Monthly Archives

November 2020

Lightbox Loves: Green Friday

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It’s safe to say that it’s been a year of challenge and change for retail. Thanks to a global pandemic, many shops have been forced to close their doors for almost four months across the year, losing out on key retail events such as the May bank holidays and Black Friday.

Whilst consumers have changed their shopping habits to support retailers during lockdown – over half of Brits claim they’ll be shopping online more than ever this Christmas – one can’t blame retailers for their eagerness to make up for lost time.

Brands have tried to soften the blow from the Corona-induced retail slump in many ways. Primark announced that eleven of their stores will be open for 24 hours a day post Lockdown 2.0 and Black Friday started three weeks ago for many retailers; a cause for celebration for John Lewis, whose online sales are reported to be up 35% year on year.

However, despite many brands grabbing sales extravaganzas by the horns, other retailers are rejecting this phenomenon, and instead, using this period to challenge consumerism. Shunning away from big price cuts, Sofology instead celebrated Green Friday by reminding their audiences about their sustainability credentials – such as their eco-friendly sofas and PlanTree programme. Similarly, clothing brand Hush has always sat out of Black Friday. This year they’ve made the most of this period of goodwill by donating 20% of their profits to homelessness charity, Crisis – an issue that has only been amplified by the pandemic.

Whilst totally understanding the need for brands to use Black Friday as a recovery mechanism from lockdown, it appears that those who chose not to take part have gained in other ways. Whilst also doing good for wider society, #GreenFriday generated a +11%pt uplift in net sentiment year on year, suggesting that brands who focus on the bigger picture, are also likely to resonate – even if there is no direct benefit to the customer.

Whilst the pandemic has had some devastating implications – one thing that it has highlighted, is the importance of supporting others and wider communities. Brands that can authentically make a positive difference in this area are likely to resonate – with or without price cuts.

Lightbox Loves: The Case for Brand Marketing in 2021

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Despite a record breaking 15.5% growth in GDP across Q3 2019, the UK economy was 8.2% per cent smaller than it was before the pandemic at the end of September. That’s also before the second national lockdown came into effect, which will likely stall growth according to the chancellor Rishi Sunak. With it being harder than ever for brands and marketers to plan for the long term, many are turning to the allure of optimised, cost-effective performance marketing channels for their 2021 planning, but the case for brand optimising is as strong as it ever was for brands looking to grow their long-term profitability.

Released last week, WARC’s Marketer Toolkit 2021 (compiled from a global survey of marketing executives) had some notable insights with 70% of respondents reporting budget cuts to brand advertising as well as significant cuts to sponsorships/partnerships. On the flip side, 70% of respondents reported plans to increase investment in online video, as well as 64% on mobile. Arguably, these figures might also reflect the acceleration of e-commerce growth and not just the cost-effective promise of traditional activation channels such as digital, but the figures ultimately indicate a tilt towards activation marketing at the expense of brand marketing.

Activation channels such as online video will appeal to marketing executives in a year where profitability is likely to be key concern, but balancing the ratio of brand and activation marketing towards the latter often leads to a decline in Share of Voice, which is highly correlated with Share of Market. Peter Field reviewed marketing strategies from the 2008 recession, and found that businesses with Excess Share of Voice – the difference between a brand’s share of voice and a brand’s share of market – reported 5 times as many large business effects (such as profit, share and penetration) and 4.5 times the annual market share growth. Field goes on to argue that unless absolutely necessary, brands looking to increase their long-term profitability beyond a recession shouldn’t cut their brand marketing spend.

