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How creative automation can supercharge your business

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Jamie Kenny
Jamie Kenny
Global SVP Creative
Date
21 November 2022

How creative automation can supercharge your business

Technology has been reshaping the future of the creative marketing and advertising industries even before the pandemic accelerated the need for new approaches. But now, as organisations plan their futures in a transformed world against the backdrop of economic turmoil, many are choosing to take the next leap forward and explore the opportunities presented by automation.

The pandemic upended the marketer’s playbook, challenging the existing rules about how to develop customer relationships and build a brand. In just a short time, we have seen the enormous potential of automation to drive brand engagement, boost creativity and improve customer engagement. The foundations have been laid to tackle the next challenge we all face: global economic uncertainty. 

From its contribution to revenue to the productivity opportunities it can generate, automation can play a transformative role in every business journey. Applied intelligently, automation can realise the ambitions of marketing and creative leaders by delivering greater personalisation, conserving more time for human creativity, and unlocking new opportunities to grow and scale.

Creative automation combines creativity and technology to streamline production and augment the creative process so that the best ideas take shape faster. It enables the delivery of creative assets at scale, dynamic advertising, and conversational marketing, helping brands to supercharge their creative output through technology.

DEPT® has been pioneering creative automation for over ten years. Here, marketing leaders from Just Eat, eBay and Opendoor clients share what creative automation helps them to achieve.

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Just Eat: global scale, local relationships

Matt Bushby, UK Marketing Director at Just Eat

“Automation enables companies to use critical information to target key audiences at scale with the right messages. This is particularly valuable for a global business like Just Eat whose relationship with its customers and partners is a local one.

 “Working with DEPT®, we have used tools such as YouTube Director Mix to create more localised experiences for our customers. Our partnership has enabled us to deliver to a mass audience but also focus on the areas where we need to drive success. And that’s incredibly exciting because it means we’re able to engage more customers in more relevant ways and tell them about the incredible choice on the app.

“Automation also enables us to produce assets at scale. Whether it is through our CRM workstreams or our external channels, automation helps us to discover new ways to drive efficiency and produce large volumes of advertising assets that increase our reach. From email and push notifications to social media advertising and video platforms, automation has empowered us to create at scale and optimise our creative output to deliver the best results for our customers.

“The introduction of automation has enabled our teams to focus on higher level tasks and the big challenges, such as how we strategically build our business, come up with new creative ideas and identify smarter ways to engage our customers. With automation we can test multiple ads across thousands of creatives – a process that could take people days, weeks or even months to deliver. By using automation, we can not only get quicker results but free up our teams to use their creativity in more productive ways.”

eBay: loyalty & engagement

Eve Williams, Chief Marketing Officer, eBay

“At eBay, we use automation across multiple points of the customer journey. From the ads on our website to the emails we send our customers, automation enables us to not only personalise our messages based on our customers’ browsing histories and purchases but also share other promotions they might be interested in. Ultimately, automation has enabled us to better engage with our customers and justify their loyalty to us by creating marketing assets that they find interesting, engaging and relevant. 

“Automation can also have a positive impact on people in the workplace too. Machine learning has the potential to reduce the number of repetitive manual tasks that employees have to do and gives them more freedom to think creatively in their roles. For example, instead of manually uploading hundreds of differently sized versions of a single asset, we can automate the resizing process and designers can produce more assets that are more relevant to our customers.

“Throughout our automation journey, DEPT® has been an important partner for us. Their experience in understanding the full end-to-end customer journey has helped us to automate and personalise a wide range of campaigns, from emails to product pages. Their combination of technical understanding and their ability to create content has been powerful because it has enabled us to automate processes and seamlessly create content at the same time.”

Opendoor: driving the best outcomes

Marty Ellis, Head of Lifecycle Marketing, Opendoor

“This type of automation offers two primary benefits. Its ability to generate lots of assets enables businesses to do rapid testing at a scale that was previously impossible. This improves engagement and, ultimately, conversion rates.

“The second benefit we see is the potential for creative asset automation and artificial intelligence to work together to apply intelligent feedback to the marketing process. AI and automation together can assemble the jigsaw puzzle of a creative asset, deciding on the best copy, imagery and layout based on the variations that drive the best outcomes for a given customer. In this way, companies can create personalised campaigns that are incredibly effective at scale. In the future, the most intelligent software will be able to learn what works and design and deploy campaigns with minimal human input.” 

