Dis­rupt­ing the Dis­rup­tors

Campaign UK - - PERSPECTIVES - Tara Moore Man­ag­ing Edi­tor, Fu­ture­vi­sion

You hear it all the time: Tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing is on the de­cline. Au­di­ences have be­come frag­mented. The demise of tra­di­tional me­dia is un­der way. The in­dus­try has been go­ing back and forth for years, de­bat­ing the longevity of ad­ver­tis­ing and pre­dict­ing the mo­ment of its em­i­nent end. But what many ig­nore is the nec­es­sary evo­lu­tion of mar­ket­ing that’s been tak­ing place for decades—or at least since the 1990s, when the in­ter­net made its way into an in­creas­ing num­ber of homes. Ad­ver­tis­ing has al­ways de­pended on the power of tra­di­tional me­dia to unite like­minded con­sumers around tele­vi­sion, ra­dio, or print. Brands were pro­grammed to de­velop lin­ear mes­sages that would res­onate with the largest au­di­ence pos­si­ble, con­stantly pro­mot­ing new prod­ucts as they came to mar­ket. But the in­ven­tion of the in­ter­net has un­locked a yet-to-be-de­ter­mined medium for mar­keters, one with end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for reach­ing and en­gag­ing con­sumers. “Dig­i­tal moved ad­ver­tis­ing away from th­ese sin­gu­lar me­dia chan­nels to th­ese mul­ti­fac­eted con­texts on­line,” says Barry Wacks­man, EVP, Global Chief Strat­egy Of­fi­cer, R/GA, who mon­i­tors on­go­ing trends that are hav­ing an im­pact on the in­dus­try. “Then at the same time, dig­i­tal started to de­con­struct the en­tire world. It started to eat away at the old me­dia ecosys­tem, even­tu­ally dis­rupt­ing all of those busi­nesses.” To­day, those busi­nesses and oth­ers are scram­bling to re­main rel­e­vant and sur­vive new com­pe­ti­tion from ev­ery di­rec­tion. “Net­flix came along and de­stroyed broad­cast tele­vi­sion,” Wacks­man says. “Airbnb came along and dis­rupted ho­tels. Uber comes along and dis­rupts trans­porta­tion. Ama­zon is dis­rupt­ing ev­ery­body! Tech­nol­ogy has gone be­yond just dis­rupt­ing the me­dia busi­ness; now it’s dis­rupt­ing ev­ery busi­ness.” The ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try has al­ready wit­nessed dis­rup­tion—both of clients’ busi­nesses and its own. But very few agen­cies are equipped to pivot. They re­main de­pen­dent on dwin­dling broad­cast dol­lars that, ac­cord­ing to Nick Law, Vice Chair­man, Global Chief Cre­ative Of­fi­cer, R/GA, in­di­cates a shrink­ing pie to fight over. “Even if the whole pie shrinks, if the agen­cies are steal­ing share from that pie, they’ll be in­oc­u­lated for a cer­tain amount of time,” he says. “But that’s worse for them. They’re just get­ting into a deeper hole, even though it seems as if things are go­ing well.” The hole Law is re­fer­ring to is the re­sult of dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing’s gains at the ex­pense of tra­di­tional me­dia. In 2016, for in­stance, dig­i­tal ad spend­ing sur­passed tele­vi­sion for the first time ever, ac­cord­ing to emar­keter’s US Ad Spend­ing re­port, re­leased in March 2017. Google and Face­book alone ac­count for most of that growth, but they are not the only dis­rup­tors en­croach­ing on agency ter­ri­tory. Con­sul­tan­cies such as Ac­cen­ture and Deloitte are among a group of ag­gres­sive play­ers build­ing out cre­ative ser­vices to com­pete with tra­di­tional shops. Amid all of this dis­rup­tion, one thing re­mains true: Those who can suc­cess­fully pivot their busi­nesses will be the ones to sur­vive. While R/GA is known for its award-win­ning cre­ative cam­paigns for tech­nolo­gies such as the Nike Fuel­band and Nike+ ecosys­tem, the agency has al­ways em­braced the fringe of the in­dus­try. In fact, at its found­ing in 1977, the core of its busi­ness model was not mar­ket­ing but mo­tion graph­ics for film. “Since our ear­li­est days…we have been in­vent­ing the tools and tech­nol­ogy to push in­dus­tries for­ward,” Bob Green­berg, Founder, Chair­man & CEO, R/GA, wrote last De­cem­ber on Medium.com. “We