Of course, we should caveat that Field’s recommendations are contingent on the future behaving like the past – and though we are in a recession, we are in the first pandemic-based downturn of the modern age. The significance of this distinction was played out over the summer with the lifting of restrictions, which saw unprecedented growth in GDP with an enormous release of pent up demand – which is likely to happen again for the Christmas season come December 2nd. Naturally, this would make the case for brands to focus on direct-to-customer marketing strategies in the immediate term. Beyond Christmas however, tricky times lie ahead in 2021 and beyond with the triple threat of slower growth, the arrival of Brexit as well as possible tax increases to pay for the cost of Covid-19. This is where the lessons from the past are likely to become more relevant, and with advertisers planning to reduce brand marketing spend despite a strong “at-home” culture persisting into the new year, this could create a buyer’s market for ambitious brands looking to grow their market share beyond 2020 and Covid-19 through channels like TV and Radio.

Lightbox Loves: Memory Lane

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2020: the year of looking back. Our nostalgia research in April showed that 1 in 3 were feeling nostalgic about the past 12 months and many were participating in nostalgic hobbies. With lockdown 2.0 now upon us, there has been a shift, with half now looking back at 5+ years ago and to their childhood, rather than this past year (up 34% April-November). And let’s face it. By now, most of us have spent this past 12 months indoors, so this shift is perhaps to be expected. A condition once described as a ‘neurological disease of essentially demonic cause’ by a Swiss doctor in 1688 – nostalgia – it is very much a mainstay in 2020.

Here at the7stars, we’ve been following the impact of nostalgia for the past year. So what does it do for us? Nostalgia acts as a buffer against existential threats, particularly relevant in the era of Covid-19. Especially in times of isolation or heightened anxiety. “It changes the narrative you’re constantly telling yourself — reminding yourself you do have people who love and care for you even if you haven’t had a hug in a while,” claims Dr. Lasana Harris assistant psychology professor from UCL. Memories of childhood often evoke this intimacy and comfort which we all long for.

It is also likely to occur in those who are classed as ‘bored,’ with their mind seeking purpose through times of inactivity. Across music and fashion alone, these trends have been more than evident. Spotify users have been feeling the blues, with data showing that lockdown measures altering the trend of nostalgia consumption, with it peaking roughly 60 days after policies were announced, driven by the drastic change caused by lockdown rather than the virus itself. And with so many of us WFH, the velour tracksuit brand that was once confined to the 90s and Paris Hilton – Juicy Couture – is once again trending.

Arguably, nostalgia will be even more potent this lockdown due to the time of year and the dark, wet winter we’re facing. 8 in 10 of us get nostalgic at certain times of the year, and a peak time for reminiscing is Christmas. With the pandemic restricting events and gatherings, it’s likely that an increased number of us will be thinking back to past celebrations to feel festive this year; whether that’s through a dress formally reserved for Christmas parties, old photos or through a mulled wine, many of us will have to find different ways to remember festive traditions this Christmas.

So with the festive season fast approaching, there’s an opportunity for brands to help bring traditions and re-invent traditions outside the home and with others, and bring them into the home and adhere to social distancing. By giving consumers a taste of what life used to be like, brands can leverage emotions to trigger dormant purchase intent for items or lifestyle changes they hadn’t been remembered up until now.

Lightbox Loves: Cancel Culture

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Birthed as a way of dealing ‘with the problem of power: who has it and who does not,’ cancel culture is a
way of withdrawing support for public figures or companies after they have done something offensive; by
armouring social media users as some sort of online vigilante squad that comes to the helm of justice
when delegated people and organisations fail to do so. Since its birth, there have been many names that
it has called, and none more prominent than Donald Trump – a man that many wanted cancelled even
before ‘cancel culture’ was a thing.

To understand why this is, we must first explore the issues of cancel culture. A concept devised by
human and applicated by humans, will inevitably bare the complexity of human beings. Yes, cancel
culture is new but the metaethics of it has been a long, long existing conundrum. The issue here is in the
contradiction of cancelling; in that if you cancel something the whole objective is to draw less attention to
it and ultimately guide people from perceiving that thing any further, but in actuality it does the opposite.

Take Trump again as an example. He amassed a greater following during the 2020 election than
previously. After four years of controversy, democrats and cancel culture campaigners alike would have
thought that with his colours shown, Trump would be heroically defeated. Instead, Trump found more
white working-class voters than the 2016 election and also managed to increase his votes in Florida and
Texas. Arguably the rhetoric for why he should be cancelled drove more ardent supporters.

