Re:think 2014 - Great. But Don't Blink

First impressions, as we all know, are the ones that count. My first impression of this year’s annual ARF conference is: "Hey, this is not the ARF of old." Not that the ARF of old was bad, it's just that this year's event is different. In several ways. The most noticeable difference was that in the past, you could blink. A few times... without missing much. This is decidedly not true today.

Today, and this explains the title of this piece, the sheer volume of presentations, talks, conversations and panels is nothing short of staggering. The program was fast-paced, well-planned, consisting of quality material and flawlessly executed. So far, so good. But remember! If you blinked, you might have missed something interesting, or useful, or both. Personally, and I hope (but know better), I am overwhelmed. I did bump into a few friends in the halls who seemed lost. .. not being able to decide where to go next. Do you remember what it was like to be a kid in a toy store?

And something else was decidedly different: the style!

Attendees at previous years' Re:think conferences have been treated to entertaining music and graphics — but this year it was really different. With few exceptions, presenters took center stage, freely walking around, without a visible mike, informally engaging the audience rather than standing woodenly behind podiums. Additionally, not that I am a fashion buff, but didn't both men and women dress better? Or, at least, a lot more interestingly?

But there is more! The content, (well.. most of it) was highly targeted and to say the least, shovel-ready useful when attendees get back to their desks. I'll not give away the material, you should have come. But I can't resist pointing to some truly interesting remarks that made attending a rewarding experience.

Starting with Gayle Fuguitt, the ARF CEO, celebrating her first anniversary as chief today, set the pace and the tone with enthusiasm and energy in her opening, welcome remarks.  Gayle noted the obvious that the times “they are changing” and the not so obvious, the need to change the role and the focus of the market researcher of the future. Research, she said — and I paraphrase — needs to be re-invented, so the three days of the conference are sharply focused on the three priorities facing us: consumer engagement, rethinking ideas and rethinking the skills needed to act on them.

Gayle’s opening was not an easy act to follow. But Soledad O’Brian interview of Keith Reinhard came close. True to form, Keith did not mince words. To a packed audience of researchers he reiterated The Creative Mantra that it’s all about Emotions (the capitalization is mine...) and that the winning (M)ad Man and successful advertising come from The Gut, not from research. Research, he said in answer to a question, is useful to gain “insights.” But truly great ads originate in the right side of the brain. And now, a full disclosure note: he didn’t actually say those things that I attribute to him – but that’s what I heard.

Later, I enjoyed another Keynote talk by Carolyn Everson. She provided convincing evidence of the importance of mobile — not that anyone needed convincing — but it was interesting to hear that Facebook had no revenues from mobile two years ago, and today mobile account for one half the advertising revenues. It was equally, if not more interesting, to learn how this came to be the case. Mark Zuckerberg apparently refuses to talk to anybody, or listen to any ideas, unless they are shown on a mobile device. So that is how it’s done.




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