Unseeing Is Believing At IPG's New Media Lab
The New York-based Media Lab that Interpublic will officially unveil later this week houses an impressive array of state-of-the-art -- as well as some next-generation -- media technologies, platforms and experiences that are sure to wow even the most jaded industry wonk that walks through its doors. But the real power of the new lab isn’t what people will see blinking, flashing, and reverberating on its walls, floors and even in thin air, but what they will not see: an even more powerful “virtual lab” that is powering, and determining, what gets put in the lab in the first place. It’s also a new powerful tool that the global organization of Interpublic’s Mediabrands unit -- everyone from planners and strategists at Initiative and UM to specialists in vertical operations like Ansible, Geomentum, Reprise, and Shopper Sciences -- can use as a means of vetting what’s real and what’s not in the sometimes dizzying, hyper-accelerated world of media and technology.
As impressive as the physical lab is -- and after getting a sneak preview late last week, this reporter can tell you, it truly is -- it is the virtual lab that Mediabrands chief Matt Seiler considers his pride and joy, and the real secret sauce that will keep Interpublic’s media people and products one step ahead of the rest of the industry.
“We wanted to build something that people could use to start their day by looking at what’s possible,” Seiler says, explaining that all the contents of the virtual lab -- basically a proprietary vertical search engine of new media technologies sitting on the Mediabrands intranet -- have been vetted by the holding company's best technology, media and marketplace experts, and deemed to be at the very least applicable to the agencies’ clients’ businesses. What’s not in the database, Seiler says, is just as important as what’s in it, because many among the multitude of products and innovations coming out of Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv and elsewhere may be new and cool, but frequently are unnecessary distractions that may not be relevant and may not scale.
During the tour, Seiler and Mediabrands Chief Innovation Officer Quentin George explained that, the labs -- both physical and virtual -- utilize a stringent process for vetting and curating what goes into them. They began by Terence Kawaja’s now-famous LUMAscapes chart, an overly complex graphic delineating the advertising technology playing field that Seiler says “makes me want to puke just looking at it.”
IPG then vetted which of those companies and technologies were actually worth the consideration of their agency teams, omitting more than a third of the LUMAscapes candidates, and then lumping them into three fundamental buckets of technology and media platforms -- one-to-one, one-to-some, and one-to-most -- and then tagging them so that they are easily searchable. What the virtual lab ended up with were about 350 media technologies that were its foundation. When the lab’s doors open on Wednesday, a total of about 500 technologies will potentially be on display, although only about a tenth of those will actually be shown to any given visitor -- mostly clients and other VIPs -- at any given time. The reason, says George, is that IPG wants to curate the experience to be sure it is most relevant for the person or groups coming through.
So, for example, when a team such as UM client Johnson & Johnson walks through, its products will be sitting on the shelves of a retail area that makes up one of five sections of the lab. Other clients will see their brands -- or other brands relevant to them -- when they have their tours. The same thing is true of the technologies that will be on display that can augment the way people interact and experience their clients’ brands. In one corner of the room, for example, sits a digital table-like device surrounded by Nike footwear. Place one of the sneakers, which have RFID chips embedded in them on the table, and the screen comes to life with information about the shoe’s features.
Naturally, there are screens everywhere in the lab -- some like the shoe retailing screen, or the “Magic Window,” that are actually owned by IPG, which is developing a marketplace around them. Others are simply screens and technologies that IPG believes have relevance for its clients’ brands.
The grand finale of the tour culminates with a very special screen: the “CMO Desk.” Actually, the desk, a tabletop digital screen, is a composite of six different screens, all of which relay vital data -- much of it real-time information about sales, media impressions and other so-called KPIs (key performance indicators) that utilize new forms of data integration and presentation that IPG has also developed and plans to market to its highest level clients.
“This is the thing I expect we will sell more than anything else,” says George. By “sell,” he means just that -- because the lab isn’t just a research and development facility, but is intended to be a physical retail outlet for IPG’s Mediabrands to demonstrate and sell products and services -- not just theory and potential applications.
In fact, there is something else most visitors won’t see while making their way through all the nooks and crannies of the lab: an invisible flow of data that will be tracking their personal movements and biometric levels of engagement with specific devices and installations. The data, which is generated primarily by a near-field communications (NFC) enabled phone that all the visitors wear instead of a badge, also has a camera on it that records everything they look at one frame per every 30 seconds.
The point of the data, says George, isn’t to shock or surprise the lab’s patrons, but to genuinely utilize the kind of technology that IPG is deploying for its clients, on its clients, to demonstrate the power of digital data.