Monthly Archives

May 2020

Lightbox Loves: The Last Dance

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Move over Tiger King. There’s a new champion as the most in-demand documentary in the world and it comes by the name of The Last Dance. This is the story Michael Jordan and the 80s/90s Chicago Bulls franchise. There have been lots of great sports documentaries released on streaming platforms so why is this one so popular?

With the volume of 80s and 90s sporting memories, pop culture references, soundtrack and fashion present in The Last Dance, nostalgia is an extremely powerful force at play whilst watching the new docu-series. Our own Lightbox research into nostalgia showed over half of Brits would rather go back to the past than the future and this plays into their media habits, especially in the current times. For example, Spotify reported a 54% increase in searches for ‘oldies’ or ‘throwback’ since the lockdown and in terms of The Last Dance, there has been a correlation to the release of the series and a peak in UK searches for 90s music and fashion. Clearly there will be genuine nostalgia within that audience but also “fauxnostalgia” from viewers feeling a sense of fondness towards a time they haven’t lived through, driving up streaming figures.

Timing also played a valuable role in the popularity of The Last Dance. Consumers have upped their searches for streaming platforms and video content over the lockdown period and brand-new content has been in relatively low supply with production studios, cinemas and live event spaces being shut. On top of this, there has been desperation amongst sports fans with a number of humorous social posts throughout the past 2 months highlighting life without sport or wacky alternatives to watch. The Last Dance has given fans and major sports platforms, from news publishers to podcasts, something to debate and be excited by during the void of no live sports action.

Even for brands who aren’t content specialists, this highlights the importance of entertaining your audience and, although this may have been serendipitous timing, listening to what your consumers are looking for and fulfilling that need.

Sources

the7stars x YouGov, Nostalgia update, April 2020

Google Trends

Twitter

https://variety.com/2020/tv/news/last-dance-michael-jordan-docuseries-espn-tv-ratings-1234610101/

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2889664-the-last-dance-tops-netflixs-tiger-king-as-worlds-most-popular-documentary

Lightbox Loves: The New Generation of Influencers

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There is a new generation of cool kids making waves on TikTok and they look nothing like the picture-perfect influencers of yesteryear. The new stars have risen up from the multitude of subcultures that the platform nurtures and with their alternative attitudes, they’re being hailed as a much-needed anti-dote to social media perfectionism.

One example that epitomises this phenomenon is the e-girl/boy (‘e’ being short for electronic). E-girls and boys are the Avril Lavignes of the 2020s.Inspired by the melting-pot of the Internet, their style is a mash-up of emo, anime and grunge and they spend a lot of time doing things once considered ‘anti-social’: using the internet, gaming and, of course, TikTok-ing. In the last six months, the number of Brits talking about e-girls and e-boys has risen 121%, to 14,000. Some well-known brands have even recognised the cultural power of these young TikTokers, with 19-year-old e-boy Noen Eubanks featuring in a recent campaign for fashion brand Celine.

Meanwhile at the opposite end of the spectrum, the adherents of cottagecore are evoking their inner grandma through matronly activities like dressing up in gingham dresses, knitting, reading, tending to their gardens and dreaming of escaping to a secluded cottage. Some credit the origins of this subculture to SoraBlu, who posted a series of shots from her rural home in December 2019 and who now has 170,000 followers.

This only scratches the surface of the multitudes of TikTok subcultures, but it’s enough to suggest that the new ideals of imperfection could change the way that brands collaborate with subculture influencers. Brands will certainly want to get the relationship right; the7stars’ study Life Behind Labels found that half of all people formulate life-long interests in their teenage years, and that 70% of people in a sub-culture group strongly identify with brands. So, don’t write off TikTok as frivolous fun, but consider the serious role it plays in the identity formation of tomorrow’s consumers.

 

https://www.vogue.co.uk/miss-vogue/article/tiktok-star-noen-eubanks-celine-campaign

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/10/style/cottagecore.html

BrandWatch, 1st Dec 2019 – 17th May 2020.

