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March 2018

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All Aboard the Elizabeth Line

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First proposed in the 1970s, and with work starting in 2009, the 73-mile Crossrail project, now named the Elizabeth Line, is finally opening its full route to the public next year.

The line, running from Reading through central London and on to Shenfield, has cost nearly £15bn to construct, and will see the opening of nine new stations in central and outer London, serving as a new commuter route for millions of Londoners.

This month Transport for London (TfL) and commercial partner Exterion brought the proposition to market, with a unique approach to advertiser investment.

Rather than buying the route as part of the wider Underground network, brands will, at first, only be able to buy ad space on the Elizabeth Line through a partnership package.

At a proposed cost of £6.5m per advertiser, six launch partners are guaranteed sector exclusivity for the first 12 months of operation, as well as a proportion of the advertising estate on stations and trains (including large-format digital, small-format digital, digital escalator ribbons and train panels). Compared to the current TfL inventory, ad space will be high-tech and state-of-the-art, with 90% being digital panels.

Brands will also receive exposure through TfL’s own website and marketing, with brand logos throughout, including a presence on all versions of the tube map.

The line will carry 200m passengers per year – comparable to the Victoria line, which is currently the sixth busiest line on the network. It will bring an additional 1.5m commuters to within 45 minutes of the city centre and will also be responsible for transporting tourists, expecting to carry a similar proportion of international travellers as the rest of the network (approximately 28%).

While Elizabeth Line sites will not appear on Route – the UK’s outdoor audience measurement system – until mid-2019, it is estimated that in the first year it will reach 4.7m unique adults at a total OTS of 140.

Our view is that it is a difficult time to come to market with such a proposition. While the scale of investment means that it’s likely this will be funded via a corporate sponsorship rather than media budgets, asking for this large a sum is ambitious. Recently, the openings of Heathrow T5 and T2 and the re-launch of the Piccadilly Lights all had difficulty finding long-term commitment. It feels likely that, ultimately, this will instead be sold as smaller chunks of inventory.

From a planning perspective, the audience can be reached more efficiently through other environments. However, this is a sponsorship opportunity, and the value potentially delivered through the association with the Elizabeth line and all it represents should be considered – investing in London and being at the centre of state-of-the-art infrastructure that will transform the way people move around the city.

Another consideration would be the management of the creative messaging throughout the day, week, and year to continually engage and entertain travellers.

If the rationale for investing in London in this way has appeal to an advertiser, and the creative and amplification mechanics can be realised, then there are few opportunities of this scale and stature.

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Diversity: The Topic Du Jour At MRS Impact

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It’s not quite up there with Glasto but MRS Impact – the Market Research Society’s annual conference – is often a highlight in the calendar for researchers, advertisers and brands alike.

This year was no exception. Themed around ‘Innovation, Inspiration and Integration’, there was an emphasis on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the big business agenda. This made a welcome change from last year’s fascination with Brexit.

The financial services sector, for one, demonstrated a clear concern with everything from the gender pay gap to the representation of minorities within advertising.

Ros King, Director of Marketing Innovation and Communications at Lloyds Banking Group was particularly articulate on the subject, sharing with the audience the process behind the successful ‘By Your Side’ campaign – a 60-second ad spot, running on TV alongside digital, print and outdoor, reiterating the group’s support for British people and communities.

She also shared the business rigour behind what could be otherwise viewed as an advertising ploy. Her advice?

Expect backlash – but know you’re doing the right thing.

One anecdote involved a far right group threatening to boycott Lloyds as a result of their advertising showing a man proposing to his (male) partner. Their response was to give full and clear details to the customer on the steps they needed to take to close their accounts.

Another brand which showcased an interesting use of ‘real people’ was BT Group. They outlined how the use of ethnographic research amongst the ‘fringes’ of modern Britain allowed them to create a storybook based on real events, from the Muslim family’s Eid trip a funfair through to a grandad who spent his entire day Skyping his grandson. These heart-warming stories are the basis for their new brand creatives, and are ultimately driving the brand back into the nation’s affections.

