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The best thing from this year's CES is a $15 foam cube

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I've been a CES tour guide for the last few years, watching time-lapse trends where 3D printing went from corner novelty to a huge exhibit and Smart Cities moved from notion to pervasive presence.

This year's CES was a retread of CES 2017, except that instead of Amazon Alexa integrations as far as the eye could see, this was the year that, in the quip of my friend Lori Luechtefeld of WIT Strategy, "Google basically shrink wrapped the entire city of Las Vegas, including the monorail!" So mine was a souvenir des CESes passées (remembrance of CESes past) experience– more big TVs and connected kitchen appliances and soon-to-be short-lived electric cars.

With one exception.

Smack in the middle of South Hall (around the corner from where Kodak proudly showcased 3D scanning and printing technology that turns you into a shrinky-dink, the same technology that has been available in my local shopping mall for years) stood Merge VR, based in San Antonio and founded by chief executive Franklin Lyons.

Merge used most of its CES display to focus on the dramatic 6DoF Blaster that turns your smart phone into a virtual super soaker, but the thing that made my heart get fluttery is the Merge Cube, a.k.a. "the hologram you hold in your hand."

The Cube looks like the love child of a Rubik's Cube and the tesseract from the first Avenger's movie: it's made of charcoal grey, lightweight foam, and it has intricate faux metal engravings on it. When you look at the Cube through the camera of your smart phone it comes alive. Merge's app superimposes holograms on top of the Cube, and since you can easily twist and turn the Cube in your hand that means you can also manipulate the holograms.

The Cube is completely intuitive and compelling– the opposite of the awkward paddles you have to use in most VR environments.

This might not sound exciting in the abstract (although if you click here you'll get a more savory sense of what I'm talking about), but up close the Cube provoked both the most excited squeals and most fascinated rapid speculation among my tourists.

With the Cube, you can hold a virtual skull or heart, turning them to get different perspectives and zoom in on what you want to see. You can twist engine parts and dental molds around to see how they fit together, and there are virtual games that combine features of Lego and Minecraft.

You can also place a virtual object and use the Cube to walk around it, so a virtual statue could either be in the palm of your hand or on your kitchen table where you can look at it from different angles.

Best of all, it's an open platform. Developers can build new and exciting experiences on top of Merge, and this last feature is what made the Cube my favorite exhibit at this year's CES. The open platform changes the Cube from a toy to a tool, from something that will quickly gather dust in closets to a vibrant ecosystem in the making akin to what Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain calls the "generative internet."

My tourists agreed: a cardiologist and med school professor thought that the virtual heart would be a wonderful anatomy tool for his students; an R&D scientist for a major cola company got a calculating look on his face when he imagined using the Cube to test new packaging virtually; a senior executive for a major Scandinavian auto dealership was excited to imagine her engineers learning about new engines more easily using the Cube.

Merge's product isn't just creative itself: it provokes creativity in others.

The biggest surprise — which I've spoiled in this article's headline — came when I learned the price point: the Cube costs just $15.

The LG tunnel of flexible TV screens is impressive. The Byton electric car prototype is beautiful. Alibaba's "smile to pay" technology is interesting (and a bit creepy).

The Merge Cube is important.

Marketers shouldn't let the Cube's low price point and toy-like form factor blind them to its potential: with even base-hit success the Cube will absorb a lot of attention, and attention is the oxygen that brands need to breathe.

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Martech Heroes: Scott Brinker on the endless possibility of martech

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Ahead of our B2B Awards in New York next month, we’ve launched the Martech Heroes series, to acknowledge and champion the people in martech who are pushing their business forward through using martech platforms.

The Drum has joined forces with Stein IAS to celebrate these individuals within the sector and share their understanding of the emerging industry. You can nominate your Martech Hero here, and have the chance for them to be recognised at our B2B awards as a Top Martech Hero.

This week, we caught up with Scott Brinker, editor of chiefmartech.com, a blog that discusses the changing face of marketing due to technology. He believes that martech has many uses within the creative industry.

