Fast Chat: Deutsch L.A.’s ‘The Inventionist’

Chief digital officer Winston Binch discusses agency's new digital unit

Yesterday, Deutsch L.A. announced “The Inventionist,” a new offering focused on conceiving and developing digital products at an affordable cost, for clients ranging from big brands to tech startups. Today, Adweek caught up with the agency's chief digital officer, Winston Binch, to discuss the new unit, its first client, and the state of digital understanding in the advertising industry.

Adweek: What does The Inventionist do?

Essentially, it's a small, fast, affordable product innovation team built for the digital age. We focus on solving both business and marketing problems with new ideas, technologies and human behaviors.

Why is that important?

We think great advertising can do a whole lot for a brand, but remarkable products are the best ads. When we're doing our job, we're solving business problems. Sometimes we feel like the best way to do that is through ancillary products or services.

How is the pricing structure different?

The way this works is that we sell ideas in five days, prototypes in 45 and products in six months. You can really start with us as low as $10,000. Right now, we have our first client, Esurance, that we're working on an innovation project for, but as we look at other clients and opportunities, we also will be considering equity sharing, and if we do equity sharing we'll do discounted pricing.

To what degree is this about getting a foothold at a low barrier of entry as far as cost for brands, and convincing them to spend more down the line?

One stat we were really hung up on was 90 percent of strategic plans are never realized, [according to management consultant Patrick Hoverstadt's book The Fractal Organisation]. The fact is getting back to that stat, in today's age you've got to make stuff; you've got to learn by doing. The most-savvy marketers do that.

Like whom?

I talk about Nike ad nauseam. I'm just really inspired by what they've done in the sense that they've lowered their traditional media spend by 40 percent over the past three-plus years. They're investing more in content and really more in product as marketing. Look at Fuelband and Nike+ and so on. Obviously Red Bull is in the news right now. I find them really inspiring that they're looking at making things and doing spectular remarkable things in culture to really drive their business and push brand awareness.

Red Bull is different from what you're talking about, though.

Yeah, [we] will probably be more digitally focused, and less content oriented. We are definitely more focused on products. The other thing that we're doing too, is… “D School,” which we first created as an internal digital education program that we put all our employees through. Now we are selling that as a service that we bring to clients. This group, The Inventionist, they drive a lot of that of that content and that experience.

To what degree is digital no longer this kind of mystical uncharted territory, though?

A couple of years ago I really thought we'd hit a crest and we'd be in a place where we'd have a much more generalist culture across agencies, where digital literacy would exist. But with the rate of mobile explosion now, with just how fast things are moving, I foresee that digital education is something that's going to go on for years.

So the digital strategist is not obsolete?

No… A year ago, when we started this, we also started a new group, or creative discipline—at the time we called it invention strategy. We've since changed it to just call it Inventions. The people that work in the group are called Inventionists. They are equal parts digital strategists and equal parts creatives. They are really the modern digital creatives in the sense they can think strategically across the digital ecosystem, they know how to code, they know how to design, and really are digital natives. These people are the folks that are really kind of driving a lot of the product ideas that we're working on but also really kind of helping educate both the agency and also our clients.

How big is that team?

That team is I believe five right now, and Bud Caddell is their leader.

When you talk about equity sharing systems do you mean that for big brands? Or is that really kind of anathema to the way they view agencies and is it more aimed at tech startups who can't afford even the lower cost or have tighter marketing budgets?

You know, we don't know yet, it's still so early. Right now the goal is to get to some great work that changes business. Frankly I think there are very few ad agencies that actually deserve equity straight up in the product development business. So our goal is really to get some great interactive to work, and it's mostly going to be digitally focused. We'll evaluate the equity piece on a case-by-case basis.

To what degree is the $10,000 for five days worth of ideas a route around spec work, and an opportunity to get those ideas in front of clients without having to go full on ahead into a pitch?

To be honest we didn't really consider that. I think it can work that way, but it's not something that… The Inventionist as a service is pretty specific. We're also an ad agency. We're also going to be participating in pitches for brand work. This is very narrowly focused around innovation, I think that you can say that… I wouldn't say it's a step around pitching, I think it's just different.

@GabrielBeltrone Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.