Now talk show hosts are on my side!

Over the past couple of years I’ve been banging on about my manifesto for sustainable communications. Simply put – if we don’t respect our consumers and their relationships with the media they choose to consume, we will lose our right/ability to use those media to speak with them.

Then at the weekend I saw this rant from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show.

 

I thought that he was spot on at every level. The dissolving of the separation between “church and state” hasn’t meant that we have developed more effective marketing and communication efforts, but it has narrowed the gap between editorial and marketing communications by reducing the perceived value of the editorial content.

By damaging this relationship of trust between consumers and their preferred media brands, we are in turn undermining any value that those media brands have for marketeers to persuade consumers to buy their products.

What is both funny and upsetting is that the vendors of native advertising don’t seem unduly bothered by Mr Oliver’s opinions.

In this piece in Bloomberg Business Week, the general response was something along the lines of “All publicity is good publicity, and frankly he’s not going to stop this juggernaut” or in their exact words ” It’s pretty cool that things are going mainstream, and [I liked the] unspoken acceptance of the inevitability of native advertising as a viable long-term form of monetization.”

Scary stuff.

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Please don’t waste my time with this stuff

Just came across this piece of “branded content” on buzzfeed.

23 Everyday Situations We Would Love To Be Rescued From

It is pretty standard buzzfeed list – a bunch of mildly amusing pictures with a large dose of schadenfreude – the only thing that makes it branded content is an intro line (which I didn’t read until I got to the end) and a trailer for a TV show at the end. Essentially though the list was created to be relevant to the TV show about Coast Guards, but the only reason I even noticed was because of how tortuous the connection was.

Buzzfeed are clearly working to a KPI of dwell time – hence the 23 things in the list even though there are probably only 5 good/original photos in the list. But in this instance dwell time is a completely unnecessary KPI.

The only value of this piece of content was to make sure that I noticed and remembered the name of a particular TV channel – and do you know what, I can’t. This isn’t being done for effect, but I’m going to have to go back now and check – OK, it was the weather channel – I would never have picked that.

So someone like me whose job it is to pay attention to this stuff and who is writing a blog post about it, had forgotten within less than 5 minutes what the brand was that was sponsoring the post.

This is a great demonstration of how optimising to the wrong KPI can produce the opposite effect to that intended.

The only reason for the Weather channel to do any advertising is so that when people want to know about the weather they remember to switch on the weather channel or visit
the website. That’s it. So the most important things in this post should have been 1) Do people notice the Weather Channel brand? 2) Do people have a better understanding of how the weather channel is relevant to them?

23 random photos of bizarre non-weather related situations only serve to swamp the brand and eliminate any relevance that the weather channel might have had. As they get progressively less funny, they also maximise the chance that you stop reading before you get to the end and so don’t see the primary reason for the post – the trailer for the show!

The funny thing was, the best image was the first one and it was the only one that was weather related
orangutan weather

If they had just run with this one it might have actually landed the message – although then they would have been better off running it as a piece of display advertising copy or even a promoted tweet when they would have reached siginificantly more consumers!!

Sorry for the rant, I just can’t be the only person that resents this devaluing of content and of my time. I refer you once again to my manifesto for sustainable communications

P.S. For the sake of completeness I tried to watch the video at the end of the “content” and got thisCoast guard

Being topical or even shareable is not the same as being relevant

(DISCLAIMER: It has been brought to my attention that the rant below sounds like I hate social media or digital media. That’s definitely not true, but I do hate bad advertising and poorly thought out communications strategies driven by buzz words which the examples below represent. Also this behaviour is not limited to digital media – “topical” ads in newspapers and posters are often equally irrelevant to the brands being advertised, but they are less hyped and celebrated by the industry)

 

I’ve been watching with dismay over the past couple of years as brand after brand decides that they “need” a social media strategy because it is the latest thing, without any real understanding of what it should achieve for their brand. They hire a specialist social media agency (rather than an integrated media agency that can give them a less biased view), they buy a bunch of twitter followers (mostly robots or people in click farms in Bangladesh) and then churn out an hourly stream of inane twittering usually involving pictures or short videos of cute animals doing cute stuff.

