False Memories & What It Means to be Human

Tam Le is the Regional Strategy Senior Manager for Carat APAC.

To paraphrase neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, allow me to describe a hypothetical situation that is both terrifying and likely to occur: implanting false memories for therapy. With the proliferation of VR, this seemingly sci-fi concept is quickly approaching reality.

5 – 7 minute read
10 minute existential reflection


We, as humans and as media professionals, have the ability to shape the future and create a world that we can come to terms with—one that is both virtual and real.

There are documented cases from the past few decades of therapists manipulating their patients’ memories in order to overcome psychological obstacles [1], but with the increasing quality and spread of virtual reality (VR), our ability to create realistic, false memories is greater than ever. “When you look at your brain under an fMRI, remembering and experiencing look very similar [2],” announced Google VR vice president Clay Bavor at Cannes this year, “You’ll be able to have an experience that’s so convincing, at times you won’t be able to tell whether you’re in virtual reality or real reality [3].”

With the increasing quality and spread of virtual reality (VR), our ability to create realistic, false memories is greater than ever.

 

Memory capture is currently one of the greater ambitions of VR; Bavor has experimented with creating a prototype camera for recording memories to replay in VR. “You can remember someone you love who might be far away or who you’ve lost,” he goes on to say, I’ve recorded…little fleeting moments: sitting with my grandmother in her home, having breakfast with my son. Here’s the thing: a few years from now, when my grandmother is gone, I’ll be able to sit with her. Twenty years from now, when my son is an adult, I’ll be able to put on some goggles and sit across the breakfast table from him as a little boy [2].”

“Twenty years from now, when my son is an adult, I’ll be able to put on some goggles and sit across the breakfast table from him as a little boy.”

-Google Virtual Reality Vice President Clay Bavor

 

Now what if those recorded memories were slightly altered?

What if we could replace your grandmother’s criticism of your wife with a compliment or insert a resolution to that fight you had with your son at the breakfast table? A reverse-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind of sorts where instead of removing memories for therapeutic purposes, they are constructed or modified.

Etermal Sunshine.JPG

Our susceptibility to false memories and the effect they have on our subsequent actions have long been proven by scientists. In a study, researchers falsely suggested to half of their subjects that, in their childhoods, they became sick after eating spoiled peach yogurt. Two weeks later in a seemingly unrelated follow-up study that consisted of sampling various foods, those who were given the false memory ate about 25% less peach yogurt than the control group. This avoidance of peach yogurt was especially pronounced among the participants who now claimed that they could “remember” eating the spoiled yogurt as a child [1].

Similar to how we’ve always had the ability to get from point A to B, and cars just help get us to our destination faster, we’ve always had the ability to implant false memories into others, and now VR can help get us there faster.

 

Taking it one step further

But what if we were to take it one step further? What if we were to push the boundaries of ethics even more? Now this is where my thought experiment begins: what if we were to introduce brands?

coke

How many brands do you use out of familiarity or because of association with positive memories? Do you drink Coke because it tastes better than Pepsi or do you drink it because you grew up drinking it and just seeing a red can takes you back to hot afternoons at the pool and late night pizzas with friends? What are brands willing to pay for nostalgia?

I imagine that, like all current forms of therapy, implanting false memories through VR simulations will not come cheap. What if brands were to subsidize the cost of memory therapy through “sponsorships”? Today freemium services are a way of life. Consumers understand that in exchange for free music streaming service from Spotify, they will have to listen to sponsored ads. If they choose to pay for a Spotify Premium subscription, the ads will disappear. What if this model could be applied to VR memories?

What are brands willing to pay for nostalgia?

 

Why does this make you feel uncomfortable?

At this point, you are probably feeling thoroughly uncomfortable and possibly slightly disgusted by my suggestions. I know I was when I first conceived it. I think this is because the idea of implanting false memories, even with the aim of improving lives, messes with our belief of what it means to be human. Our identities are based on our memories and experiences, but what will it mean if those memories and experiences are false?

Our identities are based on our memories and experiences, but what will it mean if those memories and experiences are false?

