k1“The theme of this year’s conference is new reality. This is a theme that was unavoidable in my mind, given where we are in the world today. Indeed, one might even choose to describe the now as surreal,” said Richard Millar, CEO of H+K UK, as he kicked off the symposium.

As businesses face new challenges, we need to take responsibility for shaping a better reality.

Navigating new realities

Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, was welcomed on stage for a captivating conversation with CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick. From Brexit to the economic difficulties facing millennials, Sorrell shared his perspective on how new business trends are impacting brands.

Sorrell gave his insights into the future of global business: he believes that Apple, Google, or Amazon will become the first trillion-dollar company, closely followed by Microsoft and Facebook. He added to them Chinese investment holding company Tencent and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, who are both nudging up to the 500 billion range.

Survival of the fastest

JWJeremy Waite, Evangelist for IBM Watson, was next up on stage and demonstrated how artificial intelligence is altering the way marketers are operating. Despite the exciting developments in technology, Waite questioned the future of some creative professions and the need to keep things human.

In 2017, IBM Watson built the highlights for the Wimbledon Championships for the first time without human involvement. “Watson watched the game” said Waite. “He looked at 53 million data points from the last 27 years. He looked historically at all the data going back to 1877, listened to the crowd noise, and even listened to the way players were talking in the press interviews to figure out what mood they were in.” He asked the question: “What does that mean for people whose jobs are in editing and post production?”

He also stressed that companies are getting the technology to people investment ratio completely wrong. “Brands are so seduced by the sexiness of AI. But technology is nothing. What’s important is that we have faith in people, that they’re good and that they’re smart, and that if you give them the right tools hopefully they’ll do something wonderful with them.”

What’s next for the future of smart cities?

Gemma Ginty, Urban Futures Lead for Future Cities Catapult, provided a glimpse into the evolving world of smart cities. The main points of discussion included defining a vision for a city, determining how to manage the strategy, identifying the needed tools and costs, and how it relates to people.

Ginty stressed the importance of adapting to change. “As we’ve seen with Uber, even the disruptors are experiencing disruption. We have to continually be agile in terms of how we think solutions can suit our cities.”

“No solution is permanently right. We are at the foothills of an emerging industry,” said Ginty. “But I think this is also a very exciting time, and it gives an awesome opportunity to shape what the future might be.

Creativity and immersive experiences

VRFrom virtual to augmented reality, experts from Blippar, Unit9, REWIND and INITION examined innovative ways the technology is being used and the potential ethical dilemmas that need to be addressed. The panellists also explained creative, immersive experiences and real-world applications.

Oliver Kibblewhite from REWIND is against technology for technology’s sake: “VR is really good for anything that’s dangerous, expensive or otherwise prohibitive, space for instance. But in reality, it’s “why are you using the technology?” You have to have a compelling story to tell in the medium, and if you don’t it’s just a buzzword.”

Mikela Eskenazi from Blippar added that the question “is there something we can solve in a better way with AR?“ must be asked in order to add genuine value to a product and the user experience.

Keeping influence real

After lunch and a technology showcase, a panel of social media influencers shared their personal experiences on how they’ve turned their passion for creativity into a career. Panellists also talked through how they maintain credibility and authenticity with their new digital art forms.

While Sara Tasker, a social media influencer and consultant, described how Instagram “unequivocally” changed her life, she highlighted how new the industry is. “We’re writing our own rulebooks” said Tasker. “The ASA guidelines are murky at best, so it’s challenging, but that’s also what makes it exciting.”

The panel discussed how their roles, experiences and insights can be undervalued compared to other marketing specialists, an issue which is reflected in their involvement in their clients’ creative process and their pay. GIF artist Kate Bones explained that companies are finally seeing GIFs “valid way to connect with audiences”, but are still reluctant to invest in them.

Tasker claimed that in the publishing world, it’s a numbers game: “publishers will say ‘go away and build a social audience.” Social pictures consultant Alice Chia, however, explained how this is an inaccurate marketing strategy in measuring the quality of an audience: “just because someone has millions of followers, statistics can be misleading.”

Can creativity keep healthcare human?

With new technologies rapidly changing the way we are cared for, Jess Walsh, H+K London’s Managing Director of Health and Wellness, stressed the need for compassion in healthcare.

“The volume of the technology conversation has gotten loud, but human need is louder,” said Walsh. “In healthcare, particularly today and tomorrow, compassion matters more than ever because of the pace of change.”

As we looked at where healthcare is heading, Walsh thought it is important that we start to take some of the creativity that is currently fuelling technologies and look at how we “keep the patient and the person at the centre of our decision-making.”

Walsh urged those in the creative sectors to equally focus on public understanding, compassion and technology “so that the future of healthcare becomes a lot more centred around the intersection between creativity and human need, and starts to balance the conversation.”

The importance of female empowerment

NBNanette Braun, Chief of Communications and Advocacy for UN Women, spoke about the importance of female empowerment across advertising and marketing.

While the marketing industry is taking steps to eradicate gender inequality such as the Unstereotype Alliance that was launched in partnership with UN Women in Cannes this year, the reality remains that only 11% of creative directors are women.

Braun highlighted the huge responsibility marketing has in changing perceptions: “it can enforce traditional notions and stereotypes or help shape new ways of thinking.” In tackling sexism in advertising, she questioned the “great, great pleasure that women routinely seem to experience whilst doing laundry.”

“What are we telling the world of women’s worth and their roles in society?” asked Braun. “Children in particular are impacted by what they see on the screen. So what do we tell them when we show women and girls rejoicing over household chores. Instead, for instance, excelling at their jobs.”

Communications in a screenless world

New interfaces like Google Home and Alexa are changing the way people interact with physical products. Voice control is taking over. Pete Beeney, Global Agency Lead for Spotify, shared examples of how sonic branding is increasing in importance.

According to NYU Marketing Professor Scott Galloway, voice is “going to shake brands to their core.” With Alexa in 4% of U.S. households, Amazon can exercise control over spending habits by suggesting purchases of Amazon-own products over branded products. In this new sonic age, brands are the ones losing out.

Beeney argued that McDonald’s is “one of the most successful brands in terms of brand building and visual storytelling.” Why? Because “they are one of the few brands in this day and age that still bothers to engage in sonic branding.” The iconic McDonald’s whistle is arguably the most identifiable form of sonic branding, alongside Intel and Xbox.

“There is a great deal of opportunity for brands to communicate in this environment” said Beeney. He recommended three other methods: integrating audio into brand guidelines, adapting ads to the one-to-one model, and utilising location data so ads are tailored to the individual to enhance the message and increase relevancy.

New reality, same old brain

Matt Battersby, Behavioural Scientist and Managing Director for H+K SMARTER, closed the event by reminding the audience that our brains haven’t changed much over the years. Behavioural science is still applicable, and it can be used in creative ways to change perceptions and actions.

Battersby asked the pertinent question: “How do we create products, policies and communications based on how we really think and behave rather than how we think people should think and behave?” He suggested that technology can address these issues in two ways: by tackling information overload, and to look at human needs.

“It’s estimated that our brains are bombarded by about 11 billion bit of information a second” said Battersby. “Our conscious brain can only process about 40 bits of information a second.” By overlaying this confusing reality with AR, “can we be presented with information that helps us make a better decision?” he asked.

Why was Pokémon Go so popular last summer? Because “it taps into the human need for fun, for competition, for reward” according to Battersby. He ended his talk by stating: “If you want to know where the future is, see where people are having fun… that’s part of the new reality we need to keep an eye on.”