If you had to describe SXSW 2024 and the feeling we’re leaving Austin with this year in a few words – you’d probably come up with an analogy that corresponds to the eve of a really big event or a drastic new phase of life. A long and exciting adventure trip with no specific destination, leaving behind much that is familiar. A pitch in an unfamiliar field, where you are still fine-tuning the details until the very end or a space mission where everything just feels three sizes bigger and more important. The overriding feeling is somewhere between anticipation, nervousness and sheer panic, because despite all the routine and habit – what we think we know and what is actually coming – there is a lot of uncertainty.

In many sessions, the speakers took to the stage and asked a very simple, albeit difficult to answer, question: “We all know something is changing right? You guys feel it as well?” We look back on a year of groundbreaking advances in the field of artificial intelligence. Our children now use ChatGPT as a matter of course to do something as mundane as their homework, with technology that would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago. And it’s taken less than a year for this science fiction to feel very normal – and at the same time, we’ve only seen fractions of what we’re likely to see in the coming years.

AI as the “Everything Engine”

At the moment, it’s impossible to talk about any area of technology or business that won’t be affected by AI. But what made SXSW so special this year was that the conversations and assessments about AI often went beyond the buzzwords and simple truths and theses. For Amy Webb, AI is at the centre of a new technology super-cycle, on a par with electricity, the steam engine and the internet. Only this time we are not dealing with just one “general purpose technology”, but with three. Alongside AI, the Internet of Things will become the “connected eco system of things”. And then there’s biotechnology on top.

A sentence uttered in passing by Amy Webb caught our attention: “AI will run out of Internet soon.” The current generative AI models are trained on data from the past, most of it millions and millions of texts and images from several decades of the Internet. But for the next evolutionary stage of AI and the change from Large Language Models (LLMs) to Large Action Models (LAMs), more and, above all, different data is needed. The best way to get it? Wearables that we carry with us 24/7, in all shapes and sizes: from smart rings to smart glasses, from AI pins to the devices Amy Webb unflatteringly dubbed “face computers” such as the Apple Vision Pro. We will see a veritable explosion of devices in the coming months and years – with the aim of collecting as much personal data as possible at all times via a multitude of sensors. Where LLMs can predict what we will say next, LAMs will know what we will do next – perhaps even before we realise it ourselves.

Sounds exciting on the one hand – but on the other, it opens up a whole new dimension of problems around data protection, privacy and regulation. It will be up to us, as the ‘transition generation’, to guide this change and set it on the right course.

The next internet

If you were cynical, you could say that many market players, for whom blockchain, web3 and metaverse were the next big thing, have now retrained as spatial computing evangelists – but that wouldn’t do justice to any of the technologies. A big learning in dealing with technology hype should be that no innovation has changed the world overnight. Not even those mentioned above such as electricity, the steam engine, the Internet or AI. Decades of groundwork, decades more until the deep penetration of really all areas of the economy and society are realistic.

So now we have Spatial Computing. Another hype or the first building block of a very big, very fundamental change that lies ahead? Most Spatial Web experts agreed on one thing: Apple’s Vision Pro is a fascinating piece of hardware, but it’s not yet the big hit intended for the end user. Or in the words of Cathy Hackl: “The Apple Vision Pro is $3500 worth of tech, it isn’t a $3500 value in terms of content and applications for consumers.” So far so good. However, if you think a few iterations of hardware and software further, add AI to the Spatial Web concept, and consider (pun intended) how the iPhone and Meta’s VR glasses have evolved in just a few years, you can see the potential of the upcoming transition from the WWW to the mobile web to the Spatial Web.

At its core, Spatial Computing is the fusion of computer vision, extended/virtual reality, AI and the real world. It will enable us to interact and communicate with each other in entirely new ways and, above all, it will take our electronic companions’ understanding of the world in which we move as humans to a whole new level. Space, audio, data, everything becomes usable, tangible, interactable. The use of off-screen digital applications, new forms of entertainment, retail, education – the physical world as a canvas for digital interaction. As with AI, it will be up to us to accompany and shape this transformation into the third major evolutionary stage of the Internet.

The consumers of tomorrow

So far, we have talked a lot about technology – but one of the big themes of every SXSW has always been the question of what technology actually does to us humans. While most of the marketing and business world is still trying to understand Gen Z, the next generation, those born between 2013 and 2024, are already waiting in the wings in the form of Gen Alpha. To understand them, it is necessary to look at the generation of their parents, whose youth and adulthood were marked by drastic events: 9/11, financial crisis, recession, pandemic, digital revolution, climate change – in short: uncertainty. Strongly involved in family decisions, transparent about finances, natural users of digital media – Gen Alpha is opinionated and decisive, including in their relationship with media content and brands.

In general, we are facing some drastic changes as a society: increasing mobility (globally, but also nationally/regionally), ageing societies, decreasing importance of the nuclear family, greater focus on sustainability, physical and emotional health. We are experiencing a fundamental change with challenges but also opportunities for housing and living models, consumer products and services, transportation and entertainment. Just as the broad lines of change have been mapped out in technology, we all know that fundamental changes will and must take place, but managing the transition and seizing the opportunities will be challenging.

And what about marketing?

Many sessions in the marketing track of this year’s conference were very tangible and practical in nature, in contrast to the often elusive, big transformation topics. On the one hand, this was a very refreshing insight. On the other hand, it left us with the uneasy feeling that, given the number of changes and the generally difficult economic situation, we are doing what we can for the time being for reasons of efficiency; the big picture can wait.

