In-Scope: What innovation needs from us


Jasper leads Social & Innovation in OMD Create, leveraging channels & technology to reach audiences in meaningful ways.

The advertising industry needs more from innovation. It’s become a buzzword, used to describe anything shiny, new or different. It’s often used as a filler word, without real intent. Sometimes, I get uncomfortable having it in my job title.

However looking at its true meaning, innovation simply put is doing new things to make significant positive change. And this is a good thing, a valuable thing, and an important thing. Innovation is a path to get somewhere, and not the end goal in and of itself.

We are all too often distracted or disillusioned by the things that surround innovation, or focused on the press release as the ultimate outcome rather than the impact of innovation itself.

With this in mind, I’m going to talk about our ‘cool stuff’ obsession, chasing trends, and honing in on solving real problems.

Cool Hunting

There is a lot of cool stuff in this world. Personally I’m infatuated with the latest in consumer tech and how technology impacts our lives. And in the advertising industry, many of us like to make this obsession part of our professional mission. This comes from a valid place; it’s critical that we are in tune with the latest technological developments to be the stewards of the digital future that our clients lean on us to be.

But cool and useful aren’t the same thing. While the latest gadgets out of CES might make us ooh and aah, if we’re going to talk about this space professionally, it’s critical that we zoom on what the genuine implications are for us and our clients.

This means cutting the crap (like the Kohler wifi-connected smart toilet that can personalise the ‘experience’ for each user), and asking the right questions of the wider-reaching innovations, like smart assistants and conversational interfaces. How quickly will usage grow? How will this change people’s purchase journey? How will advertisers reach audiences if people spend less time looking at screens?

We need to focus on the cool things that are likely to have a big impact, and spend less time hyping up and being distracted by the edge cases that won’t.

We must look at innovation with a critical lens, making judgements about how new technology will mix with real life human behaviour. What’s destined to become the next smartphone, and what’s destined become the next 3D TV?

Trend Chasing

Another danger of our ‘cool’ obsession is that it can feed a self-fulfilling hype cycle. Let me be clear: data is great, and we should be harnessing it as well as we can to make good business decisions. I’ve spoken publicly about this.

But when, for instance, the data we’re using is from the results of a survey asking what marketers expect the next trends to be, this can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy! Advertisers seek to get in on what’s slated as the next big thing, but the only reason it’s slated as the next big thing, is that advertisers slated it as such…

For example, eMarketer published findings of a survey last year of North American retail marketers, asking what emerging technologies they expected to invest more in over 2018. To be sure, this is interesting stuff.

But when you marry a chart like this with the fact that no one wants to miss the next big thing, many will look at the sharp YoY increase in Proximity/location-based marketing investment to inspire or justify their own investment increase.

Now this may turn out to be well-reasoned. Or it may not. But what’s important is for every business to decide for itself what innovation is right for it, rather than using what peers are doing to guide their own decision-making.


Problem Solving

So, what are we to do? Focus on what innovation ought to be. Let’s look at the problems worth solving (both in our own businesses, and in our clients’ businesses) and see how we can best tackle them by doing things differently.

That’s how our industry can truly be leaders in innovation, and ensure that innovation is always useful. Sometimes that means surface level innovation (a VR initiative for your next brand campaign), and sometimes that means deeper innovation (the unsexy stuff – changing CRM platform, which will then enable personalised marketing and better experiences for customers).

Instead of ‘cool’ obsessed, we can spend more time being ‘useful’ obsessed.

Instead of focusing on what other people think are going to be trends, we can spend more time thinking about what’s right and relevant for ourselves.

Rather than being monorail salesmen, we can be the guides sharing a clear vision of how to connect the now to the future.

Rather than thinking about what we need from innovation, think about what innovation needs from us.

So if ‘innovation’ in my job title means that it’s my responsibility to help my colleagues and clients do new things that make significant positive change, then I’ve got to be pretty happy about that!

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