News & Views

Agency 2030 Debrief / Cognitive Restructuring

by Contagious Contributor
Duane Holland, founder at DH READY and Alastair Moore at UCL share some of the discussions from the second instalment of AGENCY 2030’s event series around ‘Cognitive Restructuring’, our brains ability to “restructure” to shifts in culture and technology and what this means for brand creativity.

Speaking at the event Dr. Bahador Bahrami (Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL) and Oliver Connor (insight and trends specialist at OMD) discuss why our brains are shifting from memory-based learning to multitasking and how technology can play a bigger part in enhancing customer-brand relationships.

There are two major causes for multitask restructuring:

Digital dependence

People already depend on their devices a lot more than even a couple of years ago, but looking ahead, these devices will have to solve the conflict between virtual and non-virtual life. At the moment we have to make these decisions ourselves, for example how do we have five conversations without being dissonant. We haven’t yet figured out what is important and what isn’t. If you get a message you feel an urgency to address it.

While the industry is coming up with better ways to integrate the real and virtual without interference, our brains are starting to reshape around technological developments in a faster and more cohesive way.

Memory deletion

We are deleting a lot more of our memory because we don’t have to remember things as we did before, such as our friends phone numbers. If we don’t have our phones we’re lost.

Plato’s passage once complained that the invention of books made his students dumb by saying ‘books will drive humans into stupidity and destroy civilisation’. We are panicking just as Plato panicked then. We need to come to terms with this shift in neural capacity and need designs that turn this relationship between technology and humans into synergy not interference.

The discussion landed on four opportunities for brands to navigate this “restructuring” process:

i. Distracting our distractions

Dr. Bahador Bahrami explained that the challenge is to see how technology can get ahead by getting out of the way. The interfering impact of technologies means we are increasingly distracted by different signals. For example, having a cell phone is a distraction and so is checking text messages while dining with friends. At this point in time technology doesn’t let you do multiple things at the same time. You can check Twitter, email or post to Instagram, but each of these tasks changes your focus of attention. 

Oliver Conner added to this, referencing a recent focus group and ethnographic study that dispels the myths about technology distracting people during the TV breaks. The study showed people were not leaving the room to make a cup of tea or go to the toilet any more and instead remained in their seats using their devices. Consequently as much as people’s attention was drawn to device distractors, they were also easily distracted away again to look back up to the TV. The fact their minds were stimulated meant that they then viewed the TV ads with a heightened sense of energy.

ii. Integrating not interrupting

Increasingly devices and channels can be reactive to context and our environments. One example discussed includes ‘audio watermarking’ a technology pioneered by UCL spin out allowing devices to interact with broadcast advertising. Google’s “Digital Out of Home” project on Old Street roundabout was also hailed as best practice showing where to get umbrellas in the event it starts raining.

iii. Brand promises around personalised services

Brands must leverage technologies that learn our behaviours to intuitively take control of simple everyday tasks, and even respond to conversations with friends. Like the TV ad break example, this win/win approach will not only enhance people’s attention and focus, but also reduce the noise surrounding a brand’s core message. Rather than cutting through the clutter, brand tech should categorise and prioritise it around people’s lives.

iv. Enlisting cognitive influencers

As the number of distractions increases and continues to compete for our dwindling attention, the need for influential and positive distractions will rise. This highlighted the potential role for brands to work with ‘Cognitive Influencers’. Combining the critical thinking of cognitive scientists together with the design thinking of User Experience Architects, these individuals will swap product occasions for cognitive states ensuring momentary psychological behaviours are intuitively married to contextual environments. This higher resolution in creativity will allow brands to understand the dynamics of distraction and use them to their advantage to build trust and closeness like never before.

We’ll expand on this further together with how this may change the shape of creative agencies in the future.

For details on the next AGENCY 2030 event visit or contact Duane Holland on Tickets are free but limited.