Listen: Snap GM Ed Couchman On Why AR Isn't Just For Fun

By Dan Brain, Co-founder + Content Director, MAD//Fest 02 Sep 2019

MAD//Fest's partner podcast Shiny New Object has been at it again, putting industry leaders in the hot seat and checking the pulse of advertising and tech in 2019. This week it's the turn of Snap Inc's Ed Couchman.

You can hear from and meet the Snap team at MAD//Fest London on 13-14 Nov. Here's Presenter Tom Ollerton's top five takeaways:

1. Slow down to speed up

We all know that working in the ad industry can be overwhelming. Ed says he’s had to learn how to ‘slow down to speed up’. This involves giving himself some time in the day to switch off - like a lunchtime spin class - which clears his head and sets him up for a productive afternoon. He’s also a big fan of a walking one-to-one meeting - the more casual nature of these and the lack of intense eye contact can lead to more open conversations. Ed appreciates it can be hard to keep this kind of ‘space’ in your diary and he came to the slow realisation that you have to say no to other requests in order to maintain your own mental health. The unexpected bonus of this has been empowering his colleagues, by giving them more freedom to deal with issues without such close supervision.

2. AR isn’t just for fun

Ed describes a discussion at Snap where they realised people were waking up in the morning, taking a pic then immediately getting rid of it. It seemed a bit odd - but they worked out that as Snapchat offers a weather update, people were actually using the app to check the day’s forecast. While using Snapchat’s features and augmented reality tools are primarily used for fun, there’s also a utility side to it that we may not fully appreciate yet. You can use Snapchat to check a song on Shazam or (in the US) hover the camera over an image or brand name which will then take you to Amazon to buy the product you’re looking at. It’s an interesting behavioural shift that Ed believes will become more prevalent.

3. Snap’s not just for the big players

Ed says there’s a bit of a perception / reality gap when it comes to AR. It’s not as expensive as people believe and it can be nimble, with some great independent studios - such as Unit 9 - out there doing some amazing work on platforms like Snapchat. Ed says that Snap encourages third party creatives to get involved and they don’t necessarily need a big budget to get noticed. Snapchat’s Lens Studio, which is basically like Photoshop for AR, provides basic templates that designers can build on and they’ve seen world-class lenses produced by students from design schools. Ed encourages people to play around with them, build, test and learn.

4. Don’t forget to give back

Ed believes it’s important that when you’re in a good place, you should try to give back to others who may need help and he cites two examples where he’s done this. Firstly, he sits on the committee for the charity Nabs, which aims to help those in the advertising industry with issues like anxiety, stress and general mental health. Nabs has seen an increase in calls of late which places more demand on its service, although as Ed says, this isn’t necessarily all bad - part of this is due to the debate around mental health is becoming more open, and less stigma attached to admitting you’re suffering. He also works with organisations that send people from business into comprehensive schools to encourage pupils to aspire to bigger things. As a former comprehensive school pupil himself, Ed knows that those from more disadvantaged backgrounds sometimes lack the inspiration they need to reach their full potential and it’s one way to help change this.

5. The future is through a lens

Quite rightly for someone who works for Snap, Ed’s obsessed with the camera and camera marketing - it’s a theme that runs through our entire conversation. So much so he carries a disposable camera (now sold as a ‘vintage’ camera, believe it or not) round with him to talks to demonstrate just how far camera technology has come in a relatively short space of time. He describes a book that’s been written by one of Snap’s sociologists called The Social Photo, which looks at how photography has changed - it’s now less something you keep and more how cameras and phones turned photos into the lens through which we see the world. Ed believes the marketing industry will embrace camera as an exciting new creative canvas and that so far we’re only just beginning to see its potential.

Shiny New Object is MAD//Fest London's partner podcast and distributed by The Drum. Snap Inc is a partner of MAD//Fest London.

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