Not such a smart time for tech obsession

Clients will be frustrated if their agency chiefs have their head buried in the sands of future tech, while their feet touch too lightly on the ground of current business issues, warns Goodstuff's planning partner.

As I peel my 8K wallpaper TV off my living room wall to make way for the latest 16K super OLED offering, I’m reminded that the £10k my agency spent sending me to CES Vegas could probably have paid for the upgrade several times over. Or at least equipped me with the foresight to hold out for a 32K QLED roll-up screen.

The annual pilgrimage to CES has been and gone and agencies the world over will have spent a small fortune sending execs out to CES to mine for insight and opportunity that new technology might yield. Meanwhile (and again) two main points will have been missed:

Firstly, the future of technology is already here. We just don’t know how to use it yet. Tech writers and publishers told us what was going to be revealed at CES long before the doors opened. And, as with the previous five or so years, the story was exactly the same. Technology has been largely iterative for a while now. For the avoidance of doubt, voice control, AR, VR, MR and driverless transport are very much gaining a foothold in consumers’ lives. Processors will continue to get faster and screens sharper and slimmer. Phones expand their ability to wrongly predict your need for their help and people will still not give two solitary fucks about connected fridges. All very much the natural order of things tech.

Obstacles to commercial or advertising application of this tech are either legislative, because advertising isn’t a commercial priority for the tech company, or slightly closer to home, misuse by creators. Agencies are too keen to trial tech as advertising opportunities, rather than leaning into what it is being designed for: namely creating greater entertainment or utility for consumers. Tech, rather than people, first if you will.

If you’re asking yourself how your brand or creative proposition works in AR rather than whether or not AR can enhance your proposition, then you’re asking the wrong question. And if you’re asking yourself this question without having asked yourself whether the 85% of your spend in TV, outdoor, print et al are being deployed properly (and creatively) first, then you should probably punch yourself in the face a few times.

Secondly, clients will be justifiably frustrated if their agency chiefs have their head in the clouds, or buried in the sands of future tech, while their feet touch too lightly on the ground of current, very real business issues. It should be the other way around; a grounded, pragmatic view of the possibilities of future tech while having all available head space occupied by the art of the possible in solving current and very agency-world problems.

This isn’t a luddite view that the opportunity yielded by advancing technology isn’t important (curmudgeonly, maybe, but not luddite). It just feels, at a time when media agencies are facing significant structural and existential questions, that spending tens of thousands sending some C-suite-ers out to CES might not be the best use of the agency’s time and resource.

If I were a client, I’d be ever so slightly reluctant to overlook the challenges facing my agency of talent recruitment and retention though diverse and flexible employment practices, of trading transparency and how my money enables the agency to make money, of whether they were going to help or hinder me with my in-housing needs. Additionally, I’d want to know how they intend to help me navigate ad-blocking, what policies and checks they have in place to ensure the environment my communications appear in are proper and safe and, importantly, while agencies still rush toward broadening and deepening programmatic offerings, what is my agency doing to ensure the application of creativity and craft to my media brief and budget remains sacrosanct?

In fact, if a tech debrief from CES took priority for my agency over any of the above, I’d flush them down my smart toilet and start looking for a new one.  

Simeon Adams is the creative partner at Goodstuff 

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