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Creativity’s demise is much exaggerated as tech gives it a new lease of life

Hamburg. A city of contradiction. On one hand, it’s true to the Germanic tradition of science-based order. But on the other, it’s home to a gritty counter-culture that has inspired generations of artists - including The Beatles.

What better place to convene a session of the Accenture Creative Council to consider how the marketing industry is being transformed by a similar alchemy.

Yes, science-based skills seem all the rage in our industry. But rather than supplanting those with a right-brain bent, are the scientists in reality augmenting traditional creativity?

Our Creative Council guests were in Hamburg as part of the NEXT19 tech conference. But even the timing of this event seem to reinforce the thesis - as NEXT is held in partnership with the Reeperbahn music festival.

By day the delegates could discuss issues such data. But in the evening they dispersed into the myriad of clubs - many located in the edgier parts of the town - to gain inspiration from emerging musicians, DJ and artists.

The council met to debate how three professional groups are working together in the world of modern marketing. We used the word troika (meaning a group of three) as the theme for our discussion. It originates from the Russian word for a horse drawn vehicle which unusually has three horses in a single row side by side rather than one in front of the other.

Who was at this meeting of the council? They were a carefully selected group representing the troika which now defines the marketing industry - technologists, creatives and of course brands.

Diane Young, The Drum’s CEO, chaired the session and was keen to get to the heart of the issue. Many believe the tech such as AI, renders traditional creative obsolete. But is its demise much exaggerated, she wanted to know?

Tanya Joseph, director of campaigns at Nationwide was unequivocal: “From a brand marketing point of view, I think creativity has always been the most important thing. It trumps everything as far as I'm concerned, particularly now when you can get really carried away with technology. It can allow you to do loads of whizzbang things, but in the end, if you're not creative, you're not really going to cut through.”

And Jon Wilkins global managing director, Creative Council and Accenture Interactive was keen to argue that although the practices in our business have changed, the principles remain the same: “Creativity, is more important than ever. And it's always been important. When you get these brilliant ideas, often now powered and accelerated through technology, special things happen.”

Adam Kerj CCO, Accenture Interactive Nordics took up the theme, which pervaded the discussion; namely that new tech has actually empowered creatives: “It used to be, the creative process was kind of an isolated thing where we were all rock stars, or the creative process was a sacred process where magic things came out of it. Well, now, these days, it turns out it's not that way, because you have creativity, technology, and you have purpose or humanity.”

Over the course of the conversation three examples of campaigns emerged which demonstrated how this new approach is being applied in the real world.

The first was a new in-car entertainment system called Holoride, which addresses the issue of passing time on car journeys. While the driver enjoys the driving experience, everyone else perceives their travel time as time wasted.

The solution is a virtual reality headset that allows the wearer to enter a fascinating game where the car now seems as if it is no longer driving past the city’s grey building facades. Instead it seems to be moving through a colorful fantasy world populated by blue and white little chickens.

As the car stops at a pedestrian crossing in the real world, the vehicle stops in the virtual reality as well and the little chickens can pass. The wearer can aim for the chickens and is rewarded with hit points. The critical difference between normal gaming and the Holoride experience is that the vehicle data is fused with the content of the game. Each bend along the way, each acceleration of the car and each application of the brakes shapes the virtual reality experience.

The project was a great example of a primary facet of Karmarama’s ECD Chris Williams’ core belief: “I think the key thing with technology is that you've got to find a way for it to seamlessly connect with the actual consumer. How would we do that? So you don't want it to be too disruptive, so how can we make something that feels part of what they're doing so it doesn't disrupt them? There's an easy, simple flow to what they're doing. Actually, it makes their lives easier. That way we can kind of clearly deliver the right experience, and I think as technology improves, we're finding better and faster ways to deliver these experiences to our customers.”

Memory Lane was the second example and demonstrated how to combine great ideas with great tech. However, this campaign had contradictions at almost every level as it also combined nostalgia with cutting edge digital, and also aimed to humanise an industrial giant.

The campaign, created by Accenture Interactive for the Swedish energy company Stockholm Exergi, used artificial intelligence to tackle elderly loneliness.

Following medical research into elderly health, Accenture Interactive discovered that loneliness accelerated health problems including depression and early-stage dementia in the elderly.

To combat this, it created a project titled 'Memory Lane' that uses a voice assistant combined with conversational artificial intelligence to capture stories for future generations.

Using Google Voice Assistant, 'Memory Lane' invites someone who is lonely to tell their life story. Once captured, the discussion is then instantly converted into both a physical book and a podcast, which can be shared by participants with future generations.

Stockholm Exergi said it not only aimed to not only warm its customers through its heating systems, but also through its social outreach. When an energy business starts using such human language, it gives insight into how far communications is moving.

Said Kerj, “It was an emotional idea, but we had to make sure we talked to the participants, explain to them how we are using their data, and how they remain in control of it all. It was important for us to do that.”

Sam Gibbs, emerging and creative technology manager, Accenture Interactive, believes campaigns such as this underline just how many more tools technology can provide to creatives. “When I talk about technology in marketing, I'm immediately drawn to the big platforms like Facebook, YouTube and  Spotify as well as the programmatic technology that powers us reaching our audience.

But, actually, it's a lot more than that. We can think about the use of artificial intelligence, empowering dynamic creative. So making sure that the exact content is going to the exact user and working harder, but also, actually, in this futuristic world, we've got new technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality coming to the table, and we should be thinking about how we reach our audiences in this space.

