The first “The World After Advertising” Congress at the Düsseldorfer Rheinterrasse did exceptionally well on all fronts.
Die deutsche Version dieses Eintrags gibt es drüben beim Werbeblogger.
Not so many years ago, it was mainly academics who loved rushing out to conferences to have themselves assaulted for ten or twelve hours straight by presentations and debates in order to gain some fresh pieces of knowledge from original research, a spectrum of informed opinions, and hopefully some unexpected insights. While this kind of assault, fortunately, has become widely accepted as a standard in the media world as well, expectations often run a little bit too high: the amount of previously uncharted, personally applicable, and preferably vastly entertaining content people often expect can’t possibly be provided in a field where the impact of media change has caused highly asymmetric allocations of contextual knowledge and understanding.
That said, the congress The World After Advertising [Note: it’s site is offline now], hosted and organized by Medien Cluster NRW at the Düsseldorfer Rheinterrasse—a congress conspicuously designed, and rightly so, to become a regular and most likely annual event—did exceptionally well on all fronts. What did the trick was its successful mixture of interlocking glimpses of possible future developments, imaginative showcases, and liberal doses of wit and entertainment. Organization and execution were virtually flawless, the team enjoyably professional and attentive. In terms of documentation, there are Marc Weber’s excellent set of photographs and—for the extra mile—Anna Lena’s real-time graphic recordings, a style many have come to appreciate through RSAnimate, though it’s been around much longer.
Only during one debate, “The Next Generation of Targeting,” did my mind begin to wander—the little story of the drunk fellow who lost his key in a dark alley and keeps looking for it exclusively around a lamp post because the light’s so much better there would get the most allegorical mileage out of this debate. And then there was the presentation “The Future Relevance of In-App Advertising,” the most defining phrase of which was its regularly rehearsed “…of what you no doubt have already been aware.” Yes indeed. But since I suspect that there were many people in the audience who hadn’t been aware, I guess it was okay.
While our respective assessments of this year’s Next10 conference in Berlin had been all but mutually exclusive, I can declare with confidence now that in this case Thomas Knüwer and yours truly attended the same event. His commentary “The World After Advertising as We Know It” over at Indiskretion Ehrensache is recommended reading, and so is André Paetzel’s The World After Advertising und warum die Werbung noch ein wenig lebt #twaa10 at Logolook and Anna-Lena Radünz’s The World After Advertising, both exhaustive reports on the debates and presentations (all in German language). Plus, there are the entries from the event organizer’s own Live-Berichterstattung, and videos will be online soon. [Note: all offline now, as already mentioned.]
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, three types of presentations left their different impressions which I’d provisionally call the visionaries, the experts, and the revolutionaries. Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982, once famously said that “People who have visions should go to see their doctor.” But he said this at a specific point in time when having a “vision” meant being caught in a political double-bind, something that could only be pursued with some chances of success when convincingly disavowed in favor of gritty, day-to-day pragmatism. Today, I think visions is what we need indeed; to get an idea of where we want to be at a certain point in the future so we can start and try to get there, or where we don’t want to be at a certain point in the future so we can start and do things differently from what we’re doing now.
One contribution for the visionary part in the field of advertising was Blinkenlichten’s short movie Die Zukunft der Werbung (embedded below), which conceptually reminded me of Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson’s EPIC 2014. Also in this category were “The Digital Advertising Landscape 2015” from Rob Gonda, Global Director of Creative Technology at SapientNitro. From here to 2020, he painted a picture of how technology and tracking, combined with fully personalized advertising, will become inextricably linked to and embedded into our lives, and how this will change how we live considerably, and with it our attitudes. I think he made a convincing case; watch out for the video. Also, he made several predictions, some bold, some foreseeable, the most fascinating and “catchy” of which was the “Media Trade Floor”: an era where media budgets and budget allocations will be history, replaced by trade floors where advertising opportunities will be negotiated and bought & sold in real-time, contingent upon supply & demand and shifting market conditions. Finally, there was Ken Doctor, media analyst and author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get, whom I’d also like to tag as a visionary in this context. His truly fascinating presentation revolved around the future of advertising in the news media, which, according to Doctor, indeed has no future at all—except in the form of “marketing services” as a kind of “Amazon of Publishing” on the one hand, and “small checks from a bigger number of advertisers instead of big checks from a small number of advertisers” on the other. This was accompanied throughout by considerations concerning chaos and turbulence, key concepts that especially Philip Kotler also made availabe in the field of modern marketing management.
