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Breaking News in Advertising, Media and Technology

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    As digital video and streaming services continue to recast the viewing landscape, a handful of digital executives and Sundance Film Festival attendees pushed to have the burgeoning videosphere represented during one of filmmaking's highest-profile events—and Rick Parkhill, CEO of VMA Media, made it happen.

    After securing support from sponsors Twitter, Fullscreen, Maker, Zefr, Above Average, Hulu and Naritiv, he persuaded festival organizers that this was, in fact, a viable extension, and Digital Storytelling was born.

    The event kicks off Thursday, Jan. 21, on the eve of the film festival, with additional sponsors including CNN's Courageous content studio, Fox Network Group's True(x) and The Huffington Post signing on.

    Adweek caught up with Parkhill, who expects to host more than 150 attendees from across media and marketing in Park City, Utah, this week.

    What's the mission of Digital Storytelling?
    To illuminate the possibilities and opportunities for brands to connect with audiences through storytelling of all types and all platforms. From Snapchats and Vines to YouTube videos, influencers, long- and short-form content, social media distribution and even made-for-TV content, brands are seeking to connect with audiences in ways that are engaging, entertaining and inspiring. Digital Storytelling will shine a light on ways innovative marketers are leveraging content to raise their brand appeal.

    What is the profile of the attendees?
    The list of attendees includes the most innovative brands that are taking a bold stride away from "interruptive advertising" toward brand storytelling. Marketing execs from Dick's Sporting Goods will be there whose film, We Could Be King, won an Emmy last year. It is an inspiring story about two rival high school football teams forced to come together as one due to budget cuts. It's a beautiful story that reinforces Dick's belief that sports make people better. The global chief content officer from Marriott is attending. His mission is to make Marriott the world's largest provider of travel-related content on the planet. Other participants include the global head of content at Mondelez, the senior director of digital connections at Anheuser-Busch InBev and the chief strategy officer at PepsiCo. Additionally, agency executives who are helping brands imagine, produce and distribute stories will be there, including those from StoryLab, Liquid Thread, Digitas Studios, MRY, Team One and The Marketing Arm.

    Rick Parkhill 

    What are marketers and agency execs attending looking for?
    Over the past 30 years, the Sundance Festival has grown into one of the most iconic celebrations of independent storytelling, attracting a global creative community. Increasingly, brands and agencies are partnering with storytellers and journalists to create engaging content. So the opportunity to network with the most talented storytellers anywhere is a natural draw. At the same time, the Sundance organizers are welcoming the exploration of new platforms and opportunities technology is presenting for stories to be told in new and exciting ways. The New Frontier exhibit at Sundance is celebrating its 10th year and will include immersive cinematic works, virtual reality installations, an extensive lineup of documentary and narrative mobile VR experiences, and an inside look at the innovations being developed at some of the world's leading media research labs. So Digital Storytelling alongside the festival combines to provide brands and agencies a deep dive into how stories are created, told and consumed both today and in the near future.

    How do you see digital storytelling evolving? More short formats? More mobile-first content?
    Certainly the ability to carry a screen wherever you go has contributed massively to the state of advertising today and the need to create great content. Because mobile screens continue to evolve in terms of quality, more and more content is consumed and shared on them. This is a huge driver of Digital Storytelling where short shows are watched, shared and talked about. Look, even the White House—which you can really consider a huge brand—is on Snapchat today. Tom Daly, the mobile lead at Coca-Cola, challenges us not to think of "mobile first" but "mobile only." That's not really so farfetched, and it is driving this renaissance in advertising today. Who'd have thought 10 years ago that mobile screens would lead to a revolution in video content creation and consumption?

    Did you take any cues from DCNF or the traditional TV upfronts?
    No. In fact, when working with sponsors initially, we agreed that Digital Storytelling should not be anything like the upfront sales events, whether digital or TV.

    Do you have any sense of what the key takeaways will be?
    How brands and agency partners are realigning their resources to create compelling content that people actually want to consume and share. When you look at how the media world has been structured for generations, this is a tectonic shift. It is happening very quickly and applies huge pressure to create, evaluate and replicate exponentially. There will be some rich networking going on where both brands and agencies can share ways they are building competency and structure within their organizations to meet the need of change.


