Press Releases - Critical Mass - Critical Mass Press Releases at en-us Copyright 2018 Critical Mass appoints first-ever chief data innovation officer and senior vice president, talent

Digital experience design agency Critical Mass announced Pedro Laboy as its first-ever chief data innovation officer and Sara Anhorn as its first senior vice president of talent.

According to a statement, Laboy will be a member of the Omnicom agency’s global executive team, and is tasked to “elevate and fortify the agency’s marketing sciences division, helping clients navigate the increasingly complex landscape at the intersection of data and technology.”

Laboy previously worked at MRM/McCann as their was executive vice president for marketing transformation and performance for MRM/McCann. He also held various senior positions at Tracx, a marketing analytics platform; Attention; and G2 Worldwide. In his 20-year career, he has worked with top global brands, including Mastercard, Mattel, L’Oreal, Kraft, HBO, Expedia, Nestle, Cigna, Logitech, Caterpillar, USPS and Dell.

Anhorn was elevated from her role of vice president, project delivery and has responsibility over overseeing HR, recruiting and internal communications across the agency’s 12 offices worldwide. Critical Mass said she and her team will be responsible for “crafting, preserving, and enhancing an employee experience that upholds Critical Mass’ vision, values, and culture.”

Both Laboy and Anhorn will report to chief executive officer Dianne Wilkins. “Critical Mass has been a digital agency since our inception, and we have continued to evolve ourselves and our services at the speed of digital,” said Wilkins. ”Adding data innovation leadership to our already thriving marketing science capability tees us up to help clients navigate the data transformation landscape and develop more comprehensive pictures of the end customers we all serve. I’m honored to have Pedro join our team to help make that happen.”

Laboy added, "I am excited to be joining such an industry-leading organization known for exceptional customer experience design. I look forward to working with Critical Mass’ amazing team to support our clients with data-driven innovation, integrated data technology solutions, and partnerships that deliver superb customer experiences and drive business results."

Said Anhorn on her new role: “My experience within project delivery and global business operations divisions has given me an appreciation and deep understanding of how we work, what matters to our employees, and what trends are going to shape the employee experience in the future.”

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2018-02-01 00:00:00
Four Ways To Focus On Your Growth Philosophy In 2018

For just about everyone, 2017 was a tumultuous year. But, right on schedule, a new year has arrived and with it a chance to look both backward and forward.

The very phrase “backward and forward” probably brings to mind the yearly ritual of recapping and prognosticating. We all end up doing it. Regardless of your industry, companies have investors, shareholders or parent companies that demand end-of-year results and next year’s forecasts. Privately, we look at our own lives, from finances to fitness goals, and try to get a sense of where we’ve fallen short and what we can do to improve.

Right about now, most of us will go through these various forms of self-reckoning, both as individuals and members of organizations. And driving our sense of urgency will probably be a single idea -- something like “improvement” or “closing a deal” or “acquiring a skill.” At the end of the day, we all want growth. And why not? Growth is invaluable. We’ve all read articles (or completed entire university degrees) about how to attain it. Trends to watch, market movements to capitalize on and technologies to harness -- all of it is vital.

But what about a growth philosophy? Not so much how or how much you’ll grow, but what kind of organization you’ll grow into?

At our agency, Critical Mass, we’re going to be focused on growth in 2018. And, lucky for us, 2017 has set us up for success where growth is concerned. We brought in some fantastic new clients and deepened the scope of the capabilities and services we offer. Growth in the coming year is a matter of doubling down on the momentum we’ve built. But, in our view, it’s also an opportunity to think about what it means to grow well.

So what follows are a few salient points from next year’s plan. Not a by-the-numbers spreadsheet, just a few aspects of our growth philosophy -- things that, we believe, can make creative agencies great places to work and great partners for brands to work with.

Letting Diversity Thrive

There’s no question that diverse teams perform better than homogenous ones (McKinsey calls this phenomenon the “diversity dividend”). We’ve spent years building diverse teams here at Critical Mass, but we’ve also bred a culture of inclusion, which is slightly different than diversity. By creating a culture of open-mindedness and respect for other viewpoints, we’ve created an environment where diverse teams thrive because their voices and ideas have a chance to thrive as well. 

2017-12-28 00:00:00
Helping Humanity with the Back Office

By Grant Owens, Chief Strategy Officer at Critical Mass

Inspired by: Companies that apply their unique assets to big problems

Last week, Bill Gates tweeted that his next big mission is to explore the enigma of Alzheimer’s disease. I got ridiculously excited. Not having a cure for Alzheimer’s is terrifying, but when Bill and Melinda Gates put the power of the Gates Foundation against a challenge, you can be sure they are going to move mountains. They are hell-bent on making the world a better place, and they have the power to do it.

Everyday companies large and small are taking their special skills, assets, and work force and improving a corner of the world.
Now, of course, not every company, let alone individual executives, has amassed the fortune of Gates and can apply that wealth to nearly any cause, but there is so much more the industrial complex can offer that doesn’t need to wait until retirement or billionaire-level wealth.

Everyday companies large and small are taking their special skills, assets, and work force and improving a corner of the world.

Earlier this year, social media personality Jerome Jarre recognized that the famine in Somalia had reached extreme proportions and surprisingly little support and attention was being paid to the crisis. He made a plea for netizens to join him in helping the dire situation. His biggest ask was for a plane to distribute supplies directly to the region. After a little homework, he found that Turkish Airlines was the only commercial airline provider that offered flights in and out of Somalia. So, he asked them directly if they could lend a plane with the sole purpose of carrying supplies to the area. And you know what? They gave him a plane! Not because they could make a profit, but because it was the right thing to do and Turkish Airlines was uniquely capable of making it happen.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Anheuser-Busch shifted some of their facilities from packaging beer and delivered over 400,000 cans of emergency drinking water to aid the response efforts.
Another example of specialized assets being applied to a problem came when Coca-Cola and inventor Dean Kamen crossed paths. In 2004 Kamen had created a single device that could purify water from any possible water source — be it salt water, sewage, and even water contaminated with chemical waste. The problem Kamen had was that he lacked the ability to deliver and maintain the devices in the far corners of the world. Running out of ideas, he thought about how you can buy a Coke in nearly every part of the world — even remote places where affordable clean drinking water isn’t widely available. In other words, Coke has bottling and distribution partners across the globe. In a brilliant industrial quid pro quo, Coke agreed to help Kamen if Kamen, in turn, would help Coke develop their now ubiquitous cartridge-based dispensing machine called the Freestyle.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Anheuser-Busch shifted some of their facilities from packaging beer and delivered over 400,000 cans of emergency drinking water to aid the response efforts. Since 1988, the St. Louis-based brewer has provided over 76 million cans of drinking water to aid disaster-stricken areas.

Opportunities to do good come in many forms — from AirBnB rallying it’s homeowner network to offer free places to stay for displaced residents in disaster areas — to a taxi app in the UK that recently gave its drivers medical equipment and training in CPR and first aid after they realized that 7 out of 10 drivers had experienced an emergency situation (e.g. picking up passengers headed to the hospital).

Each company is sitting on something that could bring immeasurable value to people in need. To explore these big opportunities, begin with these questions:

What specialized assets or skills have you created that could be applied to people with specialized needs?
What does your brand care most about and for what would your workforce be willing to donate effort, time and money to help solve?
What can your company do that communities wouldn’t otherwise be able to achieve on their own?
You don’t need a reason to do good, but it doesn’t hurt to keep in mind that the good vibes will resonate across everyone who touches your brand. The customer that supports you. The investor with a stake in you. The employees who find meaning in the work they do with you. Everyone. 

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2017-11-22 00:00:00
Empathy Technologies: Humanity At The Heart Of Emerging Tech

“Human design” is one of those phrases that seems to crop up everywhere these days. I often get the sense that the rise of the term mirrors the accelerating pace at which technology evolves and enters our lives. With more tech, we need to be more human. Technology should connect us, rather than divide or devalue us.

But the more I work in this field, the more I see humans as the true connector — even among technological devices. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Think of a bank customer who opens a checking account on their laptop, pays a bill on their iPhone and gets a balance notification on their Apple Watch — that person is the focal point of a personal digital ecosystem. As a result, that ecosystem is totally unique — the customer’s preferences, goals, habits and unique story define it. If the designers who create this customer’s overall banking experience focus too much on the Phone, the Watch or the Laptop, then they need to stop and reorient their focus to where it belongs: the customer.

Don’t get me wrong; due diligence is necessary (data-driven research, heuristic analysis, journey maps, design stories, gap analyses, etc.). But there’s something more — a human element that separates “okay” from “fantastic.” When you push a little harder, care a little more and design for humans, not for devices, you simply get a better result. The customer wins and the brand wins.

That's why, at our agency, we’ve surrounded ourselves with tech-savvy people who believe that humans give purpose to technology, and not the other way around. It’s easy to forget how when computers first made their way on to the market, they were pretty useless for most people. They were the domain of a small number of technologically-inclined folks until companies like Microsoft came along and designed user interfaces that made it possible for everyday people to get involved. Overnight, the technology had a new purpose — making the lives of everyday people easier or more entertaining. It’s an old example of a persistent truth: Technology can do impressive things, but world-changing things can happen when humans create valuable user experiences for other humans.

We’ve come a long way since that time. Today, we have AR/VR, AI, voice and facial recognition — mind-blowing advances. My eyes still pop when I see a next-generation VR experience or when my phone correctly picks out all the pictures I’ve taken of my daughter.

As the head of a digital experience design agency, however, I believe I have a responsibility to ask, “What’s human about this?”

For example, facial recognition seems like an inherently human technology, but it makes me think of the devastating problem of losing the ability to recognize faces — especially of those we love. A little over two years ago, a few people in Tunisia, working for Samsung, used a technology as common as Bluetooth to help Alzheimer’s patients recognize friends and loved ones (by detecting nearby phones). The “Backup Memory” app really struck me and still does, because it took widely available bits of tech and did something important, beautiful and deeply human — giving the ability to recognize faces back to people who were losing it. That’s one way to improve life in a deeply human way. Now, with Apple’s iPhone X hitting the market, advanced facial recognition of a very different sort will be a functional part of our everyday lives. That phone will be an incredibly powerful agglomeration technology. And now that Apple has released it, I believe incredible good can be done with it if we design for humans, as humans. 

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2017-11-20 00:00:00
Your Millennial Marketing Effort Isn’t Working

By Grant Owens, Chief Strategy Officer at Critical Mass

Inspired by: Marketers that don’t fall for the Millennial illusion

If any of us have to sit through another presentation about how Millennials are tethered to their phones and passionate about music, we might just get up and walk out — of the industry.

Why are marketers still trying to reduce a massively diverse group of people to a few salient points?

If you define Millennials today as 18–35**, the difference between someone that’s in college at 19 years-old, and a 33 year-old parent of two kids, is huge. Suddenly, the Millennial that lived a bus stop away from work (and didn’t see the need to own a car) is moving into a three-bedroom home and has a whole new set of product interests.

**Another problem is that we’ve been calling Millennials 18–35 for over 5 years. That’s not how these things work. Despite rumors, science has proven Millennials are aging at the exact same rate as the generations before them.

At 80 million strong, Millennials now represent the largest segment of Americans .
At 80 million strong, Millennials now represent the largest segment of Americans — among them are healthcare practitioners, snowboarders, and veteran teachers. They are as varied as any one segment can possibly be. They arguably represent a more diverse set of life stages than Generation X and the Baby Boomers combined.

Of all the core marketing keys I convey to my clients (e.g. create culture, right a wrong, pick an enemy, establish rituals, act small, etc.) none will perform very well at the scale of 80 million audience members. Sure, you could try, but if you take the lowest common denominator among such a large swath of the population and base your creative execution off of it, your marketing effort will probably come across as white noise.

Brands that chase a homogenous idea of the Millennial mindset are missing the bigger point: life stages and personal situations outshine nearly everything. If you’re trying to establish a pitch-perfect Millennial-edgy-youthful tone, not only are you chasing a phantom, you’re also cheating yourself out of the opportunity to offer your product or service directly to a customer who is actually interested in it.

Here’s a better approach:

1) Define the person you’re trying to reach.

2) Determine what that person desires in life (or on a particular day),

3) Show them how you can help.

Zappos follows these steps beautifully. Through a fairly basic use of data, Zappos knows I love to run, and the weather isn’t always perfect where I live. Recently they recommended an all-weather, long-distance running shoe. It was spot on, and I bought the shoes. Zappos made that sale without any sort of DJ, or food truck, or random age-related gimmick. 

Brands that successfully speak to a large segment of the population in a single voice often do it without resorting to generational distinctions. Patagonia, for example, recognizes the basic human truth that, regardless of age, many people want to treat themselves to a quality product while treating the environment around them well, too.


Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” work has proven that, regardless of demographics, we all have an inner photographer. Everyone appreciates a terrific view of the world. Everyone wants to capture and share a special moment as only they experienced it. 

