Nicola Mendelsohn and Matt Brittin on VR, AI and why the future is bright for marketing

Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice-president of EMEA and Matt Brittin, president of Google EMEA, share their thoughts on the changing digital landscape and what it means for brands at Advertising Week Europe.

Nicola Mendelsohn CBE, vice-president EMEA Facebook and Matt Brittin, president, Google EMEA at Advertising Week Europe
Nicola Mendelsohn CBE, vice-president EMEA Facebook and Matt Brittin, president, Google EMEA at Advertising Week Europe

Brands should be testing virtual reality

Nicola Mendelsohn: “[Brands should be] starting to test [virtual reality] but it’s very early days and not many people have these devices yet. It depends what your objective is. If your objective is testing innovation and being seen as an innovative company then try it because that would fulfil the objective. We only started shifting [the Samsung VR] in November, the Rift is only going out now, so is it actually in the hands of consumers? Not really, not at scale.”

Matt Brittin: “I encourage people in the UK, which is one of the most creatively advanced countries globally, to be experimenting with new stuff all the time. There’s only five million [Cardboard VR devices] out there but that’s in no time at all. People will want more immersive experiences… try to experiment with new technology, how does it help people to tell stories in new ways? [Virtual reality] is going to be really important for the industry.”

How artificial intelligence will transform computing

Nicola Mendelsohn: “We’ve used and built AI to give speech recognition as to the likelihood of what’s in a picture. If you’re a blind person and you’ve never been able to experience what is on Facebook, [when selecting an image] it will tell you ‘it looks like there is a man and a woman on a couch, they look happy’… You can see the look of delight of people’s faces and they say they can now speak to their family because they know what’s in the picture.”

Matt Brittin: “Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is the future of computing, let’s be clear about that. It’s something that is really important… Machine learning underpins how we make search work, in actual language processing. So if you speak to Google our error rate has fallen from around 25% to around 5-6% in two years because of machine learning techniques. We can use fewer data points to give you more accurate results, faster… You can’t underestimate how transformational [machine learning] will be.

The marketing revolution

Nicola Mendelsohn: “We’re in the middle of a revolution with communications and technology. It’s very disruptive and quite frankly it’s a bit scary and when that happens people can move toward fear, and that’s normal. From previous revolutions we’ve seen that people are fearful, you hear about the demise of everything, [people worry] there will be no more jobs and the machines will take over, but that’s just not true.

“If you look at the history books you can see that with every revolution, yes things do change but there is much more employability, social mobility and creativity, and ultimately people are better off. Whatever job you do in communications at the moment it’s a choice – do you choose to be scared and fearful and stay as was, or do you choose hope and optimism and embrace the change?

“A lot will be the same – great storytelling, understanding the consumer and inspirational creative work – but actually can you combine that with other things to deliver things to people in a new and exciting way.

Matt Brittin: “I was in Eastern Europe in Prague recently and the attitude is all about protecting the future from the past. People have come from quite a difficult background and they are embracing the future and looking outwards and upwards. They are building technology skills; they have got amazing entrepreneurs in the digital space. When I spend time in some more Western European countries I feel the attitude is to protect the past from the future… At the moment if you look at what’s happening geo-politically, the Trump effect, I don’t like to mention what’s going on with Brexit here, or if you look at what’s happening with Putin, there is a danger of inward and backward looking rather than outward and forward looking.

The price of eyeballs

Nicola Mendelsohn: “We’re all about value so we want to make sure that every pound and Euro being spent gives a better return back. We’re much more focused on making sure we can measure business value and outcome than we are on other areas.

“That is a shift from where the industry has been historically because it hasn’t always been as easy to do that as simply as it is to today. [Clients and agencies] are open to that conversation but it’s not without the need to make differences and changes. It’s very familiar to look back at things we’ve done historically as a benchmark but we should all be looking at how we can drive value.

Matt Brittin: “A lot of the time the old language and ways of thinking gets in the way. But if you try to focus entirely on what people are doing and think about how to connect with people it’s helpful. For example, my 16-year-old son could watch the same piece of content from five or six different platforms.H e could watch it on TV as it’s broadcast, on Netflix, on catch-up TV, on Amazon Prime or YouTube, and on one of a number of different devices, from his mobile, to a tablet, to his laptop, to a big TV screen. He can watch it five different ways and his eyeballs are currently worth five different prices. It’s nuts, so that has to change.

“It’s hard for all of us, the new players and the incumbents and the people in the middle. It means changing economic models and how we collect data, so let’s just think about what people are doing and think about what brands want to try and do with those people.

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