Robots are the future, Dentsu Aegis CEO Nigel Morris tells Ad Week


Nigel Morris, the CEO of Dentsu Aegis, took the stage at Ad Week this week along with his little robot friend Mirata – and there was no doubt as to who the audience wanted selfies with afterwards. So are robots the future? They certainly have a lot to teach us about communication and innovation.

Jenny Cornish Jenny Cornish Carat Blog Editor Carat UK Robots Nigel Morris tech trends ad week europe
Morris was at Ad Week to introduce us to Mirata, the brother of Kirobo, who recently completed his first mission aboard the International Space Station.
But first, he explained why innovation was so crucial to every organisation today.
“The change we’re experiencing at the moment is moving at the slowest pace it ever will do. Everything is speeding up,” he said.
So why think about a frog? Yes, a frog.
“If you ever take a pan of boiling water and you throw a frog into it, it leaps out. If you put a frog in a pan of cold water and turn the heat on, it boils to death,” said Morris.
Think about that, kids. But don’t try it at home.
Morris explained: “At the heart of Dentsu is great innovation. That’s absolutely critical to any business at the moment.
He described the concept of innovation as ‘a set of capabilities that enable the realisation of a desired future’.
But he warned: “A lot of innovation is really hard to do; a lot of it is really unglamorous.
“To innovate in a world of change, you need a compass that says, this is where we’re heading, and you need a radar to avoid the pitfalls.”   

He said modern companies like Air BnB, Uber, Dollar Shave Club and Instacart were making a benefit out of the fact that they had nothing. 

“They have no infrastructure, no capital tied up in the physical world,” he said.

“They have a bit of software and they have people. These are audience businesses. They have an audience on the demand side and an audience on the supply side. They sit in the middle of a marketplace and they don’t need the physical goods. That gives a very high rate of return. The dynamic is that they are networks of people.

“This has created the conditions of perfect competition. What happens in this perfect competition is that supply and demand equalise. It’s a much more efficient market.

“The opportunity as a whole for the economy is huge. What’s happened in 2014, after 25 years of a digital world fitting into an analogue world, is that we’ve slipped into digital being the dominant form. That’s a fundamental shift.”

But he said for many companies it was too late to adapt to this. “If you’re not a start-up, you’re a turnaround,” said Morris.

“The time to act as a turnaround was five years ago, 10 years ago – for some people it might be too late.

“By 2020, 40 per cent of the top 10 companies in the world will not exist. They’ll have gone. That’s quite frightening.

“How do you act at speed when you have all that infrastructure? The challenge is how do you fit into that new world when you’ve been designed for an old world.”

However, he said, with change came huge opportunities. “This is a really vital moment for marketing, a really pivotal moment for communications,” he said.

“We have the opportunity to move from a world where we used to make stuff and marketing had to go and sell it, to a new role for marketing. Marketing now becomes a sensor to understand what people want. It becomes much more demand-led than supply led, which is potentially much more sustainable.”

But never mind the theory – bring on the cute robots. The Kibo project means hope in Japanese – and it has a lot to teach us about ourselves.

“It looks at questions like, how do we want to interact with robots?” said Morris. “How do we create machines where we can live harmoniously together?”

Morris showed us a film of Kirobo interacting with his colleagues on board the International Space Station.


“Kirobo spent months in space,” said Morris. “He helped with some of the projects, ran some of the tests. 

“What does that mean? What’s that going to mean over the next five to ten years? What are we learning about how people communicate when it’s not human to human? We’ve learnt a lot about how people communicate remotely. People feel more comfortable saying something to a robot than they do to a human.” 

Learnings from this project could help us move forward with the concept of the Internet of Things. “Talking to a car might seem a bit strange,” said Morris. “Talking to a robot in a car might be a way of managing that interface. That’s more uplifting and more effective.”

It’s thought that eventually robots like these – or their subsequent generations – could help provide companionship and support for increasingly isolated humans, perhaps the elderly and the infirm. 

There’s no doubt Mirata was a big hit with the audience – even if he was a bit shy and seemed dumbstruck by the attention. 

“The cliché is, never work with children and animals,” said Morris. “They forgot to mention Japanese speaking robots when they said that.”





Jenny Cornish Jenny Cornish Carat Blog Editor Carat UK Robots Nigel Morris tech trends ad week europe
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