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The Evolving Future of AV

By | Featured, What's Hot

In 2021, the broadcasters celebrated record numbers in ad revenue, with ITV announcing a whopping 22% increase YoY. In truth, revenue increased much more than the market predicted which, when coupled with large declines in linear impacts, led to unprecedented levels of inflation in the TV market (particularly from September onwards). We have seen this trend continue into 2022, with January and February both seeing increases in revenue and a decline in impacts across most audiences.

Interestingly, even established ‘appointment to view’ shows underperformed, such as The Masked Singer (30% decline YoY), and even ITV’s new drama Anne struggled to deliver (averaging less than 2.7m impacts, compared to The Pembrokeshire Murders in 2021, which averaged 9.3m).

The good news is there are multiple ways that we can stem the decline in reach and inflation in the market. One way is good old fashioned audience and insight led TV planning and buying. At the7stars we’ve been saying for years that a scatter-gun approach to TV simply won’t work. Linear campaigns should be specifically tailored to target audiences, particularly the lighter TV viewers. And importantly, brands should not be held back by old fashioned trading mechanics and rigid share deals.

BVOD is now fundamental for almost all audiences when planning an AV campaign. According to Dovetail data via Techedge, BVOD views in January 2022 were over three times higher than in 2020, a clear indication that the changes in viewing habits during lockdown are here to stay. And with C-Flight officially launching later this month, we’ll be able to measure the true effect that BVOD has on reach. BVOD also unlocks a multitude of targeting, measuring and buying opportunities, with the broadcasters all placing their streaming services front and centre of their business growth strategies for 2022 and beyond.

The recent launch of ITVX is a great indication of where ITV sees their future. ITVX is set to launch in November this year and promises an additional 11,000 hours of content. ITVX will predominately be an AVOD service. However there will also be a paid-for service, which will be ad-free, and will include BritBox.

Whilst it is predicted that linear pricing will stabilise from Q2 2022, we have fantastic opportunities to reach audiences in high quality video content, including the likes of YouTube, CTV, IMDbTV, and cinema. TV is still the best way to reach audiences at scale, in terms of effectiveness and ROI. However, if we combine this with the ever-flourishing BVOD, SVOD and AVOD streaming services, and the wealth of data and targeting that they deliver, then AV will be truly unstoppable.

The Cost of Living Crisis: How are Consumers Reacting? 

By | Featured, What's Hot

Across the UK, very few households have not been affected by recent increases to the cost of living. Whether we’re filling our tanks at BP, nipping to Iceland for essentials, or popping into Greggs for breakfast, our eyes are popping at increasing prices.

Consumers are well accustomed to inflation – often humorously described using the humble Freddo, which now costs two and a half times its turn of the century price – but rarely does it touch all categories. In February, inflation rose again to 6.2%, its highest level since the early 1990s. Yet, this still pre-dates the increasing of the energy price cap, and the impact of the ongoing war in Ukraine on global supply chains is yet to be fully felt.

So, how will this impact consumer behaviour, and what can brands do to manage backlash?

Naturally, in times of financial pressure, consumers reassess their priorities. As the cost of filling a typical family car edges closer to £100, consumers are finding savings in their budget elsewhere. According to the February edition of the7stars’ QT, 74% of UK adults will buy fewer personal items for themselves, while 33% will take shorter or fewer holidays this year.

What is less obvious is which expenditures will make way, and which will survive. As purchasing power shrinks, brands must prove their relative worth to customers. For example, a person might view their recipe box subscription as one luxury too far. Yet, compared to the cost of a weekly takeaway, the subscription is a relative steal. And as 77% of Brits aim to cook more at home to combat price increases (QT, February 2022), the benefits of the box might keep the customer from cancelling.

Furthermore, brands which offer purchase reassurance will benefit. Flexible booking policies and cancellation grace extensions, like those offered on holidays at the height of the pandemic, will help. As Mintel observe from past financial crises, brands taking risk to support consumers often win loyalty once the crisis ends.

