Speaking at Creative Tech Week NYC: Talking Trees - the Future of Advertising Media?

On May 3rd, 2016 I was honored to speak at Creative Tech Week in NYC and share some ideas about nature, urban development, CSR, advertising and new business models tying all these together by means of creative technology.

All hands were raised when I asked who thinks that trees are great. And it's hard to be indifferent to green stuff when you live in England - the country where people are crazy about gardening.

>> Problem Definition

Two years ago I had nothing to do with neither natural environment nor creative technology. And the journey that led me to it matters. I worked as a marketer at a large software product development company. Every marketer at any sector faces two major challenges:

  • standing out and being creative while working with advertisers and media using the same channels as your competitors do;

  • measuring ROI of your activities - the task quite easy for digital but not so for outdoor ads, CSR programs, B2B sector in general.

Search for a solution to these problems turned into a journey that brought me to creative tech. The first part of this journey was about CSR and new trends in city government. CSR is a win-win model when social and impactful projects are sponsored by businesses that in return receive good publicity. At the same time, new trends in urban development pointed at city councils outsourcing some of urban design projects to 3rd parties who have more expertise, resources, experience, creativity in finding innovative and more effective solutions to city problems.

>> New Business Model

All these pieces of puzzle started turning into one picture. The new multi-stakeholder business model will have the following mechanics:

  • Step 1. Local communities define a problem and communicate it to city councils.

  • Step 2. City councils evaluate a problem and turn to design agencies for solution - giving jobs to local architects, creative technologists, landscape designers, artists, makers, material suppliers, etc.

  • Step 3. City councils - having limited budgets - get urban projects sponsored by companies/advertisers as part of the latter's CSR programs.

  • Step 4. Companies/Advertisers benefit from traditional CSR effect as well as get an additional value if a project is interactive (smart, powered by sensors).

>> Proof of Concept 1: CSR

To prove this model I divided it into two parts and decided to test the concept step-by-step. First, it was critical to test is CSR really works. I took a short course on urban design, joined urban activists to find a problem in a local neighborhood in Minsk and we came up with a project proposal to restore stairs and build a small public space with mural art.

The project has been supported by one of the major local businesses. It was also important to understand if citizens really care about and need that kind of projects. We launched a crowdfunding campaign and won! Work with local city council took a bit longer (6 months longer!) but still appeared doable. Hint: get local media support you. This small project proved the concept of CSR. At least now I tested it myself and believed in what papers and studies said about it.

>> Proof of Concept 2: Technology

Second step was to see what technology is out there. As part of study program, my colleague Juan and I went to IKEA and got a plant. Since we had no client, we decided nature to be one. We built a Talking Tree.

Before making a tree interactive, we thought it needed a character. A cat - a creature who gives no care about you until it needs something from you, oh then it's nice and sweet. Isn't this how we treat nature?

We used proximity, motion, and light sensors as an input and sound, motion, light as an output. When you walk by, the tree starts talking to you - it asks for help, it's friendly and you're amazed. When it gets what it wants, it screams, shakes and sends you away. You walk away amused, but with a bitter feeling. You start to think. About nature and how it suffers from our actions. Here the message of our client reaches you. And it stands out. And we know you were reached.

>> The Future...

What this small talking plant POC means is a new business model with both horizontal and vertical growth potential. We can replace billboards with trees, we can design and build entire parks - green and interactive - for the cost of advertisers. And if we are capable of making a tree talk, imagination is the only limit. We can fill our cities with topiary art, pop-ups, wooden carved benches, interactive public spaces - all sorts of creative outdoor and indoor projects - powered by creative tech and sponsored by advertisers.

Slides are available below: