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December 2017

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UK Programmatic Spend to Hit £3.4 Billion

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Programmatic ad spend in the UK will increase by 24% and reach some £3.39 billion by the end of 2017, accounting for 79% of total display spend, a new report from eMarketer has found. The word programmatic is used commonly across most digital buys now, having become an umbrella term for digital automation or data-led decision making – so, as every digital screen quickly becomes connected to centralised platforms, what will this mean for advertisers?

Programmatic (as we all know it) started in 2007, with the first Demand Side Platforms coming on the market. This allowed agencies to access inventory and own the buying decisions across display (banners, native, video, audio), utilising machine learning to optimise display buying, focusing on buying audiences not impressions.

The teenage years weren’t pretty though. With more and more spend pushed into programmatic platforms, we have seen some big topics arising: hidden media inflation, transparency, viewability, ad fraud, and brand safety.

Thankfully we have fixes in place as the tech world catches up with the growth:

  • Ads.txt combats fraud through an agency-publisher buying confirmation code.
  • Viewability is no longer a major issue as publishers have adapted to demand, and agencies continue to advance their measurement techniques.
  • Fraud and brand safety measures are all there, but media owners still have to remain vigilant with any monetised UGC inventory.
  • The solution of header bidding has allowed for access to a more agnostic supply for programmatic.

New solutions such as blockchain also have the potential to change online ads forever, further solving fraud whilst allowing website visitors to be part of the transaction through crypto-currency.

Now that programmatic has matured, with more connected supply sources and having the ability to connect all digital channels, we’ve seen increased discussion around innovations using AI, machine learning and automation.

So, what does programmatic now mean for buying media? It looks as if almost all digital inventory will be accessible programmatically, meaning that buyers can decide where to buy, ad-by-ad, across digital display (banners, native video, audio), broadcaster VOD, addressable TV and the scale of outdoor. This will ultimately mean more
advanced holistic planning, less media wastage, more relevant/dynamic ad content and will lead to better
real-time measurement and optimisation of ATL media.

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What Does the Net Neutrality Ruling Mean for Advertisers?

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This month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reversed the 2015 ‘Obama-era’ US net neutrality ruling.
Under this ruling, broadband companies had to treat all data on the internet in the same way, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application or method of communication. Within this, they were specifically prohibited from the following practices:

  • Blocking:ISPs could not discriminate against any lawful content by blocking websites or apps.
  • Throttling:ISPs could not slow the transmission of data based on the nature of any legal the content.
  • Paid prioritisation: Service providers could not create an internet fast lane for companies such as Netflix
    or premium-paying consumers, and a slow lane for everyone else.

Net neutrality not only prevented internet service providers from using the practices above to benefit their businesses, it also prevented consumers being charged on a ‘bundles’ model for their internet access.

As part of the new policy set, the FCC chair Ajit Pai has enabled the telecoms companies to abide by voluntary principles, which will be enforced in a limited capacity by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).

Since the announcement last week, there have been a lot of articles – in The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian, Ad Age and The Drum to name but a few – on the topic of net neutrality, all giving their views on what this may or may not mean for the US, and the consequences for the wider world. As yet, the implications are uncertain and most of the commentary is speculation. Below is our digest of these opinions pieces, about the effects it will have:

The Consumer: The assumption is that ISPs may push for a bundling system, with differing premiums for subscriptions based on users’ data requirements. This would mirror the ‘pay-to-play’ model used by companies for mobile data. This could create a premium and economy class internet system – which, in our opinion, would be a terrible move.

The Internet Service Providers: Some argue that net neutrality would enable ISPs to properly monetise their investment in broadband. This seems fair, especially when you consider the size of these companies in comparison to Google or Facebook, for example. The removal of the regulation however, means that the ISPs can charge, and do whatever they want, as long as they are transparent in doing so. In this scenario, it is the consumer or content providers who will pay the price.

The Content Providers: Under the new net neutrality policy, content providers are at the mercy of the ISPs. While the internet giants can afford higher premiums to be in internet ‘fast lanes’; smaller content companies would lose out, further disrupting the publisher ecosystem.

