Encouraging Innovation and Keeping up with Technology

How do companies keep up with technology/Innovation and encourage/enable employees to do the same?

Innovation is a word used a lot and I’ve used it many times myself, in my little articles. However, what a lot of people don’t consider, is the fact that companies need to empower their employees. Whether you’re a creative, a developer, producer, director, or from any other background, in a working environment you should be actively encouraged to innovate. I’m not just talking about innovation within your role; of course, I’m also talking about technology and design.

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There are many companies out there pushing technology to its limits and beyond and for anyone out there involved in an advertising agency (The example I’ll use here), there should be a real hunger to engage with these new technologies.  Why would you not want to? Why would you not want to take your own technology and design up to the next level? Granted, as an individual you may be all for this, however it’s likely that you’re limited by time and commitments. You can plan to do work in your spare time, plan to develop a new mobile app or a cool piece using an API, but in most cases this is a struggle. We all work long hours and heading home to loved ones will ultimately take priority, in the long run.

This is where your company comes in. It can only be beneficial to allow employees to spend some of their working hours ‘playing’. First, the company will gain important and detailed insight into what’s new and what’s on the way. They’ll have employees that can think further ‘outside the box’ in any brainstorms, or during ideation. They’ll have employees that can speak confidently and knowledgeably to clients, on how the ideas can drive their strategy and engagement. More importantly, from a company’s point of view, they’ll have a better chance of retaining talented staff and their clients will have a more forward thinking and dynamic agency.

Now there are ways of encouraging employees in this manner. As an example, you can setup a ‘Hackathon’ for developers to come up with new ideas and code them. This can work really well, but it depends on how it’s approached. During a conversation with a colleague, he made on very valid point. Most of these ‘events – for want of a better word – are held outside of office hours, maybe a combination of lunchtime and after work. There are clear reasons for this, from a company perspective, such as client projects needing to be worked on etc. and that’s completely fair. However, this can become an issue, especially when the gathering has a brief that is linked to an ongoing project. This cannot be for a specific project for the company, if you’re expecting people to work outside of office hours successfully. This is true for two main reasons; it will limit the employee’s ideas and it will not encourage them to follow through with the work. Unless the company is willing to allow the employees to spend work time on this type of brief, they should be approaching it as a more open opportunity. Allow those engaged to take their own path. Allow them to create a cool little robot using an Arduino board, or Raspberry Pi, allow them to create a mobile game to put up on Google Play, or iTunes and give them the opportunity to see their ideas come to fruition at the end of the process.

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A freer remit for something like this may also change the outlook for projects. It may be that the ideas generated could be more strategically relevant for a client, than an ongoing project, or strategically relevant for the next project. It will also kick-start the employees’ brains and get them motivated. Yes, a company would expect an employee to be motivated anyway, but that will not be the case if they are becoming stagnant and producing similar work over and over again.

There’s an easy way for companies to change the way they work with new technologies and with innovation as a whole. Allow employees access to the technology and encourage them to create with that technology. I’ve mentioned them earlier and they’re a good example; the Arduino and Raspberry Pi (Of which I have 2 at home). They’re easy to get hold of and they’re cheap, so there should be no reason that a company cannot provide one for each develop, each creative and anyone else that wants them, on their desk. At this year’s IBC in Amsterdam, there were content providers and set-top box developers showing their systems working on Raspberry Pi’s for example. One company was even using a Pi as an actual set-top box, based on a HTML interface. Make sure that the office has access to each and every games console – not just for entertainment – so that people can play with things like MS Kinect for projects. Make sure that every office has plenty of mobile devices, from iPads, Android tablets and Windows Surface, to wearable technology. Buy an Occulus Rift and allow full access to the APIs and encourage people to use things like Unity3D for apps etc. Get signed up with Google for any new tech, including Google Glass and let people play.

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These are just some examples and access and encouragement to use things like this is the only REAL way of a company being able to align and keep up with the new technology that’s out there and on the way. Get all of that information learned together and invite clients in to see what the latest and greatest is and show them pieces of work that employees have done. Striving for the ‘Bleeding Edge’ will ultimately be beneficial to both company and client, while the employee will be more excited and passionate about the work. You have excited and passionate staff and you have retention of the most talented people. You retain and use those talented people to their upmost ability and you provide amazing and innovative work for your clients. It’s win-win, right?

Bill Gates – The Return?

A lot has been said since Steve Ballmer stepped down and I’m not just talking about the similarity in looks to actor Dean Norris (He’s got to play him in the inevitable “Gates” movie, right?). The main source of interest for me, is the rumor that Gates will step back into a more hands on role at Microsoft. Gates took a big step away, back in 2008 and since then, it’s debatable whether Microsoft has been able to cling onto those dizzy heights of dominance they once had in the computer software industry.

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[ Steve Ballmer…or Dean Norris? ]

We’ve fairly recently lost Steve Jobs, who was an incredible inspiration to many of us and a great innovator, leader and speaker. When Jobs returned to Apple, having been famously ousted from his own company – as we’re all very aware by now – he turned Apple around. He gave Apple back that drive for innovation, creativity and he also gave them back the figurehead that they’d been missing in his absence.

I think Microsoft have got that opportunity now. Of course, I’m not saying that Microsoft are in dire straits, but they’ve got the chance to be a company that grabs hold of the industry again. Right now there’s kind of a flux. Apple are, if you believe the press and critics, starting to slump and have been since Jobs passed. Google are doing well and driving innovation throughout their product set, but still can’t take control. Adobe are still pushing, but with the imminent death of Flash, they’ll be relying on Photoshop and After Effects keeping their dream alive. Now let’s look at Microsoft.