If you’re going to tell people you know exactly how they think because they’re a so-called Millennial, at least make fun of all the clichés—like “follow the frog.” This example, from the Rainforest Alliance, pokes fun at the tropes of the Millennial mindset: 

And to round out these examples—an entertaining lesson in what not to do…: 

If thus far you’ve been unable to avoid the pitfall of chasing Millennials en masse, don’t worry. You can take what you’ve learned and save yourself from Gen Z. Spoiler alert: research will show they over-index for mobile phone use and are a highly social bunch with music as a passion point.

Now, go find out who they really are. 

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2017-10-25 00:00:00
Hey, Amazon from Critical Mass Working with the Calgary Economic Development office, they launched a campaign to persuade Amazon to choose Calgary as the location for their second headquarters (HQ2).

Critical Mass plastered Seattle with large-scale billboards and street art written in chalk with playfully provocative copy like, "Hey, Amazon. We’d change our name for you. Calmazon? Amagary? Love, Calgary" or "Hey, Amazon. We have 10 ski resorts. Super close. Even you can't move mountains. Love, Calgary". One of the billboards is placed directly outside of Amazon's downtown corporate office with the phrase, "Hey, Amazon. Not saying we'd fight a bear for you... but we totally would."

There are ~200 public displays scattered around Seattle, mainly on the Amazon campus, along with print and digital ads.

2017-10-23 00:00:00
My career in 5 executions: Critical Mass's Conor Brady

From Vonnegut covers to Aronofsky ads, Critical Mass's CCO sweats the details.

Name: Conor Brady
Title: CCO, Critical Mass
Years in ad industry: 30
First job in ad industry: Designer at Vintage Paperbacks

Conor Brady began his career designing covers for old books being reprinted in paperback. A signed note from Kurt Vonnegut thanking him for good covers commemorates those days. In 1995, Brady moved to Universal Music, using similar skills to design album covers like the ones he’d loved growing up in the 1980s.

In 2000, he joined the agency world as a creative director at Razorfish, where he began immersing himself in all things digital. In 2006, he became a GCD at Organic, rising to chief creative officer three years later.

After a stint as CCO at Brooklyn’s Huge, he joined Critical Mass as chief creative officer in 2014. "Get away from your computer and take time to think," Brady says, advice the avid cyclist takes to heart. "Embrace all forms of design. Always learn new things. Believe that design can be the difference in elevating a good idea to a great idea."

Here are the 5 executions Brady says have meant the most to his career.

Client: Kurt Vonnegut’s "Hocus Pocus"
Agency: Random House Publishing (Vintage Paperbacks)
Work: "Hocus Pocus" cover
Year: 1990

As a child in Ireland, Brady had been inspired by album cover art, especially Peter Saville’s work for Joy Division. At Random House, he was tasked with creating the first 100 covers for the Vintage Paperbacks imprint, including five titles by Kurt Vonnegut.

"I got to commission the artist duo Huntley Muir for the cover, people whose work I had long admired," he said. "It was the start for me, personally, in seeking out and working with a series of some of the world’s greatest artists, photographers and filmmakers."

Client: Decca Records
Brand: Ute Lemper and Elvis Costello’s "Punishing Kiss"
Agency: Universal Music/Polygram
Work: album cover
Year: 2000

From book covers, Brady moved onto album covers. "Out of all the record covers I did over a 12-year period, I enjoyed this one the most," he says. The shoot with Ute Lemper took place in an abandoned sugar factory in London’s docklands.

"She had just seen ‘The Matrix’ and insisted on styling herself like Carrie Anne-Moss," Brady says. "She was amazing in front of the camera, completely lost in the character she created. Usually we came back from a shoot with six workable shots—Ute gave us a book."

Client: Ford Motor Company
Brand: The Ford Centennial Project
Agency: Razorfish
Work: "Ford Centennial website"
Year: 2002

To celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary, Ford wanted a state-of-the-art, interactive website, and it tasked Razorfish with creating it. "Design and tech were ready to come closer together," Brady says, "and designers and technologists were each beginning to appreciate what the other did."

The team spent more than a year digging through Ford’s historic collection, a process that Brady says turned him into a "car nut."

Client: The Meth Project
Agency: Organic
Work: "The Meth Project" films
Year: 2011

Director Darren Aronofsky had just released his fifth film, "Black Swan," when ECD Brad Mancuso suggested to Brady that they approach Aronofsky to direct PSAs for The Meth Project. He’d directed several in 2007, prior to his success with the Mickey Rourke vehicle "The Wrestler."

"To my amazement, we tried and succeeded," Brady says. "The results to this day still make me stop in my tracks. It’s a no-bullshit, shock-you-into-action approach to delivering a message."

Client: The United Nations
Brand: Sweeper
Agency: Critical Mass
Work: "Sweeper" app
Year: 2014

To drive home the randomness and destructive power of land mines, Critical Mass created an digital minefield at the New Museum in Manhattan, and an app that notified visitors when they’d triggered an explosion.

"Maybe once or twice in your career, you get to use all the skills you have to really change something, do some good and observe a real impact," Brady says. "The United Nations is an organization I have a lot of respect for, so to have been able to work with them on eliminating landmines—a cause that is central to their humanitarian mission—is a standout partnership for me." 

2017-10-12 00:00:00
Travel Alberta takes a breath of fresh content

Travel Alberta has updated the creative in its long-standing brand platform as it shifts to a more “always on” content strategy.

The destination marketer launched its “Remember to Breathe” platform in 2011, with creative showcasing the landscapes and scenery of the province that create goosebump-inducing moments.

But as audiences have evolved, so must its strategy, prompting the organization to move from being a campaign marketer to an “always on publisher,” says Tannis Gaffney, VP of global consumer marketing for Travel Alberta.

While the brand platform remains “Remember to Breathe,” with its updated strategy and creative, the organization has shifted to targeting adventure-hungry millennials who value spontaneity and experiences, she says.

The new creative still highlights breathtaking visuals, but it aims to put viewers and travellers more at the centre of the action, something the previous creative didn’t do, says Jared Folkmann, group strategy director at Critical Mass, Travel Alberta’s agency partner.

That said, the campaign is still highlighting exciting, shareable moments, like dog sledding and ice climbing, but through the lens of millennial travellers, including influencers.

The updated “Remember to Breathe” content includes two anthem spots – “Ready” and “Ready to Winter” – but also various video content of different lengths and a multitude of still photography for Travel Alberta’s social channels. The brand has also been leveraging more user-generated content through its social media channels, Gaffney notes.

For this iteration, the brand also used Google’s Jump virtual reality video offering to create as series of 360-degree videos. While they’re being used online, they are also a valuable asset for Travel Alberta’s trade marketing teams, Gaffney says. The updated content also includes “Ready to Roam” videos, each over 90 minutes, showing the drives between various locations in the province and all that can be seen along the way. 

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2017-10-04 00:00:00
Opinion / The Last Humans and the Next Brands

On August 2nd, 2017, a paper was published in Nature that explained how researchers at the Oregon University of Health and Science corrected a congenital heart defect. That happens every day. And while it’s big deal if it’s you on the operating table, it’s not a big deal for the wider world.

The patient, however, was not you, or I, or anyone you know, nor anyone you could talk to, or touch. It was a human embryo. More incredibly, that little human embryo was “repaired” with zero transcription errors (a big deal) thanks to CRISPR Cas9 gene editing technology.

If early August feels like ancient history – and fair enough – then how about late August, when the FDA approved Kymriah, a “Living Drug” that uses ‘genetically modified immune cells from patients to attack their cancer’.”

Whether you’re unborn, or unlucky, the wider world is wiping away the fault from our stars.

We are now riding the vertical asymptote of the exponential curve of technological progress, which is a fancy way of saying that innovations are helping us innovate faster. And they’re taking off! What was science fiction a few years ago is a product today (and old news – thus affordable – tomorrow).

It’s personal

A little about me: Up until now, I’ve thought of technological advances in terms of my career, because I’m a creative technologist and developer by trade. I’ve now reached the point where I think in terms of my children – because they’re going to be the first generation to inhabit a world that’s currently impossible for us to predict or fully imagine – only glimpse. And because I love my children.

We are raising a generation of children whose reality is inextricably intertwined with technology, and who, gene edited or not, will challenge the definition of reality and what it means to be human. We are raising Generation Omega, the last generation that is “only” human.

I love art. I love books and movies and music. But most of my daily contact with human achievements and ideas come in the form of device interactions, and by extension, brand interactions (which can still be art, but art of a different kind – functional art). But what will a brand be in the future? Where will culture and commerce intersect in the world of the Omegas?

Here’s one answer: we can’t know what Omegas will do or experience – not entirely – but the very mystery of their mind-blowing technological existence is already having an impact on brand identities in the present. And not only is that worth looking into, we can already see glimpses.

At the moment…

Children today don’t know what the world was like before smartphones existed. A “phone” is something that has always been in their (or their parents’) pockets. The collective knowledge of humanity is only a few taps away. Kids ask what and why all the time. Now, parents can answer.

Of course, you don’t need your phone. A clunky device that must be taken out, unlocked, tapped, and waited for. When your child asks a question, you can just ask Alexa, or Google Home (which Google has begun dramatising in their TV ads, below).

My four-year-old Omega’s first digital interactions have been voice, and a colleague of mine had to explain to his 18-month-old that Alexa wasn’t a “real” person. Alexa and her cohorts are going to get a lot more real. Real soon.

So, the Omegas are entering a world on a double-brink: 1) editable human bodies that can be nudged further from nature, and 2) digital counterparts that seem increasingly natural. There are other brinks, but I want to focus on these because they point decisively to something fascinating: the way a “brand” can define itself by creating a product story around informed speculation. Brands stories, more than ever, can edge closer to actual genres of narrative, like science fiction – a kind of speculative history told backwards into the future.

Truth in fiction

In The Culture series of science fiction novels, author Ian M. Banks describes a far future where humanoids and machines are symbiotic. The Culture has Strong AI, sentient machines, that are integrated with fleshy beings through a neural lace – a brain-computer interface that allows organic life forms to seamlessly interact with a cloud consciousness. An exocortex.

In March 2017, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and Space X, announced his latest startup: Neuralink. Neuralink is building high speed brain-computer interfaces that will allow humans to access our metacortex, the Internet, with a thought. Brain-computer interfaces have been around in very primitive forms for years, and you can currently buy some off-the-shelf. But what Neuralink is proposing is something different. The interface is implanted in our brain. While this sounds like science fiction, in 2015 scientists successfully injected a neural lace into a living brain.

So, here’s the question: does this tell us more about Elon Musk and Neuralink, or Generation Omega? Does it help to sell Teslas, spur recruitment? What kind of answer do tech visionaries such as Google and Facebook have for such visions par excellence?

Or is this an example of a brand designing a product for what’s inevitably to come, laying the groundwork to supply the forthcoming demands of a rising generation? Can you corner a market before it arrives?

Final answer

I guess what my friends, myself, and other young parents want to know is this – will our kids grow up in a world where an exocortex becomes a reality, where the collective knowledge of humanity is a thought away?

My guess – highly likely. It’s highly likely that for adventurous Omegas willing to get an implant, and the Omegas who worry about falling behind their colleagues, an exocortex will be a lived reality. Hopefully they can explain how it works while making fun of HTML the way I made fun of rotary phones.

And from this day until that day, brands are going to have to decide for themselves what they want to believe about the future, and how they are going to position themselves with it, or against it. It may well be that the craziest brand stories of today turn out to be the most prescient and trusted ones of tomorrow.

Or as the poet William Blake wrote at the brink of the Industrial Revolution: ‘what is now proved was once only imagined.’ 

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2017-09-25 00:00:00
To Be the Best, Be Like Lego

By Grant Owens, Chief Strategy Officer at Critical Mass

This past week Lego announced some headwinds in sales and a 5% drop in revenue, but the power of the brand continues to hold a special place in consumers’ hearts.

Lego has created a seemingly unfair advantage in the toy market. That advantage is customer involvement. The core promise of the brand and the product experience is customer-controlled creation and imagination. Not only does the experience encourage involvement, but the company does a terrific job of stoking the fire.

The investment Lego is making transcends short-term earnings. Their currency is the passion and loyalty of enthusiasts across the world—for years to come.
Starting in 2011 they formed Lego Ideas to source and produce community-submitted ideas and concepts. If a submission to the website gains 10,000 supporters, it’s reviewed and considered for production as an official Lego set. If produced, the customer receives 1% of the total net sales and 10 complimentary sets of their Lego idea—but, most importantly, they get the credit. In-set materials hail the customer as the creator, complete with a short bio.

Paal Smith-Meyer, head of the Lego New Business Group said, “our fans and consumers have proved time after time that they have great ideas that can lead to products. We see this as an investment in the future rather than for immediate sales gain.”

He’s right. The investment Lego is making transcends short-term earnings. Their currency is the passion and loyalty of enthusiasts across the world—for years to come. That’s why, despite inevitable fluctuations, they’ll keep winning.

Winning with Customer Involvement

My team at Critical Mass has a pretty simple philosophy to ensure our clients are successful—if we can improve customers’ lives, our client will outshine the competition. In turn, our agency will shine, too.

To truly improve customers’ lives, we get them directly involved. We use a proprietary process to capture the voice of customers, but there are many other ways to capture some of the Lego magic.

