Finding Big Ideas at R/GA
Q&A with Dawn Winchester,
EVP of Client Services


Founded in 1977, R/GA is the world’s most award-winning interactive agency and has received the top creative awards for film, broadcast and interactive. EVP pf Client Services Dawn Winchester spoke to Inside Branded Entertainment about creating winning campaigns across multiple channels, getting past ad clutter and new trends in advertising.

Where traditional agencies fail in taking command of alternative media, R/GA is succeeding. What is they key to your success?

R/GA is successful because of our unique ability to evolve. Today we are evolving from an interactive agency to a full service marketing communications company with interactive at our core. With all the new ways reach consumers, clients need a new type of agency that is centered in the interactive and new media that can come up with marketing solutions that work online and offline.

To give you a quick overview of how this works, we have structured our agency around client teams of account managers, planners, art directors, copywriters, technologists, user-experience experts, and data experts — all of whom collaborate on the concepts and campaign ideas. So, rather than art directors and copywriters coming up with the “big idea,” everyone on the team partners to do this. Thus the creative process becomes more collaborative and allows for truly big ideas based in the new consumer behavior trends brought about by technology advancements.

The result is campaigns that are actually customer engagement platforms. So rather than just telling a brand story, we aim to create a dialogue between the customer and the brand. We believe this gives our clients a very powerful, transformative marketing approach.

Tell us about your branded entertainment initiatives at R/GA. How are using film, TV, media and other forms of entertainment to get past ad clutter?

Branded entertainment is a vital part of these new customer engagement platforms that we are creating for our clients. It’s clear that consumers are seeking real, meaningful experiences; be they entertaining or informative. Ad effectiveness has decreased because it’s become irrelevant to how consumers look at the world, how they identify with brands, how they go about considering products and services.

To give you an example of something we’ve done recently, we created a customer engagement platform for Nike Women centered on the idea of an interactive music video. It’s based on the insight that music video dance routines are a fun way to inspire women to work out. It�s called the “Nike Rockstar Workout – Hip Hop” and it features Def Jam artist Rihanna. There is a standard, linear music video you can watch online but to make it a true engagement platform we added interactive elements to keep the consumers engaged with the brand even longer.

Since the video is intended to inspire working out, we included interactive instructional videos of the dance moves featuring the choreographer-to-the-stars Jamie King. And there are other interactive elements including a Dance Personality Quiz and community features. We styled Rihanna and all the dancers in Nike gear and added an e-commerce element that allows visitors to shop video. Users can buy the outfits straight from the video – much more dynamic than traditional ecommerce.

Then to really bring the experience to life, the work out is available as a class at 24 Hour Fitness gyms. The campaign created a lot of buzz for Nike. Rihanna even appeared on the TV show Ellen to perform the song and dance moves.

How do you help clients connect with consumers via technologies? We live in a world where available technologies are constantly changing the behaviors of consumers. So strategically we focus on the format (display video, application, etc.) first — not the distribution channel (TV, radio, online). So for us, the idea of creating a “TV campaign” is an outdated approach because take video we and use it across multiple channels such as online broadband experiences, dynamic/digital signage, and mobisodes. Once we have our creative approach determined by format, we then look for the most efficient channels to distribute the experience. Increasingly the most efficient distribution approach is consumer-to-consumer via email, blogs, community sites, SMS, MMS, etc. So to best leverage this dynamic we have to let consumers choose their own preferred technologies.

Last year’s Nike electronic billboard in Times Square, where shoppers dialed commands from their cell phones to customize the footwear featured on the billboard, got a lot of attention in the industry. Can you recap the campaign?

This initiative was part of a larger customer engagement platform for Nike called NikeiD. At the core is a technology application that allows consumers to customize Nike products. We built this application to be available through multiple technologies and channels including online, store kiosks, in IM environments and — as you point out — on a Times Square sign.

Passerbys in Times Square were invited to use their wireless phone to call a toll-free number featured on the huge 23-story Reuters digital sign.

Callers were given 60 seconds to design Nike athletic shoes on the Reuters sign in real-time by simply pushing buttons on their cellphone keypad. At the end of their session, they were sent an SMS message with a link to a WAP site, where they could download a wallpaper of the shoe they designed directly to their phone. They also received a personal identification number that allowed them to go to the Nike iD website to buy the exact shoe they designed.

Consumers were so excited with the opportunity to interact with one of the landmark signs in Times Square. It was incredible. I saw one woman jumping up and down shouting “That’s my shoe.”

We were able to develop such an idea because of our collaborative agency team structure where technology experts are part of the creative team. Additionally, since we initially built the technology that runs the Reuters sign, we’re really in a good position to fully explore the possibilities of the sign.

Can you give us some other specific examples of non traditional campaigns you are currently working on?

One of our clients that is really embracing branded entertainment is Verizon because rich content and experience communicates the power of Verizon broadband far more than traditional advertising could.

Last year we launched “Broadband Stories,” which is an extension of their ongoing “Richer. Deeper Broader” campaign. The site, features videos created and submitted by real Verizon customers telling interesting, fun stories on how they use broadband to enrich their lives and fulfill their passions. Verizon then took that concept a step further by sponsoring a branded entertainment film competition with NYU and The Tisch School. Teams made up of students from Tisch and NYU�s Stern School of Business submitted short-film concepts that creatively portrayed the transformational power of broadband. Three winning teams were given grants to create their short films which can now be seen at

Clients are demanding more than the 30-second spot. What do agencies need to revamp and channel new creativity in advertising?

I think traditional agencies have a very big challenge: they need to reconsider what the “big idea” is now. It’s no longer about catchy punchlines and jingles but about engaging consumers, connecting them and giving them valuable content and experiences — whether that be a customized shoe, a game, a music video, an online community or podcast. To do that, creatives in the industry need to get out of the ivory tower thinking and involve a larger team as we do on the creative concepting. Nike iD was transformational for Nike and would never have been realized in a traditional agency model.

What is R/GA exploring now and what you think is next for the ad industry?

One area that we haven’t discussed is retail. In the future, we think technology is going to play a huge role in the retail environment. The more and more people shop online, the more they are used to having rich consideration tools available at the point of purchase. One day these same research tools and user reviews will be available at the retail environment — likely from your mobile device. It’s already reality in Japan with the proliferation of quick-response codes. In the US, we are a bit behind but soon we will have similar technology and that will really revolutionize the consumer’s “at-shelf” decision.