Whole Brain Integration: Pauline Oudin, Gradient

Pauline Oudin
Managing Partner Gradient

Tell us a little about Gradient. How would you describe your creative agency and the work you create?

Gradient is a NYC-based creative collective delivering full-bodied marketing strategies thanks to what we refer to as “whole brain integration”—which is another way to say creativity paired with strategy—quantifiable metrics and thoughtful social amplification. Coupling the shock and awe of exceptional experiential with the savviness of digital strategy, we work with brands to help them build increasingly personal connections with consumers, which translates into more eyes and more sales… and happier brands, as well. 

We believe that the human connections we create are becoming the new media, the real content. User experience is needed in the real world, too, and we’re here to provide quantifiable results that help brands bring out strong, original platforms and campaigns. From this work, retail becomes the new media, experiences are the new luxury, and digitally native brands can't live without creating physical worlds.


Aside from the obvious, what unique benefits does experiential offer that traditional forms of advertising don’t?

For us, it’s about creating direct, personal connections with people, whether they occur in the physical space of a pop-up, or digitally. We don’t create our client’s message—what we do is create the engagement to actually make their message true. The content we can then create while capturing that true engagement is so much more powerful!

We also believe that whatever the generation, human contact is key, and it's coming back at us faster than we have time to say it. For this reason, we consider advertising and ecommerce as secondary tools to a first purpose: connecting people in a meaningful way. Essentially, traditional forms of advertising are putting today’s content cart before the essential human connection horse.


What are some of the risks that come along with an experiential activation? How does Gradient work to mitigate them?

What we often see are exciting creative ideas with unrealistic production implications (Nope, you can’t set up a 20-foot structure in Manhattan in the street without a permit just because it’s an art piece) or the “firework” creative proposals with big flashy elements that do not create a measurable impact or leverageable content. In both situations, we’ve been called in to “save” a project after clients struggled with other agencies. 

Gradient mitigates these risks on two fronts. First, by pushing hard on clearly defined KPIs tied to an approved business objective. This ensures that every creative idea is in support of the objective. We love winning creative awards just as much as the next agency, but we really prefer the validation of repeat business from our clients when they get the great results they were shooting for. And on the other side of the coin, we leverage our production past to ensure that every idea proposed is feasible. Having grown from a production shop into a strategic experiential agency has given us deep roots that stabilizes all of our proposals and creativity.


From your experience, what are the major concerns and hurdles that prevent some brands from fully embracing experiential?

There are a few hurdles. First off, many clients don’t know how to measure the impact. Without a strong social and content strategy, experiences can end up being very expensive events. 

Second, clients with a strong sales focus may compare an experiential activation cost to sampling costs. Obviously, when you are developing a unique approach and an innovative creative strategy to generate a strong emotional connection between the brand and the targeted consumers, (which can then be captured and leveraged for further social communication to a wider audience which will react positively to what they detect is a true reaction from a similar consumer), the costs don’t compare to simple sampling.  And don’t get me wrong, sampling can be very useful for specific brands, but if you are trying to increase brand awareness and likeability, experiential will get you there a whole lot faster. 

So the main hurdle is to compare experiential to a similar marketing tool. In truth, it should be compared to the cost and impact of a page in a magazine or TV spot much more than sampling.  If you create a unique experience, strategize for content capture ahead of time, and amplify that reality-based emotionally true content, then you should ask how that budget compares to a TV shoot and video media.


Recently you brought a Clinique pop-up to SOHO during fashion week. Can you tell us a bit about the reaction it received?

This was an exciting project since it was the first time Clinique has ever done a pop-up. The most interesting element was that it allowed us to create a series of baselines and learnings for the brand which they can now leverage for similar activations moving forward. By incorporating innovative facial recognition software within the experience, we were able to gather key demographic learnings on their attendees and which influencer/media got them in our space. 

By tracking the flow within the experience, we were able to evaluate the interests of their target audience. And by working closely with their marketing teams, we were also able to determine how to better integrate their offline and online communication efforts. Setting the baseline for such a prestigious brand was certainly an honor, as was bringing to life a brand’s personality. As for how it was received, we were told by the executive team and the press that the environment reflected the brand’s fresher, younger, more innovative positioning.


Also, for SXSW you created an activation for Facebook, what was the goal and how did you help them stand out amongst the other spaces there?

Like many trade-type conferences, SXSW has an overload of offerings, with every brand attempting to out-shine the others. It’s a tough scene in which to get noticed. Now, when you’re Facebook, you will certainly get the benefit of a first glance. The tough part is how do you retain the attention of your audience when so many other activations are beckoning?  Of course, great talent, great speakers and great programming is essential. And our Facebook clients did a great job at organizing that whole portion. But then, the attention-grabbing exterior, the flow of the space, the management of lines, the details at every corner that reinforce the brand messages, the ease of shifting from one environment and one program to the next… all of that attention to these essential details is what keeps people there. The success metric really becomes how long you retain the attention of your audience and how to avoid “drive-by” attendees.  And we sure hit that mark!


Gradient recently pledged to offset all client production carbon emissions in 2019. Can you tell us why you chose to do this? How has client reception been thus far?

We've intentionally gone “green,” offsetting all of our agency’s carbon impact in 2018. For 2019, we’re doubling down even further, choosing to also offset all of our client productions, too, which will entail making as many mindful production choices as possible, and then offsetting everything we could not produce sustainably. We're doing it because we care, and we're encouraging our clients and fellow agencies to take steps to do the same. We love to create the unique from thin air, but we understand we will love it even more if we know we can make sure the only impact we leave behind exists in the minds and hearts of our target audience.


Is there a specific industry that you feel would benefit from experiential that hasn’t widely embraced it yet?

Here at Gradient, we’ve recently focused on beauty, spirits, tech, luxury and lifestyle brands.  But we firmly believe that any and every industry can benefit from experiential, given that the intent is to help brands connect with their customers or users—And I think we can all agree that that’s always a great thing.