Delivering transformational growth

At DEPT®, we believe in the power of automation and its potential to propel organisations into a faster, better and more productive future. We are committed to creative automation because we have seen what it can achieve for our clients. From delivering personalised content at scale to giving us back more time to develop creative strategies, we know that automation technology can deliver truly transformational growth for both our business and our clients, especially in times of uncertainty.

Drop us a line today to discuss how creative automation can supercharge your business.

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Production Trends: Virtual Production

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Lidia Weinstein
Lidia Weinstein
Producer
Date
26 July 2022

Virtual Production

Video production is changing rapidly. A plethora of formats which can be played back on a variety of devices dominate today’s digital space. In addition, the implementation of extended reality technologies (augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality) has made immersive content accessible to users via smartphone or tablet, opening up a space for almost infinite creative applications.

For some years now, the topic of immersion has also been increasingly explored in the production processes of film and video – virtual production.

The combination of state-of-the-art game technology and film has already made it possible to produce films in immersive studios for several years. Now this technology is mature and ready for use, experts report. What virtual production is and what impact it will have on film and video production in the future – and accordingly on brands and their marketing measures – is the subject of this insight.

What is virtual production?

Virtual production is a collective term that describes many different digital production processes. These include AR, VR, motion capture and volumetric video (more on this shortly). What we have recently become familiar with from productions such as “The Mandalorian” (2020) and what is commonly referred to as virtual production describes the possibility of producing films in an immersive studio. The entire production of a film is made possible by the combination of reality – i.e. actors and actresses, props – and digital backdrops that are generated in real time in game engines.

What does a virtual studio look like?

In principle, a virtual studio consists of an LED surface that runs in a semicircle or elliptical shape around the set and extends over the ceiling. This surface is covered with a digital backdrop, e.g. a mountain landscape with a sky above it. The possibilities for design are, as you might expect, endless. An immersive space is created with which the actors and crew can interact. For example, an actress can look at a mountain in the far distance without just imagining it, as previously on a set with a greenscreen. In addition, it is possible to experiment with the scenery: landscapes can be changed in real time or colour moods can be adjusted.

Auf dem Set von “The Mandalorian”. Filmcrew im immersiven Studio von ILM StageCraft, auch “The Volume” genannt.

On the set of “The Mandalorian”. Film crew in the immersive studio of ILM StageCraft, also called “The Volume”.

Technological developments in the gaming sector make this production process possible in the first place. To achieve a perspective match between the backdrop and the shooting angle, the camera movement in the room is tracked. The room is measured volumetrically beforehand – volumetry refers to a technical measuring procedure in which a room is measured three-dimensionally. The computer can then track all the elements in front of the camera lens and place them in a 3D environment. The game engine then renders the 3D environment in real time – currently, the Unreal Engine is probably the most powerful. The Meta Festival initiated by DEPT® and Journee is also based on the Unreal Engine.

Since the backdrop is already part of the production, the post-production is brought forward and integrated into the pre-production. In some cases, post-production is not necessary at all, since the backdrop exists for every scene and the light emitted by the LED surface already creates the desired colour world. The green screen can still be used to achieve certain effects. It is then simply projected over the LED surface as well. 

A selection of films made on virtual sets: “The Batman” (2022), “The Mandalorian” (2020), “Ripple Effect” (2020), “Lion King” (2019), “First Man” (2018). Another innovation in the field of virtual production is volumetric video.

What is volumetric video?

Volumetric video is produced in a special volumetric studio and refers to a video where pixels have not two but three spatial coordinates – giving it volume. In a volumetric studio, cameras are installed so that the object is recorded from all perspectives. Through this recording process, the object can later be viewed from any perspective, similar to gaming, with the difference that the degree of representation is much more realistic.
 
This technology is particularly interesting for use in the metaverse, e.g. for the creation of photorealistic avatars. A film in which volumetric video was used is, for example, “Matrix Resurrections” (2021). Many shots from the film were created in the Babelsberg studio Volucap

Das Volucap Studio in Babelsberg.

