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Mobile Trailblazer: Renny Gleeson, Wieden+Kennedy

  |  November 13, 2012   |  Comments

The first in a series on the trailblazers who pushed toward mobility when most held back.

Mobile is the fastest growing, and most widely adopted media channel of all time. But it hasn't always been perceived that way by agency suits, brand experts, and mass-media marketers. Just as brands were getting into a groove with digital, cellphones went from talk and text to pinch, snap, flick, and zoom. If the Internet revolutionized communications and media, mobile is fulfilling that promise by putting these tools and features into the hands of billions.

Today, mobile is so much more than a device or technology that makes this experience possible. It is a concept, a growing framework of always-connected things. Mobile increasingly drives changes in user experience and interfaces across the digital realm. While the industry at large pays lip service to the opportunities that mobile brings to the game, the channel remains woefully neglected and underserved.

Before the rise of smartphones, mobile marketing and advertising was way out on the fringes. That also holds true for the men and women who embraced mobile early. These trailblazers didn't just cop out and check the box on mobile under their emerging or experimental budgets; they pushed toward mobility while most held back.

Here at ClickZ, we wonder where these Mobile Trailblazers are today. Was it worth the struggle? After going against the grain for so many years, are they finally beginning to see the world they always imagined? These are their stories about all things mobile.

gleesonRenny Gleeson has been leading digital at Portland, Ore.-based Wieden+Kennedy since 2006. ClickZ recently caught up with the agency's global director of interactive strategy to learn more about how he combines his passion for digital marketing with a persistent intrigue and fascination around bleeding-edge technology. "You have to break it to make it in this space," he says. And by following that framework in mobile, he focuses on a central question: "How do you ensure that you're pushing to the edges of what mobility offers?"

ClickZ: When we last spoke about four years ago, I asked what technology you were most interested in, and without hesitation, the first thing on your mind was mobile. Obviously there's been tremendous innovation and trends to follow since then. How has your perception of mobile changed? What trends are driving growth in mobile as a channel today, and what are the most challenging obstacles that still stand in the way?

Renny Gleeson: Back at that point I think mobile used to be a mobile phone. Mobile used to be a channel, but now it represents so much more to brands, and especially consumers. They realize that mobility is not a technology choice. They recognize that it's a lifestyle that now everyone is living. Mobile isn't something we do. It's something that we are.

It's a phenomenon and trend that would be hard to miss when iOS developers are now front-page news in The New York Times. It's become recognized as part of the landscape.

I think human beings gravitate toward things that connect them more. As such, the notion of mobile has changed dramatically. We've gone from thinking about mobile as a place to access the Internet, and into a place where the Internet is everywhere…it's just an expectation.

Putting banner ads on mobile is like making Chiclet-sized versions of what you've already created. If you look at mobile as a continuous part of users' experience in the real world…a human being doesn't go, "now I'm going to access Facebook by mobile so now I'm accessing Facebook via mobile," it's just not the way people act and react.

The sooner we start tackling what role mobility and the Internet being everywhere has on our world, the better off we will be as an industry. I think one of the biggest challenges agencies and brands have in mobile is they try to tackle ad-shaped problems rather than business problems. When you can start to think about how you can use every medium to solve brand-shaped problems, things get a little more interesting.

What brand stories can be told through an Internet-everywhere world? We're just beginning to wrap our heads around it. This is why you need technologists that are pushing the boundaries.

We haven't told the great stories through Internet everywhere…but we will. I think you have to get in, roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty. I don't think we've even gotten a glimpse of what that's going to look like.

CZ: Some say that agencies are still not organized around mobile, and that they are less innovative in this space as a result. Mobile is about so much more than repurposing content or simply squeezing it into a larger campaign. If brands need to look at mobile with a different set of eyes, and avoid integration, why should they choose to work with W+K when they could partner with an agency that's built for mobile from the ground up?

RG: I think mobility as a lifestyle, mobility as a cultural reality is something everybody needs to get better at wrapping their heads around. There was a time when everybody believed you needed to have multiple agencies for each discipline. Each one of those disciplines was viewed in isolation. One of the real challenges in telling stories through it is I think we [agencies] were approaching digital from a very siloed standpoint.

My take on pure-mobile agencies is that I see the value when you're going to go into a production standpoint, when you're very clear about what you're going to execute. What I see getting lost a little bit is the core story. If you're going to have a mobile agency develop your brand experience, it's a little bit like a book where someone else is going to write chapter three. There's an overall arc and I think it's really important that the story you're trying to tell be thought through.

To make integrated marketing work now requires different shaped teams. Different shaped teams make different shaped work. I think one of the most interesting things now is that people are starting to recognize that a brand is a brand wherever it is. There's no hiding.

CZ: How has your general philosophy evolved as it relates to mobile marketing and advertising?

RG: Mobility and technology are driving cultural forces. First-generation mobile thinking was, "well, we need to have ads running on the welcome screen," so you get of course ad inventory and ad networks. Then you get the next-generation thinking of mobile, "we need an app, we need a dedicated app." All of that kind of misses how human beings actually incorporate mobility into their lifestyle.

I think mobility is real challenge for brands to figure out "how do I deliver value wherever my users are?"

There was a time, when TV started out, when people read scripts into the camera. There was a time with each medium when we tried to do the things we knew with previous ones. With mobility we've repeated some of the mistakes we've made in digital before. But I cannot wait; I'm so excited about the new kinds of stories we can tell and the new kinds of stories we can build when everything is connected…there's a reality that more people will see your commercial on a mobile device than on a TV.

We need to be thinking as an industry more creatively about what is mobile and what is a mobile device. The technology that helps us connect will win every time. Mobile just gives us a way to do it better.

I am intrigued and I have always been intrigued by edge behavior and I'm very intrigued by edge use cases of technology. With every new technology and every new adoption cycle, there's the way that creators intended it to be used and then the users determine how they want to use it. I'm inspired to see where this thing is going. We try to organize ourselves around solving brand problems and mobile is playing an increasing role in that.

CZ: Finally, we would like to close each of these features in our series with a simple question - what makes you a mobile trailblazer?

RG: I've always believed that mobility, and the Internet everywhere changes everything. Web advertising came along and we screwed it up using tired magazine proxies…but where mobile technologies and culture collide, it's uncharted territory. "Mobile" is so much more than blasting unsuspecting mobile phones with Chiclet-sized versions of the ads people hated online - it's the chance to fuel new brand experiences for the connected age.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Kapko

Matt Kapko has been writing about mobile since 2006, before it became cool. Based in Long Beach, CA, he has covered mobile entertainment, digital media, marketing, and advertising for several business media outlets. A former editor and reporter for RCR Wireless News, paidContent, and iMedia Connection, Matt is a regular freelance reporter for ClickZ. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattKapko or drop him a line at matt@kapko.co.

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