The Advertisers: There are two trains of thought for advertisers. The first is exciting, with suggestions of new advertising opportunities being created, new ad units developed, and new approaches to consumer experiences: which may include “unlimited“ or “free” bandwidth offers. The second, however, suggests that the costs of reaching customers online may increase, with data becoming more valuable. It’s hard to say at this stage how this will pan out.

The new policy set by the FCC chair Ajit Pai is due to come into effect in about six weeks’ time. Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General from NYC, along with a number of US states have promised they will challenge the FCC in court. We’ll be monitoring developments over the coming months and assessing what, if any, the impact could be on UK consumers and the world of advertising.

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Inspiration From Our Festive Tracking Study

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With around 13% of all sales in the UK occurring in December (source: PCR) Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year – for most retailers, at least. Businesses fight to capture a chunk of the £42bn of sales that occur over the period, and to do this they need reliable, realistic and of-the-moment data to help influence their marketing strategies.

Christmas is hardly a new topic for researchers. With David Ogilvy’s famous adage ringing in our ears – “Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say” – we partnered with independent market research agency, ResearchBods, to create the first study into festive behaviours that doesn’t solely rely on what people claimed they had done retrospectively, or might do with future good intentions.

Monitoring consumer retail and media behaviours from November 2016 to January 2017, our study has just been shortlisted in the Mediatel Research Awards 2018 in the Best Tracking Project category. As Christmas is just round the corner, we thought we would share some of our favourite findings with you.

Firstly, busting the myth around stressful shopping – 53% of our participants enjoyed their experience, and only 4% found it stressful. It was a particularly sociable affair, with 1 in 5 Brits ‘making a day of it’ – eating lunch out, going to a pantomime, ice skating or taking part in a similar activity. This rose to 1 in 3 amongst the 16-24s, who by all accounts were most partial to a day of festive fun. The same proportion went out shopping with friends compared with a lonely 1 in 10 Brits aged 65+.

Over time, it’s no surprise that motivations to shop change. Inspiration hunting was the modus operandi for 35% of shopping trips in late November but only 19% of those in the week of Christmas. So for brands, any content designed to encourage discovery and consideration, or to pull particular gifting items or categories to the top of mind, needs to be delivered early on in the calendar. Price comparison became less important the closer we were to Christmas, so limited time offers and price-led comms should kick in from mid-December onwards.

One particular surprise was that Brits spent longer on retail websites over Christmas weekend last year than any other weekend in December, and we saw traffic to retail sites and apps spike from 7-9pm on Christmas day itself. This was fuelled by women, who also drove the “things to do” searches between Christmas and New Year. Social media use during the key period was driven by the 65+, who spent 2h19m on average on these platforms versus 1h27m for the 16-24 group. This was largely fuelled by use of Facebook Messenger, as they sought to connect with friends and family who weren’t with them on the day itself.

Finally, as we down tools for the next few days, crack open the champagne and brace ourselves for the Brussels sprouts, remember that the 27th December is when most people start to think about booking holidays and stock up on party treats and booze.

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What’s Going To Be Hot: 2018 Trends

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It’s that time of the year where agencies across the world start releasing their trends for the year ahead. Over the past few months, What’s Hot has been delving through everything from the fantastic to the fantastical so you don’t have to.

Below are our top five trends for advertisers in 2018.

