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Meet the Technologists: Alan Parker


Energy BBDO’s chief innovation officer speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about why AR is undervalued, how he identifies useful innovations, and facing challenges with an open mind and heart

Meet the Technologists: Alan Parker

An innovator and transformation specialist with experience working across the world, Alan Parker has been chief innovation officer at Energy BBDO in Chicago for four and a half years. Here, and at his former agencies - including MullenLowe, Golin, Ogilvy and more - he has planned and implemented transformation plans and product innovations for some of the world’s most notable brands, such as Bayer, Brown-Forman, LinkedIn, Lenovo, Unilever and Ernst & Young.

After two decades of experience with sectors like CPG, alcohol, automotive, fashion, gaming and technology, he has developed a passion for overcoming challenges - ‘the bigger, the better’ - and enjoys pushing boundaries when finding solutions with his team. 

LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with Alan to discuss his approach to creative tech and why the only thing better than innovation is applied innovation.

LBB> You’ve worked at Ogilvy in Australia, MullenLowe in London, and now BBDO in Chicago - what have you learnt from this international experience in the industry? 

Alan> If someone told me that I would get to live and work on three different continents when I was young, I wouldn’t have believed them. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve been able to work for some great agencies, some great clients and some very talented people. I think the biggest takeaway for me is how truly diverse we are as a people, but also how quickly we can silo ourselves in our own culture, and ways of working and thinking. The experience has taught me to bring an open mind and heart to each challenge, to push the conventions, and seek out the best way to meet those challenges.    

LBB> In the mid-2000s you specialised in digital and technology at places like Burson-Marsteller (now BCW) and Golin - what drew you to this side of the business? 

Alan> I actually started to specialise in digital when I was working for a youth marketing team within an agency, predominantly because that’s where the agency decided digital work should be done! But, I’ve always been a bit of a geek and loved gadgets and new technology from a very young age, so moving into digital, innovation and transformation always appealed to me. I love being involved in new ways of doing things, experimenting with new technology, and pushing the boundaries around our work.   

LBB> Chief innovation officer can be a role that varies depending on where you work - what does your day-to-day look like and how has your role changed in the last 4.5 years at BBDO? 

Alan> No day looks the same! My responsibilities are actually very focused, but the subject matter tends to be broad and varied. It’s my responsibility to drive innovation and transformation for the agency and our clients, and that can be in the form of new capabilities, thinking, ways of working, or processes. The complexity comes from the different sectors, technologies, disciplines, and subjects that span AI, AR, VR, content automation, DCO, commerce, performance marketing, data strategy, martech, adtech and so on…

LBB> What sorts of clients and briefs do you get most excited about and why? 

Alan> Personally, it’s when there’s a clear business objective to achieve. When you start there, you can work with the full innovation and transformation toolbox and develop a solution bespoke to the client and the objective. It also means that we can think expansively about the challenge and are free to build something using some of the most exciting technology and solutions. 

LBB> What have been the most successful deployments of creative technology that made you proud recently? 

Alan> As the son of an engineer, I love solutions that help us create scalable systems and learning agendas such as Adylic’s ‘Orca’ platform. We’ve built a number of scalable design systems, and using the Orca platform to automate has helped us build learning and optimisation plans to constantly push our understanding of the performance further. I’ve also been lucky enough to work on some very cool activations using tech such as a branded chatbot on Tinder, a live concert on YouTube, and an hour-long, multi-level gaming experience. 

LBB> What are some innovations or new creative tech that is emerging right now which gets you excited? Or alternatively, what are some older ones that still impress you to this day? 

Alan> AR is very exciting for me and I don’t think it gets enough attention. The fact that the functionality is in the palm of our hands means there isn’t really a barrier in terms of hardware, just usage. AI is obviously fascinating, but I don’t think we’ve seen it used as a disruptive innovation yet. The two biggest players, Google and Microsoft, are predominantly talking about its use in search and integrating it into their respective browsers, which is cool, but is actually a sustaining innovation. I also think that some of the work being done in commerce by players like Amazon and Meta is also very interesting, especially some of the engagement functionality Amazon is implementing in its CTV units.

LBB> What do you find is the most useful resource or area of knowledge to draw upon in your work? 

Alan> I look everywhere. Innovation is literally happening all around us – my wife rigging-up a new piece of exercise equipment to target a certain muscle group for a client, or Amazon figuring out how to virtually swap out products for brand placements. Innovation is inherently scrappy, so some of the best inspiration tends to come from people just trying to figure out how to solve a real problem: the McDonald brothers and the ‘Speedee’ system, the evolution of the mini-mill, or the Virtual Yellow 1st & Ten line – which has been around for over 20 years and is, in fact, AR.  

LBB> When the landscape is changing quickly, how do you focus your energy on certain areas of innovation? When there’s still a lot up in the air, like with the metaverse and other emerging tech, how do you know when you can really commit to something? 

Alan> I tend to break it down into two areas.  The first bucket is things I need to know and understand, and the second is things I need to know, understand and implement. I am a huge fan of the ‘Innovators’ series written by Clayton Christensen, and in those books, he talks about the perils of ‘inventing jobs for consumers to do. There have been countless high-profile and costly mistakes where new technology invented ‘jobs’ for consumers to do, with consumers roundly rejecting them because they have no interest in adding to their already busy lives. 

When evaluating new technology, I do so by analysing the ‘jobs’ they can help everyday people do – if there aren’t any immediate jobs that the tech helps with, or it’s actually inventing a job, then it goes into the things I need to know and understand bucket. If I can see the job it’s doing - or could be doing - for consumers, then it goes into the things I need to know, understand and implement bucket. After all, innovation is great, but you know what’s better? Applied innovation.        

LBB> What do you nerd out on when you’re not thinking about work? And what makes it so interesting to you? 

Alan> I am a massive ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ fan (you can be both!) and love the way that both universes have grown over the past five years. I find it fascinating that they have different start-points, but ended up in the same place – stand-alone streaming channels. I am also a massive sneakerhead and have around 20 pairs of Air Jordan 1 Highs and a smattering of Blazers, AF1s, Air Max. But for me, the AJ1 High is the GOAT. I also love the Nike story, if you haven’t read the book ‘Shoe Dog’, I highly recommend it – the origin story of Nike is one of the most compelling, intriguing and surprising in modern corporate America.

Both of my daughters are very into anime and they’re constantly telling me about the shows they’re watching. What fascinates me the most is how completely different the storytelling is, which makes me think about the future of storytelling in my industry and what we could learn from a genre like that.   

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Energy BBDO, Thu, 30 Mar 2023 15:40:00 GMT