Do we have the imagination to really change our industry?

Do we have the imagination to really change our industry?
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I love our industry, I really do, but I also increasingly fear for its future. By and large we’re a hugely creative and talented bunch of people, but far too blind and cynical to the sheer exponential rate of technological change. We simply do not comprehend either the size of the problem or the opportunity that is staring at us in the face.

So after a few days reflecting on a week spent at SXSW, I just can’t help thinking that we lack the imagination to genuinely do things differently and really disrupt our own industry, let alone industries on behalf our clients. I genuinely fear that whilst we happily celebrate creativity at the numerous awards shows around the world, advertising as we know it is going to blow up in our face.

It’s as if we’re driving a beat up old Holden and trying to make it fly – instead we need to be making a totally new flying machine. In the words of Google’s ‘Captain of Moonshots’ it’s easier to make something 10 times better than 10 percent better. Perhaps now is the time for us all to ‘Reimagine Advertising’ and not just leave it up to companies like Google to do it for us. 

Whilst we continue to talk about creativity, the power of emotional storytelling and social media, technology is being used to do some increasingly wonderful and disruptive things. I’m also afraid to say, by some infinitely more imaginative people. In fact so much so, they make us advertising types look all very quaint in the grand scheme of what’s possible.

Half of the problem comes down to our fixation with the new as well as the old. Every year when SxSW comes along, in a very futile attempt to prove to clients we get digital, we get obsessed with the ‘shiny things’, such as the latest app, Google Glasses or 3D printing. Instead we really need to think about how these technologies are impacting industries at a rate never before seen.

As an example, imagine a world where you can literally print anything you like – including guns. Yes that’s right, there was one session focused on the ability to 3D print guns. Whilst crazy, it is very real and it has huge implications for manufacturing. Want a Lego brick? Print it. Want a house? Print it. For not much more than $2K there is a technology out there that will bring down as many companies as it makes.

Don’t be scared though. Whilst it might be bad for businesses it’s great for people. Imagine if your children could dream up and make their own toys- how creative might they grow up to be? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if they filled their time making things rather than watching TV?

Now try imagining a world where everything is automated through the power of computation. The man with the giant brain, Stephen Wolfram does and he has created a number of products that have already started to turn this into a reality.

This could of course mean the end of many jobs, particularly in advertising. Media planning and buying is already becoming automated much like the finance world. Even the making of a website, an app or even an advert could become automated, which is good for everyone apart from agencies

An application that could automate the making of an application is a slightly hard concept to get your head around, but it’s happening and the list of these types of disruptive developments in technology from SxSW is exhaustive.

Dennis Crowley, founder of FourSquare, yes it still exists, summed up SxSW perfectly by saying: “SxSW is like spending a few days in the future and then going back to the present”. My only build on this is that we are already very much in the future and if we continue to blink, we’re in danger of missing it.

After fear my second feeling from SxSW was a mix of optimism and envy. When you hear Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX talking about transforming energy, transportation and even sending a rocket to Mars to find another habitable planet for humanity, it’s hard not to admire peoples’ vision and imagination at SxSW.  

Which leads me on to another great SxSW quote from an interview with Nick Cave: “I’ve spent my entire career banging my head up against people with a lack of imagination”.

Having now experienced SxSW and arguably a bit of the future, it’s imagination that the advertising industry needs more of, not creativity. We lack the will and determination to fight the good fight and create a much more sustainable system; it’s all short term gain (and awards) over a real a long term future.

Ultimately there is all this opportunity available and we’re squandering it by trying to do the same things a bit better than last year. The advertising industry loves to talk up its creativity credentials but its imagination that would have won awards at SxSW.

The main overall theme from SxSW is that we need to solve real human problems – no matter how big or small. Rather refreshingly I’m not sure I heard the word ‘consumer’ once at SxSW, it was all about designing things that solve real human problems and making technology as invisible as possible.

Leap Motion’s controller let’s you naturally navigate websites in a Minority Report fashion. Google Glasses is another example of making it easier to search and explore the world around you without staring down at your phone.

Connected objects were also in abundance. There was a doorbell that would subtly chime louder and louder as Mum or Dad gets closer to home from work. The Skype Cabinet that turned the experience of video chat into furniture. Google also programmed a pair of adidias trainers to talk to you when you are too idle.

Other highlights included Volkswagen, again with Google, showing a glimpse of Smileage, an application that aims to make driving fun again. Developments in facial recognition software is also one too watch. As connected TVs become more popular, it will be possible to serve up relevant ads based on who is watching. Yes even advertising will become more human too.

One of the best human traits we have is our imagination and there has never been a better and more critical time for us to put it to work. I also think it will be a lot more fun.

Carl Moggridge is Communications Director at Naked Communications

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