Monthly Archives

October 2020

Beyond Binary – the7stars Whitepaper

By | Featured, Whitepapers

Please download Beyond Binary – our whitepaper co-written between the7stars, semiotics agency Sign Salad and neuro-marketing agency Neuro-Insight, which helps brands to navigate the evolving gender landscape.


    Lightbox Loves: Buy Now, Pay Later

    By | Featured, Lightbox Loves

    Frictionless credit is great for retailers and for the majority of consumers who are able to split the cost. PayPal’s announcement of their new ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) proposition ahead of the Black Friday and Christmas shopping season highlights the popularity of rising interest in free credit companies in the market.

    An increasing number of brands have linked with these BNPL payment firms, from retail to electronics to homeware, all offering this service to give their customers flexibility, whilst providing benefits for themselves. According to one BNPL brand Klarna, “retailers typically see a 68% increase in average order value with Klarna Installments.” The brand incurs little risk by getting paid upfront and in full, while the customer gets the option to pay later or over time; “enhancing the full customer shopping journey” according to Klarna.

    The concept is particularly popular with millennials, with companies branding themselves a “simpler and smarter” alternative for a credit card. However, given the latest version of our QT found that 29% of Brits are less comfortable on their income than this time last year, with 35% of those aged 25-34 feeling less comfortable (vs. 29% of Brits), there needs to be acknowledgement for the risk of this format for some consumers.

    Concerns have been raised to whether BNPL is resulting in an increased number of young customers being in debt. One price comparison website found that the average debt owed to BNPL firms has hit £176, with 1 in 5 shoppers claiming to use this service. Step Change, the UK’s leading debt charity, claims: “Along with convenience there’s a more worrying aspect [of BNPL]: by encouraging you to defer the reality of paying precisely at the moment you are focused on the goods you wish to buy, there’s a risk that when the time to pay does come, it might not be affordable.”

    There’s little doubt that these fintech firms have taken the market by storm and are continuing to do so, altering purchasing norms. They facilitate a frictionless shopping experience, that in a hugely competitive landscape can make the difference between a brand securing a customer’s business or losing them to the competition.

    Nonetheless, perhaps more emphasis needs to be placed on the latter action of ‘buy now, pay later,’ so that consumers are actively being encouraged by brands and BNPL sites to think ahead when making these purchases and being made more aware of the risks; particularly important now in the uncertain economic landscape we’re facing with Covid-19.

    Lightbox Loves: Location, Location, Location

    By | Featured, Lightbox Loves

    Location, location, location… or as we call it now tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3. On Monday 12th October, in an effort to avoid a national lockdown a new local three-tiered system was introduced to define which areas in the UK are higher risk than others, and where more lockdown measures need to be taken. With the current lifestyle of someone in a tier 3 such as Liverpool differing quite a bit from someone in tier 1 such as Cornwall, how can brands relate to all their customers across the country in a relevant way?

    Targeting people based on their location is one of the most useful and well-used tools advertisers have at their disposal. This could mean many things, from buying an OOH site within 100 metres of your stores to encourage footfall, excluding people from your paid search campaign who live somewhere where your product is not available, or spending more on your radio ads in an area you know your penetration is lower. For some travel brands such as South Western Railway, geo-location is incredibly important to reduce wastage, and find only people who could feasibly use South Western train routes. Papa John’s ran a successful campaign in London last year where customers were targeted only if they were within a specific radius of a London store to stay within the Papa John’s delivery zones. This therefore eliminated wastage of people who were not close enough to a store to order a pizza.

    With the new tiered system across the UK, this could be an opportunity for brands to dial up or dial down their media in the areas where their brand is more relevant. For example, with tier 3 areas such as Liverpool and Lancashire, there could be more opportunity for takeaway brands or subscription VOD brands to dial up their media spend, or for alcohol brands to shift messaging away from pubs to buying drinks at the supermarket to drink at home.