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    In its inaugural gathering Thursday, Digital Storytelling, a newly sanctioned event of the Sundance Film Festival, ambitiously set out to better link brand marketers with digital content creators as well as discuss how return on investment on that content will grow and evolve beyond interruptive advertising models.

    Speaking to a packed room of 150-plus brand marketers, senior technology and platform execs and a brace of YouTube and social media stars and comedians at the Stein Erickson Lodge in Deer Valley, Utah, Zype CRO A.J. Vernet introduced the session as a pitch-free environment where the people leading the charge into the new videosphere could meet to creatively weigh the near-at-hand creative and commercial opportunities.

    Vernet conceived of the event nine months prior in collaboration with Todd Barrish, svp of strategic partnerships at Maker Studios, and Chip Russo, svp of media solutions at Zefr.

    "What we really wanted to see is custom curation that the audience is passionate about," said Vernet, who partnered with VMA CEO Rick Parkhill to pull the event together.

    The program began with an interview, presented by Maker Studios, with Morgan Spurlock, director and founder and president of Warrior Poets, about his new series, What We Teach Girls, as well as his storytelling mission. Spurlock, who has warmed up to the possibilities of branded content since his early fame from directing Supersize Me, said creators are no longer hemmed in by traditional production or platform constraints in the effort to do "beautiful, powerful global storytelling" that tackles tough issues like gender equality in places like Uganda.

    "What you guys have is the ability to reach the next generation of connected storytellers," Spurlock said.

    Today's Goal: Getting (and Keeping) People's Attention

    Leaders behind new content extensions from traditional players like Turner (Courageous) and Fox Network Group (True[X]) used the event as an opportunity to share their plans to create the next generation of branded content.

    Otto Bell, vp and group creative director at Courageous, a branded content studio, and Michal Shapira, svp, content partnerships at Turner News Ad Sales, discussed how the craft of journalism and branded storytelling are a powerful combination. "We consider it source reporting for brands," said Shapira.

    The ROI question surrounding digital storytelling was tackled hard by Joe Marchese, president of Fox Network Group and founder of True[X].

    "The goal has to be less advertising" and moving away from the traditional waste model to a highly engaged and interactive environment, he said. To get to that place, Marchese said the advertising ecosystem has to begin to trade on proper human attention via storytelling that is priced according to the quality of that attention.

    "The value of people's attention is at an all-time high," he said, posing the question: what if the ad business got to a place where storytellers define "what a brand story looks like"?

    How Social Is Shaping Storytelling

    Social and technology as content drivers was also a key theme. Rich Raddon, co-founder and co-CEO, Zefr, discussed the speed of storytelling and how the barriers directors like John Hughes faced to initially connect with audiences have collapsed in the face of technologies like Roku and platforms like YouTube and Snapchat that have rocketed the relationship between creators and viewers well beyond the traditional hurdles established by Hollywood and New York.

    To illustrate Raddon's point, Chip Russo, svp, media solutions at Zefr, invited The Bachelorette stars Shawn Booth and Kaitlyn Bristowe, who have a massive social following, to the stage to create a spur of the moment video of the audience doing the wave. The clip pulled 34,000 views in four minutes on Snapchat.

    Snapchat, and how creators and marketers use it, was a darling topic of program. Kevin McGurn, head of sales at Fullscreen, pointed to SnapperHero, an original series on Snapchat that Fullscreen co-created with UTA in partnership with AT&T, as an example of a brand tapping storytelling on a new platform that reaches a huge millennial audience. "The creators are the ones that get you there to scale," he said.

    "[Shapchat] is the future of where authentic messaging and media comes together," said Dan Altman, co-founder and CEO at Naritiv, the Snapchat network striving to make connections between creators and brands on the platform. "We want them to feel natural," pointing to DJ Khaled as an example of a producer who created an authentic persona on Shapchat that has blown up his career and amassed a social audience often larger than clan Kardashian.

    Established digital players like Twitter, YouTube, Hulu and HuffingtonPost were also on hand to discuss how to better connect with audiences beyond relying on tradition and overindexing on impersonal data insights.

