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June 2016

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Our view on transparency

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Advertisers have long been concerned over issues of transparency in media buying, but until recently, it was largely speculation. It wasn’t until April of this year that trade body ISBA warned that agencies in the UK have been generating profit through non-transparent practices.

Now, for the first time, the issue has been formally investigated by an independent body, with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) –the US equivalent of ISBA –this month releasing its long-awaited Media Transparency Study. The report not only found evidence of non-transparent business practices –including cash rebates, media inventory credits and mark-ups –but described such practices as “pervasive” throughout the industry.

The ANA hired consultancy firm K2 Intelligence to conduct interviews with 150 sources between October 2015 and May 2016, and of those directly involved in media buying, more than half (59 of 117) said they were aware of non-transparent business practices. Advertisers, agencies and media suppliers reported that the practices, which are illegal in the US, are often mandated by senior executives.

Although the 58-page report looked at the issue of transparency in the US only, many have argued that the practices have made their way across the Atlantic. Tom Denford, chief executive of ID Comms, maintained that “many of the issues raised by the ANA investigation are not isolated to the US market”, and has called for a similar analysis of business practices in the UK.

The report stated that advertisers rightly believe their agencies should act in their best interest, but found a “fundamental disconnect” in advertiser-agency relationships –many agencies were not acting in their clients’ best interests. This, unsurprisingly, has led to a lack of trust between many advertisers and their agencies.

It is time now for agencies to rebuild trust with their clients. Here at the7stars we agree that clients should have full disclosure when it comes to media buying –as an agency we are hired, in part, because of our ability to compete on price, and to negotiate deals with media vendors. We ensure that any additional revenue from these deals is returned to our clients. We act in our clients’ best interests, and we don’t enter into deals to benefit anyone other than them.

At the7stars, we are always available to discuss how we build plans, explain negotiations, and work directly with clients to ensure we deliver the best deals for them. We believe that clients shouldn’t be afraid to ask their agency questions on any of the above.

For more information on our media trading and principles on transparency, please read our White Paper, available HERE.

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In pursuit of creativity: the philosopher’s perspective

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“We need more innovation”. “We need more creativity”. These are probably some of the most frequently heard statements in business today, and rightfully so.

Entire industries have been radicalised by a host of creative innovations, predominantly tech innovations, and the speed at which this change is happening is frightening.

Yes you’ve heard it, the world’s largest taxi firm, Uber, doesn’t own any cars. The world’s most popular media company, Facebook, doesn’t create content. And the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, doesn’t own property. Innovation is the driving force of these new business models, and the core ingredient is not developer skill but creativity. It’s not about tech innovation, but the ideas behind it that have the power to shake up whole industries.

In search of creative inspiration, a few of us from the7stars went ‘Off Grid’ this month to get the view of some prominent authors on the subject. The weekend-long conference was held on the private Osea Island, where some of the brightest minds from media, technology, marketing and design came together to take part in talks, workshops and activities.

We heard from philosopher Robert Rowland Smith (Breakfast with Socrates), who believes that true creativity is about things we find hard to express. To explain this he focused on two of his theories, The Solus and Unforgetting.

The Solus is the anti-brainstorm idea. Creativity isn’t always about bringing minds together, sometimes isolation can be an equally powerful origin of creativity. Van Gogh, Steve Jobs and Malcom Gladwell might be seen as mad, awkward, lonely and weird, but they were all independent, creative innovators.

For Rowland Smith, finding your Solus is the key ability of truly creative individuals. Being radically alone, looking inside yourself to find the things that are least acceptable. Your dark side. Get there, go dark, be prepared for rejection, and come out with creative perfection.

Unforgetting is a process for gaining free access to the unconscious mind. This system is built upon Robert’s belief that we never create anything new, we just recover things that have been forgotten. To get there he uses Theory U.
Instead of going from A to B to solve a problem –the supposedly logical way –he suggests that we should do a U-turn and get there the long way around. While this might seem counter intuitive, it is this discomfort that detaches us from reality and allows us to generate unique ideas.

It is similar to an experience we’ve all had –not being able to remember something when we put our mind to it, but distracting ourselves, distancing ourselves from our thoughts, and then having it come to us when we were least expecting it. The ‘Aha’ moment.

For Rowland-Smith, unless you are prepared to be lost, frustrated, or even bored, you will not generate creative ideas. So go forth and lose yourself, but please come back to tell us about your travels.

