TED Looks for the Second Batch of ‘Ads Worth Spreading’

Organizer promises this will be more than an awards show

TED, the conference famous for showcasing "ideas worth spreading," has been taking on a new challenge—searching for and highlighting worthy ads. Today, TED is announcing the second round of its Ads Worth Spreading program, which will ultimately result in 10 ads showcased at the 2012 conference and on the TED.com website.

Ronda Carnegie, the organization's head of global partnerships, said the program's goal is to promote a "new idea of what advertising could be." It's not just about doing good in a narrowly defined sense. The chosen ads don't have to focus on altruistic causes, she said, but they should tell a compelling story—the program is, in part, about "the notion of valuing human attention." As an example, Carnegie pointed to one of the previous winners, Wieden + Kennedy's "Born of Fire" ad for Chrysler, which makes the case for the rebirth of the American auto industry.

As with any new program, TED is still tweaking the details. This time it has created six teams that pair up someone from the TED community (someone who has spoken at the conference or was named a "TED Fellow") with representatives from the ad world (specifically from Prime PR Stockholm, Missing Pieces, Wieden + Kennedy, JWT, TBWA/Chiat/New York, and Stink Digital London). Another 24 "advocates" from the ad industry will also nominate worthy ads. And anyone else can submit nominations at TED.com, starting on Oct. 15.

For the second round, TED is emphasizing the idea of "curation," rather than calling the final 10 ads the winners. That may seem like a question of semantics, but both Carnegie and advocate David Droga (creative chairman of the Droga5 agency) say this frees the nominators from just choosing the most polished submissions. Droga says the ad industry has enough awards shows already, so instead of judging the ads by "an awards-show criteria," TED can focus on ideas and innovation.

The final 10 ads will be announced at the TED conference in March, and TED will also run them on its site in place of its normal advertising. Since TED is a nonprofit, Carnegie said it's free to use its significant reach (it has now served more than 500 million video views) without worrying about the financial bottom line.

Carnegie adds that while many of the initial winners showcased the power of traditional cinematic storytelling, she's hoping the next batch will fuse that storytelling with a more interactive, participatory approach. Droga agrees.

"I don't think you can predetermine where it's going, but as long as it's open to that, fantastic," he said.