Be authentic – and tell a story.

This was also the approach Lucozade took with their Anthony Joshua creative back in 2017 ahead of his Klitschko fight. Rather than use their sponsorship in a traditional sense they spent a weekend in Dubai with AJ and his family, and realised that his story was not just his success as an athlete but the relationship he has with his mother, and how that has shaped him as a man.

The execution was a roaring success, earning the creative team two Cannes Lion awards and boosting sales of Lucozade Sport significantly.

Great brands focus on product benefits not human deficits.

This came from a participant in Flamingo & The Age of No Retirement’s study into the relationship between age and design principles. While attitude still overrides demographic, the idea that brands should direct their attention to what they can give the world (rather than negatively framing their audience as needing improving) was an interesting sentiment.

One thing is certain. Diversity is an agenda which isn’t going away. From levelling the gender playing field to representing all walks of life in communications, it is no longer a token effort – but a business and brand imperative.

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Sadiq Speaks: Politics & Publishers at SXSW

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Politics and media: the two just don’t seem to be able to avoid each other these days. From the misuse of personal data and threats of advertising cuts to politicians talking at industry conferences, principles, politics and publishing have combined to hit the headlines again this month.

Hot off the heels of Unilever CMO Keith Weed talking at the IAB conference last month, where he warned technology firms that “Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect children or which create division in society and promote anger or hate”, Sadiq Khan has taken a similar strong stance.

Speaking at SXSW, Khan excoriated platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for fuelling societal divisions, expressing “growing concerns about the way some of the biggest companies on the planet are impacting our lives and the overall wellbeing of our societies”.

He spoke of an “increase in disconnect and disillusionment” of many communities in Britain, fuelled by Brexit and powered in part by social media and the tech revolution.

Abuse of social data is another major concern raised this month, with Cambridge Analytica at the centre of allegations – the company being accused of using the personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential election in 2016. With the London-based consulting firm’s offices having been searched by the UK’s Information Commissioner, we could see Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of one of the biggest media platforms in the world, face serious consequences – and we’re not just talking about the $37bn  drop in Facebook’s value to date.

Khan said: “Understandably, there are concerns about the ways some of the biggest firms on the planet are impacting our lives. These new platforms have been used to exacerbate, fuel and deepen the divisions in our community”, adding that the issue “should worry democracies around the world”.

He went on to say: “We simply must do more to protect people online. Facebook and Twitter and other platforms are finally starting to react to the criticisms. But with the skills and resources the companies have at their disposal, I believe it’s possible to go further and faster.”

Khan admitted that politicians have been sitting on their hands while the tech world has exploded around them, and said “we all placed too much faith in the vision of great tech pioneers”. The stronger duty of care that he strives for will be the responsibility of governments and Silicon Valley working together for change.

If relationships can’t be forged, Khan warned, tougher regulations similar to those Germany has recently put in place may be echoed worldwide, where tech firms which fail to remove content like hate speech now face hefty fines. But as a big proponent of free speech, the mayor doesn’t back strict regulation.

He concluded: “The good news is that we’re only just at the beginning of this journey and if companies and politicians at all levels of government can work together to shape the future of tech, then I remain optimistic that we can utilise technology to create more united cities and countries, and optimistic that we can work together to instil hope for a better, more inclusive future for us all.”

To date we’ve seen these tech giants operate on their own terms, but with politics and big headlines involved, it’s unlikely this will last much longer.

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Blockchain Gang: The New Wave of Crypto Start-Ups and What They Can Do For Media

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Since we last wrote about blockchain in August, the technology has exploded as a martech buzzword, fuelled a cryptocurrency investment bubble (which subsequently burst) and has been hailed as the potential saviour of the NHS.