  1. Automation will continue to affect every element of communication. Expect automation to accelerate in 2018: chatbots will continue to change customer expectations of brand interaction; self-driving cars (set to hit New York streets in 2018) will present new media opportunities, and automated content creation will allow brands to produce a number of customised ads that would never have been possible before. Who knows, 2018 might even be the year the first What’s Hot is written by a machine…
  2. Automated buying opens up new possibilities in old channels. The rise of programmatic and automated buying in “offline” channels such as TV (Sky AdSmart), digital outdoor and digital radio will continue at pace in 2018. As well as increased targeting opportunities, expect automated trading to encourage brave advertisers to create branding campaigns with more personalised and relevant messaging than ever before. 2018 is the year we expect to see “one million” ads turned into a reality.
  3. Data collection grows up. In years to come it might be that advertisers look back at 2017 as the high water mark of customer data. Arguably the biggest trend for next year will be the ripples that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sends through the business world. Next year is set to start with an update from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on the impact of the new laws on online advertising – watch this space for updates
    as they come in.
  4. Context returns to focus in the digital world.
    Recent years have prioritised the increasingly advanced targeting of audiences in digital. In this world: right ad, right time, right place has fallen down – with context being the primary issue. Revelations about brand safety on YouTube have dominated the media news this year, and we expect big advertisers to put a renewed emphasis on the context of their campaigns in 2018.
  5. Social influence under the spotlight. 2017 was a breakthrough year for proponents of greater transparency in the advertising world, with topics that had been quietly ignored coming to the fore. In 2018, the spotlight of transparency will continue to shine, and its glare is likely to turn to newer channels, such as social influencers. Social media activities by political parties in Mexico and shady analytic firms around the 2016 US elections prompted the launch of major investigations last year, and state-sponsored influence was talked about like never before on social channels, with Russia and North Korea frequently the key suspects. Given that advertisers spent over $570m on social influencers in 2017, 2018 may well see the transparency conversation shift into the brand-driven activity on these platforms.
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Lightbox Loves: The most important ‘trend’ for 2018

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The most important ‘trend’ for 2018

Now that we’ve come to the end of the 2017 rollercoaster, we’ve turned our attention to 2018.

Every company with a newsletter has an opinion on the ‘Top Trends for 2018’. Articles that promise to inform marketers of ‘everything they’ll need to know’ to navigate the 2018 maze. There’s a wealth of reports out there; from Foresight Factory’s #thenevernormal[1], Mintel’s Teenaiders[2], and Automated Commerce[3], to name just a few that caught my eye.

However, very few are talking about 2018’s most impactful event. It’s not sexy and there’s no snappy headline for it, but GDPR is going to make waves. The General Data Protection Regulation steps in to bring regulation up to speed now that 1995’s Data Protection Directive[4] is out-dated as “data becomes the new oil[5]. In a nutshell, GDPR does two things:
It enhances the rights of consumers over their data; giving them the right of access, of erasure, of transfer, of restriction and importantly, of not being profiled.

Secondly, it establishes heavy penalties against companies that mishandle data. This is great for consumer confidence, and businesses that get this right will benefit to see their brand trust strengthen.

However, with the majority (54%) of UK business expecting a data breach in the next 12 months (and 36% already had one), it’s surprising to see only 5% have the necessary strategies in place to be compliant[6]. For a bit of context if fined under GDPR, Uber’s[7] recent breach would have cost them 260 million[8] pounds, 4% of their annual turnover.

GDPR becomes enforceable on the 25th of May 2018. Being on top of the latest consumer trends and tech is important, but are you part of the 20% of businesses that admit they haven’t even begun to prepare for GDPR[9]?

[1] Foresight Factory
[2] Mintel Teenaiders
[3] Trend Watching
[4] DPD
[5] The Economist
[6] Financial Times
[7] BBC
[8] Business Insider
[9] DUB

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A Very Branded Christmas

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Christmas – that time of year when the mince pies, decorations, dates and walnuts come out from their yearlong hibernation. From this slumber the ad critic supremos also rise trying to outdo peers with their immovable opinions on the latest offering of festive TV ads.

[Insert Brand} ad is here and it’s all kinds of…

[Insert Brand] has lost its sparkle, it’s too formulaic.

[Insert Brand] this year’s winner….

[Insert Brand] most engaging in social…

But how much is the public really sharing adland’s fever-pitch, gripped by every detail of the latest execution? To some extent, they might consciously YouTube or (re-)tweet them, fuelled by marquee moments such as the first airing of Coca-Cola’s or John Lewis’ much-anticipated ads.