But then this brings us into the philosophical debate of what is true and what is false. Are all non-physical experiences not considered “real”? Are the emotions you’ve felt while reading novels not “real” because the story is fictional? Are the lessons you’ve learnt from watching movies not “real” because you did not physically experience them? Are all our digital memories imaginary? Does reading a hurtful comment about ourselves online hurt any less because it was not to our face, but on Facebook? Or does this feeling of uneasiness come from the deceit of a VR experience passing off as a memory of a physical encounter?

Are all non-physical experiences not considered “real”?

As we move into even more non-physical forms of communication and increased exposure to VR, we are going to have more memories of non-physical experiences—there’s no denying this. And regardless of whether we believe those to be true or false, we will retain memories of them and they will impact our future beliefs, attitudes, and actions. After all, our reality is merely our own personal construct of it. The question is now, how will society shift once everyone is walking around with heads full of fictional memories?

We are going to have more memories of non-physical experiences—there’s no denying this.

 

The scenarios written here raise a lot of questions, one of them being: why did I write this?  I created this thought experiment because this is an impending situation and we should consider the ethics of it before it is realized. VR is here. It will bring about unimaginable cases, the consequences of which we cannot predict from where we stand today. But we can begin to anticipate some emerging circumstances based on what we are already witnessing.

It has been proven that VR can affect or manipulate people’s experiences for days or years after they remove their headsets [4]. VR is already being tested to alleviate pain, phobia and depression. Memory alteration for therapeutic purposes already exists. So do brand sponsorships, integrations and product placement. It is only a matter of time before these worlds merge, and before that happens, we, as humans and as media professionals, have the ability to shape the future and create a world that we can come to terms with—one that is both virtual and real.

keanu-reeves

 

  1. Would it be ethical to implant false memories in therapy | BBC http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161003-would-it-be-ethical-to-implant-false-memories-in-therapy
  2. Is virtual reality for our own memories such a great idea | The Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/05/is-virtual-reality-for-our-own-memories-really-such-a-great-idea.html
  3. Google at Cannes 2016- Adventures in virtual reality | JWT http://www.jwt.com/blog/opinion/google-at-cannes-2016-adventures-in-virtual-reality
  4. Misled Memories | Mashable http://mashable.com/2014/06/26/virtual-reality-memory
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Searching for Marketing’s El Dorado

Clay Schouest is the Chief Strategy Officer of Carat APAC.
This was originally
presented at the Advertiser International Association 2016 conference in Beijing on 25 June.

The marketing world is chasing the dream of data, but in our pursuit, are we losing something equally important? And how will this affect our hiring policy?

5 – 7 minute read


El Dorado is an allegory. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, El Dorado is a legendary lost city, one overflowing with gold and precious stones in fabulous abundance. Over time, and creative interpretations, El Dorado has been used as a metaphor to represent the ultimate prize that one might spend one’s life seeking [1]—wealth, success, happiness, etc.

In Voltaire’s Candide, El Dorado represents an ideal society where everything is perfect—Paradise, you might say. The main character of the book commits his entire life to obsessively searching for the lost city, searching for Paradise.

Sadly El Dorado turns out to be only in his imagination—a place that does not and never will exist.

I’d like to spend a few minutes pondering what I believe to be our industry’s search for El Dorado: data, specifically the idea of data as the answer to all our dreams. We currently seem to have a myopic obsession with all things related to data.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: the Digital Economy

We are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution: the First powered our trains and the transportation industry with steam; the Second increased productivity through electricity; the Third revolutionised our world through computing; and now the Fourth is about new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds [2].

Our industry has never been more exciting. The fourth industrial revolution provides new means for better outputs and is impacting all disciplines, economies and industries—even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

In marketing we often refer to the Fourth Industrial Revolution as the Digital Economy. By 2020 we prophesize our industry will be 100% digital and organised around data. China is leading the charge and will most likely be the first market to get there.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds.

There are now more bytes of data left behind by our behavioural digital footprints than there are stars in the universe. To be exact, there are over 40 trillion terabytes of data and that number is growing every day. All this data represents the opportunity to get closer to consumers like never before, even predicting what they want before they know they want it. For example, AI technologies are now commonplace within our industry. We are using them to communicate, get to know our consumers and provide products and services based upon their interests.

We are now closing the gap between interaction and transaction. By 2020, all the media we consume, whatever the format, will link content with brand commerce. That is a brilliant thing for both business and consumers. As an industry, the ability to maximise ROI at the moment of receptivity with message and media makes our work more accountable. We know from studies that ROI improves up to 55% when we develop connected experiences that link content and commerce.