Life Behind Labels, the7stars x the Stylist, 2019

Lightbox Loves: Somatovisceral Nonverbal Communication

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In 2017, Oxford University released a report on jobs most and least likely to be automated. It was bad news if you worked in data entry, watch repair or insurance underwriting but good news if you were a dentist, detective or choreographer. Of this latter group, most jobs were essential services, but in the ‘new normal’, choreographers are particularly vulnerable with performance spaces closed to the public. However, this has not reduced the societal need for dance, with Dance Challenge search interest up in the UK almost five-fold since mid-March. So, what is this need for dance, and how can this help us talk to consumers, especially under lockdown?

Dr Carla Walter, a marketing and entrepreneurship professor who just so happens to hold a PhD in Dance Studies, examined dance as advertising language; her principles can help understand this phenomenon. Dance, as a loose descriptor for ritualised movement (from the wedding, to the club, to the meme), creates a socially collective experience; the sense of integration of self into something larger. Here the TikTok challenge is a perfect example, in itself it is a collection of individuals expressing the same movement as a way of socially engaging under lockdown. But why dance here, rather than say song or speech? Walter suggests that the combination of affective, the somatovisceral communication – that dance makes you want to dance – and cognitive, the nonverbal communication – that dance means something – makes the process uniquely powerful.

Privileging the emotional over the linguistic, dance opens itself to interpretation in different contexts, extending its potential reach. Ghanaian dancing pallbearers have moved far from their own context to become a widely used meme in the past month. Indeed there seems to be a viral dance video for every moment; in lockdown, alongside Captain Tom and doughnut-ing Thames ferries, we find the dancing nurses. The ‘imagined freedom and fun’ that Walter suggests is embedded in dance as communication, is expressed through the bodies of the healthcare workers, the very bodies that they risk in service of the public. Their dancing expresses a powerful emotional message of hope that crosses ideological division embedded in speech.

If this hope, freedom and fun is valuable for the public right now, it is equally valuable for brands at a time when creative responses to the crisis have had a little homogeneity. Standing out could involve turning brand posture to dance, in a tradition including everything from the dancing iPod listeners to the ASDA ‘back pocket pat’. And maybe it could help to employ some of those choreographers.

Google Trends 6th May 2020

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/491082

https://adage.com/creativity/work/microsoft-sam-every-covid-19-commercial-exactly-same/2251551

Lightbox Loves: Dancing In The Rain

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It’s week seven of lockdown and we’re all wondering when this is going to end. When can we see our families? When will we be able to go for post-work drinks? Will we ever have a decent haircut? Living in completely unprecedented times, it’s understandable that the uncertainty is getting to us, with 9 in 10 finding the unknown a challenge.

However, despite said difficulties, we are refusing to wallow. In true British fashion, wartime spirit of ‘keep calm and carry on’ has come to the fore with more than 60% of us coping better than expected. 2 in 3 Brits believe this mentality is appropriate at this time, meaning lockdown has not resulted in total shut down. Can’t see family? Send them flowers or a postcard. Can’t celebrate your birthday? Have a virtual house party. Can’t get married? Get dressed up and say your vows anyway.

It’s down to consumer perseverance that Google searches for TouchNote have increased tenfold since the outbreak and Channel 4 announced a new show, ‘Wedding in Lockdown’, giving disappointed couples a chance to get ‘married’ virtually with the help of a celebrity cupid. If we are not adopting a ‘do it anyway’ attitude, we’re using the gift of time to be resourceful in other ways – 1 in 5 of us have tried something new and most intend on continuing these habits beyond lockdown.

Many brands have been quick to innovate and adapt to our positive ‘carry on’ spirit and are offering their customers opportunities to make sour situations that bit sweeter. Classic British events such as Grand National and London Fashion Week either have gone, or will go ahead, albeit digitally, for the first time in their histories. Further, restaurants such as Wagamama and Pizza Express are releasing their recipes so we can enjoy our firm favourites at home, generating an overwhelmingly positive reaction on social media.

