VIDEO: Dabbling in Digital Doesn't Cut It

Plus, a Reporter Recounts the Goings-on at the 'Ad Age' Conference

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NEW YORK ( -- Advertising Age held its first Digital Marketing Conference yesterday. Four hundred marketing execs braved the cold to head over to the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan to hear marketers from Unilever, Nike, Coke and Cadillac discuss the hottest topics in digital with agency execs from R/GA and Tribal DDB, among others. Our intrepid reporter Andrew Hampp was there, taking notes, of course.

9 a.m. Here we go, among the 400 attendees at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. It may be the coldest day of the year in New York, but editor Jonah Bloom jokes the frigid weather means that now that we've got you in the hotel, you won't be leaving.

9:55 a.m. Big Socratic debate about to begin. Panelists take seats, looking squeezed at a too-small table. Some sort of metaphor for today's marketing scene? Probably overthinking it. Anyway, Carat Americas CEO David Verklin, sitting at the far right, helps matters a bit by pulling his chair to the side.

9:57 a.m. Audience asked to suggest a hypothetical product the panelists will develop a digital strategy for. Suggestions include ice cream, screw-top wines, student loans, flat-screen TVs and dog food. "Dog food, it is," said Mr. Bloom, who's playing the CMO and charging the panel with creating a digital-marketing plan.

10:19 a.m. Matt Freeman, worldwide CEO of Tribal DDB, argues for a service role for marketing communications. "Branded service," he called it, or a message that provides value to consumers. "The era of bombarding consumers with messages is over," he said. Something else that's over, said Steve Rubel, senior VP at Edelman's me2revolution: a mentality of build it and they will come. "It's not about big content, but fits into small places that are relevant," he said. Mr. Verklin gets metaphorical on us, describing Carat's "WebFirst strategy" as a rake. Consumers as dead leaves? Weeds, maybe? "We're using offline media to drive traffic online," he said. Said Mr. Freeman: "Integration is a funny word, all it really means is who's in charge. Can you integrate -- or subjugate the best talent and still keep them on the business?"

10:45 a.m. Mr. Freeman again with a good point: not thinking of everything on the Internet as a media buy. "Most of digital is free," he said. "We need to just look at the paid media but free media and earned media." Nick Law, R/GA North America's chief creative: "The digital space covers a lot of ground. I don't think one big idea is going to cover it all."

10:54 a.m. Boldest agency prediction of the panel: media networks taking the central role in the mix from the creative shops, becoming the "full-service agencies of the future."

11:15 a.m. If there's one thing brand marketers love, it's learning from other people's examples. Liz Vanzura, Cadillac's global marketing director, shows her company's "My Cadillac Story" campaign that ultimately led to a dedicated site with video testimonials from the likes of Fat Joe, Joan Jett and former Blink 182 bassist Travis Barker. The spots were able to simultaneously target the younger generation of Cadillac drivers as well as the boomers who grew up using the classic vehicles. "No one ever took their prom date in a Lexus, so it's a competitive strategy for us," she said.

11:40 a.m. But streaming video isn't the only way for consumers to interact with brands online. Shane Steele, director of emerging media and online advertising, Coca-Cola Co., took a risk in bringing her notoriously conservative beverage company online in the peer-to-peer space, where sponsored videos with Jay-Z and R&B singer Ne-Yo garnered more downloads from file sharers than those videos did on their respective MySpace or YouTube pages. "Peer-to-peer users are very advertising averse. We were trying to walk a fine line between advertising and getting in the way and bringing value to the consumer."

12:10 p.m. Manning Field, senior VP-branding and advertising for JPMorgan Chase Card Services, echoes Jay-Z moments later when he introduces his case study with Facebook by saying, "We're the bank of the Rockefellers, but how do you become the bank of the Roc-a-fellas?" He then perfectly summed up the conference's laid-back vibe by adding, "You know you're at a digital conference when you're the only guy in the room with a tie."

12:45 p.m. Coke conveniently is served as the drink of choice for conference-goers.

1:30 p.m. Sometimes brands need a good workout just as much as their target audience does. That's what the subtly Swedish Stefan Olander, Nike's global director of digital media, learned last year when he teamed up with Apple for a music-workout promotion that ingeniously combined two well-known mediums -- the iPod and the Nike running shoe -- into a cohesive whole, with a special device planted in the shoe that synched up to any jogger's desired length of run. Next, we'd like to see Frito Lay compose a new technology for a bag of chips rationed proportionately to 22 minutes worth of eating and DVR watching.

2:20 p.m. This just in: Consumers don't like watching TV on their phones. "If you look at how people view television, TV is a shared experience," said Gene Keenan, director of mobile services for Isobar International. "It's hard for people to have that shared experience if they see this cool clip of Bugs Bunny on their phone last night. Their friends are just going to stare at you in the face and go, 'Oh that's cool dude.'"

2:25 p.m. The lack of TV-set potential notwithstanding, cellphones could still be a great shopping tool. Diane Hessan, president-CEO of Communispace, sees a rise in contextual ads from stores seeking to entice customers as they walk by with text-message alerts on their latest sales.

3:00 p.m. Apparently, the PlayStation 2 is majorly played out. "I used to play that when I was young," said 12-year-old consumer Chris Pollack. Now he favors playing online games in "clans," such as "Rainbow Six" and "World of Warcraft."

3:10 p.m. The consumers have spoken. "That's too personal," 15-year-old Amanda Haggerty said in regards to Ms. Hessan's mobile shopping forecast. And when it comes to social networks, "MySpace sketches me out," said Tiffany, a marketing major at NYU. Fellow college student Cheryl concurs: "There's a lot of spam and perverts on that site. I used to be obsessed one-and-a-half or two years ago. I had, like, 6,000 friends."

3:30 p.m. Leave it to Dale Backus, the 21-year-old winner of the consumer-generated Super Bowl contest for Dorito's, to sum up what's wrong with viral marketing today: "Companies are taking themselves too seriously. Advertisers are going after this 'cool,' which, sorry, doesn't work in things like the LG Chocolate commercials. I like companies that are willing to take a risk. Political incorrectness goes over well with this generation."

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Matthew Creamer, Emily Tan and Abbey Klaassen also sat through the conference.

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