and random a construct to spend every professional day in. MTV was meant to be a stop-gap but I picked something up there that set course for my entire career.

The best thing I got from MTV was my first exposure to digital. I started out in PR and after six months was invited to move to the digital team. MTV was waning in cultural influence but was still advanced in the practice of integrated communications. Our channels were on-ground, on-air and on-line, with products created to exist on all three. I found this amazing, especially the online side. It sounds so cliché and passe now but despite my early exploration of ICQ and Netscape-based browsing, most of the digital world was new to me. As a Digital Producer I was in charge of populating our website and managing our fan community. I ended up playing around with Dreamweaver and I ended up learning to create web pages (in a WYSIWYG way) and enjoyed capturing content about the different bands and artists that came into our studios, including a still-favorite Up Dharma. (Cue post about how I learned who Ely Buendia is... Coming soon.)

Even if it wasn’t the social media age yet I marveled at this world of two-way interaction, which while always being a part of how MTV did things, was maximized online. I enjoyed content creation and publishing, the exercise of trying to create pieces to share that would get people excited about our world.

Needless to say the MTV story ended extremely quickly. Our doors closed which somehow made the last three months there so sentimental and even more memorable. My “Almost Famous” band-aid year wasn’t meant to be extended or prolonged, only captured in my memories as the perfect first job to transition from being a college kid to someone in the working world.

I look back on MTV, my first world of work, with so much fondness. It was a good year with enough fun to last me the next decade of sleepless nights and endless stress. I remember my first few weeks doing agency work thinking, “So this is what real jobs are like.”

I have absolutely no regrets about this path and a career that has taken me from our office in an under-populated Fort to all sorts of cities. Most of all I owe many thanks to MTV for infecting me with the digital bug.

"Future" // Urban Dub & Dicta License
"First of Summer" // Urbandub
"Pag-Agos" // Up Dharma Down


Post-event: Up Dharma at the St. James Power Station, Singapore

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Monday, July 20, 2015

hello lah

I never wrote an "I'm in Sing" post!

Maybe things happened too quickly between Shanghai, my break and the next move. Packing, searching for an apartment, moving money around, booking a Christmas flight home, meeting dozens of new officemates, trying to place people within a tricky org chart. Getting into the swing of things, thinking - hey, there's work-life balance here! Nobody books meetings past six. And then boom. Three unforgettable weeks when an avalanche of projects and pitches started to fall and haven't quite stopped. No time to take stock.

One of our creatives asked me if this is the worst I've had it. PSHAW. I was trained in the Manila school of advertising, I started out under a telco and I finished with  three years in Mr. Lim's sweatshop (I say with great fondness!). It's nowhere near the worst I've had it. In terms of workload.

It's been nine months now. The amount of time I promised myself I'd stay when I started at my first ad agency... where I, with a few internal moves here and there, ended up staying for eight years. When all the pieces just fit. And when they don't.

Singapore has been such a switch from Shanghai. I can't help but compare. Everything seems to be different between my PVG and SIN lives. I romanticize my year in the four seasons of the charming, tree-lined French Concession. I think I left with just enough time on the clock to be able to say that all the crap was part of its character. But as other friends who have made the same geo move have said - Singapore is the handsome, rich boyfriend who will impress all your kiasu friends. But Shanghai is the rugged, scruffy, massively imperfect guy on a motorcycle that you'll always be tempted to choose. Or as I told another friend, Shanghai is the mistress you can't help but love.

This might make it sound like I'm not happy to be here. But I've come to love, if not the city exactly, much of my life here. Nine months have passed and as we've said, I'm glad I came.

And now it's 11:30 pm... time to get back to work.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

signs of the times

What a sad and sadly accurate commentary of our times. This couple, this guy, this girl have all died in the last year as a result of overzealous selfie photography.



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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

State of the Agency Market


"Of the world's five largest digital networks, only one is owned by an established agency company: No. 5 Wunderman, owned by WPP.
IBM Corp.'s IBM Interactive Experience ranks as the biggest digital network, followed by Deloitte Consulting's Deloitte Digital, Accenture's Accenture Interactive and Alliance Data Systems Corp.'s Epsilon."

via AdAge
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Post-Digital Musings at Stream Asia 2015

Where do we go from here?

