Blogging the Idea Conference
Russell Simmons Session:
9:36 a.m.: And we're off. Ad Age's Scott Donaton welcomes the packed house at the Nokia theatre behind a neon dais. He's my publisher and can fire me with a snap of a finger, so even if he said anything really, really stupid, I wouldn't report it here. (He didn't).
9:42: Teressa Iezzi of Creativity introduces Russell Simmons, who crept up behind her and interrupted her welcoming remarks. He's wearing a Yankee cap and is charmingly ill-prepared to speak to the audience. It's gotta be nice being a billionaire.
9:44: Simmons talks about how being a contrarian has led to much of his success. Says that people in control hated many of his initiatives (Def Comedy, Def Poetry, Run's House), but was able to push it through because he believed in them.
9:47: Who knew? Russell Simmons says he's a big believer in meditation. "I always rely on that."
9:48: Russell echoes Santa Claus: "Giving is the key to a getting. Great givers are great at getting."
9:54: After speaking about the various (hundreds?) of companies he has created - including one in the financial services industry despite saying he "can't count" -- the entrepreneur concludes his remarks. Greeted by a momentary lack of questions from the crowd, he says, "I know I didn't cover it all, I didn't say shit."
9:56: Addressing a question from the crowd about meditation, Simmons says, "No one will give anything new to the world that they got from a lot of noise and anxiety."
9:57: Simmons thinks the negative attention paid to the rap industry after the Imus imbroglio is undeserved. "That's bullshit." It's focusing upon "Hateful words that we don't use anyway." He goes on to say, "These are words not beeped on the Ellen Degeneres show, but they're beeped on rap records." Works in a dig at the Bush administration, too: "I can't imagine gangsta rap that's more gangster than this government."
10:00: Simmons, understandably, has no problem with the influx of rappers trying to make it in business. "They earned the right. They built an emotional connection to people. Good for them."
David Jones Session:
10:02: Ad Age's editor, Jonah Bloom, introduces himself as the "least talented emcee to ever take a stage with Russell Simmons" before introducing our next speaker, David Jones of Euro RSCG Worldwide.
10:04: Jones says there are three "Golden Rules" of presentations: 1) Shamelessly flatter the audience 2) Outrageous name-dropping 3) Very overt bragging. He then proceeds to call the audience "fantastic", cites a meeting with Bill "Gatesy" Gates, and shows how his agency won Ad Age's Global Agency of the Year in 2007.
10:06: In what will be a relief to many reading this, Jones says he "fundamentally believes that traditional advertising isn't dead." Cites the Super Bowl's audience and the "brilliant work" that's out there.
10:07: But, he says, "Nontraditional is dead." It's largely a semantic issue -- he's just saying that the people who are starting out in the business don't know a world without the Internet. "We should stop calling it that."
10:12: Jones is no fan of consumer-generated content. "It's not an idea..it isn't a substitute for an idea." Says amateurs are "not very good at it as a whole. Just look at YouTube -- the most highly viewed contest in not amateur." He then cues up last year's consumer-generated Super Bowl ad for Dove and dubs it "appallingly bad." (Sorry, Lindsey Miller of Sherman Oaks California).
10:14: Jones whips out the trusty tool of every marketer's presentation, the Venn Diagram. He says the key to being successful in this marketplace is to figure out the overlap between what brands want to say about themselves and what consumers want to pass around and share. "When you do find it the power can be enormous." Then - perhaps to get back in the good graces of those running Dove - shows the Dove Evolution sensation as an example of what is "spectacularly right."
10:17: "Put digital at the heart of everything," Jones says. "It underpins every single discipline. It needs to be at the core." As an example of how to do so, shows Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man" commercial and accompanying website (where you can wrestle Chairman Mao and test your strength against the corporate spokesman).
10:23: Ends on a very positive note, says that the ad industry is best positioned to "deliver brilliant ideas that engage consumers." "We're living in an amazingly exciting time. We're very lucky to be living through it."
