What does the cat say?
It was actually a hard sell to my colleagues (and my wife for that matter). “I’ve won a spot to attend WPP’s unconference, it’s in Greece, I’ll be gone for the week, it’s going to be a lot of travel and a load of work” – the responses ranged from “sure, enjoy the beach” to “it's not a job you have, it’s more like a hobby”.
I’m part of the digital strategy team for The BlueHive (WPP’s global Ford practice) in Asia, based in Australia. Aside from being a petrol-head, my passion and much of my focus is finding/using technologies that facilitate existing human behavior. Like Instagram, playing on our desire to share great looking images we create with our friends, or Trip Advisor, playing on our desire to find an honest review of what a hotel (Golden Coast) is really like, or even Angry Birds, playing on our desire to play when we’ve a little down time.
As a collection of inspirational tech innovators, industry leaders, WPPStream holds a real draw for me… the Wildcard was my ticket to attend. The Wildcard competition asked for examples of “creative uses of technology”. Over 30 days I tweeted 30 examples (one a day) of both brand’s and start-up’s creative uses of technology. You can find my effort on Twitter @formatt. Then I got the email from Ella… “you’re in”… #thrilled.
Once you’ve considered the role of most people attending WPPStream, being there as a Wildcard is quite unique. Clients are there to gain deeper insight to emerging technologies and trends. Agency folk are there to help clients on this voyage of discovery. The inventors and start-ups are there to put forward their innovations, new companies and ideas. As a Wildcard you can truly indulge your own passions and for me that’s consumer tech.
My WPPStream started at Athens airport, I arrived at four in the morning after a 40+ hour haul across the globe. I knew I had a few hours to kill until the coach came to take us to the Golden Coast hotel. While waiting for coffee (critical), I met two guys also heading to WPPStream, also waiting for the bus. We spent the next four hours talking about their start-ups (Drippler, an app to help you get the most out of your mobile and FenGUI, a visual optimisation web service) and playing with gadgets like Google’s cardboard VR viewer (a low-tech Oculus rift). It was good to get alternative/out-of-category points of view on how the availability and prevalence of such things will significantly change something like a retail car buying experience.
Once checked in I headed to the Gadgetathon. I loved the inventiveness and Heath-Robinson-ness of it all – it shows that it’s not just Google’s X lab that are creating things that will change how consumers behave, but also people in their sheds at the end of their gardens. Particular highlights were the cat-translator (a device to translate the cat’s meow that is a prototype for a baby-translator) and a brainwave control game (competitors use their thoughts only to control a small ball) – both mind-blowing.
Day one of the discussions for me really focused on technology’s impact on society and particularly how technology has born a new breed of consumer influencer. It was interesting to hear from people like Alexis G Zall and Jake Horowitz who are carving out careers for themselves as influencers facilitated by their relationships with brands. It was also interesting to hear from brands doing really well in the space, like Bacardi, who clearly are investing and building momentum in an always-on approach to connecting with their target audiences. I also enjoyed a discussion closer to my heart on “The Connected Car” with my brethren from Ford – though sadly we’re still a long way off the flying car.
Aside from all the fun of the main evening events (I’ll let you check these out on the WPPStream website http://www.wppstream.com/events/stream-2014/) another highlight were the Ignite Talks. A series of 3 minute presentations with automated slides that presenters have no control over to keep them to time. High pressure (for the presenter) but makes for a to-the-point presentation – a format I want to use to help facilitate sharing within my own organization. From this I learnt more about the world of online-dating than I ever thought possible.
Day two of discussions for me really focused on the emerging markets (again of interest given my current role) and the (usually faster) adoption of new technologies there. We talked about the ‘next billion consumers’ emerging in Africa and the leap-frogging of technology there – from no bank account to mobile banking in one step. Also discussed was the concept of choice in Modern China. Again, for me, it was interesting to see how Chinese copies of platforms like Twitter (SinaWeibo) are used in the same way, proving that many human behaviors are universal and so, while localization is always important, there are always going to be best practices brands can apply globally.
A couple of regrets – 1. you just run out of time to talk to everyone, even on the coach back to Athens airport I met co-founder of Russian publisher Look At Media and we talked about Russia’s ravenous consumption of media, stopping our discussion only because I had to get on the plane. 2. I didn’t get a chance to hear Sir Martin’s view on this year’s F1 season – which, as a petrol head too, I’d liked to have heard.
If you’re any part of WPP (any role, any level) you have to enter a Wildcard to any of the WPPStreams – it is a manifestation of why you (probably) got into the industry in the first place. Thought leaders, decision makers and demonstrations of innovation… it certainly provided the feeling a good hobby gives anyway.