Lego Kidsfest Atlanta 2014

This past weekend, Sunday afternoon, I attended Lego Kidsfest Atlanta. It’s kinda like a Comic-Con for Legos. My daughters absolutely LOVE the Lego Friends stuff (as well as the Princess DUPLO sets) and so, naturally, they had to twist my arm to get me to attend. I’m a big fan of Mindstorms and Technics kits, so I had my own reasons for wanting to attend when I saw that there would be robotics demonstrations as well as Star Wars and Technics play areas.

The Lego Kidsfest people (brilliantly) realized that the whole room has about a 4-hour life-span. Not for the kids, of course, but for the parents attending. So they broke the three day (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) event down into “sessions” with one session on friday, and two sessions each on saturday and sunday. We attended session 2 on sunday from 3:30 to 7 and I really didn’t even get a sense that it was “the last day of the show”. The people working the event seemed just as enthusiastic as if it were Friday and the event just started.

As we wandered the event and played at various pit-stops, I found myself wondering things like, “does Lego put this on?” and, “where did all of these Legos come from?”. It’s an interesting event. It’s not really like a comic-con in that there were no “dealers” there or “booths” set up. But it also didn’t appear as if it was an official “Lego” event. It says on the website that it’s put on by LIFE Marketing & Events (yes, the LIFE is all caps… I don’t know why either, and I agree, it looks weird), and when you visit their page, it’s just a single page with rotating testimonials… so it seems to me that somebody somewhere had the great idea of selling kids $30 tickets to something that lasts 4 hours and figured out how to find the right brand to appeal to kids and draw ‘em in like Mongol Hordes. Kudos to them! For a minimal investment in toys (how much could bulk legos cost anyway?) and a spot at several high profile city event centers, you can tour the country, play with legos, and print money. Sounds like someone found their dream job…

At the end of the day, I was delighted, kids were over the moon, the people putting it on sold a boatload of tickets, and everybody walked away tired, but happy. Couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a lazy, hot Sunday.

Enjoy the Gallery. Click on the image to close:

The First Annual Southern Fried Gameroom Expo 2014

Oh my gosh. Where to begin? This past weekend I attended the First Annual Southern Fried Gameroom Expo at the Marriott Century Center.

It. Was. Amazing.

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever attended anything so awesome in recent memory. They had completely taken over the Marriott, and when I say, “completely taken over”, I mean “COMPLETELY TAKEN OVER”. I’ve been to that Marriott at least half a dozen times in the last couple of years for the quarterly single-day Atlanta Comic Book Convention (which is a great convention, by the way!) and it’s not even remotely been this packed. They had every ballroom in the place and every conference room open to convention-goers and packed with Pinball, Coin-op Arcade Video Games, Home Video consoles, retro/oldschool game systems, as well as various vendors stationed throughout the expo. It was great. Even if you walked up to the door, day of the show, it was only $20 admission for unlimited gaming, all the expo events, movie screenings, panels, and tournaments. Advance tickets were actually half that much! Note to self, when that thing comes around next year, make sure and buy advanced three day tickets.

I got there a little early on Saturday to participate in the Swap Meet. I’ve been dying to find an arcade cabinet for a while for a MAME project, and I got some business cards and talked to some people who can definitely help me when the time’s right. I am SO going to build a MAME cabinet with an oldschool controller setup. I saw some great examples of them there, and I think the cabinet might very well wind up being the most expensive part of the project. I also spent some time in the vintage home video system room playing Atari, Virtualboy, Intellivision, and my favorite vintage home video system of all time: Coleco Vision. What a great system.

Enjoy the photo gallery. I tried to upload some of the best pics I snapped while I was there. It was a fun time. If you heard about it this year and for some reason didn’t get to make it, by all means, don’t make that mistake next year. Here’s looking forward to the second annual one in 2015!

Click the images to enlarge, click the image again to close/exit:

Speaking on UX and Creative Technology at Digital Summit Atlanta 2014

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Speaking on UX and Creative Technology at “digitalsummit Atlanta 2014″.

This week I participated in a workshop at Digital Summit Atlanta 2014 with our Lead UX Designer on the intersection of User Experience and Creative Technology. We were thrown together in a bit of a last minute way, and immediately had this terrific idea that sprang from a conversation we were having about how many ways Creative Technology and User Experience can work together throughout a project and how impactful that working relationship can be. Chris Downs, our lead UX guy and I worked together on the United States Marine Corps YouTube Brand Channel, which was a really successful project and was really our first time working together, so we both tended to look back on it fondly, and could easily fill 50 minutes talking about all the ways User Experience and Creative Technology can work together to deliver amazing results. So the resulting presentation and session was terrific, I really enjoyed it and had a great time presenting with Chris.

