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Digitas NewFront Extolls the Power of Now, Focuses on the Message

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The Digitas NewFront is the heart of NewFront Week, and this year it felt like an antidote. Rather than hyping planned projects or encouraging brands to buy ads, Digitas chose to focus on the message. The message this year is that brands need to live in real-time, responding authentically to events as they happen and using communications tools effectively.

The theme for this year's event was "Your brand is alive," and the varied discussions taking place on stage revolved around the idea that brands need to stay present in their customers' worlds and play a natural role in online conversations. Tech leaders took the stage, as opposed to usual Digitas mix of techies and celebs.

Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff gave the event a brilliant start by describing the inspiration for his latest book, Present Shock. Watching "The Real Housewives of Orange County" (yes, Rushkoff watches "Real Housewives") he wondered why the ladies fight all the time. He concluded it was because they were so heavily botoxed that their faces could no longer convey emotion. Because of that, they constantly misread each other. By trying to pin themselves at 29, he said, they were forsaking their present. Extrapolating that idea, he said that brands did the same when they tried to live in an inspirational brand mythology rather than embracing their place in the real-time world.

“Put down the Botox and join real life," Rushkoff encouraged the audience.

Later in the afternoon, Adam Bain, president of global revenue for Twitter, spoke about how brands can use video in unusual and effective ways. Brands need great storytelling, he said, "A focus on being good, as opposed to just being loud." Showing a clever use of Twitter's Vine app, Bain told how Taco Bell is creating a rockumentary of a South by Southwest concert using fan-created tweets and Vine videos.

Force of nature Arianna Huffington took the stage to share some "megatrends" she had been noticing. Megatrend one is that we're moving from a world of presentation to participation. "Self-expression is the new entertainment," Huffington said. The second megatrend is that it's now all about global. Brands now have to be global, she said, adding that in the social-sharing global world there are no hierarchies: only quality matters, Huffington said.

Huffington finished out her time by bringing out Tony Weisman, Digitas's CEO for North America, and announcing a partnership between the two companies. The new Brand as Newsroom platform will let customers of Digitas publish sponsored stories on the Huffington Post within two hours of upload.

In a thought-provoking presentation, Eric Hippeau, managing director for Lerer Ventures, argued that the CMO should be the new CTO. By that, he meant "consumer technology officer." CMOs need to immerse themselves in the day's consumer technology, he said, and surround themselves with a staff of coders, hackers, and other "digital natives." If the CMO doesn't lead the way on consumer technology, Hippeau asked, who in the organization would?

The day's discussions ended with actor and comedian Steve Martin (the one celeb on the roster) talking to a Billboard editor about Twitter. Martin then played a mournful banjo song for the audience and plugged his new album. Even Martin admitted that he didn't belong at this event, but no one minded because he was hilarious and his music was great. That's one way to get people in the moment, living in real-time.

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