Robert Stephens session:
10:26: Next up, Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad. He started the company with $200; now it's in every Best Buy.
RS: Stephens is dressed for the geek part: Has a white short sleeved-t-shirt and black tie along with a cell phone clip-on to his pants. "I feel like I have snuck behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz..You're all such beautiful, smart creative people..I'm going to talk to you about the other part of society today."
10:29: Talks about how struggling for money in college was a great impetus for his creativity. "The best thing that ever happened to me is that I didn't have money." Another potential secret to his creativity? He ate a lot of Ramen Noodles in college.
10:33: Says one of the biggest lessons he learned was when he was copying video games for the jocks in his high school. "My friends were getting dunked in the toilet, I was getting protected. Knowledge is power."
10:36: When starting up the business in college, Stephens recognized the value of customer service. "I realized what you do and how you do it and both are equally important."
10:37: Stephens: "Small companies want leverage, big companies want to be nimble..it's why they come to Idea companies."
10:38: Stephens talks about how he conjured up the distinct imagery of the Geek Squad. "I wanted logo to look like an old gas station logo. My customers aren't high-tech."
"Instead of creating a brand," Stephens advises brand managers to "create a movie" with a narrative (i.e. geeks taking over the world as society becomes more driven by technology).
10:42: Stephens quotes Picasso: "Good artists copy, great artists steal." Says he "steals" ideas regularly from the hotel injury, from FedEx and UPS, even from the Batmobile and the Andy Griffith show for some of his ideas. Says he got the idea for the Geek Squad's uniforms from Apollo 13. It's led to his employees taking pride in their jobs, with some even getting their driver's licenses in their uniform.
10:48: Concludes remarks by saying that "the metrosexual has given way to the technosexual."
10:52: Answering a question about how to find talent, Stephens says that "they find us." But he also tries different techniques, such as recruiting them at Kung-Fu festivals.
Barry Diller Session:
10:59: Barry Diller takes the stage to the song "Fly me to the Moon."
11:00: Diller immediately refutes a question by Bloom about how IAC "sold off" companies last week. ""We did not sell off. We did not sell off anything. We spun off." The reason? "It was too big a mouthful, too complex..frankly, it's too much to manage. I found that me and my senior management were being too superficial."
11:03: Asked by Bloom about his company's reliance on Internet advertising with the rumored Internet bubble, Diller says, "I'm thrilled to be dependent on it..there's enormous wind at its back. I can't think of a better place to be. It's a great discipline to be both buying and selling media time."
11:05: Diller addresses the rumor that he'd be interested in acquiring AOL: "I don't have eyes for AOL. It'd be great clay to play with." But it's "an aging symbol"
11:06: According to Diller, internet advertising is "more effective, more targeted." Therefore, he says, it's "inconceivable to me" that advertising online will be adversely effected in the future. "It has to keep growing."
11:08: Calls the Ask.com "Algorithm" ads "A total bust." Thought it was a good idea, but didn't put enough resources behind it. "Half-baked is half-assed."
11:10: It's not a good day for consumer-generated advertising. Diller says that there's only so much interest in "a cat throwing up on your grandmother." Future of industry is "going to come from people who are talented and come from some process of professional training."
11:12: Talks about his investment in Garage Games: "We might fall, but it is an original idea."
11:18: Diller, apparently in no mood to spill his plans to take over the world, shuts down when asked about his future. "You think I'd tell you?" Same with potential acquisitions. "It's kinda stupid to talk about."
11:50: Ideo's Paul Bennett and Jane Fulton Suri take the stage to talk about ways of thinking around advertising. What happened to the idea of advertising as a entertainment? What if it was banned?
11:54: This is becoming a Dove lovefest, with the second refernce to the marketer today. Ideo's Paul Bennett shows the new Dove video, "Onslaught," a look at role the daily media barrage plays in forming unattainable notions of beauty in women. "They're attacking the medium as well as the message here," says Mr. Bennett.
