Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production
Do Advertisers Dream of Electric Sheep?
London, UK
LBB’s Phoebe Siggins asks how advertisers are affected by the pre-conceived notions of new technology that have been influenced by science fiction

With technology developing at the most rapid rate in history, advertising has one of the most exciting pools of not only brands and products to work with, but methods in which to deliver and promote them.

Despite launching afresh, technology comes with an onus like no other. Much of what is being released and developed today seemed, only a few years ago, to be a far flung dream of a distant future. For decades literature and films have mused on the outcomes of advanced technology, often to devastating results. Living in an age where it’s all becoming possible, LBB’s Phoebe Siggins asks Ogilvy & Mather’s Jeff Curry, DDB Stockholm’s Johan Olsson and Sebastian Otarola, director Avril Furness, and Framestore’s Gavin and Jason Fox how they address the robot elephant in the room and how science fiction has influenced their creative decisions…

When it comes to creative technology I quite often find myself saying something which sounds moronic: ‘I’m in the future’. And by this poorly worded statement I mean to say, I am amazed at the rate in which technology is being developed and released. I think back to when I first watched Minority Report and saw Tom Cruise dragging visual information across smart screens, watching the Simpsons and seeing an episode set in the future where the family use video call and thinking, ‘Wow I hope I’ll live to see that’. I never thought I’d have a device in my pocket that could do all of that and more within ten years of me watching it.

As an increasing amount of new technology is released at rapid speed, it’s hard to detach innovative realities from the images we’ve seen in science fiction. From the underwhelming result of the hover-board (not quite up to our expectations from Back to The Future) to the movie-induced fear of robots, it is hard to disconnect the fiction from the fact. 

For marketers in this space, consumer expectation is a constant challenge and one that touches upon everything from data to AR. But to keep it relatively succinct (eek!), you have to start with the big hitters, AI and VR.

Artificial Intelligence

One of the many things I did not expect to see develop at such a rapid rate was artificial intelligence.  Sci-fi depictions of the technology are mind-blowing, which makes the reality of the tech so exciting for marketers and consumers. However without real exposure to this kind of technology the only perceptions of it are heavily influenced by mass media entertainment - and sci-fi tends to predict a pretty bleak outlook for us humans when it comes to AI. (Think 2001: Space Odyssey, A.I., Her, ex-Machina, Tron, Terminator, Blade Runner, I Robot, Black Mirror.)

Earlier this year Ogilvy & Mather New York launched the amazing AI ‘Watson’ for IBM. As part of a campaign, a brilliantly tongue in cheek commercial led by the Star Wars heroine Carrie Fisher was released alongside a series of films featuring famous experts in their field and Watson. One film sees Watson converse with legendary sci-fi director Ridley Scott about the depiction of AI in his films.  

Carrie Fisher Watson IBM

It is apparent that sci-fi plays a big role in the way we think about AI and it has clearly been addressed by O&M in the creative. Speaking to Jeff Curry, Executive Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather New York, he explains the need to address the ‘realistic’ side of Watson, as opposed to the ‘pessimistic’.

“We wanted to enter the discussion around AI without being too heavy-handed about our point of view. But more importantly, the term ‘realistic’ is important because Watson is actually real. IBM has developed what is arguably the world’s most advanced AI today. Right now Watson is working with doctors, bankers, lawyers, veterinarians, even fashion designers. But at the end of the day, Watson is just a tool that gets better the more we use it. It’s worth pointing out that, like most technology, AI is only what we want it to be.”

When it comes to the reality of AI for marketers and consumers the majority of creatives seem to see the positives of the technology outweighing any fears we might have.

DDB Stockholm’s Innovation and Prototyping creative Sebastian Otarola says: “I don’t experience technology to be hostile. It’s usually people with agendas that will determine whether technology will be used for the good or the ethically questionable. It’s the decision-makers we should be worried about! Not how advanced we can build the tech. An AI has no concept of what’s good or bad when you turn on the switch. It’s the tutoring the AI receives that will determine what ethical values it’s going to acquire under its evolutions. Remember Tay? Microsoft’s AI-teen on Twitter? Yeah… that didn’t quite play out in Microsoft’s favour.”

