In recent years, innovation has often been defined by the race to be first to market or prove yourself an early adopter. Thankfully, that technological land rush—whether it be in VR, social apps or AI—seems to be slowing, with the focus shifting to tangible benefits and truly captivating experiences.
Adweek’s annual Creative 100, a list of the most creative professionals in marketing, media and tech, features a wide variety of industry icons, but one of the most fascinating portions of the list each year is our roundup of the 10 digital innovators worth watching.
Here are our picks for 2017’s inspiring, entertaining and occasionally mind-blowing innovators:
Chief Creative Officer, Jackbox Games
Things had been going so well, until the bottom fell out. With little more than a fine arts degree and some design chops, Allard Laban had scored a job with screensaver company Berkeley Systems (“the flying toaster people”), somehow parlayed it into a gig at Disney and then left to rejoin former colleagues who had created a CD-ROM gaming sensation with You Don’t Know Jack.
But in 2001, new gaming consoles like the Xbox disrupted the market, and Laban’s company, Jellyvision, withered from 75 employees to six. So they pivoted, becoming The Jellyvision Lab, and their game techniques became a business tool called “interactive conversation.”
“Initially it was a blue sky effort,” Laban admits, “but eventually we gained some traction and a bunch of clients, many of whom played You Don’t Know Jack in college.”
In 2008, they made their gaming comeback, rebranding as Jackbox Games and launching a new You Don’t Know Jack for the connected age. Then they began bundling new party games into instantly popular Jackbox Party Packs, with hits like Drawful and Fibbage.
So what has kept Laban in his current job for an astounding 17 years? “Once you’ve worked with really funny people, it’s really hard to leave that.,” he says. “It’s what kept me here, the people. They’re so talented, smart and, honestly, kind of adorable.”
Co-founder and CEO, Knotch
Gansca is walking in the New York City rain and thinking about how her startup has grown from eight to 30 employees in the span of four years (and soon plans to expand to 50 staffers). Specifically, she’s recalling how her company has moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan’s Flatiron district and now is readying to call larger SoHo digs home.
“We’ve gone from sitting in a restaurant and having beers in the beginning to thinking about how to create KPIs,” she says.
Based on the belief that “the feedback loop is broken” and consumers need to be heard, Knotch helps marketers like Unilever, GE and Prudential measure and optimize return on investment for their creative efforts, offering real-time data about an audience’s emotional and behavioral response to brand content and ads. Gansca, a Transylvania native and 2011 Stanford grad, looks back on her journey to thriving entrepreneur—Knotch saw revenue jump 500 percent last year compared to 2015—and believes that many up-and-comers miss the boat on how data and creativity mesh.
“Young people often don’t realize that marketing makes the Internet free for us,” she says. “We can make the Internet a better place for everyone.”
Andrew Morse and Chris Berend
Co-founders, Great Big Story
Morse and Berend took a significant risk when they co-founded Great Big Story in October 2015. With financial backing from CNN (where both are digital executives), the online video network endeavors to attract cosmopolitan, sophisticated millennials with positive, uplifting content. That’s quite a different vibe from the CNN legacy brand.
“It’s terrifying to not follow anyone else’s blueprint, but it’s the most satisfying,” Berend tells Adweek.
Great Big Story boasts a slate of original micro documentaries and short films with a cinematic quality rarely found on digital.