The future is bright; there is no denying that. One might say El Dorado is now within reach—or is it?

How this affects hiring policy

I can’t help but feel uneasy about how our industry is preparing for our bright future, and more specifically, the type of talent and capabilities we are hiring to help get us there. We seem to have an unbalanced hiring policy towards the talent that we recruit to realise our future vision. Our cumulative marketing brain talent pool has become lopsided—seemingly favouring the left, more analytical side, over the right, based on creativity and lateral thinking.

Why? That’s partly because it’s new and partly because people are coming to grips with how to manage, organise and classify data. In a recent survey of what keeps CMOs up at night “data” was cited as the #1 driver of how companies and organisations are structuring themselves. So it’s no surprise that when we look at LinkedIn, up to 70% of the new job postings from within the past year have “analytics” in the title or job description.

Our cumulative marketing brain talent pool has become lopsided—seemingly favouring the left, more analytical side, over the right, based on creativity and lateral thinking.

Are we headed in the wrong direction?

So here’s my point of controversy:

Today when I look around the industry, I see a bunch of organisations, clients and agencies who are convinced that data is their El Dorado. I believe data is a means not the end. The end is fundamentally about touching the human spirit, creating an emotional connection—that is what will fuel growth.

In fact, when you look at the top driver of business value, it is creativity, by far. Creativity contributes to business value far more than any other factor. Additionally, if you look at the skillsets required to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as outlined by the World Economic Forum, creativity also tops that list [2]. The power of an idea is just as important as ever; that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the ability to design and amplify ideas in the digital economy.

So let’s make sure we develop and stimulate the right brain again. Let’s hire more creative minds to help deliver great ideas that fuel those data-led approaches. And when I say creative minds, I don’t mean creative in the traditional sense. I don’t mean copy editors; I mean lateral thinkers.

Data is a means not the end. Creativity contributes to business value far more than any other factor.

Let’s remember data is not our El Dorado. It is not the end goal. To truly succeed in the digital economy, we need data solutions that inspire more creativity. In order to realise that ambition, we need to attract and retain more creative thinkers, not just data analysts. Let’s think and plan for our long term future.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Dorado
  2. The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab

The Myth of the Lone Hero

A collaboration between Jude Koh and Tam Le.
Jude Koh is the Regional Strategy Associate Manager for Carat APAC.
Tam Le is the Regional Strategy Senior Manager for Carat APAC.

Forget everything you believe about the lone, genius inventor—more often than not innovative ideas are a result of a collaborative, cross-functional team. We can apply this insight to transform the way we work with our teammates, other DAN brands, our media partners and even our industry competitors.

5 – 7 minute read


Innovation is, more often than not, accomplished by a “dream team” rather than a “lone hero.”

There is just something so gratifying about watching the Avengers: the way individual superheroes come together, united by a common goal, to defeat a singular villain. In Captain America: Civil War, we saw how the combination of Hawkeye’s precision with an arrow and Ant Man’s miniscule size came together to short-circuit Iron Man’s suit. This is a great metaphor for the collaborative approach needed for innovating: combining different, specialized strengths to achieve greatness unachievable alone. Innovation is, more often than not, accomplished by a “dream team” rather than a “lone hero.”

ant-man-hawkeye

There never was a lone hero.

Yet in our narratives about innovation, it’s often about a sole genius, a visionary so brilliant and ahead of their time: Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Alexander Graham Bell and one of the most revered of all time—Thomas Edison. The man credited with inventing the phonograph, the motion picture camera and the light bulb actually surrounded himself with a team of strikingly diverse specialists (both in terms of professional expertise and nationality): a British mechanic, a Swiss machinist, an American physicist and mathematician, and about a dozen other draftsmen, chemists, and metalworkers. Together they formed a large-scale industrial research lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey nicknamed “the invention factory.”  As great of an inventor as Edison was, he recognized the greater power of a collaborative, cross-functional team [1].

Why should we care if Edison invented the lightbulb on his own or with the help of others? If we unmask the myth of the lone hero and instead recognize that innovation comes from a collaborative network, it affects how we cultivate ideas as a society: less rigid patent laws, cross-disciplinary teams, employee participation in stock plans, etc.