    With the weather turning colder and Christmas approaching quickly, it will be more important than ever to understand what consumers’ lives look like right now, and how this could differ drastically from place to place. Furthermore, according to our October QT, one in three Brits are intending to see fewer people this year at Christmas and see them in smaller groups. Brands must remember to adapt to each consumer’s environment this festive season, whatever the government allows that to be.
    The QT, the7stars proprietary consumer tracking study – October 2020

    Lightbox Loves: Ten Years of Instagram

    By | Featured, Lightbox Loves

    Last week marked social media giant Instagram’s tenth birthday. Ten years have passed since the site’s launch on October 6th 2010, when 25,000 signed up within the first 24 hours. A lot has changed since then. In 2012 the app was bought by Facebook for $1 billion, advertising opportunities followed shortly after in 2013; in 2016 Instagram Stories were launched, co-opted from their Snapchat counterpart; and short-form video reels were introduced earlier this year.

    In 2020, with the nation under various states of COVID restrictions and the world experiencing a dystopian-esque reality, digital communications took centre stage. Undoubtedly, lockdown saw an increased reliance on social media. the7stars post-Lockdown August QT found that 65% of 18-24-year olds agreed online platforms and communities allow them to feel connected to more people.

    Instagram – the home of holiday photos and picture-perfect brunches – transformed. With the nation confined indoors, social media held a new power for connection, entertainment, information and socialising. It was home to fundraising initiatives for the NHS, crazes to keep the nation occupied and a multitude of live-streams by performers. In June, 28 million people posted black squares on their feed for #BlackoutTuesday in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Nonetheless, only time will tell how enduring these Instagram transformations prove to be.

    It’s difficult to predict where Instagram will be in the next decade. 2020 has seen trends that may shape the future of the app, such as the introduction of reels, the use of the donation sicker, and the trial of hidden likes. The in-app shopping experience is also likely to be developed further; with over half of Brits now shopping online, driven mainly by 18-34s, which has remained strong since the relaxing of lockdown. It seems that this is a shift here to stay.

    Instagram has successfully demonstrated its ability to evolve and adapt to the benefit of both its users and brand advertisers. A far cry from its humble origins as a mobile check-in app, we look forward to seeing what the next 10 years hold for this platform. Happy Birthday Insta!

    The QT, the7stars, August 2020

    Lightbox Loves: Travel in 2021

    By | Featured, Lightbox Loves

    Of the many ways coronavirus has affected life in 2020, the way Brits holiday is certainly high up that list. When Boris Johnson first announced the lifting of some lockdown restrictions in June, bookings for holidays skyrocketed. Hoseasons, a British brand offering luxurious scenic lodges, was recording one booking every 11 seconds. Can we expect to see this trend continue into 2021?

    With many seeing this as a ‘lost year’ for travel, it seems so. Our August QT report found that one third of us have booked, or plan to book, a holiday abroad in 2021. Just 15% said the same for the remainder of this year. This is further supported by 38% of respondents saying they do not plan to travel abroad in 2020, with this figure reducing to 17% for next year. Flight booking platform Skyscanner also saw a 368% increase in searches for international travel in August, suggesting an optimism among Brits that holidaying abroad will return to some sort of normality next year.

    However, uncertainty around ongoing restrictions could see the UK’s staycation industry continue to benefit. With 31% of Brits avoiding booking holidays abroad until things have calmed down. Considering the Government’s recent announcement that current restrictions will last for six months, the optimism we saw for international travel in August could be questioned. As long as self-isolation upon return from popular foreign destinations remains compulsory, staycations within the UK are likely to provide a more practical option for certain consumer groups, particularly families.

    With winter approaching and talk of challenging months ahead, it is likely that booking a holiday will be one way that we look forward to the (hopefully!) sunnier times in 2021. The New Year period is traditionally one of the busiest times for holiday bookings, and despite a potentially more challenging economic climate, travel operators, both international and domestic, will be looking for signs of optimism in the market.


    Sky News: “One Booking Every 11 Seconds As Brits Scramble To Buy Staycations”:

    The QT August 2020

    BBC News: “New COVID Restrictions Could Last Six Months, Says Boris Johnson”:

    Will Black Friday Happen

    By | Featured, What's Hot

    A year of disruption, lockdowns and tiered restrictions has led to accelerated change. The explosion of ecommerce to the detriment of bricks and mortar has meant businesses have had to pivot at speed. Coming up to what is traditionally the biggest shopping time of the year, some wonder if the annual Black Friday event will even happen.

