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May 2017

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Join The Party: ‘Dark Ads’ And The UK Election

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So-called ‘dark ads’ – targeting individuals online with uniquely tailored messages – have been under the spotlight during the latest US and UK election campaigns. 

According to some sources, the Trump campaign hiring Cambridge Analytica, a strategic communications agency, was one of the driving forces behind the US Election results, with a hefty £5m investment going towards successful targeting of key swing voters online. During last year’s Referendum, the Vote Leave campaign worked with a similar company which specialises in profiling Facebook users and serving individually-targeted advertising. 

Despite the use of ‘dark ads’ being called out as an ‘unregulated practice’, and concerns over spending limits, it appears that the parties are playing by the rules; even the ominously named Who Targets Me  – a service which sends users regular updates on how they are being targeted by political parties – acknowledges this. 

Just like all other advertisers, political parties are now able to understand voters and target them with highly-targeted personal messages. There’s also the opportunity for parties to present different users with different, and even contradictory, messages – depending on, say, their likely voting intention or that of their local constituency. 
According to data collected so far, over 60 different political ads have been used during this election campaign. But political parties are, largely, using social media in much the same way other channels are being used; to develop a shared narrative, rather than sending fundamentally different messages to different people. The Conservatives have homed in on Corbyn as their line of attack, whereas Labour are promoting their policies, and largely targeting a younger audience, encouraging them to register their vote.

Political parties are wary of serving different messages because they understand that social media is, inherently, sharable. Despite being called ‘dark ads’, social doesn’t always remain ‘dark’ – for political parties in particular, they are just a screenshot away from their reputation being lost, and even breaking campaigning regulations. Fake news websites might get away with falsehoods, but scandal stays with a political party. 

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The Battle of YouTube Vs BARB

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The latest chapter in the YouTube vs. TV battle saw the online giant suffer a setback in its plan to gain accreditation from BARB.

The site proposed a pilot scheme which entailed providing its server data to BARB, but the organisation declined as it didn’t meet its “gold standards”.

BARB has previously said that any online platform – including the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime – can have its audience figures independently measured through BARB, as long as there is auditing to ensure viewing data is free of bots, gamification and any other flaws, and is based on “average duration audience principles”.
 
Both of these factors were stumbling blocks for YouTube; it isn’t comfortable embedding BARB’s software code on the site – something that broadcasters allow on their online TV players – and YouTube counts a view after a minimum allotted time, rather than the required average viewing duration time. In addition, the cost and practicality of tracking the sheer volume of online views on YouTube has also gone against the platform.

Over the years, the TV industry has had a taut relationship with YouTube as the online platform continues to claim that it holds viewer dominance, particularly with a younger audience. This latest update represents a small but significant blow for the digital giant, especially off the back of seeing it answer its critics on brand-safety issues over extremist content.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for YouTube. While it failed to gain BARB accreditation, the increased popularity of non-traditional linear platforms has aided its cause. According to Enders, just 56% of 16-34 year olds’ total “video time” is now spent watching TV live. These younger audiences are more adept in discovering good video content, a mindset that makes this audience not only more selective but platform-agnostic.

The advertising industry must prepare for a generation of young people who spend more time watching video online and who may not even have a TV set.

YouTube acknowledges the power of joining the industry’s joint currency, but it won’t be straightforward. YouTube needs to justify its recording of views against TV channels before it even comes close to accreditation. The opportunity is great for YouTube, who could tap into a major new source of revenue, and BARB measurement would give them much needed validation, and help them prove how the numbers really stack up.

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#Breaking2: Sports Brands Race To The Finish Line

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Earlier this month, Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge ran the fastest marathon on record, clocking in at 2 hours and 25 seconds.

But this feat wasn’t in the hopes of winning a medal, and wasn’t run as part of an official race – in fact, the record won’t even stand, as Kipchoge had pace setters running along with him. The attempt to run a sub-two-hour marathon was arranged as a marketing stunt by Nike.
 
Kipchoge and several other athletes were paid to forfeit running in this year’s Berlin and London marathons, and instead take to the track in Italy, in partnership with Nike.

The quick-finish marathon attempt, also undertaken by two other athletes, was named #Breaking2 by the sports brand. The event was attended by celebs, and coverage hosted by Kevin Hart. The hashtag was promoted on Twitter, and the event was livestreamed on the platform, as well as on Facebook Live – where it’s now received over 5 million views.
 
It has been compared to the Red Bull Stratos Jump – it’s sports marketing, taken to the extreme. That the runners did not break the barrier doesn’t make the stunt a failure; if anything, it goes to show how difficult a challenge has been set.

David Peters, sports marketing specialist at Value Xchange, describes such events as “ownable” for these brands – having only to imply that the energy drink, or the sports apparel, might have helped these athletes in their feats, and instead focusing on associating the brand with ground-breaking innovation, record-breaking firsts, and with big, truly never-been-done-before accomplishments. 

Sports marketing doesn’t have to mean sponsoring big name athletes, but can, budgets-allowing, involve integration of a brand with the sport itself. Nike doesn’t just sponsor Mo Farah; it is trying to stand for, and change the history of, long-distance running.

