Last week I found myself in New York City at the IAB MIXX Conference, which is arguably the premier digital advertising event in the world – evidenced by the serious line up of heavy-weight speakers including actor Kevin Spacey, news anchor Katie Couric, musician Jared Leto, AOL chairman and chief executive officer Tim Armstrong, JWT North America chief creative officer Jeff Benjamin, TD Ameritrade chief marketing officer Denise Karkos and Google managing director Tara Walpert Levy, to name but a small few of the amazing cast.
Held at Crown Hotel Plaza on Times Square, the conference was two full days of insights and discussions from industry leaders as part of Advertising Week New York.
The conference opened with a call to action from IAB President and CCEO Randall Rothenberg: "Ten years ago we wondered if this industry would make a real difference in people's lives and businesses. Today it is the biggest medium in the world."
Rothenberg went on to set the tone of the conference with one simple Statement: The Digital industry needs to get beyond the geek talk to speak the language of real human beings — joy, love, and desire.
On the heels of that statement came a conversation between Katie Couric, global anchor for Yahoo News, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on the rapidly changing media landscape we find ourselves immersed in. Sandberg noted that Facebook started as a desktop company and has had to work hard to become "mobile first" in an age when people are rarely away from their phones. Couric noted her excitement at seeing people people embracing the changing media landscape to put forth positive change, and the amount of positive influence that individual ideas can have in an evolving digital world. She said she feels excited to be contributing "... elevated, educated content ..."
Sandberg also announced from the stage the Facebook plans for the roll out of its Atlas platform, which promises to be an exciting development in the evolution of the digital landscape.
Whilst it's hard to pick the best of so many great talks, day one also saw the most inspiring moment upon the stage. Former NFL player Steve Gleason, who has ALS, speaks and guides a wheelchair using eye-tracking technology developed by Microsoft. Jenny Lay-Flurrie, senior director at Microsoft, told Gleason's story and detailed some of the history behind the remarkable partnership with Microsoft. Gleason noted that it's through this advancement that he's been able to reclaim his life from the devastating disease.
The general on day one finished with some sage words from Jeff Benjamin of JWT North America, who also was the jury chair for MIXX Awards. "What happens in the next ten years will dwarf what we've seen so far because culture has caught up to the tools that technology has brought us," he said. To paraphrase some of the many gems he dropped on the audience: Technology will reach its peak when you don't even realize it's there, and, technology needs soul. Food for thought indeed.
Day two was even better than day one – but then, that could have been due to the brilliance of Kevin Spacey.
Notably, we saw Vivek Shah, CEO of Ziff Davis, Inc. and chairman of the IAB U.S. Board of Directors, discuss traffic fraud and its impact on the industry. Shah noted the digital industry is ahead of TV in establishing a standard to advertisers for the least amount of waste in any medium. Check out the IAB traffic fraud white papers to get an idea of what the industry is presently doing to mitigate the once alarming rate of fraud.
And while day two, and the whole conference in general, offered so many great "take-aways" to ponder, I feel one of the best was offered up by actor and musician Jared Leto, who compared the goals of the advertiser to the goals of a musician or actor. "Often we watch and hear things and feel nothing," he said. "The win is when you feel and think something."
But, you couldn't go past the wrap from Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey. Picking up where Leto left off, Spacey gave a rousing and passionate talk on the industry, proving himself so much more than just a fancy fixture, but a true man of modern media.
"Actors and advertisers strive to make a connection to audiences. How can I surprise them, entertain them? We know how this is done and it's always been about the story," he said. "With technology giving people more control, the stakes are higher than ever. The story is more important than ever.
"What makes the best campaigns so compelling? Chances are it involves a certain honesty. Consumers appreciate authenticity. It's a lesson the television industry had to learn and now has to relearn."
Which brings it all back to what IAB CEO and President Randall Rothenberg said in his opening address: The industry needs to speak the language of real human beings.
The conference also had an awards ceremony for the best-of-the-best digital advertising campaigns from around the world. Soap Creative, JWT Australia and M&C Saatchi headed up a stellar performance by Australian agencies, winning gold awards, while three other Australian agencies took home bronze and silver Awards.
Soap Creative and JWT Australia secured a win in the Public Service category for their "I Touch Myself" campaign for the Cancer Council of NSW; M&C Saatchi took gold in the 'Special Innovation - Can't be Contained – People's Choice' category for its "Clever Buoy" campaign for Optus. VLM Australia, Clemenger BBDO and Isobar Australia also received Silver and Bronze awards.
"The awards are a beacon of where the industry is going – an indicator of what works and why. They serve to not only recognise the best-of-the-best creative work in interactive marketing, but also are intended to educate the marketplace and inspire firms by pointing to what is possible and where the industry is heading," said IAB's U.S. president and CEO Randall Rothenberg, in his opening remarks before the awards.
And if these campaigns and the unlimited imagination of the conference speakers are any indication, the future of digital is wide open and pretty much anything is possible.