As marketers we claim to have a deep understanding of our customers and their culture. The fragmentation and complexity of our post-digital world, however, have made it increasingly difficult to put our finger on the consumer pulse. Technology, communication, socialization now evolve so rapidly that before we can wrap our heads around the status quo reality is once again different. I’ve recently discovered that it can help to have an industry support group of sorts that we can discuss and process these things with. The scenario may keep changing but what is important is to keep up the inquiry, to keep processing. 

I’ve been thinking about the idea of the Post-Digital for some time – what our world has become through digital and how it will continue to evolve. Trends like the Maker movement and the 3D printing industry have made me wonder if our digital future will lead us back to the basics of the physical realm, because while technology-enabled these developments feel distinctly analog. On the other extreme are innovations like virtual reality glasses, hololenses and smart homes, smart chargers, smart everything. These technologies make me wonder if we’ve swallowed red pill and jumped into the rabbit hole.

I finally got to explore this topic in greater depth last week at Stream, a WPP (un)conference that invites participants to examine the future of digital and communications. WPP brings agency folk together with clients, founders, media, social entrepreneurs, creators, makers and geeks of all sorts to exchange ideas and questions. It is an un-conference – no suits, keynotes or a set agenda. In this particular Stream drones were flying around and there was a trapeze. Standard activities are the gadget show-and-tell, Powerpoint-eoke, and midnight cook-off. It’s a little random. Much of the activity time is set for participant-generated discussions. When users arrive they can post a topic and anyone can show up to have an exchange and/or heated debate.

This is how, on a sunny Saturday morning, I ended up in a Post-Digital roundtable in Club Med, Phuket. (Though in true ad agency fashion by roundtable I mean a casual arrangement of lounge and folding chairs). More questions were brought up than answered, but it was comforting to discover that others in the industry also struggle to understand what our post-digital world is and will be.
I found that many comments and questions helped me firm up ideas on my earlier question about the duality of the post-digital. Here are three potential scenarios based on our group exchange:

  • The post-digital will go back to basics: The maker movement will teach us to work again with our hands. 3D printing will have us rediscover physics and then allow those proficient enough to produce their own goods. Individuals will be able to trade and barter with this merchandise. Relationships will become the main selling tool; there will be little need for mass-market brands in this DIY future.
  • The post-digital will lead us down the rabbit hole: Robots will eventually take over our marketing jobs as AI will apparently overtake human intelligence in about a decade. The children of Generation Z, our future consumers, will be raised as ‘screen-enabled’. Their intense interaction with five screens and up will have effects on real-world interfaces – they will expect taps and swipes to operate what in our time were analog things like faucets and hinges. To prepare children for the programmable future “reading, writing, coding” will become the building blocks of primary education.
  • The middle ground: We will live within an Internet of Things, with every machine sensor- and web-enabled. Machine-to-machine communication will become a thing. Most things won’t change – our need to convene, touch, socialize, make love, and emotion will remain a bigger factor in human and brand engagement than the strictly rational or data-driven.


The perspectives I heard were so interesting. Some, none, a few may prevail, only time will tell. What has become a little clearer to me now is that we are utterly unprepared for these changes. As we were discussing our value to brands and clients in this context one participant commented on marketers’ strong hesitation to let go, to be vulnerable to the changes. This is fair, though our preoccupation with processing this new space may be because we are the one generation that straddles both the analog past and the digital future.

After the session we parted ways, heading to other discussions that further exemplified the complexity – and sometimes absurdity – of our digital present. Talks covered everything from Bitcoin and the future of behavioral buying to “Digital Breaking Bad: The Illegal Undernet” and “The Selfie Stick: The end of mankind?”

It was good to be able to put my questions and thoughts forth to a group who were also processing these unprecedented changes. As an industry we have a lot of evolving and catching up to do. But it’s great to feel like we’re not alone in discovering and investigating this new landscape. If we can continue to come together and try to make fun or sense of the new digital world order, I think we’ll be ok.
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Saturday, January 24, 2015

What is Net Neutrality

I'll let my friend, John Oliver, explain.


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