Ad:Tech Opening Keynote: Not Impossible – How Brands Will Change The World


Good morning, friends!

Where are we? I don’t know where you are, but I’m at Ad:Tech NY where we’ll be liveblogging the goodness coming out of all the sessions. It’s going to be  an information-packed couple of days so I’d recommend subscribing to the blog now. You’re not going to want to miss anything.

Up first we have our morning keynote with our host Lori Schwartz and speakers Mick Ebeling, Brian Monahan and Babs Rangaiah. This session gets the exceptionally long title of “Not Impossible – How Brands Will Change the World with Mick Ebeling and Igniting Innovation In Your Brand,” so I hope you’ve already had your morning coffee. Because, if not, you probably fell asleep.

Oh, they’re starting. Let’s jump in!

Lori says we’re living in a world of exponential growth. Change is happening all the time. Brands need to be constantly looking at what’s going on or you’ll end up on the linear path to doom [that sounds terrible]. If you don’t keep up with what’s going on, you’ll be outpaced by your competitors. What’s the next big thing? The idea that creative and technology are working together like they never have before. These people used to be separate. They’d eat separately, not hang out and make fun of each other. But now there is a LOVEFEST happening between creative and technology. They’re coming together. That’s nice.

Mick Ebeling is going to kick things off for us, talking about the work he’s done with No Impossible Labs. He comes from a production background and now he’s using creative technology solutions to solve business problems.

Mick’s gonna tell us a story. He wants to talk about how brands will change the world. He ends up telling us quite a few great stories.

Not Impossible Labs started because Mick met Tempt. He’s a graffiti artist who came down with ALS – which we’ve now all heard of because of the IceBucketChallenge. This really touched Mick. His production company decided that, instead of giving clients gifts for the holidays that they’ll forget about it (like fruit baskets), they’d donate money to ALS and Tempt’s family. When they passed on the donations to Tempt’s family, Mick asked how they planned to use it. Tempt’s family said they wanted to use it to find a better way to communicate with Tempt. They couldn’t afford fancy machines, so they used a letter board system. Here, they would point to a letter and every time they got the right letter, Tempt would blink. They’d use that to slowly string together conversations.

This touched Mick. He wanted to get Tempt’s family a “Stephen Hawking machine.” They were going to commit to doing it, and then figure out how. And they were going to help him be able to draw again.

Mick’s work process is to surround himself with brilliant people. If you’re the dumbest guy in the room, you’re the one learning. They wanted to create a machine that tracked the movement of the eye. The eye becomes the pencil.  They came up with a device to help them do that – the eyewriter. It tracks the pupil. They went to Tempt’s hospital room to try it out. It worked. Tempt drew again for the first time in seven years. And that was it. They went to bed. They had done it. It was finished. Or so they thought.

When Mick woke up the next day, their invention was in Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2010. And the media went crazy.

Lesson: You take technology and you hack it and you use it to serve a basic human need.

July 11, 2013 was his chapter two. He went out to dinner and learned about Dr. Tom. He lives in an area between Sudan and S. Sudan. He’s the only doctor in a 1,500 mile radius. He does everything. Mick went home and flipped open the computer and found an article about him. It talked about how, in the area, the government of Sudan runs bombing missions over the people who live there. What they do is they roll drums filled with fuel and shrapnel onto the communities. They destroy everything. The story went on about this boy named Daniel. He was out feeding his family’s goats. He hid behind a tree when he heard the bombs come. The tree protected his body but the bomb blew his arms off. He got to Dr. Tom and Daniel said, “if I could die, I would. I’m going to be such a burden to my family.”  This really touched Mick. He couldn’t imagine his own kids thinking that. That was his kick in the gut to say he’s got to do something.

He committed. And then he figured it out.

He invited a bunch of people to his house that make him feel stupid. They start to hack. They started to “geek out” with 3D printers. They started playing with laser cutting. The entire weekend they hacked and made a bunch of stuff – it was a complete failure. Or a success in that they found out what didn’t work. Intel underwrote what they were doing. At the time he had never 3D printed successfully. They continued playing. He figures out how to make a single arm. He flies to Sudan to meet Daniel.

When he gets there, he’s told he can’t go any further because the cease fire in Sudan had ended. Instead, they took over a shed and started working there. Everything that could go wrong did. The electricity was wrong. It was so hot the 3D printing process didn’t work. They had to start printing at night when it was cooler. This worked…but the light attracted moths which became attached to the printer.

But, eventually, they got it. And they were able to teach the locals how to recreate the process.

It’s technology for the sake of humanity.

They are now in the Maker & DIY space. Their inventions fall on the healthcare side of things. They’re also playing in spaces like water. And food. And shelter. They’re not looking at it from a big corporate thinking. They’re looking at it as, “what can we do as individuals to make the world a better place?” It’s about innovation with purpose.

We can all make LEGOS. And LEGOS are amazing. But the things they do accomplish the needs people have. They’re making the “Stephen Hawkings Machine.” He shares some other projects he’s working on. They are all things that would equally blow your mind and restore your faith in humanity.