Moving away from traditional audiences to interest-driven communities; leveraging hype cycles around products, pop culture and personalities; tight brand management in an era of highly personalised campaigns and touchpoints; and co-creation with influencers and content creators: These are all issues that many CMOs are struggling to address in the face of cost pressures, the drive for efficiency and, as Accenture Song’s Jake Brody criticises, often poorer product and service quality.

And here we come to the more medium- to long-term task: mending the often damaged customer-brand relationship, clearly differentiating your own brand in a world in which every type of content and communication feels increasingly the same and interchangeable – from Hollywood films to influencer campaigns – and dealing with new technology, from AI to the spatial web, are Herculean tasks that need to be mastered. It might be a good idea to take Noor Naseer’s (Basis Technologies) words from her “Beyond the Buzz” session as a guide: “Focus on your own problems and don’t worry about what others are doing.” Or to put it more positively: By focusing on our own strengths and incorporating our own ideas and creativity, we can master this transition.

One of the most fun things about SXSW is that even if you come for a specific type of insight – in our case, anything related to marketing, technology and (digital) culture – the sheer length of the conference allows you to see a lot of different things. Today, NASA hosted an entertaining opening session featuring an all-female panel of NASA scientists and two astronauts with a live video feed from the ISS – there are certainly less inspiring ways to start the day.

Future Consumers

More down-to-earth in the truest sense of the word, but no less insightful, was a session hosted by Joëlle de Montgolfier and Leah Johns of Bain & Company, who took the audience through their Beyond Trends report. Against the backdrop of our rapidly changing society, driven on the one hand by technological breakthroughs and, on the other, by the ecological shifts brought about by climate change, they outlined eight longer-term shifts in consumer behaviour at macro and micro levels; as well as possible solutions for how business leaders can and should respond.

  • Global and local migration will drastically change our cities and living spaces and requires new ways of thinking about the digitalization of essential services such as healthcare or the automation of retail spaces. 
  • The Ageing of societies and the decline of the nuclear family as the dominant social structure in Western societies will lead to various new services for the older, yet active part of the population in the fields of leisure, work, and education. But much of the infrastructure designed around the nuclear family will also have to change, from transport to restaurants and shopping.
  • With an ageing workforce and a much greater willingness of younger generations to change careers, new working models will need to be developed.
  • A steadily growing part of society is becoming more eco-conscious, which is having a dramatic impact on consumption. There’s a stronger focus on DIY and reducing the carbon footprint of travel. Avoiding unnecessary purchases is also a challenge for existing goods and services.
  • With advances in AI and robotics, there is a growing appetite to automate mundane tasks with technology.
  • Consumers of the future will also think differently about health, heavily influenced by the technology available to them – from wearables to track fitness, to ways and means to improve health, performance, and ageing, there’s a wealth of new business opportunities to be found. 
  • Last but not least, emotional support and well-being is becoming a key challenge for our societies as loneliness increases and shared rituals and places of community decline. New sources of companionship and happiness in services and goods can play a key role in solving this issue. 

Designing for tomorrow’s consumers

Jake Brody from Accenture Song took the stage on Tuesday afternoon to outline five trends in designing brand communication in a rapidly changing environment, affected by economic uncertainty, social strife, new technologies and climate change. 

Economic challenges have led many brands to increase prices, often in non-transparent ways – from shrinkflation, to reducing product or service quality – leading consumers to fall out of love with their favourite brands. Regaining consumer trust and providing value, while carefully balancing cost reduction, will be a key challenge for marketing. One possible solution: AI. 

Generative AI will have a drastic influence on every consumer-brand interface. Marketers must figure out ways to preserve their brands’ identities while relying heavily on AI-powered hyper-personalisation, which increases consumer satisfaction through a higher level of feeling understood and cared for. 

Further relying on the latest technological advances comes with its own set of challenges. Especially as consumers grow increasingly weary of the fast-moving tech hypes, from metaverse to AI to spatial computing. Changes feel too fast and people fear that technology isn’t always beneficial to their wellbeing. For marketers, this means putting the consumer’s best interests first when deciding which technologies to implement in communications and brand experiences. 

Another interesting point raised by Brody: Audiences as well as creators and creatives, are becoming increasingly bored and limited by the prevalence of efficiency-driven content and creation. Consumers feel everything looks and feels the same – a dangerous path for brands that lose their ability to differentiate themselves. One possible solution is to set aside what Brody calls a lunacy budget for risky and creative endeavours that spark curiosity and excitement. 

Introducing Generation Alpha

Discussing the future consumer inevitably leads us to Generation Alpha, the emerging key audience born between 2013 and 2024. Joanna Piacenza of Morning Consult offered compelling insights into this very young audience group, highlighting the profound influence of their millennial parents’ experiences. From economic recessions to a global pandemic and the digital revolution: Gen Alpha is being raised during many once-in-a-lifetime events that heavily influence their upbringing. Their parents are shaping a new generation with strikingly different characteristics from previous generations.

Interesting from a marketing point of view: Gen Alpha develops brand loyalty from a very young age, especially for groceries, snacks and entertainment programmes. This demonstrates their strong influence on decisions within the family dynamic, as they are actively involved in the decision-making process by their parents. This influence even extends to travelling to a destination that the child has seen, for example, on TV. Raised by financially cautious parents (who often openly discuss their household finances with their children), Gen Alpha shows early digital and financial savviness as well as brand consciousness. With a widespread use of tablets and an emerging interest in VR (49% of Gen Alphas own a tablet while 12% already own a VR set), digital immersion is in their DNA.

