Future perfect?

by Tim Turner

If you want to sound impressively futuristic, it helps to have a few acronyms to throw around. Thus, the first speaker at the recent BIMA Breakfast Briefing on ‘The Top Tech Trends That Really Matter For 2018’, Luciana Carvalho Se of REWIND, talked not just about VR (virtual reality) but also AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) – and Microsoft has apparently lodged a patent for something called DR (direct reality, which is surely just, um, reality). The next presentation, by Guy Armitage of Zealous, was on AI (artificial intelligence), and then Matt Bush of Google UK let the side down by failing to come up with an acronym for voice search.

It gradually became clear that, while VR, AI and voice search are widely regarded as representing the future of marketing – not to mention many other fields – there are issues with all of them. VR causes motion sickness in a significant proportion of users (particularly female ones); AI brings with it a host of ethical issues, from the use of data to the potential for sentient computers to take over the world, as predicted by no less a figure than Stephen Hawking; and, while many people have become accustomed to asking Siri or Alexa to perform tasks in the home, they are more self-conscious about using voice-activated search in public places.

For these reasons, among others, none of these technologies has yet become truly mainstream. Karen Boswell of Adam&EveDDB suggested in her wide-ranging presentation that they will all gain traction in 2018, along with a host of other innovations, from blockchain to 3D printing. But to break out of the ‘coming soon’ bracket, a technology needs a killer app. As Carvalho Se pointed out, the Pokémon Go phenomenon of 2016 threatened to be just that for AR, and a similar game involving Harry Potter, due out next year, could push it over the top.

In the meantime, all agreed that marketers need to stay focused when dealing with new technology. Carvalho Se talked about clients who ask for ‘a VR thing’, while Armitage pointed out that “90% of the time, if someone says it’s AI, it probably isn’t”. For marketers, the key is to define the purpose of the campaign and then use the appropriate medium to tell the story that needs telling – just as it always has been.

At the end of a headspinning hour of talks that covered far more possibilities (both exciting and worrying) than there is space to mention here, this was the main takeaway for me: the technology, however clever, must always be used for a purpose, and not just for its own sake.

Published Dec 12, 2017

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