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A big game-changer for me, was going to be Microsoft Surface. I’d taken the home computing step to Apple, back in 2007 and marvelled at the power and design of their laptops, especially for film editing and rendering. Along with the iPhone and iPad, Apple were changing things dramatically. It took a long time, but Microsoft stepped into the Mobile world with Nokia and I thought they may start pushing. Integration with desktop, mobile and gaming was on the cards, surely? However, with a less than satisfactory OS and a lack of innovative thinking – in my opinion – they missed an opportunity. However, when Microsoft announced surface, I was interested again. A tablet machine, with a decent portable keyboard, at a non-restrictive price? Sounded perfect for me and I eagerly awaited the release, so I could get my hands on one. What happened? They released it as an overpriced tablet, with a so-so OS and a separate keyboard that we would have to buy. Disappointment. I wanted to buy one, I really wanted to buy one, but when they were released I lost all interest. Yes, they’ve dropped the price a little and patched the software, but they may well have missed their ‘window’.

However, there could be one thing that could get them quickly back in the game. Bill Gates. Having the founder step back in as CEO and start driving the company forward again, could have both consumers and shareholders excited again. You can see that Microsoft want a fully integrated product set, desktop, laptop, tablet, phone and games console, it’s there waiting and they have the technology, especially with the buyout of Nokia Mobile. It’s time for Gates to step back in. It’s time for him to stand up, talk about the future of computing and Microsoft and about how they’ll be creating an innovative and exciting new environment for us all to participate in. Bill Gates could put a spark back into the industry again. He could make the other’s realize that competition is out there and the game has just been re-started. Wouldn’t it be great to be in the position of seeing companies having to fight tooth and nail to become leaders in the field? I think it’s all a little too comfortable right now, with technology companies tweaking existing hardware and software, rather than leaping ahead.

On a wider scale, company founders are the company’s life source, or at least that’s the way I see it. They are the guiding light, the energy and the DNA of the company – we should never forget that. Let’s bring back the leader, the innovator, the CEO to the world. Let them take the companies by the reins and take risks, break down barriers and push for new and exciting developments. Time for us all to get excited again.

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Fashion Retail: Future, or Present?

Fashion Retail: Future or Present? 

As I’ve written in previous articles, technology is becoming more of a driving force than ever and it’s no less the case in the world of retail fashion.  There are already big name brands out there embracing technology and no doubt, many more to follow.

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Let’s take a look at a couple of retailers who have started to use technology to enhance the in-store consumer experience and also to drive sales. First is M&S. The new Amsterdam store is essentially an e-shop, with two routes to purchase. The first is a touch screen catalogue, where you can browse through all of the clothing and make a decision of what to add to your basket. Once you’ve made your choice, you can swipe your card and buy the items, which are then delivered to your home. 

Now this may seem like it’s just something that you can do online anyway, without getting up, getting out of your house and heading to a store. However, what you get in addition is the chance to take a look through some of the clothing and feel the ‘fiber of their fabric’, so to speak. This is via a more engaging secondary technology in the store. The user can pick up items, touch and feel the material and look, before swiping the bar code and seeing the item on a large touchscreen. The consumer can then decide to pull the item into their basket and email their basket contents to themselves, ready for future purpose. 

These are both pretty interesting applications, for smaller stores especially, however there are some who have gone a little further. TopShop used MS Kinect technology, to allow the user to get an idea of how an item would actually look on.

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This is more of a time saving device, perhaps, rather than taking multiple items into a dressing room to try, the consumer can get a feel for the ‘look’ before trying and buying. 

There will always be the question of touch. We’ll likely always want to feel the product and get an idea of exactly what it’s like. Now we’ve already discussed how M&S cover this, but how can it be done another way?

In Cannes this year, there was a particularly interesting item on show. IBM have already been looking at a tactile digital product, that could be programmed to give the ‘feel’ of a particular piece of clothing or material. This could sit alongside the technology that M&S and TopShop are using and provide the consumer with something they can get their hands on.

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These are just a few examples of how retailers can use technology to help the consumer, but this isn’t where the line will be drawn. There’s a great scene in ‘Minority Report’, which shows Tom Cruise going through a mall and a store picking up his ‘identity’ and offering new products to him. This really isn’t too far fetched anymore. With the ability for people to allow themselves to be tracked via device, they could be updated with products while shopping. Allowing a store to have access to your whereabouts via an app on a mobile device, for example, would mean that there’s the potential of picking up your proximity and getting in contact with you. This maybe a bit painful having multiple apps on your device all running at the same time for each store, but one store aggregator application would be able to make it more manageable for the user. 

There are also plenty of opportunities through other technology. Google are making strides with Google Glass and with news that Sony have created a chip small enough to fit inside a contact lens, the tech is there for us to start using. Imagine being able to simply take a shot of someone in the street wearing a coat that you like and then being able to buy it.

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You could be in a position to shop anywhere. “I like that coat”, “I want those shoes”, it wouldn’t matter what the article was, but the ability to connect to an open shopping application could be the next stage and could be pushed forward by people like Google and Amazon, as two options. You could take that snapshot, be given the item detail, locations of stores near you, or even go straight through to purchase. 

So where does this lead us? Is this part of the future of fashion retail? I think it’s probably more like the present, or at least near future. Most of the technology is either here already, or on the way very soon, so maybe retailers of all sorts, not necessarily just those involved in fashion, should be looking at taking these steps and start to get ahead of their competition.

Modern Mobile

Modern Mobile

Here are some quick thoughts on mobile. I know a lot of this will be preaching to the choir, but it’s something that is worth a reminder. I’m going to hit briefly on a couple of things, the first being the difference between mobile friendly, optimized and responsive and the second being native apps vs HTML5.

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Are you friendly, optimized, or responsive?

