Most Contagious 2015 / Event Recap
On December 9th, Kings Place in London played host to Most Contagious 2015, our annual marketing and innovation event which saw speakers delve into some of the biggest topics of the year, including the rise of AI, mobile video and the dangers of anti-creativity.
As well as presentations from Contagious staff, the event saw pitches from startup companies who demonstrated how they are innovating to change the world for the better, and the audience heard first-hand from the people behind some of the most successful brand campaigns of the year.
The event kicked off with Contagious co-founder Paul Kemp-Robertson taking stock of the events that shaped the cultural landscape over the past year. A rapid-fire recap of the past twelve months covered recurring data breaches, downward-spiralling economies and the potential threat of artificial intelligence, summed up by Tesla founder Elon Musk's view that ‘With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.’
Nick Parish, editorial director, Americas took a more optimistic view, reminding the audience of the power of communications, and how the marketing industry can be used to create and shape meaningful movements that affect positive change on the real world.
From bleach brand Domestos’ World Toilet Day global sanitation awareness initiative to ice-cream brand Magnum’s inclusion of drag queens in it’s Be True To Your Pleasure campaign, Parish listed the ways that brands are changing the world for the better.
Addressing one of the most serious issues facing the world was Dr Erin Marie Saltman. The senior researcher from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue took the audience outside the advertising bubble to talk about the work she does to construct counter narratives against violent extremism. She described how marketing tactics are ever more important in her work, especially in the wake of terrorist attacks in Beirut, Lebanon and Paris.
‘We are in a game-changing era… Old-school security tactics aren’t really working in this new online space.’ Online tools are used for propaganda, recruitment and training. She explained: ‘Now we are in a world where you can see into the homes of violent jihadists. You can see what they eat for dinner. You can read the poetry they write. It humanises them.’ She described that, much like in marketing, counter narratives only work when the message, the messenger and the platform work in tandem to educate and dissipate online extremism.
EVOLUTION OF COMMUNICATION
Dr Bernie Hogan of the Oxford Internet Institute opened the Evolution of Communication section by talking about one of the most contagious mediums of the year: emoji. He described how the cute characters have taken the world by storm, with one even being picked as the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year (officially 'face with tears of joy'). He asked: ‘Are emoji a language in their own right?’ concluding that while they aren’t a language, they are language, and that they will continue to be used to express feelings as an accepted as part of our visual landscape and culture.
Next, the audience heard from Anna Pickard, editorial director of messaging app Slack. She explained how the company carefully considers each and every interaction that it has with its consumers, even down to the way that it crafts its release notes (those little updates that your phone pings you when you update an app). Sharing the company’s editorial style guide, Pickard related how brands can stand to be more human. Extolling the power of courtesy, empathy and authenticity, she spoke about how Slack’s editorial voice has helped it connect with its audience building up a sense of trust between company and customer.
Contagious senior writer Lucy Aitken explained how brands can win by targeting customers physically away from where their competitors are. She compared the strategy to the central message of 2005 business management bible, Blue Ocean Strategy, quoting: ‘Don’t compete with rivals, make them irrelevant.’ She demonstrated how the tactic was used in three of Contagious’ favourite campaigns of 2015. Budget airline Transavia sold plane tickets in supermarkets (cleverly disguised as packets of crisps and bags of candy), fashion retailer Pimkie stocked hotel closets with a sample of its clothing, enabling guests to try on and buy clothing from the comfort of their room. And pet food brand MyDog sold cans of its premium dog food at airports. By taking their products into unexpected places free of competitive forces, these brands were able to stand out and win.
MOST CONTAGIOUS BRAND OF THE YEAR: VOLVO
Demonstrating how innovation in safety has been baked into Volvo, Grey London’s chairman and chief creative officer Nils Leonard explained the story behind the agency's award-winning work for Volvo LifePaint, a reflective spray that can help keep cyclists safe when riding home at night.
Leonard shared how the idea for LifePaint (initially developed to be sprayed on reindeer’s horns to help increase their visibility to Scandinavian drivers in the dark winter months) would never have left the ground without a brave client partnership, as well as a sense of frustration with the traditional advertising model. He told the audience: ‘Frustration is the most motivating emotion.’ He explained that by making something that actually mattered (and convincing the client that the PR value of creating a useful product rather than a traditional ad would pay off) his agency was able to take home the gold at Cannes.
Emily Hare, managing editor of Contagious Magazine, explained how virtual reality is getting closer to mainstream adoption, thanks to a range of headsets democratising access to the technology and the increasing ease of creating 360 degree content. She showed how the immersive tech can be used for product demonstrations, in store and to enhance experiences, saying ‘VR breaks down the fourth wall and offers a shortcut to empathy.’
