Daniele Fiandaca: transformation and creative innovation in the age of acceleration

Daniele Fiandaca Creative SocialDaniele Fiandaca is the founder of Mutant, an innovation consultancy helping brands understanding the impact of technology and creating new revenue opportunities through creativity and innovation.

Over a decade ago Daniele also co-founded Creative Social, a global collective of pioneering interactive creative directors and business owners, known for its events, publications and events. Finally he also founded Token Man.

Creativity, technology, innovation: they’re all connected. If you know that Daniele was Head of Innovation at Cheil in the UK before, you can guess what this post is about. An interview on innovation with Daniele Fiandaca at the occasion of a series of workshops, taking place this week at These Days (Wunderman Belgium), one of the founding partners of Creative Social, in Antwerp.

Innovation and the pace of change: change as a do-or-die business imperative

Innovation is a means to an end. At the same time it’s a top priority for most organisations and executives. Among the top CIO priorities for 2015? Innovation. The CEO? Quoting Gartner, ‘most CEOs expect positive business conditions and accelerating technology innovation in 2015’. The list goes on. Executives expect innovation and are expected to innovate. Why is that according to you?

Daniele Fiandaca: We need to look at the context of the market we now operate in. And never have we been in a market in which change has been so rapid.

As Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google observes: “We’re entering an age of acceleration. The models underlying society at every level, which are largely based on a linear model of change, are going to have to be redefined. Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress; organisations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace.”

It’s that pace of change, combined with the pressure to redefine, which is having a significant impact on our clients’ businesses. Put another way, change is now a do-or-die business imperative. If you need proof, consider the fact that an incredible seventy percent of the companies that were on the Fortune 1000 list a mere ten years ago have now vanished – unable to adapt to change.

And having an innovative culture is fundamental to being able to adapt to that change where innovation is defined as finding new and better ways to solve problems and opening up new opportunities.

Adapt: knowing where the market and people are going

Organisations across the globe are challenged by those who have been extremely successful in the ways they innovate. What has made them succeed?

Daniele Fiandaca: I think the biggest advantage for a new entrant into the market is that they are unencumbered by legacy systems or ideas. They do not have to worry about what has gone before. And they are able to deliver what people want at that point in time in an extremely agile manner. Apple and the way it revolutionised the music industry is an often quoted example. However, while Apple is seen as the poster child for changing an industry, it is worth noting how it struggled to actually adapt in the same way to the arrival of social media (remember Ping?) and in the end it took the purchase of Beats to actually deliver something on par with Spotify and provide it with a platform for further innovation within the industry.

However, the important thing here is that they actually found a way and were able to adapt to where they believed the market was going to.

“Innovation only happens when you have a client who trusts you and is able to work with you closely at every stage of the process.”

— Daniele Fiandaca

Innovation in the advertising industry: are you agile enough?

Many of the old ways of working, regardless of the precise business area, don’t cut it anymore. Does the same apply in the ad agency world and how?

Daniele Fiandaca: I believe the industry has a real opportunity to add substantial value to clients in this world of accelerating technology. If you look at the core of what the industry is founded on, it is understanding of people and connecting people to brands through ideas. And we have some amazing talent in our industry.

The problem much of the time is that they are simply investing their time on the wrong thing – ads. Don’t get me wrong. I love advertising and think when done right it can add so much value to both people and brands. However I believe this amazing talent this industry is blessed with can be doing so much more in terms of really helping to transform businesses.

This view is echoed by Anders Sjostedt, Global Partnership Director at Hyperisland who believes that agencies can add the most value to clients by understanding the impact that both technology and culture are going to have on their business and helping them to navigate through this, delivering education, innovation and ultimately transformation.

Regardless, even at a pure advertising level I do worry that the industry is not agile enough to keep up with an ever changing audience and are not innovating the ‘product’ of advertising fast enough. Brand are increasingly built through behaviour rather than messaging, yet I still see an industry focused on the messaging side of the business.

The industry has never had a better opportunity to increase its relevance to clients but is risking being left behind. Ultimately our role has to be to inspire clients to deliver new products that deliver value to their customers as well as finding new ways to connect with them in a meaningful manner.

Innovation needs responsibility and focus

A few years ago, you looked at the growing number of innovation ‘responsibles’ within the ad agency world. Yet, although many carry titles such as Innovation Directors, not all are fully dedicated to it. Do you think an ad agency needs a head of innovation?

