ATOMIC expands minds and media

From alternate reality gaming to transmedia narratives, the highlights of yesterday's ATOMIC event are coming at you with full force. And want to know who the Next Media Star award winner is? Read on.

This year, Media in Canada’s annual forum evolved into ATOMIC – the convergence of advertising, technology, media and creativity – in an attempt to expand the media conversation to include a broader audience.

To get a sense of the rapid rate of change currently taking place, event co-chair Carat Canada CEO Cynthia Fleming kicked off the day yesterday with a look back to the first Media in Canada forum in 2005. At that event, then-CEO of Carat Americas David Verklin laid out seven major media trend predictions, from the rise of digital DM to the importance of analytics in measuring ROI.

Fleming made a few additions to update the list, starting with the wireless world. ‘In the new world everyone is able to control not only what and when they consume media, but how and where,’ she told the audience of approximately 200 at the Design Exchange in Toronto. ‘The time consumers spend in media has undergone a seismic shift, and this has had a profound effect on how brands communicate.’

Referring to what Verklin called the ‘toothless’ TV-centric model, Fleming said: ‘Nowadays, consumers have teeth. Social media is exploding, and if someone needs more information about…any aspect of their lives, they can turn to the Internet.’

Of course, Verklin could never have predicted the election of US President Obama, and Fleming pointed to his inauguration – with its 3,000 comments a minute on the integrated feed and 14 million live video streams globally – as a prime example of the power of the online space. ‘Brands that win are those whose consumers tell the best stories,’ says Fleming. ‘We know that those conversations are going on online, and it’s important for brands to monitor and participate, and in some cases, facilitate.’

The other trend which Fleming identified was sustainability, which she described as less prominent than the impact of social or wireless media, but nevertheless ‘something we need to be attuned to,’ particularly as the economy improves, since consumers’ environmental concerns have been shown to rise in concert with increases in the GDP. ‘Our new consumers, our young people of tomorrow, have been brought up with the green bin and the blue bin, and young people will be looking for those brands who take a position in the area of sustainability.’

Fleming singled out Frito-Lay’s SunChips, with its solar-powered factories and biodegradable bags, as a benchmark sustainable brand. However, she cautioned that ‘transparency is key. In the online space everyone will speak up and provide their opinion, so it’s very important that when we make claims we follow through. Consumers will find you out.’

Fleming then turned the mic over to her co-chair, New York-based Naked Communications founder Paul Woolmington, to discuss the future beyond 2009. Woolmington brought the future down to the here and now: ‘We live in a world where advertising, technology, media and creativity are colliding…but we still live to some degree with legacy models.’

In that context, Woolmington presented some ‘Naked Truths’:

1. Everything communicates: what we say is only a small part of what’s communicated; it’s how we behave and everything we do. This is nothing new, but has gotten more complex with new challenges. ‘What we need are 21st century [communication] resources and practices to meet those challenges,’ he said, noting that there must be a genuine desire for change to break down silos and develop new, collaborative ways of working.

2. People are your partners: ‘We talk about target audiences, we talk about air cover to ground cover, we talk about guerrilla marketing – you’d think we were at war with the consumer.’ Now the consumer is the new CMO, and ‘companies that embrace this notion of partnership are going to be the ones that will win in the long term.’

3. See the full picture: ‘As the business becomes more complex and as more and more disciplines are created with the potential for more fragmentation, it’s going to be critical for everyone to take a step back…we’re in the business of business, not of creating social media. That is a by-product of solving a business problem.’

Blurring media boundaries with ARG: 42 Entertainment’s Susan Bonds

One of the world’s leading creators of alternate reality gaming (ARG), 42 Entertainment president and CEO Susan Bonds presented some case studies of her own.

‘The boundaries of entertainment have been erased,’ said Bonds. ‘People no longer care where they consume content. We program our lives, and it’s really changed the way that consumers consume, but it also gives us a great opportunity as creators and storytellers,’ she noted.

