News & Views

In defence of the new

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As an editorial researcher at Contagious, I receive and read hundreds of press releases every day. Last week I was sent one from cummins&partners:

cummins&partners change the game forever with release of “The World’s First Crowd Sourced 3D Printed QR Code, Live Streamed Via GoPro To A Smart Phone Or Tablet Device, Drone Delivery Ticket System Project.”

Cue eye roll. To illustrate why, here is a picture of the Contagious ‘Wall of Vocab Shame.'


This seemed like yet another tech heavy, non scalable PR stunt, with no real consumer insight or strategy behind it. Then I watched the video.

Whoops.

In just under two years at Contagious, I like to think I've become pretty good at assessing campaigns. It feels like I've seen more case study videos than all of the jurors at Cannes combined. Yet, in my jaded Luddite state, I almost entirely wrote off this campaign at first glance. My bad.

For those of you who don’t know about the deep dark inner workings of editorial research at Contagious, let me shed some light on the matter. Every campaign we write up, be it for I/O or the magazine, is first viewed by a team of edit bods, who weigh up its strengths and weaknesses and decide whether it's appropriate for our readers.

The job of the research team is to sift through the vast amount of press releases we receive and decide what to put forward in these meetings (blog post about press release etiquette to follow - top tip #1: do not end emails with kisses, it’s kind of creepy).

We then pitch each campaign, presenting a case for why we should write it.

But how does one decide what the ‘most innovative and creative modern marketing’ looks like? Does it look like this: 

We don't have a hard and fast rule. But when the spotlight is on you in an edit meeting you really have to fight your case.

For me, cummins&partners' campaign raised an interesting point. Yes, there is an almost guaranteed hype around new technology. Yes, some of the bolted-on brand ideas we’ve seen are almost unforgivably senseless. However, it’s easy and comforting for the creative community to turn up its nose at nascent technology, while potentially dismissing the value it may one day bring.

I'd be the first to admit that, right now, many of these campaigns feel like tactical PR stunts. But in the future, as technology becomes cheaper and products more connected, agencies which understand these capabilities will be better positioned to create new products and services that will enhance the value of the brands they work with.

The thing that makes me sit up straighter and want to fight for a campaign is when the cutting-edge technology (world first or not) serves the people it’s meant to. Those are the ideas that I want to tell my housemates about or try to explain to my tech-illiterate grandma. 

So while it's easy to dismiss and deride cool tech for the sake of it, my opinion is more in line with that of Anton Ego, the razor-tongued restaurant critic from Pixar’s Ratatouille:

‘In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves for our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more valuable than our criticism designating it so.

But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defence of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.’ 

So in defence of the new, here are a few of my favourite campaigns that use some of that cool tech being lampooned by cummins&partners:

Crowdsourcing

Starbucks recently made an update to its mobile app, which lets users shake to pay and tip baristas. App users can shake their phone at any point during a transaction to bring up a barcode used to complete the purchase. The tipping function is available for two hours after buying food or drink, allowing users to retroactively reward their barista. The idea was ‘customer-suggested’ via the brand’s My Starbucks Idea forum, where coffee fans can suggest business changes.


3D printing

Harvard Business School grad Grace Choi has developed a 3D printer that lets you print your own make-up products at home. The $300 Mink printer lets users select any colour from the internet (using a colour-picker browser add-on tool), paste it into a graphics program (such as Photoshop) and then ‘print’ a pot of make-up in the chosen colour. 


QR codes

Shop Elsewhere is a mobile platform that launched last year, allowing independent fashion retailers to work together to increase footfall in their own stores. The platform played on the ‘You may also like’ recommendation feature of many online retailers. When shoppers visit one boutique and purchase an item, they can scan the QR code on the tag to visit the Shop Elsewhere site and receive a recommendation for a matching item from another store. The platform then provides them with directions to the other independent store.


Live streamed via GoPro

Red Bull, Stratos. Need I say more? The mission saw skydiver Felix Baumgartner rising approximately 23 miles above the Earth in a stratospheric balloon before freefalling back to land - all recorded via GoPro. The next best thing to a moon landing.

Drone delivery

Okay, well you’ve got me. There hasn’t been a standout drone-based campaign….yet. Amazon Prime Air looks cool but also like it may never materialise, and I'm only going to believe drone deliveries of Brahma beers in Argentina are true when I see it. But the work of companies such as Matternet, that are using a network of unmanned aerial vehicles to bring relief supplies to disaster zones inaccessible by traditional transport, is inspiring.

So, anyone working on the world’s first virtual reality, mind controlled, bio-engineered haptic interface? I’m all ears.