are con­stantly solv­ing the prob­lems cre­ated by tech­nol­ogy’s re­lent­less march for­ward through smart de­sign,” he con­tin­ued. “And there is no in­di­ca­tion that this dis­rup­tion is go­ing to slow down or stop. It’s why we keep re­design­ing our com­pany and why we strive to cre­ate sim­ple but highly func­tional so­lu­tions across our wide spec­trum of of­fer­ings.” To­day, R/GA is a full-ser­vice agency, Con­nected by De­sign, an ecosys­tem of ca­pa­bil­i­ties built to ad­dress chang­ing land­scapes across in­dus­tries. From com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paigns like Sam­sung’s S8 “Un­box Your Phone” launch, to pro­to­typ­ing in­no­va­tive tech so­lu­tions such as Fos­sil Q to help­ing clients evolve their busi­ness mod­els and avoid dis­rup­tion in the fu­ture, brands can en­ter an en­gage­ment with R/GA through one ser­vice and then po­ten­tially ben­e­fit from a ro­bust list of ad­di­tional of­fer­ings and ex­tend the reach of any one idea or cam­paign. “All of the things that we do are con­nected in a way that makes the whole big­ger than each part,” Law says. In de­scrib­ing how de­sign as a dis­ci­pline is a sys­tem, he walks through the var­ied, in­ten­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties that R/GA has built into its ser­vices. “We con­nect our ac­cel­er­a­tor with cre­ativ­ity, for in­stance, and that’s very valu­able cap­i­tal,” he says. “In our ex­pe­ri­ence-de­sign dis­ci­pline, we think about the user, and by ex­ten­sion an au­di­ence, in a dif­fer­ent way. When we cre­ate ad sto­ries, our role is to con­nect what the brand wants to say with what the au­di­ence wants to say. Our Con­nected Spa­ces prac­tice—which is tech­nol­ogy built into the ar­chi­tec­ture, not just ap­plied after­ward—is some­thing most ar­chi­tects don’t do. We’re al­ways con­nect­ing things that were his­tor­i­cally siloed.” R/GA’S abil­ity to evolve its own busi­ness has helped es­tab­lish its ex­per­tise in a wide-range of ar­eas, in­clud­ing prod­uct and ex­pe­ri­ence de­sign, pro­to­typ­ing, in­no­va­tion, brand­ing, and busi­ness con­sult­ing. The

com­pany will cel­e­brate its 40th an­niver­sary this year, which also marks its lat­est pivot: from the Agency for the Con­nected Age to Con­nected by De­sign. “R/GA to­day houses six dif­fer­ent busi­nesses all un­der one roof,” Wacks­man says. “We’ve built this in­te­grated com­pany where all of the parts are aimed at help­ing clients grow amid the tech­no­log­i­cal dis­rup­tion of the con­nected age and any other age that comes af­ter.” While the in­te­gra­tion of R/GA’S ser­vices is, in fact, in­ten­tional, full-ser­vice so­lu­tions are some­thing more and more agen­cies are ex­pected, but not equipped, to de­liver. In Turkey, R/GA Istanbul client Do­gus Mar­ket­ing Ser­vices sees its agency part­ners as busi­ness part­ners, part of one ecosys­tem sur­round­ing its var­i­ous busi­nesses. “This al­lows us to move to­gether from the very be­gin­ning, know each other well, and act as a whole,” says the com­pany’s CMO, Bil­gen Al­dan. “This brings the mu­tual trust, en­ergy, syn­ergy, and un­der­stand­ing that each team must have.” For Do­gus Mar­ket­ing Ser­vices, a data-driven com­pany, that col­lab­o­ra­tive struc­ture be­tween client and agency part­ners, from start to fin­ish, is in­valu­able. “We of­ten get to­gether for a task and fin­ish our meet­ing with an idea that cre­ates value [that’s dif­fer­ent from] what we ini­tially met up for,” Al­dan says. “We also work very well with agen­cies that can use test-scale method­ol­ogy in to­day’s dig­i­tal world. Nowa­days, one­size-fits-all is a very chal­leng­ing ap­proach.” A chal­leng­ing and yet nec­es­sary re­quire­ment for many. In Aus­tralia, where brands have been some­what in­su­lated from ma­jor dis­rup­tion by the likes of Ama­zon, for in­stance, com­pa­nies are rac­ing to find those part­ners that can do it all from con­cept to bring­ing new prod­ucts to mar­ket. Re­becca