Bonds said that audiences today also have really different expectations. No longer content to sit on the sidelines, a lot of times they want to participate, and are actually demanding this.

‘Technology has provided so many opportunities. Everything can tell a piece of the story,’ said Bonds, citing mobile, print and other media platforms, as well as the real world. ‘But the biggest thing about it is that you give the audience the central role. They’re the lifeblood of ARG. That means you’re transferring ownership of the experience and, as creatives, this can be a scary thing but the payoff can be huge. If you can create a personal experience, you can create that sense of ownership, then they start to become the evangelists for you in the marketplace.’

Bonds also noted that ARG also involves differences in terms of how agency teams and roles are organized. ‘ARGs are about putting a rabbit hole out there and just waiting, which is very counter-intuitive because we want go out there and shout out, ‘we’ve created this great thing,’ but really to intercept this audience, the whisper can be much more effective than a shout.’

‘The way that we think about storytelling is almost like digital archaeology,’ said Bonds. ‘Rather than telling a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end, what we do is we create evidence as if the story really happened and then people stumble upon that; they put the pieces together and speculate and collaborate together, to really write the story themselves.’


Marrying online and offline: Droga5′s Hashem Bajwa

Hashem Bajwa, who recently joined New York-based Droga5 as director of digital strategy, stepped up to the podium to speak about innovative digital technologies and emerging media that could have strategic implications for brands, with the theme of a growing trend of marrying online interactivity with offline activity.

Bajwa first focused on data simplification. Quoting Amazon’s former head scientist, Andreas Weigend, he said, ‘In 2009, there will be more data created than all of mankind has up until this point.’ Brands, therefore, should learn new ways of simplifying data, creating something new to make it more interesting.

Real-time data visualizations, like the DOPPLR personal report for example, can help brands better understand and implement data, he said. It’s a unique-to-customer PDF of data visualizations and factoids about their travels. Online shoe retail giant Zappos is an example of another brand making data visual. It overlays shoe data geographically using an image-based format, something that Bajwa pointed out ‘could be well applied to services and large campaigns.’

New technologies like augmented reality (AR) are offering brands effective means of connecting physical and virtual behaviours. ‘Interactive isn’t just online,’ noted Bajwa. AR provides good utility to brands when they apply it to something practical. The United States Postal Service’s Priority Mail shipping service uses it to provide customers with a virtual box so they can check the size of their packages against the standard flat rate box sizes.

Methods of search that improve and add value to brands’ search results, or search beyond Google as Bajwa put it, is another area that he sees coming to the fore. Search sites like, a human engineered search engine that provides users with curated content pages, and Viewzi, a search engine that offers a highly visual experience featuring multiple ‘views’ tailored to the content that users are looking for, can supplement text-based searches.

Finally, techs enabling brands to react nimbly in real time ‘will become more important as marketers seek to be relevant to consumers,’ said Bajwa. Chartbeat is a web solution, somewhat like Google Analytics, that gives users real-time analytics and performance alerts for their websites. Executions like The Puma Index provide more relevance to consumers by using digital to create a marketing link to the real world. The index, which plugs Puma Body Wear, has models putting on or taking off their clothes based on fluctuations of international stock exchanges.

It’s new technologies like these, explained Bajwa, which can help brands tap into and feed off of what’s happening in the world, react in real time and ultimately develop a greater resonance with consumers. ‘To be relevant,’ he said, ‘you have to be in culture.’

Transmedia storytelling – McCann-Erickson’s Faris Yakob

Faris Yakob, EVP and chief technology strategist at McCann-Erickson in New York, introduced to ATOMIC the notion of transmedia storytelling – weaving evolving stories through a variety of media touchpoints – and discussed how it should replace traditional 360 media approaches as the future of brand marketing.

Content is now digital and ubiquitous thanks to new techs. It’s fostered a participatory digital culture that’s seen the end of media scarcity, diminished cultural latency and disintermediation. And it’s provided brands new ways of building relationships.