Since the birth of chiefmartech.com in 2008, Brinker has recognised the increased demand for understanding martech. At the time of its launch, marketing and tech teams were kept very separate although Brinker noticed early on that they could be more intertwined than they were. “Ibecame very fascinated by the gap between those two worlds,” he says. “And wondering how as an industry, as a profession, we were ultimately going to end up bridging the gap between them.” It wasn’t until mid-2000 that a shift took place within the industry and value was placed on blending these skillsets, realising that the departments could help each other to become more effective. But it’s taken a long time to establish an official level of recognition around the martech industry. “The hybrid role that used to be really informal is now starting to develop as a true professional structure,” says Brinker and yet, we’ve got so much more to learn about the capability and usefulness of martech professionals.

Martech Heroes series is about celebrating and raising awareness of the role of individuals within martech. However, it must be strange for them to work in tandem with adfolk, who are constantly being rewarded for their creative efforts as the martech bunch aren’t quite so congratulatory. In reality, “marketing and technology operations leaders are having a huge impact on marketing experience to customers,” says Brinker. But quantifying their efforts proves challenging. How can you honour marketing technology architectures and the implementation of technology?

Brinker created a lunascape of martech, as a “purely imperial exercise” to reflect what the industry currently looks like and to remind marketers of the world they’re living in. But if he had to look forward though, Brinker believes that there will be a consolidation of large platforms in future, thinking that well-known companies will become primary platforms for marketing stacks as they’re increasingly opening and improving their work with partnership ecosystems. “I think we're going to see a continued blossoming of more specialised martech providers who plug into the centralised platform systems,” says Brinker. “In many ways, I think marketing will end up with the best of both worlds; they will end up with the stability of the major systems as their foundation and with the diversity and invested greed of the providers who plug into those systems.”

For those looking to invest in martech, Brinker advises them to keep it simple, suggesting they “get [their] foundations right” rather than ambitiously overinvest. He also claims that companies have a lot of learning to do around martech, citing the human side of the process as the biggest cause of delay. Marketing teams need better investment to understand how to extract value from these systems and improve customer experience and campaign creation. “We've got a lot of learning to do. as an industry,” says Brinker. “We continually underestimate how much investment needs to be made on the human capital side of this to make it effective.”

Martech can definitely be used to enable creativity. “Technology has opened a huge canvas of possibility,” says Brinker. But we still need to work out how to direct our creative capabilities to achieve maximum outcomes. It’s about harnessing new platforms and finding new ways to interact with audiences. At present, the possibilities are limitless.

Nominate your Martech Hero here and get them recognition on our Top Martech Heroes list that will be launched in November. A selected hero will receive an award as the ultimate Martech Hero at the B2B Awards in New York on 15 November. Nominate now.

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Facebook giant Jungle Creations 'experiments' with eccentric e-commerce and events

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Jungle Creations, Facebook's fifth largest publisher, is looking to “branch out into riskier monetisation strategies” such as e-commerce, events, experiences and eccentric products to earn more from its social scale beyond ad revenue and brand partnerships.

After its failed joint bid for Unilad (now LadBible), and following another Facebook video metrics scandal where the platform was found to over-inflate stats by as much as 900%, Jamie Bolding, founder and chief executive of Jungle Creations, outlined the need to diversify income from its viral social video brands.

These include include VT (general viral content), Twisted (food and drink), Four Nine (female facing), Kidspiration (parenting), LVL Fitness, World Unknown (travel and adventure) Nailed It (DIY) and Game On (sports).

All combined, the title boasts more than 85 million followers. This fragmented approach has built communities in the way that a single brand could not, said Bolding. This has allowed the publisher to create communities in scale mich like BuzzFeed, whose sub-brands such as Tasty are carving their own niches away from general viral content.

Jungle's sub-brands now benefit from a real-world footprint. Bolding pointed to Twisted, which has made the boldest venture off the pages off the internet. It first launched a print product (a cookbook), then a burger restaurant, and then a pop-up cocktail bar.

