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Considering Phobias Within Advertising

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The need for brands to consider mental health in how they communicate with consumers has been under the spotlight over recent years and, rightly, continues so in a cost-of-living crisis and a post-pandemic world. But an issue somewhat overlooked is how creatives reflect both common and uncommon phobias within their visuals.

A recent article posed this question in relation to a new Malibu advert triggering trypophobia, a phobia which is a significant aversion or negative reaction to the sight of clusters of small holes, bumps or irregular patterns. It prompted a conversation around the lengths to which brands should go in trying to avoid triggering more common phobias in their adverts. Whilst this is not a popularised discussion, it is an area in which the ASA receives complaints, although a limited number are eventually upheld. Whilst there’s no record of complaints or banning of an advert based on trypophobia, this is not the case regarding snakes (ophidiophobia), insects (entomophobia) or clowns (coulrophobia).

Clowns are perhaps the most interesting to consider in this question of how far brands should concern themselves with phobias in their creatives. Horror films such as ‘IT’ would be nothing without the reveal of Pennywise the clown in its trailer, but this was delivered across all channels ahead of the film’s release without any question of removal – even though it’s arguably at the extreme end of triggering coulrophobia. Whereas Norfolk Dinosaur Park had its Halloween event poster removed due to the placement of the advert, this was more to do with the ‘scariness’ of the image in relation to its proximity to children.

Even when looking at these examples, the ASA judge adverts by their propensity to create a negative reaction. However, this is more to do with the subjective view of how ‘unsettling’ it is, based on the context of how the phobia-triggering element is depicted. For example, a Norfolk Dinosaur Park poster of a blood-soaked clown will be removed, even though McDonald’s built a brand by championing the clown Ronald McDonald. So, is the consideration of phobias actually a motivating factor in any complaint decision? Perhaps not.

The question for brands, therefore, is this: to what degree is the triggering of phobias amongst an audience a risk for which they need to plan, when briefing creative agencies and generating ideas. Creativity is all about a defined, yet open, platform to produce the best asset possible, but can you do that when the potential list of phobias is never-ending? Or is putting the question of ‘is this idea/creative potentially triggering to a large number of people?’ on the QA checklist enough to ensure it’s been factored into discussions?

It remains a tricky subject and one for which no precedent is likely to be established soon. For now, bringing phobias into the early discussion of campaigns, in the same way as mental health stigma or diversity, is the most effective way that brands can ensure any decisions are proactive and not reactive. Inclusion of elements that are potentially phobia triggering can then be opt-in, after relevant consultation, rather than dangers that are left to chance.

The View from Ad Week: How Can Advertising Help Build a Net-Zero Economy?

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High on the agenda at last week’s Advertising Week Europe event, unsurprisingly, was the climate emergency. In an inspiring session MPs, Advertisers and Media professionals came together to discuss what we as marketers can do to help.

Advertising has an astonishing impact on CO2 Emissions and the environment, be that from the placement and running of media to the excess and waste that come out of production. The average IPA agency produces 84K tonnes of CO2 from its business practices (for reference, an elephant weighs one tonne). As Europe’s largest advertising industry, the UK can and should lead the way in transforming our industry’s impact. Ad Net Zero was launched in late 2020 to ensure that, as an industry, we achieve real net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. They set out a five-point plan of action that agencies should take to reduce their impact:

  1. Curtail operational and individual carbon emissions
  2. Curb emissions from production
  3. Curb emissions from media planning & buying
  4. Curb emissions through awards and events
  5. Harness advertising’s power to support consumer behaviour change

Making these changes need not be at the expense of growth for brands. From the standpoint of enlightened self-interest, we should care about climate change not just because we are environmentalists but because we are businesspeople. The impact of climate change will affect a huge number of industries – we have a responsibility to act now to mitigate that risk as well as maximise our opportunities.

Last week also heralded the arrival of the Campaign & Ad Net Zero Awards which will recognise work from across the industry that promotes more sustainable ways of living and building a net-zero economy. These awards will act as a benchmark of excellence and inspiration with categories awarding great work across more green media planning, production, events, and business transformation. Creating and placing work with as low a carbon impact as possible is vital; so, it is fantastic to see this work being recognised by the industry. It’s equally important to consider your overall impact. Campaigns that promote a green message but don’t consider their impact has fallen foul of consumers’ opinions and the work has been accused of green-washing. The most successful campaigns will work over the longer term to promote an environmental message and won’t overclaim their impact.

