Mindshare explores what it means to be human, a robot … and dead

As everything analog becomes digital, members of the media and communications industries are spending more time mulling over what it means to be human.

This was the overarching theme of the Huddle conference in London Thursday, which explored the convergence of humanity and technology. Here are three takeaways from the day, organized by WPP media agency Mindshare.

Avoid content overload
In a session called “Advertising on the Brain,” News U.K. leaned on neuroscience to explain why thoughtful creative often fails to connect with target audience. The question it put forth: Are the brains of those creating the ads different from the people they’re meant for?

The publisher teamed up with Neuro-Insight to use its brainwave-reading technology to measure brand recall and emotional response to three different TV spots, including one for the News U.K. newspaper The Sun. It compared data from 50 Mindshare employees with a national representative of 50 “normal,” non-agency people.

It found, in what Neuro-Insight CEO Heather Andrews rightly described as a “no shit Sherlock” discovery, that media types care more about media delivery.

“When the ad talks about a media device, asking you to go online or sign up, Mindshare employees are more engaged,” she said.

The non-agency people paid no heed to the media delivery. Instead, they tended to be more engaged with The Sun branding and empathized with the characters. Indeed, when compared to non-industry types, the agency group was more engaged with the ads and scored higher in recall across the board. However, the agency group was less engaged with the call-to-actions in each ad compared to the national representative group, who showed more engagement when told to respond.

“Generally, [the agency group] will be more engaged with the topic of advertising, but the specifics of the communicated message in a particular ad may be of less relevance because it is less targeted to them as a specific audience,” explained Sean Adams, head of commercial insight at News U.K.

The future of journalism will not be fully automated.
In another session, called “Rise of the Robots: the Roll of Automation in Content Curation,” Wired associate editor Rowland Manthorpe and Factory Media discussed automation and machine learning. While some newsrooms have experimented with so-called “robot reporters” to write news stories on the weather and earthquakes, nobody needs to worry just yet about bots stealing journalism jobs, said Manthorpe.

In fact, there are clear benefits of robots taking on much of the grunt work of basic news reporting if they are fed the right data. Some sports reporting, for instance, is primarily made up of a “series of cliches sewn together by statistics.” For non-league games, machines can report on the events with just the results data, freeing up reporters from having to attend every small match, and allowing for the creation of millions of pieces of content.

Perhaps the most useful application of this in the field now comes from Israeli company Wibbitz, finding a solution to the low supply of resource-heavy quality video. The company turns written articles into videos, using the text as a voiceover narrative and pulling in images from the Web through multiple partnerships with image companies like Shutterstock. Manthorpe explains this works convincingly well for business news stories about, say, Amazon, but less so when more abstract articles were fed in about human mood and emotions.

“Overall, what this puts into question is to what extent is journalism formulaic,” points out Manthorpe. “Human journalism versus robots journalism is a false dichotomy, as long as you still see a value in longer form, immersive pieces.” For now robots are still good at following the formula, but there’s no sign of any robot Gonzo journalism.

No one gets out alive.
James Morris thinks about death more than most people, a disposition that suits him as CEO of Dead Social, a service that helps people bring their digital lives to a tidy close when they die.

Users upload videos and photos to the platform, then assign a digital executor who will push the button on their final messages, which are fed to Facebook and Twitter.

Morris has also launched a program to help people plan for the inevitable. It runs workshops and tutorials for the bereaved, sessions such as “How to pick the right funeral music” and “How to download their Instagram pictures.”

Those keen to sign up will have to wait till January, though: The platform is currently at full capacity with 10,000 subscribers. It plans to bring on another 10,000 in 2016.

Currently, Dead Social makes no money, but plans to monetize through partnerships soon. “There’s no right way to die,” countered Morris, “technology has just made more opportunities to be creative.” It’s a solid bet: An undertaker will never be out of business.


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