To recap, blockchain is an immutable, public, distributed ledger that allows transactions to be confirmed by a decentralised network of stakeholders. It therefore negates the need for a centralised arbiter or established trust between participants. It is impenetrably secure by design, meaning that entries cannot be modified or deleted, and the identity of participants is verified (but not necessarily disclosed) through public-key encryption.
Numerous start-ups are now emerging in this space, each offering a blockchain solution to one of several issues in the digital advertising industry.

MetaX has launched its Ads.txt Plus, which seeks to solve the issue of outdated records in standard ads.txt files. Measurement company Kochava has built XCHNG, a high-speed buying solution that aims to fully unify the concepts of blockchain and digital advertisers to the advantage of media buyers. NYIAX, which has been co-developed by Nasdaq, is the first blockchain-powered ad exchange, and is built on the framework that powers the financial stock exchange.

Without a doubt, the biggest issue in digital right now is the looming rollout of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in May. Some are speculating that it might thwart months of progress in programmatic ad buying – but a start-up called MadHive claims that blockchain can offer its own solution to this conundrum.

The current model of housing user data in a central store may become less viable as users opt not to share their personal data with marketing and advertising companies. MadHive’s solution is based on personal data being cryptographically sealed on a user’s device, which “asks” for appropriate advertising rather than being pushed messages from a central adserver. This way, personal information need not be shared or stored externally, yet ads can still be relevant and appropriate for the user.

These are just a few examples, and in these early days we have yet to see which of them present viable long-term, meaningful solutions to martech issues – their potential impact is still debateable.
While we’re excited about the prospect of blockchain, we’re cautious; as with any technology, it’s rare for the early adopters to be the eventual winners.

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Hello, Are You Listening? New Wave Audio & The Voice Economy

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It wasn’t so long ago that conversations were all about ‘sound off and subtitles on’, with social platforms seen as the most exciting new way to reach consumers.

However, developments in tech and trends in media consumption have combined to catapult us from this silent screen arena into a new voice economy powered by speakers. It’s time for brands to say ‘hello’.

Thanks to a few different factors, namely the growth of in-car DAB, the resurgence of the podcast and the birth of voice assistants, there are now more listening touchpoints than ever before.

From an advertiser’s point of view, these tech developments build upon the established benefits of using radio in the comms mix (cost efficiency, ability to build an emotional connection, and flexibility) and layering in the additional advantages of incremental reach, sophisticated targeting and dynamic creative.

These new listening opportunities have kept audio consumption robust, with the average UK adult listening for 3hrs 9mins each day. While many predicted that new tech developments would lead to an ebbing away of the time spent with traditional media, the opposite has occurred for audio content.

Radiocentre research has found that the most common use of an Amazon Echo is to listen to radio or on-demand music services, with over two thirds using their speaker for this.

The opportunity posed by voice was raised at Advertising Week Europe this month by James Poulter, Head of Emerging Platforms at Lego, who asserted that “by 2020 most major brands will need some kind of audio or voice strategy in place, mainly because it’s becoming the primary [online] access point for many people in the home around content overall”.

It is now possible to target ads specifically to voice assistants via Global’s DAX and 69 different Bauer Radio stations, and these platforms offer a particularly interesting opportunity as a new broadcast channel.

Research published by DAX last week found that two thirds of advertisers recognise this potential and plan to create ads specifically for voice-activated devices in 2018. Consistent sonic branding (straplines, music, and voice) across channels has been found to drive brand recognition and likeability – the question for advertisers is how to take these learnings and capitalise on the fact that they can now tap into a new listener interface which is embedding itself intimately into peoples’ daily lives.

Voice now also goes beyond what a brand says in ATL advertising, and Poulter referenced the need for developing a ‘brand presence’ within audio. To reframe the importance of this, let’s consider that historically a consumer would generally only look to speak to a brand to complain; customer service teams in call centres and in charge of community management for social platforms would be equipped with a brand bible which dictated tone of voice, but few brands had an established consistent audible voice.

