Big Ideas From the IDEA Conference

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From leading architect David Rockwell to leading creative Alex Bogusky; from the man who built Second Life to the marketing chief of the very-real-world Starbucks; from a guy who plans and buys media to a guy who expresses himself by making toys. They all came to share their big ideas and pass on their tips for fostering creativity.

More than 550 people gathered in New York to hear them at Advertising Age and Creativity magazine's inaugural Idea Conference. Here are a handful of ideas and insights from the day. To see some edited highlights of the speakers doing their thing, check out the video at

1. Limitations and small budgets are inspiring
"I can be at my most creative when I have constraints," said Anne Saunders, senior VP-global brand strategy and communications, Starbucks. The coffee behemoth started out humbly as a small Seattle chain. "When I have a lack of time or money, that causes me to think differently. We don't spend a lot of money on traditional advertising." Less than 2% of Starbucks' operating budget is spent on advertising. Instead, word of mouth and the physical presence of each location have been its best tools.

David Jones
David Jones
2. Trust your gut—not research
Pointing out that Steve Jobs didn't create great ideas by doing market research, multilingual ad man David Jones, global CEO of Euro RSCG, exhorted ad execs to stop asking permission. Drawing on British comedian Vic Reeves' assertion that "96.2% of all statistics are made up," Mr. Jones argued that the best ads aren't based on research. He cited P&G's brilliant viral effort for Charmin toilet tissue created by Euro rival Publicis, which riffs off the many euphemisms for elimination and, as Mr. Jones said, did plenty to put the brand in pole position.

3. Think like a band
"What does a band actually do? They create music and they don't know whether it's going to sell," said Chris Stephenson, general manager-global marketing for Microsoft's entertainment business, which launches its much-anticipated MP3-and-video player, Zune, on Nov. 16. "They'll tour—they're not sitting in an ivory tower behind their desk. It's a very do-it-yourself culture, but ideal. This idea of thinking in a really open-minded, expressive way like an artist is really important."

4. Approach your consumer from a 'molecular level'
The first thing Steven J. Heyer, CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, asks himself when it comes to designing a new hotel is: "What do we want our guest to feel?" He and David Rockwell, founder and CEO of the Rockwell Group, discussed the innovations they've made to the luxury-hotel industry by designing experiences that appeal to the traveler who hates traveling but loves being there—think mountain views, health spas and expanded bars.

Philip Rosedale
Philip Rosedale
5. Digitize everything
Not just your ads, but also your store, your product and even your employees. Here to help you is Linden Labs CEO Philip Rosedale, creator of the virtual world Second Life. What was once the futurist domain of "Tron" is now something anybody with a broadband connection—and potentially an ailing first life—can tap into. Think you can't make an emotional connection in the digital world? Then you should have seen the star of a heart-tugging video Mr. Rosedale screened, a woman who found a husband and a career in Second Life.

6. Nostalgia is death
Quoting Bob Dylan, Paul Budnitz, founder of Kidrobot, took aim at the marketing world's tendency to slavishly ape bygone pop culture. (That means you, VH1 and Hello Kitty.) Mr. Budnitz said there's no creativity behind thinking derivatively—like, for example, when marketers create toy spinoffs of blockbuster films. He offered the notion that real creativity is about making something that is "entirely new and in the moment." He did, however, distinguish nostalgia (bad) from appropriation (good), in which familiar themes serve as a jumping-off point for the creation of a completely fresh idea, as evident in the twisted work of Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami.

7. Let consumers inside
For the Barenaked Ladies' first independent release on the Nettwerk record label, co-founder Terry McBride wanted them to be able to work outside the 12-song-per-album box. Their recording sessions yielded 29 songs, from which Mr. McBride pulled 250 tracks for fans to mix into their own versions. The mixes will be submitted for a forthcoming fans' EP. "It's not about control, but the fact that the fan owns the brand," Mr. McBride said during the Corbis "Who Owns Your Brand?" breakout session. "Fans do all the marketing for us."

8. Prototype early
That way, said Paul Bennett, chief creative at IDEO, you won't end up with "dinosaur babies" (a product "so ugly only its mother could love it"). Creative teams can sometimes get so wrapped up in a project they can't let go or realize it's not going to work the way they initially intended. Making prototypes early on in the creative process helps with troubleshooting and allows for feedback on the more complicated areas of the product. "The notion of prototyping is, if it's bad, you can let it go."

