BRAND: DANCING WITH THE TECHIES Every year dozens of brands descend on Austin to show their innovations and ride on the coa...



Every year dozens of brands descend on Austin to show their innovations and ride on the coattails of the festival. This year was no exception. I have already written about Gatorade and their work with sports teams and Sony's excellent 'WOW Factory' but plenty of other big brands were in attendance. As it was the final day I thought it would be good to tell you about a selection:

IBM was one of the biggest with a huge hall showcasing IBM Watson's capabilities with beautiful data visualisations and added services that targeted cyber crime and provided genuinely useful info to groups including teaching and rural communities. The AI beer was a particular favourite with long lines of people looking to see what Watson recommended to them as their most suitable type of beer. All of it was fascinating but it did feel like a bit of a 'one trick pony' albeit a very clever one !

Esurance, Bud Light, DELL, Mazda and Adidas have been in attendance for the last few years and every year I ask myself why they are here - from running a sweepstake type game in return for data (err spam) to giving out screen printed posters and lounges with free beer and networking space to VR experience to a series of yoga classes it all felt like badging rather than genuine involvement. 

Levis were here for the first year - appeared to be genuinely adding value at their outpost. Celebrating the intersection of music and style with innovation in partnership with Google and Rolling Stone they showed unique collaborations and DIY customisations.

Armani were in attendance pushing their glass and sunglasses frames showcasing a collaboration with 5 film makers across the World showing 5 short films shot in 5 cities in an interactive dome the displays allowed us to manipulate the images and create our own montages and then watch the films. It felt indulgent but to their credit they appealed to the intersection of the film and interactive sections of the audience and the result was as you would expect stylish and on balance additive.

Every year in Cannes Saatchi and Saatchi run a new directors Showcase and with the 25 anniversary coming up Team One at Publicis decided to look forward 25 years into the future of directing and ask the question of whether in the future would a director be human or a computer ? To investigate this they created a music video that was completely conceived, directed, filmed and edited by a computer.

Integrating a number of different off the shelf algorithms, and a muse EEG to connect algorithms and humans and Watson to tell them what the emotion should be. Emotional synch was connected at the same times so data = emotion to ensure the artists intention is aligned to the what the computer output.

Used the algorithm MS Rinna and shalbeen, a Japanese algorithm to determine character, location, actors, wardrobe etc. In essence every question that would be asked of a director was answered by a computer. 

Rene told them the type of person and they used Effectiva facial recognition to find the actual person. During the casting they attached the EEG and captured data, interestingly they all had a favourite but not their choice - the computer chose the same person !

The action was filmed using a computer to drive the drones, in planning this worked brilliantly however the reality of wind and radios signals meant it didn't work on the day so they followed the flight paths that the computer had decided.

For editing they used the algorithms from personalised video companies that stick photos and videos together and then a program that looked at the beat of the song, the content, the movement, the emotional data from the song. In addition they in-putted other music videos that followed similar song cadence. The computer created thousands of versions in a minute - the very first version understood the narrative, the characters and delivered a sequence that made sense to the song 

In all honesty they all agree it was not a great video (C+) With the main issue being that they couldn't feedback to the computer easily. The final version was placed in the reel amongst all the other entries for new directors without people knowing However sadly it was pulled at the last minute as deemed not good enough.

The overall conclusion appears to be that a machine is capable of executing this in the future and in a compressed timeframe however the output at the moment is elemental - who knows what the future brings though !

 Ideas are the lifeblood of SXSW, there is a pitch on every corner, in every bar and on every stage so it was hugely interesting to hear Mike Maples, a prodigious investor and Scott Cook the inventor of Quicken talk about how they assess and come up with ideas.

The first piece of advice was perhaps the most relevant to SXSW, it was the ability to be able to pivot and screw up everything you have done to date without regret. Pivoting is not always because of failure it can also be relevant when the unexpected happens, indeed this was what Mike said he loves - hidden surprises as they often offer huge opportunity. The best examples he shared was Instagram that started as a location based gameplay but they found that most people were using to share photos, Paypal is another, it started as a means of transferring money between palm pilots (which were big back then) then an email from an eBay seller asking to put their logo on her page got them thinking it exploded on eBay and the rest is history. Scott Cook shared that  Quicken was originally built for consumers but found out that the majority of their customers were businesses using it hence Quickbooks was born.

Peter Thiel said the great entrepreneurs find secrets and then go for it and see it through, the question of how do you find this secret was debated. The answer is to avoid confirmation bias ie not to look for what confirms your existing beliefs, look for what surprises you, savour it and use it. They shared a great leadership technique, think about asking teams "What have you learned that surprised you ?

In such competitive spaces all companies are dealing with close competitors, their advice was not to focus on the competitor but instead focus on your customers so you innovate forward. Quicken was given as a great example of knowing the customer better and as a consequence developing a better product. As an investor in Lyft Mike Maples said his advice to them was to focus on being the best version of itself not focusing on competing with Uber.

When developing new ideas they advised to always focus on the ideal not small changes and used the example of the Japanese Bullet train. They didn't focus on shaving off 30 mins they embraced the concept of thinking completely differently, in essence, don't see limits and don't see walls.

