Close-Up: Live Issue - How advertising can help create a better future

Dave Alberts reports on sharing ideas with thinkers from Al Gore to Matt Groening at the TED conference in Monterey.

"You are about to be hit by a blizzard of incoming ideas. Your mind will be zapped, pinged, prodded and teased from every direction. This can be a powerful experience."

Welcome to TED. I have just returned from Monterey, where I spent four days immersed with 800 of the most interesting, open, intelligent people I have ever met.

TED is a conference about technology, entertainment and design. It is a conference about ideas.

Sixty speakers were given 18 minutes each to talk on the theme: "The future we will create."

Sitting side by side, Google's Sergey Brin, the Tiananmen Square student leader Li Liu, the Simpsons creator Matt Groening and the actress Meg Ryan, each equally impressive in their own special way. The speakers came up on stage one by one and we listened to them share their views.

Not just any speakers, mind you. We were entertained by the likes of the former US vice-president Al Gore; Amnesty International's Peter Gabriel; the motivation man Tony Robbins; the inventor of the $100 computer, Nicholas Negroponte and Pastor Rick Warren, the biggest-selling author of all time and advisor to George Bush.

Then there was Dan Dennett, the world's foremost atheist and the pastor's foremost despiser, the very humorous Sir Ken Robinson, who explained how our education system was closing down creativity in our children, and Richard Baraniuk from Connexions, who spoke about the idea of opening up learning and copyright on a global scale and introduced the concept of a Creative Commons.

We were told that if you wanted to know what society was going to be like in the future, you should ask a kindergarten teacher. That Wal-Mart was now the 22nd-largest economy in the world. That maybe it was time for a world government. And that the way to save the world was to create solutions that were both environmentally and economically sustainable.This was the US at its very best: entrepreneurial, open, creative and on a mission to do something worthwhile.

But to truly explain the scale of TED is to explain the winners of the TED prize and their wishes.

Such as the aptly named Dr Larry Brilliant, the man who single-handedly eradicated smallpox from the face of the earth. His wish was to establish a global early warning system to prevent the outbreak of pandemic flu.

And Architecture for Humanity's Cameron Sinclair, the designer of environmentally sustainable housing for disaster-stricken areas. His wish: to build one billion low-cost houses in the next 12 months.

And finally, Jehane Noujaim, the director of Control Room, a documentary that compared the US Central Command's reporting of the Iraq war with that of the Arab station Al Jazeera's. Her wish: to create a global day of film in order to encourage world peace.

And I spoke about advertising and, to my surprise, people were interested.

I spoke to Gore after he gave his Climate Crisis talk and I mentioned to him that if he could have found a way to communicate his message to more people than were in that room, the planet might not have found itself in the situation it is today, and he might have found himself in the White House.

And I realised that if Majora Carter could find a way to spread her "Green the Ghetto" campaign more effectively, the South Bronx would not be a victim of what she calls environmental racism.

If I introduced Nokia to worldchanging.com's Jamais Cascio, his Earth Witness environmental watchdog programme could become reality.

And if Steve Veron got his friend the Dalai Lama to carry the Olympic Flame across Tibet, it would certainly make a wonderful Kodak Moment.

I am not saying advertising can save the world. However, we do have skills that are unique.

We know how to take a vast amount of knowledge and condense it into a simple, clear communications idea in a way that is interesting and impactful.

In the coming weeks, I will talk more about an idea that was raised by the photographer Gregory Colbert - animal copyright.

Gregory has calculated that he could raise more than $350 million dollars a year by charging advertisers a fee of 1 per cent of production budgets whenever they use an image of an animal in an ad.He will launch the idea officially in January 2007 and already has the support of several large corporations.

Campaign asked me to talk about things that are relevant to the industry.

If TED isn't relevant to our industry, then our industry is no longer relevant.

I recommend TED to everybody who is interested in what the rest of the world is interested in.

On the first day, in the very first session, a woman explained to me how to read palms and I jokingly said that every time I shook hands with somebody at TED it could change my life. I may well have been right.

- Dave Alberts is the chairman and executive creative director of Grey London.

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