Long before Kim Kardashian set out to break the Internet, someone else actually did. The year was 1999. During Super Bowl XXXIII, Victoria’s Secret ran an ad announcing that it would broadcast its famous lingerie fashion show on the Web. A multichannel, multimedia blitz followed, promising cool music, a fantasy-like set and a look at the world’s top models wearing angel wings.
When the moment for the show came, the masses dialed-in (remember that?) and kaboom, the Web literally reached capacity.
Who was the creative force behind what was, probably, one of the first branded digital experiences? Resource, a Columbus, Ohio-based digital marketing and creative agency (which later acquired a similar company, New York City-based Ammirati in 2014.)
On Thursday evening, IBM announced that it has acquired Resource/Ammirati, adding the 300-person agency to its IBM Interactive Experience (IBMiX) portfolio.
IBM Has a Digital Experience Business?
For those who know IBM as a maker of massive data crunching hardware, a provider of blue chip consulting that tells mega corps how to run their businesses or the inventor of the smarter-than-you, Jeopardy!-winning Watson computer, you should note that it also houses IBMiX, a large global digital agency that works with brands to transform them for the digital age. Its services, according to IBM, run the gamut from strategy, creative and design to scalable digital, commerce, mobile and wearable platforms like consumer apps for the Apple Watch.
It’s also worth noting that IBMiX employs 10,000 workers, one thousand of whom are designers who work with strategists, developers and consultants to combine the power of design and technology for clients.
Spin Me Round
The spin that IBM and Resource/Ammirati are putting on the deal is this: Resource/Ammirati brings its leading-edge brand and portfolio to IBM and IBM, to quote its press release, gives Resource/Ammirati its “global reach and resources, including access to additional strategic, design and development talent as well as powerful analytics and technology expertise in cloud, mobile development and systems integration.”
Content marketing strategy expert Robert Rose puts it in simpler terms: Rather than recruit and hire in a market where talent is scarce and in high demand, IBM is able to acquire a pool of creatives (and money-makers) all at once. Resource/Ammirati — or at least its owners — is set to get a pile of cash, access to greater resources (like IBM’s 24 iX studios around the globe) and perhaps a chance to relax.
“It’s been tough sledding for large independents,” said Rose, referring to the need to continuously keep the pipeline full and the cash flowing in.
Don’t Tread on Me
For now, it is expected that Resource/Ammirati will continue to operate independently, which would be shrewd according to Rose. “The risk in these sorts of acquisitions is losing the people,” he said. And moving a Resource/Ammirati coder into IBM IT could prove disruptive in the worst sense of the word, he explained.
Rose also noted that IBM has pretty much left Silverpop, which it acquired in 2014, alone so that it can keep doing what it does best.
Sensing a Trend?
While Rose expects that Resource/Ammirati will continue to function as a service provider to IBM’s customers, he does see a trend toward mega corporations acquiring independent digital and creative agencies. He cited Capital One as an example. The bank holding company has acquired three digital agencies of late. The motivation, according to Rose, was likely two-fold. “When you acquire an agency, you acquire its talent,” he explained, which is quicker and more efficient than hiring one by one.
What’s more, it’s also becoming an imperative for brands to differentiate themselves by becoming product driven and content driven and this might be better achieved internally, noted Rose.