Creepy or Cool? Brands & Creativity Need to Find the Balance

WE in the News



Two weeks ago, while preparing for the first Cannes Lions Game Show – Who Wants to Be a Human? – my colleagues and I wanted to get a pulse on how adults were thinking and feeling about the pace of technology-driven change.

AI, machine learning, bots and the like are enabling us to buy products, to sell products, to meet partners, to plan meals… and the list goes on. But we hypothesised that there may be some discomfort or even some potential backlash due to controversies and headlines surrounding Facebook, GDPR, Uber, etc, etc.

So, we tested three simple statements about a company that we see as a tech barometer – Google. We asked 5,199 adults across the US, UK, China and India to react with a simple "creepy", "cool" or "neither" to the statements. What we found may surprise you. (Note: we know Google is not in China, but we believed the brand recognition was high enough to include China in the study.)

We started with a statement from former Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt: "The Google policy was to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it." By nearly a 2-to-1 margin (51% to 28%), our sample said "creepy" v "cool" with 22% saying "neither".

From there, we went to the following: "Google has created technology that lets artificial intelligence on your phone make appointments for you (eg if you wanted a haircut, a chatbot on your phone would call the salon and speak to a human on your behalf)." On this one, we had a statistical dead heat: 41% "creepy", 42% "cool" and 16% "neither."

We brought it home with another quote from Mr Schmidt: "We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about." This one, by more than a 3-to-1 margin went to "creepy". 69% said "creepy". 21% said "cool". And 10% said "neither".

I plan on writing much more on our statements and the results in the coming weeks – in particular, looking at the splits between the US/UK v India/China. But for now, given it is Cannes, I want to explore the role brands play in balancing the tug-of-war occurring between technology and humanity.

A simple conclusion from the results of our quick study could be that consumers ("adults") are supportive of technology that enables convenience in one form or another. They do start to put up some pretty clear boundaries when technology can be seen as over-stepping boundaries or becoming intrusive. Brands like Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and Spotify are built with technology at their core. Other brands, such as Domino’s, BMW, HSBC and many more are trying to use technology to strengthen both product and brand.

Both groups would do well to consider using their brands and brand values to balance what they can do with technology versus what they should do. Brands are advocates for their customers well beyond meeting their basic, commodity-based needs, after all.