Bezzina, VP, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, R/GA Sydney, says many clients are un­sure of what to do with the large data sets they own and how to use them to de­ploy new prod­ucts and ser­vices. Cur­rently, R/GA Sydney has an em­bed team at Toy­ota, a new and grow­ing trend for the mar­ket there. “There is a real race on for agen­cies to be­come clients’ key one-stop shop,” Bezzina says, “and their part­ners in busi­ness from con­sult­ing all the way to go­ing to mar­ket with new prod­ucts and ser­vices. We are see­ing mul­ti­ple hold­ing com­pa­nies merge their more tra­di­tional shops with dig­i­tal shops, the ac­qui­si­tion of com­pa­nies all over the place, and ev­ery­one try­ing to hold onto key tal­ent. Clients are mov­ing away from spe­cial­ist agen­cies to one agency that can do it all.” Since the start of the decade, ac­cel­er­a­tors have pro­lif­er­ated from San Fran­cisco’s Sil­i­con Val­ley to New York, Boston, Toronto, and other startup hot­beds around the world. Men­tor­ship and seed-fund­ing pro­grams for en­trepreneurs—a model orig­i­nally de­vel­oped by Y Com­bi­na­tor in 2005—have churned out some of the most iconic dig­i­tal brands: Airbnb, Drop­box, and Twitch, to name a few. But by 2012, an ar­ti­cle in The Wall Street Journal cau­tioned that the newer ac­cel­er­a­tors might not have the suc­cess record of a Y Com­bi­na­tor or other es­tab­lished pro­grams. “Of course, the odds of suc­cess are slim, even in a top pro­gram,” wrote the au­thors, Sarah E. Needle­man and Emily Maltby. “Just 0.1 per­cent of firms that are less than five years old re­ceive seed or early-stage fund­ing from ven­ture-cap­i­tal firms, ac­cord­ing to Kauff­man Foun­da­tion re­searchers.” While skep­tics ques­tion the value of th­ese pro­grams, cor­po­ra­tions and large tech com­pa­nies are still in­creas­ingly em­brac­ing th­ese mod­els to dis­cover and lever­age new tools they wouldn’t oth­er­wise be ex­posed to. For R/GA, launch­ing Ven­tures in 2013 en­abled the agency to go deep and broad with tech­nol­ogy star­tups based on the strate­gic ob­jec­tives of its cor­po­rate part­ners, says Stephen Plum­lee, EVP, Global Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer, R/GA. “We de­cided to launch a pro­gram around con­nected de­vices and IOT,” he says. “IOT was emerg­ing as a mega­trend. We built dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal projects for sev­eral clients, and we men­tored sev­eral com­pa­nies in an ac­cel­er­a­tor that Nike was do­ing at the time so we un­der­stood the model and how it could work for our clients.” To­day, R/GA’S Ven­ture Stu­dio is now in its eighth pro­gram, with a class of Mar­ket­ing Tech star­tups that re­ceive guid­ance and feed­back from Snap Inc., the agency’s part­ner for the re­main­der of the ac­cel­er­a­tor. In­cluded among the star­tups se­lected for the class are a bot-pow­ered an­a­lyt­ics plat­form (Dash­bot), an In­sta­gram in­flu­encer mar­ket­place for brands (Whalar), and a short-form video cre­ator (Quick­frame). “We are ex­cited to work with and sup­port the grow­ing ecosys­tem of part­ners that are in­no­vat­ing in the mo­bile ad­ver­tis­ing space, from lead­ers like IPG and R/GA to the star­tups se­lected for this pro­gram,” Im­ran Khan, Chief Strat­egy Of­fi­cer of Snap Inc., said in a state­ment from the com­pany. “We be­lieve it will help ad­ver­tis­ers of all sizes take ad­van­tage of in­creas­ingly en­gag­ing and cre­ative ad for­mats for smart­phones.” Smart­phones have un­leashed more than just a new ad plat­form for mar­keters. The mini-com­puter in ev­ery­one’s pocket, along with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of global mo­bile economies, has al­lowed bor­der­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion to flour­ish, not just be­tween peo­ple and their friends and fam­ily but also be­tween peo­ple and the brands they buy. This gave way to an app econ­omy, one driven by con­nec­tiv­ity, per­son­al­iza­tion, and the rise of big data.

