dynamic

AI Talking to me?

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I did my first Power of Sound presentation in 1998. Not using any visual cues was unnerving to begin with but practice and various memory training tricks helped make it fairly slick. By the time I’d delivered it maybe a dozen times I was offered 30 minutes in front of the marketing director for a big non-radio spending insurance brand. I was well rehearsed but on entering the boardroom at Capital he promptly announced something had come up and I now had just 5 minutes to convince him of the creative potential of sound and radio. Branding is hugely important in industries where product features are easily copied. Brands are defined by how we feel towards them - the emotional connection. Sound is how we receive most of the emotional information through our lives. I looked at my playlist and said I wanted to play just two audio clips, back to back, to prove that point:

It worked, he agreed. In under 5 minutes sound had managed to take him to the opposite poles of human emotion. Genuine human emotion delivered through the instrument we’ve evolved for that specific role, our voice. 

There is a lot of chat around voice, it’s the hot topic of the moment, particularly with the impressive Duplex demo in the Google I/O keynote earlier this week.
 

There are more details in their blog post here

Just after the UK launch of the Amazon Echo in the Autumn of 2016, I wrote a blog post titled "Why it’s good to talk, trust, think and feel", in which I explored the origins of human speech and the potential for synthetic voices where I linked to Wavenet, the work of DeepMind AI. They have been part of Google since 2014 and are undoubtedly behind many of the impressive aspects of Duplex. It’s funny as an audio creative I’ve always been drawn to natural, emotive vocal delivery,  trying to distill and replicate its impact in my own presentations and yet when it comes the production of ads we often remove the imperfect, the umms, arrhs and breathes, unless it’s dialogue of course. However why shouldn’t they remain in some announcement, single voice scenarios. If they need to be added to enable trust in the delivery of a synthetic voice then perhaps we should be more forgiving in other circumstances.

The other noteworthy recent development in this area was the synthetic recreation of JFK’s voice to deliver the speech he never gave in Dallas - 1963, the day he was assassinated. This was the work of Edinburgh based Text to Speech specialist, CereProc.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/jfk-video-hear-kennedys-lost-dallas-speech-in-his-own-voice-xtkvhm255

There are some really interesting applications for this technology with A Million Ads, starting with simply testing how dynamic scripts might sound within our Studio pre-production, right through to voicing huge lists of store locations, retargeted product catalogues or all known first names to entire campaigns. The key creative aspects to believable synthetic voices are the same we are dealing with when ensuring that dynamic campaigns using human voices sound indistinguishable from non-dynamic broadcast style ads. Particularly making sure dynamic edit points are compatible with the way we naturally merge sounds in the way we speak. However longer term the idea of being able to synthetically sample and recreate people’s voices could have a profound effect on voice talent. I used a CereProc synthetic voice, that we considered the most believable called Stuart, for this Nissan Leaf pitch demo highlighting that lack of emotional engagement. 

Of course synthetic voices currently lack genuine emotional delivery, but it would be naive not to consider their eventual improvement through artificial intelligence to the point where we can’t tell them apart from a human voice in certain circumstances. So we’re intrigued to experiment with synthetic voices to fully understand their capabilities as they develop. The future could involve applications for recreated synthetic voices of well known people who have consented for such use. We can licence a David Bowie song for an ad campaign, will we eventually be able to have it voiced dynamically by Sir John Hurt?

This advert is amazing! Conscious personalisation with Virgin Atlantic

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At A Million Ads we split our personalised creative approach into sub-conscious and conscious, with sub-conscious personalisation pricking your attention by coincidentally and perhaps subtly mentioning your nearest city, or what the weather is like for you right now. We've done plenty of campaigns that deploy these techniques to great effect.

Conscious personalisation, however, lets you as the listener know exactly what is going on by exposing what data we know about you.

So, imagine you are listening to your favourite audio service on a cloudy Saturday afternoon in Northampton ...

 
 

Working with Adam&Eve, PHD and OMGP we put together this Virgin Atlantic campaign for their Amazing January Sale and it is the first ad that deploys conscious personalisation.

We understand that conscious personalisation triggers a different part of your brain and sure enough, listeners of this ad have taken to Twitter to let us know what they think.