Jeff Curry agrees that there are two conversations when it comes to AI – the Threat and the Opportunity: “One argument is that AI might be a threat. Some people say it will try to dominate humanity. I guess they’re picturing the opening scene of The Terminator where killer robots stomp through a mountain of human skulls while shooting humans on sight. The alternate view (which is the one I hold) is a tad more optimistic. I feel that AI will usher in a new era of human ability and discovery. These machines can do things we can’t. For example they can read trillions of documents to help find legal precedents or investment opportunities or cancer treatments. Just imagine what else we’ll be able to do? There’s no doubt it would make our day-to-day lives easier. Remember that scene from Her when Samantha sorts through all of Theodore’s files in seconds? I have over 10,000 unread emails in my inbox. I’d rather let Scarlett Johannsen deal with them so I could go home early…!”

Virtual Reality

10 years ago, VR was another thing I didn’t think we would see in any impressive fashion, any time soon. With science fiction at the back of my mind I had always imagined it going hand in hand with hoverboards and metallic jumpsuits.

However in the past three years the rate of virtual reality’s development in the advertising world has exploded. In actuality it has existed in some form since the 1960s, but has only recently started to reach a point where it is both advanced enough to be immersive and entertaining and readily available to a mass market thanks to smart phones. 

Framestore’s resident creative directors (and twins) Gavin and Jason Fox were the masterminds behind Secret Cinema’s immersive Prometheus spaceship digital systems and Fiat 500x’s Power of X experience with Dynamo. With a long career creating incredibly detailed and realistic immersive experiences for theatre and with CG and motion graphics, they had a naturally strong outlook on the influence of sci-fi on Virtual Reality: “Technology, science and sci-fi seem to work in chiastic patterns; almost hand in hand. Like fashion, tech is cyclical in popularity. VR is a prime example of this. VR was originally spawned from sci-fi fantasy in the early fifties and then very basic experiences were created and gained interest in the eighties. However they died out because the tech wasn’t advanced enough to be convincing, consumable or fluid. Looking at current day, 30 years on, the recent resurgence of VR hasn’t come from sci-fi, it has come from real developments in science and technology. This has had a knock on effect to film and entertainment and we’re seeing a lot of VR fiction again.”

Earlier in the year, DDB Stockholm worked with McDonald’s to create the ‘Happy Goggles’ campaign. The iconic Happy Meal box was given a clever re-design by innovation and prototyping creatives Johan Olsson and Sebastian Otarola, making it possible to fold the packaging into a pair of virtual reality goggles for use with a smartphone.

As a result of the heightened interest in VR by a mass audience, there seem to be many social and cultural factors that may need to be considered during the creative process. There is often the fear that technology will make people less social and disenchanted with reality, so as a creative how do you combat those negative pre-conceptions? 

“The main usage with VR is that you ‘teleport’ to an experience,” explains Sebastian. “It’s designed to be immersive - you and the experience. This was clearly something that we needed to address in order to be in tune with McDonald’s values. It’s designed to be a ‘snackable’ experience.”

Johan Olsson comments: “A big part of our job is to research and prototype what it would be like if people had access to the technology we’re testing, the benefits it could have for them and how we could package it nicely. We really wanted to find natural ways to balance immersive versus shareable VR. Like Sebastian is saying, the game is made to be short, fun and social. Things like encouraging kids to let someone else try the game also provides a social context.”

He continues: “Our goal was to identify natural, ‘invisible’ barriers that would encourage social usage. For example, we provided no head strap, simply because in testing children would only hold the goggles to their face for about three-five minutes before tiring out. Another example is that we closed the sides of the box, partly to keep the phone safe but also to discourage headphone usage - a big factor in creating socially isolating experiences. We wanted the box to be passed back and forth in the family.”

When it comes to social and educational uses of VR the opportunities are endless, and there are some subjects that seem fairly untouched by sci-fi. Recently Dignitas, the Swiss assisted suicide clinic partnered with UK ex-creative and now director, Avril Furness, to shoot a film in virtual reality that would reflect what would happen if you were really to make a life or death suicide decision at the clinic. Avril comments: “With ‘Last Moments’, I wanted to create a poignant documentary-drama narrative, and to shine a light onto a little known subject that is relevant to us all at some stage - how we die. I wanted to create a narrative with political, ethical and moral questions at its core and to spark debate in a younger audience.”