This is not the only issue with cancel culture. It has manifested itself into an online judicial system,
bringing fourth anyone to the stand that says anything that causes any single remote of offence, which in
turn has detrimentally diluted its cause and created a massive riot within the camp. Thus, better
guidelines need to be established in order to properly distinguish those who need to be held to account
online, aka ‘cancelled’ (even if for a short while). Otherwise, you stand to make a martyr out of someone.
It is essential for partakers in cancel culture to understand the difference between when someone offends
you, compared to when someone is harming you.

So what can brands take out of this? That consumers are always watching, especially in an era of social
media. Ensuring every decision corresponds with clear values is one way to help navigate cancel culture.
That and transparency, which half of consumers find important when choosing what brand to use. Own
up to mistakes, just like we as humans should also do, and be willing to evolve with your customers.

Lightbox Loves: Frightful Delight

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Step aside light-hearted entertainment; indulge in a fear-inducing horror instead. I’m a bit late onto the hype around Sky’s historical drama Chernobyl, based on the nuclear power plant explosion of 1986. A horror, but not in the way we traditionally identify this genre. Nonetheless, it tapped into many emotions that echo that of the current climate; shock, anxiety, fear, all in the wake of the unthinkable coming true. Moving away from true dramas to horror, it turns out that fright is a good way to combat episodes of high stress and release a much needed hit of dopamine for many of us whilst we’re are stuck indoors.

Horror movies have long offered a way for viewers to see their concerns validated, with the genre well equipped to address real issues audiences might have. According to a professor at Baylor University, “The horror genre has always been a highly socially attuned genre because it draws on what we’re afraid of, and what we’re afraid of changes from era to era.” Therefore, horror is often more in tune with our day-to-day lives than we initially give it credit for, and an important output of concerns felt in society.

As fears in real life feel a lot more manageable in fictional settings, horror films enable audiences to come to terms with their emotions in a safe space. According to the director of the Anxiety Disorders Centre at the Institute of Living, “as we gain a sense of mastery over fear, real-world concerns such as the COVID pandemic become less scary to us as well.” Therefore, it can be argued that horrors are actually good for our health, making us less distressed in real life in the face of pandemic. With the7stars QT showing that Brits’ happiness was decreasing again in October, it is now more pertinent than ever to ensure people feel in control of their reactions to the circumstances that we face.

Furthermore, the immersive nature of horror means that this genre equates to a strong physical reaction, whether it be shock or excitement. Whilst we all know that laughing is a powerful endorphin boost, so – according to the University of Oxford – is horror. Raised adrenaline levels helps people feel reinvigorated, with both laughter and suspense putting the body under the same forms of stress that release endorphins.

Therefore, in the same way that humour is also beneficial to cater to consumer needs at times of uncertainty, it is important not to discount their need for dopamine through more extreme forms of entertainment. Where relevant, brands have the opportunity to provide escapism through some of the stimulations seen in horror, to excite consumers looking for a distraction as we brace ourselves for a lockdown 2.0.

Among Us’ Spectacular Rise And How Famous Figures Are Using Social Gaming To Connect With Fans

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PC and mobile game Among Us has had a wild year. It’s not often that a game has its biggest moment in its second or third year of release but since August the game has regularly been in the top 5 titles streaming currently on Twitch, between the likes of Call of Duty, Minecraft and Fortnite.

Its dramatic rise in downloads has been down to a perfect storm of a solid product, timing and exposure on highly popular streaming channels. The simple, but popular premise of the game is social deduction which has been played in different guises for years. This year in particular meant that a game that’s easy to learn, free to play (on mobile) and allowed private chats with friends for people to be social, and play during lockdowns, gave Among Us a huge boost. However, there are plenty of games that offer this, so why Among Us?

