Monthly Archives

February 2020

Lightbox Loves: The Video Revolution

By | Featured, Lightbox Loves

HQ Trivia proved themselves to be a game changer in the world of video entertainment. Once hosting over 2 million users per quiz, the much-loved real-time quiz app should be lauded as an example of just what can be achieved in the 21st century video space rather than an example of failure following the announcement of its shutting down.

“With HQ we showed the world the future of TV” (Rus Yusupov, CEO). MTV demonstrably agree, having commissioned the remarkably similar new quiz show “MTV Stax” to run on the Facebook Watch platform 3 times a week. Imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

Looking ahead, it is imperative that this trend of video innovation is continued. 83% of 12-15 year olds now own a smartphone (41% of whom use it to consume TV). The next generation constantly find new and alternative ways to consume video content.

Enter stage left, QuiBi; the mobile first short-form video streaming service set to launch in the US on April 6th. Built for on the go use this new player will specialize in high production, on the go, bitesize content with the USP of delivering full screen content both horizontally & vertically; offering different shots for whichever orientation the user views the content in.

Innovation isn’t reserved only for the subscription VOD (SVOD) space, however. Far from it.

NBCU’s Peacock has focused on innovation in its advertising VOD (AVOD) proposition. Advertisers can now benefit from such opportunities as shoppable TV (ads that allow viewers to buy products related to the show they are watching at that moment), voice activated ads (to interact vocally with advertiser offers) and solo ads (which give the advertiser the single break within a show); great not only for the SOV of a brand but also for the consumers viewing experience.

While neither of the above-mentioned innovations are currently available in the UK, they are indicative of the direction in which the UK video market is eventually heading.

As the SVOD market swells, an increasing number of services will be forced to turn to providing an AVOD offering to relieve the financial pressures on consumers; creating opportunities for innovation in the advertising space that will allow brands to deliver their message to notoriously hard to reach audiences.




Lightbox Loves: Misinformation in The Name of Entertainment

By | Featured, Lightbox Loves

The term ‘Based on a true story’ has long been a grey area in the world of cinema with the level of dramatisation broad ranging and often unclear. In a similar vein, the current political climate has seen growing scrutiny of social media posts and news coverage. It seems that the increasingly competitive TV and streaming sphere is also seeing amplified curiosity surrounding the blurring of truth and fiction.

Goop, released on the 24th January, is the latest Netflix series to be accused of deliberately spreading misinformation in the name of entertainment. They’ve been facing fierce criticism from the NHS England chief exec, Simon Stevens, as a result. It’s not the first time Netflix has been accused of this either. Early 2019 saw Root Cause, which suggested that root canal treatment causes cancer despite no empirical evidence, removed from the platform after backlash. Amazon too faced similar criticism for Shoot Em’ Up: The Truth About Vaccines, a topic that’s caused controversy for decades (it was removed from Prime search results last March). Traditional broadcasters have also been unable to steer clear of this conundrum. For example, the BBC was maligned by agricultural groups following the release of Meat: A Threat to Our Planet? which they believed to twist facts to suit their anti-meat cause.

It’s not uncommon for documentaries or dramatisations of real-life events to be released with little or no disclaimer, leading them to be taken as truth and leaving the shows open to reproach. The impact of trust in broadcasters this has is little understood but, with shows such as Game Changers increasingly influencing how people live their lives, it’s something they should contemplate if they want to avoid the increased calls for regulation social media giants are currently embroiled in. That said, some shows are already conscious of their impact. ITV’s White House Farm, for example, features a clear disclaimer at the start of each episode about the background of its dramatisation of the infamous murders.

Whose responsibility is it to inform audiences about the level of truth behind such shows though? Referencing the fallout from Goop, Netflix points out that the show is “designed to entertain, not provide medical advice”, which seems somewhat fair. Perhaps it’s the responsibility of audiences to tread carefully when viewing them? Particularly if they are considering making lifestyle changes as a result. These questions become even harder to answer when the line between truth and fiction is unclear or debated. Whose responsibility it is, we don’t know, and it’ll be interesting to see if and how such cases may be regulated in the future. For now, all we can say is; don’t believe everything you watch folks!


Lightbox Loves: “Dark” Social Environments

By | Featured, Lightbox Loves

“The greatest growth in how people are communicating continues to come from private messaging, small groups, and disappearing stories,” Mark Zuckerberg stated in one of their latest earnings calls. This continuing shift in the way people are communicating and sharing content online is being part driven by the new, younger online audiences craving privacy and deeper connections than are found within many public social platforms.

These, aptly named, “dark social” environments come in a wide variety of modes but the majority can be grouped into three main categories: private messaging platforms (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc.), shared interest closed groups (e.g. private Facebook Groups) and experienced based communities (e.g. online gaming such as Fortnite squads). What users are enjoying about these spaces is that they allow them to be and share what they want, avoiding “friends” and relatives who may be judgmental or share unwanted comments, as well as being away from advertisers snooping eyes.