    There have been changes over the years. What started as two separate shopping days; Black Friday (offline) and Cyber Monday (online) have become one big event. Black Friday has expanded from one day to several days, from stores to online and the same deals replicated through to Cyber Monday, which has become the last day of the big sale.

    Consumers have become increasingly sceptical about the discounts on offer and whether they truly offer the value that retailers claim. Consumer group Which? recently concluded that many Black Friday deals were the same price if not cheaper at other times of the year.

    In response, some brands are taking a stand against this consumerism and are looking at Black Friday as an opportunity to promote greater brand purpose. Patagonia took the initiative last year and IKEA have just launched a ‘timely campaign’ to buy back unwanted furniture to encourage more sustainable consumerism.

    Furthermore, a pandemic and a possible no-deal Brexit have brought consumer uncertainty, less disposable income for some and a virtual festive season to come.

    Despite this, research suggests Black Friday on the 27th November 2020 will still be a significant shopping day. According to research, 58% of people will be spending the same if not more on gifting this holiday period (source: lightbox Pulse). And with the explosion of the £1bn self-gifting market, people will no doubt be looking to reward themselves for their continued hardships. On Black Friday alone, 50% will be spending the same or more, whilst 25% will still see it as a key shopping day as savvy shoppers actively seek promotional offers and deals.

    While the high street isn’t likely to see the deal-hunting Black Friday crowds of past years, many retailers will take this opportunity to drive extra sales before the end of the year, to boost turnover and reduce stock. We might even see some of the biggest discounts ever!

    Of course, this uncertainty does make it hard to predict what will actually happen. As we have become accustomed to this year, brands have to be prepared to adapt, pivot and plan for a Black Friday that will be ultra competitive online.

    Tiers & Targeting

    By | Featured, What's Hot

    On Monday 12th October a new local three-tiered system was introduced to define which areas in the UK are higher risk than others, and where more lockdown measures need to be taken. Local targeting has always been important, but now that Liverpudlians will have starkly different lifestyles to the Cornish it has never been more crucial for advertisers to consider how they’re talking to customers in different locations.

    Targeting people based on location can mean many things. From buying OOH within 100 metres of your stores to encourage footfall to excluding people from your paid search campaign who live somewhere where your product is not available. Papa John’s ran a successful campaign in London last year where customers were targeted only if they were within a specific radius of a London store. The tier system introduces a further layer of complexity, and advertisers must be conscious that certain plans must be flexible given that it’s difficult to anticipate where and when tier changes will occur.

    In some cases, automation may be the answer. The Trade Desk have announced their COVID-19 targeting solution based on regional R ratings. Using UK Government data, which is refreshed weekly, strategies can be automatically switched on or disabled. For example, a delivery service could promote their services in regions with an R rate above 1.5, where individuals may be more likely to avoid shopping in person. Or, an alcohol brand could switch their creative to promote buying their drinks from a store rather than a pub. We shouldn’t approach the tier system purely as a limitation; instead we should search for creative solutions for location targeting.

    With Christmas quickly approaching, it’s more important than ever to understand what consumers’ lives look like right now. And how this could differ drastically from place to place. The trends seen during Christmas 2019 are likely to be considerably different this year. According to our October QT, 1 in 3 Brits are intending to socialise in smaller groups over the festive period.

    With Q4 planning in full swing, it’s crucial to consider how consumers will experience this year’s festive period. And to remain prepared to adapt to further tier changes.

    Beyond Binary – How Brands Can Navigate Gender Representation

    By | Featured, What's Hot

    Over the last eight decades, we’ve seen a great deal of change in cultural representations of gender and gendered behaviours. As we enter the third decade of the 20th Century, we once again find ourselves in a pivotal moment of social evolution, whereby traditional binary gendered roles are becoming more problematised, as gender fluidity becomes more dominant in culture.

    At the7stars, we partnered with leading cultural insights agency Sign Salad and ground breaking neuromarketing agency Neuro-Insight, to help brands understand the evolving gender spectrum. From this, we have identified three key themes that can be used to stay on top, and engage with, these emerging cultural developments.

