On Rori DuBoff’s first day as Chief Innovation Officer of the advertising agency TBWAChiatDay New York, she found a bag on her desk that read, “Thank you for disrupting.”
The New York-based agency, the US Division of TBWA Worldwide, is known for high-profile campaigns with clients like Adidas, Hilton, Mountain Dew, Nissan, and more. It hired DuBoff in June as its first-ever Chief Innovation Officer.
The premise of putting disruptive innovation at the forefront of her work excited DuBoff deeply. She still keeps the bag in her office, several months later. (Thank You for Disrupting is also the title of a book by TBWA Worldwide’s chairman, Jean-Marie Dru.)
“I had this moment where I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. I’ve been working for all these years, and I finally hit a place where that’s what they want me to do,'” DuBoff said. “That’s the philosophy of the agency — how do you get past the conventions and the status quo, and start doing things in different ways that actually have impact?”
DuBoff’s Role at TBWAChiatDay New York
DuBoff previously worked at Accenture, Havas Media Group, and Ogilvy. At TBWA, she does not have a dedicated innovation team working under her. But she reports to the CEO, Nancy Reyes, and works in close partnership with other senior leadership to assess how the organization can more effectively innovate as a whole.
“What I’m trying to figure out here is, how do we fuse innovation into all different areas of the agency? It’s not that I won’t develop a team over time, but the idea wasn’t to come in and create this isolated little group. The idea was to understand how the agency is currently working, and how [we can] grow in all different areas — not just one,” she said.
Disruption, to me, means that you’re constantly challenging and questioning and probing, to keep figuring out the pathway forward.
DuBoff said during her first few months at the agency, she has focused on getting the lay of the land — meeting colleagues in strategy, marketing, creative, and other departments. She said she has also met with TBWA Worldwide’s Chief Innovation Officer, Luke Eid, who is based in Sydney, Australia, to understand the work that the global agency has done in other markets.
Disruption is a common buzzword, often wrapped around emerging technologies, new marketing tactics, and major industry or business model shifts. But for DuBoff and her colleagues, disruption is about continually asking questions and challenging standard operating procedure.
“Disruption, to me, means that you’re constantly challenging and questioning and probing, to keep figuring out the pathway forward. … The world is changing. We’re constantly in flux. And if you want to be an innovator, you can never stop. You have to keep pushing forward and keep questioning and challenging and uncovering,” she said.
Emerging Technologies in Advertising
DuBoff said she sees artificial intelligence and a movement from 2D technology and content (designed for flat screens) to 3D technology and content (designed for digital worlds) as areas of opportunity for innovating in advertising. 3D models, avatars, and assets will become increasingly important, she predicts.
“It’s going to be amazing when we have augmented reality, [where] you can pull up a 3D image on your phone and put it into a room in front of you,” DuBoff said. “[Using 3D technology] makes sense, because that’s how we live. But the media we’ve been around for so long has been screen-based and flat.”
DuBoff said she has experimented with AI apps like DALL·E and Midjourney, both of which allow users to enter text and have an image created by AI.
Before joining TBWAChiatDay New York, DuBoff said she spent five years working on metaverse projects at Accenture Interactive.
“[I’m] trying to dispel the the myths [and] the fear factor associated with the metaverse, because it really is just an evolution of the Internet. I think it’s amazing how scary it can sound for people who don’t understand what it is, so [I’ve done] a lot of education around that, so that it’s a space that people feel comfortable starting to ideate,” she said.
Challenges Facing Advertising
DuBoff said that many advertisers and their agencies are struggling to develop the right strategy for complex new technologies and commerce platforms, like social media, e-commerce, gaming, and the metaverse.
“Just being present in these environments is not enough to meet the expectations of today’s discerning and diverse consumers. To have impact, brands need to play by new rules of engagement that are consumer led. User-centric experiences designed around inclusivity, authenticity, trust and value are at the forefront of these experiences,” said DuBoff.
TBWAChiatDay seeks to understand incoming cultural changes to help the brands it works with to identify innovative growth opportunities. DuBoff said TBWA Worldwide’s cultural intelligence unit, Backslash, helps the agency to anticipate those trends. The unit has more than 300 “Culture Spotters,” who observe trends, and use strategy, journalism, and data to help the agency forecast trends and create client opportunities.
Advice for Innovators
DuBoff shared three pieces of advice for innovators looking to shake things up.
1. Think macro — the bigger picture is important.
She said understanding that innovation happens in multiple ways can be vital to an organization.
“Sometimes people think of the person in the room who does innovation as the person who’s gonna have ideas that aren’t connected to reality, or they’re going to have ideas that are very technical. It’s very important to … think of the bigger picture, and not just isolate, because innovation can happen in so many different formats,” DuBoff said.
2. Develop thick skin.
DuBoff said being a strong, successful innovator can often generate conflict, but that in order to make progress, innovators have to be able to weather that discomfort.
“One thing I’ve noticed throughout my career is that you’re never going to be the majority,” she said. “Because if you are, then are you really doing innovation? You’re going to create friction wherever you go, and that’s a good thing, because that means that you’re actually pushing the boundaries.”
3. Become your organization’s ‘lead user.’
DuBoff said that she focuses on trying out whatever she is suggesting might be relevant or strategic for the organization. She said she has purchased VR headsets, downloaded apps, read countless articles, gone to exhibitions, and more. She said as she explores technologies like the metaverse, AI, and 3D rendering, she continually experiments with technologies.
“So much of this new future role of innovation is experiential. If you haven’t experienced it yourself, it’s very hard to talk about it from an authentic perspective,” she said.
Where Innovation is Moving
DuBoff said that over the course of her career, she has watched innovation activities in the advertising industry become less siloed, and more pervasive.
“When I was younger, the industry was very siloed and [roles were very defined]. It was like, ‘You are a strategist; you are a creative, you are in technology,'” she said. “We’ve made so much progress… but I do think that there’s more to go. I think that if we want innovation to actually be more than an add on, it needs to have a place at the table.”
She said that a key role for innovation leaders to play is continually nudging their organization, and their colleagues, away from its traditional comfort zones.
“The point [of innovation] is to just really get people out of their comfort zones,” she said. “There are so many companies that are just doing the same thing over and over. That’s why innovation is becoming more important.”