Understandably, the likes of Facebook may be concerned by and reacting to this shift as around 98% of their revenue comes from advertising across their public platforms. Not only do “dark” environments often contain little to no advertising, they are very sensitive to intrusions and breeches of privacy. Additionally, from a brands and agency point of view, it restricts the amount of insight that can be gathered from online conversation and how and where content is being shared.

Although there are options to appear in private message environments, brands are looking for alternative opportunities to engage their consumers in more private social environments. Nike released branded Air Jordan skins within Fortnite and Adidas have recently been prompting their fans to start private interaction with them over WhatsApp to promote their Predator range.

Understanding the attributes of the sub-culture you are engaging with and how they identify themselves (something we dived into with our Life Behind Labels research), makes interactions from brands valuable to the consumer, rather than just a blatant data gathering exercise. Creating bespoke content for different sub-cultures is the key to making these kind of activations work and should be a focus for any brand looking to enter the private social arena.

Lightbox Loves: Ads & Crafts

By | Featured, Lightbox Loves

Both Waitrose’s latest ad and Carling’s 2019 campaign have a key ingredient in common and no, it’s not grain: it’s craft. While the term ‘craft’ is most often applied to independent micro-breweries, craft has taken on a new significance to big brands across multiple categories. Spurred on by rising consumer concern over provenance and ethics, big brands are adapting lessons from the craft beer revolution to breathe new life into faltering mainstream products.

The hallmarks of a craft brand, as pioneered by BrewDog and their kin, is a quality product, a clear brand identity and a strong brand purpose. It’s not hard to see why these behaviours are being adapted by big brands with high levels of success. In 2018, Carling launched a craft rebrand that increased their sales by 8.7% while the likes of Fosters and Carlsberg fell. Bringing back its original black label and Burton-on-Trent emblem built a clear identity based on Carling’s history and quality ingredients. Carling cemented their new craft identity with the ‘Made Local’ advertising campaign, championing other makers who help their local communities to thrive. By mimicking the behaviours of its smaller challengers, Carling recreated a brand that better resonated with modern beer drinkers looking for authentic products.

Similarly, in the face of declining pre-packaged bread sales, bread brand Allinson’s  revamped their breads to emulate hand-crafted artisanal loaves sold in independent bakeries. With paper wrappers, a simplified design and cheeky names like ‘Scandalous Seeds,’ they look like bread’s answer to craft beer. Like Carling, Allinson’s also saw success in numbers with a year-on-year sales uplift of 73%. It could be said that Waitrose has applied this strategy to their most recent campaign, conveying a sense of crafted quality and authenticity by focusing on the bakers and farmers who produce their goods rather than on their chain of supermarkets.

The mass appeal of craft can be put down to science. Craft appeals to us on a system 1 level (the part of our brain that makes instant decisions based on instincts). Our brains quickly interpret crafted designs as expensive, higher quality and even luxurious. Craft also appeals to us on a deeper level, to our innate saviour complex. Craft products position themselves as the little guy, the one battling the monotony of mass production to bring people authentically made products with a personal history and social purpose. Whether or not they actually are ‘the little guy,’ brands can benefit from thinking like they are; If brands can show consumers that they care about their craft, then both brand and consumers will be better off.

‘Carling’, Warc (2019) [].

‘Allinson’s’, Warc (2019) [].

‘How to create a successful craft brand’, Warc (2017) [].


Is 5G The Place To Be?

By | Featured, What's Hot

5G networks are the next generation of mobile internet, offering far faster speeds than available at present. It will also provide instant connection at 1 millisecond latency – forty times faster than 4G users currently experience.

Heading into the next decade, 5G hype has hit an all-time high. Barclays Corporate Banking estimates that the technology could add £15.7 billion per year to the UK’s economy by 2025 and almost all sectors are predicting its potentially transformative impact.

Outside benefits to mobile users – which will in particular improve the load speed and user experience of high-quality video streams and VR tech – 5G is set to revolutionise the backend technology behind driverless cars, workplace IT, and many have even predicted that 5G will ‘save the high street’. Indeed, according to Altus Group’s annual Commercial Real Estate Innovation Report, 66% of retailers in Britain say they hope 5G technology will help them to get rid of cashiers.

5G certainly is big business. In 2018, the UK’s biggest mobile operators spent almost £1.4 billion to secure spectrum, and this week saw the debate around Huawei’s role in the UK’s 5G infrastructure continue to cross borders with intense lobbying from both US and Chinese governments.

For advertisers, 5G’s instant opportunities are clear: quicker delivery of more interactive and complex content to consumers. Expect discussions around Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality, especially in combination with out of home formats, to resurface at creative workshops in the next 12 months, with a far clearer route to execution powered by 5G technology.