It doesn’t matter  which category they are in, or what audience their product is for, brands keep following the same trite route to irrelevance. By no means the worst offender, but typical of the behaviour I am talking about is National Express
national express

Their utter irrelevance is so absolute that the “Condescending Corporate Brand Page” has created an album called “National Express Animal Sanctuary – Because public transport has EVERYTHING to do with animals and days of the week”

national express2

This is particularly lazy irrelevance, but I guess if you are going to spout worthless communications into the ether, you don’t want to expend too much effort on it.

Some brands put a bit more work in, but rarely make their brand or product even vaguely relevant to the topic at hand.

Some brands try to at least comment on things that are topical, but rarely do they say anything interesting
pizza express fail

sony pancake

Even when brands try to add something to the topic that hasn’t been said a million times by everybody else, they still spectacularly fail to make their product or brand relevant to the conversation

gareth baleinnocent clocks

I’ve been trying to work out why previously competent and sensible marketeers on otherwise well marketed brands and products, should fail so horribly when it comes to their social media communications. And the conclusion that I’ve come to is that the people responsible for social media campaigns are not targeted against anything that looks like an actual business or brand objective. They have launched into a specific channel led idea without having a clue what it is they are trying to achieve. In doing this they then set KPIs which simply measure one social media campaign against another without any understanding of how that will improve their business.

When social media specialists discuss what this type of activity could possibly be achieving, they tend to mention one objective: top of mind awareness. They think that to stay top of mind they just need to be constantly producing content so that they are visible to their consumers all the time.

What they fail to realise is that “top of mind awareness” is a short hand for “first mention when asked “can you name a soft drink/travel company/mobile phone”” or whatever the category might be. It is a proxy measure for how likely people are to think of your brand WHEN THEY ARE ACTIVELY IN THE MARKET FOR YOUR BRAND, not just randomly across the course of the day. If your brand is visible to consumers across the whole day, but is never connected to a product or brand benefit in people’s minds then it will never get to be top of mind when it actually matters. In fact it’s lack of relevance will mean that when you do have something relevant to say, consumers ignore you because they know not to expect anything of substance from you.

Essentially, what this comes down to is that being relevant is not about what you say or even when you say it, but is about what you ARE and what you DO.

This does not mean however that real time social media marketing cannot work, in fact I believe it can be a very powerful tool when used appropriately within the context of a strategically integrated campaign. What makes those campaigns stand out however is that they never lose sight of the purpose and role of the brand and product in consumer’s lives.

I have found one brand that seems to be doing a relatively decent job of this. (I’m sure there are more, but I do have a life you know!) And NO, it isn’t Oreos (although this years decision to completely retire from the Superbowl social media “Brandter” (My new most hated word) was inspired)

I first came across this brand’s real time efforts with this beautifully constructed ad that was attached to the back of a bike at Wimbledon the day after the longest ever tennis match.
Kit Kat Wimbledon

The simplicity and elegance of this solution is possible because everyone can instantly see why Kit Kat is relevant to this story. They have no connection to tennis or wimbledon, or really sport at all, but they have single mindedly stood for the benefit of taking a break for as long as I can remember and so this communication needs no explanation at all. In terms of top of mind awareness, this one could actually work the next time I’m in the mood for a chocolately snack break.

And KitKat, for the most part, have managed to stick to this in all of their social and real time communications. At the very least their brand and product is featured heavily in any of their facebook and twitter posts and where possible they choose their topics based on the relevance of the “Have a break” line. They aren’t perfect, but they are definitely giving it good go.

Kit Kat superbowl

I also really liked this effort from Jaffa Cakes, who made a strong play for relevance by leveraging their originality and authenticity credentials when a new pound coin was announced by the Royal mint

Jaffa

 

So that’s it basically. If you have a bunch of twitter followers and your social media manager thinks he has something funny to say about Easter; unless you are selling chocolate or are a church, you are NOT relevant. Tie him up or break his fingers but don’t let him post anything next week!!

