Fab Dolan, Google marketing manager and event organizer, address the crowd at the Future of Brand Marketing event during Google's Think Brand Week.

Fab Dolan, Google marketing manager and event organizer, address the crowd at the Future of Brand Marketing event during Google’s Think Brand Week.

Last Thursday, while the rest of the advertising world was reeling from the announcement that Publicis and Omnicom had called off their long-awaited merger, Sparksheet was in Toronto attending Google’s Think Brand Week.

It was a fitting place to be for the announcement: The era of “mega mergers” might not have arrived, but today’s advertising conglomerates know they’re already operating in what Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, has dubbed “the age of Google.” (Disclosure: Sparksheet is published by Spafax, a WPP company.)

Google has a lot of skin in the advertising game. In the last decade, it has received a mind-blowing share of advertisers’ digital spend, to the point that Sorrell and others think of Google as “a media owner masquerading as a tech company.”

That sentiment came through loud and clear at Think Brand Week, a week-long closed-doors education and pitching event aimed at convincing brand marketers to get on board with Google-endorsed technologies.

A host of activities, including a YouTube Creators Showcase and private CMO salon took place over the course of the week. We arrived in time to tour the Gallery, an art-like exhibition showcasing the best examples of digital marketing, and the week’s main speaking event, Future of Brand Marketing. Here’s what we learned.

Marketers and agency folk take in the digital-first marketing displays in the Gallery.

Marketers and agency folk take in the digital-first marketing displays in the Gallery.

Use your words

“It’s funny that we’re talking about language a lot today,” says Abigail Posner head of strategic planning, agency development at Google. And she’s right.

She was referring to each of the previous speakers’ presentations at the Future of Brand Marketing event, all of which touched on the vexing problem of how to talk meaningfully about ideas, process and products in the digital age.

Case in point: while touring the Gallery, her colleague Fab Dolan, a principle organizer of Think Brand Week, peppered his descriptions with buzzwords like “connected”  “personalized” and “immersive.”

The simple fact is that it’s difficult to avoid clichés when trying to convey the transformative power of digital technology to people who might not be fluent in developer-speak.

During his presentation about the – get ready for it – shifting digital media landscape, Shane Cameron, managing director, digital at media communications agency OMD, focused his frustration on big data, the “big ugly term” that’s applied to anything “that’s hard to explain.” Kevin Drew Davis, Chief Creative Officer at DDB Canada used his talk to lament how language has become “a huge barrier to what we’re doing.”

What it comes down to, explained Davis, is that the advertising world isn’t siloed like it used to be. People with divergent backgrounds, disciplines and influences are coming together and trying to build things.

The consensus is that today more than ever, straight-talk wins. It may be uglier and we might expose our ignorance along the way, but at least we’ll get work done.

An onlooker checks out an exhibit at the Gallery.

An onlooker checks out an exhibit at the Gallery.

Do, get, think

Google is famous for its staged product releases and commitment to scaling and failing fast. It may be the world’s most recognized digital company but Google remains loyal to the startup way.

Tyler Turnball, president at digital agency Proximity Canada, is equally committed to fast implementation. He spoke about how this kind of thinking also applies to agencies.

He bolstered his message, “do something different as fast as possible, measure it, and continually adapt,” with campaigns like M&M’s “Find Red,” that did just that.

The idea for the campaign, Turnball told to the audience, came to Rene Rouleau, former creative director at Proximity, after he read in the headlines that a Google Street View car would be doing the rounds in his city. From there, the idea of a virtual treasure hunt for red M&Ms using Google Maps was born.



The campaign didn’t cost much and was implemented quickly. Its success had to do with timing and willingness to run with a half-baked idea. The question all agencies should be asking is, how do we iterate on that process?

Make it emotional

When it comes down to it, Think Brand Week was about the demystification of technology. The event’s clarion call was for marketers to be bold enough to embrace the data and the off-the-shelf tools already at their disposal to create new and unexpected brand experiences.

But Google’s Abigail Posner, who spoke last, didn’t talk about these things. Instead, she showed us this:



It was her version of reminding the audience that many successful campaigns have very little to do with fancy new technology and a lot to do with how our brains work.

A print ad from Melbourne Metro's "Dumb Ways to Die" campaign.

A print ad from Melbourne Metro’s “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign.

Another example, Melbourne Metro’s runaway hit “Dumb Ways to Die,” isn’t a showcase of the power of APIs nor is it exemplary of digitally integrated location-based, immersive and personalized brand experiences.

Instead, the award-winning PSA simply paired morbid scenes with an upbeat song and then “made our brains figure it out.”

Unconventional mashups are winning, says Posner, because “we have become associative thinkers, not linear thinkers.” And marketers, she explains should leverage that by developing stories that force our brains to make those unexpected connections.

Digital is only half the story. The other half is a screaming goat.

Adam Green, agency lead at Google, walks YouTube artist Daniela Andrade through the Google Glass experience.

Todd Boxer of Google’s marketing team walks YouTube artist Daniela Andrade through the Google Glass experience.

For all intents and purposes, this event was very much branded Google. Though, as the organizers were careful to remind us, not every product and campaign on display was made using Google products.

Despite the ubiquity of blue, yellow, green and red, Think Brand Week was about showcasing an idea, not a brand. As Fab Dolan says, it’s about “how the world is becoming increasingly immersive, personal, connected.” Clichés, maybe, but impossible to ignore.

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