In case you had any doubt that agencies are looking to become known as much for inventing products as creating ads, French agency Buzzman has launched sister agency Productman, a "business invention studio" dedicated to helping brands create new products and services.
Buzzman was founded in 2006 by president/ECD Georges Mohammed-Chérif and has offices in Paris and Dubai. It leaped to international attention in 2010, with a Tipp-Ex campaign featuring a subservient hunter. Currently best known for producing snarky ads for Burger King, it's also developed a reputation for building campaigns that revolve around the "invention" of new products.
The most notable was its "Last Square" campaign for Milka in 2013, where people could purchase a chocolate bar with a missing square. (They could either opt to get their "last square" back, or give it away.) Ten million Milka bars in Europe were modified to accommodate the execution.
And in an inversion on that idea, it recently worked with Burger King to sell fries, one at a time.
But single-unit spinoffs aren't the only card Buzzman plays. It created the Showerbox (for binge-watching Canalplay TV while scrubbing) and a coffee brand for on-demand service Canalplay, as well as a condom delivery service for Durex in the Middle East. In essence, Productman enables the agency to develop an already-established path.
In an interview with Adweek, Buzzman's Georges Mohammed-Chérif, and head of digital and innovation François Phan, explained Productman in more detail.
"We realized that the power of a product can be used as a communication vector when we created campaigns like Milka Last Square and the Showerbox for Canal+," said Mohammed-Chérif and Phan. "As an agency, we have enough background and feedback on our clients' business. We understand consumers and we are tied to those who make tomorrow's technologies."
Drawing inspiration from French and Silicon Valley startups who "move fast, break things" and fight traditional marketing tropes, the Productman team say their process follows three steps:
- Observing and analyzing market behavior to determine an unmet need.
- Combining a "melting pot of the best creatives, designers and engineers to find and prototype solutions during a 5-week process" (labeled a "hackathon" on the website).
- Presenting a final product or service to the client for distribution or production.
The founders describe Productman as being "like a startup studio." They say that it's vital agencies become central to the product development and production process or else risk becoming obsolete.
Clearly other agencies are on board with this evolution. BETC, also based in Paris, recently created an upside-down can to get Orangina drinkers to mix their pulp, and it seems like everybody's making sneakers lately. Crispin Porter + Bogusky has largely staked its future on product development, whether with clients or on its own, creating everything from surfwear to high-end rum.
But past agencies that systematically combined creative and technical talents to make products or services, like SapientNitro and AKQA, sometimes struggled to live up to their growing reputations over time—probably because they were promising enough to be acquired. SapientNitro, whose parent Sapient was acquired last year by Publicis, pivoted to more classically creative approaches. Following his agency's purchase by WPP, AKQA worldwide chief creative officer Rei Inamoto left to launch his own "business invention studio," which is conceptually similar to Productman.
Productman currently has three projects in development, including one for Ubisoft, though the agency wouldn't provide further details. The Ubisoft concept is expected to go public this September.