Nine Ideas From Ad Age/Creativity's Idea Conference

Couldn't Make It This Year? Here Are Some Brand-Building Concepts to Mull Over Till the Next One

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The third-annual Advertising Age/Creativity Idea Conference took place Oct. 30 at New York City's Terminal Five. The customary eclectic mix of speakers was on hand. So were more ideas than could fit in an electric car.

Beauty + performance + sustainability = awesome

Innovative brands share three commitments: to aesthetics, to functionality and to not destroying the world. Companies from Nike to Nau were object lessons in how those commitments have been acted on. Even General Motors, whose Frank Weber brought in the Chevy Volt, showed how an automaker not especially associated with beauty, performance or sustainability is changing its ways.

Deconstruct, then rebuild

To create a successful enterprise, you need to deconstruct the elements of the business and look at its essence. Grant Achatz, chef-owner of the Chicago restaurant Alinea, did that with every part of his restaurant: "It's about understanding your medium, breaking it down to its functional parts, challenging them, finding the essence in them and putting them all together in a meaningful, powerful way."

All designs go on the wall, no matter how early-stage

That's the rule at eco-friendly, design-savvy household-products maker Method. As co-founder Eric Ryan explained, even the most half-baked of ideas from its industrial designers are posted on the wall of the design studio.

Give away your shoes

By donating one pair of shoes to a needy Argentinean child for every pair bought, Blake Mycoskie's Toms Shoes has created a company that inspires passion in its employees and fans. "Giving," he said, is "a great business strategy."

Behold the black swan

DJ-musicologist Alan Cross took the audience through a disruptive tour of music history, examining how black swans -- unforeseen, large-impact events from the invention of the gramophone through our current age of the smartphone -- have changed behavior. In the future, there's going to be a "blurring of what is/is not personal property," Mr. Cross said, and "access is going to trump physical possession."

Make stuff out of garbage

"Can any product be made entirely from waste? I think yes," said Tom Szaky, founder-CEO of Terracycle, the start-up that ingeniously found a way to market worm poo in reused plastic bottles. After all, "what is garbage?" Mr. Szaky asked. "Garbage is a man-made idea. It doesn't exist in nature."

Just steal it

A good inventor -- or, in musical terms, composer -- doesn't reinvent the wheel. He takes mixes and comes up with something new. And that's nothing new, as mashup artist DJ Earworm demonstrated in a lively presentation on how thievery has long been a part of musical history.

Just leak it

Nicholas Negroponte said his One Laptop Per Child program has driven down the cost of laptops -- another way to help less fortunate individuals. "There are lots of laptops on the market for $350. Now that they're doing this, I am saying to myself, 'Wow, they copied much faster than I anticipated. So let me leak the next model.'" He joked, "We make people sign disclosure agreements."

Milton Friedman was wrong

Back in 1970, the most important cheerleader for free markets jabbed at 1960s-style idealism with an essay titled "The Social Responsibility of Business to Increase Its Profits." Ian Yolles, of Portland, Ore.-based apparel company Nau, blamed Friedmanesque thinking for the macroeconomic quagmire we're in now. He offered Nau's approach as an alternative to scorched-earth business strategies. "If we don't get it right, we're fundamentally screwed."
-- Matthew Creamer, Marissa Miley, Abbey Klaassen
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