Sunday, August 23, 2015

Can Online Advertising Be Saved?


Sometimes, a technological advance kills an entire industry. Like CD's killed vinyl.

Could ad blockers be about to kill online advertising?

For many websites, who rely on selling display ad units, the situation is highly concerning.

On the typical gaming site, for example, ad blocking rates now top 50 percent, according to ad tech firm Secret Media, while those for fashion and lifestyle sites are close to 35 percent.

The phenomenon is worse in some countries than others - only 15 percent of American users, for example, are using ad blockers.


But what if the Americans catch on? 

There are signs they are about to. Online searches for the term 'ad blocker' are rising rapidly.



I am a long-time advocate of advertising, and of the value of advertising. (That website you like? It's almost certainly funded by advertising).

I personally would never install an adblocker, and I think the technology is close to being immoral, because it creates a 'free rider' problem - people benefiting from web content, without paying its creators. It's akin to piracy.

In fact the business model of AdBlock Plus is arguably comparable to piracy; they earn their income from charging big companies for an exemption from ad blocking - a characteristic that had French web publishers contemplating legal action against them.

We have to be honest about the forces that are driving uptake of ad blockers. They are brilliantly summed up in this article by Tom Goodwin - the same guy who wrote this widely-read critique of Cannes.

Goodwin points to pre-roll ads that insert themselves midway in articles, ads for Mercedes vehicles that are seen before beheading videos, pages that take forever to load because they're swamped by cookies and content the user didn't ask for, articles on websites which “welcome” you with bogus welcome screens and where pop-ups barge their way past browser settings.

Some of his solutions are so innovative that he feels obliged to describe them as 'thought-experiments': they include the idea that web publishers could reduce online advertising inventory to one-tenth of its current size, and use only premium spaces.

But his main recommendation - and one I wholeheartedly agree with - is very simple.

Create better ads.

When the ads are of at least decent quality, consumers will be more happy to accept the trade-off (I get free web content, in return for seeing some ads).

At the moment, the amount of time and money being invested in creating online advertising is far too low.

The targeting capabilities of online advertising are incredible, and far exceed anything possible in traditional media. Now it's time the creative bar was raised too.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Which Is Better For A Sports Team’s Digital Channels – Winning Or Losing?





This last week has seen the starkest possible contrast in fortunes for two of Australia's sports teams.

The cricketers were thrashed by the English. Australia ‘lost’ the Ashes – although technically it never really had them, since the actual urn, for reasons of colonial oppression, remain on permanent display at Lord’s – leading to the retirement of Michael Clarke, the captain. Yes, the ‘Pup’ has been put down.

Meanwhile, the Wallabies ended a four-year drought with a sparkling 27-19 win over the All Blacks, and are being tipped as World Cup winners.

So, enough of their performances on the field, how are the two sports faring in the digital arena?

It turns out that the Australian Rugby Union has a far higher percentage of their audience engaged at 44.0%, compared to Cricket Australia which has 2.8% engaged.

The most effective medium for Cricket Australia – by far – is Twitter. In fact it has the leading Twitter engagement rate of any of the 44 Australian sporting bodies tracked by BrandData. (In addition to having the most successful website). Yet curiously, it is the second LEAST effective of all 44 bodies on Facebook.

The Australian Rugby Union, by contrast, is the MOST effective on Facebook. (And also first on YouTube). But is nowhere on Twitter.

Since one is weak exactly where the other is strong, and vice versa, the obvious conclusion is they could create a real social media powerhouse by simply combining the two sports.

For sure, the merger would throw up some challenges. Like… which ball to use? It certainly wouldn’t be easy to hit a rugby ball very far with a cricket bat. Nor would it be a cinch to locate a cricket ball in the ruck. As far as personnel, there are some easier calls. Steve Smith surely has the physique to be a scrum half. Mitchell Johnson could power down the wing, no problem. And if Matt Giteau can bowl as well as he kicks, that would really help this ‘Crugby’ team succeed.

But other than a merger, the Brand Data conclusion for what each body needs to do to enhance their online presence is clear:

Lose.

For despite its on-field success, the ARU has dropped three places in the last week, in terms of the digital league table of sporting bodies. While Cricket Australia, despite its defeat – or let’s face it, probably because of the excitement that the team’s crisis has created – increased seven places (to 12th).

Monday, August 03, 2015

Do You Talk Too Much?

 
One of the biggest blunders I have seen ad agency people make - again and again, over the years - is to spend 55 minutes of a one-hour presentation, talking.

