Last month, 450 people gathered in Atlanta at the Woodruff Arts Center for FutureX Live, now an annual event produced by Moxie, the interactive agency that works to help its clients rethink their reality. Twenty-two speakers were scheduled throughout the day, from agency innovators to emerging technologists and even Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, best-selling author and popularizer of science. For its second annual event, the chosen theme was "Engineered Consciousness," designed to help brands understand the need to create new realties that better engage with consumers.
FutureX Live is the brainchild of John Rich and Jerry Hudson, Vice Presidents of Future Experiences at Moxie. The duo runs both the Future Experiences Group and the FutureX Labs, with the goal of bringing their R&D work to clients and sister agencies, or as their materials explain: "To show our Moxie" and present "our brightest futuristic minds and thought leadership to give our guests the opportunity to see, touch and learn about what we do every day."
That promise was fulfilled this year as the organizers made sure FutureX Live was equal parts show with tell: almost 6,000 square feet of interactive experiences allowed attendees to get hands-on with the future rather than just hear about it. They also wanted to showcase Atlanta and everything happening in the area. To that end, they involved several local universities, including Georgia State University, Savannah College of Art and Design and Kennesaw State University, giving them access to a wide variety of student work, as well. They wanted to create a "mixing bowl of ideas and concepts," Hudson explained.
Rich added that anticipating what's coming 4-5 years down the line is also key. "There is the law of accelerating returns," he said. "Technology is just developing faster and faster." In their lab, they bring in a variety of technologies that are 2-5 years away from being widely adopted, mix them together and then show how the results can drive business results.
Taking two separate technologies and putting them together to create a uniquely new experience is at the heart of what Hudson and Rich do. One of their more engaging experiences tracked actual heart rates. The team married an HTC Vive VR experience with the heart rate monitor of an Apple watch for an experience they designed for Porsche clients to illustrate how the virtual reality experience could change with the user's pulse rate.
Looking outside the agency world is important to Rich and Hudson. So, to better understand the changes coming, about 20-percent of their day is spent simply doing research about what's happening around the world and looking for the biggest areas of disruption. "The future of marketing will not be solved just by marketers," Hudson noted.
"Most I/O today is based on 2D displays," Rich added, describing their vision of the future. "We believe that most people in North America will live in mixed reality 5-7 years out. That must drive new interfaces."
While innovation labs are still being developed and used, not everyone is optimistic. Ogilvy made news last year when it closed its innovation lab in London. Speaking to Campaign at the time, Nicole Yershon, the former head of the Ogilvy Lab there, explained, "If you're not attached to revenue, you're always in a precarious position." Agencies typically see these labs as cost centers and look for them to generate revenue.
In 2016, The Drum wrote about innovation labs and the challenges they face (which included a quote from me). Markus Wulff, Digital Innovation Manager for The Absolut Company, explained their efforts around a connected bottle of Malibu Rum. "We have created a fairly robust evaluation framework for new technologies called 'now/near/next,' and we measure technologies and possible initiatives against this," he said.
Hudson and Rich fully understand the challenges of keeping an innovation space going and have taken the right steps to ensure its longevity. They believe "many labs are designed as a showplace, not a go place." To them, it was important that they created a space that "is dirty and dangerous!" They also keep the core staff at three, which allows them to bring in additional people from across the agency to develop together. They also believe very strongly that, in addition to helping drive new solutions and business opportunities, it also keeps Moxie employees engaged and are very clear about keeping the business front and center. For example, the Atlanta Braves marketing team came in for an AR demo, then ended up buying media from Moxie.
One of the other main areas of focus is the future of automated purchasing. "Many of the purchases we make are uninteresting and not what I want to do," Hudson said. "Think of a future where everything I want/need is handled automatically. Think of how much time will be opened up in our lives. A lot of marketing in five years will have to be to non-humans. Marketers will have to develop communications to engage these AI systems."
Because they believe this is what the future of marketing looks like, Rich is very clear about what they need to do. "The decisions that we make today will have a huge impact on the future," he said. "We want to create as much awareness and share as much as possible, so people can make decisions to make a better future."
"This is the best time ever to be alive," Hudson added. "The future is great, but we really have to pay attention to what's happening."
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