Passionate about technology and digital solutions that change the way people experience brands and products. Experienced technical director and engineer focused on driving innovation, digital craft, collaboration and leadership among creative technical teams. Continuously seeking to improve ways of working and challenge the role of technology in the digital industry, looking to drive digital solutions forward; fomenting creative and critical thinking, collaboration, creative innovation and prototyping as a way of generating ideas and fuelling collaboration among disciplines in the digital space. Anthony Baker, technology director at R/GA London, has worked so far for famous brands like: Google, O2 Telefonica, Nokia, Microsoft, Beats by Dr. Dre and Beats Music, Sara Lee, Target, Dell, SanDisk, MSN, MSNBC, Sesame Street, NBC, Nickelodeon.
Can you give us two examples of work you really loved to do last year and why? And also from some other agencies and why?
One that I love to talk about is Google outside. The whole thing was to take the Google experience that you have on your mobile, that is a search available to you all the time, that knows what you are doing and to a certain stage is what Google is now (predictive, contextual help) and bring it to a new level. They realized that a lot of people are using Google for search, but they don’t know what to do more with it, they don’t know its full capabilities. We wanted to create an experience that could inspire people to do that and we wanted to do it in a physical space. So, basically, we took an experience that was only on your mobile to the outside, into the digital-out-of-home. But the engine does not exist outside the mobile platform. And the one that you get on the web it’s impossible to tap into, because you cannot get access to that logistics. So, what we did was to build a platform that allows us to create an experience that is useful, but combines inspiration and storytelling. But it does it in a way that the data and the experience that you see is contextual to the location that you are in, is contextual to the weather condition, to the time of the day, to the day of the week, events that are going to happen around, etc. In order to do that we had to collect huge amounts of data from the Google KPIs and strip that down, generate compelling stories that are in the Google tone-of-voice and put that in legal packages that then we could push over 3G, to every screen in the city.
At the beginning you are looking at something that is impossible to do. At the first meetings you see the client, the media people being really skeptical. And then everything changes. I worked really close with the Bucharest team on this project and they did an amazing job. As opposed to doing an ad or a campaign we created an experience and I am really proud about that. For me that is the way advertising should be working. It shouldn’t be about what you say, but about what you do and then how to talk about it.
Just the tech team, during the first iteration was made of six people, the second time the same number. The creative team was composed of 12-14 people. But it goes through different stages, because you have the tech team (build the platform, build the tools to allow our people to create that storytelling) and many other components. And here it raises the question of how you create the stories when you don’t have the data behind you and here is where the technology plays its part. Then it’s a creative and copywriting exercise (which is about how do we combine utility with inspiration and make sure that is Google’s tone-of-voice). Then you have the partnership management, which is production and account management that did an amazing job, because the number of partners you have to do media out-of-home is incredible. Managing all the partners, making sure that they all feel ownership over data, everybody is on the same place, is really hard. It’s one thing to do it internally (which we did pretty well), but to do it with partners is really hard. But we love Google and it’s a really good client to work with. Then you have PR and a lot of case studies…
In actual numbers we were managing 170, but because there are some replications that they do, there were counting 200 specific locations. But that actually translates into 1000 screens. In an underground platform, for example, is one location, but you might have around 10 screens. So, we were targeting one location. Just to give you a size feeling, we are generating 3000 unique stories every single day, over 28 days. So that is at about 135.000 different pieces of creative. Nobody has ever done everything like that before. We were the first to actually convert digital out-of-home into a completely dynamic and unique experience, using the same infrastructure, without changing it. It was just innovation. And now, there are a lot of people trying to do the same thing, which is amazing and flattering. I would love for everybody to change the way digital advertising works and build experiences. That is what it’s all about: experiences.
Beats Music is quite interesting, as well, because the music streaming industry is quite saturated and is really difficult to get in. Spotify is one of the greatest out there. We wanted to create a human centric experience. So, machine learning and technology and algorithms are great because you can find a lot of data about what people like, create recommendations and give them back. And then you can have it on mobile, on the web, on different platforms, but it never feels human. We succeeded in making it human centric. And on top of that, we made sure that it’s culturally relevant and moves at the same speed as the culture does. If you don’t have human curators that know about music, know about trends and really good things that you might like and unify those aspects you cannot have the success we had. It’s the human centric aspect of a data driven solution and the connection that makes you closer to the brand. Those really good suggestions and inputs coming from the curators is what makes our product so different and relevant to the consumer.
What I like is what Uber did and how they managed to create an experience that is so seamless and easy, that makes you feel in control. It’s like a dialog of an experience that is so straight forward that everybody right now has those expectations in all kinds of services: music, food, hotels, etc. People are expecting everything to be like that these days. And that is an amazing achievement.
