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Creativity and new technology: AI, extended reality and 5G

It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man—what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him. For if you know these things about a man you can touch him at the core of his being. One thing is unchangingly sure. The creative man with an insight into human nature, with the artistry to touch and move people, will succeed. Without them he will fail.’

–David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency, on Bill Bernbach, founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach.



This above is always true whenever the topic is advertising. Not clicks or KPIs, revenue or overhead. If the campaign can’t move people, the money is wasted. The creative is what matters. Good creative silences honest criticism, and most of the dishonest critics as well. The greats in this industry aren’t revered for creating content with low bounce rates. We remember them for the jingles, the setups, scenes, slogans and the way they made us feel.

The same applies to the medium, no matter the time. Few of us remember Burma Shave, but at the time it was a clever campaign made up of a series of billboards each with a single line of a 5-line story—with a good punchline and a mention “Burma-Shave.” In the 1960’s some of us don’t remember what issue, but we do remember the full-page newspaper or magazine ad for that car or something else that enraptured us for a second or two. Apple’s “1984” TV ad recedes in the distance, Nike’s 2018 Colin Kaepernick ad is fully in view. The constant is that medium is secondary to the message.

That medium is going to change. Again. Marketing technology is getting disrupted for the fourth time in the past 100 years. In 1919, ink on paper was the technology of the time. Newspapers, magazines, outdoor, handbills and other specialty pieces told us of news, shopping, sports and entertainment. Within 20 years, commercial radio was “killer-diller,” a technology that did everything newspapers could—but we listened to it instead. By the 1950’s TV dwarfed radio, and 50 years later cable and social media dwarfed free TV and newspapers. By today, there are so many channels to choose from. So many; almost too many.

The forces moving on marketing technology are extended reality, artificial intelligence and 5G. Extended reality brings a range of immersive and engaging experiences to headsets and mobile devices. AI’s natural language processing and machine learning bring an ability to understand emotion, context and human behavior like we have never been able to before. Machine audition means we can converse with machines about the best products and deals. 5G cellular data speeds means more data delivered faster to mobile devices. It also means enough power to help old technology evolve, like smarter signs and car radios fully transforming into automotive entertainment and information systems.

Let’s look at a few technologies on the rise, and the current state of adoption by ad agencies.


Extended Reality

Extended reality, or XR, is the umbrella term for virtual, augmented and mixed reality. Virtual reality is the big headset. Augmented is Google Glass, and mixed is the Microsoft HoloLens. Each offers a different take on the immersive experience; from full immersion to 3D holograms interacting with us in the wild.  Here’s a quick video illustrating the differences between the three, courtesy of Sean Ong. In March 2019, Ming-Chi Kuo, the most accurate technology analyst when it comes to predictions about Apple, picked 2019 as the year the introduces their own version of augmented reality glasses.  Google Glass was a little too far ahead of its time. Apple’s glasses, if they release in 2019 or 2020 will be seen as ushering in the age of XR.

Augmented reality is becoming a driving force in retail. Memoni, a Palo Alto, CA fashion-tech company put 58 of their “MemoryMirrors” in 34 Neiman Marcus stores. The mirror, powered by augmented reality, stores a person’s image and movements, allowing them to try on clothes virtually. I could tell you more, but you’ve probably already clicked the video.


Artificial Intelligence


Before we get going, make sure to watch the entire video. AI enables agencies to focus on emotion, social intelligence and segmentation. Natural language processing and neural nets are technical terms that eventually mean machines can now understand context and emotion in text. Which unlocks a wealth of information about how people really feel about brands and products from social media channels and the public internet. Watch the video above, from Crimson Hexagon (now part of Brandwatch). They have built one of a handful of powerful AI products for business. In three minutes, you’ll be up to speed on what AI can do for the creative research process.


AI enables agencies and brands the ability to listen to what millions of people are saying about you on social media. It can also help amplify the audience when you need to ask the internet about a topic, product or service. identify where and how your brand imagery is being used on social media. It can parse sentiment, then its underlying emotion, then for component reasons feeding the emotion. At the scale of social media. The video above is from Pitney Bowes. They use the Crimson product.

IBM’s Watson Marketing does similar things. From an IBM Insider Studio piece that appeared at AdAge.com, “the marketing team turns to the multichannel-marketing automation module of Watson Marketing: Its AI-powered solutions can compile customer data from several applications and vendors, then generate thousands of relevant micro segments based on lifestyle, interests, purchase behavior, social behavior, life stage, location and more. Armed with these segments, the team can deliver vastly more personalized offers through email, push notifications and SMS.”

“For example, the AI identifies a micro segment of millennial customers who have recently taken a Caribbean cruise from Miami, then drills down by credit score, household income and those in the market for a new card. The team can then create a personalized campaign using this segment to tout the card’s partnership with a Caribbean cruise line.”