Don’t Settle for User-Generated Content

The typical brainstorm around customer involvement often ends with a decision to launch a social media program fueled by user-generated content. Sure, you can host an Instagram takeover, but that’s a tiny fraction of the customer involvement opportunity.

Brands should explore ways to get internal ideas in front of consumers early and often. Offer them a chance to pierce the veil—your most rabid enthusiasts will certainly be engaged, and it will give indifferent audiences a reason to become fans, too.

Listen and Respond

Study your customers’ behaviors with your product and service, then follow up with big questions: What would you have done differently? What would make you consider a competitor’s product? What do you feel works well?

Looking at some data analysis and claiming you’ve heard the voice of the customer is not enough—nor is testing your TV spot on an arbitrary scale of “likability.”

Talk with customers. Listen. This is a lesson I learned as an intern with Procter and Gamble. Not only does P&G go out of their way to observe customers’ usage of their products, but they exercise less obvious ways of listening. For example, I asked my mentor at P&G if anyone ever calls the 1–800 number on the back of the product. He told me that the number isn’t for answering product questions but rather a direct line to frustrated customers. P&G had the valuable chance to listen, and customers could express any negative feelings directly to the brand (rather than to 10 friends).

Make Them Part of the Company

If involving customers in the process isn’t enough, give them a real stake. Consumer co-ops remain a largely untapped market in most product categories. The co-op model is a surefire way to achieve increased brand affinity and loyalty. This customer involvement model has been around for decades (e.g., credits unions), but it deserves to be explored more broadly.

Customers Won’t Invent Your Future

Involving the customer doesn’t replace your responsibility to invent and innovate. Push into new territories that customers can’t define yet. In research, customers are notoriously bad about being able to predict the future of a product or service, but they are terrific at giving feedback on the present. Use that insight, and then determine the strategic common threads that should steer your future product or service.

Start A.S.A.P.

If you don’t let them help you decide the future of your brand now, they will make you decide later by voting with their wallets. 

2017-09-21 00:00:00
Elon Musk is worried about AI. Should you be?

Aside from preventing Armageddon, the creative and marketing industry is responsible for shaping AI in a way that supports the greater good, says Critical Mass' CSO.

If you’ve been scanning technology news in the last few months you’ve probably noticed that Elon Musk is sounding alarm bells about the emergence of artificial intelligence—calling it "the scariest problem" and greatest threat to civilization he sees.

And let’s be clear, Elon Musk sees things you and I don’t—not necessarily because he is more visionary, but because in his role he simply has more access to emerging technology and technologists. People take meetings with him when given the chance, and I suspect they bring their most progressive ideas to the table. So, what exactly is it that has him so worried?

This is Old Hat
A couple of years ago as our industry began wading into the world of AI (for the purposes of brand interactions), I didn’t think much about potential side effects of our progress. We’ve been dealing with pieces of AI and building near-AI algorithms for years. To date, the threat of that technology has been limited and at times simply entertaining, certainly not an existential teeter-totter, as Musk views it.

At the time, I was able to sideline the conspiracy theory threats by suggesting that as long as we own the power supply, we’ll be fine. In other words, if things get out of hand we can just pull the plug—literally. What danger is an angry sentient robot with no current running through it?

But recently, in addition to Musk’s warnings, I’ve seen the rapid evolution of connected devices firsthand and can say with confidence, we’d never be able to cut the power early enough or broadly enough. Just as we’ve set up distributed networks for backup assurance, they can easily be used for AI resilience.

What’s Existential About the Threat?
In a recent interview at the National Governors Association meeting, Musk explains a fairly simple progression of an AI system whose incentive was to maximize the value of a certain portfolio of stocks (in this case stocks bolstered by the defense and military industry). One way the AI could maximize that portfolio would be to start a war—essentially by counterfeiting communications between two rival countries.

His anecdote reminded of the saying, "guns don’t kill people, people do", and the common rebuttal, "but the gun sure had something to do with it"—just replace the word "gun" with "AI" and you’ve arrived at the same concern as Musk.

In this case, what Musk is worried about is the latest developments of planning and reasoning that AI is now capable of executing. It wouldn’t take much for a human to insert an incentive into the AI system and unwittingly fail to predict the logical conclusion—the endgame.

Right in Front of Us
Aside from preventing Armageddon, the creative and marketing industry also has a very big responsibility for shaping AI in a way that supports the greater good, not just one cohort. We have to ask ourselves—how can we remove bias from AI and algorithms? How can we build AI tools that are incentivized to help all people?

Right now, millions of Amazon Echo devices sit in the homes of people who are likely more affluent than the average American household, and each day the Alexa AI platform becomes smarter based on the usage within those homes. Alexa is likely learning much more about what affluent customers want and how they speak than what low income households want and how they interact. That is a deeper digital divide that may soon be very hard to bridge.

As an industry, we can enter into these efforts with empathy and conscientiousness. If we can do that, I’m hoping that the 50 U.S. governors who sat through Musk’s warnings can start working on the Armageddon scenario in parallel.

Only You Can Prevent AI Forest Fires
So, to answer the question…should we be worried? Yes, but we shouldn’t be paralyzed by the risk. We should begin to use our areas of influence to discuss the incentives, the failsafes, and the role of industry self-regulation. In this particular territory, I think we are underestimating the power of our marketing industry to influence the outcome. Many of today’s top technology resources are aimed squarely at marketing efforts, and we may see early side effects and artifacts of these efforts that others cannot.

Grant Owens is CSO of global experience design agency Critical Mass.

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2017-09-07 00:00:00
For travelers, chatbots and AI can't quite take you there

Ask any technology expert about the future of artificial intelligence (AI) in travel and they'll breathlessly tell you we're on the verge of a revolution.

They'll describe a world in the not-too-distant future where smart applications can find and book a bargain airfare, manage your trip and troubleshoot any problems that might come up with greater speed and efficiency than any human travel agent.

But ask any traveler to describe their experience with AI, and you might hear a different story: One of struggling to be understood by technology that claims to be smart.

These early days of travel bots that specialize in customer service, chat, messaging and search are a cautionary tale. Technology may be good and getting better, but nothing replaces a person. That's unlikely to change for a while, and maybe ever.

Take my recent experience with Hipmunk, widely praised as the cleverest of the customer-facing AIs. I asked it repeatedly to recommend a cold-weather getaway. Instead, it suggested I book a getaway to Nassau, Bahamas. When asked for an island with lower temperatures, Hipmunk cheerfully changed my itinerary -- to a weekend in balmy Port Au Prince, Haiti.

"I don't think that AI in travel is even remotely usable yet," says Brian Harniman, who founded Brand New Matter, a strategic advisory and venture capital firm that specializes in travel. "It's what people are talking about building in order to sound like they have cutting edge tech."

Hipmunk shouldn't feel bad. In the recent past, social media chatbots have created their own incomprehensible language, spouted expletives and in one memorable case, two Chinese AIs churned out anti-revolutionary statements and had to be taken offline. Several travel chatbots I tested didn't even respond to my repeated text queries. Not knowing the difference between the Bahamas and Iceland is, by comparison, a relatively innocent mistake.

"Every experience I've had has been a total waste of time," says Bruce Sweigert, who works for a travel technology company. "I would love to hear at least one positive anecdote about using artificial intelligence in travel."

I asked travelers to tell me about their great AI experiences, but heard only crickets. Perhaps the they were too busy enjoying their AI-booked vacations.

People in the industry, on the other hand, were downright chatty. They explained that my expectations of the technology, which is still in an early stage, are too high. AI is reasonably good at simple tasks, for now they say.

"It can replace some of the simpler tasks," explains Kayne McGladrey, a computer security consultant in Bellingham, Wash. AI can help plan trips, recommend the least agonizing flight itineraries and handle some of the easier tasks handled by a hotel concierge, like recommending restaurants.

There's a reason why this technology works so well: it's not that new. Applications like "Ask Julie," the Amtrak automated virtual travel assistant, are five years old. Julie can field basic questions about train schedules, but don't get too cute with her. For example, if you ask about how comfortable the trains are, she's likely to respond with, "I'm not sure how to answer that. I understand simple questions best. Can you try asking that in a different way?"

Some of the latest applications can go further. For example, Avianca’s new AI, Carla, can confirm itineraries and flight status. For domestic flights in Colombia, passengers can even check-in through Carla using a mobile device. And's new booking assistant allows you to get support for your upcoming hotel reservations, including fast responses to your most common stay-related requests, like "What's my check-in time?"

But other chatbots are frustratingly one-dimensional. Ana, Copa Airlines' new web-based chatbot, seems more like a frequently-asked-questions section than an intelligent agent. It "suggests" questions from a pre-written list of queries.

Even insiders admit that the most advanced system is easily foiled. "My Irish accent gets stronger the more frustrated I get," says Conor Brady, chief creative officer of Critical Mass, an experience design agency in New York. "And obviously travel can get stressful. So voice assistants stop understanding me, as I'm yelling into my phone to translate a street name in Hong Kong, or point me in the direction of a decent cup of coffee in Lisbon."

Maybe you can have the best of both worlds. That's the idea behind new apps like Pana ( and Lola (, which combine the best of AI with human agents. For now, letting the technology do the dirty work and allowing human agents to handle the complex stuff seems like the most reasonable course.

The technologists are right: artificial intelligence will change the way you travel. But maybe not in the way they think -- or the way you think.

Where to find good AI in travel

Hopper ( Serves personalized suggestions about trips you may be interested in, but haven't explicitly searched or watched, based on your activity in the app -- just like Netflix recommends movies you might like.

Skyscanner ( A social media chatbot that helps you quickly find a cheap airfare on Facebook Messenger. I found a bargain fare from Seattle to Hong Kong. But you have to be specific, giving it an exact city. It found the least expensive dates to fly.

Carla, The CWT Personal Travel Assistant ( Still in development when I tested it, this AI chatbot for business travel has a lot of potential. It can make smarter recommendations on flight connections and lodgings, plus it memorizes your company's travel policy and your travel preferences. 

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2017-08-27 00:00:00
Discovering My Personal Disneyland


Inspired By: The Customer-First Magic in the BMW Welt
Each month, we’ll hear about the latest and greatest in customer experiences through the lenses of design and technology, straight from the brain of Grant Owens, Chief Strategy Officer of Critical Mass, a global experience design agency.

When it comes to customer experiences, the BMW Welt is next level. Next level design thinking. Next level service coordination. Next level retail theater.

The BMW Welt (translates to “BMW World”) is a magnificent multipurpose building opened 10 years ago in Munich, Germany to showcase BMW vehicles and welcome new customers from around the globe to the brand.

I’m a car nut, and the Welt is unquestionably my Disneyland. Beyond working on car accounts in the advertising space for the last 15 years, I worked in a car factory when I was younger. I can change my own oil, and I’ve done body work on a few jalopies. I speak car. And this place speaks to me.

Our agency, Critical Mass, works with clients in a vast number of industries that are in a tough battle to win over the customer, but few are more competitive and vigorous than automotive. And while other automotive brands offer physical brand flagships, there is simply nothing close to the BMW Welt. Yes, they are a client of ours (full disclosure), but even if they weren’t, I’d still say, with equivocation, that the Welt is arguably the greatest new customer experience in the world. The new vehicle delivery process at the Welt is a master class in delighting the customer.

Although more common in Europe than the US market, customers who order a specific vehicle for production can choose to take delivery and drive their new car home from the Welt. For customers based in the U.S., they can choose the European delivery program and take delivery at the Welt too.

For customers that elect to take delivery of their new BMW at the Welt, a flawlessly timed and coordinated experience awaits. To call it customer-centered is an understatement: mind, body, and family are all taken into consideration.

Here are the key elements of the BMW Welt that make it a world class brand experience:

Room to Breathe Customers are given space and time. Zero rush. Anyone taking delivery is given three days of access to the overall space and the private lounge. Beyond that they can peruse the public areas, shop the store, or even rent some of BMW’s most powerful vehicles by the hour. Visitors can also enjoy multiple restaurants in the building — with the two-Michelin-star EssZimmer being one of the hardest tables to book in Munich. Function Floating in Form The Welt, while multipurpose, is truly purpose-built architecture. This isn’t a Starbucks in an old bank or the Apple Store in Grand Central Terminal — while those things are great, this is even more impressive. In addition to a floating bridge defying gravity, it’s quiet on the second floor for those taking delivery and busy downstairs where others are looking at the latest products from BMW, MINI, and Rolls-Royce. The Welt manages to function as four or five separate environments in one open space — it’s a nearly paranormal architectural feat. Strategic Future Proofing The Welt experience satisfies every part of the supply chain and will for the foreseeable future. It will encourage product sales in a digital dealer era, a post-digital era, and beyond. For all of the doomsday forecasts of brick and mortar (with which I mostly agree) the Welt turns the retail space entirely on its head and makes you fall in love with bricks all over again. Less Paperwork, More Ceremony Anyone who has purchased and financed a new car knows the dream of getting your ride is quickly overshadowed by confusing piles of paperwork. The client advisors at the Welt have streamlined the process to the bare minimum and within minutes customers are either enjoying an hors d’oeuvre or getting one of the most advanced virtual product tours on the planet, infused with a personalized audio track based on the owner’s preferences. Product First Despite the wizardry and entertainment features of the Welt, the product remains the hero — the lead actor is always the car. As new customers leave the lounge and head down a floating staircase, the client advisors know exactly which stair to stop on right before the customer’s car comes into view. It’s the climactic moment, and I never tired of watching the smiles on their faces as their new BMW spun slowly below them as they continued down the staircase. After descending, they’re welcome to get in their car, start it up, and ask every question they can think of. Then finally, they can literally drive their vehicle in a spiral track through the building and out into the city. All That You Don’t See In addition to this being my own personal Disneyland, the Welt shares traits with Walt’s theme park creation. Behind the scenes, the logistics of the Welt are German engineering at its finest. My team and I were lucky enough to receive a backstage tour, and the precision between phases of prep and delivery is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They are using connected devices to generate an experience that seems like magic to the customer. Some Secrets I Can’t Tell There are number of hidden areas and surprises within the Welt, and I’d be ruining it for many if I leaked them here. But suffice it to say, these special elements go far beyond delighting the customer. They add up to a brand impression and memory that surpasses the customer’s craziest expectations. Even those of the craziest car nuts, like myself. 

