News & Views

Now Next Why / New York

by Chloe Markowicz


Advertising professionals from across the US gathered at the New York Academy of Sciences on 8 May to hear Contagious staffers and expert guest speakers from the likes of McDonald’s and Airbnb talk about what’s happening now, next and why.

At our fourth Now / Next / Why event in New York, Contagious explored the big social, technological, media and marketing shifts impacting brands. 

The day kicked off with Arif Haq, Contagious senior consultant, who explained how brands are using location, time and personal preference data to move from planning in media silos to creating contextually relevant communications. He then introduced guest speaker Hyo Yeon of service design consultancy Fjord, who outlined how to design for context and revealed the formula for creating winning human-centric digital experiences.

Next, Joe Zadeh of Airbnb described how the accommodation-sharing startup was inspired by Walt Disney’s use of storyboards in making Snow White to map their guests and host experiences. Finally, the super-energetic Brian Wong of Kiip took to the stage to explain how his company is using serendipity to reward mobile gamers for their achievements. He urged brands to ‘respect the user’ and be ‘emotionally aware’. 



The Contextual Integration portion of the morning culminated in a Table Talk session where attendees were tasked with putting the principles they had learned to the test.  They were challenged with creating the ultimate contextual experience for various scenarios from visiting a public bathroom, to waiting for friends at a restaurant, to grocery shopping, to going to the gym.

Next, they were asked to create prototypes of their ideas according to different user scenarios. The attendees had a range of great suggestions including an organisational app for busy mums that offers them family activity rewards for going to the gym. The teams responded to the public bathroom challenge with ideas such as an Airbnb for bathrooms and a yelp rating system.

In response to the challenge of waiting for friends in a restaurants, attendees found ways to gamify the experience and even came up with the idea of a ‘spa van’ outside the restaurant to reward early birds. 

Next, Arwa Mahdawi, Contagious' director of strategy, North America, spoke about changing consumer attitudes towards privacy. In addition to inventing a Buzzfeed-style quiz - ‘How NSA-ish are you?’, Mahdawi shared the outcome of Contagious’ original qualitative and quantitative research on privacy. This included such revelations as: ‘57% in the US stated that they invest time and money in protecting their online privacy.’ Read more on the research here

Mahdawi was followed by lawyer and former chief privacy officer for the US Dept of Homeland Security Mary Ellen Callahan who schooled the audience on the rules regarding data privacy.  She warned brands not to overpromise when it comes to privacy: ‘Don't promise to never ever sell people's data if you can't keep that promise.’ 

The afternoon session was an exploration of all things retail, with Katrina Dodd, senior Contagious Insider consultant talking about how brands from Volvo to Amazon are taking retail to new competitive levels of convenience. To show just how convenient clothes shopping can be, former mathematics professor and Amazon employee Nadia Shouraboura demonstrated how her company Hointer is using technology to revolutionise the in-store experience. 



Lastly, Nick Parish, editorial director Contagious Americas introduced the Return on Culture, explaining how a strong company culture is key to creating brand differentiation. He urged HR professionals and marketers to work together to create a single vision for their brand culture.  

Katie Hunt-Morr of Etsy, then showed how the e-commerce craft site is investing in creating a positive company culture by using the power of data to uncover the unconscious gender biases in the workplace. The day ended with a bang, with Joel Yashinsky of McDonald’s, captivating the audience with the story of how the fast food giant has strived to answer questions about its food with transparency in Canada, dramatically increasing public trust in the brand.