    The balance between math and magic—head and heart—is a big consideration in putting "the right shows in front of the right people" and level setting the huge amount of data the platform has at its disposal with the emotion and interests of its viewers, said Jenny Wall, CMO at Hulu. "We don't want to become a vending machine that doesn't care why you're watching," Wall said.

    "We're not lacking in data, but what we don't have is narrative. There is a dearth of good storytelling," said Roy Sekoff, founding editor of The Huffington Post and co-creator at HuffPost Live. Sekoff added that distinct viewpoints and authenticity are the key hallmarks of modern storytelling. "People don't want the view from nowhere anymore," he said.


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             Scott Donaton

    You can skip this ad in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … skip ad. C'mon, you know you want to. We all do. While the stats vary, there's evidence that around nine out of 10 people who can skip an ad do—whether by hitting the "skip ad" button online or fast-forwarding through a commercial break while watching time-shifted programming.

    The online countdown clock that accompanies many pre-roll spots is one of the more honest things to ever happen to advertising. It's the most explicit admission yet that advertising isn't something you want; it's something in the way of what you want.

    Not all advertising, of course. The best and most celebrated ads have always been those that tell great stories because the best creatives know the key to winning over consumers is to share stories that are worthy of their time. It's a simple human fact: We are all suckers for a great, well-told story, whether that's Ridley Scott's The Martian or Ridley Scott's 1984 commercial for Apple. More recently, Leo Burnett Madrid entranced 5 million viewers with, of all things, a Pixar-caliber lottery ad.

    Audiences have always had the power to skip ads. Those of us old enough to remember a world without remote controls know that skipping ads was as simple as heading to the kitchen for a snack during the commercial break. Or heading to the bathroom to, um, fix your hair.

    If we're in search of a narrative thread, the last 20 years in this business have been about one thing: consumer empowerment.

    TiVo broke the stranglehold of network TV programmers. The iPod destroyed the tyranny of the album and sent us straight to the song we wanted. Every new media technology that has come along since has only increased the power of the person.

    Even the technologies we don't like. Some 200 million people around the world employ ad blockers to rid their feeds of thousands of ads every month. The IAB and others decry the motives of for-profit ad blockers. But even as they try to shoot the messenger, brands and publishers can't avoid the message: People block ads because advertising has become more annoying and less tolerable.

    While ad avoidance has always been an issue, there's a reason we were able to largely ignore it for decades: Advertising was viewed by many as a necessary evil, the price consumers paid to access free content. Some brands smugly believed they could never lose their seat at the table because they presumed consumers would never pay for content and would rely on brands to subsidize their media diets. Wrong.

    Just ask Netflix. Hulu. Amazon. Seeso. Vessel. Spotify Premium. YouTube Red. Fullscreen. Audiences have shown they are willing to pay for quality content, especially if those payments make the ads disappear. Some subscription services don't even offer exclusive content to paid subscribers; the sole benefit of ponying up a couple of dollars per month is the elimination of ads.

    The end result of all these factors: We now consume only what we want, when we want, where we want and how we want it. And if we want it. That's a good thing for audiences. 

    But it hasn't been a good thing for advertisers. Because it diminishes a brand's ability to interrupt the content we're trying to consume so they can tell us how great they are.

    The more we block them, the more they come flooding in with daily messages that greet us on every surface and every screen. Yet, the flood of logos seems less like proof that advertising remains a powerful culture force and more like a desperate attempt by advertisers to diminish the power technology has bestowed on consumers.

    So consumer empowerment has been a good thing for audiences but not brands. Or, is it?

    Maybe audiences aren't the only ones who benefit by skipping ads. Maybe smart brands and marketers also want to skip ads, skip making them, and skip shoving them down our throats.

    Maybe "skip ads" isn't a negative, but a positive statement. Because when you skip ads, you can do so much more: Skip ads and tell stories, entertain, educate, inspire and touch lives. Skip ads and win hearts. Don't get in the way of what they want. Be what they want.

    On the eve of the 2016 Digital Content NewFronts (Monday, May 2 to Thursday May 12) during which digital video is showcased, the post-advertising world is taking shape. This is a good thing. Nearly every media company—CNN, The New York Times, AOL, iHeart Media, Vox, Conde Nast and on and on—now operates some version of a brand lab to co-create original content in partnership with brands. TV networks from NBC to TBS and the new Viceland are filling some commercial breaks with long-form branded content instead of 30-second spots.

