The world by and large endured a tough 2016. It was a year famously described as a “clusterf*ck” by former WCRS employee Joss Hunt, the author of the last blog post on a Contagious event that reviewed the year’s most important marketing, tech and consumer trends. So I was delighted when I heard that Contagious’ Now / Next / Why event this week at the Curzon theatre was more future-focussed in its objective to explore proactive ways in which brands can react to people’s attitudes in a world that is constantly being radically changed by technology. Its key message was to show that whilst our world is increasingly connected, it is also ever more divided and so it is vital for brands to look into future-friendly ways to keep in step with people’s values to ensure they matter in culture.

The event kicked off with a talk that tackled how brand performance can be boosted by simply prioritising the forging of trust with consumers in an era of fake news and unreliable, blurry facts and opinions. At a time when 77% of consumers are said to only buy from brands they trust – Patrick Jeffrey, Head of Trends at Contagious flagged that honesty and radical transparency are increasingly becoming the key ingredients for brands to dial up in their communications.

We were then treated to a no-frills guide on how brands can ‘catch up with culture’ and constantly rewire themselves to stay relevant to culture today and tomorrow. You know this is a spicy topic when Saturday night Live begins pointing its mocking gaze towards advertisers who’ve tried and failed (no need to mention any names) to do so… see video below.

In a world that is more politically-charged than ever, and where technology has democratised how information and culture are created and spread, Georgia Malden from Contagious highlighted that there is now a bigger canvas where culture can be created. That doesn’t mean we should encourage our brands to go gung-ho towards this though, the key is to identify the authentic and credible role for your brand, and then commit to it.

The talk of future brand challenges briefly switched to how damn delicious the chocolate flapjacks were as we entered the interval (well, in my case anyway) but before too long we were soon back to being enlightened on what, for me, was the most interesting part of the event by two enchantingly Swedish gentlemen from Edelman Deportivo.

Anders Hallen and Matthias Ronge’s boldly-named talk ‘Culture First, Clients Second’ argued that we need to prioritise consumers above clients if we are to create the most effective and creative work possible for brands. They used Hövding’s fascinating ‘Give a beep’ campaign to highlight how vital it is to become part of what consumers care about, a concept which certainly rang a few bells for us WCRSers… They closed with a rallying cry for agencies to focus more on being interesting than just always being right and shared their method of doing so- WTFs, or what-the-fact’s (a collection of bonkers cultural facts that just make you think ‘what the f*ck?!’ with a view to these inspiring future ideas).

The WTFs kept coming as Kristina Dimitrova’s ‘Post-social media’ talk shed light on how social media is slowly becoming less ‘social’ and more ‘media’ and how brands need to act cleverly and sensitively to reach to a consumer culture that increasingly operates on ‘Dark Social’, media channels such as Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp which are more private and trusted. Her fascinating opinion was that it will only be through empowering consumer cultures and letting them ‘be the media channel’ that brands will be let into people’s ‘dark worlds’ and, as a result, their everyday lives.

The final talk by Contagious Editor Alex Jenkins tackled the ever-contentious issue of Computational Creativity and whether we will lose our jobs to robots in the future. All this initial scaremongering made me want to escape the auditorium to the comfort of another chocolate flapjack, but it soon became a lot more cheery as the incredibly interesting talk concluded that whilst computer creativity is often more effective than the human creativity, computers will always need humans to instigate the best ideas- a reassuring end to a fascinating morning looking into ways we (and our potential future robot colleagues) can continue to work with brands to creative work that cultures today and in the future will actually care about.

Charlie Warner

About Charlie Warner

Account Manager working on Bupa and NOW TV since joining WCRS in 2015 and is actually listed on IMDB for playing Kaiyan - a young Afghan renegade - in Born of War. The film wasn’t a box office success but it is said to have flourished at Tesco…

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