As great of an inventor as Edison was, he recognized the greater power of a collaborative, cross-functional team.


Today’s world of innovation is full of partnerships, even among competitors.

Today, we can see the effects of Edison’s Menlo Park; their organizational structure marked the beginning of cross-disciplinary teams and collaboration between different specialists. For example the early iPhone utilized the power of Google Search and Google Maps to create a truly superior mobile device. Recently, Facebook and Shopify collaborated to create an e-commerce service on Facebook Messenger, giving small businesses tools that were previously inaccessible. Similarly, Volvo and Uber are joining forces to develop driverless cars. This past September, tech giants Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft came together to form Partnership on AI with the goal “to benefit people and society.”  These otherwise fierce rivals will regularly meet to conduct research and promote best practices. Outside the tech world, Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot is a multi-national collaboration of scientists and charities from both the public and private sector. These collaborations show an obvious need for companies and NGOs to offset their own weakness by leveraging the strength of others.

shopify

Collaboration in companies lead to real business results.

Innovation arises from collaborations, not only between companies, but within companies as well. In a Deloitte study among Australian companies [2], those that prioritize collaboration are twice as likely to be profitable and outgrow competitors. Collaboration actually increased work completion rate by 15%. Not to mention, 73% of the employees do better work and 56% are more satisfied when they get the opportunity to work together. Most importantly, 60% of employees are more innovative when collaborating. Clearly, working together towards a shared goal has a direct and measurable impact for both the business and its employees.

Companies that prioritize collaboration are twice as likely to be profitable and outgrow competitors.

For our own work, collaboration can come in many different forms.

Collaborate with Fellow Carat Members: When innovating, we should create teams of people with different strengths, skillsets, backgrounds and perspectives, instead of relying on a “lone hero” to come up with the ideas. In Carat APAC’s Regional Product team, we have specialists in the field of insights, strategy, digital and content. Like the Avengers, we work best as a team when each “superhero” keeps their ego in check and their minds open to new ways of working.

Collaborate with Other DAN Brands: Beyond Carat, the Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) is comprised of specialist brands, all potential partners that we can leverage because of our one P&L model. When pitching for new business, our ability to seamlessly integrate capabilities from throughout the DAN network provides a competitive advantage over other agencies.

Collaborate with Our Media Partners: Furthermore, by continuously collaborating with our media partners, we have the opportunity to present our clients with some truly innovative options. A great example of this is the joint partnership between Carat China, Mondelēz and Tencent, China’s internet media giant with vast resources in IM, WeChat, gaming, mobile, music and video. This strategic partnership enables Carat’s client Mondelēz to fully leverage exclusive and beta products across Tencent’s ecosystem [3]. By collaborating with media partners, we can deliver business value and live up to our claim of “redefining media”.

Collaborate with Our Competitors: Additionally, taking a cue from Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft’s Partnership on AI, there is an opportunity to set aside our self-pride and rivalry and work with other media agencies with the aim of bettering the industry.

We work best as a team when each “superhero” keeps their ego in check and their minds open to new ways of working.

By recognizing the strength of others, we face endless opportunities to collaborate, and in turn innovate, as that is a responsibility that does not rest on any one person’s shoulders alone.

  1. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson
  2. The Collaborative Economy | Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/au/Documents/Economics/deloitte-au-economics-collaborative-economy-google-170614.pdf
  3. Mondelez, Carat and Tencent form joint business partnership in China | Campaign http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/mondelez-carat-tencent-form-joint-business-partnership-china/1371610

Shopify Facebook Messenger image courtesy of TechCrunch.

Marketing Myth: Loyalty Programs Lead to Large Revenue Growth

Tam Le is the Regional Strategy Senior Manager for Carat APAC.

The following article is the second in a series of what we’re calling “Marketing Myths.” There are a lot of misconceptions and “rules of marketing” out there that have been disproven over time by research. Each article in the series will focus on one marketing misconception, drawing largely on the work of Byron Sharp and the book How Brands Grow. Through the series, we hope to help you avoid these marketing myth pitfalls and make you stronger media professionals.

