Ad agencies say consulting firms never actually produce work for clients. Here's how Accenture Interactive proved them wrong at SXSW this year.



  • Accenture Interactive had a sprawling showcase at SXSW last week to highlight all the work it is doing for brands, its most splashy presence at the festival yet.
  • The company showed off a facial recognition-powered photo booth for Disney, an augmented reality activation for countertop maker DuPont, and other branded experiences.
  • This is the latest example of how data-rich consulting firms are encroaching on ad agencies by pitching themselves as more strategic and tech-savvy. 

Ad agencies often criticize consulting firms that are encroaching on their businesses by saying they don’t produce any actual work for brands. Accenture Interactive clapped back at SXSW last week with a sprawling showcase spanning two floors of a downtown Austin restaurant.

This year wasn’t the first that the agency wing of the management consultancy giant — and the largest digital agency in the world based on revenue — had a notable presence at the festival. But it was the first time it highlighted client work on such a big scale.

The company showed off a facial recognition-powered photo booth for Disney, an augmented reality activation in for countertop maker DuPont, and other experiences that used technologies such as AR, VR and, 3D product visualization.

“The biggest change has been that until last year, clients were still in the demo stage of extended reality,” Rori Duboff, head of content innovation at Accenture Interactive, told Business Insider. “Now, they want us to try and incorporate these technologies into everything they are doing, rather than one-off experiments.”

Brands are embracing AR, VR and other technologies 

The runaway success of Pokémon Go in 2016 and the prevalence of AR on phones and apps like Snapchat have made these technologies mainstream, spurring a range of brands to embrace them. Global augmented reality ad revenues are expected to surpass $2 billion by 2022, per eMarketer.

Accenture Interactive is seizing the chance to show clients what is possible and how such technologies can be used to drive business outcomes. It wants to help change brands’ businesses, as opposed to creating TV spots.

Read More: Why you will never see the world’s largest digital ad agency making ads for Olive Garden 

For DuPont Corian, Accenture Interactive is trying to reduce the friction between digital and physical shopping. Accenture Interactive is prototyping an AR experience that will let customers design their own counter tops using digital devices.

“Innovation and growth are paramount to our business, and this creates huge opportunities for our business to connect with customers in new and innovative ways,” said Michele Rodman, global head of digital marketing at DuPont.

Disney is using Accenture Interactive to reinvent the theater-going experience with a venture called Studio Lab that’s changing the production, distribution and marketing of movies.

Accenture Interactive created a facial recognition-powered movie poster for the premiere of Disney’s “Dumbo” that changes depending on who’s looking at it, based on the emotions it detects on the viewer’s face.

“Agencies are great at coming up with creative ideas and campaigns,” said Duboff. “But what we’re doing at Accenture Interactive is actually coming up with meaningful use cases of technology, whether it’s shopping or learning.”

Consulting firms are increasingly encroaching on agencies’ turf

Consulting firms including Deloitte, Accenture and IBM have been encroaching on the ad agency business by pitching themselves as more strategic and tech-savvy.

One way they’ve done that is through creative and technology acquisitions. Last year, for instance, Accenture Interactive acquired Mackevision, a producer of computer-generated imagery and immersive content.

They’re also hiring. Over the past two years, Accenture Interactive’s extended reality practice has grown to more than 300 people, according to the company, which says it will continue to make hires to support client demand.

As marketers look beyond traditional advertising, they’ve started buying into the consulting firms’ proposition. A Forrester survey from fall 2018, for example, found that 73% of marketers are open to using consultancies for digital marketing work, including 14% who said they were “very open.”

“Our work with Accenture brings a new level of digital technology capabilities that enhances the work we do with other ad agencies,” said DuPont’s Rodman.

But agencies are fighting back by bolstering their strategic consulting and data capabilities, and they’re still ahead of the curve when it comes to branded creative, said Jay Pattisall, a Forrester analyst focusing on agencies. 

“Accenture’s brand of creativity is different from that of creative agencies,” he said. “Accenture tends to focus on experiences using digital technology and not necessarily brand or campaign creative while the creative that comes out of agencies tends to focus on the emotion.”

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