The day formats became ideas

If there is one thing I agree with Brian Solis on, is that the pace at which technology progresses is far greater than our ability to keep up with what those developments truly mean. This creates a couple of gaps in our understanding of the present and future.

On one hand, we tend to overestimate how that will transform (or not) our attitudes and behaviours. Things happen so quickly that we tend to assume the transformations that result will be equally quick to come to life, which isn’t always true. Smartphones have truly changed the world and how we spend our time, but it’s something years in the making that owes a lot to the consistent delivery of Moore’s Law — not something that suddenly happened a few years ago, even if sometimes it does feel like that. VR seems to be exploding but it will take a while before non-early adopters truly understand and adopt the main use cases we think it will serve (gaming, news and travel are just the beginning IMO).

On the other hand, we tend to underestimate how the use cases of new technologies will evolve over time. If I told you 10 years ago you would be sharing photos of your feet with image filters and a thing called hashtags through your phone, you would have said I was crazy. Which is to say, initially new tech fulfills old needs (talking with someone through a mobile device), then new needs (remotely and publicly sharing a moment through a picture) surface and that’s where new tech truly shines, becomes mainstream, fades into the background and becomes invisible, ubiquitous, mundane even.

This is opening a dangerous precedent in how we perceive the role of technology in marketing, how advertising works and how brands use new tech. It’s somewhat disappointing to try and find simple, yet innovative and genuinely useful use cases of technology in marketing and advertising that don’t rely on pure fireworks (“we did a VR thing because VR is cool and got us featured on Campaign”) or that aren’t based on the wrong assumptions (“people care about mobile live streaming, so if we do something on mobile live streaming people will care about our brand”).

Sure, being first matters, but it’s one thing to ‘innovate’ by being the first one in, quite another to be the first to truly innovate once you’re in. Semantically it seems like a small difference, but in terms of meaning it completely changes the approach (see the difference between invention and innovation for more on this).

As a result, we risk moving from an ‘idea first’ approach to a ‘format first’ approach, where we either use formats to inform ideas (not ideal) or mistake the former for the latter altogether (just plain nonsense). On a bleaker sense, it may seem like we reached the day in which technological formats became synonymous with advertising ideas.

In the grand scheme of things, that day might be a small blip, a phase until we fully understand what all the new technology we keep getting truly means for our job, for the clients we represent, for marketing and advertising and people in general. But it’s a blip worth reflecting on nonetheless.

For if the day formats became ideas is truly upon us, it’s up to us to actively say ‘no’ to it. So that we can go beyond the instinct of mistaking tech with creativity and truly produce the symbiosis of formats and ideas without compromising on strategy and true value for real people.