The most notable factor is exposure of the game through streamed content across Twitch and YouTube. For example, streamer xQc who, amounted over 11 million hours of watch time between July and September alone, had regularly been playing Among Us to tens of thousands of people simultaneously. This organic jump in relevance and awareness led to the game having over 100 million downloads on Android alone in early September!

Coverage switched from gaming publishers to mainstream news in October when US politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez broke records streaming to 430,000 concurrent viewers whilst playing Among Us. During the stream, similar to other much less attended rallies from other politicians, AOC prompted viewers to vote in the US election. Unlike past awkward attempts by politicians to engage pop culture, AOC’s stream feels authentic because she is a gamer herself and has engaged gaming communities outside of political ‘stunts’.

Among Us isn’t the only social game being used this year as a platform to connect with people. We saw rapper Travis Scott perform virtually to 27 million people on Fortnite back in April and, more recently, fellow rapper Little Nas X created shows within Roblox which were attended 33 million times. These events are paving the way for how individuals and brands may look to make meaningful connections with massive audiences in the near future.

A uniting characteristic of the success of Among Us and the live moments from politicians and musicians alike is their authenticity. Politics, music and gaming have long been synonymous with having fandom, so any brand looking to replicate this engagement should take their time and ensure they’re not trying to manufacture something that won’t land with the audience.

Next Generation Of Google Analytics

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Goodbye bounce rate and session focused reporting. Hello smarter insights and enhanced marketing intelligence. New Google Analytics is revamping digital data measurement.

Google has announced the release of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) that comes with a revamped interface, different data collection setup and lots of exciting new features. Google Analytics is the most widely used analytics platform, the simpler reporting interface with advanced marketing and business insights. It is a very exciting development in the digital data tracking space.

Here are a few cool features that will be of significant help for marketers and businesses alike:

Machine learning searches for insights in your data, alerts you to significant trends and identifies anomalies. For example, products seeing rising demand.

Machine learning models are also applied to your data to provide predictive reporting on customers’ future actions. For example, it calculates the potential revenue you could earn, churn probability and conversion probability.

Analytics tracking is no longer fragmented between platforms. Instead it provides a more complete understanding of the customer journey across devices through a unified view of the web and app performance.

GA4 is stepping away from sessions and focusing on event based data tracking to enable cookie-less reporting and attribution. In addition, this change in the data model enables a consistent data structure across both web and app, with the ability to measure additional information on each customer’s action.

New integrations across Google’s marketing products allow for connecting more comprehensive sets of data, to help understand the combined impact of all marketing efforts, and to optimise new customers’ actions and properties.

The increased importance of privacy standards in the world is reflected in GA4 through additional data controls, data collection and measurement that doesn’t rely on cookies and identifiers.

It’s expected that eventually Google will deprecate the existing Universal Analytics properties, but there’s no need to worry, we’re still a while away from that happening.

In the meantime, the best course of action is to start exploring how GA4 can boost audience and marketing insights. The earlier marketers and businesses start using GA4, the sooner they’ll be able to benefit from the latest enhancements and build up historical data for future use.

New generation GA4 looks and behaves differently, so marketers should prioritise learning how to use GA4 and give themselves plenty of time to familiarise themselves with the new setup and next generation measurement.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

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Dubbed ‘the Superbowl of UK advertising’, the Christmas ad season is now fully underway. With these campaigns infamously planned up to a year in advance, this year all eyes are on how well advertisers have gauged the mood of the nation – if at all.

Research agency System1’s brand tracking of this year’s ads reinforces many of the principles we set out earlier this year when it comes to responding to COVID-19. Their winners balance nostalgia and light-heartedness, while losers remind the nation what a real turkey of a year it has been. System1 measures the extent to which Christmas ads connect to the right brain (the more emotional side) – and in doing so provide an indicator of their long-term success. 2-star is the norm, anything over a 4 is considered very strong, with 5+ best-in-class.

