Grey Group Wants to Turn Innovative Ideas Into Businesses

Volvo's Life Paint a prime example

Grey Group wants to do more than think of good ideas—It wants to turn them into actual business models with real products that make real revenue.

To do this, the New York agency is launching a unit to work with clients to spin out products and services that surface during the branding and campaign development process. The team, Grey Adventures, will be a practice housed within Grey Group focused on developing intellectual property that it can scale for both the agency and for clients.

The team will be lead by Evan Kraut, Grey's managing director of Grey Adventures, and Darren Moran, the agency's head of innovation. In an interview, Kraut and Moran admitted that agencies by nature aren't necessarily good at bringing ideas to life. But the goal of Grey Adventures, they said, is to combine the creative power of an agency with the specialized innovations of various client partners. 

"What we've been noticing is that every agency has had some sort of innovation role, but where we've seen the trends moving has gone from chasing shiny objects like the buzzword of the year or a new shiny toy," Kraut said. "The opportunities have become much more robust."

Other agencies are also building out their own innovation groups. Digital agency 360i has made its own line of toys for children with paralysis, while R/GA Ventures is hosting an accelerator program for startups.

Here's an example of what Grey wants to do: While working with Volvo, the agency pitched a concept called Life Paint, a spray paint that is essentially invisible during the regular daylight, but extremely reflective at night. What if the paint could be used on other objects—possibly bicycles—to help them be more visible to cars? This lets Grey be a partner in the product itself rather than the team doing the TV spot.

"It really is about bringing to life all those ideas that agencies and brands are great at coming up with that are outside the traditional channels of advertising," Moran said.

Possible future partnerships with both clients and non-clients could vary, but Moran and Kraut said they'd like to focus on ideas around virtual reality, augmented reality, the Internet of Things and other emerging fields of tech. Grey is also investing in intellectual property for Grey Group, which Grey will fund and then continue to grow and manage the business. If there's a breakout success, it might take on further financial capital from outside of the company or spin it out into an entirely new endeavor. But the key will be partnerships, Kraut said.

If agencies think they can do it themselves, "they're kidding themselves," he said.