Here at the7stars, we are dedicated to ensuring that our media planning and buying is conducted in a way that minimises the impact on CO2 emissions and on the environment at large. This is why we joined the IPA for the launch of the Media Climate Charter in 2021, providing agencies across the Media industry with a series of tools and resources to actively tacking the industry’s carbon footprint caused by media activity. This came hand-in-hand with a Carbon Calculator (which is available to all of our clients) that allowed advertisers to measure the overall carbon emissions that came from media planning and buying, creating a method for identifying areas that be adjusted to reduce the environmental impact of running client campaigns.

Marketers have the right skill set to effect change. The work we create over the course of our careers can inspire positive change in consumers and help deliver a mindset shift in the wider population. All those small acts towards a sustainable and lower-impact economy will be fundamental in helping us achieve the limits on climate change.

All’s Fair in Representation?

By | Featured, What's Hot

Active representation of diverse audiences can be a crucial step to an equitable society when done properly. This is evident with the improvement in the visibility of LGBTQIA+ people represented in media in recent years, which is an amazing step in the right direction. In saying this, misrepresentation can be just as harmful as a lack of representation.

A recent study by Nielsen, conducted in collaboration with Dynata, found that LGBTQIA+ audiences felt that advertisers could improve inclusion by taking on the following recommendations:

  • 50% of respondents recommend avoiding stereotypes
  • 44% of respondents recommend more authentic and realistic depictions of LGBTQIA+ people
  • 37% of respondents recommend involving the community when planning and creating ads.

From this, we can see a clear need to adjust the way that advertisers represent and engage with the LGBTQIA+ community to truly make the community feel included. When there is an apparent lack of authenticity, it can lead to a perception of tokenism. This results in people feeling excluded, rather than included.

What do we do now?

The UN Women Unstereotype Alliance survey found that 64% of advertisers had a fear of ‘getting it wrong.’ To avoid this, it is imperative that advertisers involve marginalised communities that they want to depict at all stages of the advertising process to ensure that the endeavour is authentic.

This means not only having LGBTQIA+ people in ads, but also in the room at the planning stage. This also extends to having LGBTQIA+ representation in the workforce, on consumer panels and gauging the community’s feedback when testing creative/copy.

Beware the monolith

During LGBTQIA+ History Month in February, the7stars hosted a conversation on representation in media with members of our own community and the wider industry to discuss related topics. We drew similar conclusions to those of the survey, but a key point resonated with the group: the LGBTQIA+ community is not a monolith. One individual cannot represent the entire community.

So, even when seeking community feedback, advertisers should consider whether their counsel wants to be there and if they are an authentic and diverse representation of the lived experience in the story the advertiser is looking to tell.

Is the Rapid Delivery Revolution Here to Stay?

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Readers across the UK will have spotted ads for rapid delivery services popping up in recent months. Having entered the UK market shortly before the pandemic, the growth of the rapid grocery delivery category has been, well, rapid. Backed by billions in investment – Getir recently secured $768m in funding – these services have expanded into most major UK cities, each time bringing a wave of OOH ad spend and leaving advertisers asking how it all works.

After the rapid delivery wave reached British shores, their popularity exploded during the COVID-19 lockdown, as house-bound Brits sought new ways to shop online, buoyed by attractive sign-up offers. By late 2021, the market was valued at £1.4bn, with growth expected to treble. But can this be sustained?

In short, it’s unlikely. While the category does have room for growth, the crowding of the market and resultant SOV wars will eventually necessitate a maturing market. Already, some cannibalisation is occurring, with Getir acquiring rival Weezy, and Jiffy announcing it was ceasing delivery operations. Moreover, inflationary pressure has forced a revision of previously exponential headcount growth, with Getir and Gorillas in the process of laying off hundreds of UK employees. While funding should be enough to prevent an immediate crisis, such funds will eventually dry up, and investors will expect their return. Just look at Deliveroo, which continues to bleed cash despite healthy sales growth.

Such a turnaround is possible – Uber Eats finally became profitable in Q4, one quarter after its big sister – but it is likely only one or two brands will survive, with public image will playing a major role in this. With brands operating in the gig economy suffering greatly from negative PR, Getir chose to recognise its workforce as company employees, thus entitling them to sick pay and other benefits. While this positions them as category frontrunners, their closest rivals, Gorillas, entered into a ‘voluntary partnership’ with GMB Union this month in a bid to assuage critics.

So, how worried should traditional retailers be? Currently, any threat lies mostly in major cities. In February 2022, the7stars’ Lowdown found awareness of rapid delivery apps among 16-34s in London to be 94%, versus 69% outside the capital. Moreover, half of current app users admit they only order when they have a voucher code – lucrative offers which are unlikely to be sustained once delivery apps pursue profitability.