He quoted MIT professor Henry Jenkins, the man behind the concept of multimedia storytelling: ‘Our focus should be not on technology but on emerging cultural practices.’

Thus, Yakob put forward four principles to adhere to in order to effectively engage people in this new, mostly digital media world.

Firstly, the principle of ubiquity: make more stuff. Yakob cited Obama’s presidential campaign as a textbook execution of this tenet. It’s about constant content creation via multiple touchpoints.

Next, Yakob’s principle of alacrity, a means by which brands should react to diminished cultural latency. A good example of that principle in action, said Yakob, was Schweppes’ ‘Experience Counts’ campaign where bi-weekly print ads were created to reflect timely news stories. ‘The rate of spreading is as important as the content,’ says Yakob. ‘We have to do things faster.’

Disintermediation and creating direct relationships is the crux of Yakob’s principle of utility. Brands, he said, need to generate content that people will care about and share with others.

Finally, people need to be involved and given something to do – Yakob’s principle of interactivity – which he exemplified with the ‘Simpsonizer,’ where people could go to and submit a picture in order to see what they’d look like as a character in The Simpsons.

Transmedia storytelling, posited Yakob can establish better relationships with consumers, as opposed to traditional media approaches – breaking up stories to be told in specific mediums, knowing they’ll get passed along, each piece complementing the next. People, said Yakob, are taking back control of stories from corporations. Again, he quoted Henry Jenkins: ‘The key is to produce something that both pulls people together and gives them something to do. You don’t have to control the conversation to benefit from it.’

Innovations for individuals – Adidas Canada’s Steve Ralph

Steve Ralph, president of Adidas Canada took to the stage to discuss how the lives of consumers have changed (being exposed to, and interacting with, more media than ever), and how Adidas is changing to address it.

‘For us, the future is all about personalization and how we can become a more personal brand,’ he said, listing three areas of focus: brands that speak with individuals (not to them), products built for them and services tailored to them.

Ralph unveiled a few Adidas innovations we can expect to see in the coming year. The first is the new way the company will be using the online portal for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The site will offer a backstage pass to the Cup through 11 threads that will intermingle with each other. For example, one thread will follow a soccer fan, another will follow soccer star Zinedine Zidane. Fans will also be able to connect with each other and share content through their social networks.

After talking about MiAdidas, a program that allows consumers to customize shoes at retail outlets and soon online, Ralph introduced MiCoach, launching in 2010. It’s an interactive system that allows users to create a workout on their own online site, where they have access to professional feedback and a community of other athletes, and then upload the workout to a series of devices that instruct the user and monitor heart rate, strides, pace and distance.

‘Adidas, over the next three or four years, is going to try to become a more personal brand,’ explained Ralph, noting that digital is ‘going to play a significant role’ in achieving that goal.

The era of the tag – U of T professor Derrick de Kerchhove

Next Derrick de Kerchhove, director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at U of T, discussed how we are currently in the ‘Era of the Tag,’ which is all about interconnectivity via the Internet. He talked about ‘emigration of mind from head to screen’ – how we’re now exposing the contents of our minds like never before, and how real space is the new interface to the Internet – for example, ‘airtags’ that allow users to hold their mobile device up to anything and see floating tags with messages posted on what they see.

To finish off the day, panelists Fleming, Yakob, Taxi’s Jason McCann, SMG’s Raymond Reid and moderator Paul Woolmington shared a few of their favourite ads from around the world – including a Microsoft Excel-based music video for AC/DC and KitKat’s Japanese mail program that won big at Cannes. (‘Unsexy is the new sexy’ when it comes to campaigns that work, said Woolmington.)

Next Media Star 2009 – J3′s Trevor Bozyk

Finally, strategy magazine executive editor Mary Maddever and Barbara Smith, director, brand engagement at the Globe and Mail, presented the award for Next Media Star to J3′s Trevor Bozyk, who won for getting the Johnson & Johnson message out to moms through programs like branded vignettes on Slice TV’s The Mom Show.