Now for the reality check – 2020 will not be the year 5G crosses into the mainstream. Issues with limited coverage aside, the 5G launch may take place amid a global downturn in smartphone sales. Last year was the worst ever for smartphone sales, and the UK saw a 14% YoY decline in Q4, according to IDC data. Optimistic estimates by Deloitte put 2020 5G smartphone sales at 2-3 million – meaning that less than 5% of the UK population are likely to own a 5G handset by the end of the year.

Clearly first-mover opportunities for advertisers will surface this year. However, with or without Huawei’s involvement, expect 5G’s influence on advertising at scale to really kick in as we move into 2021 and beyond.

Trends Beyond The Spots & Dots

By | Featured, What's Hot

Every year the content, partnerships and talent team at the7stars dust down their crystal ball, and look for big trends to expect in the year ahead. Last year they forecast step changes in transparency in influencer campaign measurement, the rise of self-care content and brand-ownership of the experiential space; all brand marketing trends that have seen a rise in coverage throughout 2019.

Here are the team’s forecast for the coming year:

1: Content with Nostalgia: In times of change, nostalgia often rears its rose-tinted head. For content this means a resurgence of TV programming from our childhoods, the return of familiar faces, and even repeat airings of much-loved ads of the past. 2019 saw the return of Supermarket Sweep, sponsored by Tesco, and there are rumours of the return of further classic UK TV titles, such as GamesMaster. It’s clearly time to unleash Ainsley Harriott and revive The Big Breakfast.

2: Share of Experience: Defined by Chief Experience Officer Fiona Blades as “the percentage of total brand experiences that a brand has in relation to the total market”, SOE could be the solution to integrated measurement across even the most non-traditional channels. Encouraging a greater mix of POEM channels, SOE is capable of measuring the whole media plan, including experiential and AFP.

3: Talking to the Few: We’ve reached content saturation, and audiences increasingly expect content to be tailored to them. While it might feel counterproductive to conventional business principles to target fewer people, niche content will be pivotal in paving the way to building loyal customer bases for many companies. Brands should take the lead of Nike’s relationship with talent Colin Kaepernick and Lego’s opening a bricks-n-mortar school in Denmark.

4: From Influencer to Brand: It’s not just Kylie Jenner who’s realised that leveraging her social media following to build her own brand, rather than promote others, can be much more profitable in the long-term. This year expect to see fewer sponsored posts and publishing deals in favour of more influencer-owned start-ups.

5: Tackling TikTok: The social media landscape is continuously evolving, as are the trends and tastes of its users. As Gen Z start moving away from the mainstream influencer channels, we’ll see more young influencers developing their presence on the platform, and existing influencers branching out. Now that the platform has launched its self-serve ad platform, we think a wider content opportunities on the platform will surface later in 2020.

6: 5G-Ready Content: 2020 is the year that the telcos push 5G to the masses, without without Huawei. This means faster, more reliable internet to mobile devices, with a massive boost to the internet of things (IoT), eventually making the smartphone the least interesting toy in our media armoury for content distribution. For partnerships, this means those big ideas will be boosted by a new ear of AR, gaming, wearables and autonomous tech. Look for a surge in voice in activated content and the ability to try on that ASOS bargain in the context of a mobile game.

7: From Another Dimension: It’s not new, but advancements in the technoverse hail a whole new era of 3D. No longer the sole remit of big budget movies, media companies are building studio facilities to create in 3D. With 3D ads reportedly seeing a “300% increase in CTR, 46% increase in VCR”, 3D-driven content won’t be far behind.

Beyond Stereotypes: From Regulation To Representation

By | Featured, What's Hot

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has this month banned two ads according to gender stereotyping rules introduced last year. The ads have been banned by the ASA following complaints that they perpetuate gender stereotypes.

An outdoor ad for People Per Hour, a freelancer finding service, was criticised for demeaning women with the copy “You do the girl boss thing, we’ll do the SEO thing”. Meanwhile a TV ad for computer firm PC Specialist featuring solely men was banned for perpetuating stereotypes that only men are interested in technology.

People Per Hour later apologised, swiftly removing the word “girl” from their ad, while PC Specialist countered that their ad was reflecting their 87.5% male customer base, albeit to no avail.

These advertisers join Volkswagen and Philadelphia as those that have fallen foul of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code that came into force on 14th June 2019. The code states that ads “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.

There is no doubt that the copy displayed in these ads feels archaic and lazy, and for examples such as this the rulings are clear cut.

However, the principle of banning ads for how they represent people comes with much debate – some claim regulation has gone too far, while others warn that it fails to account for the humour or nuance that often makes advertising feel so relevant.

