Technology is pretty great. Look at all the cool stuff we can do now. I can buy a onesie for my cat online and have it delivered to my door within 2 hours. I can get TCP and plasters for my feline- inflicted wounds delivered an hour after that. I can get an Indian head rub on demand in my kitchen by tapping the screen of my phone. I can put a button next to my bed that has condoms delivered to me by mail. I’m painting a very strange view of what I get up to, but the point is that technology enables us to do so much more, and has drastically changed how we do things.
This is true at home. It’s true out and about. It’s true at work.
Advertising is a great example of an industry that has kept pace with the rapid evolution of technology. This makes sense: the communications industry is quick to adopt new forms of communication. Big whoop.
And in advertising, just like nearly every other business, things have not just gotten quicker; they’ve become rapid. Everyone having a phone and a mailbox strapped to their persons means contact time has been crunched. We now expect to get approval from the client who’s on a trekking holiday in Guam within about an hour. That used to take days. Such useful.
Production times have also been crunched. A kid with a laptop can now do what it would have taken a team of professionals a day to do 20 years ago. Want a mockup 48-sheet of a 27-year old bloke staring coyly at an owl (sultry owl if poss) that happens to be enjoying a cup of coffee? On top of the Burj Khalifa? Not a problem. Give a designer a laptop and a shutterstock login and come back in a day. Again, technology turns days into hours. Rapid.
So if things have gotten less faffy, and producing things faster, why isn’t there a ferocious stream of banging work coming at us from all directions?
There will be multiple reasons at play here. But from where I stand, one is painfully apparent. And that is the notion that, try as you might, time spent creatively thinking cannot be crunched by technology.
Whilst every other aspect of our industry has been hastened and assisted by new tech, conceptual thinking time remains unaided. Sure, the internet means we can research things faster. But poaching and remixing other peoples’ ideas is not the gold standard of creativity. Where once creatives were given several weeks to think, go out, create, be inspired, now we’re asked to come back with 5 possible routes that are fully integrated in 3 days. Sure.
Is this creative crunch the reason we all think ads these days aren’t what they used to be?
I’ve worked at 12 or so agencies in the last year, from boutique shops to global behemoths, and the trend has largely been the same; the onus is on creating squeaky clean ‘final’ mock-ups for the client presentation rather than coming up with the best idea.
Gone are the days of selling an idea to clients, it would seem. So long scamps and enthusiasm! Apparently work is now bought by showing how the big idea works across 5 iterations on a digital banner, and let’s show how that sizes on an iPhone 8, X and the Samsung S8. The time split is 20% for coming up with all routes, and 80% for creating assets that are for all intents and purposes, good enough for market.
And we wonder why adverts are a bit base these days.
Let’s open this back up now to other consumer and creative industries and see what the results are when you try to crunch creative time. Take pop music. These days you can churn out ‘hits’ by attaching multiple creatives to a song to save time, working to divide and conquer the tasks at hand. But then, where we once had David Bowie, we now have Little Mix.
And that’s largely where we as advertisers are making mistakes. We’re churning out underwhelming, ‘accessible for all’ (read: none too interesting), here-today-gone-tomorrow work, because instead of foraging for the best, coolest, weirdest ideas, we’re obsessed with crunching time across the board. And whilst the rest of the production chain can handle this thanks to leaps in tech, you cannot hack thinking time. You cannot hack thinking time.
Fight to safeguard your creative time. F#@k Little Mix.
While not always being amazing at making technology (Amazon have famously failed at eBooks, phones and tablets), Alexa seems to be bucking that trend. Around 50 million of the devices are currently in homes around the world, according to The Information. Google is selling their versions (with around a third of the market) like hot cakes, with price drops, promotions and lots of fluffy, consumer safety campaigns. Voice is quickly growing into our brains as a defacto behaviour.
The manufacturers are pushing it on us, and we are just lazy enough to grab it with both hands. Alexa has become, like Google is already, an eponym for voice control. The issue with this? Bezos and co aren’t known for their humanitarian desire to push the human race to greater heights. While Bezos has had his moments (recently donating a huge chunk of change to underprivileged kids), the man and the company are not shining beacons of much else other than making money and being incredibly valuable (recently seeing their value rise above a trillion dollars for the second time in history - Apple was the first). Yet all may not be lost - people just want their MTV, apparently. Data suggests that less than 2% of consumers who have a voice assistant actually try to buy things through it, and of those that try to buy things, 90% never try again. Time will tell if this behaviour takes off, but something tells me Bezos won’t keep that 2% at that level for long, once the pucks are in every home across the land.
My issue with both voice and smartwatches, is the new level of data they give companies that they could previously only have dreamed of. Your heart rate is one but your voice can also tell a lot about the state of you as a person, and both can be abused if a company is smart. These elements used to be personal, but are now freely available to companies who haven’t fully promised not to use it against you. Raised heartbeat when in a certain area? Could Apple deduce anything from that? Voice trembling when asking about pregnancy questions? Would Amazon start their pregnancy promotion cycle? The list goes on. We’ve just given Amazon the keys to our search behaviours without realising it. Whilst Apple seems to be laying privacy rhetoric on us, Amazon has no such compunction and seems hellbent on trying to get regulated. Where this ends is anyone’s guess at the moment, but you can bet it’ll start with ‘Alexa’.