For brands, connecting with Gen Alpha is challenging and requires an understanding of their digital-first nature and the values they have received from their millennial parents. Early involvement in decision-making means Alphas will have strong opinions, from societal topics to brands. Alpha’s online habits are being formed now, and the habits they form are likely to stay with them for a long time. Acknowledging this dynamic is essential for brands to develop strategies that truly resonate with this emerging audience.

This article was first published on Horizont.

Despite the ever-expanding range of topics and content, SXSW Interactive is still a tech conference at heart. The biggest buzz in tech at this year’s conference is (obviously) AI, but spatial computing and its potential use cases, from mixed reality productivity to VR experiences, are a close second.

AI will make mistakes

One of Monday’s highlight sessions featured OpenAI’s VP of Consumer Product and Head of ChatGPT, Peter Deng, in conversation with Signalfire’s Josh Constine. Their discourse revolved largely around the interplay between humans and AI and the future of ChatGPT in terms of product development and regulation. What could have been an insightful and in-depth discussion about ChatGPT’s future roadmap, the responsible development and disclosure of AI use in communications, the inherent bias of LLMs and the potential regulation, was unfortunately stifled by Deng’s diplomatically veiled answers to almost every critical question.

Will AI lead to massive job losses? Yes, perhaps, but in the future we may simply have more companies with fewer employees. Is ChatGPT/OpenAI too American-centric? No, we want to align with the user’s values and include bits and pieces from all cultural backgrounds. Has the OpenAI board reshuffle been a distraction? No, we are too focused on the work. Should we have rules about disclosure? No, social norms should be the solution. How do we ensure AI literacy and avoid a new digital divide? Make the technology widely available.

Most of these answers would have been worthy of further evaluation and critical reflection, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

However, a number of interesting insights could be gained. When asked if ChatGPT would always have a free version, Deng said yes, and the plan was to add more and more features from the paid version as it became cheaper and more efficient to run. One could also read between the lines that OpenAI had a lot of features and capabilities in the queue to be released for ChatGPT, but is rolling them out slowly and iteratively to avoid potentially negative impacts. As Deng said – “AI will make mistakes” – and OpenAI aims to keep those mistakes small and manageable as part of its responsible development philosophy.

Spatial computing: Immersive storytelling and beyond

The transition from ancient storytelling methods to modern spatial computing: Ola Björling from Buoy led an insightful session highlighting the potential for marketing in the realms of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR). He pointed out that VR devices such as Meta’s Quest and Apple’s Vision Pro mark a significant step in our quest to create immersive experiences that capture moments and emotions, offering users a unique sense of presence.

In defining spatial computing, Björling quoted Simon Greenwold of MIT, who presented it as an interaction in which machines manipulate references to real objects and spaces. Spatial computing isn’t just about technology; it’s about creating experiences that seamlessly integrate with and intelligently respond to our physical environment. He pointed out that Apple is not a late entrant to the space, but has been working on the device for years, citing patents filed. For Greenwood a spatial computing device and Apple’s abandoned autonomous car project would share a lot of underlying technology – from an engineering perspective.

He outlined several future areas of engagement for spatial computing, but one thing remains clear: The technology isn’t about reaching the masses, it’s about creating more meaningful and deeper interactions with users. This medium offers a sense of presence and immersion unparalleled by other forms of media, making it an exceptional tool for fostering deep emotional connections. VR is highlighted as one of the most emotionally powerful mediums, capable of creating memories and experiences that users process as though they were real. This can have profound implications for brand experiences, making them more memorable and impactful.

Mixed Reality enables the blending of digital and real-world content, opening up new avenues for entertainment, productivity, and collaborative experiences. 

Gaming redefines entertainment for the digital generation

Talking about the convergence of digital and real-world content, Joost van Dreunen, renowned games industry expert and professor, highlighted the significance of the gaming industry, a (still somehow) often underestimated yet massive force in the entertainment field. He laid out the recent evolution from traditional product-based models (buying hard copies or cartridges of games) towards services and platforms that emphasise social interaction and community building. This shift is part of a much larger trend, from standalone games towards multifaceted experiences. Gaming is taking on a new role beyond play to now include sharing, creation, and community engagement.

Despite its financial success in most areas, the gaming industry faces a number of challenges such as massive layoffs (as seen in other parts of the tech industry as well) or the struggles of independent studios against rising marketing costs and powerful gatekeepers. However, innovation and collaboration, such as last year’s blockbuster “The Super Mario Bros.” and partnerships between gaming and entertainment giants, are slowly but surely expanding the industry’s scope and integrating it more deeply into our cultural landscape. A great example of pushing traditional boundaries is the partnership between Disney and Epic Games, a collaboration that creates joint immersive experiences from Disney’s beloved theme parks and Epic’s hugely successful Fortnite world.

Another big trend to watch is online multiplayer games, which are becoming increasingly popular and showcase the desire for online community spaces. Games can create meaningful connections and engage users in immersive experiences that blend the online and offline worlds. Consider the phenomenon of Pokémon Go in 2016, where strangers came together to hunt for virtual characters all over the world. Gaming continues to break boundaries. It is a pivotal cultural force, redefining what entertainment can be in the digital age. Because gaming is not just another entertainment industry branch; it’s a revolution in how we can experience, create, and connect with contemporary culture.

This article was first published on Horizont.

At SXSW this year, a prevailing theme across marketing sessions was the pronounced focus on culture media, managing hype cycles, and devising original content ideas. With a shift from demographic targeting to cultural, community and niche interest, along with creator content taking a leading role in campaigns, SXSW is undeniably at the cutting edge of delivering insightful perspectives.

