Interpublic Takes Media Lab From Theory To Application: Initial Foray Focuses On, Well, Applications

After years of studying the theory of how emerging media are impacting the consumer advertising marketplace, Interpublic's renowned media lab is restructuring and shifting its focus to practical , real-world application. Not surprisingly, one of its first applications is, well, an application. Specifically, it will test and deploy new forms of online advertising that dynamically connect with other software or databases. The new format, which Interpublic executives believe could be the next big breakthrough in advertising, exploits so-called APIs, which in tech industry parlance means "applications based interface," but which from a marketer's or agency's point-of-view means advertising will simply become a pathway to any kind of programming a creative thinker, media strategist or programmer can think of to connect with a consumer.

"We believe the next generation of storytelling will be fueled by dynamic data elements," asserts Brian Monahan, the head of social media at Interpublic's Universal McCann unit, who recently took over as day-to-day director of Interpublic's Emerging Media Lab, when former chief John Ross stepped down to launch Shopper Sciences, a promising new shopper marketing agency that will draw from many of the innovations developed by the lab.

By dynamic data elements, Monahan means this new generation of ads will effectively be their own computer programs linking to databases that feed relevant, and sometimes personalized information to consumers.

"An app is one way of thinking about it," says Monahan, who cut his teeth in Silicon Valley before joining Interpublic's Mediabrands division several years ago as one of the key members of its technology team. "But what they really are, are display ads that scale by calling dynamic data."

To illustrate how an API-based ad might work, Monahan gives an example of a banner ad for an allergy medication brand that has an API connecting it to a real-time weather database updating pollen counts so that could be relevant to a consumer's decision to use the brand.

Other obvious applications could tie into any real-time databases connecting ads to dynamic, relevant databases about weather alerts, traffic patterns, or even social media feeds from Facebook, Twitter, or just about anywhere else a strategist, creative or programmer could think of. The barrier, says Monahan, is no longer technology, but the way Madison Avenue thinks and is organized.

Toward that end, Interpublic's lab plans to shake conventional processes up to get its clients, agencies, and media partners to begin reimagining what API-based ads could do to change the way they communicate with, and interact with consumers.

"If our hypothesis is correct, we will see a lift in brand results," Monahan predicts, noting that the lab's initial research indicates that API-based ads, connected to rich pipelines of data, does increase many of the most important metrics Madison Avenue uses to measure brand effects, especially so-called "engagement marketing," which is what Monahan says is exactly what the lab is refocusing on.

To take the concept from theory to application, Monahan says the lab has been reorganized to do more real-world testing, development and deployment in hopes of "scaling" concepts like the API-based ads so that marketers and media can develop a marketplace around them.

In an exclusive interview with Online Media Daily, Monahan explains the four elements around the lab's new structure.

The first element will continue to leverage its facilities in Los Angeles to provide a physical showcase where clients, agencies and the media can come to observe and kick the tires of new technologies and gizmos. Interpublic recently expanded the lab's facilities to 4,000 square feet, adding 1,000 square feet devoted to the kind of next generation shopper marketing technologies that will inform and fuel Ross' Shopper Sciences practice.

The second element focuses on utilizing that technology to conduct real-world consumer testing, including focus groups on premise, as well ones conducted via remote technologies that can observe how consumers interact with new media devices, and new forms of advertising and marketing communications.

The third element focuses on the real-world application of new technologies or advertising formats, such as the API-based ads, in scalable market trials on behalf of one or several clients. For the API-based ads, Monahan says Interpublic has organized several, as-yet-unnamed agency clients, to participate in market trials currently in the field.

"We've been doing this for years on a client-by-client basis," he notes, adding that the difference going forward is that the process will be more collaborative, involving a cross-section of clients who can share risks and learning.

The fourth element of the lab's new organizational structure is based on creating partnerships involving emerging media technologies directly with media companies developing them. Monahan says those initiatives could include deals with some of the biggest media companies, as well as early stage companies, and says the concept is an outgrowth of Greenhaus, a division he launched within Mediabrands a year ago to work specifically with start-up companies pitching promising new approaches to media.

In effect, Monahan says the lab will become the hub where the world of emerging and theoretical promise intersects with the practical business needs of real-world application, and that the lab will focus on ways of integrating those results into the sustainable processes that clients, agencies and the media can use to adapt to an ever-changing digital media marketplace.

Monahan even alluded that the lab might expand in other ways, including geographically. While its plant still is headquarters in Los Angeles, Interpublic Chairman-CEO Michael Roth has alluded several times in the past that versions of the lab would be launched in other key markets such as New York and possibly London.

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