What does an advertising agency like Maxus have to do with the Makers world, represented by Metalworks? I wondered when, after the Maker Faire Rome, I got an email from Tom and Nico about a contest for european Makers - the Innovation Prize Euro 2013 - related to design and innovation and promoted by Metalworks (whose full name is Metalworks by Maxus). I immediately contacted Federico de Nardis, president of Maxus Italia and CEO of Maxus EMEA, who told me how Metalworks was born from the passion that two Maxus employees showed for the Makers world. These two employees ended creating a small Maxus division based in Singapore.

Federico de Nardis with Bruce Sterling, at the Maker Faire Europe

"Metalworks - explained Federico - was born in Singapore because Nico and Tom started this experience there. But Nico is Italian and Tom is Australian. They established contacts and relations with Makers all over the world. For us, it’s not so much important to replicate Metalworks at a local level but to enable projects where Metalworks acts as a director and coordinator and whose real soul will be made by the Makers who want to follow these projects with us." What Metalworks is doing is precisely to involve open source technology experts in the development of promotional projects which can show a "plus" for Maxus customers. In this approach, Makers have the chance to use their creativity for real and achievable projects. And also to get paid for this.

"Maxus as a network - continues Federico - is five years old. We use to say that we are the only media agency which is 'born in the digital age'. The deeper meaning is that we are digital in our way of thinking and approaching the media. We are open to innovations wherever they come from, and we actively seek to work with structures and people who bring new skills and experiences, that bring value to our job as consultants for starting as well as established brands".

Tom Kelshaw testing the Metalworks Pacman arcade game developed on Arduino

In this, Makers can have a very important role: "The reason why we look with great interest and fascination to the Makers world is that we firmly believe that no one can do everything in-house anymore. In our proposals to customers we are already testing the integration of creative ideas and projects coming from the bottom (...) The Makers movement combines the best artisans' skills and know-how with digital creation expertise, so we believe it can offer ideas and solutions of the highest creativity and innovation. Through Metalworks we think we can be the bridge between two worlds that today have few languages in common.”

The network of engineers, developers  scientists, inventors and startuppers that revolves around Metalworks - says the company itself - has an unconventional approach to marketing: that’s why Maxus customers can get innovative solutions to their communication needs in a short time. Usually, it takes about twenty days to create the prototype of a concrete object offering a new experience to target users and allowing Maxus customers to create new relationships with users themselves.

Some examples? Metalworks developed Maxy, a virtual receptionist that recognizes facial movements and gestures, Beerbot, a Twitter-controlled beer vending machine to manage office drinks, and Provolv Cricket, a complete ecosystem of cricket equipment controlled by sensors and supported by content accessible from mobile and intended for players and fans. Metalworks made its debut in Europe with a booth at Maker Faire and some projects that involved adults and children, including an exciting multiplayer Pacman and other concrete examples created thanks to Makers’ inventiveness and technological knowledge, such as the exhibitor created for Berocca.

The Arduino board at the core of Maxus Pacman

The Innovation Prize (deadline November 11, 2013) is a contest that involves Makers, geeks, hackers, designers, artists and inventors who, starting from a brief (rather free), must outline their innovative projects with a slideshow, some graphic sketches or a video of the idea itself or of a prototype. The total prize money is 10,000 € (6,000 € to the winner, € 3,000 and € 1,000 to the second and the third place) with the awards ceremony to be held in Turin, since the brief involves different versions of the Fiat 500.

For the 500 "classic" or C, entrants are asked to develop an innovative concept expressing the idea of 'having fun together', while for the "grown up" 500 L models you have to reinvent an iconic object of your childhood, making it suitable to maturity. Finally, having had firsthand knowledge (touching it but without seeing it, because it’s still secret) of the next Fiat 500 model, to be launched in 2014, you have to turn your senses into a message that communicates this "blind date".

"After the Maker Faire - says Federico - we have activated a 'call for Makers' as a first step to test Makers' interest in dealing with ideas and proposals coming from brand companies. Companies like Fiat, which are used to invest in innovation but with different rules and timeframes. It's a bet: I am sure that working for a brand like 500 is a great opportunity because it’s a brand rich of history, attributes and value. I’m expecting simple and smart ideas, small innovations or also great ideas that maybe need time and work to become feasible. However, I'm expecting to establish a relationship between 500 and the Makers"

 

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