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2017-08-15 00:00:00
The Next Frontier in Digital Experiences: Fluid Personalities

Let’s Take a Step Back
What makes a brand a brand? Let’s hazard a definition and say this: a brand is the sum of its experiences. That, and differentiation.

Whether you agree with that pithy definition or not, there’s one thing we all know intrinsically: we know a great brand experience when we see one (or hear one, or participate in one). And the brands we love become intimately familiar to us. We form relationships with them. They’re like friends, in a way.

But what if you could recognize a brand’s voice the same way you do your best friend’s voice (because your brand called you, and the moment you picked up, you knew who it was). You expect your friend’s voice and personality to resonate regardless of whether you are swiping through their Insta-story, sending GIFs on messenger, or FaceTiming. The level of intimacy and interaction changes, but you still know it’s your friend on the other side of a screen.

We Like Experiences, but We Love Personalities
As technology gives brands the ability to be more like your flesh-and-blood friend—to make the “sum total of their experiences” more “human” in an uncannily real way—the very nature of interactivity is going to change. Even a simple idea, like “brand voice,” is going to take a literal turn as voice interaction and chat bots suffuse the digital landscape.

With 360 videos, live-streaming, VR, AR, chatbots, and voice assistants, today’s breadth of interactive and conversational digital interactions is already pushing (if not shoving) us into a new frontier of digital brands with near-real personalities and literal voices. In other words, the idea of a “friend,” “brand,” and “immersive digital interaction” will blur together into a mind-bogglingly personalized, entirely new kind of experience.

The future digital brand will have the capacity to edge closer to approximating an influencer—a real-life and nuanced individual—than an invented fictional icon of the past (e.g., Tony the Tiger). And brands will need to find ways to explore what a cohesive brand personality could entail—an up for grabs question. In fact, as tomorrow’s technologies and design possibilities emerge, brands may very well find uniformity, differentiation, and cohesiveness in a unique brand personality like never before.

The Journey and the Destination
Human-like brand personalities driven by immersive content and voice interaction can seem a little esoteric. So let’s bring the topic back to earth by talking concretely about a specific industry—like Travel and Tourism.

Google (in their “Think with Google” content) makes the convincing case that there are four basic yet distinct phases of the traveler journey: “Inspiration, Planning, Booking, and Experiencing.” That’s precisely where brand personality comes into play—a way to provide a fluid yet consistent, unified yet momentarily apposite brand encounter across each phase. Differentiation is no longer a question of updating a style guide or color palette or imagery, but a broader conversation about the how the brand is expressed—in every sense of the term.

Know Thyself
In the near future, improved voice-interactivity, smarter personalization, and increasing proliferation of AR/VR will open up enormous traveler experience possibilities. But incorporating those opportunities is step two—step one is pinpointing a consistent brand tone and personality.

Ask yourself, is your brand a coach? An authority? A friend? Does the language it uses reflect your heritage? Or does that tone reflect the language of an aspirational audience? With the growing demand for multi-channel communication, asking questions like these is a “must-do” exercise for all brands, including those in the travel and tourism space.

The more robustly a travel brand can articulate itself in terms of personality and tone, the more successful it will be as it incorporates things like machine learning and immersive content into its overall experience.

The Goal: Fluid Personality + Technological Opportunity
The traveler journey is a precarious, emotionally charged buying decision, because so much anticipation and expectation are attached to the outcome. Depending on the kind of vacation—a tour, a resort stay, a cruise, hotel-hopping through a cosmopolitan city—many travelers may find themselves choosing varying routes, locations, accommodations, and activities all at once. A brand personality, married with cutting edge technology, could turn anxieties, confusion, and frustration into a seamlessly reassuring, companionable experience. Here are some ideas to keep in mind (or to be on the look-out for):

1. Inspiration/Building Awareness: In digital personality building, this is a brand’s first introduction, a chance for a good first impression that also provokes intrigue. An awareness piece could be a 360 photo of a hotel or key landmark, an immersive Facebook canvas, or a promoted piece of UGC content; having the ability to know who a traveler is early on (as travelers conduct research over multiple, sporadic sessions) will help you to personalize content, establish your brand as a helpful advisor in the planning process, and provide opportunities to introduce key elements of your personality. By tapping social listening tools with AI-enabled natural language processing (NLP), a brand can further identify key audience needs and speaking styles and reflect them back in its own voice.

2. Planning/Winning Consideration: The planning phase is the time to deepen both personality elements and the sense of relationship—so use a little enticement. Be generous and show off your best features. The ability to surface information and content that best matches the style, preferences and budget of your potential customer is a key component of building rapport with your brand. It’s a matter of frictionless, not just info. Imagine if a traveler could ask your brand’s voice assistant, “Hey TravelBot, I loved that day-sail by the Great Barrier Reef—any tips for Turks and Caicos?” A good answer, with a unique personality, would build trust and legitimacy by delivering right at a traveler’s moment of need, and with a memorable style.

3. Booking/Converting Sales: Booking can seem overwhelming—especially for infrequent travellers and groups. A Chabot can guide travelers through the process, eliminate steps, and set defaults for effortless onsite bookings. But that’s just the beginning. A chatbot represents a chance to really anthropomorphize the brand overall. Brand values can lay a foundation for both manners and mannerism—a unique “voice,” inflected in every word and phrase, that resonates from the initial greeting. A travel brand that can mask the complexity of booking with a helpful and distinct personality can go beyond engagement and build a relationship.

4. Experiencing/Maximizing Service: For travel brands that host guests directly, the “experiencing” phase is an ideal time to have an ongoing conversation with a voice assistant—part friend, part guide that shepherds, amuses, and accompanies travelers as they explore everything on their “must-see” and “must-do” list. Voice interfaces backed by deep learning and AI are ideally suited for providing engaging, deeper, ongoing levels of trip personalization. By immediately adapting the experience based on inputs that could include anything from traveler reactions or changes to local weather, things like tour itineraries could evolve from static timekeepers to dynamic local guides that can single out the best things to see and do for each individual.

The Takeaway
The next generation of brand personality must gradually and appropriately build across the customer journey. The digital experiences and touch points become more and more immersive and intimate—from banner ads to smart bracelets—as the customer moves down the funnel. The connective tissue that stretches across the journey is a consistent voice, tone, look and feel that eventually translates into a distinct personality. Or ideally—it’s one personality that subsequently translates into a consistent voice, tone, look and feel.

For a brand that wants to make a mark with digital innovation, the first order of business should not be to launch a suite of shiny objects and immersive content for the sake of launching shiny objects and immersive content. Instead, ask why you're bringing the bleeding edge of digital experiences into your ecosystem, and what your overall brand personality will be in an age of chatty AI, virtual immersion, and data-driven personalization. If you focus on cultivating an engaging and unique personality, it will be a lot easier to find the tactical improvements that will subsequently bring to life the brand your customers will fall in love with. 

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2017-06-28 00:00:00
CM Designer Named Advertising Age Cover Contest Finalist

Ad Age invited young creatives for the eighth time to design the cover of our annual creative-focused issue that is distributed at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The duo that created the winning cover won a trip to the festival, and will be saluted at Ad Age's Cannes cocktail party.

This year's winners, Carlos Quimpo and Byron Co, are junior art directors at TBWA Santiago Mangada Puno in the Philippines. Their simple but striking interpretation of the brief to "create a visual capturing the essence of the creative process today" features raw beef marinating. (Read more about that, and the winners, here).

The eight finalists we selected after reviewing hundreds of entries from around the world will be there, too, in the form of billboards featuring their designs outside the Majestic Hotel during the Cannes Lions festival.
Our finalists include Rosie Mossey, an art director at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness in New York, who embroidered a red cover with white letters spelling out "Mak Am ri a G ea Ag ain" with the six missing, ripped-out letters forming the word "Create" below. Christopher Ruh, a junior designer at 72andSunny in Los Angeles, turned our cover into a blue computer screen covered with groups of tiny desktop files that each told a story about the creative process and were fascinating to decipher in "Inspiration Overload."

Other finalists are talented young creatives working at international agencies around the world including Critical Mass in London, Publicis Ambience in Bangalore, Geometry Global in Hong Kong, and, in the U.S., Ogilvy & Mather, Brand Union, and SapientRazorfish.

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2017-06-12 00:00:00
Things We’re Talking About: May 2017 2.0


A recent study from the Fox School of Business at Temple University describes how social media marketing harms has been hurting business in the long-term—users who find posts annoying are quick to tap ‘unfollow.’ While the study focuses on WeChat, the learnings could be applied to all social channels. In order to keep fans coming back, brands need to be less invasive, find the right post cadence and use data to discover what their audiences want. Brands who jump into the social world see a lift in sales short-term, but brands that aren’t engaging with audiences in their preferred way will see a decrease in followers and business. And that’s the most annoying thing of all.


We’ve always been champions of the power of word of mouth. However, this recent survey on how negative reviews affect purchase decision further drives home how truly powerful word of mouth has become. Whether it’s faulty product reviews, hidden fees or a lack of customer service, over 88% of respondents said that a negative review on social media would change their mind about a purchase. And it doesn’t stop there. Over 73% of respondents said they would leave a negative review to save other consumers from a negative experience. Brands need to actively review posts on their pages, react to any negative reviews and rectify any problems ASAP. Or else lost sales could be in their future.


We’ve all heard how viewership of standard TV is down. The Academy Awards, the Super Bowl and more have experienced a decline in the last few years. Younger generations are moving farther and farther away from traditional TV, watching 13% less year over year. Instead, Millennials and GenZ are watching their content online, with the main winner being social media. Marketers who have not yet shifted their focus to social need to do so now, otherwise you’re wasting your money.


On their latest earnings call, Amazon gave its clearest indication that advertising could become a “meaningful part of the business” in the near future. If this is true, it’s increasingly important for marketers to understand the Amazon ecosystem and start thinking how advertising and SEO could become a part of the mix. Brick and mortar stores continue to see a decline, with ‘showrooming’ becoming an increasingly popular trend. Advertising on Amazon offers brands a platform to sell their products right next to check out. Nothing that Amazon does is small, and this is a difference that could set them apart from other social channels in a big way. Even Facebook doesn’t offer a fully integrated advertising and purchase experience—although they are trying to bring the QR code back for in-store rewards.


Facebook may be the biggest of all social networks, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t newbies on the social media block that deserve attention. We like hearing about the up and coming social networks fighting for our attention, and the newest additions to the social media landscape have some pretty compelling offerings. From lip-syncing fun on to Lego’s truly safe social network for kids, there are quite a few new players that are worthy of a second look. At least until Facebook buys or copies them.


Understanding how to use social media responsibly and staying in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations is critical to your brand—as well as maintaining credibility and trust with audiences. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has developed online training videos to help you implement successful social media campaigns and navigate FTC disclosures. Learn more about these online courses at WOMMA University. 

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2017-05-09 00:00:00
Opinion / Personalisation’s Promised Land

We’ve all been there. You are sitting in a meeting and a client says, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could present a tailored cross-sell offer to each of our customer segments on the homepage? You know, really personalise it?’

Everyone nods in agreement. It makes sense. Salespeople get excited by the possibility of meeting their aggressive sales targets. Marketers imagine tightening the grip they have on their customers by selling across multiple product lines. Tech says they can target the offer to a particular segment. Perhaps at this point, talk turns to how success will be measured and the possibilities of A/B testing various offers.

The overall tone of the room is a feeling of satisfaction that the company will be implementing a ‘personalised’ experience.

Who in the room, though, is asking whether the customer will be satisfied?

Targeted offers are just a ‘nod’ to personalisation

Personalisation is about more than just tailoring marketing messages in order to sell more stuff. That’s a typical business-first perspective that results in short term value. As CX pros, we need to approach personalisation from the customer’s perspective. Our job is to help them get done what they want to get done – and done in the way they want to do it. A truly personalised experience demonstrates empathy – less like the creepy result of data mining and more like a “bear hug” from an understanding and trusted friend.

So, where is the real potential for personalisation?

Think about the last time you upgraded your cell phone. What caused you to consider upgrading in the first place? Perhaps your phone was getting sluggish. It wasn’t broken, chipped, or cracked, and it was as feature-rich as you needed. But the last few times you updated the software you noticed a decline in speed that became frustrating.

