Suffering from Stockholm Syndrome?

“Can you book a table for 6, next Thursday at Rijsel and arrange a pick-up at 18.00 for 3 people at the office, to drive us to the restaurant? (Viv)”

When Viv was introduced at TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon, it could do all of the above, with a single voice command. Showing a booking page with a verbal conformation check and the same for the Uber pick-up. For those who never heard of Viv or the Disrupt hackathon. Viv is the next Siri. An AI that could book a restaurant, a trip or a taxi with a single voice command. Just imagine what will happen next?

“Order all ingredients of my favorite fennel salade ,three rib-eyes and some charcoal for the BBQ, have it delivered to work, today.”

Still, Viv is not ready. Yet, this is design and thinking that will influence behavior, creates all new revolutionary advertising models, just as Google AdWords once did. Engineering + design is currently impacting our lives more than ever.

Once, this was the domain of creative agencies: Ad-shops that wooed their clients with advertising bordering on art. Agencies that masters in the art of changing perceptions.

These agencies owned the ‘creative idea’, an media agnostic idea that communicated something different, or new. All these ideas conveniently translated into television commercials or guerrilla advertising.

Often these shops were arrogant to apply their skills to simple things like banner advertising, Google SEA or web design. Digital innovation was slowly adopted, it was not a place where big idea thinking converted into income for these advertising executives. So, naturally other players stepped in.

Today, these same agencies drool over well designed apps, high-grossing webshops and make examples of unicorns like Uber and AirBnB in every powerpoint presentation to clients.

As the industry of advertising and creativity receives most recognition for their work from awards, it must sting most are won by brands (without the help of an agency), design shops or production agencies.

This same industry is currently fighting to keep it’s head above water and has a tough time trying to paid for the ‘creative’ work they do. Margins being suppressed by their clients procurement departments. The worst thing is, that same margin that pays for innovation, recruitment and extracurricular activities these agencies so desperately need.

Has the role of the creative agency in his classic form commoditized?

Before answering that. Just consider todays students, they graduate from Media and Design courses with skills as filming, editing, coding and design. Trained to think creatively yet to express themselves in some more than advertising.

Creative agencies a commodity? That is a yes, for most of us.


“The best advertising is not advertising”

Rei Inamoto once said. I think it needs a nuance. I think this statement was said to an audience of flesh and blood. Challenging us to think beyond the traditional means.

To me it reads:

“The best advertising is not advertising made by humans”

My prediction is that the best ‘traditional’ advertising will be soon designed by AI.

Why? AI is not effected by bias, personal preferences and forgetfulness. An AI will be able to design a banner ad, outdoor poster or recommendation based on machine learning. Keeping up-to-date with the latest trends, relevant scientific findings and apply endless testing and optimizing.

And who will own and develop those programs? My best bet is Google Deep Mind is getting close.

So, are agencies in the proverbial death zone? Is the air so thin that we are slowly dying without realizing it ourselves?

While college students gain in capabilities, our talent runs of to find meaning and utility in the work they do, media agencies effortlessly achieve what we once held sacred?

The ‘old guard’ taken creativity hostage and are we all suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

The future looks bleak, we are commoditized, disrupted and oblivious.

Top marketers have known this a while. They don’t even expect us to maintain our partner role. Insights from their own data & expectations from content take their priority.

So, is there a way out?

There might be.

We need to make two fundamental shifts in the way we work.

The first shift is to bring engineering- and design-thinking back into our creative proces. Currently, we only incorporate the facets of creativity. Agencies are structured to silos starting with our job titles. Next, we waterfall the stream of information from an account team and filter them through strategists/planners (The ‘science’) and convert information into knowledge to then be dropped at a creative department (The art of changing perception).

Engineering and design are no longer part of the process. Engineering is the moment where the knowledge is converted into a utility. Think predictive modeling, usability tests and developers.

Engineering is the place were we build the blueprints, develop the first prototypes or tests. At that moment the designers take over and create new behaviors.

They simplify flows, discover loopholes and design for the human platform. They turn utility into human interaction, truly influence behavior.

The second shift we need to make is to change the environment in which we work. Agencies tend to work in isolation, elevating the brief to the most important moment of insight and interaction with their clients. Whilst turning that vital piece of information into knowledge.

The rest of the proces takes place in isolation. Where a small team thinks up the perfect answer, to then woo the client with a piece of art. Loosely based on some science.

All these phases should closely involve your clients, they should be part of the proces.

It all seems simple right?

Add two ingredients, hire developers or econometrists and UX-designers and something that is called agile, or lean-start-up thinking.

Wrong, there are few agencies who dare to commit to this way of working. The biggest fear is the new business model. How, do we make money and how do we get clients to trust our new ways of work? Think a mix between man and machine in optima forma.

Our focus should be on creativity that AI will not be able to design. Feed the machine with new ideas and input to learn from. Symbiosis of man and machine. Our world needs to be little less Madmen, little more Matrix.

I challenge you, the old guard, the creative agencies to change, adapt and live another day or else you will be part of age of extinction, just another failed artist drowning in nostalgia.

(Next week, I will dive into the world of engineering within an agency)


Dag Kittlaus, The debute of next-gen AI “Viv”, Disrupt NY 2016

Neri Oxman, Age of Entanglement, Journal of Design And Science