UPDATE – I’ve been on holiday throughout England’s dismal World Cup campaign, but have arrived back in time for Wimbledon – The perfect opportunity for yet more brands to celebrate their irrelevance – the first example is below from PG Tips

 

PGTips Wimbledon

4 Old Fashioned Rules of Advertising in Action

A while ago I read this excellent article by Martin Weigel in which he debunks a lot of the received wisdom that passes as “facts” in our lovely industry and instead highlights 4 fundamental rules of advertising that every campaign should fulfill before it does ANYTHING else.

Simply stated, these rules are:

1) Be Interesting
2) Be Memorable
3) Scale it
4) Sustain it

I even made a sign to stick on our wall to remind ourselves of this and help apply it to my personal discipline of media planning

Old fashioned rules of advertising

Now a lot of people have commented that these rules are way too simplistic for the new “digital first” world and that it needs to be all about “social content strategies” and “building brand love” and “owning” a “territory”. Now those things may or may not be important, but the fact is, if you achieve all those things at the expense of the 4 rules above then you have simply created a digital white elephant. You’ve spent loads of money creating something that no-one is buying, but you can’t get rid of because someone has formed an emotional attachment and so you spend even more money on its upkeep and getting people to come and see it in order to justify the original cost.

When you lay out the 4 rules like that it seems so bloody obvious, but I keep seeing campaigns proposed which forget to do ANY of them.

Often, the ideas are only “Interesting” to people who work in advertising, they are instantly forgettable and even the people who work on them forget what they made. They rely too often on some mythical “viral” effect and the idea is merely a tactical gimmick that has no longevity at all.

With that in mind, I absolutely LOVED this new campaign from a CARWASH company of all things!

This is the first execution:

In its own right, this surreal humour is brilliant. It instantly sparks your interest with the line “There’s something I should tell you” and then makes sure it is memorable with a series of mental and visual images that you aren’t going to forget in a hurry – Bacon Underwear anybody?. Then the simple line of “It feels good to come clean” and the fact that the whole thing is shot in a carwash means you can’t fail to take out the basic understanding that the advertiser needs you to understand if this is going to affect their business in any way.

It’s simple and near perfect.

What they don’t worry about is “Owning” a particular USP or anything – Obviously every single car wash could use the line “It is good to come clean” and nothing in the advert differentiates the basic proposition from its competitors – but it does make it memorable and distinctive and that is the most important thing.

If it was just the one execution, it would be a good campaign, however what makes it great is the follow-up executions which simply feature increasingly bizarre confessions from the same couple. What I particularly like is that each advert starts exactly the same way, but then has a series of alternative endings. That means that if you enjoyed the ad the first time, you are rewarded for continuing to watch multiple times when it comes on TV and hopefully you will keep watching just in case there is a new execution rather than thinking “I’ve seen this, so I can ignore it”. That’s a brilliantly simple device to sustain an audience’s interest.

What is also interesting is that as a local advertiser, Hughes Carwash has no real interest in getting global viral Youtube views (and so far it hasn’t – only 6000 or so on each video) but it can simply buy local TV spots to generate the scale that it needs. TV spot advertising is still the most effective and efficient way of getting lots of relevant people to watch your AV advertising. Again this keeps getting forgotten in a world of viral “hits” that accumulate about the equivalent of 1 primetime TV spot in views.

The (apparently) incredibly low production budget means that this advertiser has been able to create an almost endless supply of interesting and memorable TV ads that will hopefully drive their business forward in the city of Edmonton, Alberta (Canada).

There are many, many much bigger brands with much bigger budgets that could learn a great deal from these guys.

The unsustainable exploitation of social media

Just a quick post to highlight this opinion piece on the Drum which suggests that brands might be to blame for a decline in consumer interest around social media sites.

Steve Cater goes on to recommend that brands seek not just to exploit social media as a pure media channel, but instead to add value to users rather than sucking all the value out of it.

