FUSION experiment nears its Grand Finale

The Irish Times’ FUSION programme is an experiment with start-ups to define a new wave of digital advertising experience

Early days: Kevin O’Sullivan (front, right), editor of The Irish Times, at the launch of The Irish Times FUSION start-up digital advertising initiative with members of the 20 start-up companies involved, and competition judges and organisers. photograph: alan betson

Early days: Kevin O’Sullivan (front, right), editor of The Irish Times, at the launch of The Irish Times FUSION start-up digital advertising initiative with members of the 20 start-up companies involved, and competition judges and organisers. photograph: alan betson

 

The Irish Times’ FUSION programme, an experiment with startups to define a new wave of digital advertising experience, will conclude shortly. Johnny Ryan explains the concept behind the experiment.

Advertising’s historic pivot point

An understandable malaise in ad agencies surrounds all things digital. Low revenues on the one hand and a new answerability to metrics on the other are accompanied by a sense that digital formats remain largely underdeveloped, and that new, possibly unwelcome, surprises await. This is a moment of uncertainty. But it is also an opportunity to build an entirely new avant-garde.

The advertising and branding industry is at a historical pivot point between the established print and video formats, which are “flat” in the sense that they are looked upon or heard, and new digital formats, which are “experiences” in the sense that they are used rather than merely observed. The stars of this new experience-building avant-garde will be engineers and inventors. As the impact of the advertising engineer/inventor grows, the advertisement will begin to look more like a product in its own right, much as some advertisements came to be identified as art in their own right over a century ago.

Coopting the engineer at the right hand of the art director requires a radical shift in thinking. Advertising has form in embracing the new. In the 1920s, for example, advertisements were quick to exploit the work of the surrealist artists, employing them to call to the consumer’s subconscious. The industry was quick to recognize the emergence of the teenage consumer in the late 1950s.

This latest shift can be made by pairing advertising “creative” and agencies with tech startups.

Video

Video

The relationship benefits both parties. The startup brings new, compelling experiences to the market. Some of these may provide new and unexpected channels for brand messages. Yet the startup must reach consumers, and has limited funds to do so. The ad industry, which commands market penetration, can solve this problem. The startup must learn the correct market fit, validating its offering through feedback from users and accumulated metrics. Established industry players can facilitate this and become master of metrics in the process.

Irish Times FUSION is an experiment to match the energy of the startup community with the market access of the branding and advertising industry. We are working with startups whose focus is not on new advertising solutions per se, but all varieties of new, compelling experiences for end-users. Digital products created by startups to be compelling in their own right may have more traction with a user then an advertisement than was produced solely to convince someone to buy something.

For example, Sian’s Plan is a startup that helps housekeepers to cut cost and improve overall nutrition by simplifying meal planning. It’s the kind of tool that, once used, can keep one returning every day for recipes, shopping lists, and so on. Get Health, a service that tracks a users diet, exercise, and social activity, is an ingenious way to remind users to treat themselves better, and will engage with enthusiasts on a regular basis through out the day. ParkYa, an app that assists a driver in the search for parking spaces, and then streamlines payment and reminders, is another such service that is compelling in its own right, but when paired with a brand could be a new and interesting form of digital advertisement.

In 1994, almost twenty years ago, The Irish Times was one of the first half-dozen newspapers in the world to launch an online edition. Recapturing that spirit of invention, and leading the advertising industry toward a more engaging and rewarding digital future is critical. The FUSION experiment is a key step toward defining the next wave of advertising.

The Next Step for FUSION

So far this experiment is paying off. Twenty startups were shortlisted from over 100 entries to enter The Irish Times’ building in early May. Within a week the twenty were culled to a final ten by an industry panel of Ireland’s senior media buyers. Among the judges was Steve Latham of The Cannes Lions, the premier festival of the global advertising industry. Speaking after the pitches Latham said, “I can definitely see these ideas on stage at Cannes as potential Lion winners”.

Now, the ten startups are working toward the Grand Finale on 14 June, when they will pitch leaders of the global media and advertising world including senior representatives from La Stampa, The Financial Times, The Boston Globe, Contagious, and WAN-IFRA, the world association of news publishers, which includes some 18,000 publications and 13,000 websites.

In 2012, half a year before FUSION The Irish Times ran its first startup experiment, called The Irish Times Digital Challenge. Since its original startup program other media organizations including The New York Times and BBC Worldwide have launched their own incubator programmes.

More about Irish Times FUSION at http://www.irishtimesidealab.com.

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