The Social Whirl

Gavin Lucas samples the latest gathering of digital advertising’s great and good

The understated cool of members’ club Münzsalon in Berlin’s hip Mitte district was the location of the latest Creative Social – a thrice yearly gathering of the cream of online and digital advertising from around the world. Organised by Daniele Fiandaca of Profero and Mark Chalmers of Strawberry Frog, Creative Social works a bit like a conference in that there’s a two day schedule of talks and discussion, although attendees don’t pay, thanks to support from MSN. And it’s more friendly than your average conference: all attendees show a piece of their recent work on a big screen and introduce themselves to the group – so everyone knows who everyone else is from the get-go. The emphasis is on informal discussion and conversation.

Kicking off at the rather sociable time of 2pm, promptly (well, we were in Germany) the first and only speaker on day one was Sven Ehmann, creative director of visual arts publisher Die Gestalten Verlag  (the name is a German pun meaning both “the creatures” and “they create”). Ehmann revealed DGV’s way of working, explaining that they rarely take on submitted ideas but rather a core group of around four or five editors choose people to work with. Ehmann also showed off copies of his personal project, a broadsheet journal called etc. This project is much more wordy and academic than the image-heavy DGV tomes. Ehmann explained his mission to bring together people who would perhaps never normally work with each other, from scientists to critical writers and, unsurprisingly, imagemakers.

At 4pm, we were ushered into waiting taxis and headed to the Reichstag for an exclusive tour. The building had changed quite a bit since my school trip back in 1990 and now Norman Foster’s glass dome is something of a focal point. Daniele and Mark had organised for us to eat in the Reichstag’s rooftop restaurant which offered views across Berlin’s rooftops and the chance to chat to the other attendees whilst enjoying three courses of exquisitely prepared food. Yum.

Next morning everyone convened at the Münzsalon, some slightly the worse for wear after exploring their capacity for alcohol as much as Berlin’s nightlife. The first talk of the day was from Nicole Srock-Stanley of architectural practice Dan Pearlman, which specialises in creating branded environments. Their work for Hanover Zoo was particularly intriguing. Rather than being a place full of caged enclosures, in a traditional zoo style, Dan Pearlman created a kind of ruined jungle city, reminiscent of monkey King Louis’ domain in Disney’s Jungle Book, in which animals appeared to roam happily in environments free from metal bars. Even the zoo’s shop had a wonky, hand-carved, built-in-the-jungle look and feel. Srock-Stanley also explained how her company is about to transform 02’s flagship store in Munich into the kind of multi-sensory, interactive, experience-rich environment that it seems no mobile phone brand should be without.

After a short break, interactive pioneer Mike Williams (currently at Enterprise IG) introduced himself by running through his involvement in creating digital interfaces to appear in films such as Mission Impossible, Hackers and Entrapment. He then went on to share his ongoing and enlightening research into interactive community-building on the internet, likening the ultimate community model to a brilliant party. Attendees should have shared passions and be encumbered by only basic rules; the sexual undercurrent should be almost tangible while the party is never allowed to get too big, apparently.

Artist, musician and blogger-supreme, Momus, then talked us through a week in the life of his engaging and topical blog, which left the assembled hushed and feeling that we don’t have nearly as much time to sit and think about what’s going on in the world as we’d like.

The last scheduled part of the Creative Social were the ever-useful round table sessions, where three groups formed to discuss different topics, before reconvening so a spokesperson for each group could report its conclusions. One group looked at how digital agencies’ work was often overlooked at awards, concluding that creating a case study film (such as those that Crispin, Porter + Bogusky tend to do) that explains to a jury exactly what a submitted campaign set out to do and shows clearly how it did it was a good tactic. And also, as juries have to sit through hours of entries, a simple thing like creating an engaging or amusing loading bar could work in your favour.

A second group discussed branded content but worried that content-for-content’s sake was a danger for brands trying to get in on the act that BMW films set a rather high bar for back in 2001. The third group wondered what the barriers preventing agencies with digital backgrounds from becoming the lead agency were. There was a feeling that being the lead agency came with too much work and responsibility beyond creating actual campaigns and that the biggest barrier to being treated as a creative agency on a par with a more traditional one was clients’ lack of understanding of the diversity and effectiveness of digital media. And so, sadly, digital agencies tend to get thought of as production companies specialising in virals and websites.

Their conclusion? That members of Creative Social should put together a business book that gave a glimpse of the future, providing a resource for clients and the industry at large. Watch this space – Flo Heiss of Dare has already drafted his chapter and proposed a format…


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