First point on this subject is that people need to understand what the difference is. Let’s take ‘mobile friendly’. Mobile friendly is the most simple of the three. Make your website for desktop, but make sure it’s fully usable and viewable on mobile. So, this means nothing like Flash can be used, as an example. The other thing with mobile friendly sites is that they use the same navigation and display as the desktop version. What this means for the user on mobile, is that they’ll need to do things like zoom to read text, or use menu items – especially if you’ve not got the most thing on fingers – and scroll a lot, once zoomed. This isn’t the best solution, but it works and the user gets the benefit of the full desktop website.

If you want a website mobile optimized, it’s a different thing. The idea of a mobile optimized website, is that of designing the site in a way that is comfortable and easy to use on a mobile device. What does this mean for the user? It means that they do not have the cumbersome experience, of zooming, pinching, scrolling etc, that you would have from a friendly version.

The third solution is to have a responsive (or adaptive) design for you website. How is this different to an optimized version? Well the main element here, is that mobile devices come in all shapes and sizes, from tablets to smartphones and we need to cater for all. This means having multiple templates for the design, both for portrait and landscape. One should remember that one of those templates should be designed for desktop, as we don’t have a separate desktop version for a responsive site. This will mean that the user will have a similar, if not the same experience from desktop to tablet, for example and for smartphones all of the site will be available in a familiar design to the desktop version that they may have experienced at home, or at work.

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There is now one additional thing for everyone to consider and that’s the news that Google have changed their mobile search algorithm.  The new algorithm takes the three different mobile website types into consideration for ranking. From now on, if you search through Google on your mobile device, any site that has been indexed and is not optimized, or responsive, will be demoted in the search results and ranking. This means that there is a danger that your site will drop off people’s radars, if it’s not pre-prepared.

Another point of interest is the growing use of mobile usage. A lot and in some cases the majority, of website use is now from mobile devices. This varies from country to country, but this growing trend means that you cannot risk losing website visitors, due to the fact that you’ve not considered mobile. In addition, platforms such as Facebook and YouTube are heavily promoting their responsive capabilities for apps and gadgets.

‘Mobile First’ has been a phrase that’s been mentioned a lot over the last few years, but it’s now a vital part of design and build. Designers will need to be fully clued up on optimized and responsive design and companies will need to bite the bullet and spend the money for website builds. Let’s make it clear, it is a longer UX, design and build process to create a responsive website, but in the long term, it’s worth the commitment and investment up front.

Are you a native?

 

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This is another interesting debate, whether mobile apps should be native or web based. For a native app, the development process will use a programming language that is native to the device, so for example, for Apple devices using iOS, objective C will be the programming language used. For web-based apps, the choice of the moment is HTML5, which is more platform agnostic, than using objective C for iOS, or JAVA for Android.

HTML5 sounds really interesting on the surface, as it’s flexible enough for an app to be built once, for multiple platforms. If you build an app using objective C and want to use the app on an android device, you’re going to have to rebuild it. A HTML5 app is easier to distribute – for the most part – than using the stores available or mobile apps.

However, there are disadvantages for the HTML5 app developer. Much of the functionality of a device is not usable from HML5, as the APIs are just not complete. That means for those wanting to use things like the camera, GPS and accelerator, there’s no option aside from developing a native version.

So which way do you go, right now? Well I think it’s a big clue that people like Mark Zuckerburg have said that Facebook wasted two years on HTML5, before switching to native, although he did also say that he’s still excited about HTML5, but it’s just not there yet. My opinion is, as it stands, that native is the way to create the most engaging mobile apps, at least for now and the near future.

Interactive Storytelling – Immersive Film and Gaming

Interactive Storytelling – Immersive Film and Gaming

Last year I wrote an article on interactive storytelling and the future agency. Within the article, I hit on an idea for immersive gaming and how that could interact with film. I’ve added to that idea here, expanding on it and adding thoughts on projects out there, that are already heading in that direction. In addition, I’ll be concentrating on gaming and film, rather than including the usage in the advertising world.

For those of you that have already read my aforementioned article, you’ll recognize some of this, but keep reading, as there’s new stuff.

Interactive movies are becoming more popular. This includes both online and also offline applications, such as trials for interactive cinema. How does this affect storytelling, both on and off-screen?

How do we now write for the potential multiple story arcs and how do we start to embrace real interactivity for marketing clients? How do hardware elements such as MS Kinect and web cams change the way we look at interaction? Remember, interactive storytelling in this case is not limited to the digital world.

With the drive in story telling and technology, we can now see a clear view of how we can push towards a more immersive experience. This doesn’t have to stop at film and games; in fact they become the same thing. Isn’t it a possibility that we can now start really getting people to interact with products? What’s stopping us from creating full web series or stories based on a product, or product set?

With the connectivity of mobile, online, social and indeed above the line, there is no reason not to use all of these in partnership to create something fully immersive. The possibility for games, movies and campaigns to become interactive through any medium, is something that we should be looking at.

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Perhaps it’s time for film to take the next step into fully interactive and even virtual territories.  We’ve seen this in film for a number of years. Movies like ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ and novels by the likes of William Gibson and W.T. Quick, have given us a teasing look into what these virtual worlds within ‘cyberspace’ could be like. TV shows, like ‘Caprica’ have given us a view of how we could interact with others through our own avatars, in a virtual world. The fact of the matter is most, if not all of the technology, is now available for this next step.

This can all come together with an immersive platform. We can start to give real interaction to people, both online and in the non-digital world. Let’s take a look at some of the more practical elements first. Interaction has always been there, whether it be face-to-face, through social networks, or through games it doesn’t really matter, it’s all around us. Essentially it’s nothing new to any of us. An immersive platform would be a facilitator, a connecting bridge between all of the touch points.

Where are we now?

Let’s see how the idea is progressing, by looking at an interesting example. ‘Defiance’ is a new TV show, that the creators have linked up with a video game release. The basis for both is a sci-fi story, based in the year 2046, where aliens and humans are living together. That aside, the game and the show live together as well and in parts will affect each other.

