Anjali Ramachandran, Head of Innovation, attended the UK’s first New Front organised by Digitas LBI this week.


Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to the first ever Digitas LBI UK New Front event. Some of you may be familiar with the Upfront as a concept, which originated in the US in the 1950’s and was designed to capture increased TV spend at the end of the year by showcasing the schedule ahead of time. Now it’s a more popular concept, with AOL launching a ‘programmatic upfront’ in 2013.

In 2008, Digitas in New York launched the first ever ‘New Front’ which aimed to capture key issues relevant to brands in the content marketing sphere (it was organised by their content division The Third Act). They’ve held it annually there since then. For the first time however, this event was launched in London, this week. The event was designed as a ‘collaborative thought-leadership programme designed to stimulate creativity within the branded content marketplace and help brands explore brave and experimental new approaches to creativity.’

So – how did it go?

Cindy Gallop, founder of Make Love Not Porn and If We Ran The World and former chair of BBH USA spoke about collaborative competition, warning brands that as much as it is a low-risk approach to follow where others have gone, they need to be alert to external competition because one single fell can bring everyone down. She spoke about the role of big data in maximising opportunities but equally of remembering that humans at the end of the day are emotional and irrational creatures. To create value, she said, brands and people need shared values in order to create something of value, that resonates in culture. She spoke about the challenges of doing business today, where no financial institution whether a bank, Amazon Payments or Paypal is willing to do business with her because her business model is not something they’ve seen. And so she believes that the future of business is tied to the future of finance: “You cannot do new world order business from an old world order business”, the latter and its legacy of systems and processes is what most big businesses today are still tied to. She advocated collaborative competition where everyone benefits from sharing information.

Chris Clarke, Chief Creative Officer at Digitas LBI, then spoke about how brands can create culture, and the importance of creating something of social value. He mentioned the feminist movement and how many brands like Always with the #likeagirl campaign are creating content that people resonate with. Enlightened self-interest, he says, is the way forward for brands.


Sir Clive Woodward is England’s World Cup winning coach – he led the team to victory in 2003. He spoke about data, and how his team analyses their performance post-match with sports software like Prozone, because in his opinion talent alone isn’t enough to win. He encouraged the audience to think of what a book they wrote might look like: what would the chapters be? Then he recommended the following:

  • Organise: break down your knowledge into chapters
  • Develop: capture and develop your knowledge
  • Understand: identify your keys to success, your winning moves
  • Practice: apply your knowledge and understanding
  • Share: collaborate with others & share best practice
@documentally says ads shouldn't be interruptive

Quoting @documentally’s little boy: ads shouldn’t be interruptive

Christian Payne aka @documentally, freelance mobile media creator, spoke about his experiences podcasting, travelling the world and creating content. It was lovely to listen to how he got his friends and followers to help him buy a car by livestreaming his visit to the car showroom back in 2008. His advice was drawn from words by Bill Thompson, who said that brands can’t create culture, they can only create emotions, make people feel certain things, which could become culture. Christian went on to say that what brands should do should be one or all of these:

  • Fulfil a need
  • Work on an overarching narrative
  • Be focussed and committed to the cause (not just paying lip service)
  • Create a rapport with the user or customer of your service
  • Always deliver above and beyond

Playwright Alecky Blythe spoke about her technique for creating documentary plays where she keeps herself open to changing the script based on what she sees. It is never set in stone, and that’s what brands need to remember.


Adam Buxton on brand creep

Lastly we had comedy performer, presenter and writer Adam Buxton who was absolutely hilarious. He poked fun at brands and celebrities from Brad Pitt to John Lewis in his talk entitled ‘Brand Creep’ (seriously, we all need a reminder to look at the YouTube comments of even something as heartwarming as the Bear and the Hare to get pulled out of our brand focus!). People don’t really care about brands, or at least not when they’re trying to push something in front of them all the time that has very little relevance.

All in all, a good afternoon and some things for brands to think about if they truly want to make a dent in popular culture.