    A-list storytellers such as Ron Howard, Mark Burnett, Morgan Spurlock, Dan Harmon and Ilene Chaiken collaborate with brands to help them create stories that appeal to audiences.

    Brands such as Red Bull, GE, Marriott, Pepsi, Taco Bell and more are making significant investments in content studios designed to fund original programming to compete with the best of what TV and the web have to offer.

    As the quality of brand-inspired content rises, so does industry recognition. This year, the Tribeca Film Festival launched the X Prize, which festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal said is designed to recognize that brands now serve as financiers and studios, and to "celebrate the high-quality, provocative storytelling that comes from brand and artist collaborations." And Digital Storytelling at Sundance, with its inaugural year last year, is working with partners, including Adweek, to grow significantly in year two. It's also focused on how data informed brand storytelling can break through the interruptive ad model blockade.

    At the same time, new technologies and platforms—from virtual reality to live video—are transforming the way stories are created, distributed, consumed and shared.

    The golden age of advertising may be coming to a close, but the golden age of storytelling is just getting started. Don't skip it.

    Scott Donaton (@sdonaton) is chief content officer, Digitas Studios, which will present at this year's Digital Content NewFronts on Thursday, May 5.


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    After spending last year completing a feature film, I came back into the advertising industry energized, fresh eyed, and realized something pretty profound. This is the most exciting time in history to be a storyteller. Anything we can dream up is now possible - and I honestly mean anything.

    Dream it up and someone can make it.

    Zada with Natalie Dormer, star of The Forest.

     

    We now have a gazillion screens to tell our stories on. And each screen doesn't have to tell a different story. Stories can be multi-screened and complexly told across a variety of technologies. Every brand is a storyteller, and every person who creates and executes ideas for the brand is a storyteller in turn. The world is, at this very moment, a storyteller's oyster. Hell, it's an oyster topped with caviar and truffles. This year, the advertising industry will spend almost $600 billion on advertising. Just think of the stories we can tell if we channel that money in the right directions.

    The act of telling a story is 10,000 years old.  It's in our DNA as humans. We want stories that engage us—make us laugh, cry, think, dream, love and every human emotion in-between. We want to be entertained. But the advertising industry isn't creating enough compelling stories that people actively seek out. Hollywood is brilliant at it. And consider that Hollywood had its best year ever in 2015, with a global record of $38 billion dollars at the box office, it shows no signs of slowing down.

    Additionally, it's been declared that we are in the golden age of television. As an audience, we are hungrier than ever for good entertainment. We consume entertainment on our TV, our computers, our mobile devices and our VR headsets - everywhere and everyplace. Quality content is all around us, but we still seek out more. Brands can become publishers of quality content if we step up to it.

    Although this exciting new world of storytelling is sitting right in front of us, so many agencies, along with their clients, still operate in an archaic, media-driven way. They buy the media, they brief the agency, which then creates the idea, hires the production company, builds the idea, and then places it on the pre-purchased media. We fill the round hole with the round peg. This is the way it's been done for decades.

    There are, of course, a few rogue projects that agencies create to win awards and prove to their clients that they are innovative, but a considerable amount of work being produced is still traditional media, produced traditionally, by traditional thinking. There has to be a better way, right?

    There is no easy way to say this, so I'll just get to the point—we have to kill advertising. We have to run it out of town with pitchforks and burn it to the ground. We need to rethink and change how we approach everything, immediately. The traditional way of thinking is finished. It's an antiquated model that doesn't apply to the new world we live in. We are in need of a radical shift away that pulls us away from advertising and pushes us closer to becoming better storytellers. We need to clear the slate, start over and reimagine how we can tell new stories for an incredibly complex new world, from the ground up.

    Let's think about how Hollywood creates and generates intellectual property in these modern times. It all starts with the story. A big, interesting, compelling story. The ultimate crown jewel of any studio is to create a franchise. Something with longevity. From that single idea, that highly prized concept, they will create a movie, toys, video games, t-shirts and everything else you can think of. James Bond toilet paper? Why not? We'll buy it because we love the story and the characters that live within the world they inhabit. It becomes part of our lives. We plaster the posters on our walls and wear the t-shirt. In short, we are fans.