Advertising in a World that is Obsessed with the New

In the flood of constantly emerging products, brands and technologies, it is a challenge to distinguish between genuinely innovative products worthy of their hype and fleeting trends with little substance. In this era of perpetual scrolling, consumers are always looking for the next new attraction. That behaviour can amplify hypes, sometimes excessively, when combined with strategic social media and influencer campaigns. For brands, taking advantage of this hype cycle can be beneficial as it allows for significant markups – at least while consumer interest persists.

In her session, Noor Naseer from Basis Technology offered a deep dive into how hype influences consumer behavior and brand strategy, differentiating between novelty and innovation. She introduced the term “tech lore” as a guiding principle for navigating advertising hypes with an optimal mix of exploration and skepticism. To avoid the pitfalls of overhyped and ephemeral trends, brands should concentrate on authentic innovation that addresses real human needs and offers tangible benefits. Success lies in delivering such value, ensuring that consumers remain loyal to your brand or even increase their engagement with it, confirming that true value is reflected in longevity. Naseer’s key strategies for navigating hypes include focusing on your unique challenges, deeply understanding your audience, aligning with your objectives, and avoiding fleeting trends.

The Art of Going Viral

Michael Krivicka from whoisthebaldguy, known for his role in renowned viral campaigns like the Telekinetic Coffee Shop and the Devil Baby Attack, presented a blueprint for creating viral content. He encouraged the prioritization of concept-driven ideas over traditional paid campaigns that rely on large media budgets or celebrity endorsements. The essence of viral videos? Avoid creating ads disguised as viral campaigns. Instead, produce genuinely captivating and entertaining content that people are eager to watch and share. Aim to interrupt the endless scroll by crafting something remarkable, whether it’s humorous, shocking, or thought-provoking.

This year’s SXSW highlighted the importance of content that resonates on a human level and actively engages the audience. Krivicka also emphasized the significance of originality, suggesting that even if you’re not the first, a unique approach can help you stand out and attract global attention. Both Krivicka and Naseer advocate for capturing consumer attention in innovative ways, whether by exploiting hype dynamics or creating viral content. In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, making a significant impact requires originality, innovation, and compelling storytelling.

Social is Dead, Long Live Culture Media

John Dempsey from Wieden+Kennedy and Krystel Watler from TikTok addressed the paramount marketing theme of 2024 – culture, community, and collaboration. Unlike the social age, culture media is not defined by who you follow, but by the interests you have, the content you interact with and the communities you are part of. And even though it is fluid and ever-changing, it is a great environment for creative advertising and media. But to succeed, you have to play by new rules.

Dempsey and Watler outlined six strategies for brands to engage with subcultures and expand their business:

  1. Commitment to cultural intelligence, which means really immersing yourself in the platform to understand it better
  2. Letting go of brand guidelines and accepting that you no longer have complete control over your brand
  3. Make room for co-creation
  4. Create content that prompts responses
  5. Create brand believers, not fans
  6. And last but not least: Entertain

First published in Horizont.

In the world of SXSW 2024, poetry collides with planetary exploration, AI intersects with the crisis of journalism, and non-obvious thinking reshapes brand strategy. In Austin, the next crisis, breakthrough trends and opportunities are just around the corner – where innovation meets inspiration at the intersection of art and science.

What would one expect from the opening session of one of the world’s most important innovation and entertainment conferences in 2024? Perhaps discussions about how AI is at the heart of both our challenges and our solutions. But SXSW is a departure from the norm. This year’s event kicked off with two remarkable women from very different fields at the intersection of art and science.

Ada Limón, the United States Poet Laureate, and Dr. Lori Glaze, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, took the stage to discuss NASA’s Europa Clipper mission to explore Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. The mission is unique as it will transport scientific instruments along with a poetic message to humanity penned by Limón and accompanied by over 2.5 million signatures as part of NASA’s “Message in a Bottle” Campaign.

The conversation largely revolved around topics that were deeply personal to both women: For Lori Glaze, the pursuit of scientific truths lies beyond our ‘small blue dot’ known as Earth; for Ada Limón, the search for answers works through poetry. Intriguingly, their processes are quite similar. Comfort in the unknown, recognising the grounding, uplifting, and inspiring nature of uncertainty, and embracing the journey without knowing the destination, all resonate deeply in these uncertain times.

Breakthrough Technologies and the Journalism Crisis

Another highlight for entirely different reasons was the session on the “10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2024” featuring Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau from MIT Technology Review. The technologies presented, while expected, included “AI for Everything” at the top, followed by Apple’s Vision Pro, and a mix of advancements in medicine (weight-loss drugs, gene-editing treatments), green energy (high-efficiency solar cells, heat pumps), and computing (from chiplets to exascale computers).

However, Bramson-Boudreau’s fervent introduction about the dire state of media and journalism worldwide stole the spotlight. She described it as an extinction-level event for the industry, highlighting mass layoffs, the closure of numerous established publications, significant cuts in science and technology reporting, and the acceleration of advertising budgets moving towards major platforms. This trend poses a severe threat to the future of society. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who believe that science has a positive impact on society is declining. This is alarming because tackling the pressing challenges of our time, from regulating AI to mitigating climate change, requires an informed and educated public.

This moment calls for advertisers and media agencies to extend their sustainability efforts to include social responsibility, emphasising investment in high-quality news outlets.

Non-obvious thinking in brand strategy 

In the realm of innovation and a changing world, it is often the unexpected twists and overlooked details that lead to breakthrough changes. This was exemplified by keynote speaker Rohit Bhargava, who shared his transformative journey: An unattended book signing in Singapore turned into a pivotal moment when he met a legendary movie producer, who challenged him to look beyond the obvious and embark on a journey of discovery, tackling human issues with non-obvious thinking.

