Review of the IMMAP Summit 2011 The Digital Shift

Like any other cultural product, the biggest event of the Internet Mobile and Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP) this year is subject to constructive criticism AND praise, especially by a blogger recently charmed by Furedi's search for public intellectuals.
IMMAP's The Digital Shift was an international powerhouse of speakers, personalities and practitioners of this quasi-world we call "digital" that has sifted some of the blue advertising blood to adapt in the real world where virtual has thrived. The sessions can collectively make muscle and teeth to duel with and engage a newly empowered market. After all, "the shift is digital" and the "shift is real," as the event's tagline goes, though it was needless to say. They didn't have to convince this perennially connected crowd about it, but anyway, we like being affirmed.

Secretary Sonny Coloma at IMMAP Summit
speaking about "Philippine Government 2.0"
The digital summit gave us requisite data, trends and case studies to fill our heads and hard drives with. It has also filled two Rockwell movie theaters with gadget goers attending parallel sessions, caffeine-armed and awake from free flowing Starbucks coffee served outside. There's talk after talk on CRM, social, banning "campaigns" to take on "projects," metrics, integration, and the uptrend of mobile as the potential #1 screen.

I do admit there's no way anyone can give a fully legit review on the event since delegates, moi, could only choose one session at a time to attend. At least I never once left the Advanced Track that focused on "the shifting digital trends, both local and global, and how these shifts affect the market."

After listening to digital thought leaders for two days, it occurred to me that the summit, though with muscle and teeth as I've mentioned, lacks wings and a fixed ground to steadily take off from. While the speakers deconstructed consumer insights and "shifts," and generously gave away pragmatic digital points in styles that are TED-worthy, the overall content is a bit short of intellectual rigor and theory.

Are they just consumers?

The general public was referred to as "consumers" armed with digital technologies and a voice to either support or ruin brands. The overall goal is "to engage them," or to digitally interact and experience products and services in most creative ways. This is basically the motherhood idea I took home, and it left me rather starved.

A speaker who advocated Groupon even explained that collective action could topple presidents but can also be transformed to "collective buying power" to demand for discounts--a habit-forming consumerist setup. An agency guy also downplayed the social impact of a successful Miracle Machine outreach campaign for a branded salad dressing. A tech geek also talked about Search Engine Optimization and how Google wipes off listings when sites engage in "black hat" SEO practices. "Gray hat" techniques in the shady side of ethics, are acceptable as long as Google, with its "Don't do evil" policy, doesn't catch you. But ethics or related words, were never referred to, not even a mention of Google's golden rule.

Barney Loehnis in "The Digital Shift" sharing his thoughts on pervasive connectivity and the disadvantages of having empowered consumers. Besides having the potential to become brand advocates, digital consumers can also "spread malice," he said.
Ogilvy's Barney Loehnis almost covered the ground I hoped for, but somewhat fell short. While he emphatically mentioned that "pervasive connectivity" can be "exhausting" and even "inhuman," he did not propose solutions for this. Instead, he championed the use of mobile for the same blurry end.

These and many other sessions left me asking, where's the soul of digital here? Before I got started on a "bring back Jeremiah Owyang" trend of thought, I recalled Will Sansom saying, "The person is in the middle of it all," and this is why digital professionals have to make the technology seamless and the individual experience "transformative of feeling, emotion and behavior."

They are also individuals

"People don't need marketing," Sansom also said early on. What they need is "education and entertainment," he added. His argument relates what people are as individuals, and not just as consumers who can "buy, buy, buy." With this, the Justin Timberlake dead ringer expressed in a few words my qualm with marketing as a field and its relevance to the human condition. Whereas independent journalism has the clear-as-day objective of finding truths and delivering them to people, marketing seems to just highlight the good stuff and understate the unattractive facts.

Keynote speaker Will Sansom of Contagious Communications
sat across me on Day 2.
So to bring in value in marketing, Sansom added that brands have to embrace "the power of philanthropy" and be "out there with a commitment." Being the cynic, I thought consumers can just hope afterwards that a brand's commitment--and intent--is not just to sell to them.

Australian ad man Neil Hudspeth, however, urged (and correctly) that digital content should not be limited to making a brand known and getting people to participate in it. Brands, in the first place, should act with "deed" instead of just giving "word" in aiming to become "purpose brands." Sansom and Hudspeth's talks obviously had the depth to set the tone, but their message didn't fly to permeate the entire event. And sadly.

The talks seemed to me too segmented. Maybe what the yearly summit needs is a lineup that can approximate Clay Shirky or some idea that can take it to the air.  Or a fixed, binding, almost idealistic theme that serves as a worthy common ground.

Now, I wasn't expecting such a practice-driven conference to be as profound as the university events I usually report on, but the IMMAP Summit experience was like eating in a fast food chain. It provided an enjoyable, easy venue to spur and explore ideas and learn about the latest tools and trends. At the same time, it made delegates momentarily satisfied. But at the end of the day, we've really missed out on essential nutritive elements most of us wouldn't bother looking for as long as there's food on the table. #

All photos by Camille Diola. Please cite Creative Commons license for use.