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Last week, ad:tech, “The Event for Digital Marketing” stormed its multinational show into New York City’s Jacob Javits Center.

At some events, ad technology vendors can rely on marketers to study their wares, because they are necessary for one aspect or another of contemporary marketing.

However, ad:tech is crowded with competing demands for attention. Digital service vendors are in the curiously recursive position of having to market themselves to digital marketers, in person.

What stood out? Why?

There are many tactics that can be employed to grab attendee attention. There are pitchmen and 'booth babes' armed with case studies and other sorts of sales literature. There are eye-catching booth designs and interactive attractions. There are comestibles - chocolate was especially common, and not unappreciated.

A major tactic is to laden attendees down with interesting branded material, tchotchkes, that they are inspired to carry off and potentially contemplate later. The moment when a person evaluates an object, thinking Do I want to take this with me?, can be more profound and intimate opportunity for connection with a brand than rational argument.

But perhaps most importantly, there is the unexpected. The unexpected is memorable (if not always immediately pleasant).

In a crowded conference scenario, what brands are fighting for dominance over is the psychogeography of a place; brands compete to arrange the attractions and encounters of the conference hall in order to draw individuals in, and to impress upon them new knowledge and experiences before they walk away.

Whether self-aware or not, every little action, every person, every graphical element, is an expression of a brand.

What follows is a photo-essay, exploring some of the attention-grabbing standouts from ad:tech, day two. It is, by no means complete or exhaustive; but while it might appear rather arbitrary, it is in fact a journey that has been highly contested. After all, each brand paid to attend, and no doubt worked exhaustively to prepare itself to maximize the opportunity.

Bloggers wandering around with large PRESS tags are almost guaranteed a lot of attention. “Are you going to write about us?” many asked. The answer is, well, yes. We are indeed here to selectively celebrate the meritorious.

However, what we are not going to do is explain how any technology works, or make product suggestions; rather, we are going share the experiences, and show the brands, as they were encountered.

Strong experiences, and opportunities are bolded.

If the brand marketing has been done well, brands spread, and the efficacy of their marketers is revealed in their reconstruction within the social, and upon the infinite surface of the web.

Walking in...

Upon registration, the very first thing that attendees are given is a nylon tote bag, pre-filled with sales literature.

casale bag

Here is the Casale Media bag, back at the office. How useful! One can’t have enough tote bags, but individuals also generally don’t need or want to carry more than a single bag per event.

This was the entrance to the exhibit hall. What's going on down there?

exhibit entrance

Optimal placement, anywhere, is pay-for-play. Yippy welcomes you! What the heck is Yippy? 

Google points the way down, to "Real-life sharing, rethought for the web." Interesting. 

Google had upfront booth placement, by the entrance. This is when attendees are fresh and attentive, but also a little disoriented. Without having done a study, it’s probably also when people are most impressionable.

There were many people hanging out in Google's little couch area. Boundaries between the brand and attendees were blurred; it was difficult to tell who was a conference attendee and who was an employee. 

The two phone booths were intriguing and mysterious; when I looked curious, someone shuffled me inside. There were headphones and a screen, and I was suddenly videochatting with a Google employee, who was sitting in the Google New York office.

A very excited woman was ushered into the booth next to me, and then the three of us were chatting.

“What’s this???” she asked.

“This is a Google Hangout.” He said, while the display shifted abruptly to feature whoever happened to be moving or talking the most at any given time.

"Cool!" She yelped. "Tell us some Google secrets!” He demurred.

A memorable interaction had been created.

Adobe presented itself with a bold tower, and claimed to maximize ROI.


This claim was made frequently throughout the conference. Of course, it's what every marketer wants to accomplish, but the messaging can lose resonance the more often it's repeated.

This next booth was noticeable for condensing virtually every vendor claim into one display:

This organization's brand's associative signifiers were crisply and clearly articulated:

Orange is an energetic color, oranges are fresh; soda is sweet, fizzy, sticky, and not good for people when consumed in large quantities. Also, there’s a bike, which is healthy, fun, environmentally sound, and a little dangerous.

In a certain area of the hall, almost everyone was carrying around a branded purple smoothie. Following the smoothies back to their source, one found Yahoo – the “4TH most visited site in the world.” And certainly one of the most popular at the conference.

Being “fourth most… in the world” at pretty much anything doesn’t suck, unless you really really want to be number one, and have to remind people that being fourth doesn’t suck. That could be agonizing.

Fresh! Yummy! I consumed this product! Thanks Yahoo!

A curious spectacle. These people said they were going for an old-timey movie theatre, but the booth babes, large wooden bar and private stall made me think more 'risqué bar'. There was also a display case of nice, slightly incongruous baseball hats, which I wasn’t offered, probably because I did not look as though I allocate millions of dollars in ad spending.

Hamming it up alone in a photobooth is exhausting. I could have shared this with my Facebook friends, but for some reason decided not to.

Mmm! Coffee! There’s something very businesslike and professional about coffee. Thanks Nielsen!

"We have the best pens, and our cards fold, so you know we're legit."

Seeing a man passing out bottles of these was a little jarring.

A game maker tucked a dollar bill and solicitation inside this maze, in order to cleverly communicate and educate about their services.

A very friendly woman here gave me a case study, about their work with Volvo.

Walter Isaacson presented quality human content, memories of Steve Jobs, at the keynote. There were several hundred other people watching, raptly.

How do you feel about Steve Jobs' biographer, Walter Isaacson? Was he quality content? Of course.

Home at the Econsultancy office, marketing coordinator Alex Lund views a seven-slide pitch for Metaverse Mod Squad in 3d! How could one throw out such a substantially sized, fun piece of plastic? This presentation will be kept around and occasionally viewed for years!

In Conclusion

These are photographs of 'real world' marketing. But after all the booths have been taken down, their images will remain here, suspended in digital media.

Shiv Singh, Global Head of Digital for Pepsico, recently wrote, “suddenly, everyday, physical products have become highly leveragable assets in the digital ecosystem.” The imagined boundary between “the real” and the fantasy of a placeless virtual is collapsing.

PR, induced photographic situations and experiences, mobile:QR/NFC/AR/etc, and give-away tchotchkes are some of the tactics that help close the gap between online and offline brand engagements. 

As physical devices become more portable and fluidly integrated into our lives, this middle ground will come to define the most contested battleground. If brands are generally moving towards content-driven strategies of engagement, what will the new tactics of spellbreaking intrusion be?

Strategists need to think holistically and dynamically, uniting product and brand marketing in a way that acknowledges and leverages the potential for continuity between all forms of brand expression, ensuring that messaging objectives are accomplished. 


Published 14 November, 2011 by Sam Dwyer

Sam Dwyer is an Analyst based in Econsultancy's New York office. He can be followed on Twitter @sammydwyer.

24 more posts from this author

Comments (2)


George Anderson

Yippy, I soon found out, is a young and up-and-coming search engine, focusing on families and schools if I remember correctly. A pretty good one too. I spent a few minutes giving their adult filter a run for its money. They also make niche search engines, like just football and one for Shakespeare.
They also build search engines for businesses.
As for Yippy Booty, there was just a pamphlet and card.
Good article. I never got into the google booths, I was more focused on the pub crawl that was there on the first day. I assume it wasn't there the second day, otherwise you would have mentioned it.

almost 5 years ago


Bonzo Flabulous

So much better than the London ad:tech, dominated by literature and loud claims. I'm coming to America!

almost 5 years ago

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