Alex Bogusky
Alex Bogusky
9. Drugs won't supply your 'Aha!' moment
They no longer fuel the creativity of Alex Bogusky, chief creative officer at Crispin Porter & Bogusky. "There was a time where I'd be working on something where I'd need to drink," Mr. Bogusky said. "The problem is, the longer you do it, the smaller that window for creativity gets. And then you're trashed." He also pointed out that getting to that eureka time requires hard graft and is often about ripping up lots of OK ideas and starting over. (And you thought it was just brilliance and the occasional bong!)

10. Flatten management structure
"We don't have enough managers, and we intended it to be that way," said Google's chief engineer, Craig Neville-Manning, who credited that lack of bureaucracy as a big reason for the search giant's success in bringing new products to market.

11. Market to the interested
In analyzing a recent Iams campaign, David Verklin, CEO of Carat Americas, found that 40% of the American population owns a dog. "When I run an ad on TV, 60% of the people watching have no interest in it. It's bad for the client because they don't want to advertise for people who aren't interested. And it's certainly bad for the delivery system, putting ads in front of people that are boring them."

12. Go for a brand back rub
Eric Plaskonos, director-brand communications at Philips Electronics North America, introduced the concept of "brand chiropractics" to the crowd in his closing statement, citing Philips' recent innovative spreads in Gourmet and its sponsorship of commercial-free football games. "It's slightly unorthodox and [hands-on], but when it works it makes you feel really good."

13. Give consumers some control
"Once you've allowed the consumer to create something around your brand, you have to assume that is not something you can control," said Jeremy Allaire, founder and CEO of Brightcove. Brightcove allows marketers to build video-content channels of their own—and provides users with the building blocks for their own creations. This way you can make sure the ideas are still coming from the marketer, and that's the key to successful consumer-generated media, said Mr. Allaire. "It's highly empowering to consumers and helps to accentuate those brands as opposed to diminish them."

14. Turn Advertising Week into a charity push
Euro's Mr. Jones also made a plea for all agencies to give all the profit they make during that week to charity, rather than just enjoying the booze and schmooze of a week-long industry event. He also suggested that the industry collaborate to tackle a big issue that week—in the style of ProductRed, Bono and Bobby Shriver's effort to combat AIDS in Africa.

15. Discourage sleep
In some ways Mr. Heyer and Mr. Rockwell's biggest idea is to transform hotels into big bars and meeting spaces that just happen to also have bedrooms. "We have to give [guests] a reason to use their time in other ways. The last option is sleep," Mr. Heyer said.

16. Don't be (obviously) big, be brilliant
Asked how he "stays cool," Kidrobot's Mr. Budnitz alluded to his success, saying "we make more toys and more money than you think we do." He said he devotes a huge amount of time to working out how to be big without getting bad and he said the key, quite simply, is to be guided by the question "Is it beautiful?" Don't be guided by money or other considerations.

17. Sit under the table
IDEO's Mr. Bennett was all about seeing things from fresh perspectives. He cited the work of one of his staff who had done a project for Ikea in which he was asked to produce storage devices for young kids. To develop ideas, he followed a child around for a day of play. Noting that the children he observed liked to huddle under tables, the designer ended up eschewing traditional shelves and went with a device that attaches under the table and allows kids to shove toys between rubbery protrusions—the product is now a best seller.

18. Every day should be independence day
For a recent BMW print campaign, Jack Pitney, VP-marketing at BMW North America, and Roy Spence, founder and president of GSD&M, played up the car company's uniqueness in the automotive industry, explaining that it's the only automaker that isn't part of some greater parent company. "BMW is a very unique company because we're purpose-driven," Mr. Pitney said before pointing out that it's hard to beat the competition when they're your parent company.

19. All creatives are created equal
Perhaps most stunningly, Mr. Bogusky said he believed there were great creatives everywhere, but that they are too often hampered by bad management or the strictures of structures. The message was clear—free your copywriters and art directors and you'll get better ideas and, most importantly in Mr. Bogusky's view, better execution.
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