When it comes to high profile experiments in blending technology and advertising, creative and digital agencies typically get the credit. But their counterparts, media buying shops, are also working to expand their expertise as technology continues to reshape marketing. These are media specialists, after all, the ones arguably with the most direct connection to the world of emerging technology. Also, they control giant piles of money.
Now ad holding company Interpublic Group is putting a bunch of that money behind a tech playground for its media companies and clients. Mediabrands, the umbrella media unit of IPG this week opened the doors to the IPG Media Lab, a fully loaded tech center designed to put marketers’ hands on, and their budgets into, an array of up-to-the minute tech.
The physical Media Lab and a companion Virtual Lab represent a multi-million dollar investment for IPG. With it, Mediabrands is looking to expand relationships with clients and ensure that as marketing dollars move from traditional media buys to tech-based solutions, IPG media companies move with them. "We're huge believers in lining up with our clients' business outcomes," says Matt Seiler, global CEO of Mediabrands, which controls $34 billion in marketer media spending (Seiler repeats that figure a few times during a visit to the Lab, lest anyone forget the spending power that’s wrapped up in adland’s giant media entities). "There is so much possible today in helping clients to prosper; the trick in is making sense of it all. We're looking to simplify the offers, and in so doing unlock their potential."
The Media Lab concept has existed inside IPG for seven years, with responsibility for the unit shifting between agencies. When Mediabrands was formed in 2008 as the hub unit that manages all of IPG’s media assets, the lab was placed within its purview. Shortly after Seiler was appointed CEO early this year, the company started developing the virtual lab, a constantly refreshed database of technologies and tech companies. That Virtual Lab, launched last week, includes over 500 companies from all tech categories, all vetted and catalogued according to a number of criteria, like what the technology is, examples of current and potential applications and what it costs. The database is accessible to Mediabrands’ 6,500 staffers around the world.
The lab will feature 50 of those technologies in the 5,000 square foot Media Lab located in Mediabrands’ New York headquarters. Here, marketers who work with the company and other IPG agencies are guided through an immersive tour of tech, arranged into several themed installations, or "permatrends:" mobile, retail innovations, social media, entertainment and experience, audience measurement and marketing accountability.
Upon entering the lab, visitors are confronted with a giant interactive screen; it displays an array of data including real-time searches in the Lab database. It also features a Kinect game and can serve up customized content based on the gender and age of onlookers.
The lab features several areas and installations that showcase categories of technology including near field communications, RFID, augmented reality, facial recognition, and numerous other screen, entertainment and analytics offerings. In one corner of the space, the company has configured NFC-enabled movie posters, where a tap allows access to theater information, trailers and, ultimately a download (visiting clients are assigned an NFC-enabled smart phone).
A large section is given over to retail-oriented tech. Stocked shelves provide the backdrop for a display of facial recognition; if you want to know whether your dish soap causes people to cock their head to the side in confusion or beam broadly, there’s camera-based tech from Affectiva that measures shoppers' emotional response to a product. An interactive shoe kiosk from Intava Software uses RFID and ELO touch screens to serve up socially-connected reviews and product info. A magic mirror developed in-house by the Media Lab, based on tech from United Future and Brookview Technologies allows shoppers to browse clothing options and make purchases from the dressing room. A virtual dressing room demo also shows how shoppers can scan tags in-store and then "try on" items at home via a Kinect-powered AR display developed by FaceCake. A living room section showcases every available entertainment technology, social TV and internet of things applications.
The lab masters are particularly keen on the analytics and accountability offerings on show, which include the CMO Desktop. Displayed mission control-style in the lab, the desktop allows marketers to evaluate sales results against not only things like social media feedback but a full complement of real-time and real world data up to and including weather patterns.
Keeping a physical space like this current will require a lot of heavy lifting and investment, but Mediabrands chief innovation officer Quentin George says the company is taking a long term view to the undertaking. "Although the experience and capabilities will continue to evolve over time, we see this as a strategic and competitive advantage that continues to deliver tremendous value for our clients, agencies, and media partners," says George.
George says the lab team currently enters between five and 10 new companies per week and updates and customize tech for each client visit. In addition to the "permatrends" displayed in the space, the lab picks a quarterly focus; for Q4 of this year it’s "The Quantified Self."
Seiler says the lab will generate revenue from a few sources. First, the lab has garnered its own direct clients. "These are clients who want to have ongoing interactions with The Lab to help to form their tech-based marketing communications strategies," says Seiler. "These strategies are then executed through other agency partnerships, or through the clients' organizations." The lab will also create custom solution for clients of other IPG agencies. And, Seiler adds, there is revenue potential from media owners, who have incentive to be part of these kinds of marketer-facing tech demos.
Like many companies in the ad industry, Mediabrands has been working to shift its financial model toward performance-based compensation. Taking a bigger role in technology, data and analytics, says Seiler, helps the company make that transition. "We can now align what we do with how our clients measure their own success," he says.