I spend a lot of time talking about hybrid communications. The idea that, effectively, Dentsu London (and any agency that wants to be) is in the same field as Coke, Google, Burberry, Amazon, in that we're all diversifying, because our "remit" is recently everything from product or service, to advertising, to experience; hardware and software; familiar and emerging media.
It's no longer simply the case that on one side of a divide you have companies needing to advertise products or services, and on the other agencies paid by those companies to advertise them. There's a very real sense in which we're all just companies now, in the same predicament, trying to make good stuff, with cultural and commercial value.
That's a different thing to saying any of that's easy, but I do say it, and I mean it. Not just because it's a more interesting way to run a business, but because there's a commercial imperative for any company (and especially advertising agencies) to find new value - and cultural value - and new definitions of "ROI" to go with it.
iPad Light Painting was an example of trying to make something of cultural value, to express and share some ideas behind a new business. The Canon sound sculptures were examples of advertising that tried to earn cultural value of its own, beyond advertising - to do more than just be effective in facile way for Canon. Suwappu (and to a lesser extent Wallpaper Scissors) was a first venture into product - both the hardware product of the toys and the software product of the technology.
Russell makes a good point, that these things are hard, and hard to get right. And I'm not yet speaking from a place where I can say I've got a product on sale that brings value to people's homes and lives. But I can say it's worth doing, and worth trying.
And it doesn't always take that long. Taking Suwappu from conception to prototype was a month of actual making, and from concept to prototype app was about two. Getting the characters right before any of that, just on paper took more time than either. Obviously there's faffing about in between, finding the right people to work with, coordinating everyone's time and attention, and other projects that delay things, but in reality so far that's been it. From here to sale is unknown, but with the right partner this could take anything from two months to a year.
The brilliant Little Printer didn't take five years, as some people are saying in reference to Matt's post in 2006. The germ might have been sown then, but the actual thing of Little Printer, and Berg Cloud, took about a year from starting to physically work on the project to now. Suwappu was about the same in total.
It's a different matter, which Berg are also quite clear about, to set up a business where Little Printer is possible. And that's what I find interesting: creating the conditions to furnish these kinds of possibilities - not for any business, or the ones for whom product, hardware and software are bread and butter, or the massive ones who can throw money at it - but for companies who are trying to do something for the first time and where every project is significant to their survival as a business. That's the hard bit. Working out how to make it work with a business model that's set up around something else, or on the other hand keeping your model nimble enough to stretch to a different output on every project.
None of this is to say that everything should be fast, or can be. There's a place for fast and slow products, and fast and slow development of pretty much anything. Some things are hard, and many parts of many projects, including Little Printer, are only possible for a very few special human atypicals (great code being one of them, the vision to even do it in the first place, and then in the way it was done, is another).
So while it's right that agencies can't do this stuff in their sleep, I'm not sure any of them would attempt that. I think you probably have to wake up to even try. And if they do try, would it be such a bad thing? I'd quite like for more people to try to make good stuff. The worst that could happen is that, you know, it's shit, and fails, and some people learn something. And the best thing to happen is something new and brilliant comes into the world.