Creative Agency of the Year: MullenLowe Mediahub

Earlier this year, MullenLowe Mediahub established a creative media unit within the agency that it calls the Radical & Disruption Lab. Its sole mission is to develop innovative and attention-grabbing media techniques in a consumer world increasingly disrupted by phenomena such as cord cutting, ad blockers, and growing ad-free environments presented by streaming services like Netflix (a client of the agency) and Amazon Video.

The new practice is in place at the agency’s Boston and LA offices, and will be rolling out to other offices in 2018.

The group is led by Laurel Boyd, the agency’s award-winning senior vice president of media content and innovation, and a 14-year veteran of the agency. Last year, Boyd led the team that dreamed up a campaign for Netflix’s "Black Mirror" that put messages onto web pages that only ad blockers could see. Ad-blocking viewers would not see the show’s usual ad promos, but they did see a campaign that read in part: “Hello ad blocker user. You cannot see the ad, but the ad can see you. What’s on the other side of your Black Mirror?”

This is the kind of creativity that prompted MediaPost to name Mediahub Creative Agency of the Year for 2016. And for doubling down on creative media with its new R&D Lab (already being used by multiple clients) and for helping brands devise resonating messages in more innovative ways over the past year, the agency has once again been named MediaPost’s Creative Agency Of The Year for 2017.

John Moore, global president, MullenLowe Mediahub, said the agency concluded that it needed to establish a stand-alone creative unit like the R&D Lab to maintain, if not up, its game — already at a very high level — in creativity. He believes the lab pays dividends on several levels. There are clients who take direct advantage of its services and reap the benefits of the creative campaigns developed by it. More broadly, he adds, it showcases the agency’s creative process and demonstrates the resources it devotes to developing outside-of-the-box media techniques.

The agency believes its creative process has helped tipped the scales in its favor during a number of competitive pitches this year. Recent wins include MTV Chipotle, Remy Cointreau, PODS and Staples. That creativity was recognized at Cannes this year, where the shop won a silver Lion for best use of integrated media in a campaign for the Netflix series Narcos. The shop also won several Effies and a number of other awards.

“So many media companies ask their people to do so much,” Moore said — which leaves little time for them to develop truly “breakthrough” creative media ideas. At the R&D Lab, he adds, “that’s their sole focus.”

One piece of work driven by the R&D Lab this year was an effort to promote the PBS miniseries "The Great War," documenting World War I. The task was to build relevance, interest and an understanding of an event that took place a century ago.

The agency’s tack: Leverage forgotten personal accounts from the war — stories directly from the nurses, ambulance drivers and service members written in letter form back to the home front.  Working with PBS, the shop gained the rights to a number of letters that were then showcased in creative promotional units. The content of these letters connected with issues that are still relevant today including patriotism, civil rights and veterans’ benefits. Five of these letters were selected and aggregated into a gallery unit to run across news and social content aggregator Flipboard, targeted to the PBS audience of news and history enthusiasts.

According to Boyd, Flipboard was the ideal environment for this rich media unit from a targeting and user experience standpoint, as the platform attracts an older audience. The effort helped to drive big ratings for the program — ratings that were more than 70% higher than the typical PBS prime-time rating.

Separately, client Netflix charged the agency with creating passion and anticipation around the launch of their original show "Iron Fist," featuring a Marvel character with little brand recognition compared with other superheroes in the Marvel franchise. Making "Iron Fist" stand out in the crowded landscape of comic book entertainment was no small task.

The agency placed bets on the audience with the most built-in knowledge of the "Iron Fist" characters — hardcore (and very hard-to-reach) gamers.

The agency devised a way to “speak their language” and tap into key elements of gaming culture, like hacks and cheat codes.

The shop created the ultimate hack on IGN and GameSpot, enticing gamers to “earn their power,” just like Danny Rand (the name of the fictional character who becomes Iron Fist), by using the well-known “Konami code,” a cheat code that appears in many video games.

IGN and GameSpot engaged in a Twitter battle filled with “Easter Eggs” (hidden messages), prompting followers to try the code on their sites to activate an exclusive clip.

As part of the campaign, the agency brought two of the gaming world’s well-known and biggest rivals — Justin Wong and Daigo Umehara — together to settle a score on Twitch. They battled each other in a series of Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom matches that embody key themes from the Netflix show in order to be crowned the “Ultimate Iron Fist.”

The content drove 215,000 views of the Twitch livestream, 58% above the norm, along with nearly 30,000 chats. "Iron Fist" was the most-binged Netflix drama of the first quarter of 2017 — a standout achievement for a show about the least-known character in the Marvel Universe.

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