11:56: Onto the Sao Paulo, where the question of ad ban is a very real one. The city's been enforcing a ban on commercial billboards Mr. Bennett asks, "If what we did were banned, what would we do?"
11:58: Design faces the same challenges. "A lot of stuff designers produce is literally pollution and leads to landfills," says Ms. Fulton Suri.
12:17 p.m.: Best analogy we're heard for the bloggers in a long time. The blogosphere, says Mr. Bennett, is like a petting zoo. It allows you get close to things that aren't like you.
12:25: Here Mr. Bennett comes up with a few useful principles for today's marketing environment. "People want to see themselves in your brand."
12:26: "We're in conversation mode now."
12:28 "It's all about relinquishing control."
12:30: Ideo presents a cool PR case-study from the Japanese marketing company Hakuhodo. To increase awareness for a Panasonic battery that's more powerful than regular alkaline batteries, Hakuhodo came up with a stunt that involved the creation of a plane that runs on battery power. The launch (literally) event gets a ton of media attention, including 40 minutes of network news time, play in all the Japanese papers, and coverage by the BBC and Time magazine. The publicity's worth $4 million and awareness jumps to 85%. Now that's a way around advertising.
Judy Hu, global executive director-advertising and branding at GE, and Brett Shevack, vice chairman-brand initiatives at BBDO, New York
2:05: The pair starts off their speech by saying that our culture improperly values isolation as being a key to unlocking creativity. Collaboration, they say, is actually the most necessary ingredient.
2:08: GE, says Judy, is known for its processes like Six Sigma. The challenge they had was putting a process in place that will drive innovation. It's how "Project Inspire" was born.
2:12: Project Inspire was unveiled to GE Aircraft team in Ohio. They needed to generate ideas to differentiate the product, which even the mechanics admitted wasn't any different from competitors. They asked the team, "Do you feel more confident when your family flies on a GE engine?" The answer, surprisingly, was no. Once they showed the need for marketing solutions, "it became like a room full of BBDO creatives," said Hu.
2:18: Brett says, "Powerful ideas can only come when there is a real sense of ownership among the participants in the organization. Everyone can be an idea developer if properly guided."
2:26: Brett: "Success of Project Inspire has clearly been a testament to collaboration...Structure and process is actually an ally of creativity,"
Matt Scheckner, director of marketing at Yahoo, and Dr. Mark Eisenberg
2:31: Scheckner, a Yahoo executive, is dressed in full doctor gear while the doctor looks more like an advertising executive. It's amusing, kinda.
2:33: Scheckner tosses around a few drug innuendos about "enhancing creativity."
2:34: Wanna be more creative? Get out of the sea of cubicles in an office, says Eisenberg. "You're not going to be hit with the best idea under those circumstances." The best environment, says Eisenberg, is one that is open. "That's the environment where creativity will flourish."
2:39: Asked whether there's a connection between IQ and creativity, Eisenberg says, "There are a lot of dumb people who are creative." He says that sometimes intelligence can get in the way of creativity because of the self-censorship involved in it.
2:40: "All of those things that take you out of the linear kind of thinking will be helpful," says Eisenberg. Mentions writing, music, art, even computer games.
George Wright , director of marketing at BlendTec
2:44: "We're a small company," Wright said. "We're not GE." Without millions to spend in marketing, the director of marketing of the Utah-based Blendtec had to get creative and think outside the box.
2:47: Wright says, "If you can't ring the till, it's of no value." I have no idea what that means, but it sounds pretty cool.
2:48: The big idea for "Will it Blend?" arrived when he witnessed a co-worker putting a wooden board in the blender for kicks. They videotape it and voila! A viral sensation is born.
2:50: Shares some "key components" of the successful campaign, which includes making it entertaining, authentic and interactive.
2:51: He says, "My advertising is now considered content...all of a sudden, I'm now getting calls from the Food Network" along with the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and "The Tonight Show."
