IAB Mixx conference wrap-up: It’s still all about the idea! (But the medium matters.)

Advertising Week in NY is a collection of dozens of events, seminars and conferences that all take place in the heart of Manhattan. One of the big keynote conferences is the Mixx conference, organized by the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau). I was drawn to attend by the theme this year, “What’s the story? Building narrative in the digital age”.

Three thoughts:

1. The story is king – Alas, I don’t think that every speaker and workshop leader got the memo about the conference theme…

…or if they did, they just weren’t prepared (or able) to roll with it.  The ones that did get the memo and really delivered on the theme were the most interesting, influential and memorable. There’s a learning here, because as it goes in this conference, so it goes in life. This deserves its own post, so stay tuned.

3. But delivery matters, a lot! – I was a little underwhelmed by the presentation skills of many of the speakers. I haven’t been to many of these conferences, but I’d expect that if you are presenting prepared material to hundreds of people, you should be awesome. A lot of the speakers were just adequate, and I think that’s not enough because it made them entirely forgettable.

3. Brazil rising – I’d love to know the actual number, but I wouldn’t be surprised if upwards of 25% of the attendees were from Brazil.

Portuguese was literally everywhere. I’m curious as to why this is so. Maybe the Real is strong versus the dollar so it’s affordable to send people over. Maybe past attendees have spread the word. Maybe the idea of New York in Fall is appealing. But most likely, this reflects Brazil’s quiet (for now) embracing of the digital future in communications. Long a powerhouse in creative awards show, we don’t hear too much from them on the digital, but this is going to change. For years now Brazilians have had a very modern and progressive digital culture. The only reason we don’t hear from them more is because they are not massive “exporters”, given their huge and booming local market that keeps them quite busy. But look out for them – if I had a digital project or needed digital ideas, Brazilian shops would be at the top of my list.

Here are some of the speakers that I really enjoyed:

…and some of the cool things that they said. As you can see, despite any misgivings expressed above, this conference was packed with relevant heavy-hitters in our industry, full of  interesting things to say.

  • People are 68% more likely to remember an ad with “social content” (eg: if I post an a link to a cool ad on my FB feed for my friends to see). And they are 4x more likely to buy that brand/product.
  • I tweeted as a joke that I’m 7x more likely to un-friend you if you post an ad…
  • …but that’s not true. In reality, I think this is very powerful – when advertising is good/interesting/relevant enough that you feel it merits such a high stamp of approval and recommendation as posting on your feed, I can totally see the power. Think of the latest ad you worked on. Would you post it on your feed? Would your friends post it on theirs. Right. Maybe that’s a problem.
  • She also shared with us the “Don Draper” video about Timeline. Kids, I think this is going to rock people’s world once it comes out and starts getting played with. And this one of the many reasons why Facebook is not going to get overrun by Google+. Instead of improving the interface, or adding widgets and gadgets and tech stuff (which they’ve done), they completely turned things on their head by humanizing a profile in such a compelling and human way that I’m left astonished. Take a look at the official trailer for Timeline if you haven’t. I’m not quite sure exactly how, but I really think this is going to be big, not only for Facebook, but for how we view, remember, shape and share our own identities. Pretty hardcore.

  • “The only difference between a brand and a product…is the story”. I yet haven’t decided if buy this entirely or not, but it sounds right-ish, there’s something compelling about the statement.

  • “the future of advertising is about colonizing new parts of the brain”. He was basically talking about engaging the senses, and your entire being. He had an interesting notion that the 20th century’s passive engagement (eg. Sitting in front of a screen) will be seen as a momentary aberration in our history, that humans have always engaged fully as part of evolution.
  • “Advertising romanticizes our progress”
  • His talk was interesting, calling current media quaint and cute, but not yet fully engaged. But now at last, technology has now caught up to enable this greater engagement. Think virtual reality (eg: “Avatar” or the MS Kinect) that can enable us to essentially “live” interactions, not just see them, or hear them. A little brainy, but it’s provocative.