Despite difficult times, we are looking to dance in the rain, and brands who are able to help us do this are likely to reap the benefits in the long run.

Sources: Lightbox Love, Bauer Media, Google Trends, Brandwatch

Lightbox Loves: Entertainment, Engagement and Empathy

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Life on furlough is an interesting one. I had big plans at the start of the month, as I’m sure a lot of us did. I was going to become a bi-lingual, athletic, sewing-pro; a much-improved version of myself, so much so I even signed up to do a Harvard Business School course on wellbeing. However, whilst this abundance of free time can offer us a plethora of options to seemingly become more productive than ever, we should not feel like a failure if we haven’t ‘bettered ourselves’ (whatever that means) by the end of it, whenever that might be…

It is very easy for social media to led us to believe that everyone is being super industrious with their free time. Every day presents a new opportunity to bake banana bread, nail the latest TikTok dance or do a home workout (…did not know it was possible to pull a muscle in my hand till I tried this!). It is as if we’re clock-watching, ensuring that we’re accounting for every minute of our day. However, who’s the judge of what we deem to be worthwhile or not? We are, and that’s where we need to be more kind to ourselves about what is realistically achievable during this time. I will be the first to admit that I’ve given all the above a go (switch the banana bread out for Guinness cake, a much better option and far more decadent). However, filling time with self-improvement goals can be exhausting, especially when what you feel most productive doing – for many of us, work – is no longer an option.

As a result, there are lots of opportunities for brands to find ways in which they can support our happiness (and sanity) during these strange times, through offering engagement, entertainment and empathy. To achieve the former, Ancestry offered free access to UK and Ireland records over Easter weekend, to provide focus and escapism to those with a lot more time on their hands than anticipated. To entertain us, Andrew Lloyd Webber is releasing shows every Friday for a limited time on YouTube. To show empathy with parents who are now at home with their children 24-7, Disney unexpectedly made Frozen II available to watch from home.

Brands that communicate with authenticity, clarity and relevancy will have the biggest positive impact. With over two-thirds of respondents agreeing that the way a company responded to the crisis would have an impact on the likelihood of them buying its products in the future, emotionally supporting consumers in this way is vital to long-term usage. As retail consultant, Mary Portas, articulates, “the brands that survive will be the ones we want to buy into, not simply buy from.”

The more ways in which brands engage, entertain and empathise with us during this period, the quicker we will remember them when life returns to some sort of normality. I, for one, know that a retro Flump ice lolly is a sure way to win my affection during this time.

Edelman, Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic, March 30th 2020
Refinery29, No, You Don’t Need To Use Isolation To Write A Novel, 6th April 2020
Portas Agency Newsletter, April 2020
Marketing Tech, How marketing can be a force for good – with Covid-19 helping showcase brand empathy, 14th April

Tangled Web: A View From the7stars On The PWC ISBA Report

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Summary of the Report;

  • ISBA commissioned PWC to audit the programmatic supply chain – the study took 2 years to complete.
  • It included 15 advertisers, across premium publishers with 267million impressions.
  • PWC concluded the supply chain is very complex with many parts.
  • Many of these parts do not currently link up in an auditable way.
  • This means at least 15% of an advertiser’s budget is unaccounted for.
  • On average 51% of this budget reaches the publisher – only 7% to the agency, the other 42% mostly going on tech and data costs.
  • The report had two critical conclusions; (i) standardisation is urgently required to allow data sharing; and (ii) our industry should collaborate to further investigate the unattributable costs.

Programmatic has become a word with a myriad of meanings for different people. Some positive and some not, dependant on point of view and business model. For the7stars, programmatic is using technology in the planning and buying of media for the benefit of our clients, providing full clarity on tech and costs with zero-mark ups.

We also believe an agency’s role is to show our clients that when done properly, media bought via technology is brilliantly effective. Just think how much more effective it could be once we iron out which bits add value and which bits don’t. That’s the market opportunity. And that’s where agencies can regain their vigor.