However, this is not your parents’ inflation. Since 1992, when inflation last peaked to this point, our lifestyle has changed dramatically. Buy Now, Pay Later schemes will offer a lifeline to many unwilling to lose their luxuries, while others will use hybrid working to curb rising travel costs. According to the7stars’ Lightbox Lowdown, 30% of Brits plan to work from home whenever possible to avoid paying for fuel.

Of course, with 6.2% inflation, price rises are inevitable. But largely, as Mark Ritson argues, brands transparent about the issue and who give customers notice, like Pret in raising its coffee subscription, will be forgiven for doing so. The full effect of this crisis will not be felt overnight. Like brands, consumers need a little longer to adjust.

How Brands can be Heard over New Waves of Podcast Content

By | Featured, What's Hot

Podcasts have been the talk of the town over the last few years. Michelle Obama launched her own series and controversy has surrounded Joe Rogan’s. Now consumption is higher than ever, with over 19.1m listeners in the UK last year (Statista). With core streaming platforms building out their ad models and opportunities, brands have increasingly invested in the channel and, with increased competition, the fight for attention is on.

Set to be the biggest growth channel this year, with 20% of UK consumers planning to listen more in 2022 (YouGov) Podcast audiences have increased, so advertisers have followed. The total UK ad market grew by 26.4% from 2020 to 2021 (AA/WARC), with Podcast ad spend up 35% to £46m (Statista).

Accelerated in part by a restricted world, the relative ease of Podcast production allows creators to excel and talent to flourish. It’s no surprise that consumption is up: content is better than ever and people are listening more to combat screen fatigue.

While Podcast ads may seem expensive on a CPT basis, attention adjusted rates are much more favourable. Given Nielsen’s finding that host-read ads drive a brand recall rate of 71%, direct in-headphone listening is gaining attention.

Attention is a core precursor to Mental Availability (Karen Nelson-Field) and campaigns with a large impact on mental availability have a stronger impact on all brand metrics (Rob Brittain and Peter Field, 2021).

Measurement has evolved with the channel, moving from DR redemption codes to Brand Uplift studies and attribution possibilities via first party data connections. This measurable effectiveness is being seen by brands and earning Podcasts their place on plans.

But will people become ‘deaf to the ads’ with clutter increasing; and how can brands continue to cut through?

As with all channels, creative is one of the strongest factors in campaign success and ideal for leveraging disproportionate levels of attention. Digital Audio offers a wealth of opportunities beyond sponsored ‘Host Reads’ for relevance.

Dynamic creative messaging, 360 binaural ads and utilising data and context for personalisation of ads are all fantastic tools in the battle to be heard. A Million Ads research shows that dynamically personalised creative delivers on average 52% uplift in Ad Recall, along with a 2.4x increase in Conversions.

New opportunities abound to create great experiences and relevance for listeners, such as Gousto’s ‘That Sounds Delicious’, matching Spotify listener habits with dinner recommendations and Coral’s bespoke series ‘All To Play For’.

Podcasts are here to stay, but attention must be gained. Brands who embrace the medium as a soundboard for creativity will thrive in the space, continuing to cut through when ad fatigue sets in.

The Misinformation War

By | Featured, What's Hot

Some things pale into insignificance during events as devastating as the Ukraine conflict. Plenty of companies have pulled or suspended their business operations from Russia in the past month, many out of solidarity with Ukraine. This includes media companies – but not just for economic reasons.

Social media platforms are an increasingly key source of information to Ukrainians, Russians and the rest of the world when trust in state-controlled media becomes  questionable. But they are also powerful tools of misinformation and conspiracy, as has been well documented in the last few years through Brexit, presidential elections, and the pandemic. As such, another war is afoot for control of the social media narrative.

The response has been relatively swift from the platforms. Snap and Twitter halted all advertising sales in Russia at the beginning of the month, followed by Meta. In part, this was to prevent the potential for scaled misinformation from Russian entities. In fact, Meta’s first step was banning ads from Russian state media and demonetising their accounts. Google similarly blocked YouTube channels connected to Russia Today and Sputnik across Europe.

Moscow responded in kind, most recently, by blocking Instagram and labelling Meta an ‘extremist’ organisation. Surprisingly, YouTube has escaped such a ban, despite previous threats that it would be. Thus, it remains a precious source of information for the Russian people. How Russia values their current control of the narrative on this platform remains a matter of conjecture.