3 – 5 minute read


Since moving to Asia, I was proud to sign up for a Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer number. I couldn’t wait to be rewarded for my loyalty! But looking through my flight history, this sentiment feels like déjà vu. While in the U.S., it seems I’ve declared my loyalty for many airlines within the past two years alone. In no particular order, I am also a member of the following “loyalty” programs: United MileagePlus, American Airlines AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, Southwest Rapid Rewards, JetBlue TrueBlue, and even Spirit Airline’s FREE SPIRIT. What’s more, this list only covers the frequent flyer programs I’m enrolled in; it doesn’t even begin to cover all the carriers and airline alliances I’ve flown. It appears that I’m a philandering polygamist!

THE FOUR TYPES OF BUYERS

Chart.JPG

Of course, I’m not the only unfaithful consumer out there. In fact, consumers like me, heavy buyers of a category with low brand loyalty, are the most desirable consumers for loyalty programs. As high buyers of a category, we have more loyalty to give, and if a loyalty program could convince us to shift our spending, then the brand has much to gain. However, keep in mind, motivation for the consumer to be loyal to just one brand isn’t high as we will probably accumulate similar rewards with competitors.

Heavy buyers of a category with low brand loyalty, are the most desirable consumers for loyalty programs.

The remaining categories of consumers are unlikely to contribute to revenue growth for a company through loyalty programs:

Light Buyers of a Category, Low Level of Loyalty

A majority of consumers fall into this category—remember the amended 50-20 rule from last month’s Marketing Myth where it was found that the heaviest 20% of buyers contribute to about 50% of sales volume? Introducing a loyalty program will capture some of these consumers (because there are so many of them) and hopefully convert some of them into more loyal buyers of the brand.

However, it is difficult to change a consumer’s category purchase rate from low to high, and as low category buyers, they will most likely fail to accumulate enough points for rewards and eventually forget the program. For example, I have a membership card with the drugstore Watsons, so I try to purchase from them versus their competitors whenever I need to get something from the drugstore; however, there are only so many times in a month that I need to go to a drugstore. I’m not going to increase my purchases within the category just because I am enrolled in their loyalty program.

So even if a brand’s loyalty program wins over light buyers of a category, they are still light buyers. Therefore the value of this consumer segment comes from their sheer number which balances out their low purchasing rates.

Even if a brand’s loyalty program wins over light buyers of a category, they are still light buyers.

Light and Heavy Buyers of a Category, High Level of Loyalty

Consumers already-loyal to a brand are the ones who will most likely sign up for a loyalty program. First, they come into contact with the brand more often, so will have more opportunities to find out about a loyalty program. Second, because they purchase from the brand so often, they see their high likelihood of receiving rewards from such a loyalty program.

For consumers who are already brand loyal, there’s not much change that a loyalty program will evoke. These consumers can’t really purchase the brand any more than they already do, and they don’t need to change their behaviour in order to earn rewards. As a result, implementing a loyalty program will only reward already-loyal consumers without receiving increased revenues in return.

Implementing a loyalty program will only reward already-loyal consumers without receiving increased revenues in return.

SO DO LOYALTY PROGRAMS WORK?

Given the previous paragraphs, I think you would be surprised to hear that the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute actually found that loyalty programs result in a positive effect on loyalty—although it is a very small and weak effect. Despite this loyalty effect, it is too small to noticeably drive revenue growth, and given the costs of a loyalty program, the effect on profits is presumably negative.

The loyalty effect is too small to noticeably drive revenue growth, and given the costs of a loyalty program, the effect on profits is presumably negative.

THEN WHAT ARE THEY GOOD FOR?

After all of this, you may be wondering why any business would continue the costly endeavour of maintaining a loyalty program.

Firstly, these types of programs are tricky for a company to exit from. Consumers with lots of points do not take kindly to them being taken away.

Secondly, if used to their full advantage, loyalty programs can be used to build consumer databases. A robust database that charts consumers’ purchase history can be a powerful tool for personalized direct marketing. And once the database collects enough purchase history data of enough consumers, the data can be mined for insights like the infamous diapers and beer correlation.

Bottom line: if companies don’t expect their loyalty programs to drastically increase loyalty for their brand or stimulate any revenue growth, and instead viewed them as a method to build databases, then they won’t be disappointed by unrealistic expectations.

To read more Marketing Myths: https://rocketapac.wordpress.com/category/media-musings/marketing-myths.
Frequent Flyer credit card image courtesy of
http://www.laptopmag.com/images/wp/purch-api/incontent/2011/03/april_410_frequentflyer_sf.jpg.