As we embark on a new decade, we find ourselves in an increasingly instantaneous environment. We now officially live in a 5G world, and pretty much every household appliance in our homes can not only speak to us, but also complete menial tasks on cue, without so much as a whisper.
So, what does this newfound efficiency mean? How will it affect our daily lives – and the marketing industry as we know it? Is it time to give up our day jobs, because robots are taking over? From 3D printers to hoverboards, we have seen the rise and subsequent fall of many technical innovations over recent years. So, with a degree of caution, we’re dusting off our ‘Augmented Reality’ crystal ball, to bring you a glimpse into the future of our tech revolution. In this 2020 trend report, we’ll be identifying some of the biggest trends within the tech space for the upcoming year, and the role influencers can play in marketing products, building awareness and keeping brands’ often overly imaginative feet safely on the ground.
1) ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
If Hollywood’s predictions are right, the future does not look great for humans. Films such as The Matrix, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or Stanley Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey (the list goes on) and in the literary world, books including Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein, all explore the variety of ways artificial intelligence could threaten and devalue humanity.
We’re now officially a decade into life with social media, and the line between realms of reality and the virtual are seemingly becoming more and more blurred by the second. This blurring between the biological and technological can also be seen within the influencer world, with significant rise in AI influencers over the past 12 months. The most famous AI influencer is Lil Miquela, a virtual fembot created by Los Angeles-based company Brud. The project initially garnered intrigue and criticism for the character’s digital appearance, with fans and online commenters oscillating between Miquela as an art project, or a social experiment carried out by a real, unidentified woman. There was also the odd rumour floating around that Miquela was a marketing gimmick for The Sims.
Since April of 2016, Miquela has amassed a following of 1.7 million on Instagram, and sparked a surge in similar AI influencers. AI influencers might be more than a passing fad, amidst offerings of collaborations with established global brands and features in glossy magazines including Hypebeast, V Magazine and Vogue, but there is still something inherently off-putting about doing influencer marketing work with a robot. Sincerity, integrity and social advocacy are such huge trends going into 2020, we don’t see AI influencers taking over just yet, mostly because of serious issues surrounding their authenticity – but they’re not to be ignored. Audiences are invested in influencers because of their humanity, and whilst it is easy to forget that a lot of posts we see are meticulously edited and perhaps don’t accurately represent the reality of everyday life, the “perfection” trend is dying out, and users are craving honesty.
One of the biggest buzz moments for 2019, was the release of Black Mirror’s episode with Miley Cyrus. The episode, starring Miley as purple-haired pop star Ashley O, looked into AI and holography in a somewhat hellish way, with Cyrus’ personality being downloaded into a chucky-esque Amazon Echo holograph. Do you get it? Yeah… us neither, but the episode did prompt very interesting narratives around the ethics of AI, and imaginative questions like: will you be able to game next to your favourite ‘holography influencer’ in the future? Would you want that? If this was the case, and you could conjure a holograph of your favourite influencer right to your kitchen table, would it make the interaction more personal, or would it be a reality bending invasion of privacy? With faster, more effective networks and ever accessible technology, all of this is feasible – and not as far away as we might think. Right now however, holography and AI tech is still expensive and there is plenty of backlash and ethics discussion for society to wade through before we see the complete loss of human connection. The first well-publicised example of holograms being used in real life came from Coachella in 2012, and since then we have seen various developments of this tech pop up year on year – mostly in China right now. Could 2020 be the year we invite holography into our homes? Unlikely, but you never know… Alexa does seem to get more and more pervasive with every day!
3) QUANTUM MECHANICS
Google has recently unveiled that they’ve been working on – what they describe as – a quantum computer. What they mean by that, is a computer capable of solving problems that would take a normal computer 10,000 years, in less than 5 minutes. With Google now owning one of the largest social media platforms in the world (YouTube), and having collected more data on individuals than any other company in the world, it becomes interesting to dive into the impact this could have on the influencer space. Does quantum supremacy lead to unethical targeted advertising?
Now that we’re seeing a shift in popularity, from macro influencers to more niche, entry tier influencers – as well as a rise in virtual influencers – it is entirely possible that Google could use this computer to generate virtual influencers that are ‘hyper niche’ and therefore could be used to reach customers on a much more personal, pervasive level than has ever been done before.
Chatbots are nothing new, but pre-existing rivets in technology have been ironed out, and hence they have experienced a resurgence these past six months. Brands are using chatbots to create intuitive sales funnels, that aid the customer experience when they’re buying products or services online. When you look at the stats, it’s easy to see why brands are moving in this strategic direction; integrated website chatbots have an open rate that is four times higher than email.
There are potentially huge effects that these bots could have on the influencer marketing world over the next year, including the way brands could integrate them into influencers’ pages to promote their products, using the chatbot to guide the customer experience and help them buy the most relevant product on site. Essentially, the tech would work in a way that makes the customer feel like they’re having a conversation directly with the influencer, experiencing a genuine connection and bond with someone they desire. Whilst this “genuine connection” is one we all strive for, it does raise questions of authenticity, given that the bot will be limited to a set number of responses. With the development of AI however, bots will begin to develop their syntax and ability to replicate the humans they imitate far more naturally, so perhaps one day we will all have Miquela’s number in our phone and won’t think twice about asking her where she got her new bag from.
Greta Thunberg was named Time magazine’s person of the year, ‘Climate Emergency’ was the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year, and every Friday for the past 12 months we’ve seen heroic Gen Z kids taking to the streets, to fight for our right to live on a clean planet. The younger generations will continue to be favourable of topics that champion sustainability as we head into 2020, so it makes sense for influencers to join the crusade (authentically, mind you), weigh in on the climate crisis and tap into their next wave of audience. This is exactly what we have seen from Mark Robber, an ex-NASA engineer and influencer who has taken it upon himself to deep dive on some of the tech that could help the vital reforestation efforts; Robber’s efforts to raise awareness were catalysed by Mr Beast’s pledge to have 20 million trees planted before Jan 1st 2020. It is likely we will see more sustainably fruitful partnerships like this in the future, where influencers look to work with tech companies who are changing the world in a positive way.
6) PERSONAL DATA
Facebook hasn’t exactly had the best year on record, still facing significant backlash from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and new issues surrounding mental health in young people coming to light. With the constant innovation of tech, people now more than ever want trust and traceability from platforms and big tech companies, when it comes to storing information and data on us. No one – not even Gen Z-ers who champion convenience – wants to think about something and then be targeted with an advert for it two seconds later! Influencer marketing success has always come from the trust influencers have fostered with their respective communities. With the rise of distrust for powerhouses like Facebook and Google, more AdBlock technology and people ignoring targeted ads an increased amount, it leaves space for brands to fill with an effective influencer marketing strategy.
Holography and artificial intelligence all sounds very ‘Robots & Cyborgs’, but in actuality 2020 technology is ‘ structured around the idea of “people-centric smart spaces,” which means considering how these technologies will affect people (i.e., customers, employees) and the places that they live in (i.e., home, office, car). We are ‘on the cusp of moving beyond augmentation that replaces a human capability, and into augmentation that creates superhuman capabilities.’ (Gartner) Tech for 2020 is about doing the best we can to boost the human experience, whether that’s saving the planet, protecting our data or enabling influencers to connect with thousands of people at once. Our advice? Consider the business, human and democratic context first – tech success will come second.