What did you do next? Did you take it to a store to see if it was a software glitch that they could fix? Did you update your status on Facebook venting to your friends and asking for their advice? Did you turn to Google to troubleshoot the problem on your own? As your frustration grew, perhaps you started to browse phones and plans or access your mobile provider’s app to see if you could get an upgrade and what it would cost.

Did you do some of these things from your phone? Others from your tablet or laptop? And when and where did you do them?

At some point, all of these small moments added up. They helped you to make a decision and accomplish the “job” you wanted to get done: To have a faster cell phone.

But how well did the existing digital experiences keep up with your journey? As you jumped from activity to activity, did each step in your experience recognise the cumulative and evolving context across these actions? Did it serve up content that accurately predicted just what you needed next? Or were you left to manage this inventory of information, process it internally, and decide what you would do next on your own?

This is where UX can help

Right now, too many brands are asking their customers to bridge experience gaps. ‘Bear with us, and please muddle through this digital experience – we apologise for any inconvenience.’ That’s not the customer’s job. It’s yours. Especially if you work in UX. If you’re part of a UX design team with responsibility for digital platforms, you have the power to impact your customer’s journey for the better.

For personalisation to add value, we have to meet customers with the right content, at the right time, in the right place. Sounds easy. Until you start to unpack what it’ll take to deliver on such a mission.

Even Amazon, who is often referenced for its exemplary, personalised UX, repeatedly does things like re-target customers with baby toys, soothers and onesies because they once bought a diaper bag for a friend. Amazon lacks the full context in which the customer made the purchase. To customers, it becomes painfully clear that Amazon doesn’t really know them.

But imagine if Amazon identified it as a potential annual purchase and then sent a timely birthday email reminder on the anniversary – complete with a recommended gift based on age, sex and what others have bought and rated highly. Amazon could even pre-populate the delivery address of where you sent last year’s gift, removing one more thing you need to do.

One-click and done. That is a contextually-driven user experience. Personal, meaningful, easy.

Where to start

Ask yourself: what are you ready for? I don’t recommend putting your hopes into a slick vision of machine-learning-based personalisation on day one. It takes enormous amounts of investment, technical know-how, and organisational wherewithal to get to the personalisation promised land. You can get there, but be prepared to crawl before you run. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Break down internal silos and identify a cross-discipline team who can take responsibility for your personalisation efforts from strategy to implementation
Integrate disparate data sources for a single view of your customer at any moment in time
Evaluate your CMS to ensure it’s flexible enough to handle dynamic content
Evolve design systems to be more modular and component-based
Model your customer’s most important needs from a content and experience flow standpoint
Identify the moments that matter and the context that surrounds them; then use personalisation as a tool to improve them.
Final thoughts

We should all strive to create meaningfully personalised experiences that go far beyond targeted offers. These experiences need to identify and elevate the moments that matter through thoughtful personalisation.

Like a true friend, make your customers’ lives easier. Surprise them, delight them, and don’t be afraid to give them a bear hug. They may just hug you back. 

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2017-05-08 00:00:00
Headset, Ready, Go! VR is Here—Time for Brands to Catch Up

As a creative technologist at a digital agency, I have a lot of tech-related conversations with brand marketers. These days, a number of conversations turn to the topic of VR:

“When will it really make sense for us to start using VR?”

“How do VR experiences scale?”

And my favorite:

“Is it just hype?”

In other words—“Is VR for real, and what's holding it back?”

VR is real. Everything that digital brand marketers and agencies have been doing for years has taught us almost everything we need to know to make immersive VR experiences. And VR platforms, while nascent in maturity, are everywhere and waiting for you.

We have the knowledge and the tools, we just need to put them together.

VR hardware is already mass market

If you have a smartphone, you have a platform for VR. The quality of the experience depends on the computer in your pocket, or desktop, and the supporting hardware to enable the immersive environment.

At the entry-level we have affordable handheld devices like Google Cardboard—something you can fold together, like an industrial designer’s origami View Master. It’s not very interactive, but it’s cheap, and it works. VR for all.

Mid-tier devices, such as the Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream, and the actual View Master, feature better optics and can add remote controls that give us a way to interact with the virtual environment good for a quick, more functional fix of a virtual world.

Currently on the high end are the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, each enabling a highly interactive, full-range of motion to room-scale experience. Requiring a traditional computer with a high-powered video card, these devices are expensive but amazing. With a price tag starting at $2,000 for the computer and the VR headset, they are not mass adoption platforms, but they are great for understanding the power of high quality VR.

I hasten to add that there are other platforms (e.g., PlayStation VR sold over 1 million units in its first 6 months), and more on the way. The options are on the shelf. VR ubiquity is here.

You Already Know What You Need to Know
If you want to create a VR experience, focus on two things: 1) tell a great, immersive story, which is something we already do, and 2) design for a variety of devices, which is something we also already do.

As for the variety of devices: Think of mobile-first design. Start with your most constrained platform, a mobile phone, and design a beautiful experience. As your devices get larger and more powerful—tablets and desktops—the designs become more complex and immersive. It’s what we call progressive enhancement, a process by which we define a baseline user experience we want the widest, most inclusive, audience to experience. Then we build on top of that experience, adding more features and enhancements as platforms allow.

So why stop with a 2D desktop experience? On the flip side, why feel that your brand story isn’t worth telling unless it's done in room-scale VR?

 Great options abound.

For Now, You Can Keep It Simple
WebVR is an emerging standard that provides virtual reality experiences inside of web browsers. Expanding on the idea of progressive enhancement, WebVR can progressively enhance a traditional digital experience based on the hardware you have available. Do you have a Google Cardboard or Daydream? Great, snap your phone in (right now) and watch the mobile experience in VR. Oculus or Vive? Try a (currently) experimental browser and see the future of the immersive web.

 That said, even the ability to control the experience can benefit from progressive enhancement. With hand held controllers, a beautiful passive experience becomes interactive.

Next, You Can Get Social
Web browsing experiences aren’t the only way that brands will be able to use VR at scale. Social VR is coming. In fact, Facebook has placed a $2 billion bet on social VR by purchasing Oculus and furthered its inroads with the beta release of Facebook Spaces. Google is all in on VR being a scalable platform, and Google looks for things that scales to billions of users. The question isn’t will VR be adopted by the masses, the question is when. Price for a quality experience is the biggest problem now. The high-end hardware is already there in quality. When the quality of the Oculus and Vive experience can fit on your phone we will see mass adoption. And that’s just a matter of time.

But Always, Be an Amazing Storyteller
While the hardware and software to create immersive experiences are ready now, figuring out the storytelling angle is paramount. A 360-degree live action video is an inherently different experience than an interactive computer-generated environment that allows you to move about freely. For truly interactive experiences in VR, experience design is going to start to blend into game design. Game designers have been creating immersive worlds for decades, from text adventures to incredibly massive multiplayer games like World of Warcraft. This is a talent gap agencies will need to bridge.

VR is ready for brands to start telling stories that take advantage of the medium. If you don't feel ready, it's because you just don't realize how ready you already are. 

Read more at: 

2017-05-03 00:00:00
Is It AI or BS? Here's Why the Answer Doesn't Matter

A recent article in Ad Age argues that, for some marketers and product developers, AI's buzz-worthiness may be more enticing than the functionality of the tech at hand. The author rehashes a number of complaints from within the industry: machine learning erroneously gets called "AI"; companies use AI technologies without understanding them; marketers and product developers are riding a wave of AI hype to fuel the promotion of AI-powered products.

Fair enough. But there's a sunny side to the hype. In fact, hype is a good thing.

What's in a name?

Terms such as "machine learning," "neural networks" and "natural language understanding" (among others) may not be as sexy as "AI," but does that really matter? Is it really detrimental to have a term that can be used to describe a complex set of technologies in order for them to be better understood and ... gulp ... marketed?
I say no. Having a term that acts as a categorical signpost of a family of technologies is enormously helpful because, over the long term, it helps promote understanding and adoption of technologies that have the potential to change the world.

A prime example is the term "internet." This single name belies the rather large and complex set of technologies that work together to create our understanding of what the internet is. But over time, "internet" came to stand for sum total of our digital connectivity, and we all wanted to be involved with it. Right now, a number of platforms and technologies are finding their way to market thanks, in part, to the iconographic aura surrounding "AI." The internet was hyped. And now, so is AI.
What's really worth getting hyped about?

The technologies that make up AI have advanced to a point where they have come out of academia to become accessible to more people. In other words, the barrier to entry is low -- lower than most people realize -- and will continue to decrease over time. And that's exciting.

The code required to support the creation of neural networks need not be written from scratch. Advanced computer science degrees are no longer required. For example, you can download TensorFlow, an open source machine learning toolset, from Google, and focus only on the problem at hand, the neural network itself.  

The result? Advanced technology is wielded by more hands and is used in more and more creative and interesting ways. I'm the first to stand in awe of the computer scientists and academics who create and advance the technological foundations of AI, but I also stand in awe of the creative visionaries who can find ingenious uses for new technologies. When different kinds of brilliant minds can advance the way a technology can be used, we get more products and solutions.

Which leads to innovation.

Which then leads to hype. Healthy hype.
It also doesn't hurt that these technologies are actually proving to be useful and have started to have a massive impact in our lives (e.g., if you've used Siri, or searched for something on Google today).
In other words, they have real purpose, which actually is the fundamental issue we should be thinking -- and getting hyped -- about. Technology used for technology's sake rarely works or sticks around very long.

It must have a purpose and value.

It must improve a customer pain point, or enable new business models and products.

If you can't clearly see the purpose of a particular AI-driven technology -- if you can't answer the question, "What problem are we solving?" -- then AI may not be what you need. But people are indeed asking those questions, because AI is inspiring creative minds, providing fundamentally different ways to approach problem solving. It's sparking wonder and innovation. That can't be a bad thing.

I, for one, can't wait to see how these technologies will evolve, and what innovations they will spur. And if a few companies decide to use AI as a marketing and product strategy, so be it. The market itself will filter out the empty hype eventually. It always has. 

Read more at: 

2017-05-01 00:00:00
Critical Mass invests in mobile agency Prolific Interactive

Omnicom digital agency Critical Mass has bought a minority stake in Prolific Interactive, a Brooklyn-based mobile design and strategy agency that develops apps for clients like American Express, Saks Fifth Avenue, SoulCycle, David's Bridal and Sephora.

Prolific will continue to operate as a stand-alone brand but will be known as a Critical Mass agency, joining the Zócalo Group in Chicago and Hangar in Costa Rica. The company has grown to more than 100 employees since its 2009 founding. CEO and co-founder Bobak Emamian will continue in that role.

"There’s a real complementary nature to the way Prolific approaches things and ours," said Dianne Wilkins, CEO of Critical Mass, which is part of the DAS Group of Companies. "We’ve certainly grown up as a services agency. The process and mindset they have is quite different. We’re really hoping we can learn from and inject some of the product development speed and speed-to-innovation within Critical Mass."

As for Prolific, the company was growing beyond its startup phase, and Emamian and his colleagues were beginning to ponder their next steps. "We hit this point personally and professionally where we soul-searched," said the 29-year-old Emamian. "What do we really want? Who are we? To operate with intent was absolutely crucial."

In the end, the resources and experience of an established partner won them over. "The opportunity that we have with Critical Mass and Omnicom is something that gives us the biggest opportunity and legacy over time," he said. And it will be easier to answer clients’ questions about investors and ownership stakes. "We’re definitely excited to not have to brush that off anymore," he added.

The cultures of the two agencies are also a good match. "When you meet Di and her team, that’s the way we’ve built the business so far—surrounding ourselves with genuine, incredible people who are so generous with their advice and time," Emamian said.

"They feel like us a few years back." Wilkins said. "Super-high value on culture and the agency’s culture and being a great place to work, the ability to help clients and produce great work."

Since its founding in 1996, Critical Mass has grown from a single shop in Calgary, Canada to 12 locations worldwide, and the Prolific team is eager to tap into that knowledge base. Prolific opened their first expansion office in San Francisco shop three-and-a-half years ago, and the process was more difficult than expected. "Critical Mass is super ambitious in terms of opening new offices," Emamian said, "so we’re excited to learn from Di and the team about the best ways to do that."

Read more at 

2016-12-14 00:00:00
The Betamax Generation Have Gone Digital and Here’s How to Design for Them Imagine an implacably vexed grannie. She’s squints over her bifocals at a mobile phone and then hands it to her grandson in desperation and disgust.

That’s a common stereotype in our youth-obsessed marketing world. And it doesn’t exist anymore.

People over the age of 50 are embracing digital—in fact, 84% of people over the age of 65 would miss the Internet if it was not part of their daily life. Older people are shopping (77%), socializing (58 minutes daily), gaming (7.4 hours weekly) banking (80%) and living online.

They’re relatively wealthy, too. How wealthy? In the UK, over-50’s have 80% of the wealth. They purchase 65% of new cars, 68% of cosmetics, and 70% of luxury travel. They also drive 40% of Internet traffic, and are projected to drive 50% of the growth in consumer industries over the next 15 years. Yes, 50%.

