In December, Studio 100 CEO Hans Bourlon closed the BAM Marketing Congress with an engaging keynote on the symbiosis between the media sector and technological innovations. Afterwards, he was happy to elaborate on the topic in a conversation that provided some useful tips for media professionals and marketers.


The biggest current event in the technological domain is, of course, artificial intelligence. Many people see it as a tool to work faster and more efficiently. Do you too?
"I think that's an underestimate. I think AI will put humanity's life and work in a different perspective, that it will add a new dimension to our capabilities. In that sense, it is already much more comprehensive than just a tool." 

AI and other new technologies are often viewed as a function of the classic maturity curve or hype cycle. Do you also view innovations that way? 
"New technologies can offer incredible progress, but also reach a dead end at some point. That is sometimes forgotten. Take aviation, for example. In the early 1900s, the Wright brothers flew thirty metres. By 1914, during World War I, aircraft were already a staple. In World War II, jet planes flew around, and in 1969 we were on the moon. Since then, only legroom has decreased. There are no longer any major changes. With the iPhone, we see the same thing: a great tool, but now the only changes are in the colour. In other words, innovation can reach an end point."

How do you deal with that as an entrepreneur?
"The key is to be very agile. Like Nokia, which once started with rubber boots in Finland before venturing into mobile phones. Companies have to find their way, especially if they have been around for decades. To succeed in this, it is important to be open to the world. Especially as a manager, you have the task of stepping back, away from the operational, and considering who you are in the world and what the world has to offer you. Learning to think strategically, to dare to think." 

In the book Hitmakers, journalist Derek Thompson explains why total radical innovation rarely works. People are said to be mainly after the familiar. How do you look at that? And how do you bring the familiar in an innovative way, or the innovative in a familiar way? 
"I am convinced that this conservative reflex effectively exists. Consequently, market questioning gives rise to conservatism and not creativity. If you ask fans after a K3 performance what the group should do in the future, the answer will be: 'Bringing the biggest hits!' So a musical like The Three Little Pigs will not emerge from that. I wonder if AI will ever be able to do that. If you work with a database about the activities of all the girls' or boys' bands, I think the output will always be based on something that already exists. Creating something totally new, that doesn't seem realistic to me at the moment."

What will your business look like in five years? 
"If we keep doing what we are doing today, it looks pretty good for us. But of course, danger lurks around the corner and unexpected things can pop up all the time. No one could have predicted corona. If AI turns the entire image industry upside down, fortunately we still have our parks and shows - which vouch for a significant amount of revenue but were in turn hit by the pandemic. In short, it is important that your inkblot is big enough."

Studio 100 operates in a sector that is all about creativity. Is there a danger that technological developments will put that creativity under pressure?
"In my opinion, technology just provides lifelines for innovative creativity. A good song is a good song, whether it is streamed or gets to people via an LP or CD. In that sense, technology is just a tool. At Studio 100, we don't invent new technologies, we try to be smart followers of new technologies and make them fit into our stall in a thoughtful way."

Is AI a tool, then, or more than that?
 "We are going to embrace it to the maximum, within the confines of what is possible and legal. Because intellectual property is going to be key. We will use the means that already exist today. This mainly concerns graphic work and backgrounds for cartoons. Real animation is not yet possible, but that is guaranteed to come. If we can make a new one based on 200 Mayan episodes using AI, and if we have all the rights to it, we will definitely do so. If it is not perfect by then, we will engage artists to make it perfect.
Making a film, from white sheet to final result, takes about five years today and involves huge budgets. Those will drop sharply thanks to AI, and the time frame will also shrink. And I am also convinced that the production process will be democratised: in time, anyone will be able to develop an animated film at home."

So how can you still make a difference? 
"The question now is to what extent AI will be conservative in the future: will there only be variants of what already exists or will those tools be able to be truly creative? Then it is a matter of making a difference from our position as a strong brand."

What place will marketers have within Studio 100?
"An important one. We sometimes ask our graphics department to design a poster, to come up with a film based on that. So that visual is crucial from a marketing point of view and in terms of appeal, and like a song, it can be a carrier of success. 
When I look at the role of marketers, I find that there is more and more work. More efforts are needed to get publicity in a fragmented landscape with all kinds of channels. It is not enough to broadcast a commercial when many young parents no longer have a television subscription."

Do you have any good advice for marketers and their employers?
"Avoid that conservative reflex of doing everything from market surveys. Out of the box ideas like the clip with Jean-Luc Dehaene for CD&V or a spot that really stands out do not come from a survey. Dare to freewheel, and as a manager, create conditions where your employees dare to whine and do silly things."

The BAM Marketing Congress is your annual meet-up with professionals passionate about marketing.