Ninemsn’s ‘Fast Forward 5 Digital Marketing Summit was a flashy affair at Sydney’s Luna Park yesterday. The bright, bold and loud conference pulled together some great presentations from digital marketers, a cameo from Channel 9’s Kerri-Anne Kennerly, and, thankfully, not too much self-promotion.

It was an intriguing day, and got underway with an attention-grabbing presentation from Microsoft’s corporate vice president of global advertising sales, Carolyn Everson.

Everson, an Ex- MTV Networks CEO, started off with some slides showing just how big ninemsn is, and how many pies they’ve got their fingers in. Fittingly for a digital conference, phone displays lit up the room from audience members raking through emails, tweeting and just generally not paying attention. Then, someone from the crowd interjected and complained that the focus so far was on Microsoft and not on creativity and branding. Everson seemed not to know how to take it, it was awkward and looked like a horrible way to kick off the summit. Everson sighed to herself “but… I love brands.” There was silence, then after about three more awkward seconds, someone snapped from the front row “music!” and the fat beats of Lady Gaga’s ‘Just Dance’ blasted out. Three scantily-clad “singers” strutted down the stairs and on to the stage and sung some modified lyrics to the song, changing the chorus to “Just Brands”.

Strangely, Everson made the whole charade less weird by embracing it and dancing with the performers. The stunt was as genuinely funny as it was embarrassing, but proved a brilliant way to get everyone’s attention. The audience put away the phones after that, at least for five minutes.

Everson ended up delivering a compelling speech looking at digital from a global perspective, and offered some great pointers for brands wanting to engage consumers online. She also showed off some new smartphone-interactive online car ads from the US, and told the audience to always customise campaigns for digital, not just run a TVC and hope it goes viral.

Everson concluded by re-iterating her belief that it is ideas, not the technology, that matters most. It is just technology’s job to make the creative come to life.

The advice from top American digital minds continued, with a well-received talk from the director of The Centre For The Digital Future, Jeffery Cole.

Some insights Cole dished out included telling bosses not to worry so much about employees using Facebook. Cole’s research showed technology was making people work more than ever, and for every hour employees spend in the office on Facebook or doing personal stuff, they spend three hours at home doing work.

When pressed on the future fall of Facebook and a consumer move on to a new service, Cole predicted that it would probably be 4 or 5 years before Facebook began to fragment.

He also said the recent and rapid evolution of Facebook programs made Google feel stiff competition.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Google nervous,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve seen an entire network experience that doesn’t involve Google.”

Continued in Part 2