CMDC engagement verdict: create content born of giant insight, then get N-Gen ready

About 800 execs at CMDC's 'Pay Attention! The New Age of Engagement' conference were informed that content is key, the N-Gen is going to change everything you know about marcomm, and it's their job to step up the game.

Attendees at the annual Canadian Media Directors Conference yesterday in Toronto, who expected to finally hear the definition of engagement, found that was no longer an issue. Instead, they heard about the New Age of Engagement which, like the field of dreams, seems to be: build it and they will come. Simply put, if you’re targeting the right consumers with the right message through the right content and the right platform, they will be engaged. Content being the key.

Morning keynote David Lubars, chairman/CCO of BBDO North America, pointed out that people consume the same amount of media today as in 1985, but they choose their media diets carefully from all the ‘media noise’ that’s now out there. His point? Marketers can’t afford to serve up mere distractions. ‘What happens when you give a client a big idea is they can separate themselves from the pack, pull themselves away and create a category of one. And that’s the magic that you can do,’ he explained. ‘You need a giant insight that’s so simple you could send it in a text message. And then, once you have that idea, it’s got to be able to go through all sorts of different channels – even ones that haven’t been invented yet.’

The key in creating that category of one, says Lubars, is coming up with big ideas but also keeping things simple. One example he cited from BBDO’s portfolio: a T-shirt designed to look like the wearer is carrying a FedEx package. ‘With a big idea, they will pay to wear your logo.’ In terms of engagement, he got the CMDC crowd laughing with photos of billboards from New York that invited pedestrians to insert themselves into the content with snaps of them crushing cans of Mountain Dew against their heads. ‘People were lining up to take photos.’

Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility and chief brand officer of Bell Canada, gave the client’s point of view on the client-agency relationship. The client’s role is to be the expert on the brand, the champion of the brand, and to know its competition and its consumers better than the agency. The agency needs to be the expert in media trends, understand attention techniques, traditional and new media, and be experts on visual and verbal vocabularies.

Oosterman called wireless the ‘holy grail’ of communications media because of its many engaging qualities: it’s invasive, pertinent, geographically sensitive, enables perfect targeting and two-way communications.

‘The Digital Future/The Future of Digital’ was the topic explored by Jeff Cole, director, Centre for the Digital Future, USC Annenberg School for Communications. He’s been heading a seven-year study of the Internet – something he said should have been conducted regarding television the late 1940s. Six years in, Cole said the number of teens with their own blogs or websites has tripled in the past three years and they are now willing to pay for online content.

Other findings for those aged 12-24 indicate they will likely never read a newspaper, but will read the best newspaper brands online. They will never own a land-line phone or watch TV on anyone else’s schedule. They trust unknown peers more than experts, are less interested in TV than previous generations of their peers, and not only prefer instant messaging, but believe email is for fogies.

Afternoon keynote speaker Don Tapscott, co-author of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything and CEO of Toronto-based think tank New Paradigm (, kicked off his talk by introducing his company’s upcoming $4 million research project on how today’s youth interacts with technologies to rewrite the rules of marketing and employment.

The Net Generation (N-Gen) Strategic Investigation, he said, will aim to ‘arm sponsoring organizations’ with the tools for existing with the N-Gen customer and employee. The first phase of the study involved surveys of more than 1,750 N-Geners in Canada and the US. The next phase will involve analysis of 8,000 N-Geners in 12 other countries and wrap up in September. It’s not about learning about the new generation itself, says Tapscott. It’s about learning how the new generation is changing marketing.

Against a backdrop of examples illustrating how the new generation of digitally-literate (youth who are ‘bathed in bits’ at birth) are different, Tapscott said the traditional four Ps of marketing (price, place, promotion, and product) are no longer a valid framework for approaching marketing and media, given the intersection of demographics and technology. We now live in a world of digital collaboration, where sellers no longer determine the price (see eBay, which put the writing on the wall), and any brand marketer knows that product has been replaced by experience.

Tapscott, whose avatar will soon give a lecture and book-signing in Second Life, says marketers have to meet youth in this new digital domain on their terms. ‘They have amazing BS detectors. (So) you’re going to be naked as a company, and if you’re going to be naked, well, fitness is no longer an option. You better be buff, basically. Meaning, you’d better have value, but you also need to have values, the values of integrity. This is a generation that wants integrity – not necessarily going green, or I care about your labour practices in the developing world – but I want you to be a company that has integrity.’

In an interview with MiC, Tapscott said, ‘A shift is going to be required in Canada away from traditional broadcast media to more interactive, relationship-oriented experiences and media. We’ve got eight million young people who think and process information differently. They don’t watch as much TV, and they watch TV differently. This has big implications in Canada for the mar-comm investment. If you’re spending money (only) on traditional media, you’re making a big mistake. You know that old saying, ‘Half of my ads work, I just don’t know which half’? Well, a lot less than half work today.’

So get back to work.