    So how could advertising learn something from this? We should strive to create long lasting stories and characters instead of disposable ones. Hollywood creates Storyworlds—fictional worlds or universes that are created to play out a story narrative across multiple platforms. Instead of campaigns, or ads, why can't we create Storyworlds? We obviously have the ability to create interesting narratives that stretch across various media, across screens and across devices. It's been done before.

    Stories can and should be told on a global level. No one makes a different feature film for every region. They find big concepts and experiences that work universally. It might sound ludicrous to compare Hollywood to the advertising industry, but if you think about it, all the pieces are already there. It's just how we assemble them differently that could change everything. We should be assembling teams of dreamers and executors. A producer, writer, director, designer, story architect and technologist could be the perfect team of collaborators.

    In this framework, we could create a story and then decide how and how and where it should be told. We could collaborate with production partners and media partners to realize our Storyworld and give it life.

    The way we can tell these stories is seemingly endless. We could create a pre-roll trailer, television commercial, live streaming event, a VR experience, experiential event, short series, feature film, installation, a product, museum exhibit, a music album, a music album's complimentary film; anything you can dream up.

    Whatever it is, the story, not technology or media, should drive the narrative. If we make something that is original and entertaining, the audience will get excited about it and tell their friends. We'll create fans. There is no reason why Audi can't create the next James Bond, versus just product placing it in a film. A brand will likely win an Academy Award in the next few years—it's bound to happen.

    So the only thing that's preventing us from using our budgets to create real, engaging pieces of entertainment is, well, us. We can make entertainment that lasts beyond the media that was purchased to run it. We can tell stories that are incredibly powerful and long lasting. Take off the shackles, dream big and let's declare the end of old advertising once and for all. Like I said previously, there has never been a better time in history to be a storyteller. So what are we waiting for?

    Jason Zada (@jasonzada) is a film director, music video director, screenwriter and digital marketer. He is director of current theatrical release The Forest. 


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    President Trump's comments referring to certain nations, including Haiti, as "shitholes" provoked widespread anger and outrage. But one agency creative in the Caribbean nation is working on a more lighthearted response--raising money to run out-of-home and print ads in Washington, D.C., that aim to use Trump's words against him to boost the image of Haiti....

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    I've seen the rise of mobile and omnichannel retail from within the industry. Ten years ago, when I worked at Walmart.com, Amazon was becoming a powerhouse beyond books and Walmart was redesigning its delivery network in response to rising ecommerce sales. When I was at Apple in 2011, the company was redefining the concept of...

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    Snapchat's ad-tech pipes are getting a little deeper. For advertisers that run ads that promote app installs (by prompting users to swipe on the screen to download an app), brands can now deep link their campaigns that prompt consumers to re-engage with specific features of the app. Used by various app marketers on platforms like...

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    Air Raider. Arctic Angel. King Quad. Storm Tamer. Winged Wonder. These are some of the "superheroes" appearing in mcgarrbowen's new United Airlines campaign ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, next month. We're not talking about marvels (or even Marvels) who leap tall buildings in a single bound, spin...

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    GoDaddy, the online brand, which was a Big Game staple for years, is sitting out Super Bowl LII, although in another way the brand is returning to its roots. After skipping Super Bowl 50, GoDaddy turned to new agency Bullish for last year's effort which kickstarted a yearlong campaign built around a character designed as...

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    Remember that one time Business Insider ran an article on what dishwashers look like on the inside while they're running? There's a market for that. In partnership with Frog, Heatworks has launched the Tetra, a delightfully diminutive countertop dishwasher that actually lets you watch goods get clean. Think of it as the perfect accompaniment to...

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    Polish cosmonaut Tadeusz Kuziora was one of a handful of elite pilots who trained for the Soyuz 30 mission in the late 1970s, but he never made the journey into space. Until he did, four decades later by way of Samsung's Galaxy S8 and Gear VR goggles. The brand and its agency VML Poland won...

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    Donut, the Los Angeles creative agency launched last year by indie filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass, is already expanding to the East Coast--setting up shop in New York. The agency hired Sarah Dale to lead the New York office, naming her chief commercial officer. Dale was formerly the vice president of digital and content at...

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