These issues have brought brand safety and media responsibility back into focus, highlighting the scale of misinformation and dangerous content within social media. Naturally, there is a question over how brands should navigate this territory and evaluate the type of content adjacent to which their ads appear.

The Global Alliance for Responsible Media has aided in a collective drive to tackle the issue of brand safety across platforms over the past couple of years. Most platforms sign up to their definitions of unsafe content across all key categories, from illegal activity to adult content and child exploitation. Across these definitions YouTube, for example, can now report that 99% of their content can be considered ‘brand safe’ against what is considered an objective industry standard.

Most advertisers apply relevant platform controls and placement exclusions – sometimes overzealously. What’s debated less is the subjective nature of brand suitability, specific to each individual brand, which cannot follow a shared definition. It’s not a default exclusion or block list. The same study that reported YouTube content as 99% brand safe also determined that over a 1/3 of views still may not be considered ‘brand suitable’.

Whether to appear in proximity with certain content remains an issue each brand must examine with their agency. But the final decision should be theirs alone.

Lightbox Loves: The Post Wellness Era

By | Lightbox Loves | No Comments

As with the natural ebb and flow of cultural trends, it seems that the age of the ‘that-girl’ wellness trend has come to an end – paving the way for newer movements such as the ‘feral club rat’ and ‘goblin mode’ to redefine the zeitgeist.

From athleisure to green juice detoxes and restrictive meal planning, the pandemic triggered an influx of self-improvement mania that started with good intentions, but soon soured into a performative obsession.  However, as scenes of the war in Ukraine, on-going climate change and the cost of living crisis became the top news stories, people awakened to issues much bigger than themselves. This caused people to strive for more than just pursuing a seemingly endless journey of self-optimisation and giving birth to the ‘that-girl’ antithesis – the ‘feral club rat’ and ‘goblin mode’ which embraces the messiness of life.

People have also gained consciousness of the underlying consumerist agenda behind the wellness trend which profited off people’s insecurities. For 2022, the majority of Gen Z are now more likely to say that ‘personal development’ or ‘having fun’ are their top priority lifestyle changes for the year ahead.

The new dawn of the post wellness revolution sees people seek a balance with a gentler form of self-development taking over the reins.  This manifests in the likes of TikTok and YouTube star Emily Mariko, who embodies this shift in culture most accurately with her unrestrictive yet healthy food content on social media. Meanwhile, vegan/vegetarian meat alternatives company Beyond Meat, are riding the wave by partnering with fast food chains such as the likes of KFC, Subway, TGI Fridays and McDonalds.

With the hashtag #feralgirlsummer garnering more than 300,000 views on TikTok, it seems that this movement is here to stay. But how can other brands, also resonate in this space authentically? This new era calls for brands to send messages of empowerment, balance and support, which prove more meaningful than pushing glorified aspirational ideals and exploiting people’s feelings of not being enough. Relevant brands will also do well to help consumers become unapologetic in their self-indulgence to keep up with more progressive mindsets. Ultimately, those who speak the post-wellness language are asking for more humanity, authenticity, and relatability in the brands they love.

Source: Canvas8, The Guardian

Lightbox Loves: The Loyalty Economy

By | Lightbox Loves

Whilst many Brits started the year with a renewed sense of optimism, the country is facing a difficult trajectory for the year ahead. Referring to the7stars’ own quarterly tracker, the QT, we know that the Brits are already starting to feel the impact of the rising cost of living, with 1 in 3 Brits are feeling less comfortable on their income than they did this time last year. Inevitably, this extra financial stress will result in a change to consumer purchasing habits which will have repercussions for brands and industries alike. 

With the rise in inflation and cost of living, and customers becoming increasingly expectant of brands, loyalty will become pivotal in retaining customers within an even more competitive landscape. However, we know that brand loyalty is waning for most. According to a recent report, 27% of UK adults feel no loyalty to any brand. Worryingly, it has become increasingly difficult to garner initial loyalty in the first instance, with nearly 40% of global shoppers agreeing that they’d need to buy from a brand five or more times before they would consider themselves loyal — an 11% increase YoY.

