Profile: Faris Yakob

“I’ve been a geek my whole life,” says Faris Yakob, McCann Erickson, New York’s newly named first chief technology strategist.

The 30-year-old has been exploring the future of brand communications since the heyday of the dot-com boom. He spent the last five years at strategic shop Naked Communications — in London, Sydney, Australia and, most recently, New York — working on projects including the “Orange Paper Film Festival” for Orange mobile phones. A collaboration between Naked and Poke, London, the competition asked users to create mini-movies, helping to advertise the first online video-editing application for mobile phone users. For Sony Bravia, he worked on the viral video sensation “Paint” with Fallon.

The affable Londoner moved to New York 10 months ago. “I thought living an episode of Friends would be exciting,” Yakob says with a laugh. But the transition, he admits, was actually a bit of a culture shock. “You assume it will be so similar [to London]. But the scale of the industry here is so much bigger.” Of course, he adds, the opportunities this presents are why he moved: “America seems, in general, to be pushing the boundaries of how technology works … and how brands can usefully operate in these spaces.”

A self-described “digital ninja” — who has joked that he wants to get everyone at McCann to Twitter — he looks forward to charting brands’ digital futures in a “larger ecosystem.” He also hopes to further develop his theory about brand communications, laid out in a master thesis that in November 2007 was awarded the President’s Prize from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, a leading U.K. trade organization.

The thesis, which examines the future of brands, challenges the “media-neutral” model of communications, which looks at how a singular idea can be spread across multiple media touch points. Yakob’s idea, called “transmedia planning” — which he has discussed on his blog, Talent Imitates, Genius Steals — creates an evolving, non-linear narrative where various channels communicate different, self-contained pieces to create a larger brand story. Since this model produces more elements than any single person can digest, people share pieces of the narrative, driving word of mouth and creating communities.

“Faris is one of these guys who is full of dreams and optimism,” says Lori Senecal, president of McCann Erickson, New York. “He has a multi-faced background and point of view. He takes a more holistic approach of online and offline [and thinks] of the things we should do rather than the things we could do.”

Yakob, who grew up in London, says his childhood dream was to be “somewhere between a rock star or writer.” In advertising, he has become a bit of both.

After graduating from Oxford with a master’s degree in English literature and theory, Yakob began his media career in 2000 as an analyst at digital consultancy Carezia, where he helped build brands for clients like British Telecom. He later worked as a strategic media planner at OMD. Writing about technology and communications in consumer magazines like Maxim raised his profile and he landed a job at Naked in 2004.

Though Yakob travels around the globe to speak at conferences such as MIT’s Future of Entertainment, he stresses there are no right answers when it comes to digital experimentation. Always enamored by new technologies, he says he’s currently enjoying playing with geodata, an iPhone application that allows users live street views on the mobile phone.

How can the tool be applied to brand building? “I don’t know yet,” says Yakob. “I don’t think anyone does. And that’s what makes it so exciting.”