Daniele Fiandaca: I am certainly not advocating that all agencies need to have their own head of innovation, though there is no doubt that the title helps both in terms of granting permission to challenge the norms with clients that aren’t wholly comfortable with it as well as providing internal focus. But you do need to ensure that someone at board level has responsibility for it AND is allocated the time to focus on it. It is usually the latter that I see agencies fail on simply because the day to day gets in the way and innovation falls down the list of priorities.

What is the role of such an exec who is responsible for innovation?

Daniele Fiandaca: Their role is really threefold:

  1. to permeate a culture of innovation across the agency,
  2. to inspire clients to buy new and better ways to connect with their audience and
  3. to build a network of interesting partnerships.

Innovation does not require invention – but it does require collaboration

How do you make the difference in a crowded market place where everyone wants to innovate?

Daniele Fiandaca: Be true to your own brand. Be original. Surprise your audience. Make sure that any innovation is adding value to your customers.

How do you see the link between innovation and collaboration?

Daniele Fiandaca: I think it is fundamental and gets to the heart of one of the preconceptions of innovation. Ben Malbon, Marketing Director at Google, put it nicely a couple of years ago when he said “The future is already here. We should use the existing tools we have on the table. Innovation doesn’t need invention.”

And it is in using these existing tools that collaboration is key. It is also key in terms of your relationship with your client. Innovation only happens when you have a client who trusts you and is able to work with you closely at every stage of the process.

Innovation adds value to people’s lives

How do you define innovation? Is it having a novel approach to solve a challenge and create something consumers really want?

Daniele Fiandaca: Part of the challenge we have as an industry is that there is no unified definition (although this could also be said about the words ‘advertising’ or ‘creativity’). Speaking to my peers, I get a range of definitions ranging from an entrepreneurial response to change (Scott Cooper, Partner @ Sandpit Lab), to doing things differently to get cut through (Rohan Tambyrajah, Global Strategy Director @ PHD), to smart experiments that make a difference (Amelia Torode, Chief Strategy Officer @ TBWA London) to changing behaviour, process and people to produce work that is either a) new enough to get noticed or b) truly goes beyond advertising into utility (Lawrence Weber, Managing Partner Innovation @ Karmarama).

My personal definition is finding new and better ways to solve problems and opening up new opportunities. Irrespective of the definition, people are at the heart of it. Innovation that does not add value to people’s lives is not true innovation.

Innovation for this and the next generation

When was the last time you found something ‘very creative’ and what was it?

Daniele Fiandaca: For me OOH (Out of Home advertising) has not really been that inspiring and I am certainly not a fan of the Apple Grand Prix winning work. I think that OOH can be so much more and I love the work that AMV BBDO is doing for Google at Old Street roundabout right now.

Google at Old Street roundabout

They have taken a one year tenancy and have focused on bringing the product to life through the digital screens in a really delightful and human way. There is not a single day that I do not drive past that roundabout and it makes me smile. Finally a campaign that uses context and real time in a super engaging way.

And looking at my twitter feed from the last month, here are a few other campaigns that I thought were really f**king good:

Men In Black Safety Defenders #AirNZSafetyVideo:

Chatroulette: Live First Person Zombie Game:

Mr Bingo’s Kickstarter campaign. I purchased the trolling package which launched just today with this:


And of course the These Days Breakvertising idea.

Speaking about that, can you share a few takeaways regarding your upcoming visit to the Antwerp offices of the agency?

Daniele Fiandaca: I am hoping that the key take away for people will be that we are entering an exciting age of creativity which is going to open up new opportunities for those who are best equipped for the new landscape. And in order to be equipped for that landscape we each have to recognise that we need to focus on developing our own individual skillsets and ultimately we all need to become good hackers, makers, teachers and thieves.

And I still have a mission to get everyone to read our book – Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief: Advertising’s Next Generation. Not because we get more book sales (you simply don’t make money from publishing books) but because I think the inspiration is in there for the next generation of talent to define what the advertising industry needs to become.

Breakvertising: when viewers hit pause something special happens

Daniele mentioned Breakvertising as creative work and thinking that recently struck him. This innovative TV advertising approach was launched earlier this month by These Days and is getting massive response across the globe.

Learn more about the ‘pause button advertising’ concept and how this fun and non-intrusive way to make the most of those moments when viewers pause the programme came to life. Discover breakvertising.