Tech viewpoint on telling the truth
A view from Ben Cooper

Tech viewpoint on telling the truth

One of the innumerable things that digital and social have done in this brave new world is ratchet up the need for truth.

Once upon a time, when mass communication was largely top-down and one-way, marketing could get away with big claims based on half-truths or less.

Whether or not these claims were swallowed by the consumer was largely a moot point because few people – other than media owners and the rich and powerful – had a voice to broadcast their disbelief to lots of other people. And there was a major economic disincentive for media owners to bring their advertisers to task.

Of course, now virtually all consumers are social and/or online media-enabled, with hardly any filters to temper their most heartfelt expressions. They will very publicly prosecute claims. Dissent will aggregate in an instant at the merest whiff of fraud or messaging misstep to ruthlessly expose brands.

Like all democratic systems, the new media landscape has its drawbacks but, overwhelmingly, it is for the good. Chiefly because it has led to a flight to truth. Not just in what brands say, but in what they do – due to the fact that brands are built from consumer experience.

This was top of mind when we were briefed by our client Optus to showcase the power of its mobile network. From the outset, we thought about big, real-world problems and if we had the capacity to genuinely solve them. We then turned to sharks and Australia’s beach lifestyle. Shark-detection systems have changed little in 60 years, so we began looking into a new tech-based solution.

Dissent will aggregate in an instant at the merest whiff of fraud to ruthlessly expose brands

This led to the idea of meshing sonar technology with an offshore device that could alert beachgoers of sharks via the Optus network. We entered into a research and development project with Optus, Google and the marine-technology company Shark Attack Mitigation Systems to see if this idea could float.

"Clever Buoy", a smart ocean buoy that uses world-first shark detection technology to warn the beach via Optus, is the result.

It was AKQA’s creative chief, Rei Inamoto, who said products are 1 per cent ideation and 99 per cent execution. Never a truer word has been spoken.

Ad agencies are supposed to come up with the big idea. To be so thoroughly involved in bringing a world-first product to life is new territory for us. Territory we would not be exploring without the bravery of clients such as Optus.

This project required big trust and a willingness from all parties to step out of their expected roles. A true partnership resulted. And, out of that, an execution based on real science. One that will, no doubt, challenge some accepted truths. And, hopefully, stand true to the real predators out there. Waiting to bare their teeth on social media.

Ben Cooper is the group innovation director at M&C Saatchi Australia