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Are wearables the future after all?

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Remember when everyone said wearables were going to be the next big thing? When Google Glass launched in 2012, it was primed to be the future of connected devices. But at its consumer launch Google’s eyewear didn’t live up to expectations – not even close.

Google Glass was only available to early adopters known as ‘Explorers’, and it set them back $1,500. Users described wearing Glass as uncomfortable and complained that its capabilities were limited. After just a couple of years on the market Glass was discontinued, with Google insisting that the product was still in development.

However, despite the rocky beginnings, it appears it’s only the start for wearables. Research firm IDC has released its latest forecasts for the wearables sector, estimating that the market will see 213 million units sold by 2020.
As the range of product functionality grows, the motives behind consumers’ interests appear to be broadening too. For some, wearables have been seen as no more than high-tech fitness trackers, with Fitbits and Jawbones proving popular. However, Eriksson’s recent global consumer lab research ‘wearable technology and the internet of things’found, surprisingly, that fitness trackers and smart watches weren’t top of consumers ‘most wanted’ lists. In fact, consumers appear to be thinking of practical functionality first, with the most sought after wearable being a personal safety SOS/panic button.

The predicted trajectory of this tech entails many opportunities for advertisers, for instance in real-time geo-targeting. But more immediately we are faced with a series of challenges. It is yet to be determined how buying intent, engagement and other key signals could be measured, let alone how ads would be served.

As consumers increasingly adopt wearable tech their media consumption and relationships with other platforms will inevitably change with it. This has big implications for advertisers; as smartphones are checked less often, brands will need to ensure their messages can be consumed at a glance. There will be a heightened need to provide a seamless cross-platform experience for consumers as brands look to deliver short-form engaging content that translates effortlessly across all touch points.

Looking at behavioural trends within the wearable tech market, signals suggest to strong opportunities for brands who are clever in positioning themselves to help consumers get what they need at exactly the right moment.
Developers have to work hard to evolve the technology from novelty accessories to essential products that are fully integrated into consumers’ lifestyles. Developments for technologically integrated fashion, jewellery, glasses, and even contact lenses have to keep the consumer in mind.

As with any channel, brands who put the consumers first and focus on adding value through convenience will likely become pioneers of successful wearable advertising campaigns.

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ESports: Armchair athletes take a stand

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Gone are the days when gamers were just teenagers in their bedrooms. Vloggers, including the richest YouTuber in the world, Pewdiepie, have made their millions posting gaming play-through videos online, and Sky, seeing the opportunity to bring in young viewers, are now bringing live streams to the masses. GinxeSports TV, the UK’s first 24-hour eSports channel launched this month with investment from Sky and ITV, bringing the world of eSportentertainment to 37 million homes around the world.

eSports are a relatively new spectacle. Before GinxTV was launched in 2008, it had limited reach on dedicated online platforms or YouTube channels, but the relaunch shows that some of the key players in media see eSports as a major investment.

After the huge amount of money channels have invested in traditional competitive sports –including the £5bn deal for rights to the Premier League –television’s adoption of eSports was always going to be the next step. The last year has seen a massive growth in revenue for the eSportsector, led by the increased investment from brands and advertisers. eSports’ move into TV will now provide even more opportunities. For one, advertisers will be able to target the ever-elusive 16-34 male audience with traditional advertising and connect with content that invokes the inner child of consumers.

With the eSports industry attracting global viewing audiences of 134 million and performing particularly strongly within key sports-betting demographics, bookies lead close behind as the second largest investors in the industry. Today all the major betting sites enable punters to stake on in-play and pre-event markets and eSports even has even got its own dedicated betting service in the form of Unikrn.

But current TV audiences for the world of eSportare small; last year GinxTV averaged a monthly 16-34 reach of 53,000 in the UK. Sky will have to work hard to entice eSportconsumers away from dedicated platforms such as Amazon’s Twitch that comes embedded in the Playstation4.

The expansion of eSports from online to TV is a testament to the ever-evolving media landscape. This was a form of entertainment with a niche following established online, and only now is it being brought through to mainstream media. The eSportindustry is proof that broadcasters are not stuck in the dark ages and are taking learnings from the digital landscape to help develop new programming genres and providing advertisers with new and diverse ways to influence their brands and find consumers.

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Dark net’s bright future?