The result of course is that the most crucial part of the meeting, the back-and-forth, is severely curtailed.

We do it because we think we're selling something, rather than working collaboratively with the Client to solve their marketing problems. We do it because we train people to 'present' not to listen. We do it because we hire extroverts, performers, and egotists. 

(Please note I'm not excluding myself from these criticisms. Been guilty many times).

There's an interesting article in the latest Harvard Business Review titled 'Create a conversation, not a presentation'.

Many of its recommendations are totally impractical in our industry, such as, for example, circulating a presentation to the meeting's participants several days in advance. Consulting may be different, but in advertising that would often mean we didn't have any time to do the actual work.

But the main thrust of the piece - that a good meeting is a conversation, not a presentation - is well-observed.

Obviously, the key is to ask questions. And I'm talking about genuine questions, not the fake kind whose real intention is to display how smart the question-asker is, or how much knowledge they have.

I think too often we're concerned to fill the time. Whereas some of the best meetings I've ever had occurred when we finished early by mistake, and it then devolved into just a really productive chat.

We're also too often concerned to appear 'right'.

But usually the person who has the right questions is more useful than the person who has, or thinks they have, all the answers.

 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Does This End The Logo Size Debate Forever?


It's just possible you may have seen this campaign for the iPhone.

It has apparently run in 70 cities and 24 countries, in magazines, newspapers, billboards, transit posters and more. 

I attended some research groups the other day. The first question was "have you noticed any ads recently?" and the answer came back "Apple, Apple, Apple, Apple." Always Apple.

As well as its huge media spend and undoubtedly high impact and recall, it can't be considered too shabby from a creative point of view, since it won the Cannes Grand Prix for Outdoor this year.

But amidst all the hype, one aspect of the campaign has been overlooked.

The teeny weeny size of the logo.

Running a rough ruler over it, I calculate that the logo occupies only 0.12% of the total area of the ad you see above. And yet the branding is super-clear.

Partly this is because there isn't any extraneous communication here, so there's not too much for the eye to wade through before it reaches the logo. 

But mostly it's because the whole ad is an Apple ad, not just the part where the logo appears.

As I've argued before, branding should be in an ad's DNA, not slapped onto it like the branding on a cow.

That means each ad needs to be part of a consistent brand world. This is essential for proper attribution, and so that each ad contributes cumulatively to brand image, building a coherent picture in people's minds.

Apple have used a consistently clean and minimalist style for years - they have a brand world, for sure.

But assuming your brand has that - and it isn't a cheap & cheerful one where a big logo and starbursting price are appropriate - try to stand firm the next time someone asks you to "up the branding".

You could perhaps mention that the only brand in the world which has people camping out in the street to buy its latest product, uses a logo that's just 0.12% of the ad. 


Monday, July 20, 2015

Our Industry Is A Little Unwell. Will This Guy Put A Bullet In It?


Steve Jobs killed the compact disc. Henry Ford killed the horse & buggy.

Now ex-Havas CEO David Jones may be about to do the same to the ad agency.

He has raised the enormous sum of $350 million to set up a global "brand tech" company that will build brands using technology. His plans are a little vague at the moment, but he is adamant that "Everything that the traditional model does, we will do the opposite." 

I've written before about the need for a new agency model - let's face it, this is an urgent problem - so props to Jones. He's going for it.

And I applaud his focus on technology. No one knows exactly what the evolution of the agency model will look like, but we have to assume that technology will play a big role.

However, like anyone touting a new model, Jones is obliged to say that the old model is shit.

Therefore, he lays a out a damning series of accusations against the agency business.

Are they justified?

Let's take a look.

"I’d rather give 100,000 film-makers $10,000 and the opportunity to create content than give one overpaid, under-talented creative director $1 million," he says.

Hmm. Maths may not be his strong suit. If you give $10,000 to 100,000 film-makers, you've actually spent $1 BILLION, not $1 million. (I'll be charitable and assume it's the journalist's mistake, not Jones's).

But the idea that there is an under-talented creative director out there earning $1 million is just laughable. You simply can't get to that figure in our industry, or even a third of that figure, without being insanely talented.

Here's his next criticism of ad agencies: "You could only create if you were one of the 10 per cent of the agency that were in the creative department," Jones says. "In fact, if anybody outside of that 10 per cent had an idea, it was automatically the dumbest idea on the planet."

So, so, so, much wrong with this. So much. First of all, why the hell was he running an agency in which only 10 per cent of the staff were creatives? No wonder he wasn't impressed with them. They were probably run ragged...

