Lessons Learned From the Ad Age/Creativity Idea Conference

What to Take Away From Some of the Top Creative Minds Out There Today

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The fourth-annual Advertising Age/Creativity Idea Conference, held at concert venue Terminal 5 in Manhattan on Nov. 12, drew nearly 275 attendees listening to a colorful lineup of speakers ranging from a rap star to successful restaurateur to senior curator at the world-famous Museum of Modern Art. Here are 10 practical takeaways from their inspiring journeys into the business of creativity.

Sam Calagione, founder and president of cult microbrewery Dogfish Head, at the fourth-annual Advertising Age/Creativity Idea Conference.
Sam Calagione, founder and president of cult microbrewery Dogfish Head, at the fourth-annual Advertising Age/Creativity Idea Conference. Credit: Gary He
There's too much fear of making mistakes, said David Chang, exec chef and owner of Momofuku Restaurants. He originally created Momofuku Ssam Bar as a burrito bar, which he called "one of the biggest failures in New York City culinary history." But that failure allowed him to be fearless, without the criticism of the New York media because everyone had written him off. When you start small, an experiment gone wrong doesn't cost as much.

Chicago-based rap star and Kanye West-protege Kid Sister (aka Melisa Young) said midway through making her debut studio album, "Ultraviolet," that she wasn't satisfied with the tracks. It was a risky move, but she told her label, Downtown Records, it'd be best to double back and perfect the songs to make a genre-defining splash. With their support and a solid publicist, Kid Sister chose to share the delay of her album release with the press -- turning what could have been a blemish on a budding artist's start into momentum that helped build anticipation for the album, out next week.

While that piece of advice came specifically from Sam Calagione, founder and president of cult microbrewery Dogfish Head, Momofuku's Mr. Chang offered up a poignant example: in the early days of Momofuku, the struggling young restaurateur was told by his accountant he had one month left before he ran out of money. So he said screw it -- and blew up the menu. He quit trying to do "authentic" ramen and started to create something that was delicious and interesting. "Who cares about authenticity if it tastes like crap?"

Whether it's science or design or food, you can learn by stealing from other fields -- especially in times of disruption. Arkadi Kuhlmann, chairman and president of ING Direct USA, said the banking-industry turmoil represents an opportunity for players who can figure out how to connect with consumers in a different way. "If you think about it as banking, you'll go nowhere," he said. "If you think about it as a retail experience, the possibilities are endless."

Dogfish Head doesn't do TV or radio advertising, and it only advertises in beer-industry trades to "give back to the media that supports the industry." It would rather reinvest in the product, such as, say, dropping $140,000 on a Paraguayan tank whose wood will imbue its beer with a character no mass brewer could ever offer. "We're going to make stuff so different that our portfolio of beer acts as a de facto sales force or ad campaign," Mr. Calagione said.

Kickstarter is a platform where creative people can crowd-source funding -- to record an album, write a book or sail around the world. But it's not about charity, said CEO Perry Chen. "It's about finding a commercial proposition you can make to an audience and that the audience can spread around the internet. It's about low-cost but high-value personal experiences."

212Box turned a glass house it built into the protagonist in a film, and it designed a book, "In These Rooms of Wood and Stone," packed with puzzles and history, to accompany a 4,200-square-foot Manhattan apartment remodel. It's about a "journey of inspiration," said Eric Clough, one of the firm's two founders, and stretching the boundaries of their work beyond structure and construction and into narrative.

To blame user-generated content for the folding of Gourmet magazine is short-sighted. But so is letting it run wild. Quality content and curators and editors are still useful, argued Chow Founder Jane Goldman, whose empire includes one of the world's most-recognized food message boards, Chowhound.com. She argues we need more filters, not fewer -- technology or otherwise. "Maybe the online world isn't a conversation," she said. "Maybe, in fact, it's a party. You invite friends over, put a drink in their hands and an interesting stranger at their side and get the conversation moving. And then let them take it from there."

Before the Mosaic browser, the internet was just a series of 1s and 0s. That's what designers do, said Paola Antonelli, senior curator-department of architecture and design, MoMa. "They take revolutions and science and technology and make them into things that we can use." Companies that want to be able to do that need to incorporate designers at the senior level or even C-level, Apple being the ultimate example. "I think of designers as the sort of cultural philosophers of companies," she said. "My hope is that designers become the intellectuals of the future, the go-to generalists."

The credit crunch and consumer spending have wracked the auto industry, but a bigger problem is that it lost its confidence; in the '50s, '60s and '70s, it was the industry where the great ideas were, said Scott Keogh, chief marketing officer, Audi of America. While competitors are touting how low their prices are with generic car-on-road ads, Audi was capitalizing on a shift toward more subtle luxury by proceeding boldly and with confidence. "Consumers don't want a panicky or nervous or distressed brand," he said. "People don't want to buy those things. ... The completely wrong thing to do is run and hide from consumers, from finance, from management or consumers. This is the time when marketing can make a difference."

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