So is that a case of dynamically changing content within video, or changing the scene or in fact the storyline to better target that user?”

But of course, such projects take marketing behind mere commerce, according to Julia Kucharzewski of Diageo who applauded Memory Lane for being a pioneering example of how technology can make this world a little better, adding that as brands we should all be asking what the broader societal challenges are.

Elsewhere at NEXT, Accenture Interactive CEO Brian Whipple took that thought further and put a challenge to the business: “I am calling out Accenture Interactive this year to help make a difference and help contribute,” asking creatives and technologists alike to think about innovations which deliver on brands’ business purpose relating to helping humans. He said that 50 years ago we put a man on the moon. Yet, in some critical areas, we haven't advanced in 20 years, asking, “Can we apply purpose to make the world better - and our businesses with it?”

And the third example, really does make the point that new tools such as AI, create more opportunities for the creative than they could have ever hoped for.

Produced by Rothco, part of Accenture Interactive, for The Times, it involved using digital technology to render a film using the voice and image of JFK, reading the speech he would have delivered in Dallas, if fate had not intervened.

The project brief was predicated on The Times’ belief in bringing new perspectives to the news, even if that news is a new perspective on something people thought they already knew. So, to connect with their readers in the UK, US, and the world, they decided to celebrate the legacy of one of the greatest orators of all time, John F. Kennedy.

The idea then emerged.

On the 22nd of November 1963, on his way to deliver a speech at the Dallas Trade Mart, JFK, the voice of his generation, was silenced. But what if his voice could be unsilenced?

Rothco set out, 55 years after the fact, to have JFK make the ‘Trade Mart Speech’ that he was due to deliver on that fateful day in Dallas. Working with tech company CereProc, Rothco created an AI audio speech made completely out of data – a world first.

It took eight weeks to painstakingly review 831 JFK speeches and interviews and through an intricate process of advanced sound engineering, it was possible to hear the Trade Mart Speech, delivered in JFK’s own voice. His unspoken speech was ahead of its time, touching on topics such as freedom, power, wisdom & restraint.

“We in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom,” he said. Watch the full ‘JFK Unsilenced’.

Said Young, “This project resulted in The Times achieving 1 billion media impressions and a Twitter reach of 51 million, opening up many new readers to The Times, but it also led to many companies adopting the tech approach to assist people suffering from motor neuron disease to find their voices again. So a commercial objective, brought to life by a great idea and great engineering, also resulted in the humanity that brands are seeking to retain.”

To Julia Kucharzewski of Diageo it is also a great demonstration of how brands need to think differently: “So the advice I would give to marketers is that you have to be open for new ideas and you should be courageous about new ideas. We tend to rely on things that we've always done and that we know about, for example, out of home or TV, and I do know that it's easy to say the ROI is better on stuff like this, but testing is so important, and after testing you will get the feeling of what works for your brand. This is then something that will take you to the next level, which is very important nowadays.”

Kerj is in agreement. “So the creative process has changed completely for brands, how they behave, how they work with agencies, and if you reverse it, how agencies work with brands and clients. How do you bring in data driven insights? Is it consumer insights? How do you wash the data and make it actionable? So being a creative today is really, really interesting because it's such a different space and it requires a lot of different tools, capabilities, experts, insights.”

Of course, such opportunities also present threats. For example, the marketing industry is built around silos that reflect channels such as media, IT, production and so on. But in this brave new world the demarcations between these channels is now less pronounced, creating the sort of anarchy you can sometime find on a Hamburg back street. Does this mean we need a new way of working?

“This kind of innovative creative work is not a linear process, yet as agencies we still work in a linear way,” said Wilkins. “It goes like this. The client issues a brief, a planner reworks the brief, which then goes to the creative department. And there’s some communication assets and that include a lot of what we would call ‘innovative ideas’ but ideas that we could previously never really make.”

He called for the industry to adopt a more collaborative and explorative strategy that includes creatives working together with technologies and clients. “We believe creativity should be a blend of art and science, where advertising is made in a human way, putting the customer first. What if we were to accept the capabilities of all the new technologies, and how they could sit at the heart of the purpose of the brand, the business and the people?”

Alex Naressi, managing director for R&D, Accenture Interactive, suggested an even more organic approach. He explained, “I’m an avid gardener and I’ve seen some striking similarities between how I approach my cultivation at home and thriving at work. It’s about creating the right environment. You can’t tell the plants in your garden to produce flowers. They need the right nutrients, soil types, radiation and heat intensity.

It’s the same with agency culture. It needs to be both stimulating and invigorating for teams. Give the opportunity to experiment in bold ideas through R&D investment, provide the right tools and the new tools to explore and establish a general sense of ‘growing’ creativity.”

Summing up for the discussion, Young pointed out that the three sides of the marketing troika actually have an equal role to play.

“I wondered whether our Hamburg meeting would result in a tussle to see which was the mightiest of brand, creative, and technology. But, actually, what became clear was that, like a three legged stool, no two are any good without the third.

Inevitably, there are going to be struggles as each of the three find their place in the new creative process, which brings us back to our troika, because a troika is also a name for a carriage, where the horses are not harnessed in the usual formation, but are side by side, pulling equally, which I think is a really neat metaphor for how the three parties will work together to bring out the marketing messages of the future.”

Featured by The Drum

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