News & Views

FutureFlash 2011 / Wrap Up

by Contagious Team

Our annual trip to Collingwood reveals new avenues and ideas in communications developing through age-old techniques

As FutureFlash 2011 kicked off in the ski resort town of Collingwood, Ontario, Canada,Gillian Graham, CEO of the Institute of Communication Agencies led with an interesting statistic: the life expectancy of a company on the Standard & Poor's index had declined from 50 years in 1960 to 15 years in 2011. 

That means, Graham explained, that by 2025, many existing brands won't be there. But there will be plenty of room for new ones to be built to take their place. 

Coping with the constant change of an accelerated culture became a major theme of the event, with presenters touching on mutated organizational structures

Ty Montague, co-founder of Co:Collective began with the power of stories, and how his company unifies its clients around their meta-story in 'Story-led innovation. What the hell is that?' He pointed to the average 3800% value appreciation derived from the Significant Objects project as proof of the importance of a narrative anchor in a product or brand life-cycle. Montague touched on an important distinction that would come up throughout the two-day event; 80% CEOs think products differentiated, while 8% of customers agree. The following morning, Gareth Kay, director of brand strategy at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners brought up the same in 'Why advertising needs to think small', citing data that only one in ten ads are seen by consumers as differentiated to the rest of the category.

Noah Brier and Montague were the day's 'ad expats', both leaving agency life to move to start-ups; in Brier's case it's his co-founding Percolate, a technology platform that helps brands groom their inputs. In one of the first public airings of the concepts behind his new business, Brier argued the world has become such that brands need to have a steady stream of content they don't necessarily manufacture in order to maintain relevance. The difference, he said, is between Stock and Flow. Flow content is tweets, short posts, mentions; the stuff of social media. Stock is durable content; videos, longer stories, news. Traditionally, agencies made stock based on their inputs, and long-term trends. Brands are going to need to shift to Flow-like inputs, and the only way brands will be able to successfully create content in a regular way is by having inputs. Creating content at scale, Brier argues, requires becoming comfortable discussing a range of topics, so brands can contextualize the world and think about a lot of pieces putting its own spin on them, as editorializing rather than breaking news.

Following Brier, Charlie Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere, took the audience through his organization's history of positive pranking and outlined the good and bad advertising adaptations of his work (and ways he's worked with brands). Todd estimated he receives 2-3 calls about collaboration with brands a week, and typically works on 1 of 200.   

His 'avoid at all costs' tenets were: Don't copy something successful and shoehorn your brand in and don't make the content 100% about your brand. Do create content that stands on its own or sponsor someone who is already doing something awesome. Closing out the first day, Asif Khan, founder and president of the Location Based Marketing Association, talked about 'The Death of Geo'. As he showed data indicating home check-ins, for example, on the rise, Khan talked about the horizontal integration of all media around the engagement of a consumer in a specific space, a concept of 'topos' rather than 'places', with place in the Aristotelian sense being an immovable container something can fit in, with things being capable of moving in and out of it.

After a panel composed of the presenters and sponsor The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter Simon Houpt, our own co-founder and editorial director Paul Kemp-Robertson spoke about building 'Projects, Not Campaigns' and how simplicity, experience and innovation have become the building blocks for advertising.
Nick Broomfield, director at The Customer Framework (and former head of Diageo's global digital marketing) outlined the strategic integration of 'Social CRM' into marketing plans. 'All marketers are having to think of themselves as relationship marketers,' he said, pushing against lazy CRM efforts. One marketer, Broomfield says, proposed scrapping its CRM database in favour of Facebook followers alone. 'Data, like oil,' Broomfield said, 'is going to need to become recovered and refined if it's going to be useful and useable.' 
David Lee
, digital ECD at TBWA\Worldwide, talked about his company's work in creating its portfolio sharing platform Projeqt in a talk called 'Creating things born to live, not built to die', arguing  'technology as platforms might be a better use of digital than simply as a medium,' explaining the funny genesis of the Projeqt work, a point where the group realized 'we're the AOR for Apple but our agency website didn't work on our iPhones.'

Kay closed out the conference, with his paean to small ideas. 'In an increasingly well designed world, it's small things that make the big difference.' He thinks agencies should behave like an options trader, making lots of small bets, seeing which ones work, and scaling those up. Meanwhile, those that don't work get killed. Kay's deck is available at his site

For further insights from the event, revisit the Twitter stream

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