The Volucap Studio in Babelsberg.

Volumetric video has the further advantage that the camera perspective can be changed in post-production and is not limited by the camera movement as before. This is particularly interesting for interactive films in which the viewers can explore the space themselves. 

The possibilities of virtual production grant filmmakers unprecedented control over all elements and brings great flexibility. For example, the film crew is no longer dependent on local weather conditions and can avoid long journeys to locations. Scenes can be replicated afterwards, as lighting conditions and backdrops can be recreated exactly. 

Virtual production has also accelerated production processes tremendously. This is reflected above all in production costs, which means that virtual production is increasingly becoming the focus of producers.

What do these developments mean for future film and video production?

The transition to digital production will change the professional field from the ground up; for example, think of production designers who will no longer build physical sets but digital ones in the future. Art departments will become virtual art departments or hybrids. Virtual set objects will become reusable and monetisable, e.g. in the form of NFTs

There are several arguments in favour of entering virtual production: maximum creative control, flexibility, sustainability – the elimination of building huge sets on locations, transporting film crews and the associated logistics – and correspondingly lower costs.

Will virtual production replace conventional production? Not quite, because it doesn’t make sense in every case. It is therefore worthwhile to subject a project to a proof-of-concept at the beginning to determine which production method is best suited. Nevertheless, one can follow this development with interest.

DEPT® has experts on hand to advise and support you throughout all phases of production. Further information is available on our Production service page. We look forward to working with you!

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Lidia Weinstein

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Snap’s new AR features help brands improve conversions with immersive experiences

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Lauren Chester
Lauren Chester
Head of Technology BYTE/DEPT®
Date
30 May 2022

Imagine being able to spread your brand across the bustling streets of London, down the banks of the Thames, and around historic monuments and buildings.

Or how about being able to take 2D images from your catalog and – through machine learning – have them transformed and transported onto the bodies of Snap users, who want to virtually try on clothes, and even have the opportunity to share the look with friends before clicking through to complete the purchase.

These impressive developments from Snap – one in terms of the canvas, the other in terms of the ability to take large amounts of products direct to the consumer – are becoming a reality that brands should capitalise on. 

AR for retail

Snap’s influence on virtual shopping is undeniable – 250 million people have engaged with shopping lenses over five billion times on the platform.

At the heart of these is the ability to try on clothing and accessories using augmented reality (AR). Using AR can increase conversion rates by up to 94% and decrease returns by 25%.

Snap’s new AR Image Processing technology, developed by Forma, can transform 2D photos (such as e-commerce pictures), and turn them into turnkey AR-ready assets for Snapchat AR try-on Lens experiences. The user is told to take a few steps back, the camera snaps their body and then imposes the clothes onto the static image of the user.

This is a game-changer for consumers and brands. It gives brands the ability to turn their inventory into AR and allows smaller and bespoke operators the same opportunities as bigger brands.

It could also bring in significant operational savings for returns. How often have you gone shopping, tried something on, and sent a picture for a friend’s opinion?

Now imagine being able to do that without leaving the house and before committing to a purchase, saving you the hassle of returns.

The new product catalog feature – combined with the 3D Asset Manager – means users can swipe through a whole catalog of your products, trying each one on as you go. This feature displays the name and price and links directly to the product page. With a single click to the site, it’s no wonder the conversion stats are so high.

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Even brands that don’t have a presence or consumers on Snap can take advantage of their camera technology.

Using Camera Kit, an SDK solution, enables brands to embed Snap’s AR platform and technology into their mobile applications.

Consumers can then try on products or see them in situ in AR through their device’s camera via the brand’s app.

DRESSX has seen incredible success and engagement, as 75% of all app users engage with AR Lenses, and users try on AR Looks 22 times per day on average. 

It’s a way of connecting real-life and digital – bringing metaverse opportunities through mobile rather than through a headset or computer screen.

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Connect the physical and digital worlds at scale

Snap also recently introduced city templates for brands. City templates create huge canvases which provide the opportunity to bring urban landscape to life at scales never seen before.

For example, Lego is doing this in London.