We broke the relationship between user experience and innovative uses of creative technology by presenting the idea within the context of best in class examples of technology and innovation that are largely driven by the successful relationship between CT and UX. We chose Flip, Nest, Nike Fuelband, Evernote, Gmail, and Amazon. In each case we began by looking at the challenge(s) they faced, how UX & CT could work together to solve the issue, and what those processes could look like. We discussed examples of card sorting, customer experience audits, working scenarios, etc. I had a blast putting it together and enjoyed tremendously the opportunity to present it at Digital Summit Atlanta. The crowd was terrific, asked great questions, and several people came up afterward for extended conversations.

The presentation was so well received that we’re repurposing it for an internal audience and plan on giving it at an upcoming “What’s Hot” presentation on Monday mornings.

Pennzoil Mario Karting Reimagined

One of the greatest things you can do as a Creative Technology force within an agency is to be able to help shape a new experience. Something nobody has done before, or attempted to do maybe on a nice scale. The opportunity to marry technology know-how with strategic, creative excellence is what you live for.

Pennzoil wanted to launch a new product and gain the attention of younger, more technically savvy audience with a new take on Motor Oil. It’s Motor Oil Reimagined, and what better way to reimagine a product launch than to take a decades old brand and place them squarely in the middle of the most innovative place on earth, SXSW. Not only that, but tell the story of their new Synthetic Motor Oil, born from gas and developed using all new technology… all the while being relevant and exciting.

The answer of course, is Mario Karting… reimagined!

The fun part for me was being a part of a great spontaneous conversation that could easily be walked from brilliant idea, to technically feasible, to fully fleshed out project that was able to be sold and put together in the most inspirationally tight timeline possible. I was able to create a technical roadmap, identify & vet technologies, and work with several different teams to help put together a solution that was an amazing experience for all involved. All this in addition to leading the team that provided a fantastic job of supporting the launch and Mario Kart experience with a tightly integrated, multi-platform, responsive website that successfully leveraged the look and feel of both Pennzoil Platinum and Nintendo’s Mario Kart 8 while living inside the current Pennzoil design. Once again, my team crushed it and I couldn’t be happier.

My Brush With Fame, Or, That Time I Met The American Dream Dusty Rhodes

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The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes, if you will…

I was in the Navy in the mid to late 1980s. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia and had family in North and South Carolina. So during the 70s and early 80s, I was a huge Jim Crockett Mid-Atlantic/NWA fan who attended shows in NC,SC, and VA religiously. I grew up on Rufus Jones, Ric Flair, Blackjack Mulligan, Greg Valentine, Dusty Rhodes, etc. During the time I was in the Navy, I was stationed out west in Seattle. I didn’t get to fly home all that much, but this was one time I was heading home for vacation. I don’t recall if it was a direct flight from Seattle to Charlotte or not, but I know that I had a layover in Charlotte, and was flying from Charlotte to Richmond for leave.

So the flight from NC to VA was a brief little hop, and it was a late night flight. Like, around midnight. Not really a redeye, but a late flight nonetheless. Back in those days, fllghts would fly with barely anyone on them. It happened. This was one of those flights. If memory serves, there were less than a dozen people on the flight and my seat was towards the rear of the plane (the smoking section at the time). When I boarded I walked past the first few rows and seated up front, taking up nearly two seats, was Dusty Rhodes… THE Dusty Rhodes. Given that this was around 1986, there’s the very real possibility that he’s the current NWA World Heavyweight Champion, at the very least, he’s a contender and running Jim Crockett at the time. So this was a big deal.

I recognized him immediately and made my way back to my seat. There was nobody sitting around Dusty at all, and across the aisle, in the same row, it was completely open.

When the plane took off, the moment the seat belt light went off, I made my way up front and moved to that row. There I was, same row as the American Dream. I looked over and he had a spreadsheet out, was wearing little wireframe glasses that rested on the bridge of his nose, and was working on something… I’m guessing it was travel expenses or something of that nature. I just remember that he was engrossed in whatever it was. Now I was 18-19 at the time and starstruck, I certainly didn’t think anything about trying to strike up a conversation and potentially spending the next hour or so talking with Dusty (in my head we were already on a first name basis) about all things wrestling.

So I waited a moment, cleared my throat and said, “excuse me, are you the American Dream Dusty Rhodes?”.

He stopped what he was doing, looked over the rim of his glasses at me for a moment and said, “Thon, is that your athigned theat?”

Without a word, I got up and made my way back to my seat.

EDIT: Now with more bonus Dusty. This is from right around the same era. Dusty’s cutting a promo in October 1985, just before Starcade ’85. So a little context… He’s booking Crockett’s “Mid-Atlantic Wrestling” at this time. He’s A-list right now. Imagine someone in 1985 with Orton/Batista/HHH levels of heat and power. He’s not Flair… but he’s chasing him!

