Google's New Ad Agency Pitch: 'Agile Creativity'

New Focus on Getting Creative Agencies to Use Google Products

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When it comes to adland, you could say that Google's gone from a frenemy to fawner.

The search giant has been pouring loads of resources into paying attention to Madison Avenue, and increasingly its focus has turned to creative agencies.

Torrence Boone
Torrence Boone

In recent times it has: built out a robust agency-relations team helmed by former agency leader Torrence Boone; formed a creative council comprised of heavy-hitters from adland; crowded the annual Cannes International Festival of Creativity with execs; and held regular "Creative Sandbox" events that (over lots of free food, cocktails and even yoga sessions) focus on the junction between creativity and technology.

Then there was "Project ReBrief," a documentary that reimagined iconic ads such as Coca-Cola's 1971 "Hilltop" but recreated them using 2012 web tools and services.

Now Google is trying to further ingratiate itself with adland. Its latest move is a new playbook created by Mr. Boone called "Agile Creativity ," which it's pitching to shops via a road show.

The playbook serves as a mix of well-worn best practices and a call to action. Sprinkled throughout, of course, are references to the way that Google works with its agencies for campaigns promoting its products. Rather than just speaking at Madison Avenue, Google is increasingly recruiting respected leaders from the ad community to help in their efforts; for example, a Google+ hangout today features prominent agency leaders talking about how to bring Silicon Valley thinking to the ad industry.

Agencies that are participating in the effort include those that Google uses for its own marketing, such as AKQA, 72andSunny, BBH and Big Spaceship, as well as a few other agencies that agreed to sign on for the effort, such as Deutsch, Arnold , TBWA/Chiat/Day and DeepLocal.

"Brands are coming online in a big way and they want insight-driven, emotionally resonant campaigns -- not just digital as an add-on," Mr. Boone told Ad Age . "We've been ramping up our efforts to engage with creative agencies upstream -- in some cases before the brief is written -- so we maximize the possibilities unlocked by the intersection of creativity and technology."

The effort is Google's latest push for display advertising dollars, which accounted for $5 billion as of the fourth quarter of 2011. While that sounds like a lot, it's still tiny compared to Google search, which accounts for the bulk of its $38 billion revenue in 2011.

Among the things the "Agile Creativity " playbook recommends to agencies is a revamp of the way account and creative teams are structured and operate, a focus on rethinking how agency creative briefs are written, and embracing tight deadlines (with a suggestion that companies should always operate in "hackathon mode").

All told, Google's laser-focus on targeting creative agencies signals a directional change compared to Google's historical focus on the agency side, which earlier was with search shops and media agencies.

Of course, another goal would be to help promote Google technology and products being baked into agencies' creative process for brands. But the way Google tells it, the new Agile Creativity platform was a result of agencies tasking Google to do more than merely talk about their products and provide bigger insights into technology that would lead to better work for clients.

"We started this strategy first and foremost by listening," said Mr. Boone. "We meet regularly with our global Creative Council and one of the pieces of feedback we heard loud and clear was the desire for more from us than just product-centric discussions. To them, Google stands for innovation and the best of what Silicon Valley has to offer. Our agency partners are asking for actionable insights that they can take back to their teams, and a broader perspective on how the technology world can help them produce better work. It was with this context in mind that we focused on the concept of Agile Creativity ."

It's a long way from where Google was five years ago when shops were generally fearful that it was out to disintermediate the business of ad agencies. Competitors such as AOL followed suit, also focusing on building out an agency-relations team. And now that former Googler Marissa Mayer has landed at Yahoo, it'll be interesting to watch if she tries to step up Yahoo's pitch to Madison Avenue.

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