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The dark net has long been seen as a safe haven for the internet’s cyber criminals, offering them an unrestricted, unmonitored, and anonymous space to take part in illegal activities. But as the demands for privacy and security online become more prevalent, more users – and not just those with something to hide – will start to migrate to the mysterious world of the dark net.

The dark net is, on the whole, an innocent service – it is defined, simply, as parts of the World Wide Web not indexed by standard search engines. Yet hiding in the shadows are sites purposely designed to be invisible, only accessible when using a specific browser – the onion router (TOR).

The TOR browser relays internet traffic thousands of times over, making users untraceable, and keeping them anonymous. This combination of privacy for both users and websites has led to the rise of the dark net, where anything is possible. TOR and its “hidden services” section hosts approximately 20,000-30,000 dark net sites, from drug markets to crypto anarchist forums and everything in-between. Due to the functionality of TOR, these sites are incredibly difficult to shut down.

Additionally, because of the nature of TOR no one really knows how many dark net users there are. When the drug marketplace Silk Road was shut down in 2013 it had over 950,000 registered accounts (although many were assumed to be duplicates – the estimated UU count was 140,000 -150,000). Estimates suggest there are around 2m daily users, and that this number is growing rapidly, but it’s not all drug dealers and whistle-blowers. In fact, only 5% of TOR traffic is to access the dark net, whilst the remaining 95% is to the surface web.

In April this year, Facebook announced that 1m people a month now use TOR to access, or their onion site, an increase of 90% from June 2015. This move, according to Facebook, was to satisfy the demand for safety, security and privacy for users.

As more mainstream sites begin to take residence in the dark net, awareness will increase, and the user base will follow. It’s clear that the anonymity and security that TOR enables is appealing to mainstream internet users, many of whom are there to simply browse the internet with the sense of security –in the knowledge that their data and browsing history are safe from anyone that may be watching.

Several brands have already started to take note of the dark net’s emergence into the mainstream. Adidas launched its first ‘dark social’ campaign using messaging services to create a more personal brand, and O2 have started to track activity on dark social. Although the dark net is not yet an advertiser friendly environment, we should be learning from its need for innovation to improve surface web services and cater for consumers’ desires for a more secure digital experience.

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How Data Can Drive Creativity in OOH

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Google’s Eric Schmidt once said that 90% of the world’s data has been generated in the past two years. Or was that just articles about data? Nevertheless, this article is less about hard data that drives efficiencies, and more about the ways it is being applied creatively.

In the quantified age, everything from our sleeping patterns to our emotional reactions are being captured. The opportunity is there for advertisers to harness this data, and apply it to spark creativity. This is already happening – and being recognised – on a large scale. Last year, Cannes Lions introduced a Creative Data category to celebrate the impact of data on creativity within the advertising industry.

In the out of home (OOH) industry, brands are increasingly incorporating data into campaigns to bring them to life in unexpected ways. We know that OOH has the ability to present eye-catching creative while people are searching for inspiration, but thanks to data it can now deliver useful and productive messaging unprompted when they are at their most connected and engaged.

Google’s Popular Times is a great example of an initiative leveraging this knowledge creatively. By gathering data around the specific places certain consumers visit, Popular Times can deliver insight via the Google Search app into the busiest periods experienced by those places and help consumers better plan their trip. Brands could leverage this data, for example, and use digital OOH screens in proximity to each venue to target consumers with useful information in real-time.

Taxi Trails, meanwhile, is tapping into this need by using the data generated from Taxi Stockholm customer journeys to create a visual online guide for visitors to the city, indicating where locals go, popular places to eat and socialise, and where to receive the best cultural fixes. This data could be applied to all major tourist cities via DOOH screens to direct tourists, either facilitating their movement around the city or pointing them to something new and exciting.

By integrating this kind of consumer data with OOH campaigns, brands can bring an idea to life and target the right people with it, in the right location, at exactly the right time. And it’s not just about impacting individuals, either. Some of the most inspirational work has managed to bring people together in unexpected ways.

Spotify’s Serendipity, developed by digital artist Kyle Macdonald, is a fascinating way to leverage quirky data to create fun links between Spotify’s customers. Based on real-time data recorded over an hour, an online map is generated to display a stream of coordinates when two users play the same song at exactly the same time (or rather, within one tenth of a second apart). Imagine taking this a step further and mapping everyone around the world who is listening to the same song at the same time, creating an intriguing visualisation of how music is listened to while highlighting the streaming service’s enormous reach.

