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April 2017

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Getting to Know Gen Z

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Behaviours, not birth years, define generations. Gen-Z are not just the young inhabitants of the 21st century, they’re a marked departure from the societal identities that precede them. On a superficial level, yes they are “technological natives”; more accustomed and devoted to screens than generations before – on a deeper level, what they’re really used to is instantaneous and all-encompassing access to information, people, pop-culture…. the list goes on. At a glance, these may not be the kind of insights that fuel new marketing strategies, but as a whole they present a warning against treating Gen Z as a homogenous generation and making the same mistakes that have been made when marketing to Millennials.

Our consumer centric planning approach at the7stars meant that we wanted to talk to Gen Z first hand to find out more about them, rather than rely on secondary sources of insight. So we hosted a workshop with 36 x 14-17 year olds – we gave them real music artist marketing briefs to think about and respond to, and listened to their views about music and media.

When it comes to music, Spotify and YouTube were cited for their fluid forms of consumption as opposed to the rigidness of physical or even downloaded music – and even more interesting was the extent of their co-dependence; music discovered on YouTube finished on a personal playlist on Spotify. Attention-grabbing songs on Spotify resulted in searches for the video on YouTube. Playlists on both platforms were crucial; both as vehicles for music discovery but also as staples of their personal library that could also be shared with friends.

There was also a clear hierarchy of media choice. There was an unsurprising prevalence of the more ephemeral social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. Snapchat brought up some interesting points of discussion; with Gen Z using it to communicate to their friends via photos rather than via standard messaging, while Twitter was found to be divisive among those who loved it for the access it provided to the daily lives of the people they followed and those who found no use for it in their social repertoire.

So what do Gen Z want? Their responses to the artist briefs showcased universal themes – they crave inclusion and content that is ‘real’ rather than curated. As a result, the personality of, and closeness to the music artists took centre stage -reflecting the unprecedented access provided in the age of social media. Knowing the artist on a more personal level was something to be expected, not just desired. They showed that they are clearly more active consumers who search for a greater level of inclusion within campaigns– capitalising on fan mechanics to drive engagement and gamification are a clear-cut way of supporting this.

Insights like these are being fed back into our planning process, demonstrating the opportunity for brands to get to know Gen Z, and better still, involve them in tailoring marketing communication strategies we know will engage.

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United in Criticism

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United Airlines made the headlines for all the wrong reasons this month. According to eye-witness reports and in the aftermath that followed, it is clear a stunning catalogue of errors were made. Much coverage has focused on the PR errors (of which there were a few) but if we go back to the actual incident itself – it was a story of personal distress which was captured on film and in turn publicised around the world. The passenger in question, Mr Dao, later described the experience as more ‘horrifying and harrowing’ than when he had escaped Vietnam following the fall of Saigon.
 
When you consider it from a human perspective, there is very little that a brand can say in response without being in danger of causing real offence. In short, there is nowhere to hide. United’s competitors knew this well and one by one they responded.
Air Jordan stated that dragging was prohibited on their flights and similarly Qatar airways playfully adopted the messaging that their app does not support drag and drop. Emirates, too, shared a video poking fun at United’s beleaguered CEO.
 
Of the three, the Emirates response fares best. It defiantly quotes United’s CEO as saying “Those [gulf] airlines aren’t airlines,” then continues to showcase tripadvisor reviews describing it as the best airline to fly with and celebrates its many award successes. Emirates used the opportunity to challenge and self-promote in a way that was in tune with already planned messaging. In fact it’s a video which would have worked without United’s disastrous overbooking issue. The other airlines fail in that they are echoing the same jokes already in circulation, but in a more anodyne way.
‘Newsjacking’ – leveraging trending news to elevate a brands message – is a term that has only recently become a marketing buzzword. But not all brands get it right. Remember when an array of clothing brands tried to jump on trending news of Superstorm Sandy with sales messages, and Kenneth Cole tried to tap into Twitter buzz on the Arab spring?
 
Now as the fallout from United’s disastrous month is settling, there’s a lesson and a reminder for other brands too. Effective Newsjacking is not just raising a laugh that will last for a moment and risk being forgotten just as quickly. While referencing up-to-date news stories and getting in on the conversation can make a brand seem relevant and even get them trending socially for a while, it is best to leverage news in a humorous yet intelligent way that plays to existing marketing plans and long term strategy.

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Ad Blocker Update: Altruistic or Self-Serving?

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As the largest advertising platform in the world, Alphabet Inc.’s Google has a duty to support the digital advertising industry and the users whose actions and data help grow their profits. On the face of it, rumours this week of Google creating an ad blocker for their browser, Google Chrome, seems an altruistic move to help clean up and improve user experience online.
 
The benefits of an owned ad blocker could give Google copious industry advantages. There have been many concerns raised by experts already, ranging from the relatively absurd – Google wanting to remove all display ads – to the reasonable – Google trying to improve Chrome and increase browser share. Yet the real question is whether this could result in another case of Google marking its own homework.
 
It wasn’t until February this year that YouTube allowed the Media Rating Council to audit their ad metrics. If Google were to own the ad blocking technology, then it could give them an unfair advantage into what can and can’t be let through.
 