Bhargava, the founder of the Non-Obvious Company and a bestselling author, established his company to promote non-obvious thinking – to notice the small, often missed details. In this year’s featured session at SXSW, he highlighted how conventional thinking exacerbates human problems: the increase of loneliness and anxiety in a work-from-home era that limits diverse interactions; the overwhelming overload of choices in every aspect of life; and the diminishing sense of purpose and motivation.

To address these challenges, Bhargava introduced key elements of non-obvious thinking that can be integrated into our daily lives. He suggested that simple actions, like breathing correctly, can enhance creativity and foster innovation. He also emphasised the importance of accepting multiple correct answers simultaneously, avoiding the stress of searching for a single solution.

True to his reputation as an exceptional storyteller, Bhargava closed the session with the story of the Fosbury Flop, a revolutionary technique from the 1968 Olympics that transformed the high jump. This change was sparked by a small shift in perspective – the recognition of the potential of new landing materials – by an athlete who noticed what others did not. It’s in these moments of clarity and creativity, when the conventional gives way to the extraordinary, that non-obvious thinkers have the power to change the world.

The Transition Generation: Emerging Tech Trends 2024

This year’s SXSW may have boasted royal visitors like Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry, but the real queen of Austin remains Amy Webb, CEO and founder of the Future Today Institute, who presented the Emerging Tech Trends Report 2024.

Unsurprisingly, (Generative) AI was a focal point of the report, seen as a general-purpose technology capable of transforming business and society as fundamentally as the steam engine, electricity and the internet did in the past. However, this transition is distinguished by the simultaneous emergence of two other technology fields: The Connected Ecosystem of Things and Biotechnology. According to Webb, these three general-purpose technologies will initiate a new technology super cycle that will impact every aspect of our lives and redefine our existence.

Yet this monumental change is accompanied by fear, uncertainty and doubt, especially among business and political leaders. The natural tendency towards shorter planning cycles in response to unexpected disruptions contradicts the essential need for strategic long-term planning to maintain control and shape the future.

AI, dubbed the “Everything Engine,” underpins this tech super-cycle. Large Language Models are currently leading the AI wave, but little progress has been made over the year in addressing bias and accountability issues, as speed and scale prove more lucrative for businesses than ethical considerations.

The evolution of AI will transcend language; Large Action Models, capable of predicting next actions based on rich data from sensors, wearables, and other connected devices, represent the next frontier of Generative AI.

First published in Horizont.

Pooja Suvarna, Digital Media Manager at Mediaplus Middle East

AI (Artificial Intelligence) has come long way from deep learning by major advanced computer to image classification, to Chatbot. In recent years AI has been commonly used by people due to easy access and it is proven that AI can help us in lot ways from healthcare and manufacturing to marketing and finance.

All the industry across the globe is now moving towards adapting AI more and more for their business growth and development and we know AI will be the future and hence it is important for us as a brands and businesses to start adapting and utilizing AI more effectively.

How can we unlock the potential of AI in Digital Media?
Let’s look into four different ways of doing so:

1.Processing complex data 

In digital marketing we get access to a wealth of data such as insights, behaviors, and market trends of target audiences. At times, this data complexity can overwhelm individuals attempting to process. AI proves invaluable in efficiently and accurately analyzing intricate data. The insights derived can be utilized to maximize Return on Investment (ROI), identify optimal channel mixes, and pinpoint potential loopholes in our strategies.

Utilizing platforms such as Tableau to simplify complex data involves leveraging data from various sources, including existing campaigns and CRM systems. This data is then utilized to create personas, understand audience behaviors, and fine-tune campaign structures and with that, supports processing complex data.

2. Customized Experience 

Recognizing the uniqueness of each audience and their behaviors is paramount in digital marketing.  AI plays a crucial role in tailoring experiences for different target audiences, ensuring high relevance. AI assists in identifying online audience behavior and preferences, enabling the delivery of products or services that align with their interests. 

Technologies such as Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO) dynamically deliver customized ads based on AI-driven insights, allowing precise targeting of audience needs. Additionally, conversational adspersonalize interactions with customers based on their interests and behaviors. 

3. Precise Targeting 

Leveraging AI to sift through complex data and understand audience interests empowers us to target digital campaigns more precisely. Technologies like Sequential Targeting, presenting a series of video ads in a specific order, and Contextual Targeting, reaching audiences while they engage with relevant content, ensure a strategic approach to advertising.

Sequential Targeting ensures a logical progression of video ads, while Contextual Targeting allows us to occupy the competitive space by placing our ads alongside content discussing rival brands.

4. Real-Time Learnings and Optimization 

In the dynamic landscape of digital marketing, making informed decisions during ongoing campaigns is crucial for achieving Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on time. AI-driven analytics tools and dashboards providing real-time data are indispensable for digital marketers.

Using platforms like – Tableau or Google Studio Report for monitoring campaign data on daily basis. This will help us take crucial decisions at the right time basis the data presented from the report.

In the dynamic realm of digital marketing, real-time decision-making is the key to achieving timely Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Here, AI-driven analytics tools and dashboards emerge as indispensable companions, offering a constant flow of real-time data. Platforms like Tableau and Google Studio Report become the lens through which we monitor campaign data on a daily basis, enabling us to make informed decisions based on curated AI-driven insights.

In essence, the integration of AI into our digital strategies is not just a choice; it is the catalyst that propels us into a realm of unparalleled precision, relevance, and efficiency. As we embrace this transformative technology, the message is clear: the time is now to harness the power of AI and elevate our digital marketing endeavors to new heights.