2:55: The results: 34 million YouTube views; 45 million impressions on the website. Best of all: Sales jumped by a factor of five times.
3:02: He uses the term "Ring the till" a few more times, which is pretty enjoyable.
3:04: . . . but not as enjoyable as Wright smushing a rake into the blender, then accepting an audience member's Blackberry and blending it to smithereens.
Jeffrey Hollender, President and CEO of Seventh Generation
3:13: Says the need for transparency in marketing is essential. "None of the products we sell are sustainable," he says. They're better than most, but not perfect. "We aspire to make them good . . . at the moment, they're less bad."
3:19: He took a stand against selling his products at Wal-Mart because he's "concerned about its impact on the social fabric." But is now working with the retailer on making them "a better company." "Where they are today I wouldn't have dreamt three years ago. They have made a lot of progress."
3:22: Said he's struggled with the idea that his company appeals to only those who are affluent. To that end, he has worked with a group of cleaning women in San Francisco who were making "$5 or $6 dollars per hour." Helped them form a business cooperative. Now they're making $13 or $14 dollars per hour and have health insurance. "Is this enough? No. But it's a start," he says.
3:26: "Most of us have no idea how big an impact we can have in the world."
3:32: Ends by imploring the audience to apply their creativity to the greater good. "Please, please think about how your creativity can help solve the biggest problems the world faces."
David Droga, founder and creative chairman of Droga5
4:05: The Aussie enters the room to Men at Work's song, "The Land Down Under." "I didn't choose this song by the way," he said. "At all." At least he didn't get any Crocodile Dundee comparisons.
4:06: Part of what he tries to do with Droga5 is to break out of the rigid agency mold. "Every agency owns the same thesaurus. The rhetoric is the same."
4:08: Complaining about being pigeon-holed as an "alternative" agency: "We're not about being the anti-traditional advertising model. I'm certainly an advertising person. I'm an advertising man."
4:10: A few minutes after observing how all of the rhetoric at agencies is the same, Droga says, "We're about momentum . . . it's the only word we throw around"
4:13: Droga talks about how it's important to get people from various walks of life to contribute to ideas. His management team at Droga5 includes an ex editor at Details Magazine, a "digital guy" from Microsoft and a head programmer from Viacom. He wanted to get "Storytellers from different industries."
4:14: Droga's CFO, whom he brought from Citibank, apparently told him, "This advertising model sucks. You don't' make any money."
4:15: Talks about his groundbreaking work for UNICEF. The campaign raised $5 million dollars and provided clean water to 80 million people. The central idea was that, for one day, people would pay $1 for tap water at restaurants. In the accompanying video, one of the Unicef executives said, "It was the biggest project for UNICEF in 56 years." Momma Droga approved, too: "Finally, you've done something decent," she said to him afterwards.
4:16: "We're not all do-gooders at Droga," he said. Shows his work for Honeyshed.com, a joint venture with the Publicis group.
4:20: After the brief foray into advertising for commerce-purposes, Droga talks about "The Million," an initiative for the Department of Education. Details are sketchy, but, basically, he's getting one million cell phones donated to New York public school kids, who earn minutes and incentives by achieving more in school. Understatement of the year: "It's not about shifting soap off shelves."
Note: Megan McIlroy took over for Ryan McConnell at the afternoon sessions.
Shane Smith and Eddy Moretti, Co-Founders, VBS.TV
4:30: Shane and Eddy give brief overview of their businesses: Vice Magazine, VBS.TV, etc. They also do music and books, too apparently. Kind of renegade, citizen journalism/publishing for youth culture.
4:41: Shane says that before they came here, they were in Iraq, working on marketing for their new movie about the only heavy metal band in Baghdad. The film was an official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival.
4:43: Now they are talking about VBS.TV, which Shane says is "some sexy business right there." Apparently one of its biggest fans is Bono. Last time Shane was in New York, he was "drunk off his tits" with the songster. Lucky!
