Aired February 11, 2015
“R/GA recognized the significance of the intersection of design, technology, and marketing very early on,” explains Chris Stutzman, the advertising firm’s Managing Director of Business Transformation. “But today, R/GA focuses on the post-digital, providing a marketing service that fits the ‘connected age.’”
The Connected Age, which has a decidedly science fiction ring to it, is the world we live in now, a space where marketing has to move beyond the classic models of vertical and horizontal integration to what Stutzman and his R/GA colleagues call functional integration. “Companies like Apple create an entire ecosystem of
connected products and services where the simple strategy is: the more you use, the better it gets,” explains Stutzman. Customers buy a product because it connects them to a whole family of products, digitally, technologically, and socially. At R/GA, this model is applied to other brands, creating connected people in areas you’d least expect.
Spice, for example. “McCormick is a brand that dominates the spice category, but how can it engage in the connected age?” asks Stutzman. R/GA’s answer is FlavorPrint, a digital service that essentially works out what flavors you—and each of your family members—like. The system then suggests hundreds of recipes based on your preferences, helping a cook get out of a recipe rut, encouraging consumers to try new McCormick spices, and, of course, creating connected taste buds.
How the connected age is approached by the creatives at R/GA was addressed by Marketing Matters’ next guest Nick Law, Global Chief Creative Officer and the mind behind Nike Plus campaign. “At the highest level, R/GA is divided into two creative hemispheres: the story-telling side, and the systematic side,” Law explains. These two sides of the “R/GA brain” are not isolated: they work closely together, bringing temporal and spatial thinkers together to “create a wonderful symbiosis.”
Describing the Nike+ campaign, Law explained how the team decided to think of the behavior first, and the communication after; a significant break from traditional marketing, where the narrative is key. “Traditionally, the story comes first,” he says. “But focusing solely on the story does not allow for the potential of new media. Software is connected, it enables behavior, you can transact, create, connect on it: It’s not just a place to see a message.”
Technology holds a central position at R/GA, as the show’s third guest, Will Turnage SVP of Technology explained. Working against tradition again, R/GA operates under a technology, rather than customer first, model. “We realized that whenever a new technology was announced our customers immediately asked ‘what can we do with this?’ We were constantly in a mode of reactive thinking,” Turnage explains. By setting up brainstorming sessions around the technology—short, 30 minute intensive explorations—R/GA turns the question around, asking what can a technology do for a client.
“The goal is rapid fire iteration,” Turnage adds. “You might come up with no ideas, or you might come up with some really great ideas, but you will definitely start thinking about the technology in an entirely different way.” The process could be as simple as pairing technology with unexpected adjectives: “Thinking about a ‘sad tweet’ or a ‘sarcastic car alarm’ can suddenly create a whole other understanding, one that is hugely generative,” Turnage explains. Technology it thus something to work with and manipulate innovatively—rather than just react to—at R/GA.
Through the company’s Accelerator program, start-ups benefit from R/GA’s creative approach. Finishing it’s second round, the Accelerator program provides 10 companies—this time working on the Internet of Things—with mentorship, product development guidance, and industry pitch support. “What is great is that our clients get involved too,” explains Turnage. “Someone at the head of a fledgling start-up can have the opportunity to talk to the head of Google or Amazon, and really begin to think about what they want their company to look like.” Each start-up is also allocated time from R/GA, they can seek engineering, design, or tech support—whatever they need. “This is great for our staff too,” explains Turnage. “They get a break from their daily tasks and a chance to get in really deep with a fascinating start-up.”
Barry Wacksman, the final guest on Marketing Matters and Global Chief Growth Officer at R/GA, is a mentor in the Accelerator program. The products being produced by the start-ups—things that are connected digitally—reflect a trend he noticed in 2011, which formed the basis for the book he and Stutzman co-authored, Connected by Design. “People don’t buy Apple products because they are beautifully designed—even though they are—or because the technology is particularly cool,people buy Apple because they connect to each other,” Wacksman explains. “The Accelerator start-ups come in with a product in mind, and that product always has a digital service component. They are asking themselves ‘what’s the next thing I can connect to my software?” And that, according to Wacksman, is the future of business: categories of connectivity, rather than objects of desire.
R/GA was recently named Ad Age A-List Agency of the Year, and continuing to grow and innovate is central to the company’s ethos. Wacksman described the company’s method of reinventing itself every nine years: what was previously the company for the digital age is now the company for the connected age. R/GA’s new approach to marketing certainly challenges the standard models of Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley, tackling twenty-first century problems—and possibilities—in interesting ways.