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Marek Wrobel vigilantly tracks emerging media tech for Havas Media Group. Once a month in The Drum, in the Media Innovation Round-Up, Wrobel explores ‘new and shiny’ tech and its role in the ever-evolving marketing mix.

Ignoring smart TVs is not a smart move

Connected TV (CTV) advertising sales doubled in 2020. Money follows the audiences, who have shifted to digital TV. Is it smart to ignore smart TVs?

Based on data from Statista, 57% of Brits have access to a Smart TV. For anybody surprised at how high this number is, remember that smart TV encompasses more than TVs sets from brands such as Samsung and LG. In fact, CTV adoption is also driven by consoles – so that includes your PlayStations and Xboxes, as well as platforms created by tech giants such as Google TV, Fire TV or Apple TV.

CTV seems to have benefited from a pandemic boost and the platform is well-positioned to take advantage of the main trends that are shaping the future of TV, such as addressability and how data signals can be used to activate TV campaigns. There’s also new emerging behaviors that change how and where we watch TV. And finally, there are higher levels of interactivity, so watching TV no longer needs to be passive.

While I’m excited about the opportunities brought by CTV, we do need to look beyond the hype. It’s not like CTV is all there is, and that we should forget about the – for lack of better word – more traditional TV. While there are advancements in addressability, and TV viewing behaviors and interactivity are all super interesting, not every campaign or brand will need them or benefit from them. Not for the next few years, at least.

So it’s more about synergies between traditional and CTV, rather than putting them in opposition of each other, and these synergies will be built by a smart test-and-learn programme in this really exciting space.

Signed, delivered, connected, I’m yours

 
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Pizza Hut launched limited-edition pizza boxes featuring QR codes, allowing customers to play an augmented reality version of the classic game Pac-Man. Is connected packaging finally having its moment?

While packaging has always been an important part of any consumer packaged goods brand (well, ‘packaged’ is in its name for a reason), I feel that the concept of smart packaging has been slow to take off. It seems that it’s yet another marketing tactic pushed into the spotlight by the pandemic. As for the shockwaves it has sent through brand touchpoints – some have disappeared, some lost their power and others are making a comeback.

In order to make their packaging smart, brands can utilize NFCs (Near Field Communication) ,which we use for mobile payments, and QR codes. Simply, there is an NFC chip integrated into your packaging, which, after scanning, launches a digital experience. And QR codes... well, after the year we’ve had, I don’t think I need to introduce QR codes to anyone.

Smart packaging can either deepen engagement through mini-games or bespoke experiences, offer added value in the form of product information, product education or a coupon, and last but not least collect data, which is so relevant in our post-cookie world.

While all of this happens after the product is bought, connected packaging can be a valuable asset in your media activities, not only by continuing your brand story but also as a rather unique and powerful data source, which can in turn inform your media.

(Deep) Fake it till you make it?

 
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Lay’s partnered with AI and facial-mapping specialists Synthesia, enabling fans to send personalized messages from star Messi. The technology manipulates the movements of Messi’s lips and then syncs the movements with voiceover audio in real-time. So, are deep fakes finally hitting the mainstream?

Messi is not the first famous footballer to be involved in a media campaign leveraging ‘deepfake-like’ technology. In 2019, David Beckham was the face of the ‘Malaria No More’ campaign, which used Synthesia tech to make him appear to be fluent in nine languages. Reactions to this campaign were mixed, ranging from ‘deep fakes for good’ to ‘creepy as hell’.

Wherever you fall on this scale, for some time now there have been some voices in the industry pointing out that video producing is expensive, rigid and unscalable. So it’s hard to disagree with the co-founder of Synthesia when he states: “We believe generating semi or fully artificial video is more efficient. This digital creation process is already the industry standard with images through applications like PhotoShop. We’re enabling the same for video.”