I wholeheartedly agree – and this resonates loudly with my Sustainable media manifesto that I wrote a couple of years ago.

Interestingly, on the same day, the Drum also posted a piece about Sky media’s adsmart proposition, making the point that to be successful it would need to benefit viewers just as much as it benefited brands.

It is good to see a momentum of opinion behind this attitude, I just hope that advertisers start to pay attention.

Revisiting an old theme – media sustainability

A couple of years ago I wrote a bit of a manifesto on why we as advertising professionals should be looking to enhance the media we use to communicate our brands offerings rather than just exploiting the eyeballs we find there – I think it is still relevant and so wanted to share it again in slightly cut down form


This image formed the spark for the philosophy and manifesto that I’m about to deliver so here goes:

Here’s what I believe:

1) Human attention is a valuable natural resource, allowing us to learn about the world around us, adapt our behaviour for optimal utility of that world and to evolve our attitudes for maximum enjoyment of the world

2) Human attention is NOT an infinite resource, there is only so much new information we can take in at any time and only so many things that we can be persuaded to care about

3) All marketing and communications require that we capture that human attention

4) Human attention naturally concentrates and clusters around certain content and media because of the value it contributes to their lives, NOT because of the amount of advertising they find there

5) Just like any natural resource, over-exploitation of the human attention to media will inevitably lead to the dilution and eventual destruction of that attention and make it impossible for us to harness it any way, positive or negative.

(Yeah I love that pic!)

6) It should therefore be the responsibility of advertisers to not just exploit a medium for the audience that it attracts, but to invest in that medium with sustainable communications to ensure that it continues to deliver value to consumers and in turn provide a continuing resource for brands to communicate to those audiences.

Some advertisers might claim that they already do this – by paying to advertise in a medium they say they are investing in the quality of content that medium can provide. And maybe that used to be true. Maybe some consumers do watch advertising in the knowledge that they are entering into a contract with the media channel to “pay” for the content they choose to watch by also watching content that they would rather not. However I think we are deluding ourselves if we think this is true of most advertising messages.

As advertisers we “buy” an audience that media owners “sell” to us. Because of that we think we have a right to put pretty much anything we can get away with in front of that audience and we approach every consumer contact with the question “what can my brand get out of this?”.

A perfect example of this is the recent news story that Ford had “secured” a corporate page on Google+. What I found remarkable about this was that a) Ford had ignored Google’s request for advertisers to back off until they had worked out how to showcase corporate accounts and b) No-one seems to have a clue what Ford are doing there and what they hope to get out of it. All that they seem interested in is the fact that there are 10 million+ people already signed up and that it is currently unexploited so they get to be first. No-one knows how people are using Google+, what it is all about and what they can get out of it, but Ford are happy to steam in and plant their corporate size 9 footprints over everything.

This shouldn’t be surprising. As soon as an emerging technology develops into something that looks a bit like a “medium” then every client I have wants to know “How should I be using it?” There is an assumption that if there is an audience then we should be exploiting it. The same happened with Twitter and I can’t even think about doing a campaign without being asked “what will my facebook page look like”.

I also look at the dead and dying media brands that have failed to keep up with the ever increasing demands of advertisers and investors and so have been abandoned by the wayside. Internet brands such as Myspace that has effectively been ditched – at a loss of half a billion dollars – because no-one could work out how to make it work for advertisers.

I start to feel an element of responsibility for this. If every new medium is disected and assessed solely based on it’s ability to generate advertising income then potentially viable media products and businesses that could have had another business model are simply allowed to fade away.

Now maybe this isn’t a problem whilst there is a steady flow of sacrificial lambs for us to exploit, plunder and destroy, and maybe it is fine when consumers don’t have a choice whether or not we target them, but I believe the days of being able to exploit media with impunity are numbered. Consumers have more and more tools that enable them to choose whether to engage with advertisers or not and the longer we abuse their good will and force interruption to their media consumption with unwelcome messages, the quicker they will learn how to switch us off. Indeed there is legislation coming which will force consumers to make that choice (see anti-cookie European legislation)

So here’s where I start my campaign for sustainable communication (I got here eventually!).