Sounds very interesting and we’ll see how that works out soon, as the show begins on April 15th. One of the interesting things that the creators have done, is put together a great cast. With established actors, such as Grant Bowler, Jaime Murray, Julie Benz, Mia Kirshner, Stephanie Leonidas, Nicole Munoz, Graham Greene and Tony Curran, there’s already a large fan base available and plenty of chance of that growing through the gaming world. The game itself looks superbly done, from what I’ve seen. Graphically it does a great job of capturing the world and the characters, which will add, no doubt, to the in-game excitement and enjoyment. Sci-fi is a great genre to enter this joint-media idea. Fans are loyal and with the Cosplayers becoming more prevalent in the convention world and online, there are many avenues for fantasy and sci-fi stories. To take a look at the ‘Defiance’ experience, visit the website (Not now…later!) http://www.defiance.com

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These are great steps towards an immersive environment, for both media. However, hopefully it’s only the beginning. From here, how can we expand the idea further, to completely immerse the consumer? How about social networks? How about mobile?

We are Detective

Let’s take an example platform, so that we can trace the path of immersion, if you like. We start of course, with a story. With the immersive platform, you don’t necessarily need to stick to a particular genre. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument and entertainment, ours is a detective story. We have our hero, the experienced and clever detective, who has a difficult case to solve. We introduce the viewer to our lead and his conundrum, through a piece of video on our platform. We realize by the end of the piece, that they need help in solving the mystery and we can be the ones to help them.

How could we help? Well the first thing a good detective would do is look at the evidence and look for clues. We’ve been given the details of the key players; so let’s take a look at what we have. We have the video and its contents. We have the names of the players. We have access to the local newspaper (Fictional and attached to the platform). Now aside from any local news, where else would we look? Well, where would we go on the Internet? What sites and services would we use? We search on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and we find clues, we find accounts used by the victims, by the villains, by the suspects and we pick up detail that helps us give direction to the story.

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We head back to our platform with a new wealth of knowledge and choose our path, based on what we’ve found. Have we found enough? We don’t know right now and nor would our hero. We watch the next piece of film, moving us along the story. But… There’s always a ‘but’, right? We need to go, we can’t stay at home on our desktop, but we want to continue the experience. The platform allows us to take it with us. We use our mobile devices and we continue to work on our evidence and in fact on our story. It’s our story too now, as we’re making decisions along the way.

The Mobile World

We’re lucky at the moment with today’s technology, because we are becoming more and more mobile. From mobile phones to tablets, we have the opportunity to embrace our online lives outside of our desktop environment. This means that we can now converse whilst on the move, with a richer interface and experience.

Any interaction we have with a movie, or game could be extended to the mobile world, augmenting the stories through AR applications, or extensions.

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A good example would be to use an AR piece, as an extension of our immersive experience. We could be given a co-ordinance in our local area, where we go to find some information. Once there, we could trigger the AR piece, to show us the next piece of data we need. This could be through heads-up style display, or even in the form of an AR game. For an advertising agency, this is a prime opportunity for engagement. The location could be a client store, or something similar. Perhaps something that the consumer will see, or interact with.

The AR piece can be triggered with a simple photo application within the game, or even a QR code, to get the user moving to the next stage. AR experiences have grown a lot over the past few years and we’ve seen stars like Robert Downey Jr. get involved with a piece for Esquire magazine and Rihanna for NIVEA. Over the next year or so, we’re about to see the next stage for augmented reality.

Google have taken a big step in this direction with their ‘project glass’, as it’s now known. During 2013 we’ll be able to buy the Google glasses that will enable us to view a real heads-up display of maps and other data. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t look to integrate this into the experience and indeed, there are already many clones announced that will hopefully give the product a wider usage.

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The final step for our experience is in this strange ‘real world’ that we just entered. Yes, for those with a blinkered view of online life, we should allow real interaction. Part of the immersive experience could led by events, perhaps for the finale of a game, the last scene of a film. The consumers could meet and even sit down in an interactive theater to watch it all play out. In Korean several interactive theaters are being tested. We’re not talking about a Disney 4D, where the audience are sprayed with water, for example – Lord knows what they’d do if they produced a 4D Star Wars film! Doesn’t bear thinking about, really. But I digress – What we are talking about is having the audience participate in the movies with mobile devices, to make decisions in the films. Perfect for the immersive platform.

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Where do we go from here?

So what’s the future for engagement and interaction? Many years ago, we experimented with virtual reality and how we could become ‘part’ of an experience, in a virtual environment.  This was pretty much brushed to the wayside, as the technology just wasn’t good enough to fulfill people’s ideals. However, things have moved on and there’s a good possibility that full interactive and virtual experience are on the way.

Universities have now started 3D avatar modeling of people. How have they taken influence from movies and how will this change story telling across all media in the future? It’s always an interesting thing to consider. The futures portrayed in the movies are becoming closer and closer. Well some of it. I still look out of the window Christmas morning, hoping to see my new flying car. No luck there, yet.

The fact is, there are a multitude of technologies waiting to be exploited by us, so why not use them whether they’re on or offline. We should be looking toward connecting the consumer to everything, to the client, to each other and to the stories that we can tell.

The future agency will be more of an overall facilitator, rather than just a marketing and advertising outlet. They will become more fully ingrained in the client’s world and be a source of knowledge and inspiration to those who hire them.

Let’s take our earlier example to run with and imagine that we’re a company. Let’s imagine that our company has the idea of a future immersive gaming and film platform. Where would we begin? We would begin with research. Research across the world of film and gaming, which incidentally, are two of the richest businesses in the world. Research would be completed for each and every element, from genre popularity to sales. The outcome of the research would be the determination of which direction the new platform would head and if the platform was indeed viable.

