CNC Agency creates innovation lab to connect AI, experiential content to the physical world

Cutting-edge technological innovation more and more can be the terrain of smaller media or full-service agencies looking to expand their offerings, rather than solely for those that can afford it.

Independent experiential agency Coffee ‘n Clothes, or CNC Agency, recently launched an innovation division on artificial intelligence, augmented reality and other immersive content to combine creative and tech strategies with new types of physical offerings. As a full-service agency that started as an Instagram hashtag in 2014, CNC believes it brings something different to the table with experiential and digital marketing.

It’s just another iteration of the efforts by both holding company shops as well as influencer agencies to differentiate their AI and emerging technology specialties through new offerings and acquisitions or partnerships. With the CNC Innovation Lab formed in January, the agency hoped to explore AI capabilities and develop new forms of physical-first experiences and marketing strategies — “specifically on pushing technological boundaries,” said Ryan Glick, CNC Agency’s founder.

“It’s essentially tailored for brands looking to stand out, offering innovative approaches that truly set them apart from the competition,” Glick said.

The business division will consist of eight pillars: AI, immersive spaces, virtual/mixed reality, augmented reality and Fake Out of Home (FOOH), creative engineering, gaming, wearables, and customer relationship management (focusing on loyalty and community). Particularly with AI, Glick said many conversations with clients revolve around the business problem, rather than the technological challenges.

“I think a lot got burned on Web3, AR and other pieces of technology, so they’re much savvier now in realizing there has to be a great idea that solves a great problem at the heart,” Glick added.

CNC hopes the new business unit will solve some of the challenges between connecting digital and physical content, such as helping a brand go beyond physical events and nearby locations. The agency has been exploring AI’s potential in physical world experiences, whether that is creating immersive and personalized content or brainstorming use cases like using AI to create an imaginary Louis Vuitton pop-up ski resort.

CNC will also aim to combine more of the emerging hardware and digital content in immersive spaces, using tech including projection mapping, VR and mixed reality and robotics. Glick believes the team’s blend of innovation and experimentation helps to develop unique ideas for clients that are ultimately “craving some flexibility.” 

“There’s a perception that anything innovation is going to [be expensive and] be tough to validate to the business,” Glick added.

Client Dylan Abruscato, founder of digital game Crypto and former senior director of brand strategy at Postmates, said CNC was consistent in developing creative ideas that worked across different projects – from “crafting delivery programs for Warner Bros. [to] designing on-demand experiences for Disney.”

Analysts point out that full-service agency partners can offer an advantage here as more clients explore AI and other emerging technologies – especially as they try to go beyond the hype that dominates news around generative AI. Stefanie Beach, founder and CEO of SMB Media Consulting, believes there are a few ways for agencies to stand out, some of which include having customized AI solutions for clients, and being educated in AI privacy and transparency.

“To stand out in the agency space, it’s effective to specialize in specific industries or services, offering tailored solutions and understanding market nuances,” Beach said.

As AI continues to find its right application in the agency world, more agencies are expected to build client-use cases by expanding their focus areas, as CNC has done. Right now the challenge is turning generative AI buzz and experiments into “sold, billable work for agencies,” said Rio Longacre, managing director of advertising and marketing transformation at consultancy Slalom.

Currently many of those tests are used as sales and lead-generation tools by agencies as conversation starters, and a lot of the “sold work” is in machine learning, app development and “other bread-and-butter work agencies have been doing for a long time,” Longacre added.

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