TED announces rebrand, invites more conversation (and controversy) at 2024 conference

TED stage showing TED2024 logo ahead of TED Talks

For about 20 years, all of the TED Talks watched online fell under the theme or tagline: “Ideas worth spreading.” 

But as the major media company celebrates its 40th anniversary at TED2024 in Vancouver this week, it also celebrates a slight pivot in its branding. 

On Monday evening, head of TED Chris Anderson unveiled TED’s new tagline: “Ideas change everything.”

TED stage with 3 speakers, with words 'Ideas change everything'
Hosts Chris Anderson, Monique Ruff-Bell, and Helen Walters speak at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

“In a doom-scrolling era, it’s very easy for stuff to be regarded as dopamine hits,” Anderson said in a conversation with the press. “[TED] is not a dopamine hit. Our content matters.”

He said this new tagline is a “more confident assertion” of what TED is and what TED Talks mean.

“When you want to invest in lifelong learning, these ideas change you. These ideas change the world.” 

Crowd of anonymous attendees walk into auditorium
SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

Many long-time TED attendees shared that they welcomed the change, and that the new tagline better represented TED’s role in an online ecosystem where TED Talks compete against countless other sources of ideas. Some expressed that the word “spreading” had become taboo in a COVID-conscious world and were glad to see the updated tagline.

Others expressed indifference over the new tagline.

In a conversation with Good Good Good, one long-time TED supporter expressed concern over one word missing from the updated tagline: Worth. The supporter explained that TED’s removal of this word indicates that the organization doesn’t necessarily endorse every Talk given on its stage but will still platform influential speakers, even when a Talk’s thesis could be harmful. 

But what exactly does this rebrand mean for the actual programming of TED’s flagship conference — and, by extension — its online content? 

Anderson said the approach invites deeper thought about how TED happens. 

“Which ideas do we bring to this stage?” he asked upon welcoming guests to the conference in Vancouver. “Good people can disagree deeply on what the best ideas are.”

The solution, he said, is to invite in a diversity of ideas and to, “listen respectfully, learn, debate, discuss, try to find some common ground.”

“This year at TED, we’re trying to do that more than we’ve ever done before,” Anderson concluded. 

TED stage with words 40 Years of TED
Interstitials at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

This choice to further the depths of discourse and human connection are already clear in the conference’s programming. The week in Vancouver kicked off with a conversation between Aziz Abu Sarah and Maoz Inon, who are Palestinian and Israeli peace activists, respectively. 

Andrew Yang is scheduled to speak on “how to fix American politics,” and Utah governor Spencer J. Cox will discuss healthy disagreement in politics. Other “controversial” names on the 2024 program include Bari Weiss and Bill Ackman — billed as “provocateurs.” 

Isaac Saul of Tangle News will also speak at the end of the week about the importance of non-partisan journalism. Saul’s popular newsletter curates perspectives from the right and left about controversial news topics — and then shares Saul’s own perspective to round out each piece. 

And John and Julie Gottman of the acclaimed Gottman Institute will discuss how healthy couples fight — solidifying the conference’s undertones of moving through conflict and disagreement more seamlessly.

Banners showcasing all TED speakers
Afternoon Break at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant. April 15-19, 2024, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Jason Redmond / TED

All of this comes on the heels of what Anderson himself would call a “storm” of feedback about a 2023 speaker, Coleman Hughes, who gave a Talk on “color blindness” at last year’s conference.

During a town hall forum at the 2023 conference,  several TED attendees voiced concerns about platforming the idea of “color blindness” from the TED stage.

Months later, Hughes accused TED of suppressing his Talk after it was posted online — and even went as far as to critique the honesty of the “Ideas worth spreading” tagline. His article and subsequent interviews about the suppression elicited a personal response from Anderson on X — leading to further backlash online from both sides of the political aisle. 

Learning from this experience, Anderson remained steadfast in his belief that disagreement is healthy on and off the TED stage.

Hosts Chris Anderson, Monique Ruff-Bell, and Helen Walters speak at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

The new tagline and programming approach, Anderson told Good Good Good, “has been a growing conviction as a result of a lot of the internal debate and discussion at TED about the right way to respond to the current moment.”

A current moment, he explained, which is rife with divisive political narratives, where meaningful connection gets lost to the tribal landscape of modern media.

“That whole incident [with Hughes] shows both how challenging it is and how important it is,” he said, emphasizing the value of spaces where intentional discourse can thrive.

In an audacious move — aligned with TED’s 2024 theme of “The Brave and The Brilliant,” it seems the TED team is eager to lean into differing perspectives.

The Brave and The Brilliant on TED stage
SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

“We’re determined to find our best way to present ideas in a way people can be heard and understood. And then, sure, yeah, critiqued,” Anderson added.

“We’re committed to figuring this out as a community. I think that’s how the future needs to be. Or the alternative is people just stop talking to each other, and I think that’s really dangerous.”

Outside of main stage Talks, the conference will offer additional programming for attendees to have conversations with other people, including small group conversations called “Brain Dates,” two town hall discussions during the conference, and professional facilitators for lunch conversations.

Monique Ruff-Bell, the chief program and strategy officer at TED shared that this attempt to build bridges in a heavily divided world is what TED attendees and fans love most about the company.

“TED… is a place where people want to have optimism,” Ruff-Bell said. “They want to connect and learn from each other. They want to understand the future of something. They want to be connected to humanity in a very different way.” 

In a world where it’s easy to stay within an echo chamber or avoid discourse entirely, TED wants people to feel connected — even when they disagree.

“They believe in ideas, they believe in the possibility of a better future,” Jay Herratti, CEO of TED conferences, said of the conference’s attendees. 

“They believe in solutions to problems and looking for them together. That’s a big unifier that really runs through all of TED. I think much of it happens here in community.”

Header photo: SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Article Details

April 16, 2024 12:33 PM
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