Framestore’s executive producer, Christine Cattano, explained how and why the production studio is harnessing the power of this new technology. She compared the clunky nature of early stage VR to the brick-sized mobile phones that paved the way for the smartphone, describing exactly what went into Framestore’s work for HBO, Avengers and Marriott. ‘VR is a user-first medium,’ she said. ‘You have to be able to offer an experience that suspends the audience’s disbelief. Imagination is key to that.’
THE DANGERS OF ANTI-CREATIVITY
Alex Jenkins, editor of Contagious, opened his section by expanding on the company's belief that ‘Creativity kicks the shit out of non-creative work when it comes to selling stuff.’ According to the IPA, creative work is in fact 12 times more effective, and according to Jenkins, agencies can’t afford to not prioritise creativity. He quoted a study by Cornell University, which found that many people actually equate the creative (which is new and risky) with poison, vomit, and agony.
Identifying a tension between the desire for creativity on paper and executing that desire in practice (even though creativity causes us pain) Jenkins urged Most Contagious delegates to find ways of encouraging more creativity to retain their competitive edge. He further explained how creativity is vital for the survival of businesses, in a time when the average lifespan of a company has dropped by 80% between 1920 and 2015.
MOST CONTAGIOUS BRAND OF THE YEAR: DOMINO’S PIZZA
Next on stage, Andrew Lincoln, vice president creative director of CP+B and Dennis Maloney, VP, chief digital officer at Domino’s Pizza, spoke about how their deceptively simple Emoji Ordering service took five years to develop. Maloney described how, back in 2007, the 50-year-old pizza brand was struggling to change, trading off product quality for speed and value. With its stock price declining and reputation plummeting, the organisation had to attack the problem, reinventing their recipe and launching the Pizza Turnaround campaign. ‘We came out, admitted our flaws and then addressed them. We were now a “work in progress” brand,’ he explained.
He spoke about how the brand shifted its focus into becoming an ecommerce company that happened to sell pizza, with innovations like the Pizza Tracker, Easy Order, Domino’s Live, and this year, Emoji Ordering, that put customer experience first. Lincoln elaborated, explaining that, by bringing ordering to where Domino’s consumers are through the brand’s AnyWare platform, Domino’s hopes to keep customers coming back for more pizza.
INTERVIEW WITH ABLA FAHITA
Delegates were then treated to an exclusive interview with celebrity puppet Abla Fahita, who spoke about her journey from brand spokespuppet for J. Walter Thompson, Cairo, to talk show host, pop star and all round puppet diva. In a country where trust in public figures is very low, Fahita provided Egyptian brands a way to talk candidly and authentically to cynical audiences.
In a video, Fahita explained that brands choose her because she is ‘the best, and the best is always fresh!’ We couldn’t agree more.
THE WORLD IN 2016
Robert Lane Greene, deputy editor of The Economist's World In... series took the audience through a whirlwind tour of economic and political predictions for the year, predicting that ‘Developed markets will drive growth again,’ with the growth of developed economies eclipsing that of developing countries for the first time since the global recession. He explained that the top 1% of wealth will be larger than the wealth of the remaining 99%, leading to greater inequality across the globe, and that next year will also see the Chinese economy slow down to 6% growth. Politically, he forsaw the refugee crisis continuing into 2016, saying: ‘People aren't leaving Syria for Sweden because of Sweden's benefits; they leave because Syria is a war-zone.’
According to The Economist, 2016 will see Netflix become bigger than the four largest established TV networks in the US, and fintech will grow at an incredibly fast rate (but the big players will be catching up with smaller ones). He predicted a cull in the number of Unicorns (companies who are valued at over £1 billion) and the rise of more company names becoming verbs: ‘To Slack and to Venmo, these will start entering our language.’
Contagious deputy editor Chloe Markowicz shared how mobile video has seen double digit growth on both smartphones on tablet in 2015, attributing the change to better data, bigger devices and better content. With media giants Netflix, YouTube and Facebook shifting their businesses to focus on the format, Marcowicz argued that the trend is one that marketers can’t afford to ignore. However, with a range of platforms to choose from, including Snapchat and Periscope, she advised that the key question to answer is 'What is the most appropriate platform for what you're trying to achieve?' rather than assuming that their will be an outright leader in this space. She outlined the seismic shift to vertical video encouraging the audience to ‘make it for mobile’.
Patrick Jeffrey, a senior writer on Contagious’ editorial team, then spoke about the next great digital epoch: artificial intelligence. Jeffrey, who spent much of 2015 interviewing leading figures, scientists and engineers from the world of AI, shared his learnings on what this might mean for businesses. He explained the evolution of machine learning algorithms, and the impact these are already having on different sectors, from banking to medicine and hospitality.
