Should Ad Agencies build Products
@glyndot from Albion London jotted down some of his thoughts on Agencies building products:
Here are some notes I hurriedly scribbled before a recent holiday that got edited into this article. I don’t think it came across clearly what I was trying to say, so I wanted to air the thinking here instead.
There are 5 groupings of agencies, each getting involved in product design in different ways:
1. Original product design agencies
There have always been great product design agencies. IDEO, Frog, Seymor Powell and Tangerine (ex-home of Sir Jony Ive) all predate the digital era, and have adapted well to it. But they’ve never been as big, as successful or as sexy as they deserved to be. This is partially because it used to be difficult to persuade clients of the value of hardware product design (expensive and long-term) versus the quick hit of a breakthrough ad campaign.
This is from the era of advertising where big companies could dominate markets. Advertising was a way for to differentiate parity products, and was only available to the few rich companies who could afford to be on TV and outspend each other. We now live in a world where technology has changed everything about this.
2. Digital product design agencies
There’s UK and Sweden based mobile studio ustwo, who have a very successful business designing slick user experiences for big financial services brands, but who also create hit games like Whale Trail ‘for themselves’.
Or social product design agency, Made by Many, who reinvented the news website for ITN, and also created their own app, Picle - a story of Instagram-style pictures with sounds, which picked up 50,000 users in a month after launching at SXSW.
Or New York based Breakfast, who created Precious, a bike that Tweeted while being ridden across America for the LIVESTRONG foundation, but who are best known for in-house projects like Instaprint, a mobile photo-booth that turns Instagrams into Polaroid-like prints.
While these agencies all ‘get’ brands, they aren’t explicitly in the business of advertising, and most choose to stay away from it. For instance, the advertising for ustwo’s Barclays Pingit app was made by BBH.
The best of the big digital agencies probably also fit into this box. R/GA built Nike’s customisation tool - Nike ID - and also won a Cannes Cyber Lion for the social currency idea of ‘Pay With A Tweet’. AKQA are now most famous for their digital product work, like Fiat Ecodrive, Nike Training Club and Heineken Star Player.
But while they’ve made lots of stuff that looks like advertising in the past, AKQA at least now seem to be renouncing it, recently authorising an article in Wired called ‘A public announcement: advertising is over’.
3. Ad agencies doing their own products
Nowadays, doing ‘own brand’ products has become a mark of status for an ad agency and “Are you creating your own IP?” has become a favourite question at advertising conferences.
All a bit self-serving, and not playing to their core business model – client service.
Mother are taking this most seriously, creating their own ‘products’ such as the film Sommers Town, with Dylan Williams (Head of strategy) recently commenting publically that “I hope the future’s doing our own products, because that’s all I really do now”.
4. Ad agency group’s product units
Some of the big advertising holding companies Some have set up separate units to play in this area – BBH’s Zag specialises in ideas for products, while TBWA’s Pilot.is designs digital products for the whole Omnicom group.
5. Product + Communications agencies
Agencies like Big Spaceship (and Albion) are doing both product design and communications design – proudly. For example at Albion we’ve designed the user experience for Telefonica’s new communications app, TU Me. But we’ve also got new TV advertising on air for Wonga.