The advertising industry's presence at the Mobile World Congress last week is still relatively small compared to the Consumer Electronics Show, which is often referred to as Second Cannes. Yet agencies like McCann have been going for five years now, and executives like Martin Sorrell, Laura Desmond and Nestle's Pete Blackshaw all spoke on panels. Moreover, marketing's presence is growing at the MWC, which drew an estimated 100,000 people to Barclelona.
Evidence panels covering issues that the industry has been wringing its hands over, such as ad blocking and a lack of understanding how to engage in and get up to speed in mobile advertising. The Interactive Advertising Bureau and DMexco, like last year, had a full day of panels as well.
While many attendees said that there wasn't a ton of completely new technology (at least that's useful for brands), this year was significant because what was showcased is coming imminently. For marketers, that's critical because they can see things at MWC they could put to use in short order. A first-mover advantage poses its own set of challenges, but the sooner marketers get to experimenting, the better.
"It's easy to think about what you could do a few years out, but it's much harder to think about what you could be doing now and actually do it," said Patrick Rona, chief digital officer at McCann, Asia Pacific.
That said, don't worry. There were still plenty of moonshots if that's your thing.
Here are some topics from the conference that marketers and agencies should get ahead of:
Phones and VR headsets
Multiple announcements of coming innovations were made from phone makers, though none of the major companies made smartwatch announcements. Once again, Apple was noticeably absent from the show, but its competitors seem to be set to give it a run for its money. Samsung and LG made the biggest splash with their new phone announcements, and they, along with Huawei, had massive booths with central real estate on the show floor. But phone makers, sensing that the market has reached saturation in many markets, are also branching out by bringing additional gadgets into the fold.
Samsung announced its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, and LG launched its G5 -- both promise they're the best phones yet -- but their accessories got just as much interest. LG's new phone has a "modular" capability that lets you connect other pieces of hardware to make it a better camera or audio system. LG also unveiled a host of other products, including a VR headset and spherical mini robot controlled by the phone that can monitor your home.
Virtual Reality, 360 Video and Live Video Broadcasting
Virtual reality was one of the most widely talked about technologies at MWC. It all started with a now ubiquitous photo of Mark Zuckerberg crashing the Samsung event Sunday, walking down the aisle as everyone in the audience had on their VR viewers. Mr. Zuckerberg was there to tout a Samsung VR- Facebook partnership.
Samsung is making a massive push in VR after rolling out its Gear VR headset, and used MWC to not only announce the new phone, but its Gear 360 camera, which allows people to make their own VR content. Brands and agencies will likely see an opportunity here to engaging with customers in new ways.
This comes as companies like Sony's PlayStation sets the announcement its VR set this month, and HTC's Vive and Facebook's Oculus Rift prep for an imminent unveiling.
Live video broadcasting also captured the attention of many attendees, following the rollout of Facebook Live to compete with Periscope. Brands and agencies would do well to watch this development as well.
Ad tech once again had a significant turnout. Companies like PubMatic, xAd, Teads, OpenX, AppNexus, Rubicon and Criteo, as well as AOL and Google and countless others, took up nearly an entire hall. Some attendees noticed an uptick in performance marketing conversations, and while it's not a new concept, its importance is now all the rage at MWC. "I was a bit taken at the sophistication of what many vendors called 'post-click engagement,'" said Pete Blackshaw, global head of digital and social at Nestle. "Getting an app downloaded is one thing, but ensuring high usage of the app is another big opportunity. Technology can help you track and optimize post-click engagement, or aggressively retarget app downloaders to ensure the app is top-of-mind. I saw quite a bit of new capability on this front."
Data, the perennial darling of the marketing world, was well represented at the conference, with companies like IBM featuring data abilities. IBM said that it is offering tools for "unstructured data" like the assessment of people's emotions. (Structured data is sales and the like.) The company has been offering personality profiling based on what people are typing into their social accounts. Now the company is offering personality profiling based off of images and video.
On the security front, multiple companies, including MasterCard and Intel, showed off their security features -- an increasingly big concern, particularly in the Internet of Things discussion, and as more and more consumer data is created as we adopt more gadgets. Intel, for example, in partnership with McAfee, played up its ability to enable security for wearables.
"The biggest barrier to using mobile in business is fear that consumer data is not secure," said McCann's Mr. Rona. Until companies can show that data is secure, it will be difficult to quell people's concern, he added.
And though Apple was not present, there was plenty of hallway chatter about security and Apple's fight against the U.S. government, which is trying to order Apple to unlock the phone of a suspected terrorist. Mr. Zuckerberg in his keynote said he was "sympathetic" with Apple's cause.
Connected devices, cars and payment
Everyone may be getting sick of using the phrase Internet of Things, but the technology's not going anywhere. It might be a few years before the average person has a connected home, but MWC showcased several connected items that, if adopted widely, could be of use to marketers and retailers. Jasper, an IoT cloud platform, featured its already available smart vending machine, which has sensors that send notifications back to the cloud before items run out. Jasper also offered a small point-of-sale system with facial-recognition technology geared toward serving relevant coupons and ads on its interface.
Last year at WMC Samsung announced its mobile payment system, and players like Visa had a BMW in its booth to demonstrate you could pay for your pizza at Pizza hut through your car's dashboard at the drive-thru. This year, MasterCard featured sunglasses with a payment chip in them at a booth in MWC's Innovation City which are supposed to debut this year. The company is also said to be pairing with other designers and fashion brands to offer more payment-abled couture. Visa at its booth had a jacket with a payment chip in it. It's not clear how widespread payment chips in clothing will be, but in the year since Samsung, Apple and Google have all had pay functionalities in their devices, payment fever seems to be spreading.
CES seemed to have a bigger showing from the auto industry, but Detroit was well represented. Ford had a sizeable booth, and CEO Mark Fields gave a keynote. In both instances the company worked to position itself not just as a carmaker but as a leader in mobility, connectivity and even self-driving cars. AT&T 's booth featured AT&T Drive, its auto mobility initiative, which featured an API (available only to select developers for now), that allows the development of apps for a car's dashboard. Mr. Rona said that if the API opens further, it could be a big opportunity for brands -- food companies and retailers, just to name a couple-- who could create apps that offer utility to drivers.
Near Field Communication, a short-range wireless connection, has been around for some time and talked about in marketing circles. Some advertisers have used it in stores, but recently chatter has increased. Vendors like Thinfilm, who recently struck up a partnership with Leo Burnett's Arc, were on hand at MWC. "NFC seemed to take a big step forward, and this has huge implications for brands," said Mr. Blackshaw. "Touch a product and automatically get information. We've been talking about this for some time, but it seems to have reached a tipping point."
Though we likely won't see 5G in a significant way until 2020, companies like Verizon are starting tests for the higher speed connection. And 5G was widely talked about at MWC, both on the show floor and in panels. Mr. Zuckerberg during his keynote mentioned that 5G will enable more people to watch video fast on their mobile devices. Which is a good thing for Facebook, since the company has been pushing video, particularly in its advertising.