A trip to Seattle, a couple of days with the Marine Corps & Microsoft, and a day on Whidbey Island.

Whidbey Panorama

A panoramic view of Whidbey Island. Standing on the beach in Langley looking east. Camano Island across the water.

I’m on the plane heading back from Seattle after finally scoring an upgrade on a cross-country flight, so I’m relaxed, in a good mood, and reflecting on a pretty awesome past couple of days. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to attend a couple of days with our Marine Corps client, our media partners, and several different disciplines within Microsoft. We spent yesterday on the Microsoft Campus in Bellevue with several members of the advertising team, the Xbox team, and a few different groups within the Kinect team. Today we were lucky to get some time before we took off for the airport with the Skype team and had a really great discussion around the possibilities of their platform. Lots of great conversation, great ideas, and great technology. It’s tremendously rewarding to have chances like this to sit around a table with incredibly smart, enthusiastic, passionate people who love what they do and spend an afternoon brainstorming ways to make something better. To make an experience better. To make a process better. To work on something that’s already good, and make it great.

I know the specs are out there, and anyone can see on paper how much of an improvement the v2 Kinect (The Kinect on the Xbox One) is over the v1 (360), but witnessing a presentation and seeing some pretty compelling demonstrations of it up close, is another thing entirely. The increase in resolution and camera/microphone capability, plus the leaps in software development have enabled the former “Natal Project” to begin to realize its potential as a game changing User Interface. Microsoft is one of the leaders in Human-Computer Interaction research - Natural User Interface (NUI) is something they’ve spent a lot of time looking into – and the things they were able to demonstrate beyond gaming are amazing to see. I was completely blown away by some of the ways the technology is being used.

In addition to the time spent with Microsoft, we had a really great time with the Marines. It was a real pleasure to have a chance to spend some time with Maj General Brilakis & Lt Col Hernandez and their respective teams, and hear firsthand how the work you’re doing is impacting the challenges that go hand in hand with recruiting the best & brightest and turning them into Marines. We had an absolutely amazing dinner on Lake Union and were able to continue our conversation about technology, recruiting, advertising. We were even able to swap some stories and I learned what everyone’s first car was! I hadn’t thought about that Mustang in years!

Deception Pass Bridge

Deception Pass looking south, towards Oak Harbor and Whidbey Island.

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of the trip for me, was a chance to spend a day driving up to Oak Harbor and Deception Pass. I haven’t been back there in years, and it turned out that Sunday was the ceremonial, “first beautiful day of the year” with a 70 degree day and not a cloud in sight. My friend/co-worker Dave and I made it to Mukilteo in time to catch the 9:30 ferry over to the island and got to Langley just in time to grab an incredible breakfast at The Braeburn Restaurant before making our way up the Island. After spending some time wandering around the park at Deception Pass we headed back south to Oak Harbor. I made Dave drive the long way around so I could snake back through “downtown” and was pleased to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Downtown Oak Harbor still looked exactly the way I remembered it. We stopped at Seabolt’s Smokehouse, grabbed some lunch (again, with the crab) and I made sure not to leave without getting a gift box of Seabolt’s Smoked Salmon to take back to the ATL. A gift I’ll be sure and pass along to myself for a job (some job… any job) well done!

All in all, a really great trip. Both professionally, and personally, this was one that I really enjoyed and can look back on and really soak in what I was able to see, and discuss, and think about. These things cram a lot into a few days, but I have no doubt that I was sufficiently inspired to go out and make cool shit. Lots of cool, cool shit.

Adobe Marketing Summit 2014 and an Evening with Vampire Weekend

Salt Lake City

A panoramic view of Salt Lake City, Utah

I was in Salt Lake City last week for the Adobe Summit, their annual Marketing Cloud gathering. I’ve attended over a dozen Max Conferences, which cover the Creative Cloud portion of the business, but this was my first experience at the other side of the equation. I’m looking at working in Adobe Experience Manager over the next twelve months so I was looking forward to digging into some of the new features of their platforms. I wasn’t disappointed.

The theme of the conference this year was “Reinventing Marketing” and both of the General Sessions (Tuesday and Wednesday) were great platforms to demonstrate not only what reinvention looks like, but how Adobe’s suite of tools are leading the way. With a host of new features focused on customers and their various interactions all along the funnel, it’s clear that the future of CRM/Media/Social/Analytics/Marketing/Content is all becoming one “cloudy” ecosystem of interlocking tools that are allowing marketers to gain insight in ways not previously seen.

