Emotion and data will radically transform the digital landscape in 2018

Adding a more emotive, human side to machine-learning and data will enable miraculous work.

Emotion and data will radically transform the digital landscape in 2018

It was so good, they tried to ban it. In the 1920s, audio technicians made huge advances in microphone technology. Basically, you didn’t need to shout any more. The new mics allowed singers to get close and sing softly, filling their phrases with nuance and intimacy. Bellowing operatic tenors and crashing cymbals gave way to the seductive tones of Bing Crosby and a legion of other crooners, pouring sweet nothings into ears across the US. 

The wave of sentimentality this music unleashed scared moral campaigners into proclaiming that marriage itself was under threat. But the genie was out of the bottle.

Technology plus emotion equals change. If you’ve got the will, the money and the servers, you can reportedly buy 5,000 separate datapoints on every single living US citizen. You can use it to examine their patterns of behaviour, their preferences and their personalities to an unprecedented level – one that allows more targeted contact with audiences than ever before. 

The data-science company hired by the Trump Presidential campaign conducted more than 1,500 polls a week, per state, during the US election. It kept a finger on the electorate’s pulse – adapting and testing ad after ad until it found the undecided voters it needed.

But you can’t "Make America great again" with information alone, you need emotion. Data science might have found all the right buttons, but it took Trump’s theatrical delivery to push them. 

Technology plus emotion equals change. In advertising, we’ve always prided ourselves that we can do the emotion. But if we want to keep creating change, we need to embrace the technology – and embrace it now. 

Emotion and data are combining in ways that will radically transform our relationships with machines. It’s easy to mistrust big data or view the march of technology as faceless and cold, but machine-learning is getting more emotional every day; watch Beyond Verbal’s YouTube demo of its emotional-analytics software. Steve Jobs is interviewed about developing the iPad and iPhone. As he passionately champions his success and bristles at memories of setbacks, the software can read the emotional cues in his speech. His anger, his fear, his joy – all measured by a machine.

Imagine what we can do with those machines when they can emote in a human way – reading cues and responding with all the nuance we take for granted when interacting with other people. Imagine the possibilities, for both agencies and brands, when those formerly soulless bots become part of our everyday lives.  

Data can’t deliver creativity, only opportunities. But it’s going to become an inseparable part of the creative process. We’ll be tailoring messages that work for individual personalities, single fleeting moments or a host of different emotional states. Mass audiences and Don Draper-like creative gambles will be replaced by precision-tooled campaigns.

But if we really know the precise emotional context of our audiences, we can make work that is miraculous. 

Microsoft Research Labs has technology that collects vast amounts of data on how Parkinson’s disease causes your arm to shake. AI then processes that data to produce vibrations via a wearable device, which counteracts the shakes. Emma, the first human test subject, used a pencil to write her name – something she’d never been able to do since contracting the disease.

There’s already tech that can listen to speech and interpret the speaker’s feelings. That can read every "um", "er" and change of topic without a stutter. Banks are using it to talk to customers in ways that consign the robotic irritation of "please press one" menus to the Dark Ages.

An 18-year-old software engineer amassed 30 parking fines, and built a data-driven service called Do Not Pay. It’s a conversation bot on Facebook Messenger that determines whether there are grounds for appeal against a fine. Twenty-one months later, more than $4m in fines has been repaid.

A data-led future is one we’re ready to embrace – because it’s going to lead to ideas, services, tools and products that are more honest. We’re going to be able to make things that address real issues. Instead of shouting as loud as we can to the biggest audience we can find, we might whisper softly in the morning, give you a pep talk at the gym, and lull you to sleep at night, all in the space of a single idea.

So in 2018 we should embrace technologies that deliver the learning, the context and the moments for positive emotional change. 

At R/GA, we want to pioneer a more human future. For us, a data-inspired world is a dream brief. Because if we can get closer to real human beings than ever, if we can know more about how they feel and why, if we can find the perfect opportunities to connect, how can our work not get better? •

James Temple is the executive vice-president and chief creative officer of R/GA EMEA.

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