Darin Brown of WPP agency POSSIBLE on digital-focused advertising and the rise of gamification

Liam Ward-Proud
Marketers should already be thinking about how they could use the Apple Watch, says Darin Brown
WPP has been rapidly building up its digital presence in recent years, partly by acquiring smaller agencies worldwide and folding them into POSSIBLE. Darin Brown, POSSIBLE’s Europe, Middle East and Africa chief executive, talks to City A.M. about creating digital-focused advertising, and why brands are increasingly looking at interactive campaigns.
You’ve worked on both TV and digital campaigns. What are the key differences?
I’m not sure it’s right to think about it as one or the other – we’re seeing the ongoing blending of different media and technologies at the moment. But the key distinction is whether companies see digital as mission-critical. With fast-moving consumer goods firms (FMCG), for example, you still feel like TV is very much the dominant channel.
Does it still feel like you’re swimming upstream with digital?
FMCG firms all want to get smarter about it, but they still have to go through the intermediary of grocery stores for transactions, so they use TV to reach a mass audience and hope the message holds through. But with, say, the travel and automotive industries, they need a kick-ass digital strategy just to stay competitive. Everyone books travel on the internet, and the first place you go when buying a car is the company’s website.
At POSSIBLE, our focus is on companies with digital as their core platform – TV is there as a support, but they need to lead with digital.
You’ve done some work on interactive gaming campaigns for brands. Will “gamification” live up to its considerable hype?
We’re moving away from just pushing messages at people in advertising. It’s more about enabling them to interact with firms, giving the brand utility and purpose. We built a game called My Little Tesco for the Hungarian market, which allows you to run a virtual Tesco store, from the buying process all the way to filling up the shelves and decorating it. It went completely viral.
It’s crazy when you think about how this could integrate with Tesco’s loyalty programme. Real world purchases could start to affect the gaming experience, and vice-versa – you’re blending digital with physical. Brands lobby Tesco for shelf space in stores, could they do this in the digital world?
Is it fair to say that interactive marketing is the future?
I think TV consumers can pretty much identify your strategy now. They’re so used to it that they know exactly how you’re trying to sell to them. There are still times when it works, but it’s not always got the same value as providing a useful service or building loyalty through gaming.
Mobile ad spend hasn’t quite kept pace with consumers. Are marketers any closer to cracking mobile advertising?
There are a couple of things going on here. First, the numbers don’t always include the development cost brands put into apps. It’s not paid media, so it doesn’t show up in the ad spend figures, but I’d argue that it can be just as important.
But I still think most would agree that marketeers aren’t making the most of mobile. People continue to push the traditional paradigm of glossy banner ads – the models are still flawed in many cases. I get excited by things like near field communication and location targeting. We’ll get to a point where messages can be delivered at a certain time of day, or while I’m walking past a particular store.
Now Apple’s Watch is out, will wearables be the next advertising frontier?
The smartest thing marketeers could do right now is to think about how they can make use of the Apple Watch, as well as the Motorola and other Android alternatives. The first movers in advertising industry often get a lot of brand credit. Think about Nike+ and how it made use of the data and community aspects of running. A lot of other people came along later, but Nike was able to gain a lot of brand equity and love first.
To create things like that, you’ve really got to challenge beliefs about what’s normal and possible – it involves being almost delusionally optimistic about the future.
You’ve worked in North America and Europe. Are things very different there?
I think the internet acts as a kind of leveller, meaning people tend to think about a lot of the same things worldwide when it comes to digital. But one big difference from a business perspective is the way budgets are organised.
In the US, you have instant scale – everyone speaks the same language, and client digital budgets are organised at scale. In Europe, most companies have left digital at a country level – it’s almost impossible to get clients to lift their budgets out of country level. I think this will change, as more companies realise there are inefficiencies to being organised in this way.

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