This allows brands to create assets and experiences on a scale never seen before. They could literally go on for miles, and be tied to historic sites, areas of high footfall, and points of interest, with a high degree of accuracy. Developers can also anchor their creations to locations and landmarks around the world – perfect for bringing visitor attractions to life.

The introduction of this for brands creating AR experiences cannot be underestimated. It means now that – rather than everything having to be downloaded in advance – remote assets can be used in experiences and only downloaded when necessary.

So if you have an AR trail or interactive map, elements later in the journey will only be downloaded and accessed when required. It also means content can be added and users can start an experience, leave it, and then come back to it. Perfect for treasure hunts, long-term events, and experiences with repeatability at the heart of them. 

And, crucially for brands, improvements in persistent storage mean deeper levels of user data when it comes to analysing how different areas of your experience perform. It’s a way of connecting real life and the digital one at scale – bringing metaverse opportunities through mobile rather than through a headset or computer screen. 

More and more, the line between digital and physical experiences is rapidly diminishing, creating new forms of entertainment and AR experiences.

Snap has been at the forefront of enabling these new experiences, which add a visual layer to reality or transpose IRL behaviours into digital platforms. The future is bright for brands that jump in and engage their audience in these new ways. 

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Employer branding becomes increasingly important in the improving economy

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Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke
Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke
Head of Marketing, Europe
Date
1 April 2021

In 2016, the strongest decline in unemployment was recorded by the CBS (Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics) in 10 years. The number of vacancies has been on the rise for several consecutive quarters, and the forecast for 2017 remains positive. The UWV (Employee Insurances Implementing Agency) predicts that the number of vacancies will increase by 138,000 and that the total number may even reach one million in the Netherlands.

More people are working (almost 8,5 million) and at the same time, Graphic vacanciesthere is less demand for jobs from prospective applicants. This is clearly reflect
ed in the search behavior found on Google. Search terms including the words “vacancies” or “job” have decreased by over 18% in the Netherlands. Search terms that include the word “work” have decreased even further, by 33%.

It’s clear that job candidates currently have the upper hand. That means employers have quite a big job ahead of them to attract the best applicants. The demand for a strong employer brand and suitable labor market communications is bigger than ever. The question is: How do you meet this demand? In this article, three brands show just how much they get it.

1. User experience and insight priority at Delta Lloyd

The average internet user is lazy, or better-said, spoiled. The smallest or slightest thing can influence a user to click away from a website. Website too slow? No job vacancies available? Form too complicated? Applicant gone. They’ll apply at a different company, where the job application process runs a lot smoother.

This is exactly why the Delta Lloyd recruiters thought it was time for a new website. Whereby increasing the convenience for applicants was key. DEPT® was deployed to the new work-at-platform of Delta Lloyd. The result is a user-friendly site for the applicant, and at the same time, one which provides much more insight to the recruiters. The new site attracts about 21% more visitors. On average, visitors stay 3% longer on the website and reach their desired page sooner. But not only that, with the launch of the new website, applications and underlying sub-goals are measured. Notifications for the job alert option are a good example. Consequently, Delta Lloyd now has insight into the effectiveness of different sources of traffic.

Together with DEPT® steps have been taken towards measuring the quality of applicants. After collecting enough data, Delta Lloyd can not only steer their media channels based on the number of résumés (quantity), but also towards the right résumés (quality). That not only saves on campaign costs, but also on the time recruiters spend on unsuitable applicants.

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2. Achmea as best employer through online marketing

Achmea and DEPT® have been working together for almost 7 years. Finding and motivating new talent, especially for the more technical-orientated roles, is one of the most important focal points within the current strategy. With the help of targeted banners, videos, and social media campaigns, the various labor market communication campaigns are being supported. The result: the ongoing SEA campaign, despite a similar budget, has resulted in an increase of traffic by 33% and a higher number of applicants by 100%. The natural flow of traffic has increased by 156% with the help of the SEO campaign. The campaigns, which focus on the specific target audience, have ensured an increase in visibility for Achmea as employer.

But Achmea has taken it a step further. To create the possibility of making decisions based on quantity ánd quality, a significant step was taken in the area of smart data. Together with Achmea IT, the various data sources were combined into clear reports. As a result, the measurability and reporting within Achmea has been considerably optimized. There is now real-time insight into the impact of the various campaigns and these can be quickly adjusted if necessary.

