By Lara Oliveira

Innovation was the theme at this year’s ADWKDC conference, happening in the backdrop of the hustle and bustle of Connecticut Avenue in downtown D.C. Attendees ranged from seasoned advertising executives, scientists, psychologists, reporters, vendors and political junkies. In this ambiance of excitement, each attendee had a single goal in mind: to understand where they fit in today’s elegant but complicated Tango between communication and technology.

Notable insights came early in the conference from the news industry. David Leonhardt, columnist and associate editorial page editor at the New York Times, spoke about the shift to multilinear story-telling. One of Leonhardt examples, Houston, Before and After Harvey, from the New York Times, featured an intensely intimate and visceral experience into the hurricane’s aftermath through a multimedia news video series. In many scenes viewers are invited into the very moment they are seeing their thigh-high flooded homes for the first time. The camera’s real-time, first person point of view enhances the feelings of emotional despair.

After Harvey, A Return Home in High Water, by Deborah Acosta

In another presentation Jeremy Gilbert, Director of Strategic Initiatives at The Washington Post, described climate change, science and architecture as the types of stories that are best told through Augmented Reality. The Elbphilharmonie AR piece stood out. The app visually projects the concert hall’s unique acoustic system directly on your ceiling, all built into The Post’s existing news applications. Although challenging issues in the industry, including the prevalence of ‘fake news’ were brought to front stage, what permeated was the idea that today, news is better equipped than ever to tell great stories because of newly available technology tools.

The Elbphilharmonie, The Washington Post

Other widely attended sessions were in the field of data and insights. The importance of testing, optimization and building accurate attribution models were consistent themes throughout the conference. Discussions about defining those sets of rules continue to be one of marketing’s biggest challenges today. Dr. Jennifer Gibson, Director of Scientific Techniques and Analysis, Fors Marsh Group, presented a sequential approach of data interpretation to create and tailor messaging: Data Collection, data gathered from questionnaires, and publicly available sources; Segmentation Analysis, based on customer profiles and decision tree analysis; and Message Tailoring using belief analysis, by applying the belief that has the most interest among customers. In addition to appropriate scientific insights (left brain), this type of analysis has been also leveraged in the creative field (right brain). By understanding beliefs, related behaviors and how they rank, data analysis can serve as a springboard to powerful insights in the creative process.

In the creative area, another much talked about session was Brand Values Into Brand Action, presented by DT French and Gia Bagherpour from Nandoís Peri-Peri, a South-African-Portuguese chicken chain famous for its politically contentious advertising. The team showcased Nando’s historic brand work taking on social issues. According to the marketing team, Nando’s risk-taking approach was essential to building a platform that grew across cultures and generations. The Nando brand consistently delivering work that reflected the brand’s values in the social context.


A brand’s role in advocacy emerged as a constant theme throughout most sessions. In the past, brands have steered clear from social issues to avoid controversies. But today consumers are increasingly demanding that companies take a stand and be part of the larger conversation. This was also a major theme at Advertising Week NY, happening in the same week.

In staying within the political realm, the last session was an interview with Brad Parscale, President Donald Trump’s Digital Director. This was not a surprise considering we were in D.C. What was surprising was that the moderator chose to focus on personal and politically divisive questions, which closed the space for any in-depth dialogue with Parscale about his strategies, social media experiments and sometimes weird executions in the digital space. In my view, this was the only session that missed the opportunity to shed some light on current voter’s online trends and behaviors.

But make no mistake, this year’s ADWKDC conference, Oct. 2-6, delivered a unique and expansive experience. It surrounded attendees with a horizon of cross-industry insights converging into what we value most as marketing professionals: communication. The conference was an invitation to a rare convergence of multidisciplinary strategies and tools that led attendees to take part in truly innovative discussions.

Lara Oliveira is Associate Creative Director at GMMB


3 Responses


    Excellent article: clearly written, very informative and impartial analysis.

  2. Laura Orozco

    Great in-depth recap of the conference. Thanks for breaking it down for those of us who couldn’t attend this year!


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