The timing is also interesting, coming just weeks after intense scrutiny worldwide for serving ads alongside inappropriate content. Technological progress would be better served in improving the identification process for video content, which would go some way to appeasing these recent controversies.
 
At the start of this year, Pagefair revealed that an estimated 11% of global internet users have an ad blocker installed on a device. There is a clear need for a spring clean of Display advertising, but even with Adblock Plus – one of the most popular blockers in the UK – it’s possible for advertisers to pay a fee to pass ads through. This is something Google already does; their reliance on the open web, rather than an app ecosystem, means that this ‘tax’ is a necessity to ensure all their formats are seen.
 
In the coming weeks, we are sure to find out more. Google will likely announce more details around how the classification will work and what control the Coalition for Better Ads – an independent body to define what ads should and shouldn’t be accepted online – will have. Plus it’ll be interesting to see whether it will be automatically updated to Chrome browsers.
Many more questions will be asked, but if the rumours are true and it creates the necessary move into cleaner, clearer ads online, then that’s positive for consumers and brands alike – just as long as it doesn’t block the competition.

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Pepsi Fiasco: What Went Wrong?

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A famous, millennial favourite, Victoria’s Secret model: check.
Casting that covers every diversity: check.
A massive global media budget: check.
A brand ambition to tap into the cultural zeitgeist: check.
 
What could possibly go wrong?
 
Within 24 hours the latest big budget brand ad from Pepsi had been pulled from YouTube and mocked to an early death by the internet. It wasn’t just the advertising world asking ‘how could this happen?’.
Reality TV star Kendall Jenner leaves a photo shoot to join a heavily policed demonstration, defusing the tension by walking to a police line and handing an officer a can of Pepsi, prompting cheers. The comparisons with social activism like the Black Lives Matter movement were too much to bare and brands were quick to see how quickly things can spiral when marketing fails to demonstrate any common sense.
 
The root of the problem was an ill-judged attempt by the fizzy drinks maker “to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding”. The rueful statement in the wake of the fiasco went on: “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologise. We did not intend to make light of any serious issues. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout.”
 
The mocking was equal to the outrage that greeted the advert. Jimmy Kimmel commented “The fact that this somehow made it through — I can’t imagine how many meetings, and edits, and pitches, and then got the thumbs-up from who knows how many people is absolutely mind-boggling.” Once it became known that the ad was an in-house creation, ad agencies breathed a sigh of relief in what will surely strengthen their position of expertise.
 
Mike Middleton, head of creative at Dentsu Mobius Media said “Clients are often keen to try and cut out agencies because we’re ‘more expensive.’ But agencies are paid to give wise counsel, and this sort of thing would have been flagged.”
 
There are four rules of engagement for advertisers to follow to avoid making the same mistakes:
 
1. Share your brand values: don’t try selling stuff off the back of someone else’s values
2. Understand your audience, completely, and know that they have their own minds
3. Choose your spokesperson wisely, the alliance has to feel genuine
4. If it all hits the fan, either apologise quickly and candidly, or don’t and stick to your guns
 
The upswing of all of this – apart from uniting the internet – is that the PR storm far exceeded anything a less controversial ad could have mustered. Newsrooms and water coolers were all a buzz with comment, with Pepsi featuring in thousands of memes. It was coverage that money can’t buy, or perhaps it did?

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Alexa & the Voice Tech Revolution

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Behind closed doors a revolution in voice recognition tech is taking place. In 2013 the7stars uncovered users of voice recognition were too embarrassed to use devices in public, believing that it was generally easier to press buttons. As a result, most had only used it for novelty. Now, four years on, tech companies are shaping new attitudes and beliefs about conversing with technology.
 
Amazon’s Echo has found a purpose for voice recognition and is normalising what many might feel as unnatural or embarrassing. The Alexa product is everybody’s personal assistant. For example, when you’re at home, probably multi-tasking by holding the fridge door open with your foot as you stretch to reach for the ingredients list on the counter, you quickly realise you didn’t pick up the all-important saffron for your ambitious curry you want to make tonight. As you kick yourself and start thinking about just how much of a difference that damn Saffron would’ve made, you also ask Alexa to order it for next time.
 
For those who aren’t called ‘Alexa’ the reviews so far seem to mark a game changer. Naturally other competitors have rushed into the space, most notably Google Home, and so too have brands. Yet the phrase “do in haste and repent at leisure” has perhaps never been so relevant. Just search “Is Obama planning a coup” or “Burger King, Google Home” to see the evidence.
 
As consumers get into the habit of missing out ‘search’ and simply ask for the answer, the tech itself will become more central to everyday lives and is undoubtedly en route to becoming the next major disruptor. Brands will be on alert about the idea of “hacking into the home”; breaking down the consumers walled gardens and eliminating the competition before perhaps giving it sufficient consideration.
 
Brands should think hard about how they can utilise a world where voice is preferred over touch. Three questions Marketers should consider are:
 
1. What answers does your brand have in a Q&A world?
2. Does your brand have permission to hack into the home?
3. How do you persuade Echo, Google Home or any equivalent to choose yours over another?
 
Early adopting brands who have started experimenting with voice recognition will inevitably have an advantage in the long term as more and more consumers begin to shake off their embarrassment and realise the potential new technology can offer them. Even if it’s just adding Saffron to their next curry, it’s still a huge step forward.