But recent research by the7stars unearthed that 17% of people feel that Christmas only begins once the John Lewis ad has aired, while 20% said Coca-Cola’s ‘Holidays are Coming’ signalled time to unbox that tinsel and reach for the Pret Christmas sandwich. Perhaps the public isn’t as fever-pitch about them as adland is after all.

But even with this, people still don’t experience Christmas at home gorging on TV ads. So why do we always just focus on a brand’s TV ad? At the7stars we encourage everyone to ‘get out there’ to listen to consumers – ‘people’, as we call them – pop adland’s filter bubble and look around the ‘real world’ in ‘real-time’.

So in this spirit, strategy@the7stars stepped forth and went shopping like everyone else. Black Friday is really when the spending starts, and there was no brighter star in the sky to start with than that above Soho Square: Amazon’s pop-up shop, the ‘Home of Black Friday’.

The home of #blackfriday

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If its summertime ‘Prime Day’ wasn’t enough, Amazon is now wrapping its tentacles around the Black Friday behemoth with its iconic name above its pop-up and the #BlackFriday emblazoned throughout the store. The best photos from the store win prizes. But really, everyone is a winner with free merch to take home (or re-gift) laden in each of the various rooms of the house for each visitor to the Home.

Interestingly, there’s very little Amazon branding, except for the music in each room being piped through Amazon Echo speakers accompanied by someone loudly instructing Alexa to turn the music back on. A team of busy elves (independent small business makers and creators) working on their gifts assortment further demonstrated that you really can buy anything on Amazon.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 4/5…. Four Jewellers making, Three Alexa’s singing, Two FIFA playing, And a hashtag in a Christmas tree
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 4/5 – Brief for this was ‘What if Amazon did entire town houses’
  • LIKELIHOOD TO TELL SOMEONE ABOUT IT – 5/5 – “Get down there they’re giving away Lego!”

A few days later, we take on the big guns. The ‘Three Kings’ – John Lewis, Debenhams and M&S – have each rolled out much-debated Christmas TV ads. But we found very different in-store experiences.

Part of the reason many people remember John Lewis ads years after airing is down to how they bring them to life in-store and online. True to form, as we arrived Moz the Monster signage enticed us up to his house within the toy department.

After a short queue, we’re in, a small grotto filled with different interactive versions of the under the bed monster. The multiple photo opportunities for the family was of equal delight to a group of 30-something strategists.

The staff are brilliant with the kids and families, and for a while you forget you’re in a shop, if feels more like a tiny slice of Disneyland… until you emerge to be confronted by numerous Moz stuffed toys which don’t actually resemble Moz that much.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 4/5 – Press the ‘Do not press button’ for Moz farts, but all over too quickly
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 5/5 – Like we were in the ad!
  • LIKELIHOOD TO TELL SOMEONE ABOUT IT – 3/5 – Rising to 5 if you know any children

A Cinderella story

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The story couldn’t be more different for Debenhams. Did Ewan McGregor find all the Christmas budget with Cinderella’s shoe? The tale doesn’t extend to the store, we were left madly roaming the store searching for a non-existence TV ad.

It’s a shame that such a well-accomplished TV execution didn’t have a greater effect on the in store experience. A multitude of purple tinsel hanging from the ceiling lets you know that it’s Christmas, albeit one designed by an ugly sister rather than Cinders herself.

Having said this, the Cinderella story does seem to have been embraced in one way – the women’s shoe section was full of sparkly numbers fit for a soon-to-be princess. Although sadly the Cinderella reference seems to have been missed by the store staff.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 2/5 – It’s a shop, with some tinsel
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 1/5 – We saw the Cinderella slipper but still struggled to make a connection
  • LIKELIHOOD TO TELL SOMEONE ABOUT IT – 2/5 – Did we mention it’s a shop, with some tinsel?

Nice touch from M&S

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A reference to iconic products is something the M&S team didn’t miss. Amplifying their tie-up with Paddington bear by wonderfully branding its Marmalade with his cheeky face. In fact, Paddington was all over the store, popping up on the store windows and across all kinds of M&S branded products.

