There will be no shortage of great ideas vying for attention at this month’s Cannes Creativity Festival. But I’l be rooting for one in particular. Forsman & Bodenfors’ energy saving experiment for E.ON.
The campaign has made more than one list of Cannes favorites and has already picked up a gold pencil at One Show. So it will probably make some noise in France and take home a gold or silver lion for sure, and possibly even a bigger prize.
I hope it does. For the simple reason that it might inspire the kind of work we need more of from advertising agencies, be they rooted in digital, traditional or a combination of the two.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s pretty simple. It’s a campaign for E.ON’s Swedish subsidiary that encourages people to reduce energy consumption not with a vapid advertising campaign but rather with utility that combines user participation, personal data, mobile, gaming, and the Internet of Things. It shows customers their energy use in real time, their savings when they take specific action, and their standing visa vis their neighbors.
If that’s not enough contemporary marketing buzzwords checked off by this one application, there’s also evidence of iterative testing and crowd sourcing, all in the name of conscious capitalism. Whether or not E.ON is as worthy a company as this campaign suggests is another story, but for these purposes let’s stay focused on the creative.
Partnering with Maingate, a Swedish company that tailors technologies for smart homes, Forsman and Bodenfors worked with E.ON to recruit 10,000 homes to use an app that monitored energy consumption for an entire year. The app visualized usage in multiple ways — money being spent, battles among participants, an aggressive coach who implored you to perform better, and a tomagotchi whose life depended on your willingness to reduce your footprint — so that users could find the one most motivating to them.
A companion site let users track their progress, compare themselves to others with similar sized homes, and monitor the collective gains of an entire country. Users could share what worked for them, garner insights from each other, and create a story worthy of attention from the press, bloggers and social media communities.
In the end, the 10,000 users reduced their energy use by 12 percent.
We all know that the future of advertising and marketing is less about messages and pleas and more about inspiration. Yet inducing change, as we’ve learned from failed attempts to stop drunk driving, smoking, obesity, drug consumption, texting while driving is incredibly hard. It takes design thinking like this. And a belief in ideas that do, that involve, and that invite participation in order to achieve something worthwhile.
Sadly, most agencies won’t think this way until someone else wins a big award first. Then the race will be on. That’s why I’m hoping E.ON’s energy saving experiment wins big.
Above a TV spot that was part of the campaign.
The wonderful thing about the web is that it makes it easier and easier to come up with useful ideas rather than just ads. Immerse yourself in social behavior, sharing, and how to leverage community to solve a problem and you can virtually invent new ways to sell stuff.
Which is what W&K just did for Dodge with the creation of the Dodge Dart Registry, or at least the commercial that drives you to it. Go to the site, customize your car, add the features you want, then invite friends and family to help you pay for it by sponsoring individual parts. You can watch as the money pours in (presumably) and pick up your car when it’s done. Hope you have a lot of generous relatives.
The Dodge Dart Registry is like Facebook meets Kickstarter. A commercial application of what Steven Johnson envisions in his book Future Perfect.
It’s not so much a digital idea as it’s an idea for a digital world. It allows you to customize the experience, share it across the web, and get people involved with a few clicks and links. And, of course, the entire experience generates content and awareness as you’ll want to share and promote your wish and your your contributors can share their support. Dodge gets data, profiles, free social media attention and probably some sales out of the deal.
Not that digital registry’s are a new idea. Lots of brands have tried similar tactics. And it’s not as if this hasn’t been considered for a car company. In fact student Hedvig Astrom shared a similar idea with the advertising industry a year or so ago in her NY Art Director’s portfolio review. (Heck, for all I know that may have been the genesis of the Dart idea.)
But either way, any idea that can make it easier for a young Millennial to buy his or her first car is a good idea.
“The more we have no idea how to do it the better the outcome.” Tim Leake, the Global Creative Innovation and Partnership Director at Hyper Island (now there’s a title) shared the thought with me yesterday.
We were talking about how to teach and inspire creativity. Tim runs workshops for Hyper Island while I teach grads and undergrads at Boston University. Usually when I get asked, “How do you teach creativity?” I simply answer that I unteach whatever my students learned previously. I encourage them to take risks instead of play it safe. Urge them to run from the comfortable and familiar with as much speed as they can muster. Implore them to avoid the conventions that yield both written and unwritten rules.
Of course you can’t teach any of that. Students have to learn it. By doing. Creating. Even hacking.
My call to Tim was inspired by the cleverness of his idea to group-author a book on speed in three hours. It’s not a long book, of course, but Rabbit or Roadkill, Agency CEOs Write the Book on Speed is a brilliant exercise in how much you can do, even with a scarcity of time and resources. A thought that aligns perfectly with the idea of doing, creating and hacking.
Tim was kind enough to share the process he uses (I shared some of mine in return) and gave me some wonderful tips on how to do a something similar with my strategic creative classes.
When I asked Tim what he thought the chances were that the exercise might fail or yield little of worth, he shared the best answer of all, “The harder the problem — the more we have no idea how to do it — the better the outcome.”
As I thought about that, something else became apparent. Hard problems — challenges we may never have encountered before — actually liberate us from falling back on the tried and true tactics and techniques we too often rely on. Hard problems force us to think of entirely new ways of solving them. It might be the process we use, the team we assemble, the space in which we work, the idea that we pursue.
Maybe in the world of advertising we should start welcoming tougher problems, or even attempt to invent them ourselves.
We’ll be writing our book sometime this semester. Will share the outcome and the experience when we do.
