Sep 16, 2015

But is it innovation?

Iris Worldwide's Grant Hunter shares the thinking of the Innovation jury at Spikes Asia, and thoughts for the future of the award.

Grant Hunter
Grant Hunter

The innovation category is a great addition to Spikes Asia. It’s now in its second year, and it received 47 entries, from which we shortlisted 11.

Now, 47 entries isn’t exactly a bumper amount. But there were a few sparks of brilliance. So whilst the innovation wasn’t exactly dripping from the ceiling, it did feel like the organisers have innovated with the format (when compared with the other categories)Each shortlisted creator gets to present their idea in a 10-minute pitch to the jury and festival delegates. 

As the jury it’s a humbling experience, and it was great to see the passion for the various ideas. Having the creators present gave us a much more rounded picture of the idea and the people/organisation behind the innovative sparks, compared to a glossy case-study film. Although certain presentations perhaps did more harm than good to the idea’s chances. Our questions were maybe a little tough, but the ones with the answers rose to the top.

Before we started, jury president Ben Cooper from M&C Saatchi got us together to debate what defines a successful idea in the innovation category. We were all aligned that the ability to scale an idea had to be there. Had the originators thought about the plan to roll the idea out? Or was it just a PR stunt, a one-off prototype created to generate a nice piece of branded content? It also shouldn’t be technology for technology’s sake, it needed to be solving a very real human need.

The first presentation had a degree of shizzle. A robot called Pepper took to the stage. However, the 'wow factor' slowly faded; the more we delved into it the more unconvincing the proposition became. The potential is immense, and the emotion-recognition engine over time I’m sure will be powerful. But how different is it to other robots on the market? Is it a companion for the elderly, a concierge at a hotel or bank, a child’s entertainer? 

We weren’t really sure that the entrants knew yet. But maybe that’s the power of its potential? The trend of robo-outsourcing is already picking up pace as the 'silver tsunami' builds, and Japan, with its ageing population, is sure to lead the way in the robotics field.

We talked at length about the Diabetest, a diabetes test in a tissue. It’s really simple and could save lots of lives. But the lack of a plan to show how it rolled out put doubt in our minds. Perhaps linking it with a diabetes day or week, and giving the kits away at retailers during that period would have improved reach with a big PR burst. The lack of accreditation for the test also made us a little uneasy. But we all appreciated the potential and the enthusiasm in the presentation.

Ideas like the Dolmio Pepper Hacker and VW Life Dial both identified a need to change a behaviour, and both are really interesting ideas. But they fell into the category of great content/PR ideas rather than innovations that could effectively scale in their present guises.

With Eye Play The Piano, a VR experience for disabled children empowers them to play a musical instrument via eye tracking. It definitely answers a need. It took a while to unpack the story but from the presentation there was one statement that landed the core idea—to give the child the feeling of accomplishment. The team made the experience deliver that sense of mastery that you feel when you’ve learnt an instrument or more specifically a piece of music. That is powerful stuff.

The clear winner was the Life Saving Dot. It taps into an existing behaviour and tackles an immense problem. Tens of millions of people in India suffer from iodine deficiency, and the risk is particularly great for expectant mothers. The bindi, a symbol of beauty, is a daily ritual for women across India. By pairing it with transdermal technology (the same principle as a nicotine patch) the delivery of iodine becomes frictionless. The question marks we had around distribution and dosage were well answered by the team. I hope that the idea realises its potential and the bindi is distributed across the country. The award of the Grand Prix should give it a further boost. And surely it’s now the team’s duty to make it happen at scale. I wish them good luck.

As a closing thought, innovation takes time. It’s not something that happens overnight. The timescales involved are spread out over years rather than the weeks/months of a traditional campaign. It feels like having the idea and building the proof-of-concept is the easy bit. The hard work starts when it comes to rolling out the true potential of the idea.

Wouldn’t it be great if Spikes/Cannes were to revisit the winners to see how successful they have become in three to five years? Will the life-saving dot have reduced the number of iodine deficient expectant mothers in India? Will the Eye Play Piano have transformed disabled children’s music classes across Japan? Will Clever Buoy (last year’s winner) be protecting swimmers and surfers across Austraila? (From talking with Ben, the M&C team is ploughing on with it and improving the tech whilst waiting for some federal red tape to be cut).

It also occurred to me that it would be a great gesture if a percentage of every award entry fee went into an innovation fund to help propel some of these ideas forward. It would be a great statement of intent on the behalf of the whole industry.

Grant Hunter is regional CD for Iris Worldwide. He served on the innovation jury at Spikes Asia 2015.


This article is part of the Campaign Innovate series, a collection of articles that examine the way innovation, startups and technology are affecting the advertising and marketing industry.

Campaign Asia-Pacific has also launched the Campaign Innovate competition, an event that aims to provide a platform for Asia-Pacific's startups to pitch to some of the world's biggest brands. The winner will be announced a the Marketing Innovation Summit.


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