The technology that made me burst into tears

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Cannes Innovation showed us how to combine science and emotion, writes the global innovation director of McCann Worldgroup

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and the Lions Innovation Festival create an interesting and invigorating junction between creativity and technology, emotion and data, and the traditional and the revolutionary.

The festival, a reflection of today’s advertising and creative world, represents a new phase in the integration of technological innovation with deep-felt human emotions.

What I saw at Cannes had me in tears ... in a good way. It was an emotional response to the impact of some of winners that delivered on the right mixture of feeling and technology. These were cases where technology was an enabler of a wide range of emotions, whether it was seeing the sparkling eyes in the kids in the VR-based bus trip to Mars (from McCann New York), getting caught up in watching the humanity in braille watch, or sharing in the astonishment of the technology and data that can bring Rembrandt back to life.

Additionally, Lions Innovation showed us technology not in isolation, but of a type that was more responsive and interactive with people. It was "humanized technology," innovations that took on more human qualities, including what we might call wisdom. The Artificial Intelligence trends that we see in the evolution of ChatBots and Amazon’s Echo were also evident in cases in Cannes. We saw the ability to improve our sleep with Hello or get help with our household chores with Jibo. And as we heard at the panel discussions, virtual reality is also transcending gimmickry and embodying the next generation of storytelling with new layers of experience. One of the ambitious inventions on display was "The Pretender Project" from Unit9, which through the use of Oculus, Kinect and a body controller device, gives users the ability to step into the body of another person.

In popular culture, technology sometimes has an anti-human aura about it, as the mechanical enemy of all that’s human. But what we’re seeing with successful advertising-tech marriages are in fact just additional platforms on which to deliver stories that can evoke laughter, entertainment, intimidation and sometimes tears.

This successful integration between technology and emotion shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, as humans, we do have two sides to our brains, and we need to function with both. The left brain is the more analytical and logical side, and you can say that, to some degree, it is more related to technology and data. The right brain, more familiar to us in advertising as a reference to our creativity, is where we use our imagination, as we look to stir up an emotion or interest in our audience.

We’re not exclusively reliant on one or the other, and neither does advertising have to be. As technology continues to advance, however, the question is, how do we ensure that we keep the two sides working in balance with each other? How do we, as creative advertising people, keep the left and right brain dimensions of our industry on track to further meaningful integration?   

To draw again on the biological analogy, in order for the right and left sides of our brains to work properly, we need connections and ties or, in other words, synapses. These synapses are charged areas where nerve cells interact. They are places of energy that allow us to create new memories and experiences. They are connectors in an active creative sense.

Connecting our industry’s right and left brains should not be that hard to do. Technology talent does not live in all that different a world from those in marketing. As NYU professor Scott Galloway notes, there has in fact been a brain drain in talent from traditional marketers to tech companies. So there is some common ground. But to connect these two worlds, we need to work more collaboratively to make use of the vast knowledge that exists in the technology experts’ minds and to assimilate new models of brainstorming to induce new solutions and prototypes.

Many big companies, such as Nestlé, one of our global clients, understand what’s required to adjust to this new world. To engage more with the left-brain’s entrepreneurs, they are creating distinct models for working with their external partners. In one model in which we worked with them, called Tech Date (a kind of dating service matching brands and tech start-ups), Nestlé initiated a connected platform to allow tech start-ups to focus on providing innovative solutions that specifically address Nestlé’s brand marketing. The technological solution is tailored, not generic.

These explorations are great, first, fundamental steps in transitioning companies to work more closely with technology partners. In order to develop the right emotion-based story connecting with technology, we need to experience the technology and understand its functionalities. And rather than figuring out later which already-existing technologies are the ones to use, they offer marketers the kind of synapse links that can create new experiences.

Wired magazine’s co-founder Kevin Kelly has observed that most of the big technologies that will exist in 2025 haven’t been invented. Which means we are always on the brink of something new and an opportunity to start finding the correct left-brain function to connect with the appropriate right-brain creativity.

Elav Horvitz is global innovation director of McCann Worldgroup.

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