Cannes Special: The future starts now

Real-life Minority Report-type technology is starting to give us a glimpse into the future of advertising. Here’s how some Canadian brands have become future-friendly.

You’re in a shopping mall and you come face-to-face with a 3D holographic ad for the newest Lexus model. It addresses you by name, pitching you on the benefits of owning the vehicle. Another hologram calls to you, suggesting that a pint of Guinness would be the perfect thirst-quencher after your mall jaunt. Next you pass a vending machine that reads “Share Happy,” promising to serve you an ice cream for the low cost of a genuine smile. Finally, you spy a billboard that serves you advertising based on your gender, age and who you’re with.
While the Guinness and Lexus ads were dreamed up for Steven Spielberg’s take on Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report, the latter two actually exist. The sci-fi-esque future of advertising is now and the name of the game is interaction.
The “Share Happy” vending machine was developed for Unilever by Boston-based agency SapientNitro, and it dispenses ice cream for a smile by using facial recognition technology. It got top marks for the agency at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last June, garnering a Gold Lion award. It’s currently in malls in Portugal and Singapore.
The agency also built a similar marvel for Coca-Cola, an interactive vending machine dubbed uVend. Debuted during the Beijing Olympics, it’s outfitted with a 46” LCD touch-screen that displays HD video, has bluetooth connectivity, flash graphics and responds to hand motions, and lets you download wallpapers, music and ring tones to your mobile device.
“Communications and commerce are converging and that creates a new realm of how we define the customer experience,” says Michael Leonard, director of digital merchandising, SapientNitro. “The strategy behind both interactive vending machines was simple: take the vending experience into the digital age by making a one-way transaction into a two-way brand-led dialogue.”
The billboard that can target you is based on nifty tech developed by New York-based Immersive Labs. Its software, still in the prototype stage, identifies the number of people you’re with, right up to the amount of attention you’re paying it. Japan’s NEC also developed its own hyper-targeted Next Generational Digital Signage Solution, which uses built-in cameras and recognition software. It’s currently being tested in various markets in Japan.
Facial recognition, touch-screens, gesture control, augmented reality, hyper-targeting tools and interactive projections have all started to eke their way into real-world ad executions as a way of upping brands’ engagement quotient with consumers. They’re not ubiquitous – yet – but they are providing a glimpse into what the future of advertising will look like and it’s very Dickian. Canadian brands are starting to become more experimental and incorporating tech into executions of increasingly greater sophistication.
Some of this experimentation is with augmented reality (AR). The tech manipulates the real world as seen through digital means (like when viewed through a webcam), enhancing a person’s reality with sound and graphics. Best Buy, for example, presented its customers in March with an AR shootout game. Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks fans were given access to a special board that, when placed in front of a webcam, created a virtual hockey game. Players could go mano-a-mano against a goalie in a two-minute shootout and then post their scores on Facebook and Twitter. The goal was for the electronics retailer to leverage its partnerships with two NHL teams, providing its tech-savvy, hockey-loving customers with an opportunity to engage with the brand through an AR game.

