Goafest 2014: ‘Are you a complement to the computer? Or is it better off without you?’ - Guy Hearn, Omnicom Media Group

Parents are looking for help, and brands can help them use digital for kids’ development, said the first speaker at this year’s festival

May 29, 2014 10:20:00 PM | Article | Gokul Krishnamurthy

What’s coming next? We don’t know. But it’s coming fast. The pace of change is increasing by the day. And in this changing, uncertain ecosystem are opportunities, pointed out Guy Hearn, chief innovation officer - Apac, Omnicom Media Group. Hearn was the first speaker on day one of Goafest 2014, which kicked off on 29 May.
He underlined the pace of change with the example of a 3D digital replicator unveiled at the SXSW Festival in Austin, in May 2013. It could replicate objects about the size of a cola can, or six inches. Cut to January 2014, Las Vegas: all the instruments a band was playing at the event were 3D printed.
“We have to think of the consequences of this accelerating pace of change,” noted Hearn, who was setting up the audience before moving to the subject of digital opportunities for brands around kids.
The second change he pointed to was the one around connected devices. At least 50 billion connected devices are expected to be around by the end of 2015 – of which only a fourth will be smartphones or tablets.
“If we see a scenario where every object in the grocery store is connected, what does it mean to marketers? It’s the duty of all of us to be prepared. What does this mean for kids?” he asked. 
The parental dilemma
The speaker outlined the dilemma that parents face on getting kids exposed to technology early. The reality, he noted through an example, is that before kids learn about basic shapes and colours, they are interacting with devices (comfortably), and know where to get what they want through the connected device.
Parents, he underlined, were not too keen that kids get used to devices when they are too young, with understandable reservations. He quoted from Randi Zuckergerg’s book Dot, where the author urges kids to look up from the screen for a richer life. Presenting the counter, he noted that the kid denied access to technology, will be at a loss in a competitive school environment, among connected kids. The debate is on about what kids need in order to thrive.
“A lot of kids of people who work in Silicon Valley are sending their kids to San Francisco Waldorf School, where they don’t let the kid go anywhere near a computer. On whether kids need computers, psychologist Gordon Neufeild says ‘No’. His argument is that once they get into a computer world, they are getting peer-reviewed far too early. They used to say that about TV – that you shouldn’t expose kids to it too soon. I didn’t have a TV until I was 12 years old. The kids used to talk about this show and that, and I had no clue,” he reasoned.
With over half the kids in the world living in the Apac region, the subject demands attention of marketers, the Omnicom innovation head added.
Are Asian parents different?
Quoting findings from a study, Hearn pointed out that while in the West, there is a strong belief that development happens through ‘play’, in South East Asia, kids spend more time studying (including educational games) than playing. Pre-school kids in SE Asia were found to spend 5 hours and 45 minutes a day studying, while this number stood at an hour and 40 minutes in the US.
“In the midst of a scramble for development, there is a sacrifice on ‘play’. Coming to what play is about. In the US, it is about fun, not necessarily about development. In SE Asia, parents are keen that it also achieves some tangible goals. So our job is to help (kids and) parents find a middle path, to be digitally fluent. Create technology-based experiences to get kids from being digitally literate to digitally fluent,” he explained.
He made the case for brands to utilise opportunities to drive the utility people sought, underlining that parents would look for people they trust. He cited the example of Vodafone Earmuffs at the Kumbh Mela.
“Consumers are looking for utility and there’s a huge opportunity in digital. Because they don’t know whom to trust except for the educational brands. But who else do they trust?” he questioned.
He cited examples from Ikea Singapore, Wyeth Gold Hong Kong and Zamzee (gamified activity tracker) to underline his point that if there is a developmental benefit, parents will let brands engage with their kids.
“We do not need to teach kids how to code. We need to teach them how to use digital in a creative way,” he noted.
Quoting from economist Tyler Cowen’s book ‘Average is Over’, Hearn emphasised the role of human thinking in the digital landscape. “We must urge people to ask whether they will be a complement to the computer, or if the computer is better off without the person. Especially in businesses like media agencies, we know that people are also going to be competing against computers.”
Kids of today will be in an even more digitalised environment, making the argument even more relevant, he said.
 “Parents need to navigate this universe and brands can help them do that. Parents will trust brands when they see a positive developmental outcome. They will trust brands that have a positive history,” surmised Hearn.