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This, he said, shows the power of these social media brands. Bolding urged non-believers in the power of viral social video to continue not believing. “If they don't start meddling in the social space, we have less competition. I would encourage them to stick to their archaic ways.” He caveated this jibe with an acknowledgement that the four-year-old company remains in its infancy.

“We are a very new industry but we very much believe in our strategy and we know that over time people will realise a social first media business is a very serious thing – a force to be reckoned with. Only time will it convert people and we are happy to wait for that because by then we'll be in a good place.”

The company was previously projected to make £18m in 2018 by Bolding. Of this, Twisted would likely breach £1m in revenue.

Jungle has four money-making means. On-site display ads and revenue share from videos hosted on the likes of Facebook and YouTube deliver consistent and reliable income. The next two means vary. The company’s “bread and butter” is branded content. To date it claims to have delivered 1.3bn viewers for brands, which is a figure admittedly dwarfed by the 5.5bn average monthly views it gathers.

Its brand work encompasses anything from creating and distributing a viral video across its media brands to creating a year-old strategy and delivering it to first and third party platforms.

However, it is the final piece of the monetization puzzle that is the most curious, its e-commerce and product ambitions – “experimental stuff” as Bolding keenly put it.

In addition to an increasing footprint in the physical world, the group is looking to leverage its scale and communities to implement e-commerce into its practices.

Most recently, it rolled out Lovimals, personalised socks laden with the face of pes faces. Silly as it may be, Jungle values the personalised product market at £1bn and it wants a slice of that pie. Already a home for some of social’s best animal content, the leap to personalised socks was not too large for viewers.

Videos for paw socks and the doggy umbrella (third party products) helped gauge the audience’s hunger for such products. From there it was about delivering a first party product. Currently, the Lovimals site hosts personalised socks, cushions and tote bags. Bolding noted “it is no coincidence” this has popped up in the run-up to Christmas.

The hope is consumers will directly buy products they see and love through Jungle channels.

He said: "It is a solid revenue stream but it is still an experiment, and there are two ways we can do it. The first is attaching our own brands such as VT or Twisted to a product or creating new products and brands like we did Lovimals. We are trying both ways – the scalability of this is huge. We could do this for all our media brands in different spaces as long as they were relevant to our audiences."

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He continued: “As long as we understand the demand, we can see that by what is working, we can then become a manufacturer. The hardest thing is getting eyeballs and sales to your product. We have the most efficient way of doing that. It is very important for our business going forward.”

Now it has established scale and communities, Bolding has outlined a desire to move upmarket with longer-form video boasting higher production values. It will be a main focus over the next year – and it will help serve as a keen differentiator from viral rivals if successful.

Viewers may love original viral video – but whether they are communities or just passive audiences is the question that will be addressed over the coming years.

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Dentsu Aegis Network India quartet quit amid sexual harassment accusations

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Four Dentsu Aegis Network India executives have tendered their resignations following a flurry of sexual harassment allegations in the company.

Both Kartik Iyer and Praveen Das, co-founders of Happy Creative Services, which was acquired by Dentsu Aegis Network in 2016 to then rebrand as Happy McGarryBowen, have stood down. Happy McGarryBowen's chief executive, managing director and senior creative director Bodhisatwa Dasgupta and Dinesh Swamy, creative director of iProspect India, have left the company too on the back of accusations.

Other agencies to be caught up in the swirl of allegations include Publicis India and DDB Mudra, both of whom have said they are investigating the claims. DDB Mudra has placed one employee on leave.

The string of departures were confirmed by Dentsu Aegis Network India which released a statement. “Dentsu Aegis Network has always believed in providing a safe environment at our workplaces which is free from any kind of harassment. We have a zero tolerance policy towards any kind of harassment at our workplaces.”

Statement. pic.twitter.com/SRi7u0KpZ0

— Dentsu Aegis India (@DentsuAegisIN) October 18, 2018

Departing Dasgupta wrote an essay on Medium apologizing for his inappropriate behaviour – including sending private messages which made some women feel "disrespected and uncomfortable".

India is the latest market to be rocked by the #MeToo movement which originated in the US by way of the anonymous Diet Madison Avenue Instagram account.

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