A lot of the experiences you have are not about their quality, but about the expectations you have about them. It’s about transparency and brands need to become more transparent. It’s more about doing then talking about what you do. And also about being very honest and not over selling your product or service.
In Romania, as you know, we have a very good broadband and internet speed, a good mobile penetration. Still, clients seem a little bit reluctant in giving important budgets only on mobile advertising. And even for years we are talking about the “time of mobile advertising” the reality shows we are not there yet. What importance has mobile advertising in the overall R/GA business? And what do you foresee for the Eastern Europe when it comes to mobile advertising?
It’s very difficult to say, because I have my own opinion about what should advertising do. We went from the transition from print to digital and a lot of the times it feels that we are doing exactly the same, in a different medium. “We are printing photos on a web page”. I don’t think that is useful in all the case. For example, Google published this information that about 50 percent of the ad clicks are bought. And that means that have of your budget that goes into web advertising is wasted, because there are no real people interacting with it. It’s like a big lie. You get all these big numbers, but then you realize that half of them are useless. And half is a huge margin.
And then, if you just try to pour that on mobile, I don’t think that is going to work really well. I think that the challenge is how we can transform advertisement in a digital space, on a mobile canvas. That changes the premium culture. In Japan we are used to people spending a lot of time on their mobile phones, at any point. In UK, this is still seen like an attitude a little bit rude (going out with friends and everybody pulling their mobile phones out), but in Japan is seen as a really normal thing to do. You see even the grandparents spending a lot of time on their mobile phones, because they represent a more introspective kind of culture.
In the West we are more extroverted. At the same time I see all this technology that will allow us to connect a lot more with the environment (ex: the beacons – you can contextualize your experiences and use micro-locations, so you get information that is relevant to your target). But by doing that we are actually forcing people to look on their mobile phone day in and day out. In some cases, when you want to have more information about what happens in front of you or you need a certain piece of information I think is really fine and helpful, but a lot of the times it seems like we are putting barriers between us.
A smart way of connection the mobile experience to the web is to think in a certain way: if you still have a connection with a certain brand and you use your mobile phone, what information that you are giving me willingly can I (the brand, the agency) take from you, in order to give you real content, that is relevant to you? And then expand the horizon and do meaningful advertising.
There are many avenues that we can chose. It might be that we have a new, interesting way of doing meaningful advertising within the mobile screen, but I am actually very interesting in how we can use the mobile screen to go out and do more. We are not depending of an out-of-home screen or poster anymore. Things are changing really fast.
I don’t want to see banners on my mobile screen, because my screen is too small. That might work for some, but I believe there are other avenues to approach and use.
The canvas for people to get access to interesting advertising is becoming so accessible that anybody with a good idea and a good way of doing things will get it out-there. I think is important for people to feel empowered and look at the other world and say what they feel it doesn’t work. “What can I do that will make a difference?” It’s not only about understanding your client so I can sell you more stuff, it’s about empowering your customer to be a better person or to have a better experience. I think that the people in Romania are ready to start seeing things differently and taking them to another level.
R/GA is one of the few places where people want to go the extra mile and develop and do something differently. I’ve seen people going from junior positions to amazing senior levels, on super influential positions. The network is really keen on its people getting better and evolving. This is how you get leadership all around the place. And we do it with every office across the network.
Where do you find your inspiration and what do you do when you are stuck, with no idea?
I do a lot of things outside my work. I play bass guitar, I have played in many bands and I remember a great bass player of our times saying that “If you want to innovate and you want to find inspiration, you should give your bass guitar to a piano player and ask him just to play something or do whatever he can and it’s funny that you will inspiration right there”. You will actually see a lot of things that you could do with your bass guitar that you haven’t done before. So, applying that to everything we do, a lot of my inspiration comes from having conversations and explaining my point of view to the strategy or the creative guy in the team. Or any other position in the agency (PR director, Account Director, etc.). The feedback that you receive is what makes you think of things in a different way.
People should always try to see what they do from a different perspective or angle. A lot of times when you get stuck is just about changing the approach.
Have you seen any differences in the Romanian advertising since the last time you were here?
What we have seen is the potential for people to have that mindset and to start applying that to the different aspects of the Romanian culture is really impressive. For example, a lot of these concepts and ideas are embedded in the way we think. I have been working with the Romanian office for three years and the way that I have seen them develop their own version of these concepts and going out of the office and doing even robotics and experiments and sharing the thoughts and the leadership with the local communities it’s a very good sign on how this way of thinking about experiences overall, as opposed to advertising, are actually spreading out. It means that there is a lot of potential for people to come up with disruptive ideas and concepts, not only for the Romanian market, but potentially for the regional and global market.