From the faction of the experts I’d like to highlight Philipp Riederle, Oscar Ugaz, and Madlen Nicolaus. The most entertaining of these presentations was without doubt Riederle’s »Ihr wollt wissen, was wir brauchen? Das Kommunikationsverhalten der Digital Natives«, a vivid account of enthusiastic self-marketing from a so-called “digital native.” While an excellent showcase on how to get the most out of social media use, his presentation certainly didn’t show how teens in general make use of social media; Amir Kassaei, during the concluding debate, rightly pointed this out, and the principal concept of “digital natives” as such has, after brought forward by Marc Prensky, met with serious objections, which I share. Oscar Ugaz, Online Marketing & Digital Business Manager at Real Madrid Club de Fútbol—a major league soccer team based in Madrid, Spain, that was voted as the “most successful club of the 20th century”—and Madlene Nicolaus, EAMER Social Media Manager for Kodak, both presented cases of solid, imaginative, and creative social media use which I, as a die-hard pragmatist, thoroughly enjoyed. The most valuable insight from these presentations was that there’s no turning back: this is the new reality. Somehow, it is kind of bizarre that we still have to explain to marketing executives that a) yes, social media is important, b) yes, we can track and analyze Return on Investment, Return on Information, Return on Engagement, and Return on Relationship, and c) no, you won’t lose complete control over your brand (but some of it). So when, one day later, I read this tweet from Madlene Nicolaus, I really had to smile.
Finally, the revolutionaries. Two presentations figure large in this category, the first from Premium Cola’s founder Uwe Lübbermann. What he did was putting the “social” in social media with a vengeance: a product that is collaboratively conceived, manufactured, distributed, and marketed without advertising, focusing on community and sustainability. As soon as the video is up, watch it: the presentation is full of lines that are eminently quotable. I also love the idea itself, and how it utilizes social media for collaborative and cocreative use. In contrast to Lübbermann’s presentation, the authenticity of Amir Kassaei’s “revolutionary” message did not remain unchallenged. To be fed up with advertising as we know it, though, is something I can perfectly relate to, and sometimes I even think: shouldn’t we all! But I’m not completely sure if Kassaei’s presentation was really helpful here; some elements didn’t quite fit together, or didn’t quite fit with the current situation, or both. I briefly talked to him afterwards while he was being hurried along to his cab, and asked how far he would be prepared go with his rejection of “quantitative growth” and “selling meaninglessness”—probing, of course, into the direction of Umair Haque’s “Capitalism 2.0.” But he said he was rather aiming at “Capitalism 1.0” instead, i. e., a return to the basic ideas of a free market with healthy competition, plus sustainability. Our conversation was way too brief, so I will refrain from imposing interpretations or criticism. But I would love to have Amir Kassaei on a panel together with Umair Haque and, say, Andrew Keen, even if the latter’s socio-historical understanding and rhetorical skill is somewhat offset by his shameless media-grabbing, accompanied by several other staged mannerisms I’ll pretend to be too polite to mention here. Such a panel would be interesting, and—as a moderator—I’d make sure to wear a ballistic vest.
There were more presentations of course, fourteen all in all and three debates, the overwhelming majority worthwhile to listen to. One honorable mention, before winding up: Axel Schmiegelow, who participated in two debates, again deconstructed some cherished beliefs from the realms of TV advertising in an entertaining fashion.
And that was it. I thoroughly enjoyed the day, the catering, and many conversations with interesting people—some of which I’m already looking forward to seeing again a few days from now at the 2nd Düsseldorfer Twittwoch at the Medienforum NRW.