Geeks and Marketers Need to Talk -- or They'll Waste New Technology

Could Microsoft Ad on IPads Have Been Made Faster and Cheaper?

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LAS VEGAS ( -- Geeks and marketers have to make better partners of each other or risk wasting lots of time and money, a group of heavy-hitting marketers, agencies and technology experts said during a panel Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show.

An iPad campaign that Microsoft created with a traditional agency partner for last summer's World Cup, for example, probably cost more and took longer than was strictly necessary, Microsoft marketing chief Mich Mathews said.

"After that I looked at it and thought, 'Wow it might be more powerful and cost-effective if we hire one guy to do this in India, and we would've just cranked that out," Ms. Mathews said. "'Should I be handling that in-house, or am I looking to completely change the structure of my service partners so we can be agile and do these things together?'"

CMOs will be in a better position to answer those questions the more they talk with chief technology officers, said David Kenny, CEO of Akamai and former chairman-CEO of Digitas. "The great innovations in scale are when you empower people," he said. "How quickly can we let go and empower people? The geeks and the marketers have to talk. When the CMOs and the CTOs get together is when the magic happens."

What kind of magic? Coca-Cola doesn't always need to pay agency and media partners huge sums of money for big audiences any more, not when it already has the world's biggest Facebook community -- over 20 million fans -- and the country's largest consumer-packaged-goods database -- 18 million consumers. There are still roles for agencies and media companies, of course, but they're not necessarily the old ones, said Joe Tripodi, exec VP-chief marketing and commercial officer of the Coca-Cola Company.

"The bigger issue is when you talk about win-wins," Mr. Tripodi said. "It's not about the value exchange of 'I'm gonna give you money.' It's what can we build together."

The Interpublic Group of Companies has been staffing up and expanding its core competencies to meet the exact concerns of clients such as Microsoft and Coke, Interpublic CEO Michael Roth said. "We have to hire up and to do what you're looking for, because without it, we lose our value," he said. "The value we add to our client base is really what keeps us sustainable."

Not every new gadget changes the world, of course, or even the world of marketing. Marketers need more proof that iPad use, for example, creates opportunities for them, Mr. Tripodi said. "Does that behavior help you sell stuff?" he said. "If that's not happening it's not going to change anything."

As for this year's gadgets at CES, which span everything from tablets to in-car apps to enhanced mobile networks, WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell, for one, was not impressed. "It's all undifferential, not much oomph," he said. "It's all refinements of what was announced last year."

"I beg to differ!" argued Microsoft's Ms. Matthews, whose company introduced the hands-free gaming device Kinect late last year to sales of 8 million in its first 60 days.

And there's plenty more to anticipate, she added. "Who knows what's going on in Stanford right now, and what two guys are cooking up together?" she said. "I'm a big believer that we haven't seen nothing yet, and we're simply scratching the surface of how we can engage with consumers."