 
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Our dynamic creative approach allows advertisers to communicate more personally and intimately with listeners than ever before. For Virgin Atlantic we reference the weather, day of the week and your location.

 
A sample Virgin Atlantic script line displayed with the rules that power the audio

A sample Virgin Atlantic script line displayed with the rules that power the audio

 

The blue lines in the script each correspond to a dynamic data point, creating over 24,000 possible versions of the ad, so that listeners in locations such as Coventry, Southend-on-Sea, Exeter and Hull hear the version that is most relevant to them.

We know that when an ad is more relevant and aware of our context, it performs better. This was clearly demonstrated by some interesting reactions across Twitter, such as this comment from Paul O’Donnell:

 
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Whilst no government agency was involved in the production of this ad, as with any leap in technology, it's going to take some getting used to. Like Aaron says: 

 
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We are delighted with this campaign and it really proves that our personalisation technique can create the cut through that all advertisers dream of.

Some people, however, will never be happy:

 
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Cheeky.

Drawing a Crowd From Dynamic Creativity

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A Crwth is an ancient stringed instrument with it’s roots in early Anglo-Celtic culture, a predecessor of the modern guitar it was played by traveling musicians across Europe. My surname, Crowther, is derived from these musical storytellers who unlike me, had a fairly high social status. That’s because they were an influential alternative source of information from that of the Church. While both the Church and Crwth players used storytelling, music and performance to get their message across, the tone was very different between the two, the Church used authority and consistency, Crwth players were the entertainers, using more emotion through music, rhyme, drama and comedy to tell stories of battles and affairs of court. They became influential because of their popularity, the English word Crowd is derived from the large gatherings that resulted from a Crwth player arriving in a town with the latest ‘entertainment’ news. Information has always been power, the Church distributed theirs through scripture as they controlled the production of books. Before the invention of the printing press, books were expensive to produce, they took many man hours to produce but with monasteries across Europe, they had access to a dedicated workforce. Books ensured the distribution of a consistent message, where as word of mouth can get skewed to the priorities of the storyteller, where they are and the mood they’re in at the time the stories being retold.

So what does this have to do with modern day advertising? Media traditionally has been planned around frequency, repetition of a consistent brand message which creates familiarity and has the effect of psychologically conditioning consumers, making it easy to subconsciously select a brand from amongst the ‘noise’ of competing brands. Of course this can be amplified if you simply don’t allow or greatly restrict any competing noise, something the Church learnt thousands of years ago and is also being practiced in many London Tube stations by the Trivago poster campaign.

Some commentators haven’t minced their words on the subject, like this article in The Drum - Doing shit work is easy when nobody gives a fuck - I understand the frustration expressed by Dave in this article, however I doubt any of the people he chastises were even employed, it’s a cost efficiency driven econometric tested results driven campaign, globally planned and created in-house on a shoestring (shoot me if I write that sentence ever again). That’s my explanation of it, not excuse for it, because as with Dave it goes against all my creative instincts, media brawn over creative brains. I took the picture above at Westminster Station and you can’t ignore them but I would have loved it if the final poster in the line had the Trivago girl being caught with her feet up, cup of tea in hand and searching for a new more interesting job, quick Indeed/Monster get in there!

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The psychologist Ivan Pavlov with the help of his hungry dogs proved the concept of classical conditioning, however what is lesser known is that when he tried to repeat his experiments in front of guests the dogs didn’t respond as before. As well as identifying classical conditioning, Pavlov had identified something he termed the orienting response, which is a reaction to novel or significant stimuli. New people coming into the house are suddenly more interesting and overrides the conditioned response, humans like dogs are curious creatures. I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts that communication is a process of appealing to both our conscious and subconscious brain. What Crwth players and live performers of any kind have learnt, is that their performances have more impact the more emotional, dramatic, entertaining and tailored to the priorities of the audience they can make them. Due to the fact their method of delivery was live and dynamic by necessity, it lacked the consistency of written word being spread from the pulpit, but they used that to their advantage by reacting to significant stimuli all around them to tailor their storytelling.

Dynamic, personalised creative allows brands to reflect this human instinct and can either be used to elicit the subconscious conditioned response for brand building or provide the conscious significant stimuli of the orienting response for tactical messaging.

