Ad Week: Social space sparks interest and growth

Ad Week's kick-off events saw speakers praise the power of the social media space to 'sell behaviour.'

At Leading Social Change, a conference at MaRS Discovery District kicking off Canada’s inaugural Advertising Week on Monday, representatives from the Government of Ontario discussed the importance of embracing innovative advertising as part of its new message-delivery strategy. The upshot? Agencies working with the government may have to deal with a conservative approval process and smaller budgets, but potential for innovative connection planning is there, as are the personal rewards of making a difference.

Laurie Sloan, Ontario managing director, Advertising Review Board, says ministries are competing for consumer attention just like brands, adding, ‘the difference is we’re selling behaviour.’ And since changing entrenched behaviours can be a hard sell, Giles Gherson, deputy minister and associate secretary of the cabinet, policy and delivery says the plan is to create long-term strategies that sustain the message. To that end, a new Ontario Daily site will launch to follow up on announcements and prevent ‘drive-by’ messaging. Working with visual aids and streamlining press releases is also part of the plan, as is sending messages directly to citizens in the form of headline news via their Blackberrys. The government has also revamped, into an easier-to-navigate online destination.

Also speaking at the event was Thomas Gensemer, managing director of Washington D.C.-based Blue State Digital Media, whose technological and social media prowess played a pivotal role in the Obama presidential campaign. The key to the digital campaign was creating sub-groups, building communities, and reflecting back their contributions, said Gensemer, adding that the Obama campaign rallied 3 million donors to raise $500,000 million online.

To prevent any spam backlash, the email list of about 13 million addresses was divided into segmented donation levels which were targeted with about 7,000 different messages. ‘You can’t be considered spam,’ says Gensemer. ‘That quickly ends your relationship.’ With social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, users often did viral work as ‘surrogates,’ producing about 11,000 inspirational YouTube videos.

Government presence was also front and centre at Ad Week’s kick-off breakfast and cocktail party (at the AGO and the Gardiner, respectively), with speakers at both events hailing from the corridors Ad Week organizers seek to influence. A goal of Ad Week is to impress upon business and government the economic importance of advertising as an industry, and position advertising as a key sector in developing Canada’s image as a source of those precious renewable resources – creativity and innovation. Breakfast speaker Mayor Miller even attributed his current gig governing Toronto to the handiwork of Geoffrey Roche, and joked about how the Lowe Roche campaign not only effectively created awareness, it inadvertently created an ongoing community of interest around Miller’s distinctive coiffure. Cocktail speaker Sandra Pupatello, Minister of International Trade and Investment, spoke to the industry’s $24 billion dollar contribution to the economy, and how that’s what governments love to hear, providing substantial impetus to further champion this intellectual and economic resource.

The social media space was also a hot topic at the Ad Week Breakfast panel, with DDB CEO Frank Palmer (via conference call), pegging it as an area for growth in these otherwise non-boom times. Explaining that his shop’s new social unit is getting ‘big results for our clients,’ he described the area as ‘a new frontier for us, and a big opportunity for agencies that really want to get into that space.’

Zenith Optimedia president/CEO Sunni Boot, also speaking (live) on the panel, agreed, and added that creating integrated content, such as the reality show developed by fellow panelist Taxi CEO Paul Lavoie’s agency, was another smart move. She identified the deeper research needed now as another growth opportunity. ‘I’m not seeing everyone saying ‘cut, cut, cut’, they’re saying, ‘help us manage (budgets) more effectively’,’ says Boot. Describing media’s new role as communication planners who try to influence the stories that are told, Boot’s advice for weathering the recession was: ‘be nimble. As others vacate incumbencies, just move in.’