Wired 2014: the big themes I learned and how Media can act on them today


Wired 2014 – the big themes I learned and how Media can act on them.

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I love conferences; I really do. I’ve been to many in my time, from media to branding to advertising, but I’ve never been to a conference quite like Wired 2014.

The two-day event in East London covered a bit of everything related to innovation, and left the synapses of one’s mind to draw parallels and spot opportunities between differing sectors, technologies and theories. When I signed up for the conference, I wasn’t sure that media strategies would be obvious, but I knew I would leave inspired in some way. Now that a little time has passed, I can see the direct media implications more clearly, especially as technologies like virtual reality, driverless cars and wearable devices become more tangible.

This year’s conference hosted artists, activists, architects, astronauts and Artificial Intelligence. Speakers like Prince Andrew, Zaha Hadid, will.i.am, and John Hegarty shared their point of view in the hope of inspiring newer and better ideas. Topics were as varied as the innovations – from developing human hearts in laboratories to activist hackers using drones for good. While there were many jaw-dropping innovations, here are the over-arching themes and their media implications.

1. Maintaining health will become more of a concern in 2015.
One of the most inspiring speakers was Anne Wojciki, the founder of 23andMe, a company that extracts and analyses DNA at scale, so it is available to everyone at an affordable price. 23andMe’s vision is to empower people to fully understand their bodies’ strengths and weaknesses. As a former pharmaceutical industry expert, Anne observed how the healthcare system was designed to profit from illness, instead of health. Her products empower people by providing them with the genetic information they need to make better choices, from avoiding food allergies to assessing ones chances for a specific type of cancer. 23andme and similar companies will help shift peoples’ focus away from treating illness to maintaining wellness.

This shift will bring with it a wave of interest in the fine print details of brands and companies. The Internet has helped the everyday consumer become an investigative reporter with everything from cereal box labels to car safety practices. Now, they will start to channel this curiosity inward, looking at their bodies and lifestyles, benefitting those brands most willing to help people on a niche level. The ‘media of motivation’ – e.g. gym posters, FMCG labels, bike paths OOH, social media commentary, helpful native advertising and wearable apps – will increasingly be important to consumers, and therefore to our clients.

2. Small tech will increasingly be used to complement the body in 2015.
Wearable devices like watches, cuffs and glasses are old news. This year’s conference saw small 3D printers creating bones, prosthetics, and even consumable pharmaceutics. Drones, cameras, robots and gyroscopes helped attendees participate in the conference from remote locations. Most impressive was a wearable device that sits on your shoulder like a parrot and uses audio and laser to teach the wearer how to do things like build a model car, prepare a meal, or rewire an electrical device.

As tech increasingly becomes small, wearable and consultative, how will brands behave? Just last week we saw the launch of Amazon Echo, a speaker-like device that sits at the center of your home and listens, informs and takes notes. With technologies like virtual reality, drones, and wearable sensors, the time is coming when brands must consider how and when they will intervene this intimate device-to-wearer relationship and recommend their services and products. As media professionals, we should lean into the experimentation, before the rules are defined for us.

3. Data visualization will more easily depict opportunities in 2015.
The tension between art and science is gone. Thanks to software innovations and growing interest in tech start up success, these once polar opposites are in complete harmony. Cesar A Hildalgo from MIT Media Labs shared the most recent innovations in data visualization, from using images to predict economic patterns and spot growth opportunities to predicting illness outbreaks, the way we use imagery to tell stories will help educate people faster to make informed decisions.

Sites like the Observatory of Economic Complexity and Pantheon allow communications professionals to develop brands, messaging and identify where media convergence has the highest likelihood of succeeding next. Media strategists could pair this data with already existing survey-based systems like CCS to form more innovative and business changing insights.

4. Activism will scale faster and softer in 2015.
Social activism from consumers, and advertisers, will increase in the years ahead. We’ve observed great change in places like Ukraine, Egypt, and Hong Kong because its citizens and supporters are connecting around shared causes on social media platforms. As social platforms like Twitter and Facebook continue to grow and multiply their global footprints, more and more people will be willing to stand up and take action through the safety of their mobile device.

Oslo Freedom Forum was in attendance at the Wired 2014 conference with guest speakers from conflict areas that had experienced social media revolutions. These testimonies were inspiring, and I listened to these brave people speak, I couldn’t help but thing about recent Cannes winners, such as Dove Beauty.

As social activism from the mobile device becomes easier, it will be hard for corporations to resist ‘doing good’ whether it’s because their consumers want it or because it wins Cannes Lions. This means that in 2015 and beyond, companies should better align their CSR-like behaviors with their consumers’ interests and marketing practices. While ‘pulling at heart strings’ for the sake of a TVC will easily be exposed, delivering tangible benefits for popular causes consumers will always bode well for companies, regardless if the clients’ motivation was an advertising award, short-term profit gains or genuine conviction.

In conclusion, Wired 2014, and similar conferences with less overt media intentions, can inspire in possibly more surprising ways – helping the attendee surpass the stale ideas circulating on the generic in-sector conference circuit. Strategists and planners need to think bolder, faster, more targeted and more scalable every day. Perhaps out-of-sector exploration is wise for those responsible for outside the box, yet right-out-of-the-box, thinking.

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