Innovation, creativity and the ability to thrive: three positives to take from these dark times

Innovation, creativity and the ability to thrive: three positives to take from these dark times

As painful as crises are to live through, the gift of hindsight shows us how often they spark innovation and allows us to see that even in difficult times humans are imaginative and can actually thrive. Just look at the advances in emergency medicine which emerged from the Second World War, or the way the SARS crisis of the early 2000s drove the expansion of a little-known startup called Alibaba.

Of course, we’re too close to the Covid-19 crisis to understand all the transformation it’s bringing about, but we’ve got the incredible story of how quickly effective vaccines were developed – under a year, compared to the decade plus it usually takes.

I’ve spent my career helping drive innovation and the past 18 months have certainly been eye opening in terms of the changes that have emerged and the pace at which existing trends have accelerated. So it was a delight to have the chance to think about some of these for my session, ‘What are you going to take out of the crisis?’ as part of July’s Buzz Day devoted to the topic of innovation.

While you can watch the session at the bottom of this page, it’s so important during this time to keep reminding ourselves of some of the positives, so I’m pulling out a few points here for those who’d like a quick refresher.

Amazing new tech and truly creative campaigns were still being made

From watches that can read our blood pressure to 3D video animations made from 2D images, and real-time audio translation of speech into multiple languages, some astounding technology emerged, even while so many businesses were focused just on surviving.

Let’s overlook the glut of ads which appeared in the spring of 2020 as every brand filmed its staff on Zoom, delivering reassuring messages, and remember some of the inspiring creative campaigns to emerge. Burger King’s work with Fifa, by the agency DAVID, was one of my favourites, pushing Stevenage FC into the world’s consciousness in a way that was fun and clearly effective for the brand.

The Uncensored Library for Reporters without Borders is another great example, where existing tech has been given an innovative new use. In this case, that tech is a Minecraft server and map, but with the idea that players in countries without the luxury of a free press can use it to circumvent censorship. Simple and yet very creative, as well as being a truly important innovation.

There was an acceleration in the uptake of existing tech

As anyone working in the electronic payments industry will tell you, uptake that would’ve taken years in any other period occurred during the first few months of the pandemic as even the most diehard cash devotees were suddenly forced to go contactless.

But other concepts found themselves going fully mainstream too. Hybrid events are a good example – the technology has been available to make these happen but global lockdowns saw demand rocket, driving innovation and creativity at the same time.

Some work we did for our client ARM’s virtual conference is a good example. We sent out 1,600 Oculus headsets around the world to the brand’s customers and partners, so they could enjoy the immersive experience we created for them, including a brick-by-brick VR version of the city of Cambridge.

All of this has helped fuel a golden age of event technology, which is a huge positive outcome. One of my favourite examples is Epic Games’ Unreal Engine suite of development tools, which we were the first to use in Samsung’s Life Unstoppable event. It allowed the audience an unprecedented level of interaction and a truly immersive visual and aural experience, thanks to pixel streaming and 8D sound. All very fitting for a brand like Samsung, which was unveiling its own tech of the future.

Sustainability is built in to these developments

The rise of hybrid physical/digital thinking means activations are available to much larger numbers of people while creating a far lower carbon footprint. And it seems like this big transformation is driving the will to improve the sustainable credentials of physical elements too. It’s something our own clients are asking for, including the way Facebook participated in the World Economic Forum (AKA Davos).

And my fourth and final positive is just how admirably so many of us have risen to the challenge. That was something that shone through at the other IMEX BuzzHub sessions I was lucky enough to see, but which I’ve seen from the team here at Smyle, across the wider event industry, and among billions of our fellow humans who’ve helped each other in whatever ways they can. 

The challenge now is to keep going, especially when it comes to delivering more effective and sustainable activations, using new technology, more immersive experiences and quality content. But I firmly believe that with the wealth of talent we have in the industry, we are more than up to the task.

by Matt Margetson, Founder & Innovation Director at Smyle

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Published: September 2021