Patrick then focused on one of the areas of AI that could impact the role of marketing in the short term: virtual personal assistants. With millions of dollars being pumped into this field by world’s biggest tech giants – Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, Baidu, Microsoft – the uptake of these digital assistants is set to skyrocket. Advances in AI already mean that virtual assistants are on the cusp of planning and organising aspects of our lives. But if they start to make low-level decisions for us then the role of marketing – which has always been about influencing a pre-frontal cortex – will shift to marketing towards an algorithm. This, Patrick said, is a fundamental shift that brands and agencies must consider in 2016.
He was followed by Dr Chris Brauer, AI specialist and senior lecturer at Goldsmiths University, London, who explained how AI is aiming to increase economic outputs so that we can ‘master the fourth industrial revolution’. Amongst other implications, Brauer outlined how the rise of AI could negate the field of behavioural economics as computers aren't subject to the same irrational biases as humans.
MOST CONTAGIOUS DEBATE
Over lunch Contagious chaired a debate sponsored by Razorfish, asking ‘Are algorithms killing creativity?’ Chaired by Will Sansom, director of content, Contagious Insider, the debate saw Razorfish’s Daniel Bonner, Leo Burnett’s Giles Hedger, and Oliver Gers from Starcom MediaVest discuss the provocation.
Sansom opened the debate by explaining that the question posed is far from a new one. He quoted Bill Bernbach, who in the 1970s said: ‘Advertising is fundamentally persuasion, and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.’
Hedger argued that as an industry, we are killing creativity through a misinterpretation of algorithms, saying ‘They are designed to compute answers, not be answers.’ Gers explained that algorithms are here to stay, but by working creatively with them rather than fearing them, we can find better solutions to marketing problems. ‘It’s arrogant of us to assume that technology will slow down,’ he said. ‘It’s going to go at its own speed. We need to get on board with where it is going.’
Bonner spoke about how algorithms create extraordinary opportunity, allowing marketers to progress from a storytelling mind-set to creating interactive and contextually relevant ways of connecting with consumers. ‘[Algorithms] allow us to create like never before. We can be helped, liberated, enhanced by them.’
THE MOST CONTAGIOUS SMALL BUT PERFECTLY FORMED STARTUP AWARD
Throughout the day, Contagious invited startup companies featured in the Small But Perfectly Formed section of Contagious Magazine to pitch their business propositions for a chance to win the SBPF 2015 award. Matt Isaacs, founder of Essence, sponsors of the award, introduced the section by asking the audience about the last time they had a truly great idea, questioning whether they had the courage and creativity to make them happen. He explained how this year’s class of Small But Perfectly Formed companies share his core belief in having a purpose that transcends commerciality and gives stakeholders a touchstone to refer back to.
Emily Brooke spoke about Blaze, a company that creates products for urban cyclists around the world. She demoed the company’s flagship product, a small bike-mounted light that can help urban cyclists be seen by drivers, avoiding potentially fatal collisions.
The audience heard from Lena Solis of Dolfi, who explained (via video) how her about-to-go-into-production invention can efficiently clean clothes using ultra-sonic technology.
Giles Rhys Jones explained how what3words has divided the earth up onto 57 trillion 3x3 metre squares to better help people address, relating the company’s mission to become a global standard in mapping.
Nebia’s Philip Winter explained how the company’s showerhead not only saves 70% more water than an average shower, but also save customers money, all the while delivering a unique experience.
‘If I was a fruit I would not want to live in this world, because I would have a 30% chance of ending up in a stinky garbage bin,’ said Kent Ngo, founder of FoPo during his pitch. He lamented the $750 billion in losses to the economy as a result of food waste, not to mention the 2 billion people who currently live in areas of extreme poverty and cannot afford to feed themselves. FoPo, buys about-to-expire fruit from farms and supermarkets and extends its shelf-life by up to two years freeze-drying it.
Miki Agrawal from THINX remembered how she was shocked to find out that there had been no innovation in feminine hygiene since the invention of the menstrual cup on the 80s. Fed up with cleaning up embarrassing leaks and stains, she was prompted to create a range of underwear designed with periods in mind, that would absorb blood and keep the wearer feeling comfortable. For every purchase, the company donates sanitary pads to girls in the developing world.
OneDrop’s Jeff Dachis described via video how his diabetes diagnosis and a hypoglycemic blackout prompted him to create a platform for people dealing with the disease. OneDrop is a comprehensive tracking app that helps diabetes-sufferers manage their insulin via data-driven self-care.
At the end of Most Contagious, THINX was announced as the winner.