In 1989, Robert Zemeckis (director) and Bob Gale (screenwriter) had some fun with playing with the past and predicting the future. Their “Back to the Future Part II” tells the tale of Marty McFly and his friend Doc Brown, who travel through time to Oct. 21, 2015, where they get a glimpse of what the moviemakers thought the future would look like.
Since that future is here now, we thought it might be fun to take a look at what technologies or concepts they predicted correctly more than 25 years ago. (Note: Don't miss the infographic and slide show at the very bottom of this article.)
1. Internet of Things
In one movie scene, Marty and Doc have just landed their DeLorean time machine in 2015, when Doc, after Marty points out it is pouring rain, looks at his watch and says, “Wait five more seconds,” after which the rain stops. Looks like the writers of the movie were anticipating wearables, like the smartwatch, long before Apple even thought of the technology, as well as up-to-the second weather information before The Weather Channel even made it online.
IoT devices are certainly top of mind for marketers nowadays, with consumers increasingly adopting related technology, such as wearables. Adobe Digital Index (ADI) looked at social media mentions around IoT devices and found that the Apple Watch, FitBit, and Google onHub have had the most social buzz in the past 60 days.
Average sentiment for those devices is 60% joy, admiration, or anticipation. “So it’s a really positive sentiment,” said Joe Martin, senior analyst at ADI. “People are enjoying this new age that we’re living in where everything is connected. Having data behind that can improve and make life easier for both brands and consumers.”
Of all the IoT devices ADI looked at, the highest sentiment was for smart mattresses and the OORT smartfinder, which helps find lost belongings. The lowest sentiment was for the Nest thermostat, which has had some massive outages during the past few months.
“Marketers are talking about the Internet of Things, but they’re not sure what it means to their business yet,” said Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst at ADI. “Social buzz volume and sentiment indicates that IoT is going to grow—and grow fast. The most important marketing facet will probably be less from the promotion side of marketing and more from the standpoint of product strategy, which marketers also do; we forget about that sometimes. Watching IoT buzz and taking a look at the sentiment and the amount of traction that certain new devices are getting is really helpful for marketers to understand how to change and shift their company.”
Another scene in “Back To The Future II” shows Marty talking to his former high-school classmate and work colleague, Needles. They're talking via videoconferencing software on a flat-screen smart TV.
“Skype is obviously huge today,” Martin said. “It's one of the largest video conferencing apps, with more than 7 million [social] mentions since June 1. It also has nearly 35 million fans on Facebook and Twitter.”
The U.S., U.K., France, Brazil, and Spain are the top five countries talking about Skype on social media.
According to Gaffney, the “Back to the Future” writers were prophetic to recognize that images and video were going to be the way of interaction in 2015.
The flat-screen TV Marty used to communicate with Needles also was forward-thinking. “Flat-screen, 4K TVs were one of the hottest items last year for holiday shopping, and they’re widely available for about $1,000. Sony and Samsung lead with 2 million-plus social mentions since June 1,” Martin said. “So they again nailed it in the movie.”
3. Mobile And Payment Technology
The scene in which Marty is in town square when an older gentleman approaches him with a tablet-like device and asks if he’ll donate to save the clock tower also predicts some very important trends that are realities today: mobile and payments.
The man is essentially asking Marty to make a payment via a tablet device. ADI showed in Q2 2015 that tablets produced 11% of visits and revenue to U.S. retail sites. Also, more than 200 million iPads have shipped since 2010, and with Square and other mobile payment options, such as PayPal and Apple Pay, one could easily make a donation for the clock tower.
Mobile payments technology has gone mainstream because of its convenience, Martin said. “It's just a better customer experience when I’m able to go to a site that I’d never been to before and use Apple Pay,” Martin said. “I don’t have to input my personal information; I don’t have to go find my credit card or my wallet upstairs. It’s all automatic. It’s just a very convenient way to do things.”
As for tablets, Gaffney said, we’re seeing interactive screens in all kinds of point-of-purchase areas, so the movie really does nail how we’re using these devices today.
“You go into an airport restaurant now, you order a meal on a tablet that’s part of the table, and then it comes to you from a server,” Gaffney said. “We see these tablets as the interaction input device for a lot of things in our physical world. So this is a perfect example of how tablets are becoming niched to various functions and how insightful it was of [the writers] to recognize that this is one of those functions for the tablet device.”
In that same scene, Marty asks Needles to donate some money, and he does so with his fingerprint. The screen then displays a whole bunch of information about Needles—personal information. There is a continued scroll of information about who’s on the phone. In one instance, for example, the screen displays "food preferences and food dislikes"—the type of information ripe for personalization and ad targeting.
Indeed, personalization is very much present in our lives today. Facebook has been able to master the tactic. The platform offers ads for gender, age, likes, location, and more. Personalization has led to a doubling in its click-through rate during 2015—much faster than Google.
According to Gaffney, it’s interesting that personalization was favorably perceived in the movie.
“We oftentimes refer to the ‘Minority Report’ when we talk about personalization because it can be construed as intrusive,” Gaffney said. “But many examples from back in the day did not show personalization as being creepy: It showed it to be helpful.”
5. Virtual Reality
There is a scene in the movie where Marty and his sister are wearing virtual reality (VR) glasses, which they use to answer the phone while they are watching TV.
Although VR devices have yet to catch on, four new products are due out soon that may mark the start of a trend. The first to hit the market will be the HTC Vive, which comes out in December, aimed at enabling the VR experience in the home.
When looking at social mentions, Facebook’s Oculus VR device is garnering the most buzz in Q3 2015, 47% of which relates to joy, admiration, and anticipation.
“We’re still in the early days for VR, but it’s only a matter of time before this is the next new frontier for marketers to have to figure out because it’s the future of how people want to look at screens–at least during certain times,” Gaffney said.
Drones are widely talked about today, with about 3 million mentions since June. Sixty percent of the buzz is negative, according to ADI, with most of the talk about military use.
In “Back To The Future II,” drone-like technology is used widely by news outlets, including a USA Today drone that videotapes Doc.
“This is another thing that is expected to be a big seller this Christmas,” Gaffney said. “We’re going to start to have an environment with a lot more drones flying around in it. And we hear a lot of buzz about drones, in general, from the standpoint of shipping and getting items from one point to the other.”
Consumer reaction to drones is still up in the air. “I have a feeling it will [become] even more negative, and then we’ll probably start to see all kinds of conversations about drone air-traffic control and no-fly zones,” Gaffney said.
7. The Hoverboard
When Marty is being chased by the bad guys, he takes a pink hoverboard away from a little girl. It’s made by Mattel.
Today, we do have a hoverboard, but it’s made by Hendo. The hoverboard, itself, has been mentioned 4,000 plus times a day, on average, on social media, with a huge boost in August when rapper Wiz Khalifa was detained in the airport for using a hoverboard on wheels, which was also recently banned on roads and sidewalks in London.
The hoverboard isn’t mainstream yet, but a video on YouTube, in which professional skateboarder Tony Hawk rides it, currently has almost 14 million views.
See the infographic, below, or click here to view it on SlideShare:
View the slide show, below, or click here to view a larger version on SlideShare:
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Adobe Digital Insights publishes research on digital marketing and other topics of interest to senior marketing and e-commerce executives across industries. Research is based on the analysis of select, anonymous, and aggregated data from more than 5,000 companies worldwide that use the Adobe Digital Marketing Cloud to obtain real-time data and analysis of activity on websites, social media, and advertising.
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