News & Views

Most Contagious / London & New York

by Contagious Team

Making consumer-first experiences was the overriding theme to emerge from the inaugural Most Contagious New York event on 11 December at The Times Center. Contagious staffers from both London and New York shared the stage with the likes of Patagonia’s Rick Ridgeway, Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, Ushahidi’s Erik Hersman, Ed Sanders, marketing director of Google Glass, Julia Schwarz, co-founder and director of research, Qeexo, ethical apparel site founder Maxine Bedat and story artist Emma Coats

In London, Contagious returned to King's Place for the second year, hosting guest speakers including Ivan Poupyrev from Disney Research Labs, Adam Scott, co-founder of creative agency, Freestate, Rob Newlan, Facebook's head of global creative solutions, EMEA, Unilever's Fernando Machado, The Economist's Kenneth Cukier and Toby Shapshak, publisher and editor of Stuff magazine, South Africa, alongside members of the Contagious team. 

The year’s movements were outlined by Contagious co-founder and editorial director, Paul Kemp-Robinson in London and Nick Parish, editorial director, Americas, in New York. The pair covered how the word ‘selfie’, not to mention the pictures themselves, have dominated both our social networks and brand campaigns this year, revealing how we are moving into a culture of ‘me me me’. In fact, they said, the Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year has increased in use by 17,000% since 2012. Nick and Paul also explained how the explosion of mobile app SnapChat, where 400 million images are shared each day, suggests that attitudes towards privacy are changing, something they dubbed ‘temporal destruction’.

Contagious Insider Katrina Dodd and North America strategy director Arwa Mahdawi then kicked off the first of three talks on storytelling - a buzzword for 2013. Digital natives switch between devices 27 times per hour (according to a study by Time Inc) and this ADHD generation want more control over content experiences. ‘If you're creating "branded content" you’re going about it entirely wrong. Don’t start with the brand first,’ Katrina urged the audience in London. Instead, we should view storytelling as inherently collaborative. 

Contagious North America strategy director Arwa Mahdawi, delivering the same presentation in New York, tackled content. ‘Everyone can create content but not everyone can be a storyteller,’ they went on to say. While marketers are investing more in this area, they added, ‘we’re moving from User Generated Content to an approach to storytelling that is collaborative by design.’ They cited examples such as AT&T’s Summer Break which exemplified this new approach.

In New York, Arwa handed over to former Pixar staffer Emma Coats, who shared highlights from the animation company’s 22 Rules To Phenomenal Storytelling. Katrina, meanwhile, was followed by Adam Scott, co-founder of Freestate, who, quoted Las Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn's mantra: ‘no tale, no sale’. Scott cited the fierceness with which stories were told 40,000 years ago, with large groups dancing and singing together. This experience was transformational and incredibly memorable, causing the stories to be passed down through generations. For Scott, the guiding principles of storytelling are connectivity, curiosity and collaboration. 

Rob Newlan Facebook's head of global creative solutions, EMEA, was the next to take to the stage in London, covering relevance in the digital space. ‘You can’t bore people into liking you’ he said. Newlan explained that we should apply human intuition to craft, calling for a focus on ‘people over pixels’.

Purpose was a hot topic in 2013 and Alex Jenkins, editor of ContagiousIO, shared some stand out examples from Lifebuoy and Toyota in New York, while Georgia Malden, Contagious' head of operations, discussed them in London.


Alex handed over to Rick Ridgeway, VP of environmental affairs at Patagonia, who talked about the company’s Worn Wear initiative which reinforces the apparel company’s commitment to rethinking consumerism. So on Black Friday, when over-zealous shoppers were sustaining injuries, Patagonia invited people to celebrate the stuff they already owned. Read more on Patagonia in our Contagious Case Study, avaliable here.

‘Causing a positive social impact is part of our business model,’ said Fernando Machado, vice-president global brand development for Dove, at the London event. Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ brand idea sets out to change the fact that only 4% of women consider themselves to be beautiful. However, ‘grand purpose needs to be linked to what your brand can offer,’ warned Machado. 

Contagious Insider senior consultant Dan Southern (New York), and director of content and strategy Will Sansom (London) said we were entering ‘A new age of integration... we’re on the cusp of a new model for media driven by contextual awareness.’ In practice, this means a sincere value exchange between consumers and brands where both stand to benefit from data sharing. Dan handed over to Erik Hersman of Ushahidi whose BRCK - a ‘backup generator for the internet’ - later won the Most Contagious technology, award as well as the audience prize. Hersman ran through tech-led innovation in emerging markets because, as he put it: ‘Emerging markets are the future for connectivity - we have no idea what mobile and internet are going to be doing over the next 10 years, but it’s not going to be focused here.’

