Innovation Hub: Advertising’s New Age

A product, a camera phone, and a sensor. Those may be the essential tools of advertising in the 21st century.

Increasingly, we’re witnessing the disappearance of the classic, 30-second ad. Now products are looking to lure us with humor (I’m looking at you, Old Spice Guy) or whiz-bang theatrics (think Jean-Claude Van Damme straddling Volvos). Or they’re just hoping to track our every move with sensors, so they know the clothes, medicine, and cars that would be perfect for us.

I spoke about this new advertising landscape with James Percelay, co-founder of Thinkmodo and the king of viral videos (like this devil baby spoof with 50 million hits on YouTube), and Edward Boches, veteran of the ad agency Mullen and now a professor at Boston University.

[This interview has been edited and condensed. For the full conversation, visit]

Kara Miller: We know that lots of people avoid ads. So if you’re an advertiser, what do you do?

Edward Boches: The real future of advertising is going to be much less message-based and much less storytelling. It’s going to be more into the world of utility, data, and sensor-based feedback that will help marketers create useful applications or experiences that will actually benefit consumers.

KM: What do you see that has worked and broken through the clutter?

James Percelay: Earned media is the name of the game. For example, Volvo had an extraordinary campaign last year for Volvo trucks. They featured Jean-Claude Van Damme doing a split between two parallel trucks, which were going down the highway. It was Volvo’s way of showing the dynamic steering capabilities of these trucks. It was engaging and surprising, and it really drew people to this product.

EB: And the Volvo video never ran as a television commercial. It only ran online. It’s interesting because all these media properties have to fill up with content, and they want to be one of the first ones, not the last ones. It’s actually pretty easy to generate PR coverage for these kinds of ideas.

KM: How important is the role of celebrity? I always think of celebrities as very helpful in selling products.

JP: I think you are overestimating the role of celebrity. We are all potential celebrities now. Viral videos are as much content-driven as celebrity-driven, and if you create something amazing, people will share it. The new breed of celebrities are YouTube celebrities and online influencers.

KM: Can you point to companies that are doing interesting and unusual things with their advertising budgets?

EB: The new influences on advertising are not coming from the media world; they’re coming from the technology world. They’re coming out of Silicon Valley. It’s a one-to-one relationship and an exchange between the consumer and the brand.

The Under Armour brand now has sensors in all of their products, and they do a tie in with Zappos. So if you buy a pair of sneakers on Zappos, the sensor will identify when it’s time to buy a new pair. And you’ll get a nice e-mail notifying you that it’s time to buy a new pair of sneakers.

KM: Can you tell us an ad campaign that you have not worked on that is really interesting to you right now?

JP: It’s pretty obvious, but pretty incredible when you think about it. And that would be Apple, Inc. Apple has reached the status of being the biggest corporation on the planet. Yet, they have a mantra that you can be empowered with their equipment, and you can excel in every aspect of your life using their technology. They’re a company that empowers its users and gives them the tools for expression and creativity.

Tricia Breton contributed to this write-up.

Kara Miller is the host of “Innovation Hub,” a national radio program that features the thinkers, researchers, and visionaries who are crafting the future. She is based at WGBH Radio in Boston. Follow @IHubRadio

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  • curt

    How old are these people? Using humor and theatrics in advertising is not exactly new. And this is definitely not the kind of information I come to Xconomy for. And its poorly written. Jeesh! High school news letter – esque.