The Electronic Retailing Association

Interview with 2018 MCMS Speaker Tom Bowers: Opportunities in viewer and consumer interaction and the importance of offering customers engaging visual content with the right technology.

Tom Bowers, Co-Founder, Observatory, London

As Co-founder of Observatory Tom is helping to champion change in the creative industry with the understanding of what appropriate bespoke content works within emerging technologies such as VR, AR, Projection Mapping, Holograms & DOOH to activate audiences globally.

With 18+ years in creative innovation in the broadcast industry pushing for change in the TV space in respect to viewer and fan engagement, Tom has launched groundbreaking ideas around emerging technologies and social media.

Having worked on major shows including The Brit Awards, Million Pound Drop and Got to Dance innovating the first regulated live global social vote, as well as championing the 1st wave of socially dynamic TV advertising in the UK"

phone: +44 (0) 7764 488378



@ObservatoryLDN  - Twitter/Instagram/Facebook

ERA Europe: Tom, at the 2018 MCMS, you joined the panel on "Data, AI, TV and the Future of Commerce" and spoke about opportunities in viewer and consumer interaction and the importance of offering customers engaging visual content with the right tech. How receptive are audiences to emerging technologies?

TB: Emerging technology is already a big part of our daily lives, everything from the utilisation of chat bot assistants, self checkouts, even cars that park themselves. All these enhancements are attempts to make our lives easier, some successful, others not so successful. Like any technological improvements, audiences are only receptive to these 'enhancements' if they do exactly that, 'enhance'. The technology has got to either solve a problem or give reward for its purpose to the end user.

Audiences, particularly those who are loyal and regular, are shrewd and know when they are being offered an emerging technical solution that just serves to be on trend rather than actually giving any actual enhancement.

At Observatory we are asked on a frequent basis: “We’d like to do something in VR”. This is great in many respects that the end client wants to embrace emerging technologies creatively but the approach is flawed. Undertaking a project in VR, AR or AI should only be considered if it solves a problem or enhances their audiences engagement with the brand, rather than executing something as it’s a seeming current trend or buzzword just to simply tick a box.

Thinking of how audiences and users engage with your brand currently and exploring creative ways that technology can extend that user journey is the way to consider adding emerging technology to your business infrastructure.

360° image from Observatory's recent F1 VR experience with Sky which repackages old assets and presents them in a new way

Drag with mouse to rotate

ERA Europe: When implementing creative solutions within emerging technology, how large a role does trust play?

TB: When looking at your emerging technology strategy and considering how you can leverage this for the evolution of your business with creative, authenticity of the application is crucial.

Audiences, whether consumers or viewers, would have built up loyalty with your brand over time and its important to consider how creative technological enhancements will increase their affinity with your brand. You need to consider the impact this change will have on your fans/consumers/viewers and if it’s one that will make them feel closer to your brand or feel alienated. If it’s the latter then it’s not something that should be considered.

Time will have been spent building a community of loyalty and this must be protected. That is not to say that those audiences should be wrapped in cotton wool and not exposed to new creative processes and developments which could increase their closeness to your brand.

Investment into exploration with new technology and processes in a measured yet creatively unrestricted fashion is extremely important in order to pursue successful business positioning in the technological future.

(L-R) Dimitris Kalamitsos, (Spott), Tom Bowers, (Observatory), Charles Dawes, (TiVo), Ben Keen (panel host) were the expert panelists at the MCMS 2018 for the topic 'Data, AI, TV and the Future of Commerce'

ERA Europe: How much data do customers have to give up to get involved in this technology / what is the benefit?

TB: From experience, audiences are happy to exchange portions of their personal data if they feel there is a trade off reward for doing so. For example, if they can see the merit of the technological enhancement in terms of giving them an experience with your brand that they have never had before, or one where that will excite them then they are likely to be inclined to do so.

Personalisation with new creative technological enhancements is often a great way to execute this. Providing users with something they feel they want to share with their friends of their experience as a viewer or consumer on social media is often a great way to attract engagement and adoption. Think of it as a trade for a better experience, but only if it executes as a enhanced experience to the end user.

ERA Europe: You said to target the younger demographic it’s important to understand the trends - so what are the trends and what is resonating with young people?

TB: In order to attract younger audiences it’s essential for businesses to observe current populist trends amongst youth demographics to explore how these can be leveraged and utilised in your own business strategy -  what is the youth market engaging with and how?

...more educated creative risks need to be taken with new technologies that go far to attract new audiences...

Prada, for instance, have recently associated itself with digital influencer Lil Miquela on Instagram. What’s particularly interesting about this ‘influencer’ is that Lil Miquela is a digital construction that doesn’t physically exist, yet as it stands has a total of 1.3m followers, hence Prada’s desire to affiliate themselves with 'her' and tap into this trend.

A great deal can be learnt from this as, if this is executed in the right fashion, then brands can associate themselves with these new influencer trends in an authentic way that will go far to heighten brand awareness within a core demographic (Generation Z, Millennials) who these influencers appeal to.

ERA Europe: What will the TV shopping industry have to change to embrace the future?

TB: The ubiquitous question! As I said during the MCMS panel session, I personally feel, given my experience in producing live shopping TV content in my career, that more educated creative risks need to be taken with new technologies that go far to attract new audiences, but at the same time hand hold existing customers/viewers to come on that same journey to ensure that they do not feel alienated by these enhancements.

Shopping channels are already embracing building audiences across social media in order to market their products in new ways that feel authentic through their presenting team but this can be taken a step further by looking at technologies that present products in new ways, allowing for products and services to be interacted with at a different level. e.g. bringing audiences in to the studio via live motion tracked augmented reality to comment on products in real time to make the experience feel less linear, or serving up products using VR where infomercials can live in an environment that allows for richer engagement and interactivity.

It’s important to remember however that technology shouldn’t be introduced just for the sake of ‘ticking that technology box’. When clients approach us at Observatory suggesting that they want to do a VR or AR experience, we always dive deeper to make sure we understand fully why the client wants to embrace the technology. Ultimately a poor creative execution halts adoption of emerging technologies across the wider marketplace so it’s extremely important the right creative execution is undertaken, creating case studies that act as a ‘springboard of envy’ enticing other businesses to adopt similar activations albeit with a slightly different creative variant.