8 Lessons From the Creativity and Technology Conference

From Fiat's Eco:Drive to Layar, How Marketers are Focusing on Useful Products Instead of Advertisements

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Some 300 attendees gathered at the Saatchi Gallery last week for Ad Age sibling Creativity's technology conference, Creativity and Technology, were treated to musings on bleeding-edge digital communication from Europe's top talent in advertising, technology and design. Speakers ranged from agency creatives and technologists to writers such as Adam Greenfield, author of "Everyware" and head of design direction at Nokia.

Here are a eight takeaways from the conference if you missed it.

Curation is key
In a world of too many choices, both online and off, use your expertise to give consumers a small set of options in order to manage expectations. Choice is not always healthy, said Marko Balabanovic, head of innovation at Last Minute Labs, the exploration arm of travel site LastMinute.com. For the travel category, disappointment is inevitable in a digital, searchable world with too many choices -- every selection could result in a consumer asking, "Could I have made a better decision?" But, if you don't have overwhelming choice, you can't regret making the wrong one.

That's why companies like Last Minute substitute endless choice with careful curation and promote "self-binding behaviors" such as filter options that trim search queries. Mr. Balabanovic pointed to companies like Red Box DVD rentals, vegetable-box delivery services and even cheese clubs -- all services with a smaller, pre-determined set of selections -- that help manage disappointment for consumers with limited choices. This week, Last Minute launched the Topsee augmented reality app, which trades in the search function for a very limited number of insider suggestions for what to eat, drink, see, do and buy, according to location. It even goes as far as recommending individual dishes in specific restaurants to set expectations.

Re-imagine digital as product development
James Hilton, co-founder and chief creative officer at AKQA, discussed awards darling Fiat's Eco:Drive, the web-based tool that turned driving data into recommendations for consumers to save money and reduce their carbon footprints. The insight behind the campaign, which won best in show at One Show Interactive this year, was thinking of the "campaign" as a product. Interactive efforts need to grow beyond the microsite lifespan of a few weeks to long-lasting platforms that provide consumers value indefinitely.

"We are not in the business of advertising anymore," said Mr. Hilton. "Brands are interested in making products, whether you call it 'products' or 'platforms.'"

On a lighter note, Mr. Hilton shared a lesson in national driving habits. According to the application's data stores, Italians are the worst drivers in the world, followed by the French, the British and the Germans. The British were the quickest to learn and improve from Eco:Drive's recommendations, followed by Germans, the French and then Italians.

Sit close to technologists
Technologists -- "the artists formerly known as IT guys," according to moderator and Ad Age events manager Nick Parish -- are essential in making interactive products like Eco:Drive, so familiarize yourself with technology and its restraints to inform your role in the idea-generating process. Also, bring tech-heads into creative conversations early to color communication ideas with what's possible in web development. "We are now inventors," said Matt Ross, head creative, Tribal DDB. "We bring creativity and technology together."

Plus, for creatives, understanding technology could be a matter of survival in the near future. "If you are a creative and don't know about technology, you'll be out of a job soon," said panelist Yates Buckley, technical director at digital production company Unit 9.

Making technology easy, isn't
There are a lot of tools available to digital creatives and technologists today, so the real challenge is distilling the highly technical into an intuitive consumer experience. To make the graphs- and data-saturated Eco:Drive palatable to consumers, Mr. Hilton shared AKQA's guiding principles for work: useful, usable, delightful.

He also coined a term for using available tools like Flash excessively just because they are available. To the consumer, the experience is what matters, not how much digital skill went into constructing brand communication. "Flashterbation, no," he said. "Simplicity, yes."

Look beyond short-burn ROI
AKQA's Mr. Hilton cited his client's long-term perspective as a key component to creating a platform with staying power. While only brands like the Toyota Prius were getting credit for environmental awareness, this campaign aimed to influence driving habits to reduce carbon emissions and align Fiat with that eco-consciousness. But to build that brand personality, it takes time.

"It's not about banging out a quick campaign," he said. "The most important metric for brands is return on long-term investment, rather than short term ROI."

Learn how to design data
The influx of data collection and cataloging will only continue, which means creatives need to become adept in designing data to be digestible for consumers. Usman Haque, director of his self-titled design studio, introduced the platform Pachube, a web system designed to connect any space to any space, or any device to any device to share contextual data. While the technologies to support digital readings of the time, temperature or other atmospheric data of a physical space are not widely available today, "the internet of things" is not far off.

Similarly, Nokia's Mr. Greenfield discussed the concept of a network city, where data -- might it be bureaucratic, health or traffic -- harvested from urban systems can be fed back to change things like traffic patterns or building conditions in real-time.

"We need to stop thinking of the city as bricks that don't communicate," he said. "In the computer revolution, every constant in the world becomes a variable; everything around us is scriptable, which makes everything deeply interactive."

Content will soon be tagged to the real world
How will your brand overlay the real world with bits of digital content? With smartphone video cameras, GPS and internal compasses; technology that started as a cool way to interact with 3D graphics online has evolved into a way to project bits of information over video of real-life locations. Markus Tripp, business development manager for wireless developer Mobilizy, introduced the concept of a "content ecosystem," where the real world is tagged with digital content or graphics and users can access that information with their mobile phones.

He demonstrated Wikitude 4, an upcoming application from the developer that tags user-generated content to real-life locations. Claire Boonstra, co-founder of augmented reality app Layar, demonstrated her open-source tool, which brands or publishers can leverage to create their own "layers" of content to be projected on the world.

Think outside the box
Smartphones have the potential to re-imagine the package. How would your product's package design change if users could access additional information by snapping a photo of your barcode? Bringing the idea of "the internet of things" to consumer package goods, Mr. Haque discussed how smartphones could make it possible to trade in busy, graphics-heavy packaging for digital content retrieved by snapping a photo of a barcode with a smartphone. "All the things we've been trying to communicate with graphics can now be delegated to informatics," he said.

For more play-by-play from the event, check out #crcat on Twitter.

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