Another area where AI has already been adopted by agencies is programmatic. Programmatic is using AI to constantly monitor the swings in bids across the digital ad platforms—Facebook, Google Ads, etc. Just like the guys on Wall Street, they make the optimal bid for the right ad space and time. Which means you get a banner ad, I get a banner ad, we all…you get the picture.


5G cellular data technology


3G and 4G brought us data speeds fast enough to watch videos on YouTube. Which led to Netflix and the advent of streaming. With speeds at least 20 times faster than 4G, new 5G technology allows creatives the ability to add much more detail and nuance to campaigns. According to Stuart Flint, the VP of Europe, the Middle East and African markets for Verizon Media , “The mass roll-out of 5G will be the foundation on which the ‘futuristic’ technology we have only touched on so far is built on. Take live-streaming as an example: with 5G, this new technology will see us able to produce interactive experiences, content, and capabilities in real-time that we are only just starting to imagine. Later down the road, we expect to see this to start including VR, to driverless cars and IoT.” The video above from AT&T gives you a better idea of how 5G will make the ways people interact with brands and products more robust and not like “advertising.”

There are a lot of people responsible for a lot of money making a lot of noise about these technologies. The ad business is adopting some of them on the business side, but what’s the take on them from a creative angle?

What do the agencies think?

“I think we assume that AI is new news. But really, it’s just better informed by the rich data we now have access to. Using data and intelligence to target relevant comms is and has always been a mainstay of our industry. Programmatic is a brilliant example of AI – not always done well, but commercially a very powerful contributor to many brands; like the aggregators hotels.com or Orbitz.”

–Fiona McArthur, Global Managing Director, adam&eveDDB, London

In an interview with McArthur arranged during my trip to London for this class, she shared something that you don’t read in the articles. Presence and prescience.

Agencies have seen this coming, changing the nature of the problem

The smart people at agencies have found ways to use the tech in a way to serve the creative process. Adam&eveDDB use AI for insight generation, or the ability to identify and strategize for segments of customer data. In the past, insights were built on opinion, product features & benefits, transaction data, focus groups and analysis of mass customer behavior. AI can take that and combine it with data streams from all sides of a business–store POS & sensor data, online transactions, social media conversations, data from customer service conversations and more.

Once you find an actionable relationship among this mishmash of data—meaning a big enough segment to ring the sales bell, you can then use AI to examine it for context, content and emotion. Undercover what they say and why. A planning team could use that data to inform what comes back from focus groups. It all gets fed into the plan creatives use to come up with the big ideas. The machines serve their human overlord.

This changes the nature of the problem. Instead of a FOMO-style mad dash towards new technology, some agencies are adopting it as it makes sense. Using the technology to improve the quality of the information used to create the big ideas keeps the focus on the idea, not techno-gimmickry.

Present it in good faith and watch it get cut by the client

During Q & A of a presentation at McGarry Bowen, another London agency I visited, Angus Macadam, their Executive Creative Director shared that his agency was presenting extended reality to clients, the majority of which shifted that money to other parts of the creative budget.

This was the nature of social media for a few years, until it skyrocketed. The good thing here is that the agency stays current with the technology and where it is in the minds of the market. The people who know how to execute the big idea on XR platforms will be in very good shape when 5G helps the technology make its own leap forward.

Call in the specialists!

During the visit, I asked Macadam about artificial intelligence. It wasn’t a long boring question, yet I think I saw his eyes glaze over at the thought of “technology.” To answer, he looked at me saying, “anything like that, we just call Merkle (a global marketing analytics and data company).”

Which is another legitimate option right now. There are enough specialists around to pick a good one to help with a campaign. By “specialists,” I mean boutique firms and high-end freelancers with a very deep expertise analyzing and executing with a specific technology.

The tipping point for XR

More words of wisdom from Fiona McArthur, this time on extended reality; “the use of VR has yet to be executed in a way that delivers meaningful impact (commercially and experientially).  It’s really gestural currently. If the hardware becomes more readily accessible and affordable then we can assume that consumers will start to pull rather than brands pushing – this should force us all as marketers to consider this technique as a viable tool for more than just aesthetic additions to campaigns.”

Perhaps the Apple AR glasses will be an actual turning point for the technology. The timing is right. No matter, the big marketing idea for XR is out there. If someone has already cut it from their budget, don’t worry. Ideas are eternal.

Wrapping it up

As a communicator that has always been good with technology, these are exciting times. Having said that, I almost bought a Microsoft Zune when they first came out, and I just picked up a $199 Oculus Go VR headset. So, my track record is 75/25; because I bought the iPod instead. But as someone who has had to come up with the “big idea,” I look forward to using the new technologies in the spirit of David Ogilvy. To move people.