But what is in it for brands? This technology can help with personalization – as we’ve seen in Lay’s campaign – and localization, as showcased by David Beckham’s ‘Malaria No More’ campaign. It can also – arguably most importantly – offer brands access to talent. There are talks about celebrities licensing themselves – whether it’s their likeness or voice – to be used in content creation, which in theory will lead to cost efficiencies.

However, tech needs to mature to look more natural and, as much as I do find it impressive, it’s one of those ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ areas for brands. For it to be truly embraced by brands and audiences alike, I believe there needs to be clear rules of engagement.

And let’s not forget that synthesis – Synthesia is not a fan of calling its tech deepfakes – sits somewhere between virtual and real influence or personality, and has been blurring that for some time now. Whether it’s creating holograms or CGI versions of celebrities (sometimes deceased), creating virtual versions of celebrities in games, such as Neymar’s skin being introduced to Fortnite, or skipping the real people altogether and creating virtual influencers, I think the era of virtual presence – whether it’s deepfake or not – is only just beginning.

Extending our realities

Facebook has unveiled a wristband that interprets the user’s hand movements via a cluster of sensors that detect motor-nerve signals to control its forthcoming VR headset. So how does it fit in the evolution of extended realities (XR)?

I’m a huge fan of augmented reality (AR), but it is only one piece of the bigger XR puzzle alongside virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR). AR is currently the low-hanging fruit of XR – we are moving to a world of HMD (Head Mounted Devices), and the lines between the three are blurring. Some of the biggest names in technology such as Facebook, Apple and Niantic are eager to make it happen – both from hardware and software perspectives.

It won’t happen tomorrow, but marketers should pay close attention to these developments as XR will make media even more immersive, opening the door to totally new types of experiences.

The main reason why I’m so passionate about it is that years ago, when I was a member of a mobile strategy team, it was my role to say things like ‘yes, people will shop on mobile devices’ and ‘yes, people will use mobile as extensions of themselves’. Now all of this is obvious, but back then I experienced a fair amount of eye-rolling. Talking about XR brings these memories back, but now people much smarter than me believe that we are looking at the creation of a new mobile computing platform.

Hey, Spotify, welcome to the voice assistant party

Spotify has rolled out a voice assistant with ‘Hey Spotify’ as the wake word. Do we need another voice assistant?

Often when we talk about voice technology, focus quickly shifts to smart speakers and sales of Amazon Echos or Google Hubs. And this misses the point. While research has shown that smart speakers are a gateway drug to a voice ecosystem, what really matters are the assistants that power them. And soon these assistants will power almost everything, with the number of voice-enabled devices growing exponentially. We should focus less on smart speakers and more on the fact that voice is a new interface.

Spotify is far from the only company launching their own voice assistants. Reports exist of companies such as Facebook, Deutsche Telecom and Carrefour all announcing their plans to launch one – with varying degrees of success. But why do they even try if the Googles and Amazons of this world have such a huge lead?

To answer this, I will use a quote from Harvard Business Review: “Voice assistants introduce a proprietary intermediary into all digital consumer interactions.” I think for anybody that is following the news about recent changes in advertising IDs, battles about app store fees or potentially using other brands’ sales data to launch new products, it’s rather obvious how much power these intermediaries hold. So while it’s not like every brand should have its own voice assistant, you can see why some try.

Not only is Spotify’s assistant very targeted, but it is also very focused on Spotify. It is not competing to be the next voice assistant. It also shows that Spotify is evolving to fit new platforms, especially cars. Based on the latest data from the Midas survey, driving is the second most popular activity during which we listen to digital audio. 

Stream and play

Warc reported that the audience for livestreamed gaming content is expected to top 700 million worldwide this year. That is a 12% increase from the previous year – so how can brands get involved?

Gaming livestreaming has its moment now. It’s driven by the popularity of Battle Royale games such as Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, League of Legends, DOTA 2, Counterstrike and Overwatch. While these are some of the most popular types of games for streaming, basically any game can be – and more often than not is – livestreamed. 

