«We used to make people want things. Now we make things people want.» That was the mantra at Cannes last week, as agencies realised that they were no longer just making advertising, but also games, apps and technology. In fact, they had become inventors. But the question is : who benefits? At least three agencies I met, from the traditional to the digital - McCann, AKQA and the Swedish outfit B-Reel -, observed that they often created software or applications, from scratch, to fit a single client brief. The problem: the agency didn't own the technology. The client did. Which meant that a product developed over 18 months or longer could never be sold by the agency again.
That is about to change. Agencies are realising that if they design technology up front, without being driven by a client brief, they can patent it and sell it to as many clients as they wish. For example, B-Reel is experimenting with a headset device that uses brainwaves to operate electronic devices. It has also patented an interactive touch screen to be used by customer help-lines: a sort of Skype for when your mobile phone crashes (it's currently used by UK telecoms company Three). So that's the new advertising industry. Or, as the organisers of Cannes would prefer, the new creative industry. «We used to create campaigns for our clients. Now clients licence our inventions.»
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