4:45: They show some clips from VBS, about illegal arms markets in Pakistan, reactor in Chernobyl, drugs in Colombia, culture, music. They describe what they do as a changing of the guard in media.
4:46: Shane on their own innovation and success: "We're naive and stupid and that's always been our strength."
4:48: Also says changing of the guard is necessary with the media. Says too many journalists are influenced by the corporate publishers. "There is a lot of stuff happening out there, where young people are incredibly disenfranchised."
"We're kind of like the tallest of the midgetest, because everyone out there does stuff that is so shit," Shane says.
4:55: Eddie says all kidding aside, projects like their Baghdad movie give them a purpose. "We do feel that whether or not we are jaded or whether we are done with cocaine and models, we do feel the traditional fourth estate has let us down. Rather than sit around and complain about it, we decided we would do a network where we could take the news back from standard operating procedures."
4:57: Showed the beginning of a film they are making about North Korea. Team America Anyone?
5:00: Shane: "What's happening now is the revolution of media. The revolution is real, it's organic and it's local."
Luis von Ahn, professor of computer science, Carnegie Mellon University
5:05 Dude invented capchtas, those annoying blocks of text that appear when you are trying to log on Hotmail and you have to type all the letters you see. But apparently they are really necessary to prevent spammers from sending even more annoying spam and for truth in online polling.
5:09: But now people are trying to hack captchas -- and wasting a lot of time doing it. So Luis has come up with a way to get those hackers to help him digitize books. I'd be lying if I said I understood this .
5:11: Luis' next project is called the Human Computation -- apparently 9 billion human hours were spent playing solitare in 2003, and he thinks we should be doing something better with our time online. (Like playing Freecell?)
5:14: He is the smartest person I've ever seen. He is using human capital to help label all the images on the internet with The ESP Game. People who play are assigned random partners, and as they play, they have to enter text to identify pictures that pop up on the screen. The object is to type the same world.
5:17: Luis already got 120,000 players to give 25 million agreements on images, which are then searchable on the web.
5:21: He shows us sample label of actor Walter Matthau. Labels that come out include Saddam, Mr. Wilson, Man, Face, Moustache. Wow, Mr. Wilson sure does look like Saddam Hussein.
Ad Age Digital Editor Abbey Klaassen and Owen Van Natta, VP-operations & chief revenue officer, Facebook
5:27: Abbey points outs that Van Natta has worked at Facebook and Amazon -- two companies that have revolutionized the web -- and asks about the culture of innovation there. Van Natta says that at a lot of big companies, operational efficiency is important and prohibits innovation. "At Amazon and Facebook, it's about trial and error and being willing to take risks."
5:31: Van Natta was apparently the 32nd employee at Facebook. Abbey asks how the company maintains a nimble and creative environment when it is growing so fast. Van Natta says it's about hiring people for the passion -- even if they are not experts -- and "empowering people to do things they might not get a chance to do."
5:35: Abbey said a lot has been made of the age of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is in his early 20s. What's the age makeup of the executive suite? Van Natta says it's balanced, but the advantage of having young people is "there is not a lot of posturing and politics." Abbey points out they probably haven't learned that yet.
5:37: Van Natta says Zuckerberg is part of the open-source generation and is using Facebook for the better good of the Internet. (See, I knew it wasn't just for the $15 billion valuation!)
5:40: The $64 million dollar question (for Ad Age at least). What's the deal with the ad play?
Van Natta: "Having a way that businesses can participate in the dialogue [that is moving online today] is an opportunity. On Facebook you have a huge amount of information that is being shared with people and a lot of it is actions that are going to be taken. Trusted referrals are the type of things that influence people."
5:43: But how, Abbey asks, can Facebook trust companies to create ads that are actually of value to users?
Van Natta: "If a marketer is being disingenuous on Facebook, they are going to hear about it. We know that consumers are very vocal about things -- especially things that they don't like."