Innovation is alive and well and living at Cortex

I went to an Open House Friday night that completely opened my eyes to the tremendous possibilities that could await the St. Louis metropolitan region if we could ever get our collective act together.

Initially, I thought I was merely attending an Open House for Manifest Digital, located in the @4240 Cortex building. I had been told the whole building was having an Open House and entered the evening expecting to have a beer or two, chow down on whatever appetizers might be available, check out the new Manifest digs and then be on my way.

Three-and-a-half hours later, I left, still wondering exactly what it was that I had just experienced.

The entire building was packed – a total mix of young and old, all races, all types, all mingling together in what seemed to me to be a carnival-type atmosphere of technology on display.

I had heard bits and pieces of the Cortex concept but was far from dialed in as to what it’s all about.

The overall correct name is Cortex Innovation Community (, which calls itself mid-America’s premiere hub for bioscience and technology research, development and commercialization.

All were on display Friday night. When you checked in, they gave you a wrist band – which, if you got it scanned at any of the stations around the building, would automatically enter you to win some hi-tech door prizes.

I walked up to a bar, asked what they were serving and was given some type of vodka drink that contained a Swedish fish and dry ice that made the whole thing bubble and steam. It’s one of the few times I was ever intimidated by a drink.

I began to make my way around. Boeing has an office there – it’s their internal idea incubator. On display was a flight simulator which I decided to try and it quickly reminded me why I never chose being an airline pilot as my career path.

The space at Manifest is very cool and very non-traditional. Everyone is out in the open, working side-by-side. There’s a huge video wall in the center that can be broken down into quadrants showcasing news and updates from the social media world, all tracking their existing client base, giving real-time capsules of what’s going on throughout the day. Collaboration is key and the open-space environment encourages that.

I quickly discovered that’s pretty much how the entire building works and is one of the key concepts behind the whole innovation district.

There are a lot of shared spaces throughout the building. At lunchtime, they use a lot of these to host idea exchanges – where people from different companies can talk about what they’re working on or the challenges they’re facing and get ideas or input on potential solutions. Everybody’s doing their own thing, but everybody is also totally in to helping out if they can.

There were students everywhere. I spoke to a recent graduate from Rolla who was engaging engineering students to build robots that perform a variety of tasks. I spoke to students from SLU, Wash U and UMSL – all who were working in one way or another at a lot of the startups located throughout the building.

And there were plenty of startups on display. That’s part of the concept – get established technology companies to locate there. But also make it easy and affordable for start-ups and entrepreneurs to utilize space and encourage knowledge-sharing so that ideas can flourish.

The location of the Cortex campus is a huge asset as well. Mass transit is key and soon there will be a new exit off of Highway 40 that feeds right into the area. Metrolink will also soon have a station and mixed-use housing is being developed while neighborhoods in the surrounding areas are all getting an influx of new occupants who want to be close to where they work.

Overall, the area represents a potential $2.1 billion in development, $100 million in public infrastructure and could lead to 13,000 new jobs – all on the premise that we sure can accomplish a lot more when we work together.

What a concept!

If only we could get such cooperation between the city and county. If only we could forget about all the little fiefdoms that exist throughout this region and recognize the fact that when we work as one, we grow as one.

St. Louis needs forward thinkers to step up.

It’s totally happening in some areas. It’s severely lacking in others.

Let’s GrOw, St. Louis.


Viagra and Hardee’s: please get out of my living room

Now that the Cardinals season has come to an end, at least I’ll get a break from seeing endless showings of Viagra’s commercial with the British blonde ( and Hardee’s spot featuring the Mile High Club (

They say you need to see a message about three times before it sinks in. Three times every game though, is truly bordering on obnoxious.

The British gal in the Viagra spot is so in-your-face, especially on a big screen when you’ve got the volume up and everyone gathered around to watch the game. I’m sorry, Miss Beaumont (her name is Linette Beaumont), I just don’t want to hear you talking about the difficulties of keeping an erection between innings or during TV timeouts with football games. But there she is, over and over again.