All of this has led to the frenzy over ma­chine learn­ing, ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent mes­sag­ing bots, self-driv­ing cars, and in the pre­vi­ous decade, the quan­ti­fied self. Tech­nolo­gies that were once limited to a fu­tur­ist’s sand­box have un­ex­pected ap­pli­ca­tions in ev­ery in­dus­try to­day. Legacy brands, then, are be­ing forced to learn fast and de­ploy new prod­ucts and ser­vices even faster. They are strug­gling with scal­a­bil­ity as con­sumers de­mand hy­per­con­ve­nience and ev­ery­thing on de­mand. Th­ese chal­lenges are preva­lent in in­dus­tries from en­ter­tain­ment all the way to retail and con­sumer pack­aged goods. But they also come with end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for cre­atives to solve. Nicky Bell, SVP, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, R/GA Los Angeles, is ex­cited about the new work R/GA will be do­ing for en­ter­tain­ment brands look­ing to build prod­uct ecosys­tems and “fuel fan­dom within them.” “It’s be­yond cre­at­ing ad­like as­sets for en­ter­tain­ment brands,” she says. “In­stead, we’re mov­ing into the realm of true ex­pe­ri­ence de­sign and un­der­stand­ing how fans want to in­ter­act with en­ter­tain­ment brands they are pas­sion­ate about.” In San Fran­cisco, R/GA is col­lab­o­rat­ing with a large tech client through an em­bed re­la­tion­ship, while in New York and Lon­don, R/GA’S Con­sult­ing team is help­ing clients such as Siemens and Wal­mart iden­tify new mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­no­vate and launch new prod­ucts and ser­vices, and even con­sult with HR to at­tract and re­tain key tal­ent. “One of the chal­lenges with tra­di­tional agency mod­els for some kinds of work is that the walls are very deeply es­tab­lished,” says Al­le­gra Aufder­haar, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Google Brand Stu­dio. “They tend to be quite thick and rel­a­tively in­flex­i­ble. For much of the work we do we need a dif­fer­ent model that al­lows us to have a much more seam­less part­ner­ship with agen­cies on a cou­ple of lev­els: one that al­lows our agen­cies to be­come deeply ex­pert in not only our prod­ucts, our strate­gic propo­si­tions, but also in how we work, the ac­tual op­er­at­ing me­chan­ics. “There are so many peo­ple in­volved and so many teams in­volved in get­ting some­thing to mar­ket,” she con­tin­ues. “So for us, one of the im­por­tant roles that our most im­por­tant agency part­ners play is ac­tu­ally be­ing that con­nec­tor, the con­nec­tive tis­sue be­tween var­i­ous con­stituen­cies within Google. That’s some­thing that’s re­ally im­por­tant to get­ting to a suc­cess­ful launch and get­ting to suc­cess­ful work: mak­ing sure that there’s some­body who is keep­ing an eye on all of the var­i­ous plates that are spin­ning in var­i­ous places and bring­ing it all to­gether for a more co­he­sive end prod­uct.” In to­day’s con­nected age, with seam­less, in­vis­i­ble in­tel­li­gence con­tin­u­ing to in­fil­trate con­sumers’ day-to-day lives, brands will in­creas­ingly need to adapt to new busi­ness mod­els and part­ners so that they can turn in­sights and data into ac­tion, make ac­tual new prod­ucts and ser­vices and launch them at scale, and test and learn along the way. “We may have to pro­to­type, test, fail, pro­to­type again, test, fail,” says Paola Colombo, SVP, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, R/GA San Fran­cisco. “But if we’re do­ing it to­gether, test­ing and pro­to­typ­ing along the way, we may get to a so­lu­tion faster and cheaper.” Bezzina of R/GA Sydney agrees. New, evolv­ing part­ner­ships will also help brands bet­ter scale per­son­al­ized prod­ucts and ser­vices. “A lot of our clients are sit­ting on large data sets,” Bezzina says. “In pock­ets, they are do­ing some in­ter­est­ing things, but the com­bi­na­tion of this on a large scale, get­ting their ex­pe­ri­ences right and con­tin­u­ing to evolve their busi­ness in line with tech­nol­ogy, means they need to part­ner with new busi­nesses that think dif­fer­ently from them, have skin in the game, and haven’t just come into the world overnight but have a his­tory of mak­ing and help­ing busi­nesses change.” As R/GA evolves its own busi­ness to help brands adapt—or pivot—in their own in­dus­tries, the vast agency world will soon need to find new foot­ing to avoid ob­so­les­cence. For now, the agency is fo­cused on the fu­ture and how to stay far ahead of the in­creas­ingly com­plex com­pe­ti­tion. Says R/GA’S Law, “We’ve made very spe­cific choices to dis­rupt the dis­rup­tors.”

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