At first glance, Bud Caddell seems a budding ad agency superstar. He works at Deutsch LA and has popped up on lists like Business Insiders’ “30 Most Creative People in Advertising Under 30,” The Guardian’s “10 Digital Strategists to Watch in 2013” and “The Adweek 50.” Here’s the thing: Caddell doesn’t really like advertising, at least how it’s currently done. And that’s why advertising needs more people like him.
“I’m exhausted by the glut of garbage that passes as advertising,” Caddell wrote on his blog in May 2012. “I’m frustrated by this industry and by the clients that ask for this work.”
And so Caddell has set about to change that. He’s the svp of invention and digital strategy at Deutsch LA, where he arrived two years ago. He came on board after a two-year stint at digital strategy shop Undercurrent and a brief stay at crowdsourcing agency Victor & Spoils. For Caddell, working in advertising was something of a tour through the dark side. He has long advocated, on his blog and elsewhere, for brands to think differently about how to build their brands. In his new role, he has the chance to do something about that.
“Invention is just a different muscle in the agency so that we can come back with ideas that don’t look and smell like advertising,” explained Caddell. “The goal is to get clients to reach outside of their comfort zone.”
Still, it’s no easy task getting traditional clients — and other advertising people for that matter — to get uncomfortable. But what Caddell has been doing seems to be getting people’s attention.
Deutsch LA brought Caddell on board ensure it was walking the walk when it comes to invention. Winston Binch, partner and chief digital officer at the firm, first reached out to Caddell — who had been recommended by many friends and colleagues — for a simpler digital strategist position.
“It was clear from our first meeting that his skills and interests extended well beyond digital strategy,” said Binch. “He could write, code, design, and wanted to build things that didn’t fit in the comfortable mode of traditional advertising.” So they created the the director of invention position just for him.
Since joining Deutsch LA, Caddell has taken to running strategy and social for all of the agency’s accounts as well as managing the agency’s invention arm, Invention.ist, which is made up of a small team of four.
“In some ways, we are a startup; every six months we change and move in a new direction, and I’ve learned from working at startups that it’s OK — you have to learn to change,”said Caddell.
Caddell left Undercurrent when it hit 20 people in 2010 because, at the time, he felt that was too big for him — he’s had to adjust his idea of “too big” since moving to a large ad agency. Later at Victor and Spoils, he learned that wrangling large groups of people isn’t how he likes to work. As he put it, “the drawback of the crowdsourcing model is that you are running a crowd of 100 people — it’s not scalable; you can’t manage more than one project at once.”
The Invention.ist model, at least in the initial stages, is meant to be simple, affordable and transparent for clients. It costs $10,000 as a minimum fee to work with Bud and his invention team for five days to get a deck full of ideas. From there, clients can take things to the next stages of actually coming up with and producing a new product, either in a 45-day “cycle” or a six-month “deep dive,” depending on their budgets.
“A lot of clients see experimentation as risk; they know how to buy a TV spot,” said Caddell. “This [model] is meant to be a way to make it easier to work with us, to get off to a cheap and fast start.”
For clients on tighter budgets, Caddell looks for ways to slice the budget thinly and do things more experimentally. For example, for Pop Secret, a smaller client that needed to compete against Orville Redenbacher’s stronghold on movie theater popcorn, Caddell and his team created “Pop Secret Labs.” The initiative included a handful of fun apps — like mobile app Perfect Pop, which tells you when your popcorn is done popping in the microwave — that positioned Pop Secret as the popcorn of choice for at-home movie viewing and online video streaming.
“For their $6 million budget, you could do one TV spot for four months in the summer or an always-on social campaign and new digital services and products,” said Caddell.
For larger clients with sizable budgets who go for the “deep dive” into invention, Caddell’s not afraid of going big. When Volkswagen came to Caddell and his team with a willingness to take some risks, he cooked up an entire site redesign to improve the online car-shopping experience. He also helped it forge a partnership with Google to create SmileDrive, a social app that connects people’s smartphones to their cars via Bluetooth to help annotate and share their driving adventures.
The goal may be to push clients a bit, but Caddell is nothing if not pragmatic. He introduced a tradition called “Beer Testing” on Fridays, where his team puts whatever they are working on in front of regular people, gives them some adult refreshments, and asks what they think. Caddell said they often find they are pushing “too far out there” for regular folks, so they have to adjust accordingly.
Ultimately, whatever they make has to be something people actually understand – want to share. Caddell has proven adept at knowing what people want, even in his spare time: This painting he did of Internet meme “Keyboard Cat” went for $1000 on eBay.
Binch told Digiday he has so far been happy with the job Caddell has done at demystifying invention while continuing to push it forward. Many people questioned invention and its place at the agency in the beginning; it’s become more integrated into the way Deutsch LA works.
“We kind of want him to challenge the conventional thinking that we have sometimes — that’s a benefit to any creative organization,” said Binch. “He has firm opinions and they change, and he can be outspoken, and that adds a lot to the culture. You have to be willing to have change agents in your building.”
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