3. Experience Philips first-hand with Philips employees

As part of the employer branding, Philips asked DEPT®, to develop a campaign in which Philips employees were given a key role. In five instances, we let Philips employees talk about the particular cases they had each worked on. Among them were engineers and marketers, but also financial experts. This was visually displayed through quotes and short videos. In addition, we gave all Philips employees the opportunity to be part of the campaign by talking about their daily lives at Philips via the hashtag #ExperiencePhilips.

Based on the cases, a detailed content strategy for social media was developed. Through posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, marketers, engineers, and financial experts were strongly targeted to persuade them to visit the campaign environment. The result? Within 6 months, we welcomed 72,190 visits of which 57,268 unique visitors. On average, visitors spent 02:40 minutes on the website. And with more than 1,000 applications in five weeks that were of higher quality than previous year, the collaboration can definitely be considered a success.

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Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke

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How millennials and Gen Z are shifting the essence of branding

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Max Pinas
Max Pinas
Executive Creative Director
Date
1 April 2021

Millennials; for many brands, this word has become all-encompassing, as Millennials are seen as the generation that is shaping society. However, this is not completely accurate. Because apart from Millennials (who are between the age of 22-37), you have another important target audience on the rise that is changing society: Gen Z (currently between 10-22 years old). Combined, these two generations are best typified as Millzy’s. Their mindset and increased social awareness are changing the way companies brand themselves, make products and interact with consumers.

The new normal

We are currently experiencing a digital revolution, one that is embedding technology into humans and society as a whole. Whilst experiencing this shift, aesthetics are becoming increasingly important. As shown by the one billion people who use Instagram every month. More and more it’s about short social copy with an attractive visual to truly captive people online. This makes sense, we are visual beings and process images 60,000 times faster than text. Because of this, products can no longer be solely functional, they also have to be visually appealing to be popular. Think about today’s most popular brands such as JBL or Nike, their products are not only high quality but also sleek in design. People flock to those brands because their attractiveness elicits pleasant emotions in the buyer.

A different message

Aesthetics are not everything though, your brand message and attitude counts just as much. In fact, many Millennials have indicated that brand purpose is important to them in their decision to associate and/or buy from a brand. This generation is driving change via their shift in mindset and they are putting their money where their hearts are. Gone are the days where you could produce an item, buy a billboard on a highway, and hope publicity and a catchy slogan would be enough to get your name out there. You now have to sell the “why” of your company.

Now, implementing and conveying the purpose of your brand story, however, is easier said than done. And there are numerous examples of brands that don’t get it right, even though they have the best intentions. This is because simply adding meaning in an ad or two isn’t enough anymore. You need to embody your “why” and practice what you preach. Especially in this digital day and age, the last thing you want is to go viral for the wrong reasons. So, live and breathe your company identity. It should be recognisable in all that you do. Keep in mind that it should make sense and align with your values and the products you offer. Not every company can just add ‘purpose’. But if you do, make it visible throughout your entire brand story. After all, brand consistency builds trust with the consumer.

An example of a brand that does this well is Patagonia who makes conserving the environment part of its corporate mission and proves that a business can turn a profit whilst standing for a social cause. Lastly, be transparent about your company and business practices. Don’t hesitate to admit to your mistakes and be willing to learn and make a change when needed. Consumers will, in turn, reward companies who do “good”, who use their power for the better and who are socially responsible by not only buying their products but also by recommending and sharing said product online with others.

Social media strategy

The above solutions may sound like big projects, but by breaking down the process and building a simple proof of concept in a week’s time, your company can harness its data to enhance the customer experience and increase business value. You may even discover that one solution could fix multiple problems you had. It’s all about starting small, experimenting and making the business case.

So you have your strong brand purpose and/or mission, but how do you go about spreading this message? Social media is a logical place to start since that is an easy place to connect with consumers. However, Millzy’s, nowadays, see straight through your ads. You’re no longer competing with other brands on social media, you’re competing against cute cat videos and funny memes. Thus, you need to capture people’s attention and for that you need content. But, content does not equal ads, it means genuine posts people want to see on their timelines next to their favourite cat video. Content elicits a response and can make people fall in love with your brand, it’s a powerful tool you can use to convince prospects to become customers.

