How did you first get started in the advertising industry? Early on in my career as the director of inflight entertainment and partnerships at Virgin America, I was tasked with building a digital platform that needed to be the perfect home to advertising and sponsorships—Red, the Virgin America in-flight entertainment system. Red was way ahead of its time. It would have launched long before the iPhone, but due to US Department of Transportation delays in approving the launch of the new airline, it ended up launching just a few months after the iPhone. This labor of love sparked my immediate interest in advertising and drew me further into my advertising career. Since then, I have worked with agencies, airlines, data communications providers and brands around the globe to showcase technology products, advertising messages and entertainment content to travelers.
Today, you’re the head of innovation at J. Walter Thompson Atlanta. If innovation is so positive, why isn’t every brand investing heavily in it? Sometimes advancing in innovation can be difficult for organizations—sometimes it’s easier to retreat. Retreat may come in the form of cutting cost, scaling back in workers and initiatives, and intentionally ceding certain markets. But those that don’t take risks are destined for failure unless they move to raise the bar according to their industry or concentrate on other opportunities that may be in reach.
For example, Apple took four great areas to make the iPhone: (A) its solid expertise in user interface and design; (B) its knowledge of the digitization and portability of music combined with the demands of the record industry, which needed continued revenue; (C) its knowledge of mobile phones gaining in processing power, data capabilities, memory and battery life; and (D) its experiment with its own personal digital assistant (PDA) and its knowledge of the PDA world—the iPhone demonstrated portable functionality, which was a winning ingredient.
How do customers fit into a brand’s journey to adapt to the 21st century? Customers are what a brand needs to support its candor. If you look in the mirror while wearing a pair of Nike’s or a Chanel bracelet or with your Porsche keys hanging out of your pocket, you might just feel your chosen brand, but you don’t need to. Kikkoman soy sauce may be something you never think about, except when you are at the restaurant and you reach for its distinct shape with the red or green top.
Which brands or industries do you look to for shining applications of modern thought? Products and services that pair with a “recurring feeling.” Recurring feelings can be stimulated and developed. People like to buy solutions for problems; but also, every time people go to buy a new car, a refrigerator or even a lunch, they consider their feelings and the length of utility, and they balance the perceived value components against cost and other factors. These industries are seeing new ways to think about yesterday’s offering and what they mean to the consumer, their market and the world.
What regions or cities should we visit if we want to experience what the future holds? Go take a look at steel production in the United States; a software development firm in India; a call center in Guyana; the Incheon International Airport in South Korea; the Changi Airport in Singapore; an electronics manufacturer in Shenzhen, China; or a truly great air cargo facility, like what FedEx utilizes in Memphis, Tennessee, or the facility at the Hong Kong International Airport. Finally, go ask AT&T or another telecommunications company for its perspective on global digital communications and the infrastructure that exists to support the use of larger data sets. Nobody thinks about the number of undersea fiber cables that make the internet truly global, along with satellite backhaul.
What emergent technology or platform should advertising agencies start taking advantage of? Big data and data communications technologies. Cloud computing. Information technology and advertising collaborations. Customer relationship management. Security infrastructure. The connected car. Also, redouble efforts on daily-use tech, such as email, SMS, chat apps, social media and digital news.
What advice do you have for a creative who’s working with a client that’s resistant to change? Show them a few examples from other industries and work with them to design a path forward.