Karim Mroueh, Digital and Social Lead at Serviceplan Group Middle East

As we progress in the technological innovation, we should consider the enormous changes artificial intelligence is bring to our life. I have been following an interesting trend in AI development that is based on the characteristic of humans: there is a certain amount of what I like to refer to as “Human selfishness” that is dominating people’s reactions. This phrase sums up how we naturally respond to technologies that invade domains that we think are exclusively human.

Consider the development of robotics. Robots had long been a feature of our industrial and scientific environments, but it wasn’t until they began to carry out activities that were fundamentally human, from walking, talking, and listening to interacting in real-time, preparing pizzas to even serving, that the public began to take an interest in them. Not only is there freshness to this rise in curiosity, but we also find ourselves reflected in these robots.

With AI, a similar pattern became apparent, especially after ChatGPT and its equivalents were introduced. Artificial intelligence (AI) has long been present in our daily lives, from movie recommendations to sentence completion suggestions on smartphones. But what really got people interested was AI’s capacity to have human-like interactions. The combination of curiosity and FOMO is what is causing this boom of interest. Not only are we captivated by the capabilities of AI, but we also worry about falling behind in this quickly developing digital era.

The change in our collective question, however, is arguably the most fascinating aspect of AI’s progress. From “Can AI think and do like a human?” to “What can’t AI think and do like a human?” is the new question. This move represents a fundamental shift in how we view the potential of AI. We are approaching a new era of possibilities with the growth of 5G, the improvements in processing power, and the ongoing evolution of data.

I see AI changing perceptions and connecting dots, transforming believes in different fields.

AI is changing the traditional belief that creativity is a unique to humans in the creative industries. AI has a massive impact on healthcare, enabling personalized treatments and transforming diagnostics. 

The development of autonomous vehicles demonstrates AI’s capacity for real-time decision-making and complex environment navigation. But the real innovation in AI is in the way is the knowledge democratization. It is opening high-level skills to everyone. It is empowering and enlarging horizons.

The discussion about AI’s potential is moving from its “capabilities” to “our decisions and responsibilities when we use this technology more and more into our daily lives.”

In summary, the story of AI’s future is one of redefining the human experience rather than merely one of technical progress. It’s about rethinking what’s possible and venturing into the unknown. As we proceed on this path, we should be more concerned with using AI to advance humankind than just innovation. Not only is there a question of what AI can accomplish today, but also of what we will decide to do with it.

New Zealand is a remote Island on the other side of the world, with lots of sheep and a lot less people. But what it lacks in manpower it seems to make up for in creativity. Funnily enough, New Zealand with a population of just 5 million people, manages to punch severely above its weight in the creative rankings at advertising festivals. For example: NZ has won 31 yellow pencils at the prestigious D&AD festival – a competition that is famously difficult to win. Germany, with a population sixteen times bigger, has won 44. And last year at Cannes, New Zealand won 1.8 lions per million people of population. Whereas the most successful nation at the festival – the USA – won just 0,7 lions per million people of population.

Being a kiwi myself, I thought I would try to hypothesize as to why a remote island in the south pacific has somehow managed to put itself on advertising’s creative map. Who knows, maybe we can all benefit a little from this island mentality?

To start with, NZ society has always been rather progressive. It was the first country in the world to give woman the vote for example. Conservative clients are the biggest killers of ideas and New Zealand just might have fewer of them?

The size of the country also means its media budgets reflect that. Therefore, agencies must make their ideas work harder to get attention, and that means disruptive thinking is not only encouraged but necessary. And because budgets are smaller, creatives are used to finding innovative ways to solve problems. Kiwis are renowned for this – it’s called “the No. 8 wire mentality” which is the notion that farmers can use a length of fence wire to fix any misbehaving machine. This cultural problem-solving mentality seems to also be helpful in producing great advertising.

Then there is the fact that because NZ has less people it also has less layers of complexity and hierarchy on the client side. That means ideas are usually presented to the people who make the decisions. From my experience, this is probably the most important factor for getting brave innovative work approved.

These are just guesses, but maybe there is some truth as to why a remote country like New Zealand has found its share of creative success or maybe there’s just something in the water?

This article was first published as part of the W&V “Innovationsradar” in the W&V issue 02/2023.

On July 5th, Meta introduced “Threads” on the market which seems to have a very similar purpose to Meta’s big rival Twitter. But what’s it all about? Is it another trendy alternative that will fade soon or later, or a serious threat to Twitter?

Designed to share text updates and public conversations, the newly launched app Threads sounds awfully lot like another Twitter clone. And that’s exactly what it is. But unlike the still invite-only Bluesky, created by Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey and Mastodon, mostly known for confusing potential users due to its complicated, decentralised instances and lacklustre UX, Threads and its close ties to Instagram managed to attract over 100 million users within its first 3 weeks.

While Threads has been launched in over 100 countries, one region is notably absent – and that is the European Union. The main reason for that is the Digital Markets Act, that is supposed to prevent dominating businesses in specific fields from abusing their power. In Threads’ particular case, transferring user data from Instagram to Threads and its tie ins into the bigger Meta ecosystem appear to be the major issue. It is still uncertain when and in what form Threads will launch in the EU.

However, Threads still has pretty barebone features – posts can be up to 500 characters long, they can include links, photos, and video content up to 5 minutes in length. So far, so unexciting. The true USP of Threads, however, is the close tie into the existing Instagram ecosystem. When signing up, users can directly follow their existing Instagram contacts, creating a very low-friction process of accessing your familiar contacts and interests right from the start.