So over-50’s are the most valuable segment in the history of marketing—and yet, they’re the most ignored. Only 10% of marketing budgets are directed to them. Yes, 10%.

They deserve closer attention.

To that end, we surveyed 500 over-50s and interviewed an additional 20 of them. Our hope was to get a clearer picture of what they want from digital, and what they don’t want. Here’s some of what we found:

Be an Authority, and Build Trust

Over-50’s differ from their younger counterparts in a number of ways, but none so much as their perception of authority. Younger internet users go online because they feel like they’re missing something when offline. “Boomers” on the other hand, care less about missing out (21% less, to be exact). Instead, they want substance. Older users engage with brands who can provide authoritative information on products and industries—someone who can answer questions.

Make it Safe

Older users also crave security. Among the people we surveyed, we found a direct correlation between perceived security and rates of adoption. Or as one person put it: “Guarantee my security, and if you can’t, no business.”

Go Big on Mobile

Squashing your desktop site into a tiny device is not going to cut it. Mobile is wonderfully convenient, but the small screen is not a plus for older users. “I embrace some [mobile experiences], but due to a small screen size on my phone, I usually prefer to use my laptop.” Whatever you design for mobile had better be simple and clear.

Don’t Bombard Them

Relevant content will bring increased engagement. Likewise, don’t spam your over-55 customer, who would quickly tell you, “don’t flood my box with unrelated emails,” if given the chance. Older folks have seen every form of junk mail in history. Be the hero that ends it once and for all.

Be Human

Don’t just throw information at your over-55 customer—especially on digital. Guide them. Help them get to the answer they need. And if there’s a problem, talk to them. Exactly half of them prefer call centers, and roughly a quarter will settle for chat.

Above all, Be Simple

There’s nothing we can say that this man hasn’t said: “If it’s not simple or easy to use then I’ll piss off. I have little patience.” Bravo, sir.

Article by Alistair Millen, Strategy Director & Shey Colbey, Director of User Experience at Critical Mass 


2016-12-06 00:00:00
7 predictions for voice and AI in 2017

Unlike every other hot topic from 2016, voice interaction and AI does not bore me. I hope you feel the same, because we’ll be hearing even more about them in 2017. Here’s what we should keep our eyes (and ears) on. 

1. Standards emerge
As standards and intuitive features emerge, and digital designers everywhere recognize how momentous that is, voice interactions will improve greatly. The set of definitions and models we create for voice interaction with assistants like Alexa and Siri today will influence the shape of things for a long time to come. For an analogy, think back across the models of interaction that caught on over the past 20 years — how we browse the web, or the common icons, forms, and gesture styles we use across the app market. Standards for how we interact with voice assistants will emerge in the same way.

2. Voice-activated AI encroaches on Google search dominance
Voice interaction experiences represent a small window of opportunity for competitors to loosen Google’s stranglehold on the search market. For the most part, voice interaction remains an exercise in precision and contextual search results. Even though it’s still a “best algorithm wins” game, all algorithms are pretty good now. Just as everyone got hooked on Googling for information, they could easily get hooked into a new interaction habit with a voice assistant that isn’t powered by Google. In fact, Microsoft’s Bing currently sits behind Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s Siri, and of course, Cortana. I’m personally not betting that Google gets unseated  —  they are running hard at this space  — but again, it’s a window of opportunity. I wouldn’t be surprised if new entrants steal coveted user loyalty.

3. They give parental advice
Are you, or have you ever been, a new parent? If not, let me bring you up to speed: New moms and dads have their hands full. Literally. The conditions for voice interactions are perfect in a home with young children . In addition to being able to give your child a bath or cook a meal without interruption, every parent can tell you that if you try to stay connected with your mobile phone in proximity to a young child, the phone will be ripped from your hands, used as a teething toy, and then flung across the room at the cat. And it turns out phones are expensive to replace. Want to know how to improve your voice efforts? Talk to new parents.

4. AirPods help you communicate with the AI
I think Apple sees AirPods as something akin to Google Glass, but with less risk of negative social bias. AirPods, which have been called a computer for your ears, present an always-on, always at-the-ready opportunity for personal connection to content. Apple is simply placing a first bet on a nonvisual connection  — at least until optical wearable technology matures. In 2017, we will see this new product become more and more useful as an interface to AI assistance.

5. Brand personalities go multi-platform
If Max Headroom were around today, he’d be impressed by what’s to come in 2017. The closer voice interactions and AI get to natural language conversations, the more we can apply personality traits to our virtual agents. It’s important to craft unique personalities and a tone of voice that aligns with a core brand  — or potentially introduce a new character for a brand that can shift perceptions or attract a new audience. In either case, look for these new personalities to make their debuts through voice in 2017, but more importantly, look for them to take hold across multiple channels, platforms, and apps. In the very near future we will see a new TV brand character that was originally born out of a digital voice experience.

6. Hardware peripheral support emerges
Siri now works with multiple apps. It’s a clear reminder that we’re heading to a voice-enabled future. The only issue is that many of those products were not engineered with listening and speaking in mind. The quality and ability of the microphone in most multi-use devices can’t keep up with purpose-built ones such as the beloved Amazon Echo and Google Home speaker. We will continue to see PC devices that have voice interaction software capabilities, but imperfect hardware out of the box. I expect to see Apple launch purpose-built peripherals as well.

7. Your CMS starts to listen to you
It may be the last thing many people think of, but it will be one of the first things companies notice. The current state of major website content management systems (CMS) and digital asset management (DAM) is about to fall woefully short of consumer demands, because companies are still building infrastructure around text, forms, and image assets. Many companies have not prepared themselves for the next 3 to 5 years, and, as they begin to look into delivering voice-enabled experiences in 2017, the gaps will begin to appear. That won’t do. Companies need to start building for the very near future if they want to deliver product-related audio content across new sets of channels and interactions. Now that the CMS has become the hub of the content marketing cloud, it must evolve to facilitate voice interaction — just as it evolved to syndicate content across channels. 

This article first appeared on VentureBeat

2016-12-02 00:00:00
CM Ranked an Elite Agency in The Drum’s Digital Census The Drum’s Digital Census, conducted in partnership with Results International and Merit, outlines the performance of digital agencies across the UK.

Here, you can find a snapshot of the census results, grouped by staff size, with a separate ranking for media agencies. 

Read more here

2016-11-29 00:00:00
Marriott Hotels and CM Launch a New Digital Travel Magazine

When Arne Sorenson became Marriott’s CEO in 2012, he shifted the brand strategy to target next-gen travelers. A year later, the hotel giant created a website built for millennials,, and now Marriott is evolving that site into a digital magazine of the same name.

"Travel Brilliantly is something that millennials may not think of instinctively" when thinking about Marriott, said Michael Dail, vice president of global brand marketing for Marriott Hotels at Marriott International. "The whole mission of the brand is around our guests being innovative, creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. Our role is to help them on their journey."

The site will feature long-form quarterly content that aims to give readers insight on travel through an editorial lens. "We’re not trying to be Buzzfeed; we’re not trying to always be on social content providers," said Dail. "We want to have a purpose and some thought leadership that’s appropriate for the brand."

In its inaugural edition, dubbed "The Curiosity Issue," readers will find interviews with Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, as well as partner content from TED, art/tech company VSCO and female entrepreneurial firm Create & Cultivate. The brand partners will also host the content on their sites.

"This speaks to the creative class," said Jonathan Cohen, vice president of strategy and insights at Critical Mass. Tasked with creating a platform that would represent Marriott as a travel brand, not just a hotel chain, Critical Mass began by researching the content produced by the competition and found that there was much room for improvement. "Because we live in the digital age, everyone feels obligated to be always on and pumping out content," he said. "Finding good quality content was sometimes tough. Just the din of noise of travel-oriented content was extraordinary."

Travel Brilliantly originally began as a vehicle to showcase consumer-generated brand ideas, such as integrating local mixology scenes in hotel bars. The new site features a curated collection of thought pieces from partners like TED and influencer interviews. A sister site, Traveler, is made up of general interest stories from partners like Dail said Traveler and Travel Brilliantly will co-exist in an "organic relationship," as the newly launched magazine consists of long-form content and Traveler focuses on quick tips like the best bike routes in Barcelona.

Read more at 

2016-11-07 00:00:00
Life In The Time Of Everyday Cyborgs


It’s the early 80’s, and my family is visiting Southern California.

I’m on a soundstage at Universal Studios when a man in an orange jumpsuit pulls me from the crowd and asks if I’m ready to run 60 miles an hour, jump over a building, lift a truck, and save the day. “Are you ready to be The Six Million Dollar Man?”

I am so ready.

And thanks to the magic of late 70’s “special effects,” I ran sixty-miles-an-hour, jumped over a building, and picked up that truck… one-handed no less.

I was as close to real a cyborg as you could get.


Some thirty years later, I found myself in a room teeming with medical equipment, doctors and nurses assisting in the delivery of my son. After he was born, I registered the sudden quiet of the doctor, saw the subtle alarm of nurses, and heard the blood-freezing phrase, “Mr. Rickey, could you come over here for a moment? We need to talk.”

My pulse raced. My mind recalled every congenital malady I knew of—and then I saw the obvious. Much to my surprise, our bright, beautiful bundle of joy was short one ear.

We found out that he was born with a condition called Microtia Atresia / Hemifacial Microsomia. It’s a mouthful, but it means: small ear, no ear canal, and a short mandible on one side. Most people call it “microtia” for short.

A flood of emotions and questions hit me in that moment. But one question stood out above the rest. Can we rebuild him?


The answer was simple. Yes.

And this is where things get both interesting and agonizing. Rebuilding my son has involved the meeting place of astounding medical technologies and a question wracked with ethical quandaries and parental guilt: “Are we making the right decisions for the right reasons?”

Our first decision: how should we rebuild the ear itself? The long-standing method involves harvesting rib cartilage; it’s invasive and can’t be done until grade school. But then we learned about a newer option—a polyethylene plastic implant called Medpor that only requires day surgery and can be done before a child enters kindergarten.

We kept our sons ribs intact and embraced the new technology. A year ago he had an outer ear rebuilt using Medpor. The porous plastic framework allows vessels and skin to integrate with it—to become a living part of his body.

Plastic instead of cartilage. A being with both organic and biomechatronic body parts. Our son is now a cyborg.

But that is far from the end of this story.

The benefit of the Medpor ear is socio-psychological, not functional. He has always had a working inner ear, but not an ear canal. Sounds have to be loud—really loud—for him to hear them in that ear.

This issue puts us on the precipice of determining the next step in his technological evolution.


Pause for a moment and consider how much our personal technology has changed in the five years since his birth.

He was born a year after the first iPad was launched. The same year the iPhone 4S was launched.

In that time we have seen the rise of wearables, and the Internet of Things, and a myriad of other devices that, thanks to progress in technologies like BlueTooth, Wi-Fi, miniaturization and more, have fundamentally changed our world.

The style of hearing aid we are exploring is different than the kind that most people are familiar with. My son has a functioning inner ear; he can process sound—the problem is that he has bone where most people have an ear canal, which means sounds can’t reach his ear-drum in the first place. Rather than an air-conduction hearing aid or cochlear implant, he requires a bone-attached hearing aid (BAHA).

Since the first US-approved use of BAHAs in 1997, the tech has progressed considerably. When it was new, the technology produced a result far inferior to normal hearing. Oh how things have changed.

Today, someone with a BAHA can far surpass people with ordinary hearing. Superhuman capabilities.

A BAHA can attach to a smartphone. It allows for adjustments in volume. You can play around with the treble and bass. You can save custom settings for certain locations. It can connect to microphones. Or link to a wide array of devices from televisions to wearable mikes. It remembers every place it’s been, and constantly creates a record of how the processor is working. The BAHA can advise your audiologist how it can be fine-tuned and personalized based on your behaviors.

Just as smartphones keep getting smarter, so do BAHAs. They learn.

And since sensors and processors are getting smaller and better by the day (and always have), you can bet that this tech will only get better as well. BAHA-users will continue to be able to hear more, and hear better, than the rest of us.

My wife and I have already made a decision to proceed in treating the hearing loss, and with good reason. Kids with microtia have a high rate of needing to repeat a grade thanks to struggles with hearing loss and self-confidence. The rebuilt ear will make him blend in, which helps where social development and self-confidence are concerned. And a BAHA hearing aid would dramatically increase his ability to hear in a classroom. He has the chance to hear what every other kid hears. In fact, he could have the chance to hear better than other kids.

But there was a catch. There’s always a catch.


There’s a routine conversation we have in our house that must seem crazy to anyone who doesn’t have a child with microtia.

We frequently debate the pros and cons of two methods by which we can permanently attach a BAHA to our son. One way involves driving a titanium screw into his skull and leaving part of that screw exposed to serve as an abutment for the hearing aid. Alternatively, we could opt for surgically lifting a portion of his scalp so that we can drill shallow wells into his skull that, in turn, will serve as placements for magnets that hold the processor in place.

It’s a perfectly sensible topic in light of the advantages that both procedures offer to his long-term development and chances at success. Of course, we’re talking about drilling into his skull…


As our skull-drilling debates suggest, becoming a cyborg isn’t without its invasive issues and some very difficult choices. Self-improvement and mutilation are eerily intertwined.