  • He put forth an interesting analogy: an idea as a kind of benign parasite, that spreads from host to host, continuing to propagate and live on. You can take this analogy to all kinds of places:
    • if the idea has something wrong, natural selection will weed it out and it will die from lack of attention
    • you might have a good idea but if you have the wrong host (target), the idea will not be able to spread
    • conversely, maybe an idea doesn’t die. It remains dormant, ready to spread when the conditions are right
  • The lesson here – make ads worth spreading, by basing them around a big idea. Kind of what David Ogilvy said 40 years ago (“Unless your campaign is based on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night”). But hey, it was true then, and it’s true now.
  • I couldn’t believe it but he of all people had all kinds of technical presentation glitches throughout. A video he had saved for the end kept popping up “underneath” the images on many of his slides. Imagine, the MAN from TED, who is responsible for fostering thousands of presentations…being played a bad hand by Keynote at a major conference (and it was Keynote, not Powerpoint). It can happen to us all!

  • “John Norman is a moron”. He showed this tweet so he’d be able to say it before anyone else. I like his style!

  • “You’re only as good as your last story”. I don’t know if I entirely buy this. After all, building a legacy and a body of work over time has value. When you earn your laurels it means something. But I see what he means, at least through this blog – the pressure is always on for the next story, the next thought, the next post.
  • He shared the notion of “advertaining”, at the crossroads between ideas, creativity and technology. This is not a new term or idea, but it is a good word to describe a lot of what people are searching for these days.
  • He shared a great example of some folks that had gotten it right, among them VW with funtheory.com. It’s fabulous, check it out. I had seen the one of the musical stairs, that really went around last year. But I hadn’t seen the others. Here’s the full case study.

  • Was really impressed by this guy, in the moments when the interviewer occasionally let him speak.
  • In talking about the legacy “pull” of being a digital shop or a traditional shop, his analogy was that of two types of agencies trying to head to the same spot, each tethered to a bungee cord that pushed them back to their source.
  • Another way to look at this, using the Pareto principle: Digital agencies use 20% of the time conceiving an idea and 80% getting it done. Traditional agencies spend 80% conceiving, 20% executing.
  • Great “traditional” advertising is inherently interactive (it makes you want to shout at the screen, dial a number, laugh out loud, etc.), so at the core this is not so different from the digital world.
  • People want to share things that reflect upon them. That’s probably why we’re moving past the phenomenon of outrage & crazy = viral

  • I was really impressed by this guy and the vision of the company.
  • I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of Twitter’s appeal to brands and marketers, but you can’t dispute some of the case studies
    • During the launch of the new VW Beetle, they had 52% engagement on their Twitter announcement (click, retweet, etc.). Adam says it’s probably the first time ever in the digital field where those that didn’t engage…were in the minority. Cool.
  • The closing was very, very strong. Why? Because it’s a powerful idea.

  • You can talk metrics all day, but on a human level, this is what resonates and sticks. You could just feel it in the room. My tweet on it was instantly retweeted by complete strangers. There’s big-time power in that idea of changing the world in less than 140 characters, I hope they don’t let go of it!

  • This is significant, especially coming from them. It ties in to what Lanier was saying about future advertising becoming more enveloping – it will be with us wherever we go, and we’ll be able to interact with it wherever and however we choose.

  • “Movie previews are so good, that people don’t even think of them as ads…and thus they seek them out”. Exactly. I love watching previews, and I think of them as interesting content, never as ads (which is what they are!). I never thought of it this way, but it’s a good litmus test. How many of your latest ads would people want to watch…as opposed to having to watch because they’re sitting in front of the tv and their dog took the remote? Right, that’s what I thought. Scary thought.

Closing thoughts

I enjoyed this conference. In exploring the delicate balance between the medium and the message, it brought to life the wonderful expansive possibilities of this age, while reaffirming that more than ever the idea is the key building block of it all.

If you would like to see more, check out the videos below.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the theme will be next year.

What are your thoughts? As always, please leave them below in the comments section.

Thank you for reading!


Day 1 highlights

Day 2 highlights