My research tells me you started out as a creative. How did you make the shift to becoming an “innovation officer”? And what exactly does that entail, by the way?
I did start as a creative, but because I’m a Gen-x guy who was baptized in the fire of the Internet, I’m also a technologist/programmer. In those early days of digital, if I wanted to make something, it was up to me to figure it out. So, I’ve learned a lot through the years and now I’m very comfortable with technology, and I understand its inextricable role in a great creative idea today. My job as innovation officer is to continue to bring that “I dunno, but we can prolly figure it out” mindset to everything: from emerging/bleeding-edge technology to big mar-tech platform stuff to everyday tweaks that stone-cold funk up status quo.
Not content with being chief innovation officer, you’re now Global Chief Innovation Officer. What does that change mean both for you and Proximity? It’s a newly created role, I understand?
It is a newly created role. My title was originally intended to be Global Chief Global Officer. Globality is very important to me. We settled on Global Chief Innovation Officer because that sounded global enough and also no one understood what the other one meant. I’ve been with Proximity for over 8 years, and I’ve already had lots of opportunity to partner with my colleagues all over the world on global pitches and on making really cool work like VW’s People’s Car Project. Now that I get to focus exclusively on the innovation needs of the network, I will be able to operate more proactively—identify category plays and white spaces beyond the briefs where our clients can get a step ahead.
You’re famous for, among other things, the “You Suck at Photoshop” tutorial. If you could make a tutorial for people coming into advertising today, what would it be?
Please talk about some of the innovations at Proximity you’re most excited about right now. What is Invoke, for example?
Invoke is Proximity’s new Voice and IOT lab. We’re doing some very cool work for a CPG client with voice focusing on anticipative interactions and with near-field communication exploring how to create meaningful interactions with otherwise inert objects around the house. Our Cincinnati office recently created the award-winning Energy Broadcast System, a real-time data platform that activates marathon spectators to cheer for exactly the right runner in the exact moment they need it. And we continue to innovate in simple but brilliant ways like with the Cochlear hearing test film out of our CHE offices in Australia.
You’ve spoken about the creative use of data, and the potential of data as a product. But consumers seem fearful of the word “data” and its implications. How could we rebrand “data”?
Everybody likes fudge. What if we just start calling it fudge? “Fudge-driven creativity delivers real business results.” “Fortune 1000 companies still struggle with big fudge.” “Fudge privacy issues.” Like that. I truly wonder sometimes WHO is actually fearful of data and its implications. Of course, no one wants their credit card numbers taken or their passwords compromised - that’s just simple security and responsibility. But billions of people still happily upload videos and photos, share their locations when they’re searching, get into strangers’ cars when the app says they’ve arrived. They’re not afraid to share their data when there is something in it for them. Data that personalizes experiences makes our lives easier. The problem is that many companies still haven’t figured out the right value equation or how to communicate the exchange in a way that doesn’t feel gacky. Getting retargeted the shoes you just bought for the next three weeks of web browsing does not help. Fudge deserves better.
You’re quite a fan of puncturing the sometimes inflated egos in the advertising industry. Where did that drive come from?
We’re so ripe for it. From the first time I saw someone had actually given themselves the title of “Thought Leader” on their LinkedIn profile, I knew I wanted to do something about it. So, I started creating satirical content around “leading with thought” and discovered it was actually an interesting way to talk about trending topics (lack of intimacy in a connected world, society’s overtrust of the sharing economy, etc.) This advertising business is fascinating. It is very ego-driven, which with the right ego and the right team and the right client can yield great work. Because great work needs great leaders who can fearlessly take everyone to that wonderful place. It’s when we let our egos get in the way that “Thought Leaders” emerge, true leadership is lost and the work suffers.
What have you been a) reading and b) watching lately that’s inspired you?
a) A book about Blockchain (Wanted to make sure I squeezed that in there somewhere, Check.)
b) Twitch streams. Watching e-Sports and the streaming medium begin to take hold, normalize and commercialize has been nothing short of inspiring to me. Honestly. It is a harbinger of what’s to come in our media world.
Questions posed by Mark Tungate