Lastly perhaps the best advice of the session was from Mark Maples who rallied against one of the key phrases you hear a lot in tech - 'fail fast fail often', he said it was too easy to use this as an excuse for failure and lack of effort. Instead his advice is to take risks and fail that way - exert yourself to the maximum and if you then fail you know you did your best!

 It is not often you meet a billionaire entrepreneur who is female let alone dressed in bright pink - Cindy Whitehead in her talk "Sex bias and $1bn"

Coming from a large pharma background she founded Sprout Pharma to investigate new pharma based ideas and in 2015 came across a fascinating stat that drove her next venture. She found there are currently 26 sex help drugs for men and 0 for women. This set her off looking for a solution and found that a German pharma company had developed a drug that was billed as 'Viagra for women'. The company had experienced huge problems getting any Governmental approval and had shelved the product so she raised the money to buy it and made it her mission to get it through the FDA.

Using 11,000 female subjects they found conclusively that the drug resulted in these women having desire. She took the 1m pieces of data to the FDA and despite meeting all the criteria they asked for the all male panel turned her down. This resulted in a coalition of women turning on the FDA to (in their worlds) "even the score' using the #womendeserve. Ultimately she was successful and eventually the FDA passed the drug and her company was immediately bought for over $1bn creating an enormous payback for her investors many of whom were friends and wealthy women suffering from the same issue.

She ended with 3 bit of advice that helped drive her over the decade long struggle:
1) Do not accept narratives that impede progress - poke fun at the absurdity
2) Be unapologetic in your mission - hers was "The most intriguing new pharmaceuticals in a generation" NYTimes 
3) Embrace the workhouse to become the unicorn

As you can imagine she didn't retire with the cash she has reinvested a significant amount into a "Pinkubator" which has invested in products that propel female focused companies. A true inspiration in pink!

BRANDS: REAL TIME IS HERE This is the year that real time was the subject of a lot of talks and having attended a few I thought I would...


This is the year that real time was the subject of a lot of talks and having attended a few I thought I would share some principles I have gleaned:

- Digital and physical space - feedback in shop space informs social.
- Make sure activity is authentic to the brand's DNA - consumers are too savvy and know when taking advantage e.g. Brand involved in the Women's march recently had to ensure their message is aligned to brand 
- Make it personal wherever possible - reference people or make it interactive 
- Make sure it adds value to go live - ask yourself why are you producing this and why should anyone care ?
- Make sure you are disciplined with content - use the lens of 'does it personify the brand?'
- Ensure balance of pre-planning and reaction to real time feedback ? Keep options open so can pivot - QVC was used as a great example of using live properly - real time updates in ear as selling - same principles 
- Remember that audiences don't expect to be polished so permission to test quickly and easily 
- People equate live as less expensive and this is not the case you are just spending the budget differently but think about where the spend is directed carefully 
- Learn from Hollywood space - learnt that it is all about trust in terms of who you use - how well do they know your brand to ensure authenticity

Who is doing it right ?

The final piece of advice was perhaps the best and applies to lots of other social channels and developments - avoid shiny toy syndrome -
think carefully about live - where is it helpful and where does it add value and unlock something?

 The success of Pokémon GO appears to have spawned a whole raft of discovery apps that reward 'players' for various tasks whether that be based on finding boxes and keeping them hidden to being the first to find them to literally fighting for them with other players - it is the new gaming. This might sound like one of the many faddish apps that come and go but based on the data I have seen here and the numbers of people signing up and playing it could be a huge opportunity for brands. Unilever have recently invested heavily in Snatch , a free to play, virtual treasure hunt. Using augmented reality, grab parcels hidden around you virtually, then protect them from others who are trying to Snatch from you. Prizes range from a free holiday, tickets to a gig, rewards and even hard cash. I met Jo the founder at a Tech event he talked of how he has raised a huge VC investment within a month for the app. There are others around including Seek Whether it is a fad or not it is here right now and a great opportunity for brands to get involved. Anecdotally I heard that a woman spent 3 hours and walked the equivalent of a half marathon collecting enough rewards to get a $100 Amazon voucher - I guess the biggest challenge is to make it relevant and not just a compers paradise !