    Our first theme explores how the human brain has been subject to decades of ritualised conditioning, meaning traditional gendered stories are often deeply engrained within us. However, our brains can be re-conditioned when norms are challenged from brands, which in turn drive positive engagement. Therefore, there is an opportunity for brands to help form new subconscious gender narratives and be at the forefront of the evolving gender story. Rihanna’s beauty and lifestyle brand Fenty has been widely praised for their inclusive approach to gender by including men in their latest skincare launch video and creating a new culture of skincare.

    We are then able to recommend how brands can effectively respond to these gender shifts within society in a relevant way, that also acknowledges that gender equality is an intersectional issue – and experiences of gender is dependent on individual contexts. Humour can be a highly effective method for brands to authentically challenge existing norms and facilitate memorability and recall – like Heineken’s ‘Cheers To All’ ad. Further, empathy is also a brilliant means for brands to tap into stories that are relevant to their audiences’ lived experiences, concerns and desires.

    Finally, we reveal what we’re currently seeing in emerging culture: a shift between a binary male and female, to one which gender is seen as a flexible construct, and a series of choices. With three quarters of GenZ believing they’re more likely to see gender as a fluid construct than previous generations (the7stars AtoGenZ, 2020), it’s important that brands start thinking how to communicate the desire for greater inclusivity within culture.  Last year Pokémon Go released their first non-binary character, Blanche, bringing awareness of this cultural shift to a mass reaching gaming audience through the Nintendo franchise.

    There’s a lot to celebrate when we look at the evolution of gender representation in recent years, and the move away from stereotypes in mass media. And there’s an opportunity for brands to help create a more inclusive norm and use their influence to reflect the world consumers want to see, and to be seen in.

    To read our whitepaper in full, please download a free copy here.

    Searching For Answers In Share Of Search

    By | Featured, What's Hot

    Share of Search (SoS) was the hot topic of 2020’s Eff Week and subject of the much-anticipated keynote from Les Binet. Binet is famed for his work with Peter Field on two marketing effectiveness principles: 1) the role of Extra Share of Voice (ESoV) in growing Share of market (SoM) and 2) the optimal 60/40 split between brand and activation.

    Share of Search shows promise as a leading indicator, sitting between SoV and SoM. Or as Binet put it: a metric somewhere between brand salience and brand consideration. Intuitively it makes sense – we search for things (and so brands) we’ve heard about, are interested in and looking to find.

    Using Google Trends search data, Binet proved a predictive correlation between SoS and SoM in three categories: automotive, energy and telecomms.  Across the categories, changes in advertising spend (SoV) correlated with changes in search (SoS). Effects were not just immediate: advertising had a lasting impact on brand search growth.

    There are already many questions surrounding SoS’s usefulness:

    “It’s not a universally valuable metric”

    Comparing search for Audi with Volkswagen (two distinctive names) is one thing, comparing searches of the term Boots, with has multiple relevancies brings in more noise. Search also fails to account for sentiment – as Binet himself warned. The emissions scandal saw Volkswagen search rocket, which was not indicative of an oncoming increase in share of market. And so, as with any dataset, applying human understanding of the wider context is critical.

    “The integrity of Google Trends is unclear”

    Google are infamously secretive, and Google Trends data is no exception. Data is shared as an aggregate index, rather than absolute search values. This makes it especially unreliable for small search queries or in categories where one query is much larger than the rest.

    Google Trends benefit is that it is publicly available, allowing accessible and comparable data with competitors and is refreshed daily, meaning changes can offer an early warning to brands.

    It obscures category growth”

    Where categories are experiencing fast growth (or decline) benchmarking purely on a “share of” metric will obscure the full picture, which could lead to early decisions not indicative of the commercial reality.  We can get around this, at least in part, by tracking search patterns over time by brand.

    “Byron Sharp doesn’t like it” 

    Byron Sharp’s criticisms are that it is a simple mathematical model.  However, this simplicity is also its charm: share of search can be easily adopted and used by marketers across multiple categories.

    Those hoping that Share of Search would offer a panacea may be disappointed. What SoS does offer is a helpful snapshot that brings brand and performance closer together. It has strong potential as an intuitive and useful leading indicator and offers a current view of brand’s place in their category, especially as it can be applied cheaply, quickly and often.

    Critically though, as with any metric, Share of Search tells us what is going on, but not the how, or why.  Answering these questions remains an art, not just a science.