Indeed, rapid delivery brands draw credibility from the quality of their offering, the key to which is held by legacy retailers. While supermarkets are unable to match delivery apps for speed, their products hold more appeal than dark-store lines. As such, many have sought mutually beneficial relationships. For example, Iceland partnered with Uber Eats to offer 20-minute delivery in the South East. Luxury retailers, notably Fortnum & Mason, have also dabbled, showing that rapid delivery’s rise has caught the eye of both ends of the grocery sector.

Let’s be clear: the weekly trek to the supermarket is unlikely to be replaced by a scooter-bound rider anytime soon. Nevertheless, it’s clear that, once they iron out their business models, delivery apps will have a role to play in consumers’ lives. In the way that Just Eat disrupted a previously stable takeaway delivery market in the 2000s, the rapid delivery revolution threatens a shake-up of shop aisles in the 2020s. But such disruption need not be negative for existing supermarkets: if partnerships continue to blossom, benefitting retailers and delivery apps alike, the shopping experience may change for the better.

Cost of Living Crisis Bites the Streaming Market

By | Featured, What's Hot

Since the start of the year, we have been inundated with intel and opinions on the cost-of-living crisis; it has been a hot topic here at the7stars too. With articles across news brands discussing the severity of the situation almost every day, consumers are turning inwards to readjust their personal finances. The latest research from Foresight Factory highlighted that only 34% of consumers are happy with their current financial situation.

British households are looking proactively for more ways to save, and the subscription market is feeling the effect. Kantar reported 1.51 million subscription VOD services were cancelled by households in Q1 2022, up from 1.04 million in the previous quarter and 1.20 million a year ago, with over half a million cancellations attributed to cost savings.

Whilst the cost-of-living crisis isn’t the sole reason consumers are cutting back on subscriptions, the end of COVID-19 restrictions and the return to socialising for many people has also had a knock-on effect. It is clear that the biggest reason for this is that UK consumers looking at their outgoings and deciding to cancel the additional subscriptions for which they previously signed up during the national lockdowns.

This month, in an effort to combat their first loss of users, Netflix reported that they are willing to allow ads to the platform with a tiered subscription model. This would give consumers the opportunity to access the content at a lower price in exchange for advertisements. Not only could this open the service up to new consumers by offering wider choice, but it could also mitigate the risk of pausing or cancelling subscriptions and increase the lifetime value of their consumers.

But what do consumers think of advertising-supported SVOD channels? Are they keen for video platforms to adopt Spotify’s successful freemium business model? Many would choose to believe that consumers would be despondent towards advertising across subscription services, highlighting evidence of advertising fatigue. However, new research from Morning Consult highlighted that consumers in every country would choose to stream content with advertising if it meant they could access the platform more cost-effectively.

When given the choice, 46% of UK consumers would prefer to access low-cost content with advertising, while 25% are neutral, vs the 29% who would prefer to pay higher fees to avoid advertisements.

We know consumers are feeling the pinch of the cost-of-living crisis, with 38% cancelling SVoD services (up from 29% in Q4 2021) and stating ‘wanting to save money’ as the primary reason. Therefore, we can expect more and more subscription services to tap into this new mindset and capitalise on the evident acceptance of advertisements by introducing tiered payment choices.

So long Universal Google Analytics, There’s a New Face in Town! ​

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Google is sunsetting Universal Google Analytics (UA) on 1st July next year, pushing companies to speed up their migration to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). If businesses don’t have GA4 set up yet, now is the time.

Google Analytics 4 is a next-generation measurement solution that comes with a revamped interface, lots of new exciting features and a unified web and app measurement capability. GA4 represents a fundamental shift from the Universal Analytics we are familiar with data collection, setup and configuration, alongside the interface and reporting, are all very different. Due to these crucial differences, companies cannot start tracking everything in GA4 and compare like for like.   

Whilst there’s a lot that has been simplified in GA4 (such as the interface, base setup, and data model), the fact that it’s so different means that companies should spend more time on planning their migration and learning the platform. It might take a year to collect enough meaningful data before being able to switch over, so there’s not a lot of time left. It’s highly recommended that companies have a complete and accurate GA4 set up by 30th June this year. This gives a year of historical data by the time UA stops processing reporting data.   

On 1st July 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new data into the reports – though existing 360 license customers will get an additional three months before their reports stop showing new data on 1st October 2023.  

Thereafter, companies will have access to UA report data for at least 6 months before those properties are fully removed. If companies need to store any historical data, this will be the time to export any required historical reports.   

With such a major shift oncoming, the earlier companies start using GA4, the sooner they will be able to benefit from the latest enhancements and boost audience and marketing insights with machine learning, predictive reports and privacy-first features that are crucial today.  

