UK ad leaders divulge top tech trends straight from the US

From haptics to holograms and Hyperloop, what are the latest US tech trends and companies that UK’s adland should be paying attention to? Here, the industry delegates of the IPA’s recent fact-finding mission to Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Hollywood talk us through their highlights. You can also find out more in person at our upcoming IPA event (free to IPA members) on 5th December.

UK ad leaders divulge top tech trends straight from the US

Paul Bainsfair, Director General, IPA:

It’s always the things you know least about that provide the most mind-opening moments of these trips.

Twitch is a case in point. It is beyond big. It is a cultural and social phenomenon that millions of (mostly) young people enjoy interacting with on a daily basis and yet it has hardly any awareness outside its users. Already it has twice the global interactions of Facebook Messenger. Brands like Red Bull and Old Spice are beginning to get in on the act but woe betide any brands that come over as opportunistic or inauthentic.

The trip also helped to put VR’s progress into perspective. It’s taken a long time for the promise to come alive. We did see, however, some stuff that blew our minds. At Dreamscape we went on an Indiana Jones-style adventure that included runaway trains and standing on a rickety bridge thousands of feet up in the air – something to test the steeliest of nerves.

Rebecca Brennan, Managing Director, Cubo:

The ‘can-do, everything is possible’ Californian state of mind, the culture of the tech businesses, and the progress of business such as Twitch growing 45% YOY, is truly incredible.

It will also be important to think about how agencies need to evolve with VR and Haptics. Brands are no longer about visual and words. They are all about 360 experience, taking it from the WWW to the Real Wide Web.

Lucas Brown, Chief Strategy Officer, Total Media:

I found Xperiel’s human approach fascinating and their technology and investor list, massively impressive. If there was one company I could invest in, it would be this one. I was particularly taken by their new programming language, which enables non-programmers to program through visual code.

The next step for us will be the adoption of some of the latest developments in AR and Google’s Lens technology into our clients’ work.

Julian Douglas, Vice Chairman, VCCP:

Hyperloop was the most exciting company to have visited because the scale of ambition is so huge, the technology so impressive and the ultimate impact massive. 

I must also mention Dreamscape. Everyone used the word ‘immersive’ during the Mission. They delivered it. 

Richard Downey, VP Global Business, The Specialist Works:

To hear of the scale of ambition that Twitch has to become more than just a place to watch people play Fortnite or FIFA was really exciting

I was also awestruck by the quality of work being done by companies like Framestore and Ultrahaptics.

Sarah Golding, IPA President and CEO, The&Partnership:

Having completed our week among the Silicon Valley giants, I am convinced the tech people need the creative people to give the technologies a human narrative for our everyday lives. If we can’t tell stories with them, the gadgets just won’t fly. It’s our job to work with the tech titans to decide how best to do this.

Amazon are clear that voice must be seen as just one of the many ways we will interact with artificial intelligence. In their parlance, we need to think "multi-modal". Voice is good for answers; screens are good for choices. Then there’s all the realities we might soon be experiencing. Augmented, mixed, virtual, haptic and hyper, we saw them all as we shuttled between Apple, WhatsApp, Vntana, Twitch and Hyperloop. Each will help us tell a different sort of story.

Read more about Sarah’s US highlights in her recent Campaign column.

Nigel Gwilliam, Director of Media Affairs, IPA:

What was clear from the US tech companies we visited, and not really news to us, is their vision of a post smartphone era of immersive technologies. Wearables, sensors, the internet of things, and all the realities: augmented, mixed, virtual and hyper. What was perhaps more enlightening was the revelation they aren’t entirely sure how we’re going to get there.

It was also interesting to meet Twitch, which their COO Sara Clemens describes as next generation live television. What started as a gamer’s live streaming platform is growing fast into a worldwide platform for Community Created Content. It’s still currently dominated by gamers watching gamers but it’s spreading fast into other entertainment genres which are looking to come full circle and return the social element of watching TV.

Simon Harwood, the7stars:

It was fascinating to see so much effort in shaping the future of entertainment, fashion, retail and transport, and refreshing to hear that no one thinks they have all the answers. The most exciting thing for me is that they seek involvement from brands and agencies not only for test cases but also for our expertise in understanding audience needs.

The interactive hologram experiences created for brands by Vntana, a company creating genuinely magical moments, were particularly impressive.

Janet Hull OBE, Director of Marketing Strategy, IPA:

For me the companies that stood out - those who were the game changers - with a vision of what’s next and a confidence to go with it, included:

Twitch - next generation live television taking gaming into mainstream entertainment. Just like people watch live football now you can watch and interact with live gaming.

Xperial - making the physical world much more interactive by adding another layer and a new type of branded content. Now you can get a physical reward for digital achievement or a digital reward for a physical achievement.

Hyperloop - “doing things which are impossible enough to be possible” - a land transportation system travelling at the speed of sound, powered by sunshine, with zero emissions, while building back energy. Wow!

Sam LeCouer, Managing Partner, adam&eveDBB:

I found it really inspiring to be in such a commercially 'enabled' place, where companies can be quickly built from nothing more than a good idea or product.

Dreamscape was the first really coherent and inspiring display of immersive tech I've seen. Their CEO was also crystal clear about the plan for the company.

Miguel Vara, Social Media Director, Feref:

If there was one common theme across most, if not all, of our meetings in The Valley and Los Angeles, it was transformation and disruption. Companies are transforming the entire world and culture disrupting entire industries. In terms of who stood out for me:

Hyperloop is disrupting transportation and travel by turning cities into neighbourhoods; Xperiel is transforming communications by trying to render the World Wide Web as we know it obsolete and connecting everything together under the Real World Web; Catalia Health are using robotics to improve and keep track of patients’ treatments, with a potentially huge impact in treating health conditions; and Twitch has already transformed how teens create and consume content and the entertainment and gaming industries.

Barbara Waite, Managing Partner, Saatchi&Saatchi:

I think it is very easy to be seduced by tech alone, without reminding ourselves of what problem it is there to solve or how it ultimately benefits or improves the life of the end user. There is also a very fine line between personalisation and intrusion, something I believe, as the tech gets even more sophisticated, we need to be extremely mindful of.

In terms of specific companies, Twitch stood out for their integrity, how faithful they are to their mission and reason for being, and their respect for their community. Xperial was also impressive. It felt like a genuine insight into a Silicon Valley start-up, as well as a real game changer.

Andrew Warren, Managing Partner, Feref

Twenty-two companies in both San Francisco and Los Angeles demonstrated their passion and commitment to challenging the norm across major industries in entertainment, health, commerce and transport.

The big hitters from the week to keep an eye on: Dreamscape which will help cinema chains make the leap to immersive entertainment within the next eighteen months. Amazon Twitch will continue to expand from being a gaming platform into mainstream - start thinking about streamers rather than influencers. Hyperloop train technology by 2020 (Dubai Expo) will provide airplane speed travel on the railway, and Google AR/VR will change search fundamentally from text to image queries.

Want to keep ahead of the tech curve? Join our delegates Rebecca Brennan, Managing Director, Cubo; Adrian Gans, Head of iX, VCCP; Simon Harwood, the7stars, adam&eveDBB and IPA President Sarah Golding for deeper insights and discussion at our IPA event from 5-7pm on 5th December. Book your place (free to IPA members £25 to non-members).