Once we’ve established that we’re correct in assuming that the platform is something that is viable, we would take a look at the technology involved and the platforms used. Where do people interact and consume? What do they do, when they’re there? The reason these questions need to be asked, is that the future of interaction and entertainment may well be something much more ‘involved’ on our new platform than just playing an interactive game, as an example. People will be able to interact with product, they will be able to interact with other people, and they will be able to consume information, all whilst interacting with the game and movie itself.

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Consumer interaction is now wide spread across many platforms, as we know. Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites have definitely changed the way that we interact with each other, but we also have to consider where we interact. Realistically our interactions spread across many platforms, from verbal communication to mobile and those social networks. Why not create a platform, so that consumers can interact across all of those? Some games are already doing this to a certain degree; games such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty give the user the ability to interact with each other during the game play. This goes further, though. We would look at creating a platform that was portable. Something that the consumer could use via desktop, mobile, in live situations and even virtually. We’ve discussed this already, so we won’t dwell on the detail, however who better placed to build and implement these phases, than the future agency?

To be, or not to be…Open Source

The next phase in to establish the hardware and OS needed. With the hardware, we’re going to be looking at multiple devices, but with the option to use only one, or a combination, if need be. Would we want to create a physical product? Would we want to give the consumer the ability to own a piece of kit that would give them all of the functionality in one unit, or would we look to provide a platform that products could use? Would we want to create a proprietary product?

One of the most successful companies in this arena is Apple. However, Apple had something that most new companies don’t, which is the long time experience of creating product and the software that it runs. They come from a design and build background, from creating machines with parts in a garage, using software or an OS that already existed. That changed when they wanted the OS to do more, so they wrote their own, to match their products. With console gaming, each company creates their own hardware to run the games on and then relies on gaming manufacturers to write their games for that console. Each console is limited then, by the development of those games. In addition, the proprietary console is limited in its usage across other platforms. Microsoft have had some success with XBOX Live, where gamers can interact on the internet and MS promised the additional ability to carry those games, or at least part of them, to mobile devices. Unfortunately, we haven’t really seen this happen. Both Microsoft and Nintendo have extended gaming out to the physical world with Kinect and Wii respectively, but we’re all waiting for the next stage of interaction.

For a number of years, there has been a big push for open source. This could be the deciding factor in how our immersive platform would exist. A platform that is designed in such a way, that it can be hosted in one place, but allow manufacturers to get involved to create their own products for use in the new environment. It could allow storytellers, filmmakers and game developers alike, to create their own worlds for the consumer to interact with. For these storytellers, it could provide an outlet, not only for their work to be viewed, but to be fully engaged with and extended. It would give them the opportunity for their work to really ‘live’.

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The time is now

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get moving and create an immersive environment that not only encompasses film and gaming, but also moves into social, mobile and real life. The technology is out there and it’s a logical direction for us to go. The time is now.

Interactive Storytelling and the Future Agency

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I’ve Seen the Future and it will be

It’s been an interesting 10 or so years, in the advertising industry. Over that time we’ve seen the growth of the digital agency world from a niche marketplace, to the monster it has now become. During the first five years, the digital agencies of today were really starting to take hold. Some of them had been around for even longer than that, but as we entered the new millennia, they really started to make inroads. In fact the digital agency grew to such an extent, that all of the traditional agencies wanted to add a digital arm. However, this rarely worked. Traditional agencies made claim that they were ‘integrated’ across both online and offline, whilst they were struggling to shift their mindset to the digital world.

What’s interesting now, is that everything has come full circle. Most traditional agencies now do digital. They may have merged with other companies to do it, but essentially they really do digital as well and sometimes better, that most of the digital agencies out there. Digital agencies are now in the position at looking ‘above the line’, to become more rounded and integrated.

However, it’s not as simple as that. The traditional agencies have proven that it can be a mistake heading into the opposing advertising realm, without a lot of due diligence and planning. The digital agency needs to embrace everything about advertising, to be able to make that move. They need to realize that ‘digital’ now extends out from the Internet, to in-store, to bus stops, to train stations. They need to realize that there is still a place for the TV commercial, whether that is on your TV, or on YouTube. A lot of agencies think they are in this position, but they’re not…yet.

From the traditional agency perspective, they need to start to look at digital as a possible and suitable lead for their work. It’s no good anymore to assume that we start ‘above the line’ and then work on something digital that matches. Each experience needs to be fully compatible and fully (Though I hate the phrase) 360.

So what’s the future for the agency world? In what direction can an agency head, to ensure and embrace the coming years? What are the technologies, platforms and techniques involved to push on ahead?

Let’s take a look at one aspect of our agency world, which is more prevalent in the modern digital marketing arena than that of traditional marketing, that of storytelling. Yes, for those working on above the line campaigns, there is storytelling of course, however with the wide audience and burgeoning technology of today, those online are embracing the storyteller more frequently than those in the ‘real’. 

Interactive Storytelling 

Storytelling has been at the forefront of modern life. Whether it is TV, cinema, books, radio or YouTube, we all have access to consume stories that others have created and indeed, create our own for the Internet audience. More recently, with the progression of technology, we have had the opportunity to interact, to a certain degree, with online storytelling.

Audiences around the world have been given the chance to control what they see, interact with characters via simple choices and even navigate through online apparel sites. Automobile companies are giving us a chance to choose what happens next in their product videos, fragrances are allowing us to view and interact with video content and with celebrity ambassadors and in both cinema and online, we are starting to interact with movies.

Where can we go from here? With the rapid improvement in the gaming world for accessories, such as Kinect for the XBOX, the recent strides that have been made in creating digital ‘avatars’ from scanning the human form and touch screen technology being more commonplace, we are now closer to having a more immersive film and story experience.

