How M&C Saatchi’s Innovation Prize Shows Agencies How To Be Just More Than Agencies

How M&C Saatchi’s Innovation Prize Shows Agencies How To Be Just More Than Agencies


In this guest post, Dr Amantha Imber (pictured below), founder of innovation consultancy firm Inventium, says it’s agencies who have innovation at their heart that are leading the way…

A courier service that owns no vehicles, pornography that delivers testicular cancer messages, a revolutionary beehive design that have saved the lives of millions of bees, a portable device that can diagnose infectious diseases without the need for a lab, and a Careers Virtual Reality experience for potential graduate hires are just some of the innovations created by Australia’s most innovative companies.


The 2016 Australian Financial Review’s Most Innovative Companies list, which is now in its fifth year and is judged and compiled by leading Australian innovation consultancy Inventium, attracted over 1000 nominations – twice as many as 2015.

While a large number of agencies entered, only four made the cut this year: M&C Saatchi (#6), Leo Burnett Sydney (#14), Clemenger BBDO Melbourne (#43) and digital agency Isobar (#44).

Taking out the prize for best CSR/Social Innovation was M&C Saatchi. The agency set out to solve a big challenge: Get young men to self-check for the signs of testicular cancer, something that they simply weren’t doing.

“Early detection of testicular cancer means it can be treated,” explains Ben Cooper, group innovation director at M&C Saatchi. “We needed to find a way to engage young Australian men when they had their pants down. It was quite simple really… When do guys play with their balls? Adult films seemed an obvious choice.”

The agency met with one of the world’s biggest adult entertainment studios and managed to persuade them to include a “community announcement” in their biggest release of the year. The resulting scene involved one of the actors physically demonstrating how to check for testicular cancer.

“By disrupting the storyline we were able to instruct men on how to self assess” says Cooper. “With 5.5 million views, and who knows how many fondles, this idea helped hard to engage men to take control of their balls.”

Not only does M&C Saatchi focus their innovation efforts outwards, they also look inwards. For the last three years, the agency has had an incubator-style initiative, which allows staff to pitch their product and service ideas to an internal leadership panel. If successful, they gain capital plus an equivalent in head hours to move the project along. One such idea is called Timesheet Highfive, which is designed to motivate staff to complete their timesheets.

Digital agency Isobar took out the Best Marketing Innovation award with UMOOD for client UNIQLO. In a world-first for the retail industry, UMOOD read the brainwaves of shoppers and made it part of the purchase process.

While wearing a neuro-headset at the in-store UMOOD booth, shoppers were shown a range of video stimuli. The neurological responses in their frontal lobe were analysed in real-time by a custom-built algorithm that identified their current mood and recommended a t-shirt to match, out of the 600 designs UNIQLO has available.

It is exciting to see that there are many companies in Australia pushing the boundaries of what we thought was possible, and agencies crushing fundamental assumptions around communication to drive great outcomes for their clients.

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium (, the innovation consultancy that assesses and compiles the AFR Most Innovative Companies list. Her latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture where innovation thrives.


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