Blade Runner 2049: Brand Lessons

— Katie Appleby, WE 

The new Blade Runner film was released in the UK last week and the critics flocked to give it five star reviews. Ryan Gosling stars as the new Harrison Ford (age-defying Ford still features, fear not) – but it’s not just the cast that has had a reboot.

The sheer scale of the cinematography and technology in Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t disappoint. Think: VR advertising avatars, operating systems installed as alternatives to housewives, and AI systems that read and respond to human emotion.

Much has been made of sci-fi’s ability to anticipate technology trends and inform inventions. And like its 1982 prequel, Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t hold back in predicting our fate for the not-so distant future.

Here, we explore some of sci-fi’s most famous futuristic technology predictions and think about what lessons brands can learn from these successes (and failures).


Deckard goes digital

In the original Blade Runner, Harrison Ford’s character Deckard dials a number on what appears to be a payphone, before a face (Rachel’s) appears on the screen in real-time. This ahead-of-its-time vision that video calling would become the norm, turned out to be a fairly accurate prediction given the success of Skype and FaceTime.

David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest imagines a similar concept called ‘videophony’. However, users find the experience too stressful and it turns out to be a fad rather than a success. The pressure to look perfect in front of the camera causes ‘videophonic stress’ and the new technology is soon side-lined as the characters’ revert back to what they know/feel comfortable with.

The lesson here for brands (bear with me) is not to make decisions based on what you want, but what consumers want. To create the best possible user experience for your customers, listen and react to their needs and take the time to understand their behaviours and emotions.


Rise of the replicants

Replicants (for anyone who hasn’t seen the film) are androids designed to replicate humans in their appearance and supersede them in strength. By 2049, the replicants are even harder to tell apart from humans and their powers are more advanced.

Blade Runner 2049 replaces human with AI systems and VR technology – something that is already happening in the real world. From chatbots to driverless cars, automating simple or labour-intensive tasks can save time, money and resources in the real-world.

Takeaway number two for brands in 2017 is to keep your communications human, relatable and reactive. Don’t digitise and automate to the point where you alienate your customers and brand advocates, or they’ll eventually take their business (and money) to a competitor.

Ultimately, brands must learn to find a balance between embracing technology and showing their humanity in an increasingly overwhelming and over-stimulated world. Those that operate here – at the sweet spot between people and technology – will survive until 2049.