What makes these games so popular is their ever-changing nature – both when it comes to the games themselves and also the immersive storytelling they offer. Notably they blur the lines between different entertainment media – evolving from games to spaces where people can attend music concerts, watch movies or express themselves.

If we unpick livestreaming, there are three elements – the game itself, livestreaming platforms and streamers – and each offers different opportunities for brands. They can even work with games publishers to create in-game events.

But there is also an easier way to get involved with in-game placements. Partners such as Bidstack, Anzu or Frameplay can insert OOH-like placements into the gaming environments. And while it’s an effective way to reach gamers in general – for example, the UK government utilized those to promote Stay Home and Hands Face Space messages – these in-game placements will also be visible if the game is livestreamed. Brands can also partner with livestreaming platforms such as Twitch, YouTube or Facebook Gaming to create bespoke partnerships or simply run ads.

And lastly, brands can opt to work with streamers directly. So, as you can see, livestreaming offers a wealth of opportunities and I would risk saying any brand – just like Goldilocks – can find one that is just right.

Comeback kid

Beer Run
 
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Molson Coors put giant QR codes on runners to promote low-calorie beer. People who got close enough to scan the codes received a discount. As fun as it sounds, are QR codes back in fashion?

QR codes have long been a laughing stock of the marketing community. While there was a shift in recent years, with the UX finally being improved by QR code readers integrated within smartphone cameras, the lack of awareness among the public has remained a problem.

Until the pandemic hit, that is. Over the last year, we were forced to use QR codes to enter places, order food and drinks, or even pay. A recent survey from Statista showed that almost 40% of us have scanned a QR code in the past week and only 14% have never done so. I bet in January 2020 it was the other way around.

With improved UX and QR codes being part of our daily lives, brands can utilize them to add digital elements to ‘traditional’ media and brands’ owned assets – whether it’s packaging, store-fronts, door-drops or menus. However, there are things to keep in mind when using QR codes.

First of all, provide a value exchange. As much as people are now so much more used to scanning QR codes, it’s not like they are dying to scan your QR code. Secondly, do not use QR codes as a way of measuring the success of the campaign, but rather to deepen the engagement. Lastly, be creative. QR codes do not always have to be just about getting to a website. Explore different types of experiences – such as AR, videos and games – like what Molson Coors did with its Beer Run activity. 

(Digital) Fashion statement

Dept launched a limited-edition AR jacket that can be worn using Snapchat body-tracking and comes with NFT as proof of ownership. Is this something brands should pay attention to, or just another chapter in the NFT craze?

Maybe you will think me weird, but it actually does make sense – and points to how the digital clothing/AR/NFT combo can deliver value for marketers. But let’s unpack this. So first, let’s talk about digital fashion.

The first digital dress was sold in 2019. It only exists virtually and the owner (after providing a photo of themselves) was custom fitted with the digital outfit. Nowadays, virtual clothes designers can take a masters on the subject, the first of its kind in the UK, at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham. However, I won’t blame you if you roll your eyes, thinking all this sounds a bit lofty with no clear connection – outside of the worlds of fashion or art – to media or our daily lives.

This is where AR comes in. AR lenses have become a normal part of many of our lives – especially younger audiences. And now, thanks to Snapchat’s recently announced full-body tracking, it will be possible to add lenses to our bodies and not just faces.

This has loads of cool applications – including try-ons to drive sales or new types of AR lenses incorporating dancing and so on. But I believe it will make it easier for us to wear digital clothing to express ourselves and share it with the world.

All these technologies combined get us closer to a world in which you’ll purchase a digital product alongside a physical one to take into digital worlds with you. For me this sounds plausible, especially in this new, more digital, post-pandemic world. And looking beyond fashion, brands will be able to easily create these digital outfits, opening many new media opportunities – like how AR face filters changed media a few years ago.

If that’s not enough media innovation, read my last round-up here. If you'd rather get my weekly video briefings (they’re short and sweet, I promise) get on my mailing list here. And remember to sign up for The Drum’s weekly Future of Media briefing here – you’ll see me in there from time to time.