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The Internet has given storytelling a new lease of life. The web series has given life to a new breed of film production, social networks have given us the ability to freely interact online with others, whether they are people, or companies and augmented reality has given us the chance to interact with characters and objects. Why not take it to the next level? Remember the old text adventure games, such as ‘The Hobbit’? An array of possibilities per scene, gave the user the feeling of being in control of an adventure, even through basic images and text. Why not make the new breed of film this interactive? Why not create movies and stories, where the viewer can make a choice which direction they want the story to follow? Why not extend that out to a wider audience via social networks and allow the characters in these films to become more ‘real’ to the viewer?

We’re already seeing elements of this in advertising. HUGO BOSS have allowed users to use head-tracking technology, to change what they see, companies like Lexus and Mercedes have given us the opportunity to choose what happens next in their product/car videos and have basic interaction with the characters within.

There’s a real possibility that the future of storytelling is heading in this direction. We’ll soon be able to be immersed in movies, truly bridging the gap between those films and gaming. We’ll be able to influence decisions made by the characters, communicate with versions of those characters outside of the film itself and even have our own virtual avatar within the film. We’ll be able to transfer and continue the story via TV, Cinema, Internet, Mobile and even extending that out to live events and ‘scenes’.

The Parallax Universe

To extend the creativity of storytelling, one of the storyteller’s new weapons, is parallax scrolling along with Parallax animation. For the most part, web designers are using this to create what are essentially brochure and magazine websites. The user can simply scroll, while the website itself takes you through a journey, both vertically and horizontally. Not only does it make the user experience easier for scanning information, but also it can look quite beautiful, both on desktop and on mobile devices.

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For the storyteller, parallax scrolling can be used as a method to provide a richer experience for consumers. I remember back in 2009, the DVD of ‘Watchmen: The motion comic’ was released. Essentially this was the full graphic novel, but additional frames were added to give the original an animated effect. This wasn’t to make it a cartoon, as such, but it gave the viewer a more descriptive view than static comic cells. To create this effect, the motion graphics team used layered versions of the comic cells, to split them apart and create the movement.

Essentially, it’s these layers that we are now using to create parallax scrolling based websites and experiences. This means, for the graphic novelist and storyteller, they have a clear way in, to really engage people digitally, rather than just relying on the consumer to download a static e-book, for example. One of the benefits of using this technology, is that the writer can give their readers the opportunity to interact, perhaps chapter by chapter, perhaps even to main events within the story. The scrolling can be paused to give the reader a chance to make decisions for the characters and to a certain extent, direct the stories themselves. Bringing their stories into an interactive environment also gives the storyteller a way of sustaining their work and it gives the reader a way of seeing the story from multiple angles and experiencing multiple endings.

These benefits don’t have to be seen just from a novelist, or writer based point of view. Digital agencies can start to give their client’s a more focused storytelling environment, which can extend and enhance campaigns, whether they are website, or film centric. For those of us entrenched in the digital world, we’re always been asked to bring out the story, by our clients. Even in it’s simplest form, parallax scrolling could be one of the potential solutions to that request.

We’re already seeing this, with companies like Landrover and Volkswagen embracing the technology and digital comics like ‘Never Mind the bullets’ testing the format. However, we’ve only scratched the surface so far and as a screenwriter, I can see a real chance to kick-start interactive storytelling, through this media.

In summary, this technology can be part of the push for more interactive storytelling and can help drag the storytellers themselves, further into the digital world, whilst still comfortable in the world outside. For storytellers as a whole, this is not the only outlet for creativity of course. With today’s broad access to filmmaking in the digital space and the interactive gaming environment, there’s a real chance that the work will be used for both pleasure and product. 

Immersive Film and Gaming

Let’s take a look at how the storyteller can use other new technologies, to widen their audience and move into something a little more immersive.

Interactive movies are becoming more popular, especially in the advertising world. This includes both online and also offline applications, such as trials for interactive cinema. How does this affect storytelling, both on and off-screen?

How do we now write for the potential multiple story arcs and how do we start to embrace real interactivity for marketing clients? How do hardware elements such as MS Kinect and web cams change the way we look at interaction? Remember, interactive storytelling in this case is not limited to the digital world.

With the drive in story telling and technology, we can now see a clear view of how we can push towards a more immersive experience. This doesn’t have to stop at film and games; in fact they become the same thing. Isn’t it a possibility that we can now start really getting people to interact with products? What’s stopping us from creating full web series or stories based on a product, or product set?

With the connectivity of mobile, online, social and indeed above the line, there is no reason not to use all of these in partnership to create something fully immersive. The possibility for games, movies and campaigns to become interactive through any medium, is something that we should be looking at.

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Perhaps it’s time for film to take the next step into fully interactive and even virtual territories.  We’ve seen this in film for a number of years. Movies like ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ and novels by the likes of William Gibson and W.T. Quick, have given us a teasing look into what these virtual worlds within ‘cyberspace’ could be like. TV shows, like ‘Caprica’ have given us a view of how we could interact with others through our own avatars, in a virtual world. The fact of the matter is most, if not all of the technology, is now available for this next step.

This can all come together with an immersive platform. We can start to give real interaction to people, both online and in the non-digital world. Let’s take a look at some of the more practical elements first. Interaction has always been there, whether it be face-to-face, through social networks, or through games it doesn’t really matter, it’s all around us. Essentially it’s nothing new to any of us. An immersive platform would be a facilitator, a connecting bridge between all of the touch points.

We are Detective

So, let’s take an example platform, so that we can trace the path of immersion, if you like. We start of course, with a story. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument and entertainment, it’s a detective story. We have our hero, the experienced and clever detective, who has a difficult case to solve. We introduce the viewer to our lead and his conundrum, through a piece of video on our platform. We realize by the end of the piece, that they need help in solving the mystery and we can be the ones to help them.

