Colenso BBDO has partnered with Mountain Dew to develop a novel range of skateboard decks that reveal a hidden message as the skater grinds away the bottom. And what makes this project even more interesting is that Colenso owns a share of the IP that comes with the innovation, meaning that the agency could stand to profit if the concept attracts interest from players in the skating industry (production company Finch officially owns the IP and Colenso shares in it).
“The graphic is invisible when you buy it,” says creative director Dan Wright. “The image is burnt in with resins and lasers into the wood, and you can only reveal it by skating it hard, which matches the brand’s philosophy of ‘to get to easy, you’ve got to get through hard.’”
This tagline previously featured prominently in the award-winning print ad, and this latest manifestation of the theme also finds itself in the awards limelight, with the skateboard campaign being shortlisted in the Best Awards (alongside Colenso’s other nominations for Samsung’s ‘Smart Phone Line’ and Tip Top’s ‘Back to Nature’ posters).
Wright says that the skateboard decks mark a slight change in direction, which is largely attributable to the fact that it now takes more than just slapping an ad on the television to get a brand noticed.
“It’s really hard to get an ad out there that the whole country’s talking about,” he says. “And it’s our responsibility to make that kind of impact and to get our brands’ messages in front of people. And because it’s that much trickier to do, we want to stay there. We don’t want to be there for a week and then fade away. We want to stay in people’s hands and in people’s pockets.”
This, he says, is disrupting the usual agency focus, in the sense that it’s no longer enough to create something with only a single campaign in mind. Agencies now have to think about longevity and what can be done to keep consumers engaged with a brand well after the TVC or pre-roll ends.
“There’s a real motivation not to make the campaign app now, but to make a tool or a product that sticks around in people’s lives,” he says. “Developing this product, putting it through R&D and production, the goal for that is to have an invention out there in the world with Mountain Dew owning it, and to have runs of that with new graphics.”
By forming an IP partnership with Mountain Dew, Colenso has a vested interest in the continued success of these skateboard blanks. And while this move extends beyond the usual remit of creative advertising agencies, Colenso’s managing director Nick Garrett says that it doesn’t detract from what the agency already does well.
“The interesting thing is that it was a communications brief that led to a product,” says Garrett. “We don’t pretend to be able to work out how to manufacture skateboards or how to sell the IP behind a skateboard to a major skateboard manufacturer. But we’ve got people who do, and they’re doing it in partnership with us. So we’ll find a company that can manufacture a small quota of them, and then it will be given some of the IP to sell that. And if they sell that to a big skateboard manufacturer globally and we get a share—small, medium or large—then that’s a really healthy place for us to be.”
He also adds that it’s a natural progression for agencies to operate in the IP space.
“If you’re a successful company in the creative advertising industry and you’re making a healthy profit and you’re selling your creative thinking for communications at a reasonable price, you have the time and bandwidth to stretch yourself a little bit further to come up with a few ideas. And this might give clients the confidence to give you more time and money to push those ideas further, and this sometimes leads into the innovation and product IP space. And when you do, you jump on it.”
The oft-quoted adage says that it took Edison 10,000 attempts to perfect the first light bulb. Regardless of whether this number has been weighted by the mythology that is intertwined with the history of the man, this trinket of knowledge is often used to indicate how much it takes to innovate in any field. And this is something that Garrett says his team is well aware of.
“They [ideas]don’t all work, and you have to know that from the beginning. There are comms ideas with technology at the heart of it, where we charge a scoping fee: if something costs a million bucks it might be a hundred grand to scope it, and the end of it, we’ll give a green or red light. And, you know, they haven’t all been green lights. There’ve been a couple of green lights that could’ve been red. But there are other times when the client will go, ‘I’m going to give you a sizeable budget and I know there might not be an outcome on this’ and that’s when you get into the heavy lifting. I can’t say we’ve got two dozen examples of this. We’ve maybe got two or three genuine examples. But it’s both terrifying and exhilarating.”
And Colenso isn’t the only agency that’s starting to innovate in various fields that lie beyond the usual scope of advertising. DDB recently launched a discrete department dedicated exclusively to innovation called Shaper, Shine has been heavily involved in the business development of the Old Seafarers’ Building, and True has invested in an in-house design hub called TrueSpace.
And as more agencies look for ways to commoditise the thinking that underpins their creative campaigns, it seems likely that even more will start to dip their toes into the IP space.