In March 2019 we unveiled Programmable Realities, a cross-sector macrotrend that examined how technology – combined with new materials – will shape a future in which physical consumer touchpoints are no longer be set in stone – or any other solid matter.
Driven by the power of human imagination and machine learning, new tools such as Magic Leap and brands as varied as Nike, Bose and Disney are extending our experience of the world by facilitating an entirely new way of engaging with products. Through augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications, real objects are replicating with ease the ever-changing nature of the digital sphere. Trainers are moulding themselves to our feet in real time, car interiors are able to redesign themselves at the swipe of a finger, and smart aeroplane seats are prompting healthier flying habits.
As we move into the 2020s, the spread of Programmable Realities will be signalled by trends such as the Digitisation Economy, in which physical objects become hyper-real in the digital realm, and Elastic Content, whereby new technologies facilitate entertainment content that responds to real-world environments.
The Big Idea: E-tourism
In 2019, media, entertainment and travel merged amid the rise of E-tourism, with hotels and resorts levelling up their services to embrace the thrills, sights and sounds of competitive gaming.
Among the brands driving E-tourism is Disney, which in May 2019 opened the 14-acre Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge fantasy world. Rides such as Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run turned the park into a paradise for gamers, requiring visitors to take on different roles – including pilot, gunner and engineer – and collaborate with one another in order to complete virtual missions.
Taking this further are the growing number of eateries and hotels that facilitate social game play. China, for example, is home to about 400 eSports hotels, where young people meet, stay and play games with their friends. Elsewhere, gaming technologies such as virtual reality (VR) are being harnessed to promote tourism – or in some cases remove the need to travel altogether. Microsoft Xbox is using games to tap into the concept of virtual travel, with real and fantasy destinations that can be explored through game-like, digital experiences.
EMF by Nikopicto and Grey Hong Kong for Hong Kong Tourism Board
The Campaign: Clear Channel’s civic ads
Stockholm Underground billboards by Clear Channel Sweden
In the past year, outdoor media company Clear Channel demonstrated its Civic Brand attributes with a series of internal campaigns that used urban digital billboards for positive purposes.
In Stockholm, it turned 1,000 billboards across the city into a form of wayfinding, with signposts that – during the freezing winter months – pointed homeless people towards nearby night shelters where they could rest and keep warm. ‘It started with us asking: ‘How can we use our screens, our technology and infrastructure to do something good?’,’ says David Klagsbrun, head of communications at Clear Channel Scandinavia.
Clear Channel later used the same digital billboards to promote the underground music scene in Stockholm. Through its Stockholm Underground campaign it turned 300 advertising billboards across its Metro network into digital guides that directed commuters to nearby gigs, drawn from a database of live shows from unsigned local bands. As each gig drew closer, the GPS coordinates of the venue triggered the 100 closest digital screens. Using data and technology in this way, we can expect 2020 to bring more instances of advertisers and brands using such spaces for good.
The Interview: Vlad Sitnikov on filling the sky with advertising
Early in 2019 we spoke to Vlad Sitnikov, project leader of StartRocket, a company plans to fill the sky with branded content via a constellation of networked satellites.
Using clusters of CubeSats – small satellites that orbit the earth at an altitude of between 400km and 500km – each can be arranged like pixels to show a simple branded logo or a more complex governmental notification or phrase.
One of our most-read interviews of 2019, it attracted a backlash from The Future Laboratory’s social media followers, many of whom were dismayed that the sky could become a new medium for brands to push their messaging.
Responding to how StartRocket would balance the needs of the public with those of corporations, Sitnikov said: ‘I understand the sky is open and everybody lives under it, but our display and messages will only be visible for six minutes at a time. We don’t think it’s long enough to affect the needs and rights of the inhabitants… and citizens can leave the city, sleep to avoid messaging or live in the countryside.’
Opened in June 2019, Toronto's new venue PY1 heralded a multifunctional future for leisure, transforming entertainment into an immersive and emotional experience.
Building on aspects of Programmable Realities, PY1 is a purpose-built entertainment space that uses technology for elevated storytelling and events that rouse the senses. Its first show, Through the Echoes, was inspired by the Big Bang, with the final part of the show contemplating possible futures for the earth and humanity. Incorporating the DNA of traditional shows and performances, such as narration and dramatic arcs, PY1 uses laser projections, augmented reality and moving structures to surprise audiences while taking them on a journey.
‘[Visitors will] be immersed in an exciting sonic environment– we’ll be using over 100 speakers for the music,’ explains Jean Guibert, creative director at PY1 parent brand Lune Rouge Entertainment, itself the brainchild of Cirque du Soleil creator Guy Laliberte. ‘We’ll activate their senses [and] the audience will feel like they’re travelling in space and time. The show will be non-scientific, poetic, and even psychedelic sometimes.’
Demonstrating the multi-use capacity of such future-facing venues, PY1 transforms into a nightclub space, hosting immersive concerts and DJ sets in line with the evolving Nightlife Market.
Download the Future Forecast 2020 report
Now that you know what shaped 2019, discover what’s on the horizon. Download our Future Forecast 2020 reportcomprising 50 new behavioural patterns across 10 key consumer sectors, expert opinion pieces and interviews with global innovators.