As a result, it is important that brands do not confuse habitual purchasing with perceived loyalty, which will be especially pertinent during a time where consumers will be more conservative with their spending. To obtain and develop loyalty, consumers need to feel valued and understood, meaning their interaction with the brand needs to extend beyond the transaction process. 85% of respondents overwhelmingly agree that they’re more inclined to buy from a brand whose values align with their own (rising to 90% for Gen Z). Therefore, the onus is now on brands to tap into and earn consumer’s emotional loyalty.

In a time where consumers are more vigilant when it comes to their data privacy, striking the balance will be key. A recent report suggested that 68% are willing to share information with brands they love in exchange for more personalized loyalty experiences and rewards, but will abandon brands that ‘over-personalise’. Loyalty programs, incentives and exclusive offers could be key to unlocking that personal experience that shopper’s crave, resulting in the holy grail of customer retention (87% of Brits say that a loyalty program influences them to buy again).

The secret to building true emotional loyalty requires crafting journeys, remaining principled, and creating experiences – moving beyond the data and understanding consumers as individuals. Now more than ever, it’s important for brands to recognise the difference and invest in the moments that matter, keeping shopper’s coming back for more! 

Source: The QT Feb 2022, Canvas8, State of Brand Loyalty survey

Lightbox Loves: Offering glimmers of hope

By | Lightbox Loves

Against a backdrop of a devastating war and an increasingly worrying cost of living crisis, it has been questioned what role brands have to play, particularly within such delicate circumstances. Through monitoring how brands have responded to these harsh realities, the ones that have positively stood out are those that have found an authentic way to show glimmers of hope in times of need – offering an opportunity for brands to positively connect with their customers.

The catastrophic attacks in Ukraine have affected us all, and in response, many Western global brands, such as Apple, H&M and Disney have halted business in Russia, showing resistance to Putin’s invasion. These decisions have been met with unwavering support from Britain. However, the brands that have arguably gained the most positive traction, are those that have offered support and hope to individuals affected by the war.

AirBnb have not only offered free housing for 100,000 refugees, but have also waivered their fees to Ukranian accommodation hosts, after people across the world started to book to stay at their homes– not for a holiday, but instead to put money straight into the pockets of those most in need. This initiative has raised $2million to date, and although an idea not started by AirBnb themselves, the brand facilitated an initiative that has had a direct positive impact to individuals, offering small silver linings in a tangible and authentic way.

Closer to home, millions of Brits are understandably concerned by the cost of living crunch – the7stars latest QT tracking from February highlighted that 1 in 3 people feel less comfortable on their income than they did this time last year. However, whilst rising prices are inevitable, brands can still show they are on the side of their consumers. Iceland has promised to freeze the price of all its £1 frozen lines, in a pledge to stand in solidarity with their shoppers. This demonstrates genuine helpfulness from Iceland, and will have a direct positive benefit to their customers, especially with grocery prices otherwise rising at its fastest rate in 8 years.

When it may sometimes feel that wider institutions are not on the side of people, brands can (and should) offer hope to their customers. Initiatives that have a direct positive impact to those most in need will resonate, and brands that enable this, are likely to reap the benefits in the long run.

Sources:  the7stars QT;;

Lightbox Loves: Live Sport for All

By | Lightbox Loves

Live sport is back in full force, with the Winter Olympics, the Superbowl and the Six Nations tournament being held around the world in recent weeks. Global lockdowns had a devastating effect on the sports industry at both local and international levels, with 15% of people citing watching sports as the thing they missed watching the most during lockdowns (Statista, 2020). Yet the last two years have undoubtedly had a lasting impact on how we enjoy live games, with just 8% of global consumers saying they’re comfortable with attending a near or totally filled stadium (YouGov, 2021).

