Cary Hatch, CEO/Brand Advocate, MDB Communications, chatch@mdbcomm.com, @caryhatch

The just-concluded ADWKDC 2014 certainly didn’t disappoint this year – the trends, innovation and even the predictions were fascinating; especially for digital natives.

Clearly there was a keen focus on storytelling and sharable content, next generation technology and what industry leaders prophesied as the “next big thing” to disrupt our communications world. Major brands including Pandora, Discovery, AKQA, MillennialMedia, RocketFuel, Bloomberg, BullyPulpit and many others lit up the audience with their perspective on what it takes to “stay ahead” and succeed today … and tomorrow.

My highlights included:

1. From “Using Story to Connect Consumers and Brands” – Michael Lastoria of &pizza shared their story as a newcomer and “anti-chain”, and how they continue to adapt to the neighborhoods they are invested in – while living their brand. He shared that they invest heavily in the visual environment and how their brand is represented in sight, sounds and motion. Real success comes from the people who say, “Hey, those guys are cool. I like those people – and I support them”. In other words, being the “killer” brand in your category that matters to its customers; what they stand for and identify with.

2. Alexa Harnett painted a great picture of how Mercedes-Benz USA remains authentic and aligned with their customers by constant surveys and engaging them through social media channels. Whether it’s featuring an influential photographer to tell their story visually on Instagram or turning over their Twitter handle over to an impassioned Mercedes Benz fan, they continue to invest in customer engagement initiatives. John Guagliano, from the Nationals, punctuated the point with sharing that they too are invested heavily in real-time Twitter engagement, including fans taking over their handle for a night; and one #Natitude tweet from Wolf Blitzer that ignited the Twittersphere.

3. The Discovery Channel session was insightful and entertaining as panelists shared their amazement with “what valuable content” can look like (beyond their wildest dreams) for Animal Planet and others. Who knew that live footage of an ant farm could attract such a viewership and a sponsorship by Orkin Pest Control – or that “Labor Day” footage of the live-birth of farm animals would have such a following? While exploration of novel content was surprising – the team also discussed their interesting approaches to promotion and capturing viewership, noting that “everything is for sale”.

4. Lisa Colantuano, of AAR Partners, shared her agency search insight with a VIP audience on Wednesday morning. Topics included reinforcement of the need for truly unique agency positioning (not the agency/brand-speak norm) and several war stories of “what NOT to do” in a pitch. Key to winning an audience and possibly the account are specialty/category experience, recommendations/insight and the timeliness of your approach (during a time of leadership/change)

5. The 2014 Silver Medal Award presentation and the Cannes Lions event topped off Tuesday with a healthy crowd to honor Alan Weitzman, founder of Weitzman; and hear from stellar creative Cannes panelists from AKQA, Wunderman DC and The Martin Agency. I loved Alan Weitzman’s signature remark, “Advertising is a little like rock & roll. When you get it right, the people dance.” His legacy exemplifies this.

6. The “Mining the Digital Universe” panel was fascinating. Discussion of the impact of using TV viewer data to put a finer point on digital efforts to reach active viewers was a key focus, as was personalization. The current [and future] opportunity to deliver prescriptive content, based on current activity and preferences will continue to advance and accelerate. Examples included the ability to reach a consumer on Zappos who is ordering shoes – then serve up a weather forecast (rain) and suggest rain gear or rain boots. Nonetheless the “model” of “giving up your information” is the new “currency”; receiving valuable incentives to do so will only grow.

7. Friday’s Advertising Ethics Certificate Program was thought-provoking. Wally Snyder and Linda Brooks Thomas of AAF led an informative and engaging session. Real-life advertiser/agency dilemmas were addressed; including consequences to action (or in-action) on ethical, transparency and privacy issues that come up every day in the communications industry. The central principle of trust was discussed; also the impact – once trust is lost. As one advertising legend said, “Trust is the currency of our business. Ethics is the engine of trust.”

8. Year two of #CREATE at Facebook’s headquarters was another unqualified success! Nonprofits so appreciate the inspiring ideas and energy of the young advertising professionals who dedicate their time to provide solutions for their unique causes. A special shout out to all the coaches and DC Ad Club folks who support this important program.

9. Lastly, it’s always rewarding to reconnect with the communications ecosystem – share our successes and celebrate our leaders and the industry’s innovations. 

What made your highlights list?

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