Are innovation companies the new ad agencies?

I’ve been reading a lot of posts recently about whether advertising agencies need to innovate, do they need to get a better handle on digital and interactive media?, do they need to position themselves more innovatively? do they need to innovate in their perspectives on communication and more broadly speaking, marketing? If I could flip that for a minute and pose a different question which has been stalking me; what space is it that the innovation companies themselves occupy?

Once there was a time when you needed an MBA, a thicker waist and a sound understanding of Hamel, Prahalad or Christensen to talk about real innovation but it seems now that any Tom, Dick or Barry with a new creative hotshop can play their quarter in the innovation game. When I used to think about innovation companies, big cheeses like McKinseys came to mind, now it seems that innovation companies are springing up quicker than moles in a hole. And whose running these new innovative and creative hothouses? Ex-agency people. Ex-planners. Ex-MDs.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not objecting to this in any way. I think it’s time “innovation” came out of the textbook, decreased the amount of models it presented build by build in powerpoint and struck up a friendship with natural creative strategists.

It makes you wonder whether ex-agency style innovation companies will eventually settle into the realm of new product innovation and brand / communication innovation briefs and business consultants will move into a more creative space to deliver innovative scenario planning and creative business model innovation.

It has always seemed to me that the perfect balance would be the rigour and robustness of a company like McKinseys together with the intuitive, disruptive and sometimes cowboy-style of some of the great creative strategists found in agencyland.

My question is this. Are many newly birthed innovation companies destined to become the ad agencies of the future? and if so, where does that leave the ad agencies of now?

Thoughts . . . ?


A curious design-focused human with an insatiable appetite for learning driven by the endless desire to make things.

4 thoughts on “Are innovation companies the new ad agencies?

  1. To me it feels like “innovation” is just the new sexy positioning for creative companies. No innovation companies aren’t necessarily going to do advertising – i.e. TV and banner ads, but I get your point, it used to be cool to be a creative advertising hotshop and now it’s cool to be an innovation company but let’s face it, a lot of the time a strong agency and an innovation company can and do deliver the same thing in terms of thinking and now that print, production etc is being outsourced, they have the potential to be more similar than ever.

    Which is not to say there aren’t innovation companies out there doing real business model innovation and scenario planning and the tough stuff, but it strikes me that there are “innovation” people who are also just doing NPD and brand strategy, same stuff, different business positioning.

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