 Adam Grant is a fellow at Wharton and a hugely charismatic speaker, anyone who can get 3,000 people trying to clap their favorite song to their seated neighbor has the ability to inspire people !
His talk focused on how organisations can build a culture that encourages the originality that ultimately leads to success. He shared 6 great principles that we can all learn from (indeed I have already thought about how some can be applied to business and life)
1) Originals aren't risk seekers - some of the founders of most original recent ideas - Spanx, Google, Nike, eBay, Selma, Minecraft all carried on jobs whilst developing these companies. Adam shared that companies are 33% less likely to fail than those who quit and go all in.
2) Originals avoid false negatives - violate the expected and see things with different perspectives and don't judge it just yourself get others to judge. He suggested it is best to take leaders and managers out of the decision making process to get true objectivity.
3) Originals make the unfamiliar familiar. Adam asked everyone in the hall to clap their favourite song and their neighbor to guess the song – turns out it is almost impossible, why ? as you hear the tune in your head but you need to imagine if you can’t hear tune in your head. You need to adopt the same principle when you pitch a new idea - create a feeling of familiarity. He shared a story that Lion King was originally pitched as Bambi in Africa with lions and failed but when reframed to “Hamlet with lions” you immediately  get the plot and characters. He suggested that we should always know what is going on outside of industry / core field and ideas e.g. Warby Parker - the Netflix for glasses.
4) Originals admit their weaknesses – he shared a story of the founder of Babel who included a strange element in his pitch – he presented the 3 reasons why you shouldn't invest. The principles of called the availability heuristic if hard to think of something it has to be.
5) Originals hire differently - culture fit approach works best - 200 starts ups had 0% failure when used culture fit BUT as grow the odds of success go down as culture fit becomes proxy for group think. Solution - hire on cultural contribution.
6) Originals fight groupthink - leaders silence people without realizing it e.g. Don't bring me problems bring me solutions = culture of advocacy not enquiry . Companies should welcome problems, he suggested we start a Google doc with problem log and undertake a kill the company exercise twice a year as it makes people and organizations far more resilient  


We were invited to a huge agency party on Monday evening hosted by GSDM. With over 1k people in attendance, 6 food trucks, free cocktails and beer and a live band the party stretched across a huge lawn in front of their office. We got talking to a few locals and experienced true Texan character and hospitality in the form of Matt Balloo. Matt was an ex employee of the agency and his wife now works there – he shared some hilarious agency stories - within 30 minutes we were invited to play golf, go shooting and eat BBQ at Matt’s house – he even said we could stay at his ranch next year !

BRAND: PRESUASION IS NOW A THING   SXSW is always full of people pushing their new book with so called "new" ideas. For this re...


 SXSW is always full of people pushing their new book with so called "new" ideas. For this reason I went to a talk featuring Robert Cialdini being interviewed by Guy Kawasaki with a fair degree of healthy cynicism.
Robert wrote the seminal book 'The psychology of presuasion' which featured 6 universal principles of social influence: Persuasion 
1) Reciprocation - if you do something for someone they feel obligated to do something in return 
2) Liking - we say to people we like - like people who are like us - reduce negotiations that are deadlocked by sharing something they have in common 
3) Consistency - people want to say yes to things that are related to what they have already said or done e.g. In UK medical appointment - blank card and you write next appointment - commitment 
4) Authority - we say yes to people who are experts - channel the voice of expertise 
5) Social proof - popular options in restaurants e.g. Apple white pods 
6) Scarcity - people want stuff they can have less of e.g. Only 3 per customer 
Robert was however talking about his new idea - Presuasion - or rather "The process of arranging for recipients to be sympathetic to a message before they experience it".
He used the example of online furniture store sent half customers to a site that had fluffy clouds background - other half had small coins as background - cloud purchased more comfortable furniture - pennies bought cheaper items.
His idea is predicated that brands need to think about sending people down a psychological shoot this means presuasion accelerates the persuasion message.
The best recent example he shared Was how Trump has been presenting himself as a 'change' candidate - turned camera on the audience and showed himself surrounded by a sea of faces that looked like the people watching (carefully curated) and always showing big crowds and social proof. 
Snake oil or genuine neuroscience breakthrough ? To be honest I am not sure but like much you hear and see here it certainly gives food for thought when developing our net campaigns. 

Sony have been at SXSW for the last 3 years and their presence has slowly increased as they have more to share. This year was no exception with a hangar like space for the "WOW Factory". The experience certainly lived up to the name with at last 10 different experiential sections to see the future of technology. These varied from items that will be available for retail in the next year to experiments and thought starters from their engineers. 
The best example of the former was a projector called the Xperia Touch that also works as a laptop and personal entertainment system - available in Summer 2017 it takes the concept of the World as your UI to a whole new level. With PS4 as their mainstay as you can imagine the gaming section was huge with haptic gaming suits, VR experience and complete surround sound experiences but perhaps the best was a life size box that projected interactive experiences from all round the World as if you really were there.
The future is certainly here and Sony are all over it !

Last year I went to a fantastic talk by Michael Nieling called "Fuck no, Shit yeh" where he espoused the benefits of a JFDI approach to creativity. This year he was far more reserved but equally as open and enthralling. In the talk "They're going to hate this and think I'm full of shit" he introduced us to Benicio. Benicio is the monkey on his shoulder that creates his Imposter complex that is based on the premise that we are our worst critic. His approach to life is based on the "Charm hustle: principle and that nothing comes from no - something else comes next. The downside of this is that panic doubt anxiety drives him as he does what many of us do which is to over practice, over work and over prepare.
For Michael this meant he ended up having a nervous breakdown and having to re-think his life, something which struck a chord with many in the room. The solution (or cure)? There isn't an easy one - look after yourself and control your own life more and above all have empathy. The key it seems is to know who you are - stick to it - comfortable in your own skin.

See you on Day 4.........
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