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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: 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.

Lightbox Loves: Buy Now, Pay Later

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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: Ten Years of Instagram

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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
https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/celebrating-10-years-of-instagram-infographic/586415/
https://www.thedrum.com/opinion/2020/10/06/instagram-10-what-does-its-future-look
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/sep/20/instagram-at-10-how-sharing-photos-has-entertained-us-upset-us-and-changed-our-sense-of-self

Lightbox Loves: Influencer Relevancy

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Influencer-marketing couldn’t escape the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but it may have helped it to find a new purpose. As brands paused their sponsorships, influencers went from having an average of 35% paid posts to only 4% in April. However, as the months have gone on, businesses and creators in the industry have adapted, with many shifting their focus to other streams of revenue that allow them to create DIY content without having to leave their homes.

Influencers have adjusted their content to become more relevant. There’s been a huge uplift in tutorials relating to fitness, recipes and hobbies, as the focus to helping one another and giving new perspectives has grown. It’s no surprise therefore that the7stars quarterly tracker – The QT – highlighted that social media usage increased by 47% in May, with it continuing to rise again in August. With more time spent online, consumers are more receptive to the content of these influencers than ever before, and value turning to those who are most closely aligned to their priorities. Niche influencers such as ‘plantfluencers’, have seen spikes in followers during the pandemic as people congregate around those that fit their needs.

By adjusting content to become more audience focused and specific, influencers have seen an increase in engagement. Instagram influencers, for example, have seen likes increase by an average of 68%, as well as a 50%+ uplift in comments. Rather than influencers leading completely different lives to their followers – jet setting, making personal appearances and attending launch parties – they’re spending more time at home and consequently, spending more time connecting with their followers mirroring their environments and situations.

This increase in engagement suggests that now is a good time for brands to re-evaluate the influencer landscape. Many influencers are arguably now closer and more relatable to their followers than they have been previously. The rise in niche influencers also facilitates targeting audiences authentically by aligning to what they’re truly passionate about.

The7stars QT, August 2020
https://www.businessinsider.com/how-coronavirus-is-changing-influencer-marketing-creator-industry-2020-3?r=US&IR=T
https://www.forbes.com/sites/charlesrtaylor/2020/07/30/is-covid-making-marketing-influencers-more-influential/#312e2e084200

Lightbox Loves: Bouncing Back

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School is out, beaches are packed and despite there being no Wimbledon this year, pitchers of Pimms are back on pub menus. A first glance, it looks like a very British Summer is upon is, and whilst thousands are enjoying summer holidays and the great outdoors, it looks like not even the sunshine can stop the stay-at-home economy from booming.

Our latest wave of the QT (the7stars proprietary consumer sentiment tracker) has demonstrated that despite lockdown easing, brands cannot be too quick to assume Brits are breaking the habit that has become so engrained in us: staying at home. When asking the nation how they are planning to spend this Summer compared to last year – 64% still claim they are planning to spend more time at home, rising to 69% among those aged 55-64 and 70% for those in the South West. In similar vein, 1 in 2 of us are intending on spending less time enjoying UK day trips to indoor locations and for 2 in 5 of us, we are even planning to spend less time making the most of outdoor attractions.

This inclination to be at home is also reflected in our holiday plans. Although given the green light to enjoy Britain’s most attractive holiday destinations, only 10% plan to spend more time than last year on a staycation – although intention doubles amongst parents.

However, there are many glimmers of hope – the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme has resulted in a 19% increase in high street footfall across the UK. Granted, brands cannot be expected to be as generous as Rishi Sunak, but assuming consumers will bounce back to normal without a nudge is not always realistic. Even when financial incentives are not possible, demonstrating reassurance in other ways might be enough to show empathy – through the likes of creativity and messaging – as we slowly go back to old behaviours.

They say it takes longer to break a habit than start one, so whilst Brits adjust and recover, brands need to show patience and understanding in the meantime.

Sources: The QT, August 2020.
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/aug/10/eat-out-to-help-out-scheme-increases-uk-high-street-footfall-covid-19

Lightbox Loves: Taking A Temperature

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Last Friday saw a record-breaking day of hot temperatures in the UK, with Friday August 7th now reported to be the hottest August day since 2003. Here at Lightbox Loves we’re sure that we weren’t the only ones in Adland finishing up their afternoon emails with an ice cream in hand.

It’s commonly known that sales of ice cream spike in warmer months, and that advertisers plan their marketing around this seasonal trend accordingly. However warmer temperatures can also affect the sales of products less obvious too, such as hair removal products. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that temperature can affect our receptivity towards advertising altogether, depending on its content.

Evidence suggests that our receptivity to emotional marketing can fluctuate according to our bodily temperatures in a way that mimics a homeostatic response; much like drawing for a cornetto to cool ourselves down on a hot day. One study found that “emotionally cold” marketing received a better response if a viewer is feeling physically warm, and conversely, “emotionally warm” advertising elicited a better response if a viewer was physically cold. Though viewers could also respond equally well to both forms of advertising if their temperature was close to their homeostatic ideal of 37C. Coca Cola might have picked up on this having produced different Christmas campaigns for different climatic conditions; opting for an “emotionally warm” campaign in cooler regions such as those within the northern hemisphere, and a “cooler” campaign in warmer regions such as those down under.