With the ability to do advanced real-time audience profiling, predictive marketing mix planning, and technology that seamlessly manages content across the Web and mobile apps, the Adobe Marketing Cloud is growing into a compelling suite of tools. Most of the sessions I sat in on were focused on Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) and it’s clear that this is the centerpiece of the collection. The latest release of AEM has a nice list of new features that will go a long way towards realizing the “reinvention of marketing”. Language Translation, Content Insight, App Authoring, Digital Asset Management, Unified Moderation, and (for me) the most interesting of the bunch, a tag language that can create HTML assets at runtime from Data pulled from the server. Really interesting stuff. As someone who was new to the platform, I was quite blown away.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Adobe event without the “Adobe Bash” and this year didn’t disappoint. I’ll leave you with a couple of things. First, Adobe is obviously making all the right moves. They’re centralizing a realtime engine for digital marketing and it’s pretty epic. Secondly, there’s no greater band on earth than Vampire Weekend.

Walk With The Data – JWT Data Capabilities Case Study

This was great. In my role as Director of Creative Technology and Marketing Science at JWT, I oversee one of the largest data-driven advertising solutions around. The United States Marine Corps has been recruiting young men and women to serve for over 235 years and JWT has been helping them do it by building an incredibly complex and robust customer relationship management system. Combined with our Planning, Research, and Strategy disciplines, we arm the Marine Corps with insight and a deep understanding of their audience and their behaviors. In order to demonstrate this expertise and what a unique offering and skill JWT has as a result of this background, we created a sizzle reel about data.

Yeah, you heard me right, “we created a sizzle reel about data”… and it’s pretty fucking sweet.

Take a look and check out what it looks like when an advertising agency REALLY does data smartly.

Welcome to SXSW!

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For the second year in a row, I’m back in Austin attending SXSW. Below are some thoughts. I attended some cool stuff, saw some cool things, met cool people, had a lot of cool encounters and even cooler conversations.

First day in Austin. Landed this morning, straight to the Palmer Center to work on the Mario Kart experience we’ve been putting together since late last year. It’s nice to see all the hard work and big ideas come to life. It’s the most rewarding part of the job, by far. Make sure you check out the accompanying website that my team in Dallas put together. I’m really proud of the work they did.

 

WPP Maestro Executive Leadership Experience

A few weeks ago, I attended WPP’s Executive Leadership course, “Maestro”. I was selected to attend Maestro late last year by the JWT Leadership Committee, made up of our COO, CCO, CFO, and our Head of Talent (that’s a lot of C’s!). I was proud to be selected and looking forward to the opportunity to grow as a leader within both the company, and the network. The experience took place in Norwalk, Connecticut at a retreat nestled back in the woods of Fairfield County in the southern part of the state down by New York City. It’s one of the last stops out of Penn Station and beautiful place. I hadn’t visited the area before so it was a treat.

I don’t wanna bore with all the sordid details of what went on, but I can confirm that there were no secret handshakes or mystic rituals. We spent several days working in small groups on different scenarios, each designed to move us further down the path to becoming a valuable contributor to the process of bringing agency value and trust to the forefront. Here’s a pretty apt description of the experience:

Maestro aims to strengthen the ability of WPP’s best client practitioners to be trusted senior advisors and partners in innovation who are able to build and lead increasingly large, complex relationships. The program enhances problem-solving, fact-based decision making, relationship and people/team leadership skills.

The team they’ve assembled is World Class and the process you go through is transformative. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to identify precisely the moment when you feel as though, “this is it, this is something special” and this was definitely one of those times. I’m certain everyone in the program was of sufficient caliber, but I felt like fate had put me in the presence of some of the nicest, smartest, sharpest people I’ve ever been privileged enough to work with. I met, and partnered with, some truly rock-star network advertising talent.

I’ve participated in leadership training before, most notably the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Leadership Grand Strand” Program. This was similar in content but much more focused and direct in practice. Maestro’s sole focus is on increasing value in the client relationship by demonstrating your ability to build trust and partner. As a person who is increasingly working directly with clients (and accounts!) through more visible efforts on larger projects, I’ve got a responsibility to ensure I’m successfully building that trust and strengthening that relationship and this was the perfect “boot camp” to get it done.

I don’t mean to imply that it was confrontational in its approach, but that it was an honest, professional, at times tough, process. Working through confrontation, managing expectations, establishing rapport, and being empathetic are just facts of life and the sooner you can learn to harness that, the more you’re bringing to the table. I appreciate tremendously the opportunity to get into and explore that headspace.

I could go on and on about how much personal growth you can cram into a week, but suffice to say, I can’t think of a time when I’ve been so personally and professionally challenged to push myself in new (and sometimes uncomfortable) ways. But man, do you come out the other side a better person…

Just like my experience with Leadership Grand Strand, the people I met and became friends with are going to wind up being lifelong friends. We’ve already got a standing Skype meeting every month to catch up and I find myself keenly into what all my fellow Maestros are up to.

Here it is the beginning of February and I’ve already had an experience that I think is going to be difficult to top!