There is a paradox though; programmatic techniques allow easy access to thousands of sites and placements – volume can be the enemy of quality, but this is also its potential weakness; especially if it isn’t managed properly. As evidenced in the report, control on where ads run is a key requirement. But the answer isn’t as black and white as ‘lots of sites are bad and premium is best’. It depends on the reason for the media investment, i.e. how it was planned and activated.

The more tech you use, the more resource, time and talent you need. It’s a constant balancing act. As PWC have noted, the talent pools across agencies in this space varies a lot. Clients should demand they have competent people on their business. That includes things like: running content verification tools properly, that tagging is data compliant and up to date, that those tech partners and publishers who are more open and are DTSG (Digital Trading Standards Group) compliant get the bigger share of budgets… and so on. We feel now is the time for advertisers to reassess their tech plumbing, tech set up and their media supply end to end.

The level of detail programmatic media produces has never previously existed in media – we’re clearly all still learning what to do with it. When the companies built their tech there wasn’t an agreed standard way, for example, a time and date stamp with each ad (think how many different ways you can show a date in Excel). This means it’s extremely difficult to line up media from one platform to another. This isn’t somebody trying to willfully hide revenue.

This report has put the spotlight and focus on two areas; the link between buy tech and supply tech, and the supply tech and the publishers.

This could favour those who are ‘media owners’ like the Guardian who have worthwhile inventory, but crucially also the right tech, talent and resource to make the most of their inventory.  Certainly, some of the best media inventory, with say some of the best content and journalism isn’t supported by the best media tech plumbing or teams. Conversely, some media perceived to have less value can be bought via really clever tech with fast clued-up supply-side teams.

We also suggest that publishers re-look at their relationships with their supply side: modernise the way information can be shared, and ask where their inventory really is being made available – certainly we’ll be looking at this with fresh eyes.

We also see a future of buying not just audience but audience enhanced by environment – the best of a multiplier effect and associational value. Those on the supply side that can offer both, will be part of the7stars plans. Plans where premium isn’t defined by the cost per thousand but the ability of that publisher to package, deliver and verify the media, content and audience they say they can. What’s premium for one of our clients isn’t premium for another.

This ultimately means the art of media planning in a modern way, and that’s where agencies can remind the market of their real value.

Part of that is obviously recommending, buying and checking where clients’ money is invested. That includes an ongoing sometimes fluid investment into tech, data and media. Most media plans will have these three aspects, and it’s the agency’s job to get this right. Getting the balance of investment into these three parts isn’t fixed, will vary by client and vary by supply side, publisher and media owner. This means the split of an advertiser’s budget to reach the publisher will vary; there is no one ‘correct’ percentage. Agencies’ ability to do this across a range of clients, tech partners and publishers means they are in a unique space to be the most advanced source of best practice.

Some of the tech investment isn’t optional like adserving, or verification tech. When done right this tech can give insights to drive uplifts in performance above its costs, and crucially helps build feedback loops which can influence and shape how all media is planned – media as an intelligence engine.

So What Now?

We’ve made big gains since members from the IPA, IAB, AOP, ISBA were in a room at the IAB several years ago and created the DTSG cross industry initiative around brand safety – then followed by viewability and fraud reduction. We could only do that by interrogating where ads ran. It’s taken a long time, it’s clearly not finished by any means, but many lessons have been learned. It has been a big team effort.

We obviously can’t have a supply chain where 15% isn’t accounted for. Evolving where we’re at isn’t going to happen on an agency-by-agency basis, or by any one advertiser saying so at ISBA’s annual event, without cross industry support.

This is why the7stars supports the work of JICWEBS and, for example, the DLT study commissioned earlier this year. A focus of these efforts we think will be the maturing of the permissioning within the data stream and consistency of naming conventions.