Now, your social media content must fit your brand and your purpose. To accomplish this, find a mood or sentiment and style that represents you and fits your audience and channel that in every one of your posts across all platforms. Also, create engaging content which will evoke a positive response within the consumer. You can do so by starting conversations, being diverse with your content, finding a balance between using popular keywords but also niche keywords that target a specific audience and creating a story around each post. If you successfully generate interesting content on social media this can lead to higher brand awareness, a positive attitude towards your brand and a higher buying intent. However, remember to carry that same message internationally. Tailoring your business proposition for each market is common but your essence should never change.

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Millzy’s and your brand

Ultimately, Millzy’s are not hard to understand, many times we paint them as a different species with whom it is difficult to interact with. That is not the case. They are simply a digital-savvy generation who enjoy both functional but also cool looking products. They are socially responsible and thus are more likely to buy from brands that have a strong purpose and identity. Social media plays a large role in their decision to purchase from a brand as the message you send reflects your brand identity. But since they dislike ads, your content needs to be more tailored. But if you understand and implement these principles, it will be easy for your brand to communicate with the next generation.

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Why brands need a new type of agency in this Millennial age

WHY BRANDS NEED A NEW TYPE OF AGENCY IN THIS MILLENNIAL AGE1
Max Pinas
Max Pinas
Executive Creative Director
Date
1 April 2021

In 2025, Millennials and Gen Z will make up 90% of the workforce. Young people have high expectations for ads themselves, as well as where and how they are presented. New demands call for a new type of agency. This new agency needs to enable brands to be nimble and innovative, to take value-inspired risks, and to ensure the quality of the 360 brand experience, not just the quality of a 30-second ad.

Historically, technological revolutions have changed brands, and nothing has changed the brand landscape like the digital age. We have now reached a point where digital is embedded in people and society. We see this in everything from advances in AI and robotics to more practical integrations like scooters and autonomous vehicles and entirely new social concepts like “influencers.” Rapid innovation is the new normal for younger generations, and that means we need to change the way we make things for brands–fast.

Coca-Cola was once the number one brand. However, they’ve taken on the role of a legacy act in music, like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Older generations love them, and though younger generations are aware of them, their popularity can never return to that same level. In the new millennium, we’ve seen tech giants climb far past Coca-Cola’s 20th-century dominance. This is because younger generations don’t view brands the same way; they expect rapid innovation, and new flavours of Diet Coke are not enough to keep them on board (let alone counteract younger people’s knowledge of soda’s harmful effects).

Bold choices

To keep up with the times, some brands are making strong, even risky choices to stand out and give young people something to latch onto. One example is Nike’s choice to include Colin Kaepernick as its focal point for a new ad campaign, inviting you to “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” While President Trump disagreed with the message and some responded by burning sneakers, the financial results speak for themselves: Nike’s stock went up 7%, sales went up 30%, advertising went up 61%, and value index increased by 3 billion. In other words, young people noticed, and the risk paid off.

This doesn’t mean that Millennials and Gen Z can be easily bought with the help of a controversial spokesperson or brand partner. The nuances of these generations are difficult to place, and might even contradict each other. For example, vegetarianism and environmentalism are popular, but so is Marlboro. What this means is what is “cool” cannot be simply explained, but instilling the right perception of a brand can make all the difference. This is what Nike did, and Ikea as well with their PRIDE ad. The key is being bold and subversive, but in a way that still aligns with your brand values, because they can tell if you’re faking it.

Ultimately, the goal of any brand should be to provide 360 engagement or an experience that is consistent from ad to purchase. Take the Adidas ad featuring NBA star James Harden. It’s a relatively simple ad; James gives a motivational speech straight into the camera making it seem as if he’s talking directly to you. What is he selling? Adidas apparel. Thus, if you search for the hoodie he was wearing, you can easily find it online. But the model is unfortunately quite small. This is an example of a brand falling short of the 360 experience. If James Harden (who is 6’ 5” 220 lbs.) is wearing the hoodie, it can’t possibly be too small. The brand experience is great, but the total experience is not.

