If I mention to you I just got back from an agency conference, I can already hear your comments—ho hum, Powerpoint to death, lots of discussion about “360 degrees” and “growth of digital”.
Yeah, I know that feeling. But, imagine an agency conference where no one from an agency presents, the speakers are curated over a one-year period, and the whole focus is on innovation, fresh thinking and growth. These are just a few words to explain C2 (errr…no relation to R3), an amazing three-day event in late May in Montreal and attended by more than 5,000 delegates (not a typo) from 42 countries.
C2 is short for “Creative Commerce” and the event is now in its fifth year. It’s the brainchild of a “Canada-based global agency” (not a phrase you hear often) called Sid Lee, which works with adidas, Absolut, Samsung and a host of others. Sid Lee itself is 20 per cent owned by Cirque du Soleil (the only other Canada based global company you may have heard of) and perhaps it’s this creative energy that made the event so theatrical in nature. You walk into a giant warehouse transformed into multiple different areas, and through outside to a literal Big Top Circus where there are other events and the odd food and beverage. At any time during the three days, there are at least six concurrent presentations, workshops, hands-on labs or learning sessions going on. This is not an event for the 'must see it all' types.
OK , so what did we actually learn?
Firstly, gaming is totally underrated. Jane McGonigal gave a passionate presentation on how gaming is actually building the most sophisticated problem-solvers and collaborators of the next generation. An MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) actually creates shared learning and knowledge much faster than your granddad’s Space Invaders. Recently, a US university developed a doomsday scenario—an asteroid hitting earth—and separately briefed 50 scientists and 50 gamers. Only one group worked together to solve the problem in a far more realistic way.
Jane was followed by Ayah Bdeir of Little Bits (a product that is littered all over my house)—essentially an electronic Lego for the 21st century. She started with a simple quote: “We spend on average 11 hours a day with technology in our hands, yet none of us knows how it works”. We sat through a whole afternoon of Digital Food Innovators, led by Kimbal Musk (yes, he is a relation, he’s Elon’s brother). His view is that the 'killer app' for tech won’t be Uber or games, but food. We will use technology to better manage and understand what we eat. Time for me to sell my Candy Crush shares.
By far the most energetic presenter was AOL Digital Prophet David Shing, also seen recently at Media360. In 30 minutes, he shared more than 30 brilliant case studies of how companies are truly innovating with digital. Once upon a time, content battled with advertising. Now, content has to battle with popular culture. "Brands need to own breaking news," he declared. 'Right now we are the uninvited guests for a coffee." As he shared a bunch of great stuff from Haynes Baked Beans to DHL is Faster to Geico’s new 'unskippable' ads. I left with one main thought: When can I get 'Prophet' on my namecard? (Damn it, I know it’s the hair.)
The three days also had their share of the famous. Alec Baldwin talked about the need for discipline in acting as well as marketing. Andre Agassi talked about the power of determination. And Chelsea Clinton campaigned to us, not announcing her run for President yet, although you sensed she would one day in the future. But it was the little touches that made the difference. C2 enabled you to set up 'Brain Dates' to meet one-on-one for 20 minutes with like-minded people. These sessions showed me some amazing businesses and models I would never have found out about. Why didn’t I think of Glam&Go?
For marketers and agencies, C2 is three days out of 365 that can make you feel differently about our industry and showcase the power of the possible. Time well spent.
Greg Paull is principal with R3