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Dancing in the digital hurricane | Notes from the Huddle 2017 conference

Dancing in the digital hurricane | Notes from the Huddle 2017 conference

By: Kevin McCullagh

The Huddle 2017 conference (Mindshare)
16 Nov 2017
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One of the sessions at Huddle 2017, advertising agency Mindshare’s annual future-gazing conference, went by the title ‘How the F@CK do we dance in this digital hurricane?’ The buzzy tone was typical of the event and provided an apt visual metaphor for the times. Technology is upending every industry, and anyone working in the media or advertising is having to work hard to stand out in an overwhelming volume of content.

The challenge of staying on top of the changes was laid bare at the conference. Boris Becker gamely tried to discuss AI’s potential impact on sport. A 20-year-old executive who runs an advertising agency targeting gen-Z bemoaned the lack of real characters in contemporary football compared to ‘back in the day’. A dad got a selfie with a football YouTuber for his son and former England manager Sam Allardyce admitted he watches Channel 5’s The Gadget Show in an attempt to stay abreast of developments. 

Technology, media and marketing are changing at a bewildering pace. So how can businesses keep up?

Hiring young people, or at least deeply involving them in strategy wherever they are the target market, is one solution. Hardly revolutionary, but this is arguably more important than ever. 

We heard about the young people creating content on social media that is eclipsing television as the number one distraction for their generation. Football-themed YouTube content is proving a massive hit among young UK audiences. Young men (mainly) are making videos with their friends, charting the exploits of their Sunday league teams, for example, and getting huge viewer numbers. Have a look at Calfreezy (three million subscribers on YouTube) for a flavour.

Brands are trying to align with these DIY content producers, with mixed results to date. “Brands that succeed the best have understood that the people running campaigns are a bit out of touch,” said Jordan Schwarzenberger, the 20-year-old ad executive from the Round About agency. He advised them to: “Pull young people into the room... if you’re trying to reach people our age.”

A panel discussion about the new generation of football ‘creators’ on YouTube tried to compare the trend to real, professional football. But this DIY content feels like something different and separate that can live alongside the traditional game. It’s like kids’ TV of yore, only created by kids themselves. Quality is controlled in a remorselessly democratic way – the most popular videos rise to the top. No need for the expensive machinery of television production and no need to craft content to suit a particular audience. It might be raw, and the production quality can be amateurish, but it is being devoured by younger consumers. 

It was also suggested that businesses will have to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) to stay ahead of the game in the future. In fact, most of the sessions at Huddle 2017 featured AI in some shape or form.

AI will clearly be incredibly influential, but it’s also an area where the 40-pluses and 20-somethings may find common ground – hardly anyone understands how it works, what it can do, and how it’s going to change things.

Some of the current debates about AI appear fanciful. We’re a long way yet from a robot picking up a tennis racquet and competing in a grand slam, or delivering a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of investigative journalism – both scenarios discussed at Huddle 2017.

The most insightful session suggested AI would first embed itself in our working lives by taking on mundane tasks in finance and HR departments. Not exactly the robot apocalypse, although still worrying for workers currently filling those roles.

Much of the excitement appears to lie in AI’s ability to gather and make sense of large amounts of data. We learned that entrepreneurs are busy creating AI-driven applications that will soon give SMEs the AI ‘superpowers’ currently only available to the likes of Amazon and Google. Solutions may be on the horizon for the world of sport – an industry that is awash with customer data, but not sure how to make best use of it.

In tech industry thinker Tim O’Reilly’s recent book WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us, he suggests we think of software programmes and algorithms as the 21st century’s workers, and those who work with them as managers. “Each day, these ‘managers’ take in feedback about their workers’ performance, as measured in real-time data from the marketplace, and if necessary they give feedback to the workers in the form of minor tweaks and updates to the program or algorithm,” he states.

It’s a comforting view of the expected wave of automation: the robots are coming, but they’re coming to help. Comforting for those at the managerial end of things at least.

Huddle is an annual event organised by the London office of media agency Mindshare that looks ahead to what’s coming down the track in media and marketing in the year ahead. It coincides with the publication of Mindshare’s annual trends report, the 2018 edition of which is out on December 5.

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