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What I Look for at the Mobile World Congress

Arc’s EVP for innovation and growth on identifying game-changing mobile opportunities.

Last night I landed in Barcelona and this morning arrived on the show floor of the 2016 Mobile World Congress. For four days this is the center of the connected world and will see presentations from such luminaries as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Intel’s Brian Krzanich, and even Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton. If you’re in the mobile communications business it’s the place to be.

Ten years ago, the idea of advertising and marketing people joining this annual techie reunion would have seemed odd, but today technology conferences like MWC and the Consumer Electronics Show attract brand marketers and agency execs from around the world. That’s because the technology they launch and celebrate is now central not just to personal communications but also to commercial communications. As we hurtle toward a predicted 50 billion connected personal devices by 2020 (that’s nearly seven each per human being on the planet) the opportunities for marketing are enormous. Simply put, mobile devices have now eclipsed other media as the single most important marketing platform.

So, what will I be looking for? This is the place to find the very latest, never-before-seen apps, devices, platforms and hardware. But here’s the trick: Marketing may not have been the first application on the minds of the developers. So our job is to identify the technologies that, while possibly developed for another purpose, have the potential to change the game for retail and shopper marketing.

By way of example, at last year’s MWC we discovered Thinfilm’s near-field communications (NFC) technology. OpenSense is a wireless tag that detects when packaging has been opened or tampered with. The primary design purpose of OpenSense is to ensure product safety and authenticity for products in markets that experience high levels of counterfeiting.

The opportunity we saw was for sending pre- and post-purchase messaging to smartphones. If you know the moment when a package has been opened it’s a game-changer for marketers. Imagine a technology that allows us to speak to the shopper at shelf while she is deciding what to buy, and to then offer entirely different content in the home when the product is in use.

A year later, almost to the day, we announced a strategic partnership between Thinfilm and Leo Burnett/Arc to bring this technology exclusively to our clients.

So I’m back in Barcelona, back at the MWC, and looking to find the next underleveraged mobile technology. One that hasn’t quite discovered its true potential for brand marketers. Wish me luck.

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Nick Jones is EVP, innovation and growth, for Arc/Leo Burnett.

February 24th 2016