Voice assistants now pave the way for positive one-to-one dialogue between a brand and a consumer, but the question is what does this sound like? Many brands who were first to market with creating their own Echo ‘skill’ have rushed onto the platform without creating a strategy to find and protect their brand’s voice. This is a missed opportunity, proven by the fact that most branded skills use the generic ‘Alexa’ voice, and as such have lost out on the potential for a rich brand touchpoint.

With a rapt audience, there has never been a better time for brands to recognise the important of voice, not only within their ATL strategies but within the full marketing mix to protect brand equity long-term.

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Lovebox Loves: A Very British Easter

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Easter is a worldwide tradition that falls every year and has done for thousands of years. It is ubiquitous in British culture and our school education. However, when Brits are asked what they personally associate this religious occasion with, 3 in 4 said it was about the chocolate eggs and 2 in 3 claimed it was about the bank holiday. Indeed, the religiously significant reason behind our celebrations has fallen short on many of us, with just over half correlating the festival with Jesus. Unsurprisingly, the studies revealed a generous knowledge gap among the age groups, with 70% of those age 65+ associating this weekend with the Son of God, versus just 44% of 18-24 year olds. (YouGov, 2017).

However, it appears that Brits want to make the most of the long weekend, regardless of knowledge or belief around the religious festival. Last year, 2 in 5 used the extra days off to visit family, 4 in 10 exchanged gifts (YouGov, 2017) and UK holiday makers contributed to an estimated £1.7 billion boost in the domestic tourism economy over the long weekend last year (VisitEngland, 2017). Regardless of religious persuasion, it is clear it is a time for getting out and about and celebrating with loved ones. How can brands make the most of Brits’ more active side over this festive weekend?

Religious or not, there is something for everyone to celebrate over Easter. Whether you’re one of the 9% that goes to church, or if you’re one of the 40% who will enjoy a tipple or two (YouGov,2017), brands have plenty to work with to ensure they are present and relevant over the long weekend.

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Lovebox Loves: Thinking Outside the Box – Online Qual

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Here at the7stars, we’re always looking to enhance our research capabilities. As the world of market research evolves, there’s an ever-expanding selection for us to consider when looking for the tool of best fit for any given project. Just recently, we’ve seen a higher consideration for repurposing smaller, more everyday messenger apps for running qualitative exercises. For example, we regularly speak to people across the UK this way in the QT. The insight garnered from these groups has increased our confidence in using apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for qual.

Some reasons for considering these apps:

Familiarity – we use these apps on a daily basis and, being so widespread, so do all our respondents. This reduces tech issues that can put respondents off taking part or prevent them from fully expressing their thoughts and feelings. These tech issues can also affect us in running groups, but by using apps we’re familiar with (who isn’t already part of multiple group chats?!) allows us to confidently set-up and run groups. It also means people don’t have to download a new app that they’re unfamiliar with and can sometimes cause suspicion.

Engaging – the owners of these apps have spent billions making sure their users enjoy the platform and engage with them all day every day. As such, respondents enjoy taking part as communicating via them is such a natural, familiar thing for them to do. People can be more responsive and open as a result, allowing a greater level of communication with us. This can be especially useful when trying to communicate with younger audiences.

Media – sharing photos, videos and sound clips over messenger apps is such a prevalent behaviour, the apps are all well established in their ability to facilitate this. Our research has become more media-based and it’s surprising how many research supplier platforms still struggle with this. Having to communicate to respondents that images need to be in certain formats, or videos have to be under a certain length or size, is sometimes an unwelcome part of online qual. Messenger apps eradicate this.

Secure – GDPR is coming. At the forefront of data security scrutiny is often the likes of Facebook who own the messenger apps we use for research. Their focus on encryption and other security measures is reassuring for us running these groups and for respondents taking part.

Futureproof – these apps are always evolving to better suit user needs. This is great for us as it means they are always up to date, allowing us to capture insight in the most current ways possible. The use of chatbots to run group conversations is just one possibility in the not too distant future for example.

