Straight Talk from TribalDDB and AKQA at Advertising Week

At some of the better Advertising Week panels, the traditional media folks won’t pull punches while sitting with the tech crowd.

“We are not in the business of luck,” said Paul Gunning, TribalDDB CEO, this morning. “The startups are really smart people, but they also got lucky…. We mitigate. We don’t want risk.”

With the comments, Gunning on Tuesday was essentially addressing a two-fold issue.

First, his Fortune 50 clients will have little-to-no desire to significantly shift traditional dollars to digital platforms – the ones not named Facebook or Google, at least – until they achieve much better scale. Second, pushing online and offline campaigns out the door at so-called digital speed is overrated when investing more time on testing will yield more sales.

“We’ve seen brands rush to get something out,” the CEO said,” and their [audience] punished them for it.”

Gunning was paneling with execs from AKQA, BuzzFeed, Prehype, and Google for a session dubbed, “Do Agencies Need to Think Like Tech Companies?” At one point, Henrik Werdelin, partner of marketing technology start-up Prehype, asked Gunning if failure can be a good for a company.

“No, we hate failure,” Gunning replied. “[TribalDDB] is not a culture of failing fast and learning from it…and all those good things…. Some of these brands have been working 80 years to establish their relationships with consumers. You cannot screw that up.”

During the panel, AKQA chief creative officer Rei Inamoto followed Gunning’s blunt comments with a few keeping-it-real moments of his own.

“I’ve said this before, and it’s gotten me in trouble,” he said. “There’s a lot of money in mediocrity.”

With the economy down and the need for innovation at a premium, people gathering in New York this week would likely rather focus on the glittery promise of new media platforms. With that in mind, Inamoto also delivered the account of launching a successful Heinken iPhone/Facebook app for European soccer fans.

At the same time, he said, it “took 20 months to get out the door. It died several times in the year-and-a-half it took [to get the app off the ground].”

Compared to traditional advertising ideas like taglines, he said, “It’s a pain in the ass to sell these kinds of ideas [to clients].”

To varying degrees, the panelists concurred that advertising and tech are converging when it comes to creative and developers. Though some were clearly not afraid to do a little buzz-killing when it comes to the status of digital media on the marketing landscape.

“We are not too obsessed with the code part,” Gunning said. “We are obsessed with the consumer part.”

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed president Jon Steinberg warned the budding start-up entrepreneurs in the crowd about approaching the advertising world too quickly. Figure out what you offer marketers first, he said.

“You can’t disrupt if you don’t know what you are disrupting,” Steinberg said.

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