MBA

Marrying the power of creativity with the possibility of technology can produce a potent blend.

Devon and Maher
Devon and Maher

In Steve Jobs' biography, there's the line: "He knew the best way to create value in the 21st century was to connect creativity with technology."

We couldn't agree more. We believe that the ability to bring creativity and technology together is essential for the agency of both today and tomorrow. Agencies must embrace all forms of technology to further the success of brands, not only by making the most of existing technology but also in pushing the edges of possibility.

The key is to apply knowledge of brands and motivating ideas to bring the technology to life so it can deliver meaning and thus deliver a return - it's about shifting technology from the technical to the evocative. In doing so, agencies will find new ways to create value and ROI for their clients.

The amount of technology-driven change appears exponential. A recent report by Google/Ipsos puts smartphone penetration at nearly 50 per cent, shifting the way we should perceive the digital landscape - it's no longer just about desktop computers. And we're starting to see brands making the most of new opportunities.

MBA's client LoveFilm is surging forward with its Instant service to capitalise on the growth of "over-the-top" TV services. At the Brand Republic Social Media Strategy conference last July, BT presented that it cost it £12 to solve a customer service issue traditionally, but just 12p via Twitter.

Brands have been wrestling with how to change their behaviour to flourish in this digital world, often putting technological solutions at the centre of the approach. Many extol the virtues of "doing", by which traditional media is supplemented, amplified or eschewed for an approach that, rather than saying what the brand is about, proves its case via actions.

As part of the launch of the Huffington Post UK, we created a media first by embedding live Tweets into digital outdoor sites, exemplifying the Huffington Post's conversational nature. Twitter existed but the ability to embed live Tweets into digital outdoor didn't. We had to push the technological frontiers to make it happen.

Henry Jenkins mused: "If it doesn't spread, it's dead." If a thought isn't sufficiently interesting or motivating, then it remains motionless and withers. Traditional advertising generally doesn't have the magical properties to spread. It's normally in a "telling"/broadcast mode. Brands increasingly need to step away from the sales pitch and be useful, interesting or entertaining (or any combination of the three) in order for their activity to have any potential for passing "Go".

A related study by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School looked at which New York Times articles were e-mailed most. Rather than articles about the usual suspects of sex or major blunders, it was articles that inspired awe that spread most.

It should be evident that technology can be the catalyst for brands to achieve "awe". Technological advances are playing a more evocative and emotional role in people's lives.

Historically, many innovations have been functional, improving the ability to do basic things - move faster, be safer, fly further, gain efficiencies. But today's changes have the potential to serve a higher human need. They can help us be more creative, more connected to our fellow man, more aware of the world around us, more satisfied. Remember the evocative power of Jonathan Harris' "We Feel Fine"? It's this potential that should get agencies very excited.

Clay Shirky, in Here Comes Everybody, states: "Communications tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring." If the conversation is about the technology per se, then the ability for it to impact on the human condition is limited. But the technology begins to possess transformational properties once the conversation shifts to whatever purpose has been found for the technology.

The challenge brands face can be answered by technology. But in order to drive business value, we need to make sure that there is a bridge between the technology itself and the culture-shifting, life-affirming, self-actualisation potential of the human interaction with it.

On the IPA's mission to Silicon Valley, one of Facebook's top sociologists said words to the effect that to understand online behaviour, you need to study offline behaviour. People are still people. Motivations remain the same. But you can now show holiday snaps to 300 rather than five. Instantly. And chat about them. And geotag where you were. This should all feel familiar territory to agencies. We know the human motivation stuff, right?

How, then, do we help brands to inspire awe, to be useful, interesting, entertaining and find ways to stay part of the conversation? We need to look at how people are using existing technology and then borrow that behaviour for our own purpose (as in the Huffington Post example earlier). We also need to keep an eye on the fringes of development. As William Gibson observed: "The future's here, it's just not evenly distributed." We need to place ourselves where we can see the future in order to spot potential.

For example, 3D printing is becoming highly accessible. Makerbot sells products between $1,000-$2,000 (£640-£1,280). The future where we can print out replacement parts for broken items, is not far away. The first brands that embrace such developments will have significant competitive advantage. If this potential had been spotted three years ago, then a brand could already be in a position to make a move.

It is at this juncture, at the confluence of technology and creativity, that the potential lies. Historically, agencies are familiar with creative/brand ideas that resonate at an emotional level. But we're less used to harnessing technology (especially at the cutting edge) to have the same effect. Whether or not the expression "creative technologist" represents a person or an approach, the idea behind it has massive potential.

Agencies that achieve this perfect marriage between the power of creative ideas and the possibility of technology will have a recipe for success, or rather the code.

James Devon is the planning director and Stephen Maher is the chief executive at MBA



AT A GLANCE

Founded

1994

Principals

Stephen Maher, chief executive; Graham Kerr, chairman and executive creative director; James Devon, planning director; Paul Munce, managing partner; James Middlehurst, managing partner

Staff

45

Location

London

What is the future for pureplay digital agencies?

A possible future for pureplay digital agencies is the specialisation in R&D/emergent technologies

Which movie title best describes your agency?

The Incredibles - particularly inspired by Buddy Pine/IncrediBoy/Syndrome, who has some very creative uses of technology in his bid for world domination!

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).