Live sport is therefore adapting to a new environment.  We’ve identified four ways the live sports experience is becoming more accessible and immersive for all:

Firstly, sport streaming is on the rise. 24% of consumers watch live sport online, with those aged 18-24 more than twice as likely as those over 55 to watch sports via a live stream (YouGov, 2021). Online services are increasingly bidding for exclusive sports rights and competing with the traditional broadcasters – as seen with sports subscription service DAZN recently expanding their offering in the UK, announcing deals with Matchroom Boxing and the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

Secondly, social media has a newfound importance in the viewing experience.  Over half of people say they monitor their social feeds while watching sports (YouGov, 2021). Streaming introduces new possibilities for interaction such as options to watch along with your friends virtually and comment in real time on matches and sporting events.

Thirdly, personalisation and interaction are driving deeper engagement. In the US, Amazon offers a choice of announcers for their NFL games, whilst basketball team the L.A. Clippers have pioneered a new ‘CourtVision’ technology which allows fans to switch between multiple ‘Modes’ including different camera angles and real-time data.  Other viewer interaction techniques also include the ability to shop for official merchandise and view bios and statistics of the players.

And finally, technology is facilitating further innovation.  The future of watching live sport is becoming more immersive, enabled by the development of sophisticated AR and VR technologies and the rise of e-sports. For example, Formula One hosted a successful virtual tournament during lockdown in which drivers raced against a host of celebrities, highlighting a future opportunity for consumers to play alongside a team or sportsperson from the comfort of their living room.

In many ways sport is now unique in the world of entertainment. It remains one of the few events viewers continue to tune-in to watch live. Last summer, the UEFA Euro 2020 Final racked up almost 30 million viewers – making it the most watched programme of the year. A combination of new media channels for reach and engagement alongside new technology and innovations will enhance the experience for viewers, while also providing more opportunities for brands to be a part of the experience with them.

Source: YouGov 2022, Statista 2022.

Lightbox Loves: Marketer’s COVID Guide

By | Lightbox Loves

The last two years have proved to be a testing time for many, with COVID hampering both lives and business. As the world tears down many COVID restrictions, we dare hope that finally we’ve caught a break and can enjoy new normality. Here we take a look at how a brand who conquered this adversity successfully, and how you can make sure your brand can stand the test of any times. 

For many of us KFC is a household treat as succulent as any, but back in 2020 when the pandemic hit, the stuff of nightmares appeared reality when all KFC shops (amongst others) were forced to close. There were two marketing challenges for KFC to answer.  How to maintain brand salience with their doors closed and how to ensure customers would return once restaurants reopened? Difficult challenges indeed, which they passed with flying colours. The first POA was to create a unified global voice with the aid of the Pratfall effect. By blanking out their famous slogan: ‘It’s __ __ Good’ along with a public announcement campaign, which informed the mass: “that thing we’ve been saying over and over for the last three quarters of a century? Ignore it for now.” Replacing them with alternatives suggested from the public. This quickly grew attraction reaching over 2 billion impressions and an uplift of brand word of mouth by a significant 3,842%, week after the campaign. Which translated to 2% growth in global sales, or $8m in profits. Therefore, answering both challenges in an engaging and differentiating manner in what was a potentially difficult time for their business.

On the other hand, Corona had the opposite result, not due only to the difficulty that the pandemic brought (something all brands/ industry suffered from) rather due to tone-deaf marketing that proved detrimental in sales and the eye of the public. Outside from drawing the unluckiest straw with their name matching that of the virus, when their marketing team decided to go ahead with their new Corona Hard Seltzer launch with the tagline: “it’s another way to find your beach” seeming to encourage social gatherings right at the start of the pandemic, which was quickly associated with the “spring-breakers” who became “super-spreaders” of COVID-19. Thus, heavily damaging brand outlook and consideration. Unsurprisingly, an influx of negative comments made their way to the brands twitter page, with some calling the ad “in extremely poor taste” and imploring the company to “do better.“ Additionally, purchase intent dropped to the lowest its been in the 2 years prior and buzz fell from 75 at the beginning of Jan’21 to 51 by late Feb’21.

In an ever changing, fast paced world, we find ourselves needing to adapt quickly to respond to such types of events.  However the contrast of the two brand examples show that the best course of action when market trends change dramatically is for advertising and content marketing plans to follow suit, or risk finding themselves caught in a bother.