Michael Lebowitz

Founder and CEO
Big Spaceship

To Innovate, Remember to Keep Exploring What We Don’t Know

We’re at a crucial moment in history for our industry, and I’m worried that we’re getting a little too good at this. Nothing stands still for long and complacency is the enemy.

Here’s what I mean: Twenty years ago at the outset of the commercial web there were no best practices. The tools were terrible. There were no standards and the browsers were awful. But our attitude was “Let’s figure this out.” And we did figure it out. It was a powerful thing.

Carry that forward to today and we’re in a world where we have so many tools, so much technology, and even more data than ever—and that’s where the danger lies.

All too often, we think we’ve figured out interactive advertising, and in many cases we have. It’s no longer an experimental field with agencies fighting for pennies to demonstrate the worth of the medium. Digital is part of everything we do now, and a handful of platforms and technologies have led the media for years. But we can’t rest.

This year, the IAB MIXX Awards 2015 Gold Winners showed a deep understanding of what works and why in digital advertising, and yet they also broke the mold. They embraced new technologies and new applications of data to tell moving stories. They inspired people not just to action, but participation. They challenged pronouncements about what the industry is and isn’t—and what conflicts and relationships define it—to break new ground.

This year’s MIXX Awards Best in Show winner in particular, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, seized the kind of opportunity I’m talking about. Instead of buying their way into people’s consciousness, they saw an opening to tap into something in an organic way and add an accelerant.

The ALS campaign took an idea and made it humorous, fun, and replicable. Instead of finding a formula that everyone else has tried, they found something familiar that was ritualistic, repeatable, and in tune with human behavior and our culture—and that was also different each time someone participated and that people wanted to share. The ALS campaign captured the power of what’s possible by finding ways of existing inside culture naturally, instead of trying to take a primary role.

Yes, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a special case for a great cause, and it won’t be easy for brands to capture that kind of success. But it illustrates just one of the ways we should be looking for interesting ideas and frameworks and to be part of the conversation.

Jeff Bezos has this wonderful quote: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Too much of our work today focuses on interrupting people and grabbing their attention while we’re in the room. We should think of our work as the fuseand what happens next is where the interesting and explosive opportunities happen. It’s a big mental shift.

Consumer expectations of online experiences are constantly changing. We must tirelessly innovate and elevate these experiences to make meaningful and lasting connections with people.

The key is to remember what we don’t know—and keep exploring.

Michael Lebowitz is the Founder and CEO of Big Spaceship and chaired the 2015 IAB MIXX Awards jury.