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Why agencies need labs

November 5, 2010

Computer Relics

The thought of an advertising agency having an R&D lab doesn’t make sense to most traditionalists thinking of advertising as represented in the “Mad Men world. Certainly, in the 50s and 60s, there were departments devoted to understanding the science of advertising, but they weren’t about innovating and building.

Fast forward to today and you are starting to see “labs” emerge as a new nomenclature.

You’ve got BBH’s Lab

Labs is BBH’s global innovation unit. We’re tasked with
pioneering new outputs and approaches: building new platforms through
which brands can engage, and exploring new agency models. The overall
ambition is more engaging content, developed more effectively and
efficiently. We’re particularly interested in the following areas:

  • Innovative new forms of creativity
  • Original ways in which technology and collaboration can be powerful forces in the marketing arsenal
  • Novel approaches that are rapid, iterative & curatorial
  • The mashup of thinking from radically different sources & industries

You’ve got Ogilvy’s Digital Lab

The Ogilvy NY Digital Innovation Lab creates, showcases, and markets
digital innovations that deliver competitive advantages to our clients.

The Digital Lab is both:

* A physical space showcasing unique new technologies surrounding
daily life centered around home, work, and on-the-go environments, and

* A place where teams can work on developing award-winning and
innovative digital work for the benefits of our clients today or

There are probably others, if there are, please let me know.

Both labs, but very different missions. BBH is looking at the big picture- even exploring new agency models and Ogilvy is much more focused on the specifics of innovation in the digital world.

What they both have in common is dedication and space. There’s a sort of implicit understanding that this new stuff is complex and requires effort and brainpower to not only build it, but also imagine what it can be. It’s a recognition of the pace of change in the industry and how important it is to inspire and imagine new things and new ideas for internal employee audiences and clients.

While Mad Men is compelling viewing because you see the dramatic societal and cultural change that spills over into the ad world and there are certainly many parallels with today’s environment. However, the big difference is that technology back in the 50s and 60s was not advancing and impacting advertising quite as fast as it is today. These were golden years for the business where captive consumers could be programmed to buy.

Those days are now long gone and the industry has to innovate to keep up with technological and consumer change. 

Labs demonstrate that the agencies involved get the fundamental change that’s at hand, but clearly they are not for everyone. Many probably feel that these units shouldn’t be external and that everyone needs to have a “lab” mentality, which to some extent is true. The reason they need to be dedicated is that in an environment where the pace of change is so fast, it’s hard for people to adequately deal with the present, while at the same time imagining and developing a near future.

Having a “lab” mentality is a must for agencies today.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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