“Broken” by Jake Bugg played as I entered The TimesCenter auditorium early on Dec. 11 for the Most Contagious conference, an annual one-day event focused on creativity and innovation. The haunting melody was part of a musical mix that helped set the stage for an event that was thought-provoking, eye-opening, disruptive. But definitely not broken.
Most Contagious took place simultaneously in New York City and London, and dished up the marketing themes and brand innovations that defined 2013 and will lead marketers into the year ahead. More than 600 people attended the event, which in New York included marketing, branding and communications types from Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Google, Mondelez, General Motors, L’Oréal and more. The event bills itself as “the roadmap for the immediate future,” and Nick Parish, editorial director for Contagious, a consultancy that sponsored the event in partnership with communications agency FleishmanHillard, backed up that heady claim, calling it “our Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, everything, all rolled into one.”
Parish was the first in a full line-up of Contagious consultants and industry experts that didn’t disappoint. Four topics anchored the conference: seamless shopping, telling for selling, connected experiences and pragmatism of purpose, themes that ran throughout the day’s sessions. Telling for Selling described our non-linear, real-time world, in which people switch between devices and platforms 27 times per hour. Buzzwords included “snackable content,” “binge viewing” and “meerkatting,” a word for peoples’ eye movements as they dart between devices.
“Selfies,” Parish declared in a session called Movements, was the biggest idea of the year, pointing to platforms such as Instagram, Vine and Snapchat as evidence, along with the Papal selfie and that selfie king, MrPimpGoodGame. Parish also discussed the “Sharing Economy,” citing TaskRabbit, in which people bid to complete their neighbors’ household errands, and Lyft (“your friend with a car”), a service that offers rides for 30 percent less than a taxi.
Examples of innovative content: The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, a reimagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for YouTube; AT&T’s @SummerBreak, an unscripted reality series that plays out entirely on social media; and Intel and Toshiba’s social film “The Power Inside,” in which people audition for parts in the film and the audience, not the brands, shape a storyline.
The Pragmatism of Purpose sessions addressed “doing good” as it relates to advertising and marketing. Rick Ridgeway, vp-environmental affairs at Patagonia, discussed the logic of selling less. Patagonia’s Common Threads Partnership, for example, encourages consumers to repair, reuse and recycle their apparel. The company also is testing a trade-in program at several of its stores in which the company cleans, repairs and refurbishes the garments then re-sells them.
Other sessions centered on the need to deliver relevant information to consumers when and where they need it. Under Armour’s Shanghai store, where a 270-degree video screen image of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps greets shoppers, was cited as an example of retail’s new emphasis on engaging, digitally enhanced experiences.
The technology session focused on one big idea—accessibility—and showcased: a device called BRCK that functions as a backup generator system for the Internet; Matternet, which uses unmanned-drone technology to deliver supplies to remote villages; Google’s Project Loon, a network of balloons that brings the web to hard-to-reach places; and Oculus Rift, an augmented reality headset that allows users to see out of both eyes for wider peripheral vision—and a much cooler gaming experience. Ed Sanders, head of marketing at Google Glass, brought us up to speed on that techy tool.
Throughout it all, FleishmanHillard’s Black Box, a communications command center, connected both sides of the Atlantic, sharing content, integrating data and analyzing social conversations. It served as a gathering point, where people could watch tweets and content coming across its screens, but also as a window out, for people who couldn’t physically attend the event.
Most Contagious throughout the day recognized companies that are pushing the envelope with its Most Contagious Awards. Among the winners: Toyota’s Meals Per Hour initiative, which helped a relief agency more efficiently pack its trucks to deliver food parcels to Hurricane Sandy victims, and the Infinity Tower in Incheon, Korea for design. GoldieBlox won the Small But Perfectly Formed Award for creating a game designed to interest girls in science and engineering. The London and New York audiences also got to put in their two cents, voting on their smartphones for the Most Contagious idea of 2013 using the Makelight app. The New York delegates chose BRCK, the Internet back-up system; the Londoners chose Vodafone, which got 46,000 Egyptian retailers to distribute its micro-recharge mobile phone credit cards as small change, enabling the company to create the biggest telco distribution network in that country.