Meta also announced, that in the future Threads will be compatible with the open ActivityPub protocol, which will enable Threads to be interoperable with services like Mastodon and blogging platform WordPress and potentially every other platform that has plans to implement the standard, e.g. Tumblr. For Meta, which historically was quite protective of its walled garden of services, this is a big step towards openness, especially during times when platforms tend to shut off their services from the rest of the internet more and more, as recently demonstrated by Twitter and Reddit.

One thing is certain: Threads poses a serious temptation for the growing number of Twitter users who are currently searching for alternatives since Elon Musk took over Twitter. Musk’s latest move to rebrand Twitter to “X” and his plans of turning the platform into the West’s first AI powered “super app” covering everything from social content to banking (just like WeChat in China or Kakao in South Korea), the uncertainty about the future of the platform keeps growing. If Twitter fails to reassure its users and regain their trust, Meta’s app Threads will get the upperhand.

Admittely, the launch of Threads feels a bit rushed. But from a strategic perspective, it makes a lot of sense to position Threads as a readily available, safer, easy-to-use alternative to Twitter, Mastodon and Bluesky. Obviously, the launch of Threads was no coincidence – it puts Meta in a really good position to take over the Microblogging market and position its app as the new global town square. While Threads right now has no monetization yet, it could be an attractive alternative for advertisers in the future with Meta’s established set of advertising products, in-depth targeting data and brand-safety standards.

By Helmi Abdalhadi | Manager, House Of Gaming at Serviceplan Group Middle East

To say we’re past the times when gamers were either “casual” or “hardcore” would be quite an understatement. While these two umbrella terms still categorise some gamers – especially in a way that is easy to understand for those who are not native to the scene – there are many niche personas within gaming audiences. As cogs in the ever-growing gaming industry, we hear it almost daily: “So much potential in this space but how am I supposed to reach the gamers I want to reach?” It’s a common dilemma that grows in parallel with both the industry and its fragmentation. 

For example, Game A’s audience is a completely different demographic than Game B’s. If you play Game A in one style, then you’re likely a different crowd than if you play it in another – and on, and on. This dissolution of the gaming sphere is one of the largest barriers to entry for brands. It’s messy, variable and most significantly, extremely foreign to non-gamers.

However, just as with any topic, there are different methods to effectively traversing the gaming maze. Some marketers find a meaningful connection between the brand and the gaming space, some identify a game whose core regional audience is very similar to the brand’s, and some – who are more committed – set an upstream strategy for a more long term vision. While attempting any or all the above, professionals should take advantage of the ways in which groups of gamers can be segmented. Brands and agencies have been creating global activations on this basis. 

There are strong gamer-persona classifications. GWI’s Gaming Personas report approaches this via analysing platforms used and content consumed, reaching conclusions such as Mobile-Only players’ most distinctive use of social media is to follow celebrities, or that Casual Gamers’ most distinctive brand advocacy motivation is access to exclusive content or services. SuperJump did it through age groups, gender and gaming purchasing habits. They have molded personas such as “The Subscriber” whose average age is just under 30, whose main reason for gaming is filling time and who is also most likely to be an early adopter of cloud gaming platforms. 

While all classifications provide substantial value in achieving the marketer’s vision, we are going to take a step back. Let’s look at selected personas strictly based on gamers’ interests outside of gaming, and how relevant global brands are transcending both games themselves, and the gaming industry by targeting these personas.


You’ve always been able to throw Pac-Man on a T-Shirt, but as gaming organisations, teams and influencers’ roles grew, they started to take notice that for many consumers, gaming has become less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle. A lifestyle they’re willing to invest in given the correct brand advocacy motivators. These gamers are fashionable, involved in the latest trends and keep up with pop culture. They consume content like TV shows, anime, Esports and podcasts on platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, Instagram and TikTok. They play games such as competitive FPS (Valorant), competitive MOBA (League of Legends) and RPG Story games (Elden Ring). They also have high ambitions and are entrepreneurial – they enjoy being able to afford luxury brands.

The next action was to give these gamers-turned-fans something to represent their lifestyle and interests. This approach was pioneered by 100Thieves, an LA-based Esports organisation whose pillars aren’t only gaming, but also lifestyle, apparel and content. “We didn’t want to turn over creativity to some sports licensing firm who would make dozens of ugly T-shirts,” said John Robinson, president and COO of 100 Thieves. “Licensed apparel might have worked in the ’90s, but I don’t think it fits what our fans want today.” 100Thieves took inspiration from industries whose players took similar paths: Basketball (Air Jordan, Nike), HipHop (OVO, XO) and Skating (Supreme, Vans). 100Thieves recently partnered with Gucci to launch a full line of clothing targeting gamers, using 100Thieves influencers – who are gaming heroes – as models. 

Gucci are not the first – nor the last – luxury brand to tap into gaming. Louis Vuitton continues to partner with Riot Games since the collaboration’s inception in 2019. LV have now created in-game cosmetics for League of Legends champions and influencers, designed tournament trophies and released a full line of League of Legends themed clothing. Berlin-based gaming organisation G2 Esports announced a global partnership with Ralph Lauren in June 2021 that will see the two collaborate “across multiple campaigns and events while also launching a series of digital-first activations.” Just recently, Balenciaga entered the gaming space through a collaboration with Fortnite that resulted in a real-life and in-game clothing capsule. 

You may be thinking: alright, by now, we are definitely aware of gamers’ disproportionately high disposable income figures but does that really translate into luxury-esque amounts of spending? University College London Consumer and Business Psychologist Dimitrios Tsivrikos is cautiously optimistic. “I think your average gamer will not [buy these designs]. But then again, if this is successful, these sort of trends actually trickle down to more entry-level products. So these are the products that train young consumers to love and associate themselves with a brand, and once they have the income available to them, then they can actually purchase something that’s slightly more expensive.”