When Victors & Spoils was first launched two-and-a-half years ago, the company had more detractors than fans. (Note, I was among the latter.) Much of the industry dismissed the idea that the model could ever replace the traditional agency/client relationships. The more vocal members of the creative community found all kinds of reasons to condemn the new company. The talent wouldn’t be as good. The whole idea of crowd sourcing would undermine the value of the creative person. The best people wouldn’t submit to this kind of process and platform.
Co-founder/CEO John Winsor and I had numerous conversations about why the critics were wrong. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Plenty of people would welcome the chance to have their ideas considered. (After all, how many of us encounter a daily dose of rejection already?) Clients had tired of paying for overhead and some of the excesses of the advertising industry. And since agencies could only sell the talent they had on staff, by definition they were limited in the number of ideas they could generate to solve a problem.
Clearly, John and his partners were a step ahead of the critics. From day one the agency met with success. Thousands of creatives from all over the world joined the community. And the agency’s pitch resonated with lots of clients. Dish, Discovery Channel, GAP, General Mills, Harley Davidson, Virgin America, Levi’s and a host of other brand name advertisers signed on.
And why not? They could get a slew of ideas — curated, filtered and on strategy — for a lot less money than they would pay in a typical retainer relationship.
From the very beginning I thought this was the perfect acquisition for a holding company. Think about it. Holding companies serve large global clients. They make the claim — sometimes actually true — that they can harness the collective the resources of multiple sister agencies to serve a client’s total needs. Yet they really don’t have a model, infrastructure or software platform for doing so. Ask anyone who has participated in a cross agency (there’s a more disparaging word for it) shoot out and they’ll tell you it’s among the more miserable experiences in which you could ever participate. In many cases it wastes time and resources. And for the individuals encouraged (if not forced) to participate it often results in nothing more than demoralization.
But with Victors & Spoils platform — the community, the software, the process — it could be so much more efficient. A holding company can tap into an existing community, create a new one, invite more people to participate with less time and effort, and effectively manage and evaluate more submissions. Add some incentives or gaming dynamics, make it easier for people to throw in ideas, and it’s likely that participants might even welcome the opportunity to help the company cause. Perhaps more importantly, clients might have a genuine reason to believe that multiple agencies could work together on their behalf.
Until now, most ad agencies have been threatened by Victors & Spoils. They’re perceived to undermine the value of individual creatives, diminish the role and impact of the creative director who hires and guides them, and convey to clients that there might be a better idea outside the walls of the agency.
But if, in the end, our job is to solve big problems, deliver the best and most effective idea, and leave no stone unturned in determining it, maybe we should all acknowledge that community, software, and yes, crowdsourcing techniques, are the way to go. Maybe not always, but certainly sometimes. Add to that the fact that we really only have two choices — resist progress or embrace it — and we have even more reason to welcome the innovation that V&S has pioneered over the last two years.
John Winsor, Claudia Batten and Evan Fry had the vision and the courage to try and change how ad agencies work. Looks like the big holding companies — at least one of them – is starting to believe they’re onto something.
Most successful ad agencies have been built around a combination of the two: relationships and ideas. The former yields the kind of partnership that lets a brand team totally immerse itself in a client’s business, work as a partner rather than a supplier and take a vested interest in the success of the business.
That’s not to say that relationships are more important than ideas. After all, it’s the latter that goes into the market, attracting attention, generating buzz, driving results. No one gets famous from a relationship; it’s the ideas that make you immortal.
But you could argue that relationships contribute to great ideas in a big way. A strong relationship results in trust, which invites braver thinking. It yields a partnership that encourages client and agency to work through challenges and problems together. And it motivates creative teams to work even harder than they already do. We all want to please a client who appreciates what we do for them.
But if Will Burns, the founder of Ideasicle, is right, the relationship side of things just might be diminishing in value. In Will’s words, many clients care less about relationships and more about getting an idea faster, cheaper and more efficiently. He should know, having held senior account and new business roles at agencies that include Wieden, Goodby, Arnold and Mullen.
In response to that “trend,” Will created Ideasicle, an expert-sourcing agency. Similar to the crowdsourcing model of Victors & Spoils, which also posts briefs to a vetted community of creatives, Ideasicle calls on an even smaller stable of hand-picked, experienced, award-winning creatives who have joined as “experts.” All of them have worked with Will in one of his previous positions, so he has a good sense of how to match them with assignments.
When Ideasicle secures an assignment – sometimes from an ad agency needing to augment and internal effort, but more often from a brand advertiser looking for fast, affordable access to top talent – it posts the news to members of the Ideasicle community. Those who are available agree to work on short notice as a swat team. They collaborate with each other online — conceiving ideas, revising them, making each other’s concepts better – but stay invisible and anonymous to clients. Hired guns, they work for the joy of creating and the guaranteed payday.
Knowing my interest in crowdsourcing and new models, Will showed me a quick peek behind the curtain. The talent is impressive. And despite their anonymity, more and more clients are embracing the model, caring not who works on their business but rather what comes out of the process.
Like Victors & Spoils, which has generate impressive PR and clients – Harley Davidson, Levis’, Virgin America, General Mills, Discovery Channel – Ideasicle is challenging the traditional models as being inefficient and over-priced.
I’m not saying I agree totally with that sentiment. In a world where the only real trend that matters is hyper-connectivity, you could make an argument that brands need a deep relationship with an agency like the one I work for, where a dedicated hyper-bundled team can deliver creative, paid media, earned media, mobile and digital all working together to produce coherent brand experiences that consider everything from context to culture.
But it’s also likely that the new models, anxious to prove the maxim that abundance breaks more things than scarcity, are to be taken seriously. Perhaps we should embrace aspects of what they do ourselves, finding ways to source ideas from more people and places and deliver them even more quickly and efficiently.
What do you think?