How could we help? Well the first thing a good detective would do is look at the evidence and look for clues. We’ve been given the details of the key players; so let’s take a look at what we have. We have the video and its contents. We have the names of the players. We have access to the local newspaper (Fictional and attached to the platform). Now aside from any local news, where else would we look? Well, where would we go on the Internet? What sites and services would we use? We search on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and we find clues, we find accounts used by the victims, by the villains, by the suspects and we pick up detail that helps us give direction to the story.

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We head back to our platform with a new wealth of knowledge and choose our path, based on what we’ve found. Have we found enough? We don’t know right now and nor would our hero. We watch the next piece of film, moving us along the story. But… There’s always a ‘but’, right? We need to go, we can’t stay at home on our desktop, but we want to continue the experience. The platform allows us to take it with us. We use our mobile devices and we continue to work on our evidence and in fact on our story. It’s our story too now, as we’re making decisions along the way.

The Mobile World

We’re lucky at the moment with today’s technology, because we are becoming more and more mobile. From mobile phones to tablets, we have the opportunity to embrace our online lives outside of our desktop environment. This means that we can now converse whilst on the move, with a richer interface and experience.

Any interaction we have with a movie, or game could be extended to the mobile world, augmenting the stories through AR applications, or extensions.

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A good example would be to use an AR piece, as an extension of our immersive experience. We could be given a co-ordinance in our local area, where we go to find some information. Once there, we could trigger the AR piece, to show us the next piece of data we need. This could be through heads-up style display, or even in the form of an AR game. For an advertising agency, this is a prime opportunity for engagement. The location could be a client store, or something similar. Perhaps something that the consumer will see, or interact with.

The AR piece can be triggered with a simple photo application within the game, or even a QR code, to get the user moving to the next stage. AR experiences have grown a lot over the past few years and we’ve seen stars like Robert Downey Jr. get involved with a piece for Esquire magazine and Rihanna for NIVEA. Over the next year or so, we’re about to see the next stage for augmented reality.

Google have taken a big step in this direction with their ‘project glass’, as it’s now known. During 2013 we’ll be able to buy the Google glasses that will enable us to view a real heads-up display of maps and other data. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t look to integrate this into the experience and indeed, there are already many clones announced that will hopefully give the product a wider usage.

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The final step for our experience is in this strange ‘real world’ that we just entered. Yes, for those with a blinkered view of online life, we should allow real interaction. Part of the immersive experience could led by events, perhaps for the finale of a game, the last scene of a film. The consumers could meet and even sit down in an interactive theater to watch it all play out. In Korean several interactive theaters are being tested. We’re not talking about a Disney 4D, where the audience are sprayed with water, for example – Lord knows what they’d do if they produced a 4D Star Wars film! Doesn’t bear thinking about, really. But I digress – What we are talking about is having the audience participate in the movies with mobile devices, to make decisions in the films. Perfect for the immersive platform.

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Where do we go from here?

So what’s the future for engagement and interaction? Many years ago, we experimented with virtual reality and how we could become ‘part’ of an experience, in a virtual environment.  This was pretty much brushed to the wayside, as the technology just wasn’t good enough to fulfill people’s ideals. However, things have moved on and there’s a good possibility that full interactive and virtual experience are on the way.

Universities have now started 3D avatar modeling of people. How have they taken influence from movies and how will this change story telling across all media in the future? It’s always an interesting thing to consider. The futures portrayed in the movies are becoming closer and closer. Well some of it. I still look out of the window Christmas morning, hoping to see my new flying car. No luck there, yet.

The fact is, there are a multitude of technologies waiting to be exploited by us, so why not use them whether they’re on or offline. We should be looking toward connecting the consumer to everything, to the client, to each other and to the stories that we can tell.

The future agency will be more of an overall facilitator, rather than just a marketing and advertising outlet. They will become more fully ingrained in the client’s world and be a source of knowledge and inspiration to those who hire them.

Let’s take our earlier example to run with and imagine that we’re a company. Let’s imagine that our company has the idea of a future immersive gaming and film platform. Where would we begin? We would begin with research. Research across the world of film and gaming, which incidentally, are two of the richest businesses in the world. Research would be completed for each and every element, from genre popularity to sales. The outcome of the research would be the determination of which direction the new platform would head and if the platform was indeed viable.

Once we’ve established that we’re correct in assuming that the platform is something that is viable, we would take a look at the technology involved and the platforms used. Where do people interact and consume? What do they do, when they’re there? The reason these questions need to be asked, is that the future of interaction and entertainment may well be something much more ‘involved’ on our new platform than just playing an interactive game, as an example. People will be able to interact with product, they will be able to interact with other people, and they will be able to consume information, all whilst interacting with the game and movie itself.

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Consumer interaction is now wide spread across many platforms, as we know. Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites have definitely changed the way that we interact with each other, but we also have to consider where we interact. Realistically our interactions spread across many platforms, from verbal communication to mobile and those social networks. Why not create a platform, so that consumers can interact across all of those? Some games are already doing this to a certain degree; games such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty give the user the ability to interact with each other during the game play. This goes further, though. We would look at creating a platform that was portable. Something that the consumer could use via desktop, mobile, in live situations and even virtually. We’ve discussed this already, so we won’t dwell on the detail, however who better placed to build and implement these phases, than the future agency?

To be, or not to be…Open Source

The next phase in to establish the hardware and OS needed. With the hardware, we’re going to be looking at multiple devices, but with the option to use only one, or a combination, if need be. Would we want to create a physical product? Would we want to give the consumer the ability to own a piece of kit that would give them all of the functionality in one unit, or would we look to provide a platform that products could use? Would we want to create a proprietary product?

