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Don’t let technology get ahead of the idea

Ideas must have space to develop and not get sidetracked by what technology can do

Image Credit: AP
A visitor tries out a new Macintosh iMac desktop computerat an exhibition in 2000. Creative types were still usingtypewriters until 1984 when Apple introduced the Mac
Gulf News

In the 1970s creatives did not trust technology, so much so that while the rest of an office was working on their IBM desktops, creative types were still using typewriters and X-ACTO knives. That was until 1984 when Apple introduced the Mac.

It happened during the Super Bowl with a 60-second Orwellian epic, directed by Ridley Scott. As one industry guru put it, “The commercial changed advertising; the product changed the ad business; the technology changed the world.”

The product of course has transformed our industry, but does the advertising industry pay enough attention to the developments in new products? Conversely, are manufacturers missing a marketing opportunity by not reaching out to the creative houses and their respective production studios?


Starting point


For me I’m stuck in a paradox. On the one hand beginning the idea generation with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil is the only starting point.

However, at the click of a button the Internet will give inspiration to a hundred ideas and the creative tools will multiply what can be done with those ideas. But with the constant influx of new products and new marketing platforms, there is a real danger of getting completely overwhelmed and losing the ability to create originality or, worse, letting the technology dictate the idea.

To illustrate my conundrum, I recently visited Gitex so that I might get inspiration for the latest innovations that might inform an idea for clients. I was disappointed because as I browsed the ‘Digital Marketing’ room I could only find one company that should have been there and had something of value — a company called Tap It that facilitated NFC (Near Field Communication).

But then I realised that while the event may not have been so relevant to a digital advertising agency, it mattered not because it reminded me that the idea must always come first and the technology is simply an enabler. For example, it’s the mobility that is important not the mobile technology per se.

Case in point; the iPhone has so many applications that it has become solely responsible for doubling global ad-spend in mobile marketing. But of the many branded applications, how many actually stick?

So we should start by pouring our efforts into the idea and then working out how the technology can make it work. For example Charmin’s ingenious Sit or Squat application allows users to find nearby restrooms. This is an idea that adds actual value and transcends the notion of an everyday ‘ad’. Likewise Aisle411 is a company founded by an ex ad-man and his idea was not the result of any technological innovation. He saw shoppers frustrated by walking the same aisles twice to find specific products in large hypermarkets. It’s a simple insight but one that fuelled a mobile tool that can map out and optimise a route for shoppers in respect to their shopping list.

A good example is a small independent agency in London, which when pitching for a major kids brand, hired a clown as a consultant during the process and even took him into the pitch. It was not for a laugh – they genuinely wanted to know what they could never find out through research or just monitoring groups on social media.

The same is true for creativity and technology.


— The writer is the CEO of Digital Republic.