Jim Butler, president of the Dentsu Aegis digital agency Isobar US, is ready to hit the CES showroom floor even though, at the time of this interview, it hadn’t opened yet.
It’s his first pilgrimage to CES, and much of what will be displayed at the Las Vegas Convention Center falls into both personal and professional interest.
“Attending something like this is partially curiosity, partially inspirational,” he said. “Some clients are really worried about disintermediation and digital transformation – what they should do, how they should respond to the disruptors in the space.”
Isobar is one of a few Dentsu-owned digital agencies, a club also includes 360i and recent database marketer Merkle. “We’re still trying to define the differences [between Merkle and Isobar],” Butler acknowledged, noting Dentsu stresses cooperation among agencies.
He spoke with AdExchanger in Las Vegas.
AdExchanger: The Internet of Things always gets a lot of play at CES.
JIM BUTLER: With IoT, I’m interested that the technologies that used to be separate apps are now all being united by [Amazon] Alexa. That’s really been the missing piece.
I’ve heard that Alexa serves as the IoT hub. Going forward, will it just be Amazon? I’m sure Google would like to be that piece.
Google is late to the game though. Amazon has a few advantages. It has a jumpstart on this and is making it more acceptable for consumers to use. I would imagine Google will have a leg up over time with the AI and the responses to questions.
Are your clients embracing Alexa?
It comes up very little right now. But it’s something corporations need to wake up to as people are realizing they can use it beyond asking for, say, time of day.
How much of the stuff at CES do you think will be immediately relevant?
We’re doing a lot of work in the AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) space.
Is that more immediately relevant to brands than IoT?
Much more. There’s significant dollars spent by clients that want to dabble and even build an extension to their business. On the VR side, we’re working with one or two well-known bands to build virtual experiences to engage their fans. We’re not out with the product yet, but it’s exciting to create these VR worlds with Google Tilt Brush, a painting tool for virtual worlds.
In terms of creating more immersive experiences, VR seems further ahead than AR.
Yes, it’s further ahead but the commercial application for AR exceeds VR. VR is going to be huge, especially from a gaming standpoint.
Did you see the Black Mirror episode where you rate people? That’s the future of AR, where it’s contact lenses.
Here’s an area we’re exploring: Think of a call center. You can put on a headset, look out, and see the stats of everyone in the call center. You can assess the stats of everyone there to see who’s performing.
Are you building that?
Not now but it’s what we’re thinking about.
What needs to happen for AR to get to that point?
Not a lot. Microsoft’s HoloLens is a pretty solid platform. Everything I said is possible.
There are a lot of VR headsets, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of AR hardware.
There’s HoloLens and there’s another one called DAQRI, which is a different application. It’s a bit more industrial.
Will AR and VR merge? Are consumers going to have to have two pieces of equipment or will something like Oculus eventually do AR as well?
I don’t think so. VR is meant to transport you somewhere else. And AR will probably get smaller and smaller, to contact lens size. I can’t imagine that working with VR.
Given that VR is further along, what are the marketer applications beyond one-off brand experiences?
We have a strategic relationship with MIT Media Labs. We’re helping one gentleman going through a doctorate, and he’s testing the effectiveness of advertising in virtual experiences. So capturing the brainwave to determine what works and what doesn’t. Before a marketer builds an out-of-home display or installation, you can test it in a virtual world.
You’ve got phone-based VR and VR that’s connected to a more powerful computer. Which one will scale? Or will all experiences be available on all devices?
There are stark differences between a phone-based snap-in experience and something like an HTC Vive. Even between the Vive and Occulus, there’s a huge difference. Most of the work we’re getting is related to the HTC Vive. But the problem is that it’s cost prohibitive. The device is about $700 or $800, and the PC to run it is about $3,000. That price will come down over time though.
How willing are advertisers to invest in VR?
The brands we’re working with right now are dipping their toe in. They’re substantial projects, but it’s not in the same line item as a large business transformation. These are baby steps.