The recent 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil brought some of those issues to light when U.S. sprinter, David Prince—a unilateral amputee—vented: “Oh, to be bilateral.”

He was watching Greek runner Michail Seitis set a world record for his division in the men’s 400-meter final. Seitis came in sixth place out of eight runners—behind five double amputees.

Prince voiced his belief that prosthetics technology has advanced to the point that it’s better to be a double amputee than a single amputee—in track and field, at any rate. And he’s not alone in asserting that prosthetics have improved so significantly that they are beginning to confer an advantage on those who were previously considered “disabled.”

After Oscar Pistorius’s performance in the 2012 London Olympics (in the days before his legal notoriety), the International Association of Athletics Federations subtly changed the rulebook—rule 144.3(d) to be exact.

Long story short, the IAAF reversed a policy that forced officials to prove that “mechanical aid” gave an unfair benefit to athletes. Unlike four years ago, the burden of proof now rests with the athletes themselves: “[not allowable is] the use of any mechanical aid, unless the athlete can establish on the balance of probabilities that the use of an aid would not provide him with an overall competitive advantage over an athlete not using such aid.”

This shift is a key reason why German Paralympic long-jumper Markus Rehm was not allowed to compete against the 2016 Olympic gold medalist American Jeff Henderson. He could not prove his blade prosthesis did not give him an advantage.

For context, Rehm’s personal best would have beaten Henderson by two centimeters. Who knows what he could do if he were bilateral?

Once upon a time, we had to pick up science fiction novels to encounter conflicts between humans and cyborgs. Now, we can leaf through the rulebook they use at the Olympics…


So here’s the question we are all going to be asking in the near future: How far will we go to embrace technologies that rebuild us? The technology is only getting better. Quickly. Everyday cyborgs already walk among us. And they have amazing abilities.

And as our population looks to address injury, illness, and the age-old dilemma of old-age itself, the ability to bring our abilities back (and then some) will alter our fundamental assumptions about our own bodies and each other. We’ll know blessings and burdens of superhumans intimately.

No “special effects” required.

Russ Rickey is a Strategy Director at Critical Mass. He’s spent the last sixteen years leading multidisciplinary teams on delivering strategic insight and creative experiences through understanding his clients’ needs, their customers’ wants, and the latest in industry trends. He also holds a PhD in Digital Writing and Performance Theory from the University of Calgary. 

2016-11-02 00:00:00
CM Pine-Sol work featured as AdWeek’s Ad of The Day

Most folks won't be floored by these brief, humorous Pine-Sol vignettes. But that's probably OK with the venerable brand, which just wants to tell viewers that its grease- and stain-fighting action works on lots of household stuff, not just floors.
Running as YouTube pre-rolls geared to the site's most popular searches—from "funny cat videos" to "makeup tutorials"—each ad opens by explaining something the product can't do.
For example, in the clip below, will Kitty leap onto the table or the countertop? Pine-Sol concedes it hasn't got a clue. But it has got the right stuff to make either surface shine:

Heh, Mr. Boddington's all like, "I'm stock footage—meow!" Using stock exclusively allowed Pine-Sol to keep the costs low across 19 videos.
"The work was designed to resonate with the audience by meeting them where they are, and talking about the things they're talking about—literally," says Stefan Smith, senior copywriter at Critical Mass, which developed the campaign. "Our target is too clever and focused to watch something they don't connect with right away, and Pine-Sol isn't something they are naturally enthused about."
BrandShare Content

What Brands Like Hershey, Mrs. Meyer’s and Cuisinart Know About Customer Experience
C'mon, dude, who isn't enthused about Pine-Sol? (Maybe they'll put you on a car account next time.)
Oh, and the tagline changes to fit each ad. "Pine-Sol. We're not cats" serves Mr. B. well enough, but aspiring rockers get a different slogan:

Wow, "We don't rock" shows admirable self-awareness, Pine-Sol! Kidding, of course. You absolutely rock—as much as any household cleaner can.
"By tying into the thing they're actually looking for, we've got a way better chance of getting the viewer to watch our ad and consider our message," Smith says. "It doesn't seem so random, as so much pre-roll does. It might even be a little surprising or uncanny, making them wonder how we did it."
Does this qualify as Cannes-conquering comedy? No. That said, the best ads of the bunch are amusing absurd. This next one deals with dating, and as it turns out, this particular scenario sparked an animated discussion among the creative team:

"We end the video with 'Pine-Sol. We don't date.' Which is obviously true. A bottle of Pine-Sol has never dated anyone or anything," Smith says. "But originally we wanted to say 'Pine-Sol. We're lonely.' Which consistently had us laughing out loud. But then we had to be our own buzzkill, because a bottle of Pine-Sol doesn't ever feel lonely. And we argued over that point for hours. There's still a bit of schism in the office. There's a good chance the argument may come back up at the Christmas party." 

2016-09-23 00:00:00
Create Culture, Don't Just React To It One of the most memorable lessons on “brand culture” I ever received didn’t come from an article, or a textbook, or an all-night strategy session. No, it happened very unexpectedly—on a day I stepped into Ralph Lauren’s flagship store on Madison Avenue to find a gift for a friend.

I remember thinking that the store’s entryway oozed that classic Ralph Lauren style, mirroring the essence of the fashion staples that lay within. But for all the on-brand architecture and pitch-perfect decoration, something else stood out. The antique merchandise counter cases at the front of the store held dozens of vintage watches from brands other than Ralph Lauren!

The insightful Ralph Lauren team recognized that classic Americana exists in many forms, in many coveted products—even those without the vaunted Ralph Lauren name. They were holding up other brands in order to broaden the reach and substance of their own culture. Sure, you could buy a new Ralph Lauren watch at the store, but the look you’re going for might be best supported by a vintage Hamilton military-issued watch.

Many brands co-opt culture, but truly great brands create it. They add words to the culture’s lexicon. They establish rituals. They champion cultural exemplars and even instigate fights with other brands that don’t align with their ideas, their culture, or their cultural values. Above all, brands that actively create culture wield an outsized influence in their category and beyond.

The good news is that all brands have an opportunity to look beyond short-term sales to support the long-term health of their culture—a deeply meaningful way to create lasting business and brand equity.

And there are myriad ways brands can stake a successful claim for cultural influence (other than showcasing competitors’ wristwatches). Hosting events, for example. Lululemon offers free yoga classes in public parks throughout the world. This “gift of yoga” brings like-minded people together—people who will likely end up buying Lululemon’s clothes and pushing yoga further into the community.

Brands can also pony-up some money to further their cultural growth. One of my favorite examples comes from Burton Snowboards. In December 2007, Burton announced their Sabotage Stupidity campaign. A bit of background: there are four ski resorts in the US that don’t allow snowboarding (to snowboarders, this is stupidity worth sabotaging). Burton offered $5,000 in cold hard cash for the best video documentation of a successful poach of these resorts. The effort was part of Burton’s “open minds, open mountains” campaign to open more areas to snowboarding. What the campaign really did was seal Burton’s place in a fickle counterculture—a counterculture that would readily abandon a brand that didn’t align with their inherent values.

Another inspiring example?—Converse’s backing of a music culture icon. When London’s legendary 100 Club announced it was struggling to stay afloat and intended to shutter its doors, Converse, who has consistently supported efforts in the music space, stepped up and signed a deal with the club that would keep it open for future generations and fans of independent music. And because Converse truly “gets it,” they didn’t swoop in and insist the club be renamed or colonized by the Converse brand. Sometimes all a culture needs is a visionary and benevolent benefactor.

In the case of our own work with Nissan, we created an app called Diehard Fan that lets fans of U.S. college football show their team pride by virtually applying thousands of extremely life-like facepaint designs to a selfie photo. The adoption was so widespread we’re now expanding the app to cover other sports across the globe. The takeaway is that the Diehard Fan app helped diehard fanatics become more fanatical and participate in a culture they love.

So the question is, what can your brand do? If you have a physical presence, this opens an entire canvas of creative opportunity. Ask yourself, “What happens to the space after hours? Who in our community might be able to benefit from access to square footage?” Or, as in the case of Ralph Lauren, what products, outside of your own, make sense to merchandise and share with the culture?

Territories to explore:

Offer a platform for the community to connect – does your customer base have the best tools to connect? What else can you offer or fund?
Curate and share ideas that you feel support the culture – what are you publishing on the topic?
What technology does the culture need to thrive? What can your brand provide access to?
How can your brand help entertain or educate the community?
What partnerships or alliances can you create to make the culture even stronger? Could you put differences aside and partner with a competitor?
If your brand can go beyond merely co-opting culture and start creating it instead, you’ll find that the community will suddenly find themselves with a new set of rituals, experiences, and legends that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. 

2016-08-01 00:00:00
Conor Brady on The Value of Marginal Gains What makes a great bike? The basic design hasn’t changed much in a century. The "double triangle" of the frame still strings together two wheels. In truth, a bike is a collection of brands and functional components that work together in a specific way, united by a basic idea. When they work beautifully together, you get a really great cycling experience — a "great bike."

The parts work beautifully together because each individual component gets slightly fine-tuned, year after year after year. Scan the history books and you’ll see there have been some grand gestures at changing the fundamental design, but they rarely stick — slow, steady, incremental improvements have gotten us to where we are today.

This kind of evolution is called "marginal gains."

Marginal Gains is also a great way for normal humans to achieve superhuman feats. It’s how Sir Dave Brailsford led the British Track Cycling team to Olympic glory in 2008. Brailsford took a team of good riders, not amazing riders, and won 70% of the gold medals — something no one had ever done.

His secret? Over four years, Brailsford extracted small, 1% improvements in every single aspect of the riders’ performance: mental preparation, physical preparation, training plans, nutrition, bike position, the weight of the tires, the shape of the chain rings, even the pillows they slept on.

He called his revolutionary training philosophy "The Aggregation Of Marginal Gains." It changed cycling forever. And it’s catching on elsewhere — in other sports, in education, and in any place where "improvement" is the name of the game.

Now, you'd think the world of brand marketing would be quick to catch on — but there's a problem. Creatives and designers of all stripes are scarcely able to tap into the power of marginal gains, and the brands and businesses they work for are missing out as a result. The reason? Transformational change is often credited to a defining decision or moment.

In contrast, a 1% philosophy is barely noticeable. And we live in a time where impatience and skepticism demand immediate, impressive results, especially in digital design. A marginal gains approach takes time.

There are other barriers, too. Disposability, for instance. "Design" itself often gets churned out fast and tossed aside — something immediately useful but quickly replaced in search of change. There is no "double triangle" to hold up our iterative improvements over time.

Our process (i.e., methodology) can be another barrier. We idealize an "agile" way of working and "getting it built at speed." While agile has a lot of similarities to marginal gains, it’s ultimately about a single delivery, with a single deadline.

Marginal gains works differently when applied to experience design. It’s about breaking an experience down to a series of components and applying time and patience to make each part, and thus the whole, best-in-class. It’s about a long-term investment. It’s about lasting partnerships and working toward a shared, long-term goal.

And it’s about time we did more of it.

If marginal gains contradicts the pressures and business-as-usual of the marketing industry (especially its digital territories), then how do we convince our clients to invest in an agency, not a single "project" or an idea? Will they buy a series of small wins that will eventually compound to the big win for the brand over time?

The answer is yes, but the change needs to begin with us — the designers.

To begin with, we can stop contributing to a myopic status quo. We can stop rushing to the biggest quick win possible to prove our value, and we can stop grasping for the "grenade" to blow up extant design and start again.

Instead, we can start imagining a foundation of design that we can iterate upon week over week, month over month. And we can start scoping differently, staffing differently, thinking differently. We can lean into the fact that a marginal-gains approach can be a driver of true collaboration between brands and design agencies. It represents a chance to start a dialogue about investing in a true partnership and a longer path to results, with the brand itself as the ultimate product.

For us, redesigning the process should be as important as the design. And the payoff will be huge. Besides, tiny 1% improvements might get you to great things faster than you think.

Read more at 

2016-07-20 00:00:00
Critical Mass Opens Award Season with Accolades from D&AD, New York Festivals, The Webby Awards, and the Effies Critical Mass, a global digital experience design agency, started this year’s award season with accolades from D&AD, New York Festivals, The Webby Awards, and Effie Worldwide.  

The Webby Awards honored Critical Mass for “Sweeper,” a physical and digital installation they designed on behalf of United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).  UNMAS and Critical Mass created an iBeacon-powered virtual minefield to make it possible for New Yorkers to experience the fear millions live with every day. The installation was so successful that it's now a permanent exhibit at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. “Sweeper” earned a Webby in the highly competitive category of Mobile Sites & Apps, Events. Nominees for the category included TEDConnect by TED Conferences, and SXSW Go Official Mobile Guide by Eventbase.

D&AD and New York Festivals have recognized Critical Mass’s “Diehard Fan” app (designed for Nissan North America). Diehard is an augmented reality face paint app. It combines the time-tested fan tradition of face painting in team colors with innovative technology and facial mapping to deliver a fun, sharable way for people to actively engage with college sports and Nissan.