However, it should be stressed that temperature is just one small piece of the puzzle when it comes to consumer preference; the same research points out that ice cream advertisers shouldn’t necessarily opt for packaging with “cold” colours – as customers looking to pick up ice cream will be chilly if they’re in the frozen section of a supermarket. And any advertiser looking to test creative strategies with seasonal differences in mind should note that there can be significant variations in purchasing thresholds across regions. Terry O’Reilly, host of the advertising podcast Under the Influence, pointed out that in Scotland BBQ sales increase rapidly once the temperatures breaches 20C, though the same effect only occurs at 24C and above in London.

Ultimately, temperature can not only affect sales, but a consumer’s receptivity towards marketing of these products. Advertisers can and have leveraged this evidence to drive sales and gain an edge over their competitors. However there isn’t an off-the-shelf piece of advice that advertisers can apply at a macro level towards their campaigns; keen advertisers looking to leverage the power of temperature changes to boost the saliency of their adverts should grab a themometer – or several, and think about how these findings could be utilised in ways that might swing customer preference at every step of their path towards purchase.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53694492

https://mediatel.co.uk/news/2015/06/30/how-does-weather-impact-advertising/

https://phys.org/news/2018-05-temperature-affects-response-advertising.html

Lightbox Loves: Sustainability During a Pandemic

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Given the global pandemic, you might think it’s safe to assume that people have more pressing matters to contend with than the environment. Is it even possible to be sustainable during a pandemic, or perhaps a recession? Looking at 2008, it appears not. Sustainability was put on pause to aid competitive pricing and essentially survival. However, with the momentum the sustainability movement has had over the last few years, it will be harder for brands to ‘opt out’ this time around.

Admittedly from the offset, it does appear that the pandemic has somewhat stalled the sustainability movement. The United Nations has confirmed that Covid-19 has put the Sustainable Development Goals out of reach, which is disappointing news, especially given that most goals to protect the environment by 2030 were already unachievable before this all happened.

Granted, there are other pressing issues at the forefront of society; one of seismic proportions being the Black Lives Matter movement. Nonetheless, this movement indirectly drives sustainable practice. Vogue Business has found that companies with a more diverse leadership have better environmental compliance reporting, in addition to stronger financial returns. It goes without saying that increased empathy and an anti-violent stance radiates out to many other causes.

Whilst it is tempting to overlook sustainability in the face of uncertainty, Brits will not. Imagery illustrating the positive impact of lower levels of Co2 emissions across the world have been circulated widely and consciousness amongst Brits is actually rising. From January to April 2020, there has been a +13% uplift in concern about pollution and +24% uplift in people avoiding unethical brands (IPA TouchPoints). This, coupled with Brits enjoying buying less and a slower pace of life, as our QT showed, could be resulting in greater awareness of our surroundings and the impact we’re having as a consumer.

Proving that sustainability has the potential to gain customers in the long-term. H&M launched their ‘Let’s change. For tomorrow.’ campaign in June, promoting that half of their materials are recycled, organic or sustainably sourced, with the aim for this to be 100% of materials by 2030. Businesses who recognise that sustainability is an important deciding factor for consumers in the long-term look set to be the ones who stand-out from the crowd.

Whilst there’s no escaping the present reality, the effects of climate change are set to ultimately overshadow the effects of Covid-19 in the long run. Whilst it may be tempting for brands to scale back to a bear minimum, sustainability will become a pathway to recovery and resilience.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02002-3

https://www.voguebusiness.com/sustainability/sustainability-in-fashion-relies-on-embracing-diversity

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/how-to-be-green/why-sustainability-strategic-business-imperative/

Lightbox Loves: Learning Something New

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It is unprecedented for so many of us to spend this much time at home. The sudden change in routine has challenged us to occupy ourselves when our opportunities for socialising have become seriously limited. Take to Instagram and you’ll see cakes being baked, books being read and Netflix being watched – but is this a true representation of how Britons have spent their time inside?

Well, in some cases, yes. One in five of us say that we have spent more money on books in the last 10 weeks than we did previously. This trend was documented soon after lockdown was announced and suggests that Britons quickly rediscovered a love of reading that they had perhaps forgotten. Whether or not those books have actually been read, however, is another matter…

In other areas of ‘self-improvement’ (anything which makes you feel better afterwards counts), TV shows centred around activities have benefitted from the lockdown. These include crafting, cooking and art shows, which encourage those at home to get active and have all risen in popularity during the last couple of months; The Great British Sewing Bee attracts up to 6 million viewers per episode. This again suggests that people have decided now is the time to make a mask, order some new paint brushes, or create the ultimate soufflé.

Finally, if we look at Google Trends, we see that the learning doesn’t end there. Searches for ‘learn a language’ increased steeply after Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement in March, and have remained at higher levels than in the nine months prior. Searches for ‘online courses’ have followed a similar pattern. Admittedly, this does not tell us if people have followed through with these ideas, but it does illustrate that we have a desire to learn and have tried to use this time to benefit our future selves.

This desire to learn presents brands with an opportunity to assist us and build an even closer relationship between brand and consumer. Cookalongs are one such way this could be done – various Instagram accounts have run these successfully. Advertisers should consider how they can help us on our journey of self-improvement, or reassure us that it is perfectly OK not to have done any of the above – how often do you eat soufflé anyway?

How are Brits spending money during COVID-19? https://yougov.co.uk/topics/consumer/articles-reports/2020/06/04/how-are-brits-spending-money-during-covid-19

Book Sales Surge as Self-isolating Readers Stock up on ‘Bucket List’ Novels https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/mar/25/book-sales-surge-self-isolating-readers-bucket-list-novels

Lockdown TV: What habits will stick as we leave lockdown? https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/lockdown-tv-what-habits-will-stick-we-leave-lockdown