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Dragons, Avatars and Robots

Dragons, avatars and robots were just some of the subjects aired and debated at the latest in the IPA’s Creative Minds series, an internet-themed Question Time event in Edinburgh, as Murray Calder, Director of MediaCom Edinburgh and Chairman of the IPA in Scotland explains…

Last Wednesday’s IPA Creative Minds event brought an all-star cast to Edinburgh in the shape of IPA President Nicola Mendelsohn of Karmarama, RAPP’s Group Strategy Director Russell Marsh, Wyndham Lewis from Harvest Digital and also board member at BIMA and the head of MediaCom’s Beyond Advertising division Nick Cohen.  A packed lecture hall at the Royal College of Surgeons had been eagerly anticipating the topic for the evening’s debate - The Internet: Big Brother or BFF? - and had come armed with an interesting selection of questions ably curated by David Reviews head honcho Jason Stone.

First up, what impact did the panel think social media had had on traditional TV advertising? The panel were unanimous in the view that we had only begun to see TV change in response to the rise of social media and that there were still huge opportunities to be unlocked. The launch of Zeebox was cited as one of the first instances of true three-screen integration - 64% of us are on our mobile while we’re watching TV and probably have a laptop open on the table in front of us as well - around TV programmes. While big, live event shared viewing programmes still have a role to play, broadcasters and advertisers needed to innovate around new consumer behaviours being driven by increasing access to new technology.

The panel then broadly agreed that self-regulation was the best response to consumer concerns about cookies and 3rd party tracking. With consent, transparency, and a clear demonstration of the benefits cookies provide, the panel felt there was no reason that consumers wouldn’t continue to accept the status quo. Indeed, concerns were expressed that legislators were so far removed from everyday consumer behaviour that they were incapable of effectively legislating in this area when they were unable to practice what they preach at a governmental level. The challenge lies in creating context for the use of the data that’s being collected. After all, most of us readily provide credit card and Tesco Clubcard data in return for targeted benefits. The bigger question, perhaps, was how society would get to grips with the rise of super-databases and how brands and other institutions use the power this data gives them. Perhaps we all need to be more conscious about what we are freely sharing online before we start complaining about how that data is being used?

The discussion then came back to how, as agencies, we best deal with the proliferation of new social channels. Should we always encourage clients to jump on the latest bandwagon? The general consensus was that, as long as you put real people’s behaviour at the heart of your thinking there was no risk in at least testing new channels. Pinterest was cited as an interesting example which gave a new route to online expression for, in the US at least, a mainly female audience. It has also delivered proven SEO results for brands which have embraced it. Embracing new channels ourselves shows clients that we are at the heart, as we should be, of the latest developments in communication. Regardless of all that, making yourself familiar with emerging tech should make your agency a more interesting place to be. Amen to that.

With the public providing so much data through so many channels, did the panel think there was there still a role for ‘conventional’ research? While the panel all broadly agreed that data analytics alone couldn’t provide all the information you needed - there was a real feeling that meaningful creative leaps would never be fuelled by linear and predictable data.  The research industry needed to find more relevant and interesting ways to collect and report back on consumer insights. For example, The Red Cross were cited for modelling the spread of pandemics by observing how a virus spread through an interaction with World of Warcraft dragons in Traces of Hope. Infographics, while loved by some, felt as if they’d become formulaic and the panel made a plea for a more insightful, rigorous approach to data visualisation.

Finally, the panel each gave their opinion on what they felt ‘the next big thing’ might be. Wyndham began the round up by painting an apocalyptic vision of huge corporations trying to own the internet through the power of massive databases. He felt that the reaction to this would be more personal control of data, making only parts of your online profile available based on your relationship with whichever entity your transaction was taking place.  Nicola cited her recent trip to Silicon Valley and Manchester-based Image Metrics while making a case for Avatars - the perfectly customisable ‘for you’ interface - to be the next major step forward in interface design. Nick was refreshingly honest, admitting he didn’t know, but then going on to suggest collective intelligence might be on the rise with apps like Waze replacing traditional tech by applying crowdsourced data to make apps more useful. Russell reckoned that personal brands would become more prevalent citing Klout as a way of measuring your online influence. He then went on to tell us that more than 50% of all web traffic is now automated with robots making 70% of city trades and serving 20-30% of advertising.

So, what an evening! If you’d have asked me at the outset what I’d be talking about the next day I’m pretty sure that dragons, robots and avatars wouldn’t have been top of the list but it’s a measure of just how wide-ranging, entertaining and informative the discussion was. 

View a selection of photos from the event.

For more information about future IPA Creative Minds events in Scotland visit the IPA Scottish calendar or the IPA What’s On pages, and keep up to date with IPA news via Twitter: @IPA_Updates 

Murray Calder is Director of MediaCom Edinburgh and Chairman of the IPA in Scotland. Follow him on Twitter: @Mediacom_murray
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