In a more connected world, the data available to us becomes greater and more varied. And by mining for unusual datasets and applying them to OOH, campaigns can have an enormous impact.

With thanks to Julia Dobbin & Dominic Murray at Kinetic Worldwide

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The Barb Tv Viewing Report: Barbed wire unable to protect a fence of common beliefs?

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The latest annual BARB report provided intriguing insights into the most recent developments in the TV industry. This included the rise of SVOD services (e.g. subscription services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and VOD viewing), and how this content is consumed.

Analysts predicted that growth in TV player viewing would be driven by commuters watching on their phones while on the move, but surprisingly results from the BARB report contradict this. Tablets and personal computers still dominate online TV viewing and over 40% of all TV player viewing takes place after 9pm, with viewing levels tailing off later than established patterns, which could be explained by more people watching TV in bed.

It is also interesting to note that while Android competes evenly with Apple for sales of smartphones and tablets, the latter is more dominant in BARB’s measurement of TV viewing. Whether it is the nature of the user experience or a reflection of the demographic that owns the devices, it’s striking that far more online TV viewing comes through Apple’s iOS platform.

Broadcast content continues to dominate the lives and screen time of the UK population, with television consistently capturing huge audiences in a way that other platforms simply cannot compete with. Despite this, 2016 is another important year for SVOD services. Netflix have already invested in the creation of 600 hours of original content and Amazon Prime is investing heavily in big-name talent such as Jeremy Clarkson. Top Gear has been watched by 350 million individuals worldwide, proving a steep hill for Amazon Prime & Clarkson’s The Grand Tour to climb. There is still a lot of catching up to do – towards the end of 2015 TV player apps hit a high point of 855 million minutes viewed during one week compared to 95.2 billion minutes watching TV in the same week.

BARB’s latest research proves that VOD is not a replacement for live TV but rather a supplement, though its significance should not be diminished. Strong results emphasise this; Made in Chelsea and TOWIE feature far more prominently on app viewing than they do in conventional ratings. In addition, the success of BBC Three as an online platform has been revealed in this BARB report with the list of top 10 watched online shows featuring their shows Cuckoo and Life On Death Row.

To conclude, the BARB report confirms that VOD services are yet to outweigh traditional TV viewing; we are still living in a golden age of TV where people talk about it, share thoughts on social media and spend 3 hours 51 minutes each day, on average, watching their favourite programmes. However, it will be interesting to see if BBC Three continues to enjoy such strong results and whether any other broadcasters follow suit with an online-only offering.

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The end of ‘printism?’ Brexit slows down decline in newspapers

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Print media has been swimming against the tide for years, but in 2016 the current is more turbulent than it has been for some time.

The closure of The Independent earlier this year hailed a significant change in the newspaper market as it became the first newsbrand to transform to an online-only offering. Another considerable blow came when Trinity Mirror’s New Day was axed just two months after launch. More recently, the Telegraph Media Group and The Guardian have both announced plans to make a large number of redundancies across their editorial departments.

While it seems pretty bleak for the print market, the last few ABC circulation reports for national newspapers have delivered surprisingly positive results – namely an upturn in circulation figures.

Following the closure of The Independent, The i reported a 7% rise circulation in April with almost 20,000 more copies leaving the shelves each day. Interestingly, The Times and Daily Telegraph have also enjoyed unusual year-on-year increases of 10.9% and 2.6% respectively. It is unlikely that these titles are seeing circulation increases solely due to the closure of one long-standing newspaper. A stronger line of reasoning is that the uncertainty surrounding current socio-political events is driving readers to seek answers and opinion from their favourite print titles.

Research carried out by Reuters has confirmed that national newspapers have been acting as Brexit propagandists by rallying up troops for the impending referendum, with most in favour of Britain leaving the European Union. Newspapers have historically been a point of reference in times of indecisiveness, providing a ‘trusted’ and research-led view for its readers, but also a voice. This ‘voice’ may well be the singular most important mechanism keeping the print market’s wheels in motion.

Similarly convincing research published by The Week recently found that readers’ perception of it as a ‘trusted voice’ was the strongest reason for its 34 consecutive circulation increases. Readers want that ‘intelligent friend’ and respected voice to turn to in times of uncertainty, which explains these unexpected circulation increases.
The last few years have been a bumpy ride for newsbrands. In this time of uncertainty, publications are likely to take steps to strengthen their reader’s perception of them as a ‘trusted voice’ to build on the momentum seen over the last few months.