The real problem is that regulation comes so late in the creative process; it is too late to ban an advert once live. Instead, agencies and advertisers should be eradicating gender stereotypes and unconscious bias earlier in the process.

Advertisers like Diageo are setting an example to address the challenge throughout the business. In 2019 they introduced a framework to avoid unconscious bias around gender. In the US, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) introduced a new Gender Equality Measure (GEM) providing a measurement similar to the film industry’s “Bechdel test” to identify unconscious bias in creative testing and advertising upfront, with a clear link to effectiveness.

Beyond the immediate implications for creative agencies this debate raises a wider challenge – how do we move beyond stereotypes to represent society for the masses, at the same time acknowledging the individual?

For media agencies, this is increasingly pertinent. In a world where we collect and analyse more signals of audience behaviours than ever before, our ability to understand and group audiences is challenged.

All too often we seek to define our audience by simplified pen portraits. While these are mere snapshots designed to bring data to life in more emotive and compelling ways, they often ignore the nuances that can really help to connect brands to their audience. Instead we should be looking for what unites audiences as well as what divides them.

Taking The Biscuit: Online Advertising In A World Without Cookies

By | Featured, What's Hot

Next month, it has been announced, a Chrome browser update will increase the security of cross-domain cookies.

While this is a huge announcement it itself, it represents just the beginning of the war on third-party cookies, with Google revealing plans to completely block them within the next two years.

The update, expected on 4th February, is changing how cookies are handled in Chrome; as it is the UK’s most-used browser, we should expect all others to follow suit in the coming months. Firefox and Edge have already confirmed they are updating.

The changes are specifically being made to same-site cookies, commonly used to keep people logged into individual websites, and remember their preferences, as well as supporting ad tracking, attribution and site analytics.

After the security change, these same-site cookies will require proper labelling in order to avoid disruption to site or ads functionality. For example, certain audience measurement or attribution may not work properly.

Beyond tightening the security of cookies, the ad industry is facing major changes in tracking and targeting capabilities. The industry has already lost about 30-40% of the information concerning marketing performance, user behaviour and targeting visibility following the Safari and Firefox cookie blocking updates.

Google’s plans to tighten security on Chrome suggests this could go up to 100%.

In the next two years we can expect to see multiple rounds of testing and enhancements by all major browsers, as well as the emergence of new tactics – and even dedicated firms – focused on cookie-less tracking and targeting.

Google assert that their aim is to make the web more private and secure for users, while also supporting publishers. They are currently testing out a new initiative called Privacy Sandbox to “sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete”. They have suggested that “once these approaches have addressed the needs of users, publishers, and advertisers, and have developed the tools to mitigate workarounds, [they] plan to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome.”

If their trials are successful and the ad industry manages to pull itself together and adapt to the changes, we expect to say goodbye to third-party cookies and hello to a user-choice-friendly privacy-focussed transparent web ad ecosystem.


From Transparency To Neutrality

By | Featured, What's Hot

The media agency world, and its relationship with its advertiser clients is in a far better place than it was before the issue of transparency burst upon the scene back in 2015.

But – and it’s a very big but – here at the7stars we do not think it is good enough to believe that the transparency question is answered by sticking religiously to a clause in a contract. Within the media world, ‘transparent’ is a word whose meaning has shrunk.

We believe there is another layer to transparency – not just in the buying process but in everything that leads up to the buy. We believe in the principle of clarity, in providing impartial advice across everything we do in planning, buying and evaluating campaigns on behalf of our clients. We call this ‘neutrality’.

This month we released our white paper, “From Transparency to Neutrality: From Single to Double-Glazing. Why Transparency in Media Dealing Isn’t Clear”. You can read the full version here.

We believe that transparency (as often defined) is over-rated, and that clients deserve more. They have every right to expect agencies to be neutral in everything we do.

The art of planning should come from a neutral perspective with no preconceived rules as to which media channel will do the best job or how best to use it, and channel selection based on what will deliver the brief in the most effective way.

Neutrality equally runs through the decision-making process when it comes to partnering with specialist services such as research, data analytics, technology and tools. Our first question when approached by any vendor is ‘what will this do for my clients?’.

We use tools and techniques that meet our requirements of true objectivity and usability. Maintaining a neutral position throughout the process is the only way to ensure true transparency and deliver the best results.

Finally, we apply this thinking to how we evaluate results. Working with PwC we will be launching a new auditing framework built around evidencing effective neutral planning, to be released in March 2020.

Neutrality is true, double-glazed transparency. Every client has every right to expect it from their appointed media agency.

The topic of transparency and neutrality will no doubt continue to evolve as advertisers become attune to its importance, especially when it comes to effectiveness of their media campaigns, and overall business success. At the7stars we will continue to talk about its benefits and the important role it plays in our industry’s future long-term success.