The Culture of Code

Rei Inamoto is chief creative officer at digital agency AKQA, where he has worked since 2004. Inamoto is also a regular user of Twitter. Digiday selected five of his most recent tweets and asked him to expound on the ideas in them. He discusses his differentiation between TV and screen content, brand’s becoming useful, the trouble with most apps and why agencies struggle to think like software companies. Follow him @reiinamoto.

Relying on TV spots for ur advertising is like not letting go analog film for filmmaking. Nostalgia can make u extinct. 
Are you in the TV-spots-are-dead crowd? If the upfronts are any judge, it seems like TV spots will remain the cornerstone of marketing for a long time to come.
There’s a difference between TV and screen content. It’s one thing to buy a TV placement to distribute your message versus creating content that people would want to consume. As a consumer, I do everything to avoid TV ads. A lot of the TV content I want to watch is easier to watch online because I can control the way in which I consume that content. I can also control the amount of advertising messages I’m being bombarded with. I don’t disagree that screen content is very useful. It isn’t dying. But there’s so much TV advertising on TV. The way Nike approached the Write the Future campaign was smart. They created the epic TV spot but the primary way of distribution was social media and online. They did a TV version, but the way that was distributed mainly was online media.

Every other brand was doing “__ Project.” Now it’s “__ Plus.” I think Nike’s use has been the best & most influential.

Do you think brands have latched on to what was called “branded utility”? Why haven’t we seen the Nike Plus of financial services, etc.?
We haven’t seen as many success cases of Nike Plus and Fiat Eco Drives of the world. For about two years every other request was, “I want that for my brand.” But where it falls short is I don’t think a lot of agencies are ready to commit to building those things. I don’t think clients are equipped mentally to buy those things. The difference between branded messages and utilities is a message is a story. You can sell it pretty easy. Selling a piece of software is different. Agencies are not used to selling software, and marketing clients are not used to buying software ideas. There’s a lot of appetite and requests about creating a long-term platform, but I don’t think folks from agencies and the client side know how to make that happen yet.

Brands need to stop making apps that are toys. Make tools that provide value to build a brand.

Most iPhone apps are pretty disposable. Are they just the new version of the microsite? Is that a bad thing?
It’s a little different. Microsites were somewhat internally focused. They got talked about within the client and agency, but not many consumers looked at them. It was a useful thing to please bosses. The difference between utility apps and toys is toys can be a short-term thing. You use it once or twice and get a laugh and then forget about it. Applications are something you use for a period of time. It’s this shift from creating a short-term campaign or burst of interest to more of a long-term desire that’s the challenge. I was reading that less than 1 percent of branded apps have been downloaded 1 million times. Eighty percent less than 1,000 times. Just because you’re creating an app doesn’t mean the audience will eat it up. It’s thinking about a short-term engagement and not enough about long-term audience building.

Advertising” as “brand-building” is overrated. Focus on building better products & services.

Fair enough, advertising can’t do much (at least nowadays) with a crappy product. But I guess the real question for advertising is what role agencies will play in building brands?
Advertising agencies have been around a long time. Fifty years ago for an agency to provide an advertising campaign was pretty simple. Moving forward, it’s not simple. I’d like to merge communications and product innovation and find an engagement platform for the audience to be attracted to. I don’t think there’s going to be one thing the agencies will provide. For us, innovation has always been a big theme and bringing ideas made possible by innovation. The two questions we ask are what’s the idea and what’s innovative.

In order for agencies to stay relevant, they must embrace the Culture of Code.

This is an issue you talked about in a Fast Company piece. There’s been a lot of talk of Silicon Valley meets Madison Avenue. Is it happening?
I have a biased point of view. One third of our agency is tech-minded people. A lot of solutions and ideas we provide and make happen are tech-enabled ideas, whether it’s storytelling or utility. A lot of agencies, especially traditional agencies, are still treating technology as a production function as opposed to a strategic function. When it comes to ideas that are either supported by or integrated with technology, the line between ideas and execution is much more blurred as opposed to in the traditional days where the line between concept and production was clear. You could base your production decision on cost and which director you can get. When it comes to software, you have to use it to be able to use it. Without a prototype, it’s very difficult to understand what it’s going to be like. A lot of times it takes iteration after iteration to be successful. Instagram the idea isn’t new but they just did it really, really well.
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