MacLaren McCann Interactive

Doug Thompson leans forward, clicks on his laptop, and spins it around on his desk to show a visitor a website that he recently came across. It tells commuters in San Francisco when the next bus will arrive at their stop,...

Doug Thompson leans forward, clicks on his laptop, and spins it around on his desk to show a visitor a website that he recently came across. It tells commuters in San Francisco when the next bus will arrive at their stop, using positioning devices that are placed on the buses.

Picture yourself checking the site in your office as you get ready to dash off for a meeting, says Thompson, or via your PDA as you’re standing on a corner. Do you have time to wait for the next bus or should you jump in a cab?

It’s a small example, but one of the thousands – millions – of ways that the digital world is changing life for individuals and businesses. As incredible as the transformation has been in the last five years, ‘We’re just seeing the tip of it,’ says Thompson, sitting back in his chair in his downtown Toronto office, overlooking Lake Ontario.

The next five years are going to be even more explosive, in ways that we can’t even imagine yet, suggests Thompson. As Managing Director of MacLaren McCann Interactive, it’s Thompson’s job to help companies explore, implement and reap the benefits of digital solutions.

This has been quite a ride for MacLaren McCann Interactive too. A three-person shop when it was formed five years ago, it now has 125 people and is MacLaren McCann’s fastest-growing division. From strategic consultation to creative planning to technical execution, and from websites to online promotions to e-commerce, MacLaren McCann Interactive has the virtual world covered.

The division calls itself a one-stop source. Account planning and management, branding and research, strategic consultation and competitive audits, educational seminars and information management, interface design and art production, copywriting and graphic design, information architecture and database design, usability testing and online media planning – it’s all here.

But as noted by Thompson and Peter Munck, Group Creative Director, digital solutions aren’t just about writing code or creating art. They have to be seamlessly integrated into a client’s overall communication and marketing plan – and they have to drive tangible results. Clients are becoming more sophisticated about the digital world, and their expectations are rising.

‘As their investment in interactive grows, helping clients to generate a return on that investment becomes even more critical,’ says Munck.

What sets MacLaren McCann Interactive apart?

‘If technology and creativity are a given – which they should be, but aren’t always – one of the things that differentiates you is strategic ability,’ says Thompson. ‘We work with the same set of proprietary tools used by the rest of MacLaren McCann to develop brand and consumer insights.’

In fact, the division started off by calling itself Initiative Interactive, then decided to rename itself last year. Sharing the name of its parent agency highlights the ability to draw on MacLaren McCann’s resources, and integrate interactive work with more traditional media to strengthen the brand message.

The access to the same high-quality strategic tools as the main agency gives the interactive shop a unique offering, says Dom Caruso, President and COO of Maclaren McCann.

‘The use of these shared tools allows us to step back and address the real marketing problem that we’re trying to solve,’ says Caruso, ‘and it also ensures uniformity across all types of marketing communications.’

At a time when business consultants are jumping into the fray to help some companies with their digital projects, Munck embraces the link with an ad agency, and calls it a significant advantage.

‘Business consultants aren’t communicators. And ultimately, the Internet is a communications medium,’ states Munck. ‘Ad agencies are experts at understanding how to communicate to consumers.’

‘In the end, we’re in the communications business,’ interjects Thompson, ‘responsible for putting the skin on a business strategy.’

Consider MacLaren McCann Interactive’s work with GM Canada. They needed a total redesign of their website to make it strategically aligned with GM worldwide. Along with improved navigation and functionality, GM Canada wanted the site to address the particular needs of the Canadian consumer.

Based on extensive consumer research, industry analysis and competitive research, MacLaren McCann Interactive proposed a website that combined greater dealer involvement with a more personalized online experience.

The modular format of the website (www.gmcanada.com) allows for new innovations and information to be incorporated seamlessly, such as a vehicle configurator and a competitive comparison tool. Users can also find the exact vehicle they want at a convenient location, search by price or type of vehicle, and use an ‘affordability calculator’.

For its efforts on behalf of clients like GM, Rogers, Royal Bank, Nestlé, McNeil Consumer Health Care, Lipton and JobShark, MacLaren McCann Interactive has won more awards than any other new media company in Canada.

Sharing the shelf with these honours – from the likes of the Advertising and Design Club of Canada, the London International Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, and the CASSIES – is the H.K. McCann Award. Thompson and Munck won it last year for extraordinary achievement within the McCann-Erickson network. It was the first time that this award has recognized excellence in the digital field, and it underlines the growing importance of MacLaren McCann Interactive in the overall mix.

While awards are nice, the true test of MacLaren McCann’s success, say Thompson and Munck, is the ability to understand consumers. That becomes even more critical at a time when the interactive world and digital devices themselves are changing so dramatically. How will people respond to all of the possibilities? With its own experience, and the relationship with MacLaren McCann, the interactive division thinks it is well positioned to find the answers.

‘Consumer insight is the stewardship that agencies have with their clients,’ says Thompson. ‘How consumers live and breathe and act – those are the key issues for us, and that’s what we bring to the interactive medium.’

Also in this sponsored supplement:

- Overview p.E1

- Armantus p.E2

- BAM Solutions p.E3

- Modem Media p.E5

- Vickers & Benson Direct + Interactive p.E5

- MarchFIRST p.E8

- Digital@JWT p.E9

- Rebellium.com p.E10

- Devlin Applied Design p.E12