Sci-Fi Marketing: How Futuristic Tech Can Influence Your Strategies

As your consumer base widens into generations that are unlikely to respond to traditional marketing techniques, perhaps it’s time to look to the skies and embrace technology that, years ago, wouldn’t have looked out of place on a spaceship

Kira Hawker

In 2018, we are boldly going where no one has gone before. From artificial intelligence to augmented reality, technology that would have once have been confined to the mind of H.G Wells is now ingrained into our lifestyles. So much so, in fact, that generation Y have no idea what life was like before Instagram, touchscreen or geofilters.

So, as your consumer base widens into generations that are unlikely to respond to traditional marketing techniques, perhaps it’s time to look to the skies and embrace technology that, years ago, wouldn’t have looked out of place on a spaceship.

The Tech is Out There

No matter when you were born, the chances are you will have grown up with a sci-fi movie dictating what you thought the future would be like. Whether it was the insane AI that powered HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, to the intuitive touchscreen computers used by Tom Cruise in Minority Report, released in 2002, our imagination of the future is so often influenced by the worlds presented in science fiction films and television.

Now, we haven’t quite got to lightsabers and hoverboards yet (although we’re pretty close), but there are many technologies that are starting to become mainstays of the digital marketing industry. Here, we’re going to take a look at some of the ways in which science fiction is seeping into real life strategies, from AI and machine learning, to hyper-personalisation and automation.

 

His Master’s Voice Assistant

In science fiction, we are often confronted with an uber intelligent computer that responds to voice commands. They can be extremely unsettling and dangerous, such as the aforementioned HAL 9000 (believed to have been based on IBM), or they can be an attractive distraction from loneliness, such as in Her by Spike Jonze.

However, the voice of these hyper-intelligent robots is a by-product of their AI, allowing for meaningful and detailed conversations. The voice assistants that grace our homes, such as Amazon Echo’s Alexa to Apple’s Siri, are not quite as intelligent as HAL or Scarlett Johansson’s OS1, but they are influencing significant changes for SEO strategies.

Optimising for voice search is a technique that many are adopting as the rise of voice-commanded technology becomes more prevalent. From hands-free commands in your car to ordering more milk from your sofa, consumers are finding that with a simple “Hello Siri”, or “Ok Google”, you can find information quickly and conveniently. Businesses can capitalise on this by using structured data to underpin their content and give search engines more information about your site and services.

Google already uses natural language processing (NLP) to offer up relevant results for voice search, helping to interpret the semantic meaning behind voice queries, becoming more and more intuitive by the day.

HAL 9000 The famous (and slightly murderous) HAL 9000 was the original smart speaker

Me, Myself & AI

Artificial Intelligence may be a buzzword in today’s marketing landscape, but it’s been around for longer than most modern digital marketing techniques. AI was conceived in 1956, when computers took up whole rooms, and although we have not yet reached levels of AI demonstrated by J.A.R.V.I.S in Iron Man or Marvin from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, AI is becoming a useful tool for marketing.

We may think of sentient, lifelike robots like the android played by Alicia Vikander in breakout hit Ex Machina when we think of AI, but today’s incarnation is a little more innocent. Artificial Intelligence in the world of PPC means automating bidding so budgets are efficiently allocated to ensure the best possible outcome for the money spent.

Ex Machina Whilst Ava from Ex Machina definitely passed the Turing test, we're more concerned with the PPC test

This type of AI is called ‘machine learning’. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there are differences in how they work. Machine learning works by using statistics and historical data to learn how to perform better on a task, without needing to be programmed. This lessens the pressure on PPC teams, who can use machine learning to automate bidding, therefore freeing up time for other tasks that require a more human touch.

But it’s not just PPC that uses AI and machine learning to improve efficacy. Google uses a constantly adapting algorithm for recommendations, and Netflix improves its own content recommendations with predictive analytics that are continually learning and growing.

Shut Up & (Don’t) Drive

Driverless cars have been showcased in dozens of sci-fi movies, including the futuristic Audis in I, Robot and the Lexus 2054 in Minority Report. Of course, we’re not quite at the level where we can sit back and relax while the car takes control – Tesla, the current go-to for driverless car technology, has had many a negative news story after their vehicles have crashed and even killed people – but we are getting to the point whereby the car dashboard might just be the next big advertising space.

