Jane Austin: Tim Berners-Lee says robots are the future – CP+B’s Porter imagines a world without clients

Technology is taking over from the mind in the 21st century in the same the way machines replaced physical labour in the industrial revolution. Algorithms rule the world, from Google Search and Facebook’s news feed to NSA data collection and encryption.

Tim Berners-Lee (below), the inventor of the internet, has told Cannes that artificial intelligence will drive decisions in major corporations in the future. His stark warning to businesses is that by not sharing and being open with their data, they risk being left behind and losing competitive advantage. “To be part the business world you need to put data out there and it will not be for the user but to the user’s agent,” he said.

Because of the inexorable digitization of the world, technology will become better then us at doing almost everything. Berners-Lee predicts a world of robot holding companies making decisions based on data and algorithms.

He also warned we need to ensure that robots do not have the same legal rights as human beings. This warning was echoed last month by theoretical astrophysicist, Sir Martin Rees, who said we are facing an ‘inorganic post-human era’. He believes, as artificial intelligence is progressing at such a rate, robots will begin to achieve levels of intelligence to rival humans. The amount and levels of ‘thinking’ by organic human brains will eventually be superseded by AI.

So what are we left with in this post-human future? Will there be anything for us to do? Not if we don’t use the only thing that is unique to us as humans – our imaginations. Whilst Berners-Lee’s warning leaves much for big business and brands to chew on, it should also make each of us as individuals look inward to our creative spirit. That is something that can never be replicated or bettered by an algorithm. Everyone, no matter what job they do or what skills they have is a creative being. We each must start nurturing our inner artist in order to thrive and survive in the future – so that the robots don’t take over entirely.


Chuck Porter got a wry laugh when he announced that he had originally planned to call his Cannes Lions presentation “how to make lots of money without having to deal with clients” but wasn’t allowed to because “people thought it was snotty.”

It’s a dream that is pursued by many and agencies’ creation and ownership of their own products and IP is one that many of the best creative brains have tried but of which there are disappointingly few great examples. The frustration at producing powerful creativity and then handing it over to a brand owner only to not really receive a cut of the spoils is a powerful one.

chuckinsideBut Porter (left) – the co-founder of CP+B – seems to have managed to have finally cracked this with the creation, development and ownership of a number of the agency’s own brands – one of which went on to sell for in excess of $100 million.

We all know that necessity is the mother of invention and perhaps it was the ravages of the 2008 recession that forced CP+B to really focus its minds on something with which it had dabbled in that past.

“Getting closer to the product is far more important for creating brand personality than the advertising,” was an early lesson that Porter learned and after creating series of products in the more humdrum sector – such as sponge products – enough experience (and confidence) was gained about the product development process for the agency to take on its biggest projects yet.

CP+B created and launched the US’s first bike-sharing scheme and while a success because of the heavy levels of investment needed they realised that in order to retain control they had to create a model – it’s one that seems to apply to whichever sector an agency is trying to maximise its creative clout.

In 2011, the agency created the Angels Envy brand bourbon brand into a sector that is already crowded. But by creating a brand story, the packaging (as well as a small bit of advertising) that showed enough differentiation it became a great success and was snapped up just recently for a figure north of $100 million. Other brand launches have followed.

The recipe for success seems to be in building brands for the ground-up. Agencies should also not be afraid of finding partners to help them and not focus on getting involved in the whole process but with strategy and marketing naked in the products design. The agency can provide the strategic insight, brand design and marketing but will manufacturers and ‘smart money’ also making up the other three legs of the stool, huge amounts of risk can be locked off. With equal equity partners, agencies will retain their place at the management table.

With the business model of advertising shifting, and the levels of entry for brand creation much lower, tapping into our inherent entrepreneurship is a wide move. It plays to our creative and strategic strengths and, as was pointed out in the speech, advertising is just a small speck on where a creative mind can change business and affect our lives.

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