Five Good Examples of Brand Innovation from Cannes Lions

Cannes Lions, the Oscars of advertising, will kick off later this week with innovation at the heart of their approach. Increasingly, the deployment of technology has been a strong element of the awards. In 2012, Nike’s Fuel Band won the Grand Prix Prize and last year, it went to Nivea’s beacon-based Bracelet . This year’s nominees contain a strong smattering of connected objects. Here are some of the stronger contenders:

Nike RISE LED Court

This is the kind of experiential campaign that you would expect from the sports giant. Big, flashy and well-executed:

Clever Buoy

Arguably this isn’t brand advertising but simply a good concept from Australia. Sharks emit a unique sonar signature and buoys strategically located near the coastline can be used to alert lifeguards of the proximity of sharks:

Hammerhead

From sharks to cycles, R/GA (the company that developed Nike’s Fuel) is a T shaped device that clips to a bike’s handlebars. It connects to a smartphone and uses lights to guide the cyclist around their route – thus mitigating the need to become distracted by their phone.

Samsung Safety Truck

This is a simple and effective concepts that the tech manufacturer developed in Argentina. The country suffers particularly high road fatalities, not helped by the large number of single-lane roads. Their truck simply used a wireless camera at the front and projected the road ahead onto a screen behind so that drivers could easily see if the road ahead was clear. Maybe all trucks will have something like this one day?

The Dancing Traffic Light

This campaign superbly solves the problem of over-eager pedestrians in an engaging way. Instead of a static red person, they dance! Simple enough, but the dancing pedestrian is actually a member of the public in a nearby booth. Their movements are translated into a simple red LEDs that keeps pedestrians entertained instead of trying to cross in front of the traffic:

Internet of Things Strategy – how businesses are using it already

Trillion fold rise in computing powerThere’s much talk about the Internet of Things (IoT), from wearables to connected devices. We’re seeing lots of shiny new gadgets, but what are the implications for business? Should everyone have a strategy? Without wanting to create a sense of panic, businesses will be surprised by the speed and impact that a rapidly connected world will have.

Moore’s Law, is a good way to understand the growth of tech – it’s not actually a law, but a suggestion that computing power will double every 18 months. In fact, things have developed faster than that and we’ve seen a trillion-fold rise in speed/power since the 1970s. It’s what makes wearables, cloud computing and the Raspberry Pi all possible. It’s not just the growth of computing power either. We’ve also seen the development of new sensors, interactions, big data and AI, along with rapid prototyping tools such as Arduino or 3D printing (often financed by crowd funding). The trouble is, humans aren’t great at understanding the concept of exponential growth, and the academic Larry Downs has pointed out that society, business and governments all develop at different linear rates. In other words, we are responding much slower than the technology is developing.

The concept of the Internet of Things is not simply that devices can connect to the internet, but whole ecosystems that make relevant connections between objects and people (or even cows). Connected homes and cars are obvious examples, but the IoT is also impacting on health, industry (especially with robotics) and agriculture (through sensors). This creates a wealth of data that is increasingly being analysed by intelligent machines.

Why is any of that relevant to businesses and brand marketing in particular? The development of mobile devices is a good parallel. Consumers were ahead of brands in using the devices. They also had an expectation that there would be mobile compatible services. Many businesses were slow to get on board, but are finally getting there. The growth of the IoT means that consumers will also expect businesses, even service-focused brands, to be more efficient and more integrated. That doesn’t mean producing pointless apps or gadgets, but rather, providing a better customer experience by leaveraging the benefits of the IoT. An example of how this integration works is the way that health insurers are using fitness and health monitoring products as part of their customer offering.

There are a few companies have already understood how they can leverage the IoT:

– Nike’s Fuel Band (now discontinued) was an example of a brand utility that took their running up into a technology product

– Nivea used beacon technology to deliver a cheap, paper wrist-based tracker to parents

– Disney has made a $1bn investment in their Magic Band, which makes every element of their parks into a frictionless experience

Then we have an increasing number of businesses where the IoT is core:

– Home control devices such as Nest or Hive are fundamentally IoT companies

Tesla cars are all connected devices. When there was a problem with their software, rather than having an expensive recall, the company was able to make an over the air update and avoid a potential PR disaster

– Withings, the French health tech company only create connected products such as their blood pressure monitor or scales

– Then there’s Uber. They are the world’s biggest cab company but they don’t own a single vehicle. The app is classic IoT by contextually connecting passengers to taxis and their drivers. ‘The Uber for X’ is now the current shorthand for this type of connected business

These examples show how most brands can include the IoT as part of their customer strategy. So what can you do about it? I’ve been looking at IoT strategy for a while now, and come up with a few simple ways in which brands can see how to implement it:

– Connect your existing channels and devices – from Twitter to the excellent IFTTT there are many ways in which to connect your existing activities across a range of devices. There are many good examples – Twitter was how Louis Vuitton connected their ‘Hello Cube’ project, extending it from The Tate Modern to a global audience

Apps as a service layer – it’s not just Uber. Smartphones are the core devices for the IoT. We need to move beyond apps as a goal and instead think, of them as the service tool that makes relevant connections to create ecosystems. Air BnB (who book more rooms than The Hilton Group), Waze, Lyft (transport), Depop (vintage clothing) or Yplan (events) are all superb examples of how to create a connected, frictionless service

Smart watches are not small smartphones – the initial raft of Apple Watch apps have focused on two main areas – notifications and scaled down apps. Notifications make sense, but don’t recognize the full potential. Many brands (I won’t name them) have simply scaled down their iPhone efforts into slightly pointless Watch apps. The solution? It’s about creating the service layer (I mentioned above) that has been successful on smartphones

What’s the real problem? Many brands allow the tech to drive their marketing campaigns (think QR codes, iBeacons or drone deliveries) and with more of it about the challenge is even greater. Many of the current smartwatch apps address a phantom problem – that taking your smartphone out of your pocket is a major challenge in your life. Ditch the technology, think like a user and address a real problem

From health to transport to industry, the IoT has the opportunity to make the world a better place. However, even when the tech is there, the applications won’t keep up. Microsoft’s Bill Buxton talked about The Long Nose of Innovation. He took the (computer) mouse as an example, which went from a wooden block in the 60s, to Xerox Parc in the 70s, the Apple Mac in the 80s and finally to all PCs. When it comes to the IoT  we are at the early stages of that long nose. For brands and marketing, the best thing to do is to experiment, innovate and see what you can do. Just don’t make a pointless Apple Watch app.

Why Google Needs Brillo, Their OS for the IoT

With Google’s I/O announcement of Brillo, things are hotting up for operating systems to run the Internet of Things (IoT). We are witnessing a considerable growth of connected objects – from watches to cars to homes. Some of these are from established manufacturers but low-cost, rapid development means that there are an increasing number of startups delivering new devices. With such a broad range of smart objects the real challenge of the IoT is how to make them a fragmented landscape work together.

Google believes that Brillo is the answer (the irony of the similarity to my name is not lost on me). They announced an operating system that is largely Android based with an additional communications layer called Weave. The over arching premise is a consistent experience. Senior VP, Sundar Pichai said in his announcement that with “any Android device [connected to] a device based on Brillo or Weave, a user will see the same thing no matter what.”

The company is already busy in the connected world – they own Android, which powers a majority of the world’s smartphones and has built Android Gear for wearable devices. Google purchased Nest, the connected home system, last year and for the future, their driverless car development will naturally connect to the IoT. The development of complete operating system makes sense for Google.

However, what underpins most of their strategy is their search engine, and with it, paid advertising. Android, for example, puts their search at the heart of mobile. Although smartphones will be the core device for the IoT, the proliferation of connected objects means Google need to ensure their search giant status is future proof.

The success is not guaranteed for Google. Look at the challenges they’ve had in other developments such as social media to see that the power of Google does not always result in uptake. And there are many challengers in connecting the IoT. Major players including Samsung, Microsoft, Cisco and mobile chip manufacturer, ARM have all made moves in this area. There are also a growing number of start-ups and open source projects such as Contiki, Riot and Onion.io. Perhaps most interesting project is IFTTT (‘if this then that’). Many people will know it as a tool for cross posting on social media, but IFTTT offers much more than that. It uses ‘recipes’ to create a codeless method of connecting across channels and devices such as Nest, Phillips Hue or Fitbit. With millions of recipes already running on their apps, the company has a head start on Google supported by a $35m VC funding round in 2014.

Brillo was just one of a number of interesting announcements at Google I/O, there is no question that the operating system has added to the increased interest (and possibly hype) around our rapidly developing world of connected objects.

What Have Hackathons Ever Done for Us?

I don’t get the point of the hack days (or hackathons or whatever they’re called this week) that brands or ad agencies organise. I’ve been to a few and my experience is that they produce very little. Has a viable product or service ever been delivered as a result of a hack day? Not that I know of.

The lack of real innovation is hardly surprising. A typical agency hackathon seems to consist of mostly people from the marketing team and a couple of put-upon developers, who are expected to do a month’s coding in a few hours. Maybe the hackathons made famous by Facebook delivered something useful, but I believe that the brand or agency sessions are largely a PR exercise. At best they might deliver the grain of an idea. There’s nothing wrong with a PR exercise, but there needs to be an element of realism to acknowledge that they are unlikely to deliver innovation.

Moan over, noMaker Monday Transparent smallw for a shameless plug …. We’re trying a different approach to hack days called Maker Monday. Instead of a day or two stuck in a room, it’s a regular monthly event that brings together creatives and technologists to develop long-term projects that deliver creativity or solutions to problems. The first one was held in May in Birmingham. Backed by BCU with funding from the EU, we’ve managed to blag some kit (Arduinos, sensors, Raspberry Pi’s, Oculus Rift and even a 3D printer). We’ve got access to an open innovation space called Birmingham Open Media (BOM) so collaborators can work on projects in their own time.