So far, this year’s haul has highlighted three themes that show how ads are resonating with consumers:

Stop reminding us this year will be different! We need no reminding how different 2020 has been. Especially not at Christmas. This is loud and clear in some of the lower scoring Christmas ads tracked so far. To the rationally driven left brain, Asda’s Christmas advert (2.7/6) delivers everything (value with all the trimmings). But the right brain quickly switches off at Sunny’s opening gambit “I guess Christmas is going to be different this year”. Even Tesco’s ‘No Naughty List’ gets a bit too close for comfort (4.1/6).

This is a timely reminder that empathy doesn’t have to mean reflecting the world as it really is.

Nostalgia dies hard. Our latest research via Lightbox Pulse showed that 50% of the UK is feeling nostalgic in lockdown 2.0. And this continues to be in evidence this Christmas.

Several of the top scoring ads tap into nostalgia through their use of characters – DFS’s use of Wallace & Gromit in their ad (5.5/6) and even Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot (an incredible 5.8/6) show how a sense of familiarity goes a long way amidst the madness.

In a year where nothing feels familiar, clinging on to traditions and old favorites can elicit joy and a sense of comfort.

Less time for tearjerkers Tugging at the heart strings is proving too much for many this Christmas – as reflected by Amazon’s surprisingly low score (a ‘still strong’ 3/6). A beautiful film telling the story of an aspiring ballerina whose dreams are thwarted by COVID failed to resonate with consumers in ways it might have done in previous years. Similarly, Disney’s ad telling the tale of a changing relationship between grandmother and granddaughter scores lower than you might expect (3.7/6) when it comes to right-brained metrics. Emotion is powerful, but in a year of ups and (mainly) downs, focusing on the ups goes further with consumers.

In many senses this will be a Christmas like no other. But System1’s research is a useful reminder that Christmas is a time for comfort, simple pleasures and a bit of a break from the daily grind.

2020 The Year No One Expected

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January 1st 2020 marked the beginning of a brand-new decade. And whilst it has definitely been a history-making year, for the majority it hasn’t lived up to the hopes and resolutions made in January. Instead, it has been filled with a huge array of environmental and societal tragedies – all under the cloud of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Creating a year filled with challenges, changes and uncertainties.

As humans, we fundamentally don’t like uncertainty and change because it disrupts our ecosystem of what makes us feel good, secure and comfortable. Research from the University of Cambridge found that after surveying nearly 7,000 people across ten countries in May, the highest level of concern was found in the UK. At the7stars our own Lightbox Pulse research supports this, with levels of apprehension (55%) and worry (51%) in November being the highest emotions Brits state experiencing as they look ahead to the coming weeks and months.

So it’s no surprise that during the course of this year when we’ve examined the results from our consumer tracking study, the QT, that the overall happiness levels of the UK have never been so low. In May, as the UK continued lockdown, feeling ‘less happy’ went from 21% in February to 55% in May, a 162% uplift. Then as restrictions began to lift in June, happiness saw a small uplift of 26% feeling ‘more happy’. However, this was short lived with feelings of ‘less happy’ climbing through August (47%), October (51%) and reaching the highest recorded peak in November (56%) since tracking began in November 2016.

Despite feeling low, Brits have an incredible resilience and set of coping mechanisms. From humour that can be seen with the huge number of memes and jokes surfing the Internet, it’s fair to say that 2020 has been hosting its own tragi (comedy) club. Through to escapism in media, with 1 in 4 increasing their usage of podcasts/audiobooks, through to 1 in 3 increasing watching TV programmes live as seen in the7stars QT. Another form of escapism is nostalgia; with the7stars Lightbox Pulse highlighting that half of Brits are looking back at 5+ years ago and to their childhood and participating in nostalgic hobbies to provide them with comfort.

As the year comes to an end Brits are going to be looking for ways to distract themselves and lift their mood, so brands that help tap into consumers’ coping mechanisms (humour, escapism and nostalgia) will be in the best place to build resonance and a relationship going into 2021.