The Advertising Apprentice

January 30, 2015

Insight from 2015 Change Makers Conference

On Tuesday I had the distinct pleasure of attending of the 2015 Change Makers Conference. The conference brings together advertisers and marketers to talk about innovative campaigns that address, predominantly social, issues such as mental health, gambling, smoking, cancer, and texting & driving, to name a few.

I found that all six of the speakers were able to effectively provide some insight for those in attendance on ways the advertising community can make change happen. The speakers were also able to highlight examples of campaigns and spots that have done it right, in that they’ve affected change in powerful ways. We heard about a Brazilian billionaire who wanted to bury his Bentley, an Amsterdam hotel that prides itself in not being a clean hotel, and the first observed instance of monkey prostitution. And no, I’m not kidding about that last part!!

The six speakers at the 2015 Change Makers Conference were:

  • Marc Stoiber, Creative Strategist, Entrepreneur and Writer
  • Phillip Haid, Co-Founder and CEO of Public Inc.
  • Terry O’Reilly, Writer & Director at Pirate Toronto
  • Karen Howe, Senior Vice President & Creative Director of One Advertising
  • Tracy Danicich, Vice President/Campaign Director at the U.S. Ad Council
  • Stephen J. Dubner, Author

I’m one of those people that when I go to a conference or lecture I’m always taking copious amounts of notes because I really don’t want to miss any of the insight and wisdom that’s shared with the audience. (If you haven’t picked up from my previous entries, I love insight and value it so incredibly much. It’s something I’ve sought to cultivate since reading Phil Dusenberry’s One Great Insight is Worth a Thousand Ideas.) The benefit of my note-taking for this entry is that I’ll highlight the insight I gained from each of the speakers and I’ll also include some of the memorable ads/campaigns they talked about.

Marc Stoiber

Have you heard of the company Smith Corona? No, they’re not the founders of Corona beer! Marc Stoiber called them the most innovative company of the 20th century. In 1989 the company was worth $500 million, but by 1995 they were bankrupt. The reason according to Stoiber is that they forgot their sense of purpose and whom they were trying to appeal to.

In his speech, Stoiber described brands as, “They’re like the bow of a ship. Build a good brand and it will pull everything else along.” I love this. While I’m not someone that’s very fond of boats, I love this metaphor because of how it conveys the importance of any given brand.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

His speech also talked about how increasingly people’s needs are rising in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As such he provided several examples of ads that are empowering consumers to do more. Empowering is the key word in that sentence; Stoiber noted that it’s important now for brands to tap into the need to self-actualize and achieve a higher order of meaning. Two really awesome examples he brought up were Nike’s Find Your Greatness and Apple’s Here’s to the Crazy Ones:

Nike – Find Your Greatness

Phillip Haid

Phillip Haid’s speech was all about engaging consumers. He’s of the opinion that we need to give the consumer a reason (incentive) to take action. I agree with this position. I find that with the busy lifestyle I have there’s nowhere near enough hours in a day, so if an ad wants me to take some sort of action, there better be something in it for me! Haid then gave 10 tips on ways to engage customers. Tips such as, “Make it Simple” or “Make it Fun” or “Give me a reason to do it”.

For Make it Simple, Haid gave the example of Telus’ Go Pink campaign, which was launched in 2009. For every user that created “an online, shareable photo gallery of their best friends”, Telus donated $1 to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. This is a great example because it’s something very simple that people can do to show that they support the cause.

For Make it Fun, Haid talked about the Fun Theory and the example of how in 2011 a piano staircase was setup next to a Sweden subway escalator. Would people choose to have fun and make music or would they continue to take the escalator? As is noted in the video below there was a 66% in people that chose the stairs over the escalator.

Finally for Give me a Reason to do it; Haid gave the example of Movember. Ah yes, the month that has become synonymous with hairy faces in the name of raising funds and awareness for men’s health. Since 2004 the Movember movement has raised $574 million and funded 800 programs in 21 countries. Now there’s a darn good reason to grow some facial hair in November, with possibly the added benefit of upsetting your significant other!

Haid’s speech ended by saying that failure equals success and he quoted Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I like this approach of advocating for failure. It’s not to say that you should actively try to fail every time, but take a chance, go for it, see what happens. If you fail, then you’ve just found one way that doesn’t work.

Terry O’Reilly

Terry O’Reilly’s speech focused on two things: counter-intuitive thinking and execution of superb strategy. He talked about not restricting yourself by thinking within the confines of your (product) category. He said there are three elements to a great strategy, “the strategy is a battle plan. A strategy must be meaningful. A strategy is born of intuition.” Basically it’s all about creating a culture that celebrates intuition, so trust your gut. As cliché as it may be, think outside the box.

One example of social change O’Reilly mentioned came from Chicago where to combat the issue of speeding on Lake Shore Drive, in September 2006 the city painted lines on the road to give motorists the illusion they were going faster in the hopes of slowing them down. You can read more about it here.