For Avril the concept of Humans versus Machine has been resonating with her recently. “What is interesting to me is the emotional aspect of being human versus it’s rational counterpart in technology that often leads to dystopian worlds. Much of Phillip K Dick’s and more currently the writing of Charlie Brooker in his Black Mirror series and Dave Eggers ‘The Circle’ as well as Margaret Atwood in her ‘The MaddAddam Trilogy’ has inspired me to pursue themes of discord between the advancements of tech verses human well-being.”


Speaking to some of the most innovative and insightful creatives in the tech and VR space, I’d be remiss to not share their tips and predictions for new advances in the pipeline, and what they’d love to see transcending screen to reality.


Sebastian Otarola:  “Even though Sci-Fi is just ‘fiction’ it (sometimes) gives a glimpse of things to come. Take ‘The Matrix’ as an example. No way in hell when the movie came out, did I think we’d have technology ready to control computers with just our mind now. Yet, earlier this year, when we attended the SXSW 16, DARPA showcased some of their demos. In one of them, a paralyzed woman (from the neck down) was flying a Cessna plane around the Eiffel tower in a simulator. Signals sent from a chip they’d implanted in her brain straight to the computer.”

Johan Olsson: “The same guys showed how they’d developed synthetic blood without personal DNA strings that adapts to your DNA after entering the body. I felt ashamed to use the term ‘innovation’ for what I do after that! When it comes to Sci-fi resonating with me, Black Mirror. It’s just spot on in many aspects and has grown since it first came out. Seeing it now is a reminder about how we’ve recently taken many steps towards both a truly horrible and amazing future society.”

Avril Furness: “I’ve just recently been meeting up with the Chair of the London Futurists - David Wood and am in talks with him on collaborating on a film on Cryogenics. The idea that you can potentially be re-animated after death in a future unknown time is a curious thought. What would this world look like? How will this change people’s attitudes to how they live now, their relationships and how they perceive having children and what does ‘achievement’ look like over an expanded life span?”

Sci – Fi : 

Jeff Curry: “There are plenty of tech ideas we used to see in movies that are already a reality we take for granted. Remember those ‘video phones’ from Blade Runner and Aliens? These days we use FaceTime and hardly think about it. We get served up location-based advertising like we saw in Minority Report. Pretty soon we’ll be going on virtual vacations and reliving our own memories using VR like they did on Star Trek. Honestly… so many people worry about the future and technology. If you ask me, it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Gavin and Jason Fox: “Ours is Blade Runner. I know it sounds really nerdy but we love even the design of the parking metres in that film. The world is futuristic but it’s dirty and everything is built on top of something else, all upgrades built one on top of the other. It’s not like Star Trek where the earth seems to have been cleansed, all shiny and new. It’s the reality we have now. The future we live in, is one that has a mix of both old and new. The only way everything could all be new is if we lived in Futurama’s New New York, where the old city is buried under the new one.”

What they’d love to see become a reality:

Jeff Curry: “How about that gadget from Star Trek that could create any food you wanted out of thin air. For dinner, would you like toro sashimi and a chimichanga? Served with a glass of 1961 Chateau Latour? Why yes thank you, computer.” 

Jason Fox: “Anti-gravity. It’s bullshit that we can’t defy gravity. It’s such a weak force. It can hold oceans on the earth but a bird can hop into the air no problem. Someone needs to do it. Also Bio-metrics and wet wiring. It would be amazing to connect to technology in a non-visual way. I want to experience something with more than my eyes and Lightsabres of course. They’re just cool.”

Gavin Fox: “Teleportation. I feel like it may arrive in some form that we really don’t expect. Maybe Time travel. I’m not that fussed about actually going there, but I wouldn’t mind seeing an image of the future. I just need a postcard, maybe even a little six second vine…” 

Sebastian Otarola: “Teleportation. Imagine a life without jet lag or travelling delays. Who wouldn’t want to take a weekend on the other side of the planet, without the plane journey? Or maybe also cordless power. One would think that we’d have worked out how to send wireless electricity to power our devices by now…” 

Johan Olsson: “The three seashells from the bathroom in “Demolition Man”. I need to know.”

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