So right now I’m in the US for a few meetings, some inspiration and also attending Advertising Week and the MIXX Conference in New York. Today was the first day of both – right now it’s 7pm here and I have a can of Heineken and some sore feet and thought I’d reflect on day 1.
There’s a few Aussies here I know of. I saw Paul Fisher in a session at MIXX today, Andrew Reeves from ZO is here too, Gemma Pollard who was in marketing at iinet and now is at JWT New York I bumped into today. I know Darren Fishman of The Sphere Agency is in town as I was texting him Friday night during the Grand Final and I also managed to catch up with Ross McNab from Eyeblaster at a pub on Friday after walking up a set of stairs and seeing him sitting at a table at the end of them (pure coincidence!). Small world!
So today I got busy. I started off with the session at MIXX with Peter Kafka interviewing Gawker head Nick Denton. I’m am an unashamed fan of Denton, I think he’s one of the smartest people in media and he reminds me of what I believe a younger, more charismatic Rupert Murdoch would have been like 30 years ago.
Some great nuggets from Denton
– Journalism is too interested in journalism and not enough in entertainment. Gawker is about entertainment.
– Kafka asked whether what Gawker does is ‘journalism’. Denton hit back and said he preferred not to answer as the question was uninteresting.
– Twitter, according to Denton, is a closed elite network. He said writing stories for Twitter resulted in loads of navel gazing future of media type stuff.
You get the feeling Denton is relentlessly commercial, or more to the point – relentlessly about entertainment. There’s no high horse and he has a refreshing approach which is one part data one part gut feel. He almost feels like an outsider in the current digital climate.
After the Denton session, AOL’s Jeff Levine read from a prepared presentation about the inadequacies of display media. The presentation was sort of clumsy. Levine is an ex Google guy bought in by another ex Google guy Tim Armstrong to help AOL become more content and ad focused. They unveiled a new format called Project Devil which sort of looked like an above the fold 300×600 to me but maybe I was missing something. The general sentiment I agreed with – less clutter, more impact, more volume.
Levine had some people join him on stage – amongst them Wenda Harris Millard (who ran sales for Yahoo globally as well as Martha Stewart) and Barry Wacksman who is the Chief Growth Officer of R/GA.
Levine made some good points. He said that right now the Internet ‘puts plumbing first’ … not beautiful, creative, functional ads. Wacksmann added that we had almost trained users to avoid and ignore banner ads. I was disappointed that Levine trotted out the painful Google analogy of matching media consumption time to ad spend – but straight after talked about the power of content and context which in my mind answers the question (as so many contexts online aren’t really ad friendly/functional). It appears as an onlooker that AOL and Google’s position around display media is extremely similar.
I walked down to the NY Times building just after midday to catch John Legend, ?uestlove, Spike Lee and others talk about AMEX’s ‘Unstaged’ initiative. The same series has seen artists such as Arcade Fire, The National and Alicia Keys perform for AMEX and the output is slick. AMEX broadcast the concerns of VEVO (YouTube’s music play. Spike Lee directed the John Legend/Roots performance, which was a performance of relatively obscure soul classics, and Legend commented that for a project like this which isn’t popular, brands are taking the place of labels by bringing them to life
An audience member asked John Legend the question around the most valuable marketing medium for him, using Social Media and mobile as the sole examples. Legend’s answer. “Radio”.
In terms of measureable ROI, it’s always going to be difficult with something like this. AMEX VP Courtney Kelso said the brand was happy with the results.
Miles Nadal, who is the CEO of MDC Partners, conducted a solid session around ROI and how agencies adapt. MDC owns some of the more renowned creative shops in the US and Nadal pointed out that unlike other holding companies, MDC puts the client first and not the performance of the holding company. There was a discussion around agency remuneration … the answer from former Burger King marketing head Russ Klein was simple. If your agency is producting work that is effective there is rarely discussion around remuneration. The consensus of the panel was agencies could no longer bill on hours or FTE’s … they needed to have some skin in the game or deliver measurable results to be taken seriously.
Biggest audience of the day came out to see Aussie expat and creative big gun Nick Law of R/GA, who was joined by Barry Waksmann (big day for Barry) for an interesting hour around the dynamics of the new agency model.
I had never seen Law speak before, he’s entertaining. The RGA pitch is super slick. It speaks of transformation. It makes you feel like you aren’t as smart as them. It makes it feel like everything non digital isn’t that relevant. Law is creative and seems relatively channel agnostic, Waksmann not so much. They talked about a new investment model – a model that was 80% media, 20% creative is now turning into 20% media, 80% creative (they are a creative shop after all). Waksmann said banners aren’t that important for their clients, preferring to talk about big explosive ideas for the likes of Nike and Droid. Very slick sizzle reels held the crowd.
The old dynamic was mass media + line extension .. the new one is innovation + demonstration … which I’m not sure I agree entirely with. In the MDC session a bunch of marketers said that line extensions were compelling and generally attractive, then 2 hours later RGA is saying no more.
Law showed an interesting diagram. Diagonal line had Story at one end and System at the other … horizontal line had Think at one end and make at the other. He stated that the old creative agency could focus on think and story and not on the specifics of getting things done and made. Now it wasn’t the case, and a creative shop needed capabilities in all 4 areas as well as people that straddled multiple areas. Law even through in some ad wank, “we want a lateralised brain as an organisation.”
Towards the end Law showed the RGA/W+K joint initiative for Nike called Head to Head – super impressive. Great work at bringing function to life creatively.
Finished the day off at a debate around display standards moderated by Jean Phillipe Maheu of Publicis Modem. Andy Atherton of brand.net joined him, as did Calle Sjonell of BBH NY (who reminded me of a Swiss Nic Hodges). Wasn’t a whole lot of debating going on, but what really hit me was there were half the attendees of the previous data panel. It just appears that creativity within digital just isn’t that interesting to people, OR the challenge is too hard and the focus is more on infrastructure and tech. Whatever the reason, the feeling was we could all do more to make ads online more creative and effective.
Sjonell: “The idea of clicking away to another website feels inherently wrong.”
Atherton: “Doing something custom (creatively) every time is a cop out. It’s the easy way out as it is hard to be creative within constraints.”
Both great points.
And with that I’m done. See you tomorrow.