The IPG Media Lab on West 33rd St. is like a mini-Consumer Electronics Show on the doorstep of New York’s Penn Station. Opened four months ago in New York, after a nine-year run in L.A., it provides IPG Mediabrands clients and partner agencies with a hands-on survey of the latest personal gadgets, interactive displays, wearable devices, embedded retail tech, and set-top boxes.
But unlike CES, the Media Lab exists not only to paint the future’s picture for each guest, but to translate the tangle of technology into a strategic marketing plan.
“We’re not here to just dazzle,” says David Rosenberg, who runs the IPG Media Lab along with partner Chad Stoller. “Typically we have a brief and we know what the challenges are, so everything will be curated and customized.”
Even the signage changes depending on which IPG agency or client is breezing through.
Rosenberg recently gave ClickZ a 45-minute tour of the Lab, a whirlwind compared to the typical two to three hour client visit. Both Rosenberg and Stoller are seasoned digital agency guys with years logged in emerging media roles – Rosenberg at JWT and Stoller at BBDO and Organic.
The Media Lab employs 15 full-time staff and boasts “500 vetted emerging technologies and platforms.” Some of those platforms have participation in Mediabrand’s investment arm, Velociter, but most have no monetary ties to the agency network.
Among the gadgets and digital baubles Lab visitors will see:
- A tool that uses WiFi connections to measure people walking outside Media Lab’s front door. When someone comes in, that action is treated as a “conversion.” In addition to being a nifty tool, the idea has a clear application for storefront marketers.
- A “mobile bar” with QR codes, near field communication (NFC) apps, and other uses. Rosenberg says, “It’s inevitable that NFC will take off. There’s too much momentum behind it, and the frictionless tapping versus the download of a QR reader.”
- A facial recognition camera for retail locations. A small camera embedded in a store shelf can guess a visitor’s mood by reading facial expressions. “Unlike a focus group, your face doesn’t lie. The ability to use this as part of a retail case study is interesting,” said Rosenberg.
- Life-sized video chat. This installation enables face-to-face customer interactions near product displays. What brands might benefit? Think Blackberry and other advertisers that struggle to sell products at the shelf level.
- A 3D video display that doesn’t require glasses. Rosenberg: “It’s good for outdoor, but you can only look at it for about 20 seconds.”
- A camera built for ski helmets that plots the wearer on a real-time map and tracks your position and performance against friends in a social context.
- Health data measurement tools such as Fitbit. Rosenberg: “You can’t advertise on a Fitbit but you can take the information from a Fitbit and create a tool, service, or product that might appeal to a bunch of people.”
- An interactive mirror. Developed by the Media Lab, this item lets people buy items straight from a dressing room.
- A digital living room installation, with TV, gaming, and social content streamed through the Xbox alongside Roku and Boxee devices. “This is how people are behaving. We can’t make people watch what we create. All we can do is try to fit into their lives.”
After all this, it’s almost a relief to learn that the kitchen at the end of the tour is an ordinary kitchen. No connected refrigerators or socially enabled spice racks here.
Rosenberg and Stoller don’t focus too much on the individual technologies, preferring to paint a big picture. “It may start outdoor, as you walk through the door, as you shop, as you connect into the loyalty programs. We’re more focused on the entirety of the experience.”
“We’re just here to say, this is what’s happening in the world. What are we gonna do about it?”
In the short video below, Rosenberg demonstrates a handful of emerging retail technologies and discusses IPG Media Lab’s broad vision and its approach to working with partner agencies:
His main point, often reiterated, is that the Lab is not doing its job unless a client comes away with actionable campaign ideas.
Microsoft’s corporate VP of advertising sales, Frank Holland, agrees that’s the Media Lab’s key strength. After a recent tour, he said, “They’ve done a smart job business-wise of pulling a story together. So many of those things are just show and tell.”