We call ourselves Professionals in the Industry Formerly Known As Advertising. But what do we mean by that?
Let us start with an example. We recently launched a breakthrough campaign in order to combat modern-day slavery. What was the medium? The worldwide web.
That's nothing new. So what was it? Banners? A microsite? A social stunt?
Well, no - actually, it was massively distributed web-based software that sits atop mountains of data and algorithms, taking user inputs and calculating their relationship to the data. It then packages this information into a useful form, aggregates it according to various parameters, and allows users to share and compare their particular data output by integrating with social platform application programming interfaces (APIs).
Next, it becomes a mobile application that calls the same data output and becomes a tool for users to interact with thousands of retailers and brands through GPS, more API integrations, and database management.
It's actually more complicated than that, but we're just ad guys and gals, so that's about as much as we can explain.
And it's got really cool animations.
It's slaveryfootprint.org, and its purpose is to help people calculate their own impact on the global slave trade, and then battle it. Of course, the ad guys in us figured out a way to make it a compelling experience, starting off with the rather provocative question: "How many slaves work for you?"
But for the purposes of our thesis about ad people going way beyond advertising, let us just say: this isn't the first time.
Going back nearly three years, our inaugural client, iMeet, was looking for a way to come up with a great interface for online business meetings.
With us being storytellers at heart, the first thing they asked us to make for them was a film. "A trailer for a movie not yet made" was the client's description. That film was so compelling, with just a hint of what the product could look like, their next request was for us to design the product itself.
They knew that if they went to the kind of engineers who made Goto-Meeting, WebEx or other eyesores, they would get a similar solution - clunky, boring, confusing, yesterday.
And why not an ad agency designing a digital product? The whole thing would be web-based, with no downloaded app - meaning it would essentially act like a website. And for people who have lent their talents to the making of great sites, it's fair to believe the skills would transfer. So, with no actual software experience, but deep human engagement experience, we dug in.
We unleashed the same talents we always have - the tools we have honed to make a lot of people laugh with TV commercials, enjoy website creations, and buy stuff.
Before ad agencies rush into this world, we have to give fair warning. The degree of project management goes beyond any campaign management we've witnessed. And creative teams willing to devote themselves with such a sustained level of attention are rare. Why devour user-flow document #137 when you could be writing gags for the latest beer spot?
But still, the idea of making something that will last is highly enticing. Advertising tends to be disposable. And forget making an ad someone would be willing to pay for. In the case of iMeet, we had the opportunity to help create something people would shell out real money to use.
Not one of our 25 creative thinkers can code, by the way. We don't even have an information architect on staff.
We produce this new breed of software the way we've always worked with directors, photographers, Flash developers, animators, musicians. We find the best people in the world to help bring our concepts to reality.
Concepts? Don't companies already have "concepts"? Loose ones, sure. Business models, hopefully. But most companies have a relationship to their digital products that is remarkably similar to their ad campaigns. They generally know what they want to do but don't know how to do it.
That's where the whacky copywriters, art directors and producers come in, envisioning just how beautiful and compelling we can make something, especially in a landscape where "compelling" is an afterthought.
It's also about something slightly more controversial - taste. No matter what an agency is trying to cook up, be it a TV campaign, digital, print, product, brand overhaul or even strategy work, the most elusive element is taste. We say "controversial" because people like to think of taste as being entirely subjective. "You can't argue chocolate vs vanilla!" the refrain goes.
Perhaps not. But when you hire a creative group, you're buying their taste, like it or not. So you may as well buy the good stuff.
Good taste is found only in the best agencies. If we could tell clients to look for one thing in an agency, it would be taste. It's the one element that affects all the others.
The advertising community has been making some great websites for years. Now that software lives in the same place (the cloud), let's hope we'll see more of that talent put to use making things that will live beyond the latest chewing-gum campaign launch.
It all comes from our founding premise, really. The "Professionals in the Industry Formerly Known As Advertising" bit. The main points being:
A. The industry is not going to stop changing, so we refuse to define ourselves by where it is now. It starts with cracking a brand's code and then executing with excellence.
B. Creativity is too important to restrain to an advertising brief. Why not unleash this band of creative thinkers on your business model?
We love making great ads. But we also take pride in that fact that more than two million people worldwide have completed the Slavery Footprint survey. And more than 50,000 business people are choosing to have their meetings in what we call their own personal meeting room online.
John Matejczyk is the chief executive and executive creative director, and Matt Hofherr is the president and director of strategy at MUH.TAY.ZIK | HOF.FER
AT A GLANCE
John Matejczyk, chief executive and executive creative director; Matt Hofherr, president and director of strategy; Diko Daghlian, creative director
San Francisco, California
What is the future for pureplay digital agencies?
They will thrive as a needed vendor to companies, but will always live strategically downstream. By definition, they live in a silo. A brand's code is not cracked in a silo
Which movie title best describes your agency?
Team America: World Police. An elite force with global impact.