The tie-up with Paddington’s latest on-screen caper would seem a win-win for both store and film distributor as each seemed to be everywhere for a period. Time will tell if it helped shift products for M&S, or just felt like the country’s biggest film campaign.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 3/5 – Marmalade was bought
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 5/5 – The perfect match

The Coca-Cola truck tour

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And then there was… ‘Holidays are coming, Holidays are coming’, the roving Coca-Cola truck. Yes, ‘it’s always the real thing’ and this year it was, parked up at The O2. The king of sugared drinks may have been hit by heath claims over recent years, but ‘tis the season not for Grinchs.

The truck tour seemed emblematic of everything this time of the year should be about: loved ones. Families – young parents with new born babies, older teens who have been strongarmed along for the annual picture – patiently waited in line just to have a photo next to the truck.

For a brand that could well be emblematic of the consumerism and un-healthiness of Christmas, it seemed to be the truest embodiment of the season.

  • ENGAGEMENT – 4/5 – It’s a simple selfie opportunity, but the truck pulled in passers-by like a baby in a barn
  • BRAND CONSISTENCY – 5/5 – It’s that red Coca-Cola truck from the ads
  • LIKELIHOOD TO TELL SOMEONE ABOUT IT – 5/5 – After queuing so long for a selfie you’re telling everyone on social media #holidays

Back at the7stars bar for some Mullins mulled wine, we reflected on our extensive fieldwork, the Lego, the marmalade sandwiches, the Coke, the selfies.

Sure, Christmas shopping online is easy, but when was easy also fun, thank you Christmas retailers and brands for your bounty, and for those still reading, well done with 2017, now go forth, shop too much, eat too much and drink too much and love the ones you love.

Merry Christmas from Chris Herbert and Will Jellicoe

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Lightbox Loves: Many think they know Millennials, but do they really?

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Millennials (aged 18-35) are a group who many feel they know. However, building marketing campaigns on these assumptions has led some down a path that meant their brand was viewed completely differently as to that which was intended.

Marketers focus on numerous negative stereotypes (spoiled, selfish, self-absorbed and lazy to name a few), however unless you can cleverly poke fun at these they will not help when it comes to communicating with this group. There are many more positives than that of generations who have preceded them, as the research shows, so why don’t more marketers focus on some of these?

Millennials are ambitious risk takers who are looking to find meaning in their lives, and brands should highlight these features to better connect with them (Foresight Factory, 2017). Their work further reinforces findings from a study by Mail Online and Metro in 2016 which gives guidelines for marketing to this group, and is well worth a read (

One popular stance is to be more than a brand and stand for something that helps and makes a difference – 46% of UK Millennials like it when brands address current social issues in their advertising (Foresight Factory, 2017).

The major thing to remember is that two thirds of global Millennials (Foresight Factory, 2017) don’t want to be defined by their age, so it is important that age is not the key focus as, as we’ve uncovered, the group are united and defined by so much more than this.

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Lightbox Loves: Christmas Adverts

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Christmas is coming….

Christmas songs are playing out and the decorations are being put up.  And it’s only December 4th.
With circa 13% of all sales in the UK occurring in December (source: PCR) Christmas is the most wonderful (and stressful) time of the year.  Retailers are all too aware they need to capture a chunk of the £42bn of sales that occur, and to do this they need a winning Christmas advert.

John Lewis heralded the start of the Christmas ad season back in mid-November with Moz the Monster, followed shortly after by many of the other major UK retailers.

But we know from our ‘Untangling The Fairy-lights’ research that Christmas grocery shopping consideration doesn’t set in until December.  Therefore Friday 1st December saw the unveiling of Iceland’s Christmas adverts with an overwhelmingly positive response across social media.

Much has already been written about who’s winning the Christmas advert competition, with both positive and negative sentiment demonstrating that all brands have the opportunity to create standout with clever creative and media placements.

Iceland’s humorous view on the festive season has created organic social engagement and word of mouth, providing early positive traction in a very cluttered space.