D&AD awarded ‘Diehard Fan’ with a Wood Pencil in the Digital Design, Apps category.  New York Festivals awarded ‘Diehard Fan’ two Finalist Awards in the Mobile and Media categories.

Critical Mass is also nominated for an Effie for work on behalf of SAP, “Run Simple,” in the Business-to-Business category.  The North American Effie Awards will be announced on Thursday, June 2nd.

2016’s creative accolades bolster the agency’s credentials. Earlier this year, Advertising Age named Critical Mass an ‘Agency to Watch’ in 2016, citing a new business winning streak, an expansion of services, and a growing global footprint. The Warc 100 listed Critical Mass as the 3rd best digital/specialist agency in the world, and Gartner listed Critical Mass as an “Agency to Watch” in the annual Magic Quadrant for Global Digital Marketing Agencies, citing “the firm’s high-quality work, as well as the insight of its strategists, creative/ UX professionals, technologists, and program managers.”

2016-05-24 00:00:00
Advertising Age Names Critical Mass as an Agency to Watch Critical Mass has been churning out high-tech digital and user-experience work for clients for many years. But in 2015, the agency made moves that would help it stand out in a crowded marketplace. 

2016-02-02 00:00:00
Critical Mass Begins Operations in São Paulo in Partnership with Grupo in Press Critical Mass, the Calgary-based digital agency, will open an office in Sao Paolo, Brazil, next week, continuing its rapid global expansion. More here: 

2015-11-24 00:00:00
Critical Mass Takes Home Two Digital Alberta Awards CM was awarded two Digital Alberta Awards! Nissan Meet the Machines won for Best Microsite, and Travel Alberta Living Photos won for Best Display Ad or Campaign. 

Critical Mass ( is a global experience design agency with a relentless focus on the customer. Founded in 1996, the agency has grown to 10 full-service offices operating across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Its unwavering belief in delivering brilliant customer experiences has produced business-building results for clients that include Citibank, Nissan, Clorox, Luxottica and many more. Critical Mass is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. 

2015-10-14 00:00:00
CM Wins Prestigious Jay Chiat Award Critical Mass has won a bronze 4A’s Jay Chiat Award for Strategic Excellence in the Non Profit category for UNMAS Sweeper. 

Critical Mass ( is a global experience design agency with a relentless focus on the customer. Founded in 1996, the agency has grown to 10 full-service offices operating across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Its unwavering belief in delivering brilliant customer experiences has produced business-building results for clients that include Citibank, Nissan, Clorox, Luxottica and many more. Critical Mass is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. 

2015-10-14 00:00:00
Critical Mass Wins at MMA and OMMA Fresh off a sweep at last week’s W3 awards, Critical Mass had a huge night on the awards front. We are proud to announce that we took home an OMMA award in the Banner: Standard/Flash/Rich Media category for our “Living Photos” work for Travel Alberta.

“For the last 11 years, MediaPost’s OMMA Awards honor agencies and advertisers that push the potential of digital advertising. We congratulate Critical Mass and their “Living Photos” campaign for Travel Alberta, a perfect example of what the OMMA Awards stand for.” –Laura Daly, Director of Communications, MediaPost

Meanwhile, across town (in NYC), some more great news came out way. We took home Silver for our Sweeper work at the Smarties, a global competition held by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA). The MMA Smarties Awards is the world’s only global mobile marketing awards program honoring innovation, creativity, and success. 

2015-10-01 00:00:00
Critical Mass Named Elite Digital Agency Critical Mass is featured in the Drum’s Digital Census and is ranked 11th in their Elite UK Digital Agency review. 

Critical Mass ( is a global experience design agency with a relentless focus on the customer. Founded in 1996, the agency has grown to 10 full-service offices operating across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Its unwavering belief in delivering brilliant customer experiences has produced business-building results for clients that include Citibank, Nissan, Clorox, Luxottica and many more. Critical Mass is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. 

2015-09-21 00:00:00
Critical Mass to Partner with Quinnipiac University on Digital Transformation Quinnipiac University hired Global digital experience design agency, Critical Mass, to deliver a new experience that exemplifies the university’s commitment to excellence while serving its audiences through simple and intuitive interactions across devices. In addition, the partnership includes a major platform consolidation (Adobe Experience Manager).

Quinnipiac consistently ranks among the top regional universities in the North in U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” issue and, in 2014, was named top up-and‐coming school with master’s programs in the Northern Region. Quinnipiac also is recognized in Princeton Review’s “The Best 380 Colleges.”

The announcement follows Keith Rhodes joining the University as Vice President, Brand Strategy and Integrated Communications in March 2014. Rhodes joined Quinnipiac following 20+ years in integrated marketing communications, most recently as SVP Group Director at Young & Rubicam Group of New York.

"We’re excited to work with Critical Mass given their demonstrated success in combining strategy, design and technology to deliver on business objectives,” said Rhodes. “We’ve spent the better part of the last year developing a multi-year marketing communications transformation strategy for the University and we’re looking forward to working with Critical Mass where we will seek inspiration outside of higher education in order to deliver a website that establishes a new standard for the industry.

“We’re honored by the opportunity to work with an institution as prestigious as Quinnipiac,” said Di Wilkins, CEO of Critical Mass. “We look forward to partnering on some very ambitious goals, and strengthening the university’s place at the forefront of digital.”

About Quinnipiac University

Quinnipiac is a private, coeducational, nonsectarian institution located 90 minutes north of New York City and two hours from Boston. The university enrolls 6,500 full-time undergraduate and 2,500 graduate students in 58 undergraduate and more than 20 graduate programs of study in its School of Business and Engineering, School of Communications, School of Education, School of Health Sciences, School of Law, Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, School of Nursing and College of Arts and Sciences. Quinnipiac consistently ranks among the top regional universities in the North in U.S. News & World Report’s America’s “Best Colleges” issue. For more information, please visit Connect with Quinnipiac on Facebook at and follow Quinnipiac on Twitter @QuinnipiacU

About Critical Mass

Critical Mass ( is a global experience design agency with a relentless focus on the customer. Founded in 1996, the agency has grown to 10 full-service offices operating across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Its unwavering belief in delivering brilliant customer experiences has produced business-building results for clients that include Citibank, Nissan, Clorox, Luxottica and many more. Critical Mass is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. 

2015-09-16 00:00:00
CM Wins Three 2015 WebAwards The results of the Web Marketing Association's 2015 WebAwards are in and Critical Mass has won the following awards: for Advertising Standard of Excellence, Sunglass Hut for Fashion/Beauty Standard of Excellence and Nissan Meet the Machines for Outstanding Website. 

About Critical Mass

Critical Mass ( is a global experience design agency with a relentless focus on the customer. Founded in 1996, the agency has grown to 10 full-service offices operating across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Its unwavering belief in delivering brilliant customer experiences has produced business building results for clients that include Citibank, Nissan, Clorox, Luxottica and many more. Critical Mass is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. 

2015-09-09 00:00:00
Critical Mass Hires John Cavacas As Vice President, Technology Global digital experience design agency, Critical Mass, announced today that John Cavacas has joined the agency as Vice President, Technology.

Most recently, John served as Head of Technology at Blast Radius, where he spent the past five years based in the agency’s offices in the Netherlands. In his new role, John will be based in Critical Mass’ Toronto office, and will report to Jon Toews, General Manager. John’s responsibilities will span all account teams and clients. He will also have a special focus on Business Development.

Prior to Blast Radius, John’s background includes roles at Wunderman, Idea Couture, Softchoice Corporation, and Sapiens amongst others. John has worked with global brands including NIVEA, Michelin, Starbucks, Novartis, Electronic Arts, Newell Rubbermaid, Bel Groupe, Onitsuka Tiger, Sony Pictures, Adidas, Ford, and Microsoft.

About Critical Mass

Critical Mass ( is a global experience design agency with a relentless focus on the customer. Founded in 1996, the agency has grown to 10 full-service offices operating across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Its unwavering belief in delivering brilliant customer experiences has produced business building results for clients that include Citibank, Nissan, Clorox, Luxottica and many more. Critical Mass is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. 

2015-08-31 00:00:00
Andrea Lennon Joins Critical Mass As GM For Asia Pacific Region Global digital experience design agency, Critical Mass, has announced that Andrea Lennon has joined the agency as General Manager for the Asia Pacific Region.

Andrea’s remit includes agency operations, leadership on existing client relationships and new business development throughout the region. She will be based in Critical Mass’ Singapore offices and will report to Critical Mass’ Chief Operating Offer, John McLaughlin.

Andrea joins Critical Mass from WPP, where she served as Executive Vice President, Consumer Brand Lead overseeing omni-channel brand communications initiatives for Bank of America.

Prior to WPP, Andrea worked as Group Account Director at R/GA where she lead a series of award-winning efforts as client lead for McCormick & Co., including a Cannes Lion for McCormick’s Flavorprint. Prior to R/GA, Andrea’s background includes engagements at T3, TBWA, and JWT working across verticals to enhance and extend the value of some of the world’s most recognized brands.

“Andrea’s appointment comes at a crucial time as Critical Mass’ global client relationships are rapidly expanding in the region,” said Dianne Wilkins, Chief Executive Officer of Critical Mass. “Her diverse background, expertise and success leading global accounts will be a major asset as we continue to develop our footprint in Asia.” 

2015-07-16 00:00:00
Critical Mass Promotes Pair to GCD Roles at Chicago Office Global digital experience design agency Critical Mass promoted Jeremy Hlinak and Amy Haiar to roles as group creative directors at the agency’s Chicago office, effective immediately. Both Hlinak and Haiar, who were formerly creative directors, will be among seven group creative directors at the agency globally, and will report to Julia Perry, senior vice president and general manager of Critical Mass Chicago and chief creative officer Conor Brady.

Haiar joined Critical Mass in 2009, following a two year stint at iCrossing as a creative director. Prior to that, she spent two years at as a senior art director and a year at Gams Group as an art director. Over the course of her career, she has worked with clients including Nike, United, HP, Vail Resorts, Starkist, Energizer and 3M.

Hlinak arrived at Critical Mass in March of 2007, following a brief stint interactive for Greenhouse Communications/Uncommon Thinking. Prior to that, he spent almost four years as an art director at Modern Luxry, which followed a two-year stint in the same role at UR Chicago. He has worked with clients including Budweiser, Harley-Davidson, Illinois Lottery, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association. 

2015-07-15 00:00:00
The Female Perspective: A Vision for Change In association with The Drum, CM brought together 10 women leaders for a roundtable summit to tackle the issue of a lack of female talent in key roles in the advertising and digital industry. Download the full report here: 

2015-06-25 00:00:00
CRITICAL MASS HIRES GRANT OWENS AS GLOBAL CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER Critical Mass, a global digital experience design agency, has hired Grant Owens, the GVP Head of Planning at Razorfish North America, as its Chief Strategy Officer.

June 22, 2015 — Critical Mass, a global digital experience design agency, has hired Grant Owens, the GVP Head of Planning at Razorfish North America, as its Chief Strategy Officer.

Owens, based in New York, will lead the strategy teams across Critical Mass’s international offices and ensure the agency is relentlessly focused on designing meaningful experiences that improve customers’ lives. He will report directly to Critical Mass Chief Executive, Dianne Wilkins, and will sit on the global executive team.

Owens joins CM from Razorfish where he worked for more than 10 years, most recently as GVP Head of Planning. While there he was responsible for digital strategy for clients such as Spotify, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Viacom, CBS Radio, BMW and CNN; prior to Razorfish he was at Euro RSCG 4D.

Di Wilkins said: “We spent a long time searching for the right person to lead our global strategy team, so this is a long-awaited and exciting appointment. Grant’s experience in building teams and obsession with amazing strategically-driven work makes him the ideal person to take this critical leadership role within the agency. We are thrilled he’s joining the team.”

Owens added: “This is a fantastic time to be joining Critical Mass. The industry is in need of a truly customer-centric experience design leader, and that is CM’s sole focus. I’m looking forward to working with the agency’s incredible talent and helping to shape the agency’s future.”

About Critical Mass

Critical Mass ( is a global experience design agency with a relentless focus on the customer. Critical Mass delivers experiences for clients including Citibank, HP, Nissan and Vodafone. Founded in 1996, Critical Mass has 10 full-service offices, operating across North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Critical Mass is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc.  ]]>
2015-06-25 00:00:00
CRITICAL MASS AWARDED AT THE D&AD AWARDS The D&AD Awards are recognized globally as one of the top creative competitions in the advertising industry.  Critical Mass is proud to announce that its “Sweeper” work for the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has won a Wood Pencil at the D&AD Awards. The D&AD Awards are recognized globally as one of the top creative competitions in the advertising industry.

The UNMAS Sweeper campaign at The New Museum last year used beacon technology, sound design, and poignant graphics to enable exhibit-goers to experience the fear of living among landmines and other explosive remnants of war. The emotionally-resonating campaign won in the Design category for Digital & Mobile.

“Winning a Pencil is a great honor, it is one of the most respected design awards in the world” said Conor Brady, Critical Mass Chief Creative Officer. “The Sweeper work demonstrates the power of design and technology to spur consumers to take positive action.”

Winners were announced at a gala event in London on May 21. 
2015-05-22 00:00:00