But the bit about how you could 'only' create if you were in the creative department? So annoying.

I'm a CD and my whole job is to deliver good ideas to my clients. I'm always on the hunt for ideas. I'm desperate for more ideas, better ideas, different ideas. And there is nothing stopping the suits and planners from coming up with ideas. In fact, in my experience, they do continually make suggestions. Not usually fully-formed ideas, but 'ways in', thought-starters, and 'angles' - which is as it should be. 

The suggestion that any ideas from outside the creative department are considered automatically dumb... I've heard this one so many times, it's really starting to tweak my wiener. I definitely don't care where ideas come from. Why would I? Gold is gold, and whoever puts it on the table, I will take it straight to the bank, believe me.

I think what happened to David Jones is that he suggested an idea, it got rejected, and he assumed it was rejected because he was an account man. Easier to think that, perhaps, than to accept that the idea wasn't very good.

The typical creative team might have to put up ten, twenty, thirty or fifty ideas to get one the CD thinks is good enough to show the client. It ain't easy.

And despite his good intentions, I worry that David Jones thinks it is.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Advertising Haiku


For anyone who doesn't know, a haiku is a three-line poem of 5 syllables/ 7 syllables/ 5 syllables.

The acknowledged master of the form was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), whose most famous haiku (titled 'Old Pond') goes like this:
old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water's sound
Not terrible. But imagine if he'd been writing haikus about a subject as exciting as advertising?

My old friend McDermott (a suit) once wrote one called 'The Account Executive':

Remember to smile.
Give 'em the ol' shuck and jive.
You have people skills.

My effort:
I got a new brief;
It said: "Wanted. Big idea."
Thank God for YouTube.
(It's always nicer to be self-deprecating than to slag other people off, I feel).

And yes, I do acknowledge that mine is pretty shit.

So let's hear yours. 

Monday, July 06, 2015

Why What Won, Won



Juries no doubt think they are objectively choosing the best work they see.

But the fact that every year certain styles of work are more heavily awarded than others has to mean that juries aren't just choosing the smartest, most emotive, or most insightful ideas... but also what is somehow on-trend.

Hate the word 'trends'. It implies a flash-in-the-pan - buzzwords like 'big data' and 'storytelling' which flare up one year and disappear the next.

But in terms of trends that have been around for a while and look set to be with us for a while longer, you'd have to pick out two - cause-related marketing, and technology ideas.

Cause-related marketing used to be something that was done separately, by a company's 'CSR' department. Now it's at the heart of many brands' communications.

Dove was one of the first, and they're still doing it - this is a brand that sells itself not on its moisturising qualities, but on its concern for female self-empowerment. P&G's Always doesn't talk about 'no leaks', it encourages respect for women by asking us what it means to do something #LikeAGirl. And Honey Maid is sticking up for tolerance and diversity in society, with its re-definition of what is wholesome.

Trend 2. New technologies have revolutionised our entire world, and that includes advertising. From the dawn of subservient chicken, to today, when a Cannes Grand Prix is awarded to Crispin Porter for a piece of utility that enables consumers to order Domino's by tweeting a pizza emoji.

If 'cause-related marketing' and 'technology' are the two mega-trends, then it stands to reason that work which sits at the intersection of the two, will be the most on-trend.

And so it proved.

The biggest winner of the year was probably Volvo Life Paint, by Grey London, which took out two Grand Prix - in Design, and also in Promo & Activation.

This is a brand addressing a social problem, using the technological innovation of invisible reflective paint. Cause, and tech, in one. 


Across all the categories, the Golds, Silvers and Bronzes, you will see multiple examples of juries' love for the place where ‘cause’ intersects with ‘tech’. 

A stationery store in the UK tries to reduce the environmental consequences of discarded ink cartridges - Ryman ‘The Eco Alphabet Project’. 

Samsung. They sell phones. They sell TV’s. What can Samsung have to do with road safety? Samsung Road Safety Truck by Leo Burnett Buenos Aires. 

Now, it’s highly possible that some of these projects were made more for awards juries than the public.

This has certainly been the accusation in a lot of commentary during and after Cannes.

But set against that, you’d have to acknowledge that Volvo’s Life Paint idea got great PR for Volvo all over the world.

These ideas are spreading, and spreading organically via social media. They’re associating the brands involved with good causes – in a way that’s relevant, and likely to make them more preferable to consumers. 

They work.

But it's because they’re on-trend - and not necessarily because they're the cleverest or most insightful ideas - that they're winning the biggest awards.