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Justin Cooke is looking to create the first “disruption agency.”
This story first appeared in the September 5, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The former Topshop chief marketing officer will today open the doors of Innovate7, where he is founder and chief executive officer.
“We think the biggest opportunity to disrupt is to disrupt the advertising agency model,” 32-year-old Cooke told WWD on Wednesday, adding that the current advertising agency model hasn’t changed much in years. “We want to help them to embrace modern thinking, integrate relevant and innovative technology that has a marketing and back-end purpose. We want to help them shape more emotive experiences.”
Cooke has pulled together a team of six to work beside him, with résumés that include stints at Nike, Burberry, Facebook, Apple, Red Bull and the art world. The venture is backed by private investors whose names Cooke declined to reveal.
Later this year, Cooke will also unveil a proprietary technology platform based around a concept he came up with in 2011. This project has also found backers, including a private venture capitalist and a leading global media group, which took a 19.9 percent stake. Cooke again declined to identify the backers in advance of the launch.
For Cooke, one of the greatest risks for companies today is that they continue along the path that provides them growth — at the moment — leaving room for other organizations “to come in behind them and disrupt their business model.”
“If we can think of the one thing that would take market share away from their business, then why not do it for them?” Cooke asked.
Innovate7 will help clients renew their focus, design campaigns and develop brand guidelines. Although Cooke expects most of his business to involve the online world, Innovate7 will not be limited to the digital realm.
Cooke also wants to breed a different sort of office culture. And so, two days of the week the team will have no set tasks and will instead be encouraged to visit museums, exhibits or conduct research.
“I may say, ‘Let’s look at the concrete industry, what one idea could we create that would turn that industry on its head overnight?’” said Cooke.
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Recently, Innovate7’s director of innovation and experience Nicola Peters, a former Burberry brand engagement marketing manager, has been researching haptics — a technology that relies on tactile feedback.
“I think it’s always been a challenge for brands to make a genuine connection through a medium that uses limited senses, but we believe it’s possible by evoking a feeling based on emotional pressure points that unleash nostalgia,” Peters said.
Until now, Cooke has spent his career at fashion brands like Stella McCartney, Burberry and, most recently, Topshop, and although he has one fashion client so far, Cooke is keen on expanding beyond the confines of the industry. He has his eye on London’s Museum of Natural History and the Chelsea Football Club, a U.K.-based soccer team.
There’s also a deal in the works with one of the world’s leading print publications. Cooke and his team want to analyze what things people pay to read on the publication’s Web site and what they won’t pay to read.
“[We want to figure out] how we can close the gap between what the consumer sees and what the consumer purchases, so we can get an affiliate revenue,” he explained.
Clients already include video playlist service Rockpack, which Cooke likens to “Pinterest for video,” and Tissimans, the oldest tailor in London.
Tissimans was shuttered in February after more than 400 years in business, but Chinese billionaire Ricky Lam has since purchased it. Innovate7 will play a full-service role at Tissimans, which used to outfit the British Royal Family, advising on product range — think very-limited-edition gold and diamond buttons with initials emblazed on them — and recruiting for key leadership roles within the company and devising social media strategies.
“The superwealthy are seeking something new, more exclusive than the previous ubiquitous logo-driven culture,” said Lam, chairman and owner of Tissimans Ltd. “We want to create a British luxury brand right at the top of the pricing pyramid and that doesn’t exist, so there are no rules.”
Cooke’s vision isn’t entering unpopulated territory. Agencies like Digital Brand Architects, Morpheus Media and Saturday London all work in the space — and with many of the industry’s top designers and brands.