It’s the first time Pfizer has used a woman to deliver a Viagra sales message. Though I can’t really disagree with that strategy, I would like to strangle the media buyer that feels we need to see the commercial 30+ times to register her sales pitch. Enough already!

Then there’s Hardee’s (Carl’s Jr. in other parts of the country) that continues to use sex to sell burgers. That’s been their strategy for years so it must be working. Again, I must admit, they certainly are memorable – but shown over and over again it all gets to be a little too over-the-top.

In this one we’ve got model/actress Bar Paly (soon to be a household name, I’m sure) who asks her boyfriend if he wants to join the Mile High Club. He’s not interested so then she seductively leans across the aisle and asks an unsuspecting younger businessman. He happily agrees and she then whips out two giant burgers stuffed with everything (each containing 1190 calories and 80 grams of fat). I’ll bet Bar doesn’t slam down too many of those in a week to keep her Mile High figure intact.

It’s really a sex-packed commercial break when you get these two spots running back-to-back which I have seen a few times. Throw in a few Cialis commercials reminding you that if you have an erection that lasts four hours or longer, you better see a doctor and you are absolutely thrilled by the time they get back to the game.

Of course, I guess this is better than watching the Rob Lowe Direct TV commercials over and over again. (Get ready for a new version featuring ‘Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe’ – coming soon to a game near you.)

Maybe the biggest problem is there just aren’t enough broadcast advertisers out there anymore. So we see the same spots time after time after time.

We need a commercial break.

Now excuse me, I’m heading out on a Hardee’s run before I get back and have a talk with my honey.

GE makes me say, ‘Gee’ again

This past weekend I saw not just one, but two, totally different commercials for GE that were so much fun to watch, I simply had to go online and see them again.

So now, I’m sharing them with any of you that have yet to see them. The first one, “The Boy Who Beeps” had me hooked on the story from the first few frames.

A woman gives birth and instead of crying, her newborn emits a little beep. The nurse assures her everything will be all right.

The baby turns into a toddler, beeping to turn things on and off. We see the young boy as his beeping powers progress, set to the laid-back instrumental tunes of Beck. The casting is awesome, the boy is charming – and he uses his charming power to win the heart of a girl.

Next thing we know, he’s turning the grid back on during a blackout and his powers are discovered by the world as he helps get all sorts of industry working in sync again.

The spot closes with the boy and his new girlfriend gazing up at the stars in his backyard. He beeps and powers off the lights so that they both can enjoy the light show and on comes a super, “When you speak the language of industry, the conversation can change the world.” Bring on the GE logo.

I don’t know exactly what it all means other than that GE is working to get things synchronized through technology.

It’s powerful story-telling done in a big budget way.

BBDO has always been masters of the big budget production. This commercial was more like a movie than it was a commercial and for that, I salute GE. They get it.

Boy do they get it – as later this weekend I was watching some football game and on comes this action adventure commercial. It’s called “Thrillingly Predictable” and again, they had me from the opening scene.

This guy is being chased by obvious bad guys and the British voice in his headset is telling him exactly where to go, leading up to him jumping off a bridge and onto a moving train – all running right on time thanks to GE technology. The commercial ends, another spot follows and surprise – the chase resumes as there’s a sequel that makes more points about how quick thinking traffic lights and self-correcting power grids make the world predictable. Thrillingly unpredictable.

Fun. Perfectly directed, well-executed and a total product demonstration turned into an entertaining story that was so good, I’m writing about it this very moment.

That’s the power of advertising in today’s world – one great commercial can create more than word of mouth.

It also gets backed by blog.

(If you’re wondering about the “‘GEE’ again” part, I wrote about a previous GE/BBDO effort back on April 24, 2013. … Looks like they got me again.)

Great job, GE.