Creating new brand experiences

So what is the modern brand experience? Brands that survive in this Millennial age cut through the noise by rapid innovation, aligned values, and contextual 360 experiences. They must be willing to adapt to the quickly changing times we live in, and this constant adaptation needs to become a normal part of any agency’s operations. Only then can they stand a chance to keep up, stand out, and attract younger generations.

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Will AI replace human creativity?

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Sebastian Holder
Sebastian Holder
Account Manager
Date
1 April 2021

One of the hot topics at SxSW this year is Artificial Intelligence and its impact on humans, society and work. Deep learning evolved so fast the past year that there are numerous new applications and tools arising that benefit from and use this new technology. In the panel discussion, ‘AI the future of storytelling, ‘AI the future of storytelling‘, industry leaders discussed their take on the topic.

One of the most interesting stories around AI is the Portrait of Edmond Belamy, which was recently sold at Christie’s for 432,000 dollars. The painting, however, is not the product of a human painter. Its creator is the following algorithm:

This raises an interesting question of how AI will impact creative work in the future and how the work of creatives will change.

What is AI already capable of?

This development not only impacts visual art but also written words and music. In February 2019 Open AI released work samples that show computer-generated texts about a topic of your choosing. The sentences don’t sound perfect right now, but the implications for the future are huge. Douglas Eck, who’s a Principal Scientist at Google working in the areas of music, art and machine learning believes that in less than five years the technology will be sophisticated enough that students will no longer need to write essays on their own anymore. Just a few headlines, the right set of data and the AI will do the rest.

The Google Magenta research project aims to push the limits of what AI can do in the arts, with a focus on music. Their algorithm Performance RNN is trained on classical music and writes its own piano pieces – listen to a piece it wrote here. And if you want to discover the possibilities of AI in music you should definitely play around with the web-based applications you can find on Magenta. A personal favourite is the piano genie, which creates basic chords changes while you’re just pressing random buttons.

Heather Smith and her company Storyfile together with the USC Shoah Foundation used AI to preserve history. Using big data, they recreated the experience of having a one-on-one conversation with someone who lived through the Holocaust via a hologram. They managed this feat by compiling footage collected over a period of five days while filming for 25 hours to collect the answers to over 2,000 questions. Language processing makes it possible to create an interactive hologram and immersive experience. Take a look at New Dimensions of Testimony here.

Moreover, there are already cases where AI plays a vital role in the creation of a marketing campaign. In 2017 Nutella and their agency Ogilvy & Mather Italia created seven million unique jars with the help of an algorithm and sold them throughout Italy. At first, this sounds like an amazing idea and the jars looked quite nice – but that’s just the ones they used to build their case. There were also a few not so successful “ugly jars” found on supermarket shelves when Nutella attempted to adapt that campaign for Germany.

Another interesting case is the AI scripted commercial for Lexus. For this video ad, their creative agency The & Partnership London, along with technical partner Visual Voice worked with the IBM Watson team to analyse fifteen years’ worth of footage, text and audio for award-winning car and luxury brand campaigns. But it’s not like AI did all the work. It identified the key elements labelled as “emotionally intelligent and entertaining”, formed the script flow and outline, which the agency then used to form the story.

Will all creatives be out of work?

The Nutella example already highlights one of the biggest downsides to AI, which is that it will never be able to truly choose. What you put in, you get out is how Heather Smith puts it. This means that AI heavily relies on the data set it is given by humans and can only create new things relative to this data. Lance Weiler, who’s a founding member and director of the Columbia University School of the Art’s Digital Storytelling Lab, says the creative work of AI follows the rules of sampling with an uncertain outcome. To ensure good results it always has to be curated by a human. Also, the example of the Lexus commercial shows no real surprises. It’s a typical car commercial which hardly differs from any man-made advertisement.

Wrap up

The role of AI in our daily life will definitely increase in the future, but that’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a new tool which can help us process large amounts of data, give inspiration and take care of boring tasks. But we need to learn how to harness it. Like the invention of cameras and electric guitars, it will change the possibilities of creativity and create new possibilities. But in the end, it won’t work without human assistance and it can never create something truly new.

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Sebastian Holder

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