Everything is possible. Now.
I spent the last few days at The Circus Festival in Sydney, which, for someone new to the city has been an insight into the energy, creativity and passion for ideas that is bubbling over here. I kind of knew all this anyway… but it was great to have it confirmed emphatically.
It was a panoply, too many bright battlers to pull out individual big thinkers, and interesting to see dominant themes revolve less around advertising and technology than the principles of story-telling, going beyond advertising, some philosophical musings on the nature of our world, and how to let brands simply do good all in a world where communication tools are becoming more rich, more complex, and overwhelmingly digital. Something that resonated strongly with my own beliefs. It was an impressive range of vision. For me three trends stand out:
New toys, old stories
We have tools now that are destroying our understanding of what we do. That’s a challenge. The rise of digital platforms, new ways of connecting and talking to our customers and each other create far less controllable, multi-authored experiences which have enormous potential to define and augment your brand within a market, but which are also more troubling and harder to control. Everything from early experiments like iSnack 2.0, via crowd-sourced movies like YouTube’s Life in a Day or the Tate Movie Project, to user-led campaigns like Old Spice, Pepsi Refresh or Skittles’ Mega Super Updater. The festival had a level of anecdotal encouragement that was reminiscent of schoolboys on a high diving board. Exhorting each other to experiment and explore, to push the boundaries and reap the rewards. The speed of technological innovation will almost certainly accelerate, and there was a lot of discussion about how brands become part of the conversation, become a platform, or a utility, rather than simply decoration. The potential of the latest hottest technology is never the story, the really interesting things happen when mass adoption occurs.
We are all geeks
We all want technology to work seamlessly, and perhaps we have reached a point where digital technology and the internet have become so ever-present, so fundamental to our lives that we simply expect a digital experience from our institutions and brands. Furthermore, if my generation doesn’t quite think high-speed internet is a human right, well there is a generation below who think the internet has always existed and they are now in their late teens. Behind that generation are some very young people, mini power-users, who consider magazines to be broken, because the touch-screen doesn’t work.
Unfortunately we will not be able to simply tell them that they are wrong. We need to plan around our audience, not ourselves. This is post-digital. How many times a day do you stop, and think, “Computers are amazing!”? (They are, by the way).
Digital is prevalent in every aspect of our lives, for better or worse, from a mother of two using her smartphone to compare prices in a supermarket, to her parents planning retirement holidays on their iPad, to her children using an interactive Shakespeare app for homework. We do not feel awed by this day to day, we use the technology that we are comfortable with, when we are ready. And we appear to be ready.
The new celebrities of the web will be surfacers
One hour of content hits YouTube every second, the world is creating more than it can consume in photos, blogs, updates, videos. And the model for finding this new content and for valuing it, and for extracting value from it is in flux too. It feels that those adding the most value will be the creatives and the producers, the makers, the designers, the editors, the stylists, the critics, and then the surfacers, the curators, the collectors who share that content. Discoverability, filter bubbles, surfacing, curators, trusted guides – these are words we will probably hear a lot more of as the content explosion continues.
The desire to lean back, do nothing, and passively consume is a powerful driving force. At least with me, so I would like someone to create packages of great content online that I can just stop thinking and watch.
There is a market for curated bundles of content that appeal to niche interests, whether it’s aggregated, syndicated or just links – that has value, either for the channel owner or sponsors. A trusted guide to follow for entertainment, or for culture, or for politics – a curator who embodies your values. It’s a wide open market.
So what is the most exciting thing the future holds for creatives? Well despite the speed and the complexity, I think it is the fact that everything is possible, especially as the mainstream truly embrace digital tools. You can still, more than ever, turn the world upside down with a well executed idea. That doesn’t happen to industries very often. While it may feel to some like it has always been this way, and however much we may yearn, nostalgically, for the simpler days of broadcast media, this is a moment, a window, that should be grasped and explored while we can.