If you’d like to hear more about the power of personalised dynamic creative, please get in touch. I‘m perhaps an example of nominative determinism, travelling and presenting through sound, although I’ve ditched the Crwth for an iPod.

Now Pay Attention, I’m Talking Bull!

Fearless Girl, McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors

Fearless Girl, McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors

I usually wake early, but thanks to a transatlantic flight body clock I recently found myself up and out of my New York hotel for a run before 5am. Watching the sun rise behind Brooklyn Bridge was spectacular but my main aim was to visit a small four foot statue on Wall St… Fearless Girl. It was early but she was stilI attracting attention, the group visiting from Kansas in the picture above, were there to avoid the inevitable crowds later in the day. Fearless Girl is the idea of the ad agency, McCann New York, for their client State Street Global Advisers. It is a statement about the power of women in leadership. and has attracted a huge amount of global attention - it was awarded the Titanium Grand Prix at the recent Cannes Lions. It’s an idea that resonates with people who enthusiastically share it on social media perhaps because that idea is manifested in beautifully crafted art.

Art is an idea wrapped in sensorial persuasion
— Alain de Botton Author & Philosopher

What makes this communication so influential? Why did a young girl from Kansas get up so early to be pictured next to it in a ‘Girls are strong T-shirt? Is it a one off, or are there lessons for an industry that trades in sensorial persuasion? What is the relationship between attention and influence? Another piece of communication that did well at Cannes was this film, Evan.

 
 

It cleverly uses the inherent weakness of human attention to make its point, principles highlighted in the famous invisible gorilla experiment, a psychological demonstration of the selective nature of human attention. The fact we say ‘pay’ attention is a big clue to its nature, because attention has a cost. By focusing on something we are blinkered to much of what else is going on around us.

I was in New York at the invitation of our friends at Pandora to speak on a Psychology of Personalised Sound panel at the One Club Creative Summit. The subject of human attention was a central part of that discussion but sonic and visual cues have very different effects on attention. We see far less than our brain cleverly makes us believe we’re seeing. I’ve ridden motorbikes since I was eighteen, when I was learning I had a conversation with an RAF Harrier pilot, a veteran of the Falklands War. He taught me what they teach fighter pilots. To look and see you have to look twice, only then do you see the movement of an object in your peripheral vision be it a car or an aircraft, otherwise you can be completely blind to it.

In our evolution hearing and listening performed a different function. It allowed us to survey our environment 360 degrees, over a decent range, 24 hours a day. To do this consciously would have been utterly draining so we do it subconsciously. Anything that is then a potential threat to us, or personally relevant, attracts our conscious attention. This evolved a process commonly known as selective attention - The Cocktail Party Effect.

 
 

Advertising occasionally uses the threat response of selective attention but self relevance is far more acceptable. The relevance of anything is how it personally makes us feel. Our emotions, or more specifically our emotional memories, are key and as discussed in earlier blog posts, sound and emotion are intrinsically linked. Fearless Girl and Evan like most powerful communications are emotional stories in different forms. They are powerful discursive tools that make it easy for people to share and comment on issues as important as gender equality or as vital as missing the social clues to gun violence. They make these issues accessible as the attention that they garner becomes self-relevant leading to shares on social media. The strength or value of any story is in it’s ability to form or change perception. As Rory Sutherland regularly argues, all value is a matter of perception with context and self relevance being crucial in how we experience the world. The girl is only fearless in the context of standing up to the Bull of Wall St.  

Tell me the facts and I’ll learn.
Tell me the truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever,
— (Ancient Proverb)

At A Million Ads we believe the value of dynamic personalisation in advertising is in its ability to attract attention by being more self relevant and contextually aware. Creating methods of communication that can positively shift brand perception.

We are applying this thinking to Deliveroo’s current dynamic digital audio campaign, which changes by timebands through the working week to suggest an appropriate service and then purely by weather at the weekends.

This means that at Tuesday breakfast time in Brighton someone will hear this message:

While someone in Manchester on a weekday evening will hear this:

...And if you're in London and it’s sunny this then be sure to listen out for this: