FutureFlash 2014: Contagious in Muskoka
Last week a coterie of marketing brains headed to Muskoka, Ontario, the heart of Toronto's cottage country, to attend the Contagious-curated FutureFlash conference, a two-day invite-only briefing created by the Institute of Communication Agencies for agency leaders, publishers and others interested in how to navigate the turbulent marketing environment and build 21st Century brands.
Speakers from three continents delivered on the event's theme of 'counsel & conviction' over the course of the conference, with talk turning at times to eschewing traditional pre-research, using more data to drive consumer insight and develop brand truths and even how brands can be more conscious (in the zen sense).
Winston Binch, chief digital officer at Deutsch, LA kicked off the conference, talking about moving to a climate of invention inside the walls of an agency-like entity. ‘The best ads aren’t always ads,’ Binch said, talking about projects like the Deutsch-created Pop Secret dongle, or the dating-service-inspired relaunch of VW.com. Part of this is having to deal with chaos. ‘Accept pain,’ Binch said. ‘Things break and break hard.’
Next up, Cory Haik, executive producer, digital news, The Washington Post, David Walmsley, editor-in-chief, The Globe and Mail and Rebecca Turner, international group head, commercial, Guardian News & Media debated whether the news industry has turned the corner on digital and the various ways publishers were pushing more integrated and customized programs and building out responsive content bouquets to cover the expanding and contracting areas of reader interest.
Sir John Hegarty, worldwide CD & founder of BBH appeared via video link, telling the audience ‘brands that inspire are in control of the conversation, not the crowd,’ and ‘Ad agencies get paid an enormous amount of money to be ignored 90% of the time: but the 10% is priceless value.’
Next, Eliza Esquivel, VP of global brand strategy at Mondelez International showed attendees Project Sprout, the company’s bid to alter the process by which work was traditionally made for its Trident brand. Four projects from four different agencies ran in four test markets, with differing styles, types of content and brand messaging. Results are due in June, but Esquivel says early returns are promising. The key? ‘Be brainy and be brave,’ Esquivel said. ‘Small teams and tight deadlines are the best way to unlock creativity.’
Rounding out the kickoff evening, Andrew Keen, internet entrepreneur, writer, broadcaster and speaker delivered a dose of cynicism to temper the day’s enthusiasm. ‘I thought this event was called FutureCrash, that’s why I accepted the invitation,' Keen joked, before delivering a dour view of the state of affairs in digital culture. His advice to advertisers? Know when to shut your mouth. 'There is wisdom is silence,' Keen said, reminding the audience 'failure is the discourse of the successful.'
Starting off the next morning, Contagious' founder & editorial director Paul Kemp-Robertson took the audience through our picks for Lions at next month’s Cannes festival before Jeff Pressman, president and COO, theAudience Los Angeles, talked about his company’s efforts running social media and promotions for celebrities and musicians. ‘Agencies need to think in terms of objects not campaigns,’ Pressman said, showing several high-performing objects (pieces of content) that theAudience orchestrated. ‘Ads are a regressive tax on user flow.’
Tom Morton, head of strategy at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, New York talked about brands’ weak gravitational pull, namely that people care very little about how brands impact their lives, and are much less attached to them then the brand-building industry would like to acknowledge. Despite this, according to Morton, 49% of US CPG sales come from the bottom 80% of buyers. In other words, he said semi-detached buyers are vital. ‘Consumers are cognitive misers,’ Morton said. ‘They don’t devote much brain power to brands. So let’s tone down the rhetoric of marketing. The relationship between consumers and brands is more friendly acquaintance than passionate affair.’
Next up, former chief creative officer of Publicis Asia, Calvin Soh, currently co-Founder and CCO at Humint, Singapore talked about the future of branded currencies, asking what currency they’d be buying their FutureFlash ticket in the following year? Doge coins, Calvin coins or Globe & Mail florins?
Finishing out the conference, former Contagious-ite Jess Greenwood, now in creative partnerships at Google New York, invoked the holy name of Eno, using the composer’s ‘Obilque Strategies’ card deck to frame a discussion on experience design, and how to put the user first and spot gaps in experiences. ‘Compare yourself to the best experience your customer had that day,’ Greenwood said. ‘Find processes to solve rather than create problems.’ Lastly, Lourenço Bustani, co-founder Mandalah, Brazil talked about a holistic approach to growth and approaching the evolution of a brand’s consciousness. ‘We don’t introduce ourselves in terms of how much money we have earned in the last three months,’ Bustani said, ‘yet this is how we define the companies we work for.’
The Globe & Mail has a longer interview with Binch, a catch-up with Tom Morton and a dissection of Keen’s talk, Marketing magazine went in depth with Esquivel and rounded up our whole list of Cannes Contenders, and Strategy wrote a rundown of the entire event.