As a student of advertising, sometimes I am lucky enough to be given opportunities to attend advertising conferences to gain inspiration and incite from our industries leading visionaries. The other day I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend Shift Disturbers, a conference that brings “a mash-up of visionaries to the stage, from the worlds of advertising, art and design for a half-day of inspirational words from the gods of creativity”. I was called up for the event about three hours before and had no idea what to expect, but it was clear from the moment I stepped up to the front doors of the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts, that this would not be an ordinary conference. Greeting every passerby at the entrance to the centre was a man in a wild suit wearing a sandwich board, who could more or less be summed up as a crazed, possibly homeless man ranting at passerby’s. At first we all tried to scurry away from him as quickly as possible, but at a closer inspection you realized that the sandwich board was in fact a poster for the conference we were about to attend. Now if that isn’t a mood setting entrance I don’t know what is!

I’m not going to lie, some of us were pretty confused by the man outside, but an explanation was soon presented in the form of an introduction video to open the conference. The video was a great introduction to the event; a chopped motion video that depicted the build up to the sandwich board man outside and how he came to be. Portrayed by Stefan Stagmeister, the man created a shrine of all the Shift Disturber speakers in his office space then continued to build his sandwich board sign and go outside to rant on the streets of Toronto. It was a great lead up to the event setting a quirky, pumped up tone and in turn giving a sort of introduction or credit roll for the speakers.

The day at the Shift Disturbers conference was definitely unique and was filled with very insightful and inspiring discussions and presentations. Unfortunately, the keynotespeaker Stefan Stagmeister was unable to attend due to illness, a loss that was clearly felt throughout the audience through sighs of disappointment at the announcement. However, everyone’s spirits quickly picked up as Cindy Gallop took the stage. This is a woman who is clearly not afraid to speak her mind and is loud and proud to be herself. She discussed the 7 factors of where she believes the future of advertising is: goodness, transparency, action, agency, money, production and magic. Cindy did not shy away from any topic including where she believes advertising is heading, her ventures and even her love life. She focused on views of the new marketing reality and the developments and importance of social media. Advertising has turned away from being something people enjoy. Lately much advertising has relied on tricking audiences to pay attention, which in turn has developed a sense of bitterness. It is time for advertisers to return to creating advertising that is good, not just good ads. She emphasized the necessity of responding with complete honesty and integrity and the importance of real time responsiveness, providing the example of her website makelovenotporn.com as a commentary on the disillusions of men on sex in society. This founder and CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld.com is definitely not afraid to take a stance and is incredibly capturing and entertaining as a speaker. To get a taste of Cindy’s style check out her TED speech for makelovenotporn.com; especially take a look at the comments section to really see her personality.

Following Cindy Gallop’s entertaining speech was Stéphane Xiberras presenting BETC’s new invention, which I found intriguing and entertaining, yet frightening at the same time. This invention is C.A.I., Creative Artificial Intelligence, also known as Kay, a computerized machine with the ability to generate branding and advertisements according to categories you select. There has been a questionable notion developing around small businesses that spending big money for creative is not necessary. Thanks to do it yourself websites many think they can successfully brand and advertise on their own. Unfortunately, these groups do not recognize the fact that these will be un-unique misses that will not allow the brand to stand out but rather cheapen the image or fall back as bland or average. It is the creative minds that know how to develop a unique and successful brand. This machine brings about the frightening question, could a machine replace the creative role of an ad agency? Could C.A.I. be the future of advertising?

This machine was beginning to create a sense of anxiety in the audience, but Stéphane went on to explain that replacing the creative is not the purpose behind C.A.I. The machine has been developed as a sort of commentary on the faltering trust of society and a reflection of just how important unique, creative ideas are to brands and the fact that a computerized machine does not have the ability to creatively decipher concepts but rather develops basic, common layouts and bland, general ideas. Stéphane’s presentation was really fun and interactive as he let audience members choose the product categories to create our own ads. The program works by producing three advertisement options, some of which were hilariously extreme or incongruent, but then the unsettled hush would fall and awkward giggles arise as an acceptable, useable ad appeared. This presentation of C.A.I. left me with the unsettled question in the back of my mind; is the recognition of creativity dying out? Is it possible that in the future these machines could take over the industry creative jobs? Stéphane’s speech provided us with some hope, but I think it is definitely a wake up call to keep an eye out for technological substitutes and to kick up our game. As Cindy put it, to begin creating great advertising.

After a packed day the Shift Disturbers event came to a close with a final speech from Nick Law, the Chief Creative Officer of R/GA. Nick took a very different approach from the previous speakers of the day, focusing on the use of graphs to provide depictions of the relationships between factors in the creative cycle. He focused on the importance and distinctions of collaborative relationships across all disciplines. In our highly interactive and digitized world it is very important, in order for a campaign to be successful, to have a close collaboration between the traditional advertising and digital shops. In the reality of today it is necessary to bring all facets of visual design, copywriting and digital design together to work interactively to create successful campaigns on every front that bring the brand together as a whole. He emphasized the necessity of this collaboration describing that “no one knows it all”, using examples such as Nike’s SPARQto illustrate the success of such collaborations.

At the completion of my day at Shift Disturbers I felt very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend such a unique event and to have heard from such inspiring advertising visionaries. I definitely feel inspired and motivated to go forth in the world of creativity and to fight back against the machines by using them to my advantage rather than vice versa. Through my experience here at Derooted Creative Agency I have really learned the importance and advantages of websites and social media in the development of a successful brand in connecting with your audience. Technology is the advertising future, but collaboration is one of the most important things that we can harness to successfully bring our creative and brands to life on all fronts, through all facets.

– Janine Lubey
derooted.com