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Why Microsoft Built a Garage for Advertising Week

The tech giant's activation at the industry conference allowed people to tinker with new products in a relaxed setting.

By Beth Kormanik October 14, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

Microsoft's garage activation at New York Advertising Week showed innovative uses of its technology, such as creating custom-printed Converse shoes.

Photo: Cornelia Stiles/BizBash

Microsoft's Garage at Advertising Week
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At Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, employees from across the company can experiment with new ideas at a space dubbed the garage. For an activation at Advertising Week in New York, the technology giant recreated that experience with a stylized take on a garage, offering attendees the chance to tinker with the company's new products.

“The garage is an emotional connection with people as opposed to a product demonstration,” said Josh Munsee, global marketing manager at Microsoft Advertising. “It captures things we have internally at our garage. There's some weirdness there. The garage is doing a lot of cool things.”

The space, set up from September 29 to October 4 in part of the lobby of the Advertising Week headquarters at the Times Center, had three areas for tinkering. In one area, Microsoft offered the chance for people to “tweet with their eyes” using Ability Eye Gaze eye-tracking technology, an innovation that won Microsoft's internal hackathon in August. Using the Surface 3 tablet, the program had users log into their Twitter account and then stare at preloaded phrases and hashtags—examples were “Look … no hands!” and #MicrosoftAdWeek—and then look into the text field on their Twitter account. The text automatically appeared. It was more than a party trick: The technology was developed for former N.F.L. player Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (A.L.S.).

In another area, California-based company the Ave was creating custom Converse sneakers for attendees. The Ave C.E.O. Nick Romero had demonstrated his on-demand printing technology on the TV show Shark Tank and already used Surface tablets at his shop in the design process. Stacy Elliott, senior director of marketing and brand strategy at Microsoft Advertising, saw Romero on the show and sought out the company for the activation. The Ave made 25 pairs of shoes a day at the station. “We want to capture someone's imagination rather than just give them free swag,” said Kyle Ellis of Nacholand, which produced the area for the Ave.

The third area of the activation offered hands-on demonstrations of the new MSN site on two large touch screens. Integrating the activation into its programming, Gleason and Romero were keynote speakers from the main stage. About 100 people per hour came through the site during its run, according to a rep for the company.

“What we want to do is connect with people so they have an experience with us,” Elliott said. “It's about how they feel when they leave.”

To create the look of the space, Munsee said they asked themselves what a garage in New York might look like. The answer was oxidized metal, exposed brick, a Craftsman tool bench, and mounted handsaws, pliers, and wrenches. Microsoft will take a version of the garage to other industry events in the next year such as International C.E.S. and Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

“This space is designed for the media planner and buyer,” Munsee said. “We've gotten better at what they want be seeing and touching and playing with.”

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