Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Innovation and Angry Birds

Having built something of a presence for myself on social media, I have no shortage of like-minded people around the world sending links to interesting ideas and articles.

In fact this has been where much of the content for this column has come from over the years.

Recently I got sent a link to a blog post that really got me thinking. It was titled; Can the next Instagram or Angry Birds be born within an agency?

The post in question was written by Murat Mutlu, a UK based creative innovation consultant, specialising in mobile communications.

Like me Mutlu has spent most of his working life within agencies, because, as he puts it, “The combination of creative and technical minds, plus big brands, has always had that lure and promise of creating amazing work.”

Mutlu argues that the reason ideas and utilities like Instagram could never be created in an agency is primarily down to two things – agency culture and clients themselves.

I have to admit I disagreed strongly with him on both counts.

I thought back over my career and came up with numerous examples of great work that would never have happened without the support of agency and client.

However, as I delved deeper into Mutlu’s post, I came to the conclusion that even though I disagreed with him, his argument was entirely valid.

So what changed my mind? This;

“Brands need to realise that the available hours and minutes of the people they are trying to reach are being eaten up by Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Angry Birds and browsing the web.”

Of course brands and their ads have always had to fight for our attention. But cutting through the clutter on television in the days of old was a lot more straightforward than gaining, and more importantly holding, someone’s attention in the digital world.

And, as I have argued for years, wouldn’t it better if we stopped spending our clients’ money on ads and similar branded messaging, and started creating things for brands that people could actually use and benefit from?

One example Mutlu gives is the incredibly popular social camera app Instagram.

Unless you’ve been living in the Amazon jungle for the last year, you’re sure to be familiar with Instagram and its amazing uptake. It really is a phenomenon.

So how come Kodak, or some other photography related brand for that matter, didn’t come up with the idea? After all, it seems kind of obvious that a camera maker would offer a camera app.

Yet Instagram was created by a couple of people with very little funding, as far as I’m aware.

This canny little idea, which was launched via the Apple App Store in October last year, has amassed more than 7 million users, who upload around 1.3 million photos every day.

You can bet your bottom dollar that most camera makers, and their agencies, are kicking themselves that they never thought of an idea like Instagram.

Or maybe they did. But a combination of client reticence, perceptions of what an agency actually does, and maybe even a reluctance to invest due to fear of failure, put paid to the idea in its early stages.

I guess we’ll never know.

But what I do know is that creative people, and I consider myself one of them, love dreaming up ideas. And whether those ideas are big or small, there is nothing worse than seeing a great idea die.

Not fail, die. Because an idea can only fail if it is actually produced.

And if agencies and their clients continue to focus more on so called success metrics than giving people something to fall in love with, then the next big thing in the digital world is never going to come out of an agency. Sadly.


Murat Mutlu