One of the most successful companies in this arena is Apple. However, Apple had something that most new companies don’t, which is the long time experience of creating product and the software that it runs. They come from a design and build background, from creating machines with parts in a garage, using software or an OS that already existed. That changed when they wanted the OS to do more, so they wrote their own, to match their products. With console gaming, each company creates their own hardware to run the games on and then relies on gaming manufacturers to write their games for that console. Each console is limited then, by the development of those games. In addition, the proprietary console is limited in its usage across other platforms. Microsoft have had some success with XBOX Live, where gamers can interact on the internet and MS promised the additional ability to carry those games, or at least part of them, to mobile devices. Unfortunately, we haven’t really seen this happen. Both Microsoft and Nintendo have extended gaming out to the physical world with Kinect and Wii respectively, but we’re all waiting for the next stage of interaction.

For a number of years, there has been a big push for open source. This could be the deciding factor in how our immersive platform would exist. A platform that is designed in such a way, that it can be hosted in one place, but allow manufacturers to get involved to create their own products for use in the new environment. It could allow storytellers, filmmakers and game developers alike, to create their own worlds for the consumer to interact with. For these storytellers, it could provide an outlet, not only for their work to be viewed, but to be fully engaged with and extended. It would give them the opportunity for their work to really ‘live’.

Agencies today look across all of these aspects. If you look at product design, agencies such as Frog have been designing for years and in fact have really started moving into advertising. On the flip-side, R/GA have moved from film, to advertising and have also had some success in product development (Nike+ for example), so much so that they’re looking at focusing on this direction for one of their new offices.

Agencies don’t just design and create advertising; they design, nurture, mature and build experiences, so the future agency will be perfectly placed to progress our fictional company’s project forward, from the strategy and research stage that they implemented and completed, through to build decisions and development. 

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Products and their Placement

After the idea, the study and the build, comes the marketing. We’ve been discussing the different methods, technologies and storytelling that we can start enlisting for marketing and advertising, so let’s put them into practice. Our company is looking to produce an immersive platform, so let’s make the advertising experience immersive as well, but let’s not start with how we drive people to the platform. Let’s start within the content itself.

For any writer, there are basic principals for engaging the viewer. These can be a simple as placing ‘events’ during a story that excite the reader and make sure that they don’t drift from the story that the writer is trying to tell. We use interesting characterization to make the reader feel that they can relate, we choose interesting topics, so the reader’s interest can be piqued. We also give each of our characters a personality and with that comes the need for interaction and the need for ‘things’, essentially props. Props are something usually associated with film, but in the written form they are used in the same way. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading a book, watching a film or engaging in a client’s new interactive piece, there will be an array of props used.

Product placement is something that’s been used frequently in the film and TV world, as well as at events and shop doorways, but it hasn’t really been exploited in a more immersive environment. Most agencies will help their client drive people to their products, so that they can sell, but rarely is anything engaging enough for it to have any sort of longevity.

Let’s take a leaf out of the screenwriter’s book. We could be talking about a TV series, or a series of films, either one is fine. What we get from these writers is the ability to simply look ahead. They don’t write for one episode, they write for a series. They don’t write short-term interest characters, they write characters with growth, complexity and personality. They write in such a way, that for every episode that ends, another is waiting for the excited viewer to watch.

It can be the same for the consumer. Why should the consumer be limited to online and offline experience that lead them to a product and stop there? We can start engaging the user around the product. We can start writing for that product, incorporate it and even interact with it through our immersive platform. Let’s try to give something to the consumer that helps them relate to the client and get them engaged, without forcing them to ‘Buy Now’, or ‘Find out more’. Let’s immerse them in a platform where they can see practical application of a product or service, whilst they’re entertained and involved.

This could give the future agency the opportunity to help clients to really connect with the consumer base, further than through social media and let’s not forget, we’re talking about an immersive platform, which gives the consumer a chance to actually interact and even choose a route for the story. 

I’ve seen the Future and it works

We’ve looked at one example here, of how we can start to embrace technology and storytelling to create a future agency, providing full service and longevity to clients, through immersive experiences. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to thinking down this gaming and film path and even down the path of advertising. Any immersive and eventually any virtual interactive platform would be able to be used for multiple applications. These applications could be everything from the online to the product based and things like 3D printing will enable faster product development. The future agency will be able to be there all the way through the process and deliver at every point.

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The future agency can become more than just a service to help advertise a product. With an immersive platform, we could be learning languages, receiving medical training, psychology, rehabilitation and courtroom experience, all of these could use this idea as a base and it is just an idea.

These 12 or so pages aren’t necessarily going to change the way we look at the world, or indeed change it, but it’s a viable idea, right? The technology is already there, the storytellers are there and we could start heading towards our future, by giving both our clients and the consumers more. The future agency’s time is now.

Rules of Thanksgiving

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving, here’s some points to remember:

1. Try your best to enjoy the four hour eating and drinking frenzy without killing any relatives

2. Ignore anyone saying ‘Ahh that poor turkey, bless’ – They taste good and you know it!

3. Vegetarians and Vegans – Don’t spend your day saying ‘Ahh that poor turkey, bless’, think of the vegetables that you murder on a daily basis. Yes that noise IS the veg tapping on the inside of the oven door trying to get out , and yes that is their muffled cries of ‘Let us out, it’s bleeding hot in here!!’ (All vegetables speak with an English accent)*

4a. All men make sure you sit and watch the game

4b. All women make sure the men don’t sit and watch the game

4c. See number 1

5. Be very wary of any seemingly over made-up tranvestite Native Americans, knocking on your door claiming to be bringing ‘More Gifts’ to make your stay in the country more comfortable, this could lead to a disruption of Football watching, due to an imminent decapitation.

6. If someone says ‘Pass the Aubergine’, don’t just stare open mouthed, passed the freakin’ Egg Plant.

7. Enjoy your holiday

Disclaimer: The phrase ’seemingly over made-up tranvestite Native Americans’ has no bearing on the Native American culture, it’s just that when they’re pissed off they tend to over-do the make-up!

* All except for Garlic Bulbs, which are very French! They would say something like “Excuse-moi, eet ees vary ‘ot in ‘ere, perapps you cood free uz?”

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