Cost – Zero! Well, for the platforms at least. Reducing the cost of such projects is great for us and our clients. It also allows clients with tighter research budgets (or time constraints) to run bespoke research projects and unearth genuine consumer insights.

Chatbot conducted, Snapchat qual groups anyone?

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Lightbox Loves: Mothering Sunday – did you treat her right?

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We’ve just spent the day/weekend spoiling our mums for Mother’s Day, with 44,064 Brits even going online to vocalise their mum-love and showcase their celebrations (Sysomos, 2018). With the day now behind us we take a look to see if all this fuss is what mum really wants, or is it something that we’ve been led to believe?

Last year research conducted by Mintel found that it is the event when more cash is splashed than any other occasion in the Spring/Summer Season – sorry fathers and boyfriends/girlfriends. In fact, we even spend more on Mother’s Day than Easter!

In recent years a box of chocolates and breakfast in bed hasn’t been considered enough, with a greater number of the British population being more extravagant with their gifts; in average we spend £30 on our mums for the day (Haystack Digital, 2018). This generosity was expected to continue this year too, with £600 million forecast to be spent on the day in 2018, a 3.4% rise from 2017 (Mintel, 2018).

However, are all the gifts and treats what mums really want?

Research conducted by Mumsnet (2018) whereby they surveyed 1,300 mums found that one of the best presents we can actually give is a bit of peace! The top thing that mums said they wanted for Mother’s Day was a lie in (9 in 10), followed by two thirds who wanted at least an hour of peace on the day – a far cry from the ‘wanting to be spoiled’ take on the day that many of us have been led to believe they want.

The study also found that many mums find themselves doing their everyday chores like cooking (62%), laundry (58%) and cleaning (49%), so maybe we should just concentrate on taking these off their hands in the future as opposed to buying them expensive gifts?

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Lightbox Loves: And the winner is…

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This weekend saw Hollywood’s 90th Academy Awards ceremony, a celebration of the brightest and best talent in one of, if not the, largest entertainment industry in the world. True to the trade, The Oscars often has plenty of drama, from protest speeches to shock results. Plenty of content exists addressing the hot gossip and political statements from the night, but here I’d like to take a data approach and ask, could we have predicted the winner?

Looking at the Best Picture winner, Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, let’s work backwards through big data and see if we missed some clear hints. Quartzy’s ‘ultimate predictor’ believes that the most important metrics for predicting the winner are 1) conversational buzz, 2) critics’ reviews and 3) box office takings.

Through social listening, we know that in the 7 days before the awards, The Shape of Water generated a buzz of 23,133 total mentions in the US, but this was topped by Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with 29,969; (quick note on buzz wear out, TBOEM was actually in cinemas a month before TSOW).

So if not buzz, perhaps the key is in critics’ reviews. IMDB gives TSOW a very high 77 out of 100, but TBOEM comes in with 83 (Metacritic gives 87 and 88 respectively). It’s looking like TBOEB might take home the coveted statue.

Maybe we need to talk brass tacks. As TBOEM has a full month’s head start on TSOW, we’ll need to look at their opening weekend for comparability’s sake. It was close but TBOEM wins out here, with an extra 6.8K over TSOW. Just looking at box office takings misses some important factors, like marketing, and ‘star power’. Three Billboards boasts some big names like Rockwell and Harrelson, as well as director McDonagh of In Bruges fame.

However, the main reason caution is advised when using Box Office takings is because there’s very little correlation between box office success and winning Best Picture.

For context, the last film to top the box office and take home best picture was Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003.

Whilst we can use these metrics to give us a good indication on how well a film will perform at the Oscars, it is not a guarantee. Ultimately, this is because the Oscars aren’t based on public opinion; it’s an invitation only, 7000-strong board of academy members, made up of the who’s-who of Hollywood, who are judging the films artistic merit by their own standards.

In short, there’s no accounting for taste.