 

If driverless cars take off then, of course, we won’t actually be driving them, thereby freeing up time to watch videos, ads and pop ups during the journey. We already have cars that offer built-in connectivity, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth coming as standard in many models. However, things are going even further. Hyundai are expected to offer discounts on insurance premiums based on driver data collected while you are on the road, and GM has an app to help drivers find parking spaces and book in services and MOTs.

We already see many a London taxi emblazoned with ads on the actual body of the car, and many now have video screens built in to push ads to people as they travel. It seems logical that as transport becomes more autonomous, there is a chance to capitalise and target commuters away from the standard marketing techniques we see on public transport.

Google’s self-driving vehicles have clocked up a massive eight million miles and Elon Musk says Tesla cars will soon be able to drive from California to New York without any input from a human being. It remains to be seen how quickly this technology becomes commonplace, but people in the marketing world are already imagining how it can be utilised to help reach more audiences.

Elon Musk hails his self-driving Tesla as the future of cars, but does it hail a new era in marketing as well?

Reality Bites

Probably one of the most well-known tropes of science fiction is virtual (and augmented) reality. The Matrix may not have been the ideal advertisement for the power of VR, but it definitely sparked imaginations the world over.

VR and AR are now such a huge part of this generation’s culture – let’s not forget that month in 2016 when everyone you knew was out playing Pokemon Go – that it is already becoming a mainstay. Although the intricacies of VR gaming are still being ironed out, augmented reality is a very real and very useful medium to use for marketing.

Companies like VO5 and Starbucks have created branded Snapchat filters to push their products, reaching a young demographic on a social media platform that has incredible reach with 191 million active users in the first quarter of 2018.

Similarly, furniture and interior design-related companies like Ikea and Dulux are using augmented reality to let customers ‘try before they buy’. Mapping out your living room with AR so you can see how that lime green sofa looks or test out that paint colour in your kitchen without having to buy it first, is a hugely useful way of making a big decision without committing. You may think that this could get in the way of the purchase funnel, but bear in mind that they would have downloaded the app, entering data as they did so, so you have one more customer in your marketing funnel even if they don’t go ahead and purchase said lime green sofa.

Virtual reality also gives businesses a chance to push their message through intensive PR exercises. For example, shoe giant TOMS recently promoted their one-for-one campaign (when someone purchased a pair of shoes, the company donated a pair to a child in need) by giving customers a VR tour of their charity initiative in Peru.

Ikea augmented reality Brands like Ikea are using AR to help customers try before they buy

What’re You Lookin’ At?

Minority Report, released in the ancient times of 2002, is one of the most popular predictors of tech. From the motion-controlled computer screens used in the lead character’s hyper-futuristic office, to driverless cars, it has been hailed as a movie that could really show us what life will be like in a few decades.

One of the most interesting scenes involves Tom Cruise’s character moving through a shopping mall, his eyes and face being scanned by various cameras dotted around the place. The scan recognises who he is and his purchase history, offering up live holographic ads that address him personally and offer him various products it knows he will be interested in.

 

 

Okay, so we’re not quite at biometric targeting yet, but with a mix of AR mentioned above and intuitive data capture, personalisation is already taking ecommerce to a whole new level. At one end of the spectrum we have smart billboards that interact with people and at the other end we have ecommerce companies offering up recommendations based on a customer’s purchase history. Combine this with highly-targeted PPC and paid search campaigns that track cookies and offer up ads wherever you customer is online, and you have a hugely influential personalised marketing arena that shows no signs of letting up.

The Future is Now

Although most science fiction films show us a somewhat dystopian future, the technology showcased in these movies doesn’t necessarily have to give us cause for concern. In fact, today’s consumers demand levels of personalisation that shows them they matter, that their custom is appreciated and that the ease and intuitiveness of buying encourages them to come back again.

Many of the cool technological features of life in 2018 can easily be repurposed for marketing, helping to futureproof a business, lessening its chances of falling behind in an age where an ever-changing consumer base demands modernity.

Simply put, science fiction is no longer fiction, it’s a real and exciting glimpse into how companies can keep themselves at the forefront of marketing innovation.