Tsivrikos is aware that it’s already happening. Outside of B2B partnerships, the same big brands that sponsor traditional athletes are now collaborating with Esports athletes and gaming influencers. Adidas have not only been creating and sponsoring tournaments in regions all over the world for years now, but they also announced Ninja as their first ever Esports athlete in 2019. Ninja has now co-designed two clothing lines and multiple sneakers with Adidas. One can’t speak about Ninja without mentioning his signature game – Fortnite. Fortnite and Epic Games are one of the biggest players in today’s market and have tapped into multiple personas including fashion through a Nike collaboration to bring the iconic Air Jordan 1s to players in game. AJ1s are known to the sneaker community as the shoes that gave birth to sneaker culture and, in typical hype-beast manner, players were able to receive the shoe as an in-game cosmetic for a limited time in May 2019.



It is no secret that an immense overlap exists between traditional sports audiences and gamers.  The melding of sports and gaming has been in the works since the inception of the gaming industry. One of the strongest associations that non-gamers make with the gaming scene is that of huge sports titles such as FIFA, NBA2K and Wii Sports. And for good reason. FIFA 20 sold over 1.2m copies in its first month of sales, FIFA21 over 1.5m. Every Wii console shipped with Wii Sports as standard and it grew to be one of the most popular Wii games of all time regardless of its vanilla nature. 

It’s a natural connection. If you’re passionate about a particular sport, you’re likely interested in playing it virtually to continue exercising your competitive spirit. 

Sporting audiences have long been a lucrative target group for advertisers and brands. They possess strong brand advocacy motivators due to sport, team or athlete loyalty. The same applies to Esports and its audience if not to a greater extent as they possesses significantly higher disposable income as per the Magid research group. 

This audience is gym-crazed, extroverted, and competitive. They are a wide demographics in terms of gender and age. They consume Esports content on top of the broadcasted matches, consuming analytical and strategical content. They enjoy sporting titles such as FIFA, NBA2K and Madden, as well as RTS games (Starcraft 2, Civilization 6) and plug-and-play games that can be competitive as well (Call of Duty, Overwatch). They consume content such as docu-series, sporting debates, podcasts and memes on platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, Instagram and Reddit. 

This connection between the traditional and virtual sporting worlds has been known for a while. Activations and projects that are designed to address it have been grabbing headlines for the better part of the last decade. Organisations and teams across different sports, leagues and continents have been creating Esports teams under the main team’s umbrella for some years. In European football, PSG, Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Schalke04 among many other top organisations field teams in FIFA as well as other Esports.

COVID-19 forced the hand of many sporting associations and teams to seek gaming and Esports as an alternative method of staying afloat. Formula 1’s 2020 season was cut in half due to cancellations and postponements and, for a while, there was no light at the end of the tunnel. To alleviate a collection of burdens including sponsor commitments, financial woes and fan demands, Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, decided to hold several virtual Grand Prix races that included a mix of F1 drivers, athletes from other sports and F1 Esports professionals. The EVGP, as they were dubbed, were an unprecedented success. They were widely distributed across traditional and gaming platforms and achieved an audience of over 30 million viewers.


It should come as no surprise that gamers with expensive headphones and microphones are also one of music and audiophile companies’ key target groups. This audience is passionate about sound quality not only for their gaming, but also music and video consumption. They are willing to invest their high disposable income into their audio set-up, with products such as DACs, AMPs and audiophile headphones. These previously niche products have crept their way into the casual-tech ecosystem. Their users may begin with tunes, but then become interested in music production and audio engineering and editing. They may own 3-4 pairs of differently tuned earbuds for various use cases. These users are tech-savvy, collaborative in sharing productivity tips or new music, organised and ambitious of making a job out of a hobby. They also play an instrument and consume content such as tech, casual gaming, podcasts and music production on Spotify, YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and Apple Music.

However, music and gaming have had a rough few years leading up to the current wave of collaborations and integrations. In May 2020, the National Music Publishers Association struck down on the biggest gaming streaming platform, Twitch, and its creators for regularly using copyrightable music on streams. This led to many channel strikes, and necessary Twitch action in deleting a large amount of past VoDs. It also sued Roblox for $200m claiming copyright infringement.  

Luckily, these IP crackdowns did not change the way the music industry itself views the gaming world. The NMPA announced agreements with both Twitch and Roblox in 2021 – and more has been happening every week on an industry-wide level.

Just in the past two years, Marshmello, Travis Scott and Ariana Grande have all appeared in the Fortnite metaverse via in-game concerts to millions of spectators and players. Popstar Lil Nas X joined the wave and made an appearance himself in Roblox. DJ Zedd is an avid gamer and himself appreciates the power of the gaming audience. Zedd has collaborated with Overwatch and Valorant in recent years through creating in-game cosmetics as well as engineering and producing the sounds these Zedd-branded cosmetics make.

Blockworks is an agency that creates experiences within Minecraft for gamers and also helps brands reach this audience through in-game activations. Melon, a company focused on the different metaverses, is focused on achieving the same but with Roblox. These companies collab with innovators such as AudioMob to ensure that audio adverts running in games are placed at suitable times for gamers in a way that adds value to the gaming experience rather than disrupting it.

How about audio companies themselves? Sennheiser, JBL, Beyerdynamic and other audiophile brands have gotten involved in gaming through different measures. Sennheiser and JBL now offer gaming-headset lines as well as specific premium headphones that are targeted at gamers. JBL sponsors gaming influencers regularly and hosts tournaments involving them.