Ad man David Jones has a lot of reasons behind his new effort to radically change the way brands operate in the age of marketing tech.
In fact, he has 350 million reasons.
That’s the amount of dollars he has raised from six unnamed investors to back his new brand-tech mega-agency, whose name keeps his own brand front and center. The new agency is called You & Mr. Jones.
Having been the youngest and first British CEO of the France-based global advertising/media group Havas, Jones knows well the world of legacy marketing/ad agencies and their embrace of digital tech.
And it’s a world he wants to help bring down.
Those jangled-together entities — part Mad Men, part Minority Report — are not equipped to handle the newly decentralized world of branding and marketing in the age of crowdsourcing, mobile, programmatic ad buying, and social networking, according to Jones.
But Jones sees the mega-agencies as protecting their legacy infrastructure in TV and traditional media production/buying, still operating on an “hours per head” billing model, and still not quite grasping how the mountaintops of their industry — like one-way, expensive TV commercials — are crumbling.
The large agencies combine “big communications groups [who are] experts in brands and marketing” but not tech, Jones told me, with technology experts who don’t really have a marketing mindset. Those companies are invested in preserving the legacy infrastructure, he said, even as they pitch the new world.
It’s like Hyatt Hotels, he said. At first, they were thrilled about the Internet and its ability to send pictures of their rooms to anywhere in the world. But then the Net spawned the more efficient Airbnb, leaving Hyatt to protect all those hotels it had built.
As for the many smaller entities that do get it, he sees them as lacking the scale his new company can offer.
“What’s different about us,” he told me, “is the funding to do it at scale,” with no need to defend the old order.
Jones’ new agency — which already has on-the-ground presence in ten cities around the world, even though it was just formally announced last week — is propelled by crowdsourced creative work, worldwide distribution via the Net, and automated media buying.
“Twenty years ago,” he said, “brands ran different media around the world, needing agencies around the world.”
“Today, someone can shoot something on the iPhone, show it, and go global.”
Of course, this is the irony of Jones’ endeavor — a large-scale, global enterprise driven by small-scale media creation, an ocean liner powered along by zillions of tiny propellers.
The agency itself is headquartered in New York City, while an investment arm — You & Mr. Jones Brandtech Ventures — is based in San Francisco. Recently, Jones’ enterprises bought crowdsourcing video site MoFilm and invested in user-generated content site Pixlee and online publication Mashable.
Those user-creators could be as many as a billion people, Jones said, who can “create and produce content — faster, better, and cheaper” than via traditional means.
He points to this video ad, made via MoFilm for Nestle’s Rolo chocolates, as being “as good as anything” produced by the old school:
Five short ads like this from crowdsourced creators cost about $125,000, he estimated, instead of one TV commercial for $2 million. His new agency “probably won’t be making massively expensive TV commercials,” he said, adding that he questioned how long the TV commercial format would last.
Of course, that approach has ramifications. I personally know two excellent graphic designers, a fantastic illustrator, and various other creatives whose reasonably healthy pay rates have been decimated by the widespread net-based availability of much cheaper — and often lesser — talent.
For Jones, this “people-powered marketing” to create, rate, and share branded media is the open-model reality — and the opportunity — for brands.
After all, his job is to make brands happy, not to make sure high-quality creative talent is well paid. Jones said “many brands are frustrated” at their inability to more fully take advantage of this new world.
But be careful what you wish for, frustrated brands.
User-created content, while often based on brand-provided themes, is imagined by its creator. Brands approve it, but the users decide what kind of scene they’ll inhabit while wearing the brand’s new sneakers, or how they want to express their love for the brand’s chocolate.
In other words, brands may pay the piper and they may name the song, but they don’t write or sing it. And they don’t share it, tie it to a meme, or comment on it.
It’s crowdsourcing, not a marching band. Expect to lose control.
The Age of Damage
Jones is OK with that, and apparently he thinks forward-thinking brands are as well. “The power today is about sharing, rather than about control,” he told me.
The other danger for brands: inauthenticity.
Does this mean that, if Koch Industries runs ads about their environmentalism, it could backfire?
Yes, he said.
It’s because of what he describes as the “transparency, authenticity, and speed” required in the current marketing/advertising landscape, where a company can lose a chunk of its valuation in a day because of bad word-of-mouth.
In fact, Jones said, the same forces enabling him to crowdsource five good video ads for a fraction of one TV commercial’s pricetag are making this the hidden tagline of every brand:
“If you want to do well, you’ll have to do good.”