Each monthly session will be presented by an expert in their field – we’ve got people doing VR, holographic projection, Raspberry Pi, EEG inputs and gesture control. In addition to a short presentation, they will also run a workshop on their specialism. We have artists working with technology lined up to come to the event (and of course, free beer and pizza).

The inaugural event focused developing ideas to deliver for an innovation week in November. There were a number of projects including a speaking keyboard for autistic children, a holographic interactive sculpture and clothes that automatically offer themselves to charity if they’re not worn (you can find more project concepts here).

We’re hoping that the regularity of Maker Monday will create more meaningful results than a hack day. The spread between creative and technologists is pretty even, but as an open innovation event, anyone is welcome (even people from outside Birmingham). The advantage of the monthly approach is that people can collaborate and develop their skills where needed. Maker Monday is free, but tickets need to be reserved (see our Eventbrite page for details).

The next event is at BOM on Monday 29th June at 5.30pm.

See our Tumblr page (http://makermondaybrum.tumblr.com/) for project details or Tweet us @maker_monday

Three Emerging Brands the Show The Future of Fashion Technology

Forget the smartwatch hype, here are three UK businesses that could drive the next generation of fashion – they all make use of technology, but not to lead the product. Instead they use it to offer a great the user experience.

Cute Circuit

Even if you don’t know their name, you probably know their work. They have been around for over 10 years and during that time they have created a number of successful pieces for Katy Perry, the Tweeting Dress for Nicole Scherzinger and the Huggable Shirt. In many ways this company embodies the concept of ‘wearable fashion technology’. Much of this is done by using LEDs that are part of the fabric combined with traditional techniques such as pleating. It means that the clothes can be made skin-tight and fabrics can move in an organic way. , Cute Circuit also have a retail, ready to wear line. The company makes use of LEDs secreted throughout their garments – these can be used to create patterns or messages, all controlled from a smartphone app. For their 14/15 catwalk show, data from the web was fed to the mixing desk and used to create bespoke, changing patters on the clothes. My favourite is the Tweeting handbag. It looks similar to a mid-sized clutch bag, but Tweets and words can be displayed on it.

Lost Values

Trained in both fashion and technology (at MIT), Elena Corchero prefers the phrase ‘smart materials’ applied to her work. Her range of clothes, jewelry and toys generally avoid batteries or circuit boards, instead focusing on smarter fabrics to solve problems. The Lflect range, for example, uses a reflective wool to produce scarves, hats and gloves that are aimed at keeping cyclists safe without the green, hi-viz jacket. The Ecolorium range of jewelry uses stones that change colour in ultra violet light. The objective is to warn the wearer (or friends) to cover up or use sunscreen.

Depop

They don’t make clothes and they don’t use LEDs or clever materails. However, this UK-based app is on its way to changing fashion retail, and particularly that of the vintage market. Using a familiar Instagram-style interface, it allows anyone to post items for sale and other users to like, comment or buy, via a frictionless experience (helped by Paypal). Already popular with millennial users, the app has expanded to the US and secured VC funding. I don’t use the word ‘disruptive’ lightly, but Depop is one of the few apps that has the opportunity to change the market for clothing retail.

Depop’s Becoming the AirBnB for Vintage Clothes

Depop vintage appIf you haven’t come across Depop yet, think of this app as Etsy meets Instagram. The UK business first launched in 2013 and gained nearly 2 million users in its first year. While that growth may not be stunning compared to say, Snapchat, it’s gained considerable traction with millennials – the demographic that typically drives new channel adoption. Depop is chock full of vintage stuff (100,000 items at the last count). Mostly clothes, but plenty of shoes and a smattering of vinyl records.

It works because the app does everything a contemporary mobile experience should do. The Instagram-style layout is easy and familiar. It has a useful set of search tools that add to the product relevance. There are neat little buttons to comment, like and most importantly, to buy the items. It’s almost as simple to sell on Depop. Take a picture, upload it, add a price and off you go. The success of the app comes from this combination of an immediate, frictionless experience and a collaborative approach. Or as their CEO says, ‘it’s designed with the mobile in mind and is social at its very core’.

Depop has the opportunity to be distruptive in the retail space. However, collaborative apps are not without criticism. AirBnB rents more rooms the The Hilton Group, but they are not subject to the same taxes or regulations that a traditional hotel chain has (and I won’t even mention the controversies associated with Uber). They’ve also attracted not just those with a spare room for the night, but people investing and making a living from AirBnB properties.

Depop also appears to have commercial traders, but thanks to the strong social element, it retains a homely feel. When it comes to vintage retail, the market isn’t dominated by large businesses (unless you count Oxfam), nor does it have many of the regulatory issues that hotels or taxis endure. In fact, the opportunity for Depop is by bringing the vintage market into one neat place, right where their audience is.

There’s plenty of optimism for the app. They’ve already ironed out a few complaints about buginess. At the start of the year they gained £5m in VC funding, opened a New York office and hired Ex-Reddit GM, Erik Martin. Whilst Depop are not the only player in the vintage market, it looks as though they have the right UX for the right audience to succeed.