When we’re making these things, if you use clinical trials, it can take years. The stuff they do, they can go from their workbench to bedside in weeks, which they did with the eyewriter. The reason is there’s always a why for what they’re doing. Someone needs this thing so there’s a sense of urgency.

On May 1, 2014 they launched Not Impossible Now where they tell the stories of people making incredible stuff.

On June 14, 2014, they had just launched the site. It was award season. They won a bunch of really impressive awards. They won five Lions at Cannes. It proved that doing good is good business. He didn’t go to Sudan to win an award. It was awesome they did, but that wasn’t the intention. Doing good is good branding. This is what they’re saying to brands – this is good, DO this. Underwrite these things. Not because it makes you feel good. Not because it’s good for the world. Do it because it’s good for the brand.  It will help their stock prices. And they’ll think, oh, we want to do this again. [I get what he’s saying, but this feels like the most backwards idea ever.]

This taught him about the power of one. They have a lens they look through. It’s called, “help one. help many.” We don’t feel confident we can end hunger. But we feel confident we can get a homeless guy a sandwich.

As a brand, who is your one? How can you help one person, and then make that so it helps many people? Who is your Daniel? I love that question so hard.

Next up, we have Brian Monahan and Babs Rangaiah. Mick is going to join them.

Lori: What are you doing at Walmart now?

Brian: He’s VP of Marketing at He’s a recovering media planner. He’s responsible for brand strategy and customer acquisition.

How is Walmart approaching innovation? 

Brian: Like Mick showed, it starts with a mission. Having a mission is a really powerful thing. It inspires people to do more. They want to help people save money and live better to raise the standard of living for regular folks. The challenge for us is how to do you keep delivering on that mission.  How do you do that when you touch 250m customers around the world and you’re serving customers in this omnichannel retail way? You have to build a giant personalization engine and use data and technology.

Walmart is a house of brands. They have created a partnership with others. You can take anonymized Walmart customer data and build your target audience. You can then deliver ads on or other media efforts and measure, in real time, the SKU lift in Walmart stores or on That’s another example of how they are trying to reinvent what has made their business successful. [Not quite making arms for children in war-torn Sudan, but still pretty cool]

Lori: Tell us about your role at UniLever?

Babs: His work is focused on strategy. It’s about making people understand the key barriers and then going and and creating a strategy with enablers. The enablers part is key. It’s not just the strategy. It’s how you’re going to make it possible. [Love that last point – the strategy only goes so far, it’s also how you’re implementing!]

Lori: So you’ve created a real road map. Are you seeing any trends?

Babs: He uses the acronym MVP – Made for mobile, Visually social, Personalized. [Oh crap, I just fell in love again. That’s so smart it hurts.] Babs brings a video to show personalization. It was a campaign built off the idea of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. The way it worked is that when people saw an ad on Facebook that didn’t represent real beauty (“Have a muffin top?,” “Lose weight in 5 easy steps!”) they could replace it with a message they created and then all of their FB friends would see that ad. It let people displace negative ads on Facebook and replace them with positive ones.

Lori: I love that we’re using tech to get out a good message.

Babs: It’s more than that. It’s capitalizing on great opportunities. This capitalized on sharing, personalization and user-generated content, and creates something that is tailored for this new media – which really isn’t new anymore.

Brian: What I love is that you kind of hacked an existing ad platform. It’s something we try to do at Walmart where we embrace growth hacking. If you want to color outside the lines, you can’t buy commodity products. By definition, it’s non-differentiated.

Lori: How do you keep up with all this new stuff? Is it about being based in Silicon Valley? […said to a NY audience…]

Mick: We hack stuff.

Brian: Global eCommerce is the only part of Walmart not headquartered in Arkansas. We try to be physically present in communities that have a great swirl.

Babs: Our road map encompasses keeping up with what’s happening. We dont have to chase after every little thing. But we have a leadership program that prioritizes going to events to learn.

Brian: Data is becoming the way we operate. It’s how we power everything, marketing is just one part of that.

Lori: What’s the new trend you’re most excited about?

Babs: There’s a number of things I’m looking at. I think the Apple Watch is going to be transformational when it launches. What Apple will do is mainstream it. Even if the Watch isn’t the great thing right out of the gate, it will be a transformational thing. Education will be the next great disruption. The cost and lack of flexibility is not sustainable. In the next five years, you’ll see that space being disrupted.

Brian: I’m a retailer with holiday on the brain. Digitally-connected toys get him excited. It’s a new way of reinventing what the toy is.

Mick: Right now there’s this whole move from bits to atoms. His 7-year-old could 3D print before he could read. It’s an ability to make anything that you want. The other day, he said to his son, “Let’s go get this thing!” And his son asked, “Why don’t we just print it?” That’s huge. Mick also thinks you’re going to see the biggest issues solved in the smallest ways.

And we’re done! We’re only one session into Ad:Tech NY and we’re already talking about changing the world! Stick with us today.