In the meantime, the7stars will continue to take the best of programmatic, and the best of the publishers, and the best of media and tech within the most advanced media ecosystem that’s ever existed, to drive business results explicitly for the benefits of our clients

Ready When You Are

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Although it’s only been two months of lockdown, the Coronavirus rollercoaster has had more twists and turns than what many experience during the course of a year. To monitor this pace of change, the7stars has been making the most of our proprietary mobile panels Lightbox Pulse and AtoGenZ, enabling us to guide brands through the unknown to deliver relevant and customer- centric recommendations as each day unfolds.

After a tough April, consumers felt glimmers of hope in May; a month that presented us with greater choice in how we spend our time. May was a month for positively adapting, not wallowing, with over half of Brits admitting they were coping with this new normal better than expected (54%). So much so, only 13% of us said the Spring bank holiday was ‘much worse’ than previous years, perhaps due to fewer restrictions in place.

When lockdown regulations were eased, 23% of us planned to visit a friend or family outside, with a similar proportion intending on going outdoors to exercise more frequently. However, whilst many started to make the most of this almost-freedom pass, 45% of Brits decided they won’t be taking advantage of the new guidelines, rising to 50% among those over 45 years old.

Despite restrictions looking to ease further into June, it appears the home economy will continue to boom into the Summer. 1 in 5 spent the long weekend speaking to family and friends on the phone / video call, compared to just 1 in 10 meeting up in person.

Further, despite being given the green light to go outside to our heart’s desires, only a quarter of people got out to walk or sunbathe, compared to the 40% who decided to stay at home to cook or enjoy some DIY activities, rising to 50% among the over 55 cohort.

Although the devastation of the past couple of months should not be underestimated, our choice to stay at home reflects some positivity that lockdown has brought to us.

So much so, 3 in 4 of Brits want to keep at least some of our newly formed behaviours in the long term – Londoners are the most likely to want to keep all aspects of their new lifestyle post- Coronavirus (7% total vs 14% in London.) New habits that we’re keen to hold onto, although simplistic, are incredibly heart-warming, like cherishing time with loved ones more, putting a greater emphasis on health and well-being and spending more time outdoors.

Whilst the jury’s still out on which new habits will stick, and which will wash away, consumers will only move when they’re ready to – not when they’re told to, and brands who understand this and adapt accordingly are likely to resonate.

Further, whilst empathy shouldn’t be overlooked, now is the time for brands to start communicating more positively – we are no longer looking for sympathy and know that this too, shall pass…

Sources:

Lightbox Pulse and A to Gen Z, May 2020

The Pivot To First Party Data

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It’s clear that the current worldwide pandemic has forced a real focus on the ability to communicate. Much of this focus has been on digital transformation; new or improved online user experiences, better segmentation of existing data. Changing business models to be available to new customers who can’t leave the house have all been given greater urgency due to the situation we now find ourselves in.

The sudden need to improve the digital element of businesses quickly has also aligned with a pivot to first party data. The last 12 months has seen a substantial and necessary improvement in how seriously data and consumer privacy is taken. Heavy fines have been given due to the GDPR breaches. Facebook security has been scrutinised in live court hearings, and more recently Google announced it’s plans to remove third party cookies from Chrome – comfortably the most used web browser in the world.

These changes are bringing fresh opportunities to market, with businesses looking at how they can help advertisers shift from the overuse of third-party data, to an effective and compliant use of the data they already own.

One of the most interesting movers in the market has been Infosum. Infosum are a data SaaS company who allow advertisers and publishers to make the most of their first-party data. The way to look at what they offer clients is, interestingly, what they don’t do. Infosum don’t take central control or ownership of data, neither do they pass it onto others. Instead they provide the connection between two or more datasets in a uniform and compliant fashion. Recently Infosum have launched new relationships with publishers such as Channel 4, Global and the Telegraph which gives significant scale and backing to their product.

The opportunities that arise for advertisers through better connection of their own data are numerous. From a planning perspective, it becomes possible to gain a much deeper understanding of your audience by seeing how they engage with publishers outside of those with their own adserver – such as Google and Facebook. By connecting with multiple publishers for analysis, it’s possible to analyse which screens are most important to your most valuable audiences, breaking the traditional ‘digital’ barrier to planning and creating a campaign that is truly omnichannel and driven by your own data. For publishers too it means that they can segment their own audiences more effectively, with bespoke packages for advertisers and then charging accordingly, in a fairer, transparent way.