Another example he gave of counter-intuitive thinking is the Paris Metro system. They faced the problem of low ridership. Instead of trying to affect the views of the riders, the Paris Transit Authority took the counter-intuitive approach of changing the way they viewed their riders. One change they made was instead of calling them riders they began calling them customers. That combined with some internal changes completely altered the way the Parisian commuters viewed them externally. It sounds like they did a SWOT analysis. Remember that from your first year marketing class? Internally you examine you strengths and weaknesses while looking at your external opportunities and threats.

He also talked about the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel in Amsterdam. About a decade ago when everyone was feverishly using hand-sanitizer, the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel counter-intuitively published this ad:

Hans Brinker Budget Hotel – Improve Your Immune System

As O’Reilly mentioned the hotel took the unusual step of being authentic and managing expectations. O’Reilly noted that from this campaign bookings rose 35%.

I’ve made no attempt to hide in the past that I’m a huge Terry O’Reilly fan; every interaction I’ve with him has been nothing but very pleasant. He’s a legend in Canadian advertising but always makes time to for the up-and-comers. I had a little fanboy moment when I approached him and had him sign my copy of The Age of Persuasion. It was very surreal to be chatting with someone I’ve idolized for close to a decade. If you’re reading this, thanks Terry for making my month!

Karen Howe

The central theme for Karen Howe’s speech was how creativity makes the world a better place. She wants her peersto use creativity to tackle some of the most fundamental social issues we face. She noted that one way we can do this is by personalizing the issue to make sure people can relate. To show this she played the following YouTube video from

Not only does this video offer a humorous take on climate change, it certainly personalizes the issue.

Brazilian Billionaire Buries Bentley

Howe also talked about Brazilian billionaire Count Chiquinho Scarpa who wanted to bury his $500,000 Bentley. Why would he want to do such a thing? To raise awareness for the need for organ donation. The stunt worked and as this link details, there was a 31.5% increase in organ donation in the month after Scarpa’s true intentions were revealed.

Howe offered an empowering closing message, “in order to create change you must shake it up with creativity.”

One final note on Howe’s speech; she mentioned that there is lots of creativity coming out of New Zealand, so kudos to all you kiwis!

Tracy Danicich

Tracy Danicich from the American Ad Council spoke next. She provided an overview of what Ad Council does and highlighted some of their recent television public service announcements. For example, the following spot from the American Heart Foundation:

I really like this video because it grabs your attention and is empowering for women but it also nicely frames the issue of heart disease and stroke in women.

Danicich then discussed two case-studies, Smokey the Bear and 2min2x, which is all about encouraging kids to brush their teeth for 2 minutes, twice a day.

The Smokey the Bear campaign is all about fire prevention and it’s the longest running public service announcement campaign; it was launched in 1944. Danicich talked about how the Ad Council over the decades has faced the challenge of modernizing Smokey. A couple years ago they released a spot with a modern-looking Smokey that included a bear-hug. She was quite proud of how the Ad Council has evolved the strategy surrounding Smokey the Bear and managed to keep him relevant for over 70 years.

Stephen J. Dubner

Unlike the other speakers at the conference Stephen J. Dubner didn’t have a PowerPoint presentation with him, nor did he show the audience spots of ads that are doing it right. It was just him in the center of the room speaking to 300 people without any speaking aids. And yet he was probably the most entertaining speaker of the day. His background in economics drove his speech. He talked about how the use of data is great for understanding what makes people do the things they do, and how you shouldn’t rely too much on what people say they’re going to do because they’re likely to say one thing, but do something different, which be understood by revealed preferences vs. actual preferences. For this reason, Dubner says that a sense of belonging and the herd mentality matters greatly in affecting change. People have the mindset that they should do something because everyone else is doing it.

According to Dubner, we are living in an extremely altruistic time characterized by warm-glow altruism which is what people feel after donating to a cause. To illustrate the altruism in society, Dubner spoke about the counter-intuitive approach used by charity Smile Train in their once-and-done campaign. Basically the charity sent out a direct-mail piece and donors could choose one of three boxes: donate and never hear back again, donate and hear back from Smile Train on a limited basis, or donate and hear from the charity throughout the course of the year, which amounted to about 18 times. Surprisingly fewer than a third of donors chose the once-and-done opt-out and even more shocking was that Smile Train saw a 46% increase in donations from the campaign. Dubner suggested that the reason for the success of the once-and-done campaign was that it shifted the framework from a financial one to a collaborative framework. People felt empowered in a way they’ve never felt before.

If you’re still reading it could be because you want to see what I was talking about at the start of the entry when I mentioned monkey prostitution. The conference ended on a humourous note. Dubner talked about Yale economist, Keith Chen, who was doing research that taught monkeys how to use currency. The Coles Notes story of what happened is that one day of the monkeys exchanged the currency the researchers were using, to have sex with another monkey. That monkey then used it to buy some fruit! If you want to read more about it, check out this article from ZME Science. That’s the last item discussed at the conference, monkey prostitution!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the conference and as the post above shows, I learned so much. It was a great experience to be in the same room with so many talented people, gain some valuable insight and hear about examples of ads and campaigns that show how to make change happen. There are several other examples from the conference of great spots that have been effective in affecting change and I plan to highlight them in upcoming entries.


Blog at