Dan and Will then went on to talk about contextual integration. ‘Nobody lives their lives according to media silos’ they said. We need to use data to target people based on their personal context, emphasising quality rather than quantity of content. Will handed over to Toby Shapshak from Stuff magazine, who spoke about technology in Africa. According to Shapshak, Africa is actually where the world’s real innovation is happening. He explained how the continent is not mobile first, but ‘mobile only’. SMS is the most disruptive technology in Africa, which is why the Blackberry Curve, whose popularity has slumped in the West, is the continent’s favourite mobile phone. 

Deputy editor of Contagious IO, Chloe Markowicz, (New York) and staff writer Patrick Jeffrey (London) told delegates that ‘The future of retail: combining convenience with entertainment to create the best possible experience,’ before introducing Maxine Bedat from ethical apparel ecommerce site in New York. Zady, a three-month old startup, combines beautiful content with interviews with the designers of its wares and effortless data capture to produce a compelling experience for end users.

In London, The Economist's data editor and author Kenneth Cukier shared insights on Big Data. ‘Data is a new raw material of business’ he said. We can predict sales using data about the weather or even traffic jams and match stocks accordingly to avoid wasted product, helping to save money and the environment. 

Dan Southern took to the stage in New York for a second time to talk about Connected Experiences, citing examples from Heineken, Budweiser and Durex. In London, the session was covered by Contagious magazine editor, Ed White. ‘Connected Experiences are internet-enabled products to deliver multisensory experiences,’ Ed and Dan explained, citing Disney as a leader in this field. Julia Schwarz, co-founder and director of research, Qeexo, then talked the audience at the Times Center through her work in helping touchscreen devices respond to the way in which we hold them so they can summon up virtual tools such as cameras, scissors and erasers simply by recognising our hand shapes and guessing what our intention is.

Ed Sanders, marketing director of Google Glass, then addressed some of the concerns around the wearable device in New York. ‘There is no right or wrong way for an individual to wear glasses,’ he said. ‘I wear it episodically, but there are times when I don’t, such as when I’m having dinner with my wife. One of the challenges that we have is that people who haven’t tried Google Glass assume incorrectly that it’s on all the time, and that’s an issue for me and my team to address.

Ed White handed over to Ivan Poupyrev, principle research scientist at Disney Research labs. ‘We can add experiences to everything around us,’ he said. He claims the challenge is to match up visual haptics, such as touch experience and sound, so that all sensory threads come together to form one story.

Workshops ran over lunch in both cities. In London, the first of the lunchtime workshop sessions was led by entrepreneur Richard Noble, who gave attendees a fittingly speedy low-down of his ambitious attempts to build a world record-breaking 1000mph car – the Bloodhound SSC. The intricacies of the project, it turns out, range from the super high-tech (ground breaking fluid dynamics) right through to the unbelievably low-fi – such as hiring villagers local to the Hakskeen Pan run site in South Africa to spend three years picking up stones by hand to ensure a smooth surface.

The Bloodhound SSC is funded entirely by sponsorship and donations, so to support the project and build awareness (not to mention justify the Eurofighter jet engines it borrowed from the British government), Noble and his team also run a global education programme designed to inspire school children around the applications of science and engineering. If you’re an advocate of Noble’s crowdsourced approach to innovation or would simply like to pledge your company’s support to their world record attempt in 2015/16, check out the website below.

The second lunchtime session in London was a panel debate chaired by Catalyx’s Guy White on the question ‘does crowdsourcing kill creativity?’. In the yes camp was David Jenkinson, creative director of design consultancy Elmwood, with Shelly Kuipers, founder of crowd intelligence company Chaordix, setting up the counter argument. Jenkinson had his work cut out, as the opening audience vote showed a clear majority on the no side. Jenkinson’s case was that crowdsourcing in the form of free pitching, with the likes of 99Designs devaluing the entire creative industry. Meanwhile Kuipers, defining crowdsourcing as ‘the democratisation of traditional processes by stakeholders given the means to participate’, argued for the effectiveness of crowdsourcing as long as both parties want to participate. ‘You should never ask someone to do something for nothing,’ she said. The audience seemed to agree, with the final vote going Kuipers’ way, though Jenkinson might have picked up a couple of undecideds.

Over lunch in New York, Lindsay Howard, an independent curator, spoke about collecting digital art and Paddles On!, a digital art auction that sold pieces such as a YouTube video ‘RGB, D-LAY’ (bought by Barbarian group founder Benjamin Palmer) and ‘Postcards from Google Earth’ to internet enthusiasts. Lindsay also chose Most Contagious to make the announcement that Paddles On! would be premiering in London next May. Wondering whether you should go buy yourself an animated GIF or two? Well, while we’re not in the habit of giving investment advice over at Contagious, you should note that if you’d bought $100 worth of Bitcoin when we talked about them at Most Contagious last year they’d be worth around $10,000 now. We’re not saying digital art is the new Bitcoin, but we’re not not saying it either. 

Rounding off a day of visual and mental stimulation, attendees received a hard copy of the day's proceedings in the form of the Most Contagious report, which can be downloaded for free online here. Massive thanks to our guest speakers and to everyone who joined us for the day in both cities. See you next year.