Although this marks a significant development in the connection between advertisers and publishers, of course it’s not yet a perfect solution. Publisher partners and advertisers will still need data at scale, in order to increase match rates and gain a unified view of an audience. The duopoly of Facebook and Google have spent years utilising first-party data to build custom audiences and lookalikes which work extremely well in their platforms and have huge numbers of datapoints for their algorithms to optimise towards.

The best starting use of Infosum and similar partners will be a data-led approach to planning across actual audiences and devices. This requires an equal change in measurement and advertisers must resist the urge to jump straight to cost per acquisition tracking.

The changes in data privacy, tracking and regulation have forced the industry into better connections, we must ensure our measurement and reporting changes with it.

The Rise Of Audio In Lockdown

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Whilst there are some changes in our media habits during lockdown that don’t require much of an explanation, the nuances behind the rise of ‘audio’ in its various guises offers us insights into how people are coping and dealing with lockdown, as well as an understanding of the direction of travel for audio as we adopt new behaviours and a media habits.

The very latest RAJAR (Q1 2020), gives us our last benchmark for pre-lockdown listening, covering Q1. Two of the big take-outs from this wave were that, unsurprisingly, digital listening continues to grow. Share overall now sits at a record 58.6% (up 11% QoQ) with 67% tuning in via DAB, DTV, Online or App every week. The other key takeout is that the biggest winner by a significant stretch was LBC, up 24% YoY. LBC’s figures are “the highest in the station’s 47-year history, showing demand for news and discussion during turbulent times.”

The continued move to digital listening, combined with the idea that audio allows you to connect with another human, another voice of reason that you can trust, thereby allowing you to feel part of a wider community that shares your own values and can comfort you, has only been intensified during lockdown. We’ve seen this mental shift play out in day-to-day life with examples like Clap For The NHS. However, it seems that the need to feel connected with others – as well as radio’s intimate and trustworthy perspective – has been a key driver behind the rise of audio.

The stats back up this thought process. Since lockdown began, we have seen huge growth in certain areas, specifically in listening via connected devices (Bauer reported that 38% off all their listeners are tuning in via connected devices). We have also seen this in the world of podcasts, with Acast reporting its ‘all-time record week for listening in the UK’ in April. If the good old presenter-led radio show offers a level of trustworthiness and a feeling of belonging to a connected community, then podcasts provide an even deeper source of comfort.

News UK’s new podcast ‘Stories of our Times’ has seen a phenomenal uptake, with Jimmy Buckland, Director of Strategy at Wireless, describing podcasts as “a refuge where you can provide rational, objective, not sensationalised but informative insight, and some really fresh storytelling and really engaging human interest stories. Audio is uniquely well placed, to tell those stories, and to provide great engaging content that takes you deeper into the news without leaving you quite as worn out as [when] you graze headlines on social media and all those daily reactions.”

In terms of new opportunities for advertisers, the insatiable rise of connected listening opens up a whole host of personalisation and targeting options as users sign up, and sign in, to these connected services. Podcasts also offer an unparalleled level of focus and attention from the listener, and sponsorships of specific podcasts regularly include presenter involvement that only enhance brand salience and leverage the sentiment of that podcast voice. But do not forget traditional radio; whilst the official figures have not quite caught up yet, we know via proxy that listening is up significantly, as is average weekly hours. It is a perfect time for advertisers to capitalise on enlarged audiences at extremely attractive rates.

The big question for us though is, whether these new habits continue once lockdown is lifted – we’d like to think so.

Sources:

  1. https://mediatel.co.uk/news/2020/05/14/rajar-q1-2020-national-stations-and-networks/
    2. https://www.warc.com/content/article/arfw/how-audio-is-responding-to-the-challenges-of-the-covid-19-lockdown/132378