I believe that the most successful advertisers in the next 20 years will be those that understand that we have a duty to respect the contract between advertisers and consumers and deliver true value in our communications.

We need to ensure that we are investing in successful media, not just by buying media space, but by delivering content and messages that in and of themselves increase the value that consumers take out of that media space. Rather than saying “what’s the next big thing” all the time, we should be saying “how do we make the current big thing work better for consumers” so that we don’t have to start all over again when we have bullied them out of the media that they used to love.

For my part, whenever I am asked to consider a new media opportunity, I am going to endeavour to start with the question “How can I make that media better for the consumers who are consuming it” rather than “How can I make a quick buck here”. And let me be clear – another generic TV ad with animated animals or a beautiful woman selling perfume does not make my experience of that medium better. Most ads that your average advertiser likes are frankly wallpaper for your average consumer.

Over the next few weeks and months I will be adding examples of campaigns that are either examples of great sustainable communications or worrying examples of media exploitation.

Please feel free to send me any good examples of either.

As a starter for 10, please check out the mediaweek award shortlisted Panasonic Advertiser funded programme “How to take stunning pictures”. This was a piece of TV content on channel 5 that out-performed it’s alloted programming slot and was hugely popular with consumers and client alike. In addition Panasonic were able to clearly convey their commitment to helping the average photography enthusiasts get the most out of amateur photography. And it sold Panasonic Lumix cameras – lots of them.

Real ambition for Real Time Planning

This morning I saw a great presentation – #Ownthemoment – from our Twitter sales representatives in which they highlighted the most effective ways to take advantage of Real Time Planning behaviours using the twitter platform. Particularly they highlighted 3 types of event you can look to associate yourself with – Live, Connected, and Everyday.

They then proceeded to highlight a variety of planned “newsjacking” type behaviours that actually mirror the kinds of tactical reactive advertising the press advertising industry has been indulging in for years, but that twitter has provided a low cost and more immediate entry point to. See this Innocent example around the recent furour surrounding the Gareth Bale transfer

gareth bale

Their key point (which I very much agree with) is that Real Time Planning is MORE about the Planning part than it is about Real Time. Most of the “reactive” campaigns that have been celebrated in our industry are in fact meticulously planned responses to highly predictable events. The key is the effective analysis of data to predict likely scenarios and then have a plan for when those scenarios eventually emerge.

That’s all fine. There is definitely a place for placing a series of small reactive bets that IF they pay off can deliver a proportionally huge return on investment. Using the framework of “Live, Connected or Everyday” moments is a sensible way to structure our social communications if we want them to appear relevant and get consumers to engage with them.

My problem with it is simple – it is just too small. Advertising spend on Twitter represents approximately 0.1% of all advertising spend globally. If we generously guess that it has an equal effectiveness to all other advertising then it is essentially worth 0.1% of all advertising effect. If you then manage to align the planets correctly and hit the jackpot with a promoted tweet that is bang on for your brand and a rising trend that day, you might be able to increase its effectiveness by a factor of 10 – or 1000% – giving it a total value to the average campaign of 1%. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of failed attempts to get that jackpot moment. For every Oreos blackout moment

oreos

there is an Epicurious Boston moment and hundreds that just don’t get noticed at all.
epicurious-boston-tweet

That isn’t to say that Real Time Marketing isn’t important – quite the opposite – I think it has the potential to revolutionise the way we run marketing campaigns, it is just that I want to make it worth more than 1% (at best!) I want to find a way to apply those Real Time insights to a medium that can make a real difference.

On average, TV advertising makes up 63% of all advertising spend and is rising. If we can use these real time insights and cultural understanding to make our TV budgets work just 10% harder, then that is worth 6% of all advertising budgets. To put it in money terms – the potential prize for getting it right with twitter is global increase of $5billion (and I think that is incredibly generous), but the same level of effort could conservatively be worth $30billion if applied to my TV budgets.

I know where I’d rather focus my efforts.