CaT's Tips for Evolving Advertising in Digital Age

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The third Creativity and Technology conference last week at Pier 94 in New York served up awe-inspiring examples of data visualization, interactive architecture and augmented reality. But the display of tech wizardry and imagination also highlighted the work that still needs to be done to evolve advertising and marketing for the digital age.

"There's this non-real dichotomy between creativity and technology," said Faris Yakob, chief innovation officer at MDC Partners. "You can even see it in the name of this conference; it implies strongly that creativity and technology are different things." Here are five takeaways from the event to bring down that wall and make technology integral to brand creativity.

Don't separate interactive
"The best way to make un-ambitious work is to set up a separate group called 'interactive,'" said Matt Howell, chief interactive officer, Modernista. But bringing interactive into the fold goes somewhat against established agency culture. "Collaboration and sharing are not core competencies at agencies," said Ivan Askwith, director of strategy, Big Spaceship. "Our focus should not be on emerging tech, but emerging cultural practices." These strategists advise to deconstruct teams so interactive talents are integrated into the mix. Even the physical space shouldn't be organized by department. A "pit crew mentality is good," Howell said.

During a training lunch with representatives from masters program Boulder Digital Works, Mr. Howell, Mr. Yakob and others described how to embark on this admittedly painful restructuring. Ironically, these leading minds in interactive marketing said a bad way to start is by hiring a digital guru. "A messiah is set up to fail," said Mr. Yakob. "By being called a 'change agent,' you're set up to be in opposition to that system, and that tells people they're doing something wrong, and nobody likes that."

Consider platform storytelling
Part of embedding interactive into agencies is recognizing that the essentials of brand storytelling have changed. "Brands have less permission to tell filmic stories like they used to," said Nick Law, R/GA's chief creative officer, North America. So, what's a brand to do? "Create frameworks so people can create their own stories and pipe that back to the brand," said Patrick Gardner, CEO of Perfect Fools.

Partner with tech companies, not just media companies
Agencies are "going to have to forge relationships with tech companies like we already have with media companies," Mr. Yakob said. With online behemoths such as Facebook, new apps such as Foursquare and retail services such as Groupon, brands and their agencies are going to have to think beyond buying ad real estate to reach these audiences.

Game mechanics is the new marketing
CaT darling Kevin Slavin, co-founder of social TV platform Starling and entertainment marketing firm Area/Code, said Foursquare's popularity comes from one thing alone: game mechanics. Consumers like to game, like to do it with their friends and don't mind brands there if they come in the right package.

Brands are getting into platforms like Foursquare and MyTown, a Monopoly-like game for the real world from developer Booyah, by becoming part of the game. Dave Wang, VP-director of business development for Booyah, pointed to programs for Oil of Olay that gave users virtual bottles that then became trade currency. He said the program performed so well that we can expect more from Procter & Gamble with the developer in the coming months. He explained how package goods marketers could incentivize product scans with game bonuses.

As for Mr. Slavin, whose new venture is a social TV platform called Starling, he urged attendees to "stop calling [such apps] the Foursquare for TV. Game mechanics motivate consumer behavior."

It's hard to laugh alone
Mr. Slavin's project exemplified how digital and social media are changing our traditional habits, but he was also quick to point out how it all tracks back to extremely human instincts. Viewers tweet and update Facebook networks during live TV because of a simple human truth: It's hard to laugh alone. The urge dates all the way back to the laugh track, which provided the illusion of a shared experience and being part of an audience. "People watch TV together in one room because they like to have the same experience at the same time," he said. "Sometimes that room is Twitter."