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As in-person gatherings return, DDB North America triples down on an 'experience' team

The agency recently put together a brand experience team that functions as part of its larger creative group.
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Right to Left: Ari Weiss, Lucia Grillo, Christine Lane, and Justin Thomas-Copeland (DDB)

· 4 min read

Last month, DDB North America announced three new senior hires for its innovation and experience team. The word choice—“experience,” not “experiential”—is deliberate, said DDB’s Head of Experience Christine Lane, who joined the company from McCann, where she served as SVP executive director of innovation and worked on projects like the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street.

So what’s the difference, anyway, between “experience” and “experiential”?

“‘Experiential’ generally refers to events in specific locations, and only a handful of people are going to be able to interact with it physically,” Lane told Marketing Brew. “But ‘experience’ means that we can show up in any [medium], whether that’s digital or physical.”

As people step back into the real world and brands rush to meet them there, DDB’s experience and innovation team is hoping to help by leaning even further into those in-person and hybrid experiences and taking a small step away from the digital-only experiences of the past couple of years.

Putting together a team

Lane’s new team, which also includes Melissa Hochman, group director of experience strategy, and Rock Darlington, group executive producer, reports to Lucia Grillo, the chief integration officer for North America, and exists as a discipline within the creative group, Grillo said.

According to President and CEO of DDB North America Justin Thomas-Copeland, DDB offered experiential capabilities long before these latest hires. The new group is meant to “triple down” on that work now that in-person activities have largely returned.

For instance, the team recently built a “sampling event” in Los Angeles for Starburst that took place in a “giant bodega bouncy castle, where everything is made of inflatables,” Global Chief Creative Officer Ari Weiss told us.

Photo of Starburst popup store market

Photo: DDB

DDB also constructed Miller Lite’s Super Bowl-adjacent experience campaign, a virtual bar in the metaverse on the platform Decentraland.

Weiss said that nine times out of 10, clients don’t specify in their briefs that they’d like to do an experience-based campaign. Instead, he said, his team is usually presented with a budget, timeline, and targets to meet.

“Then we dig in and we find that unexpected solution that will hopefully make that investment worth it tenfold,” Weiss said. “A lot of that these days happens to be experiential.”

Once Weiss’s creative team sees the brief and decides that an experience could be on deck, they tap the innovation and experience team to be “deployed like a SWAT team,” Grillo said.

From there, they establish goals for the experience with the client. Those goals differ depending on the business challenges, Thomas-Copeland said, but most often they have to do with growth.

“It’s always growth,” Weiss added. “They don’t come back to us and give us more money to do it again if the first time didn’t make them more money. It’s why we're seeing the opportunity to do more and more of these [experiences], because the return is there.” As a result, clients like Mars and Molson Coors “keep coming back with bigger and bigger budgets.”

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Mars is a prime example: DDB’s early work for its Skittles brand was “really small,” Weiss said, compared to what would come next.

In 2018, the agency was responsible for the Skittles Super Bowl ad. The spot made news not because of a grand experience, but because it was only ever seen by one person (which was by design). Weiss described it as “really breakthrough,” and the brand seems to have agreed.

The next year, Skittles commissioned a 30-minute Broadway musical from DDB for its Super Bowl-adjacent campaign. The production, which starred Michael C. Hall, was accompanied by a playbill, merch, and an original cast recording on Spotify, Weiss said. Tickets to the one-time show sold out within 72 hours of being announced, according to DDB.

On the heels of the success of that campaign, other clients like Molson Coors asked for similar experiences for their brands, Weiss said, and DDB started to do more and more on that front.

That work looks different in the wake of the pandemic, but the interest hasn’t changed, and DDB’s innovation and experience team plans to capitalize.

Together with Vimeo

Curious how the best campaigns come to life? Join Vimeo’s Outside the Frame event on April 27, from 11am to 2pm ET. Keynotes, behind-the-scenes looks, and marketing debates will shine a spotlight on what goes into the industry’s best work—and how you can fuel creativity in your own campaigns. Register here.

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