More Thoughts on the Big Brand Hackathon

Back in June, over Fathers Day, we worked to help organize a hacker event called the Big Brand Hackathon.  This was a great event, built in partnership with big brands like Home Depot and Kraft Foods brands Ritz Cracker and Toblerone, as well as several API providers like Retailigence, TeleNav, and others.  Here is a brief video of the event.


The interesting thing about this event is what I think it is going to represent in terms of a larger trend around mobile and what it means for large brands that are working to learn how they can leverage mobile in their businesses, and specifically in their marketing to customers.

Here is what I am seeing, and what I think it is going to mean in the industry.

First, mobile is clearly a big, big thing, but it’s been unclear how brands can leverage them.  Large brands, ones commanding huge marketing budgets, all know about mobile.  The challenge that they are still wrestling through is what should they do about it.  How does Home Depot or Toblerone leverage mobile it increase brand awareness, drive user engagement, increase customer satisfaction, etc., i.e., stuff that marketing executives at these companies actually care about?

The answer to this question hasn’t been clear for the brands.  For example, this past winter at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, we helped organize a 1-day conference track SoLoMo, which got several large brands together with mobile focused startups to talk about what was going on around the trend of Social, Local, and Mobile.  This 1-day conference track was great, and we heard from several big brands–Disney, ESPN, Comcast, and others.  The interesting takeaway that we took from last winter: the brands all got that Mobile was important, but none had a deep and well thought through approach to how they might leverage it.  Everyone was struggling for a paradigm.

Fast forward to the Big Brand Hackathon.  What changed here was that the brands were, if anything, way more open-minded about solving this problem the new-fashioned way–just hacking sh*t together and see wht happened.

And hack the teams did.  To set the foundation, the brands from Home Depot, Kraft Foods presented their business briefs, covering their business and marketing goals, and the API tech teams provided overviews of how their services worked.  Over the course of the next 48 hours, hackers put together over 40 projects–>$20K in prize money, free beer and food will have that kind of impact–that resulted in demos showing all sorts of ways these brands could leverage mobile apps and technologies to achieve their business goals.  Where 6 months ago the brands were lacking an approach, they left this weekend with dozens of starts to useful projects.

This was a big step forward for a few reasons.  First, its really cool to see brands getting influenced by the SIlicon Valley ethos, and see an example of openness to trying a new way of solving a challenge.  Rather than depend entirely on a top down planning process at corporate, it was cool to see these companies open themselves up to a new approach.

Second, I think we will see more brands pushing this type of hacker approach into leveraging technology in their business.  This only makes sense: as new technology waves create more and more disruption to traditional media, brands will get increasingly hungry to take advantage of this sooner.

Third, if you agree with the above trend, then I think agencies may start facing competition from more hacked together projects, and they will need to respond.  If a brand can host a hackathon for a few tens of thousands of dollars and get projects in a weekend that rival what they get for hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of time, then brands will do more of that.

I think there is a reasonably good chance that change is coming to the marketing of a big brand near you, and I think that’s a great thing.



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  • max

    hi jay, very insighful post. the innovation of the advertising sector that you are writing about will probably emerge from right under our noses. in my humble opinion,this is a sector long overdue for re-defining the middleman.
    here’s a classic case where the idea is way more valuable than the conformance to presentation which can easily be cured by budget!