Dear Brand, transport me to a world where I feel human again

March 15, 2015

Travel – the promise of an amazing experience, an expression of our deepest dreams, our utmost desires

Transport – how we get from A to B, the key to those precious moments of face to face connection that seem so rare in this Digital Age.

When you put it like that, it’s not surprising that the sphere of Travel & Transport is where we start to see some of the most emergent of trends seeded.

Before we explore the wonder that 2015 has in store for us, let’s cast our mind back to 2014 just briefly. You may remember seeing the culmination of a body of work we conducted on behalf of Fairfax last year for the launch of their fantastic Traveller Website.

At the end of this amazing project we arrived at four clusters of meaning, which define what it is people are looking for when they go on vacation.

Potential, Mindfulness, Belonging & Excess; these were the four key areas of 2014.

These four areas of meaning certainly hold true today, and form the dominant drivers of holidaying. But importantly, our musings with industry experts, chats with leading edge consumers, and our lively debate during Splendour suggest something is afoot in this sphere that will ultimately challenge the way we ‘see’ travel. As the visionary American writer Henry Miller once said…

Image source: Wikipedia Creative Commons

The way we perceive has fundamentally changed, and this is challenging the very definition of travel & transportation.

When the Global Director of Online Marketing Media at Air bnb, Paul Jeszenszky opened a recent Interactive Minds Breakfast Session I attended with the line “we’re living a Revolution, The Digital Revolution” I realised how right Henry Miller was.

To expand on this I’d like to focus on one area of travel from our clusters of meaning above…


In amongst 2014’s Cultural Ideal #4 Mindful In The Madness we saw the explosion of Experiential Travel. By that we mean travel that is designed to immerse you in a real and genuine experience, something that encourages single minded focus andcommands you to enjoy the moment.

At the leading edge of all this, we saw Air bnb inviting us “to feel at home anywhere in the world”.

Nowadays, as well as staying in a local person’s home, you can share their experiences too using Vayable – a service that invites you to book experiences with locals at your destination, and if your penchant for anthropological travel still isn’t satisfied you can eat with them too at EatWith!

So with this space so dominant


Our Cultural Mapping points us to a few clues…

Paul Jeszenszky was astute as ever in his reasoning when he chose to open his keynote with a comment about the Digital Age. That’s because, when we look at what has enabled this explosion of Mindfulness and Experiential Travel the answer is all around us.


There is of course huge irony in this:  The single thing that has paved the way for more real, genuine and immersive experiences is the same thing that prevents us from having these experiences in our day to day lives. It is the thing that primed in us the desire for UNMEDIATED experiences in the first place.

How did this happen? Well, it interrupted our thinking patterns. Where? Everywhere! We can’t go to the doctors, check in for our Qantas flight, collect our shopping at Coles, or book our holidays without first consulting a screen! To this end, digital has become the gatekeeper as well as the enabler of all our physical interactions.


At the heart of all this individuals face a tension:

Between wanting a real experience and having to mediate with the Digital to get it.

Cue a whole raft of academics, creators, strategists and software developers disrupting the Travel & Transport industry with new offerings and therein they may find an answer.

I want to talk about Magic Leap

In Philosophy there is an argument, made famous by Frank Jackson in his article Epiphenomenal Qualia, to say that experiences cannot be reduced down to their physical properties. By way of a brief summary of a highly complex work of Philosophical logic our man Jackson argues along these lines…

Imagine that for some reason you’ve been confined to a dark room for your whole life and I’ve asked you to imagine the colour red. Of course, you can’t do it. Now imagine that for some reason I’m a scientific genius and have imparted to you everything there is to know about the scientific properties of the colour red. Can you imagine the colour red now?

Jackson argues that you cannot. Why not? Because he thinks that there are some experiences, that no matter how advanced our scientific practices are, cannot be reduced down to the physical.


Well because, recently brands have started to challenge this notion.

Everyone has been talking about Occulus Rift for a long time, but here’s an idea from a start up called Magic Leap. With the help of Cinematic-reality-technology they’ve invented a device that can make virtual objects appear in real life. Apparently,with the use of Digitised Lightfield Signals these virtual objects actually leap into your perception.

We don’t know the specifics of Magic Leap yet. But at its most basic level one could look at this offering as an attempt to reduce our experiences down to the physical. That is, it’s an attempt to capture everything about our perceptions & our experiences in a machine.

With this in mind, it seems increasingly plausible that Jackson might eventually be proven wrong. This is quite the threat to place on human shoulders… Why? Because if everything about human perception and experience can be reduced down to the physical, it means that as well as performing our household duties, driving our cars, and printing our houses, machines are potentially capable of experiencing the world exactly as we do.


Well I’d like to put my hat in the ring and say that it’s pretty likely that us human beings are going to be questioning our identities at quite a fundamental level.

And in the face of the very real possibility that machines will one day soon be able to digest and synthesise the world just as we do, I’d suggest that we’re going to want to find something else to fill the void and validate our existence pretty darn quickly.

The challenge for brands:MAKE US FEEL HUMAN.

Where, you ask, can we seek inspiration from?

A good place to start is to look at Uber’s latest partnership with UNWomen, which gives us a completely different take on what makes us human:

This is a call to arms, asking humanity to unite and connect in a shared vision. The beauty (and humanity) here is that this vision is only possible through the collective efforts of a human community.

And take Microsoft’s offering in this space – The Collective Project with its human centred mandate:

The Collective Project invites us to be vulnerable, to ignite change, and to empathise. But crucially it reminds us that for all these amazing human traits to be put to their best use, we must come together:



·  What can your brand do to make people feel human?

·  What causes are at the heart of its identity?

·  How can you turn those causes into an idea?

·  How can you help that idea ripple out and change the world?

Here are my two cents worth:

1.  BE VULNERABLE. Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes. Brands are no exception. Imperfection makes us feel more human, seeing imperfection in others helps us feel better about ourselves, it reassures us that we’re all in the same boat. The imperfections of your brand should be seen as an opportunity to connect with people, to make them feel more human.

2.  EMPATHISE. The Digital Age is having a huge impact on the way we as humans experience and connect with the world. Brands can show empathy by acknowledging that while the tech enabled products & services they provide are good for people, they’re not good for people all the time. People need tech down time to do the things that make them human – catch up with loved ones face to face, explore nature, live in the moment.

3.  TAKE A RISK. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Respect is earned through effort. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and had a failed business before he founded Microsoft. Air Bnb failed twice before they found success. The failure made them human, the courage to take the risk made them amazing.