Hyper-targeting is in its infancy, but starting to catch on. In addition to the billboards being developed by Immersive Labs and NEC, TV advertising is also becoming more addressable. Cogeco will be starting up a trial run of targeted advertising software from Invidi Technologies on the CHCH TV network in south-central Ontario in late summer/early fall. It will enable advertisers to deliver tailored messages to individual households based on public domain demographics data, so groups like seniors and new parents should be served different and more relevant commercials.
“As an industry television needs to be prepared to embrace new technologies,” says Cal Millar, president/COO, Channel Zero (CHCH’s parent company). “There’s no question that other forms of media are already fully addressable and what we think of as television is evolving right now. The overall objective of this project is to find out what the areas are that will work and what will need to be adjusted as television becomes more addressable on all platforms.”
Companies are increasingly using touch and gesture-controlled screens in their retail locations to better engage customers. The Royal Bank, for example, launched a prototype store in Burlington, ON., last October bristling with interactive screens, part of a Retail By Design project initiated three years ago. The centrepiece is an interactive multi-touch Microsoft Surface tabletop, which allows customers to learn more about a financial product, service or category. Other service-specific touch-screens allow them to explore RBC’s various product offerings in more detail.
Designed by Toronto-based Perennial and implemented by L.A.-headquartered CB Richard Ellis, the goal of the RBC branch is to make the banking experience less daunting for customers. EK3, Sapient, Infusion and MTM all helped with the in-branch tech.
Starbucks recently made some of its storefronts in Toronto and Vancouver interactive. Promoting blends of its Tazo Teas, it outfitted store windows with touch-screens that let passersby navigate through the tea blend ingredients, using cute critters as their guide. The company worked with digital agency Blast Radius, MediaCom Vancouver and Vancouver-based digital display company The Media Merchants to facilitate the installations.
And Telus executed 9” x 46” gesture-controlled digital storefront screens last August featuring its critter du jour, the dolphin, which interacted with people who stood in front of the installations and moved side to side. People could navigate through the telco’s fall lineup of mobile devices by moving left or right to select a specific handset, all while Telus extolled the virtues of living a smarter smartphone life. The telco worked with the Media Merchants to execute the screens.

Last year Corn Pops cereal launched a technology rich, interactive campaign called “It’s Popnetic,” targeting tweens, which tied together a few key Minority Report-esque techs. A kitchen table was projected between two kids chatting on MSN Messenger using webcams, with an empty bowl in front of each of them. The tweens had to use their mouse to fling Corn Pops at each other and move their heads to bounce the flying cereal into their virtual bowl.
Corn Pops’ partnership with MSN Messenger was a global first. The effort employed gesture-control technology and webcams to create the augmented reality game. It also included a musical AR experience that could be activated on the brand’s website, triggered by a visual marker on the back of the box. It was a first-of-its-kind execution in Canada. “It’s Popnetic” was developed by Robin Hassan, digital group director, Starcom, and her team.
“Everything that we created for this campaign, from the display creative to the offline executions, was all in the same vein: how do we make it exciting and fun and really break through clutter?” says Hassan.
“It’s Popnetic,” promoted with TV, cinema and transit ads, attracted more than 50,000 tweens a month to the Corn Pops website and resulted in a 3% increase in volume and a 5.3% increase in net sales. It also taught Hassan and her team a valuable lesson.
“I think the biggest caution I’d have around new technologies is it can get pretty exciting to trail-blaze and come up with new concepts,” she says. “If you’re not grounded in strategy…you can fall hard and fast. The clients we’ve had the most success with are the ones where the technical creativity was driven from the base idea.”
Sometimes existing tech will do quite nicely, and can seem novel with a bit of ingenuity. For instance, wall projections are nothing new, but some Canadian brands are executing them in creative ways. Kraft Canada’s Maxwell House upped the ante recently with interactive projections, dubbed “Optimism Walls,” in Montreal and Toronto. They featured an image of a coffee cup accompanied by an optimism meter. The walls encouraged people to vote online for whether they thought the cup was half full or half empty, with the results affecting the meter. They could also tweet uplifting messages that were displayed on the walls, playing off a growing trend of allowing people to interact with their own social networks while sharing in the brand experience. The walls were developed by Ogilvy in Toronto, and facilitated by The Media Merchants.

In December text-enabled virtual vending machines care of Mini Canada adorned Toronto walls. Displaying nine different models next to traditional vending machine codes, they asked passersby which Mini they craved, encouraging them to text in its corresponding code. That triggered an animation featuring their Mini of choice with highlighted features, then a text
drove to the brand’s Facebook page. Creative for the effort, which resulted in 134,861 impressions for Mini, was developed by Taxi 2 in Toronto. The Media Merchants also facilitated this projection.
While new technology brings a wow factor to brand communication efforts, Hassan warns against overestimating the buzz potential and getting too far ahead of your intended audience.
“Make sure that you’re not spending 90% of your budget producing something beautiful that no one will get to,” she says, adding that “it’s really easy for engineers to get ahead of themselves and add one more cool thing. Keeping it simple is crucial because you’re really not going to have success if you only have 1,000 people look at something. Try to design to the most common denominator.”