For other brands, the lesson here is that sports marketing doesn’t have to involve sponsoring ready-made tournaments, or branding your name on a competition, but can mean hosting an event of your own – even it’s not as large-scale and big-budget as a marathon attempt – as long as it’s in-keeping with your brand’s strategy.

As a content marketing campaign, meanwhile, #Breaking2 succeeded in that it produced an engaging story, and a shareable video, that also happened to be an ad campaign, rather than an ad campaign worked up to generate content. It wasn’t just an event the marketing team threw some money at; it was an all-involved attempt, bringing in Nike’s technical specialists, sports researchers, hydration experts, pace runners, and some of the world’s top athletes.
Adidas is now planning its own sub two-hour marathon attempt, having launched its Adizero Sub2 shoe back in February – so for the giants of sporting apparel, it is now, quite literally, a race to the finish line.

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Get The Picture: The Rise Of Visual Search

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Facebook was pretty clear about one thing in its F8 keynote in April: the camera is now the most important thing on your phone.  And the rise of image-based communication in other platforms – Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram – is a growing consumer trend.

Apps are aiming to get ahead (and stay ahead) of what consumers want in the move towards visual recognition and the introduction of visual search tools. One of the main platforms taking the lead is Pinterest. Though it’s been image-recognition enabled for some time, it’s now starting to roll out the technology to its search functions. 
Instead of displaying only on keywords and other kinds of traditional tagging, advertisers will be able to serve ads that are relevant to the product on display. Pinterest president Tim Kendall unveiled the plans and showed off a few of the mechanics of it on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017.

“Until now we’ve only applied the visual discovery tech to the organic consumer facing products,” Kendall said. “But the news is we’re now applying it to ads.”   

So irresistible is this opportunity that Shazam – that major audio company – is tapping into the technology to allow its users to search its databases visually. All consumers have to do is snap a picture of an item, and their mobile will return a suggested purchase instantly. 
 
There is one drawback: consumers can only scan items that either already have a QR code or have Shazam’s camera logo. But the general thrust is in the right direction, laying the vital groundwork for expansion of this function in the most unlikely of sectors: music.
 
Spotify has also embraced the opportunity, going a little further with its new feature for sharing music via scannable images. The new ‘Spotify Codes’ feature creates a unique barcode and album cover image for every song, album, artist, and playlist. Scan these Spotify Codes with the new camera in the Spotify app’s search bar to instantly play that music.

With other companies like Canada’s Slyce raising nearly $30 million for its image recognition technology and major retailers Neiman Marcus in the US offering their own set of visual search features, momentum is gaining quickly. Such moves are warranted: the future of image search functionality will help to solve certain pain points in our lives and creates an opportunity too great for advertisers to ignore. 

For the launch of Calvin Harris’ new album the7stars worked with Columbia and Kinetic to take advantage of the new Spotify codes, generating a new way to stream music directly from outdoor posters.

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Short Term Thinking Takes Over

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Marketers are foregoing long-term effectiveness for short-term results. This was the warning from a study by Magnetic and Enders Analytics, released this month, which found that brands have moved from a traditional ratio of 60% of budgets going towards branding and 40% activation; it’s now closer to a 50:50 split. 
 
Evidence suggests that too much of a short-term focus leaves brands in a perilous position – Enders went as far as to describe a ‘crisis’ – with advertisers required to pay more for their customers than those with a stronger brand, and a long-term focus. It also leaves them unable to challenge more established brand names within their competitive set, and susceptible to new entrants who take on a longer term view in terms of marketing investment. 
In well respected IPA publication ‘The Long and the Short of It’, Les Binet and Peter Field analysed 996 campaigns covering 30 years, 700 brands and 83 countries. They found that the biggest return on advertising spend comes from long-term brand building activity. In fact, brand building activity will return more than twice the profit over the long-term when compared to solely focusing on short-term sales activation tactics. According to the study, the ideal balance between long-term and short-term tactics is 60:40; a recommendation the industry now appears to be overlooking.
 
The increased focus on short-term activity appears to go hand in hand with increased targeting and tracking capabilities within digital channels. UK adspend grew 3.7% in 2016; almost entirely driven by an increase in digital adspend, which itself was up 13.4% year-on-year.  Marketers with a shelf life only marginally longer than that of a football manager and boards wanting improved results each quarter have found digital propositions incredibly attractive. The promise of being able to track views, clicks and sales in near real time rightly appeals to those who are forced to focus on the short term.

But while the digital oligarchs, Facebook and Google, are being blamed for drawing marketers towards increased short-termism, the problem is not necessarily the media channels used, but in what we track when using them. Evaluated against a different set of metrics, Facebook and YouTube can help build a brand in the longer term; there are case studies from brands across almost every category which prove this.  

It all comes down to how we measure success. Clicks are important over the short term, particularly if they lead to sales. But keeping an eye on metrics which are harder to shift (awareness, positive impression, consideration) will not only prove long-term effectiveness, but will eventually mean it becomes cheaper and easier to deliver against the short-term metrics as well.