For businesses anxious about making the switch, the7stars’ Google Analytics champion Violetta Konar has created a handy checklist to guide you through the migration process.

Channel 4 Privatisation: What we Know, and What Questions Remain​

By | Featured, What's Hot

For 40 years, Channel 4 has been at the forefront of British culture and media, and – due to its unique model of being commercially funded, but publicly owned – its remit from content delivery to financial responsibilities is unlike any other broadcaster. With the recent announcement that the Government plans to privatise Channel 4, the next 40 years have the potential to be extremely different.  

The Government’s rationale for the move has been to allow Channel 4 to ‘remove its straitjacket’ and allow it to ‘thrive in the face of a rapidly-changing media landscape’; though Channel 4 itself dismayed the announcement as ‘extremely disappointing’, coming just days after the broadcaster was nominated for 44 BAFTA awards.  

Much of this award-winning content is produced through independent British production companies, many of whom are concerned as the majority of their funding comes via Channel 4. Under a private owner, we could see this funding cut, moved or stopped entirely – though potentially maintained or even increased depending on the clauses of the sale. Regardless, it is almost certain that there will be a shift away from delivering programmes to under-served audiences, although it has been confirmed that the broadcaster will need to retain a commitment to primetime news programming.   

Privatisation tends to be a lengthy process; notably, it took 5 years for Royal Mail to complete its privatisation following the initial announcement. That said, the government has announced (rather ambitiously) that they want the acquisition to be completed before the next general election – just two years away. As a result, it may not be too long before we start to see movements from the parties involved, and advertisers should prepare for a variety of outcomes. 

The implications for advertisers will depend largely on which party completes the acquisition – and, to date, no such frontrunner has emerged. Two companies which immediately spring to mind are ITV and Sky which, if successful, could essentially create a duopoly within the UK advertising industry. If this were to happen, either party could leverage their majority share of the UK TV market to demand more from agencies and individuals. However, there’s a stumbling block to such a move: strict UK competition regulations would make any such acquisition difficult. 

If an overseas company was to purchase Channel 4 – and names such as the recently-merged Warner Bros. Discovery have already been floated – then we could see a shift in the network’s programming towards more US-centric content. This could cause a significant shift in Channel 4’s audiences and, thus, have profound implications for media plans. Also, we cannot yet rule out the possibility that a major streaming service such as Netflix, having recently lost an estimated $50 billion from its market value after a disappointing Q1 report, may opt to reconsider its strategy by purchasing a mainstream network such as Channel 4. If this were to occur, a wealth of campaigns centred around Channel 4’s linear programming and All 4 streaming platform would be disrupted instantly.

While the amount that Channel 4 sells for is yet to be determined, as it will depend on how much freedom the new owner would obtain over the current business model, it is likely to be in the region of £1 billion. With so many questions yet to be answered, the proposed privatisation is certain to prove to be one of the biggest shake-ups to the UK broadcasting industry in decades.

Could Elon Musk Authenticate the Twittersphere?​

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Elon Musk has succeeded with an offer to buy Twitter at a valuation of around $43 billion. The left-wing Twitterati reacted in horror, while those on the right rejoiced. Musk views Twitter as the “de facto town square” and is buying the company to protect free speech, describing himself as a “free speech absolutist.” 

What’s interesting about Elon’s vision and Twitter’s origins is that Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams didn’t know what the platform was going to be. “There was this path of discovery with something like that, where over time you figure out what it is.” Said Williams in a 2018 interview. 

This path to discovery saw Twitter turn into one of the world’s most influential media platforms, but its ad-funded model has come with negative consequences. An algorithm designed to hold attention and engagement for profit has resulted in the amplification of content likely to have divisive reactions (not just a Twitter problem).  

There has been plenty of evidence of the platform being weaponized to take advantage of this. In 2018, Twitter released more than 10 million tweets that had been circulated by propaganda farms and associated fake accounts from Russia and Iran, with the sole intention of disrupting Western democracies by increasing division in society. 

No one can argue that these tactics worked and likely continue to do so. Western democracies are more politically divided than ever. Suspicion of mainstream media is high, trust in experts is at an all-time low and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire. The politics of fear finds fertile ground in such conditions. 

The result was consistent calls for greater regulation and the censorship of extreme opinions. The removal of former U.S. President Donald Trump from the platform was a high-profile reaction to such calls. Musk has floated the idea of reinstating Trump and others who have been banned from the platform. There are concerns such action could lead Twitter to descend into greater toxicity. For advertisers, the fear expressed by industry leaders is that Twitter would become a much more high-risk environment to be seen in, as a result. 

Yet, that could be short-sighted. One of the ways Musk has posited to improve the platform is to authenticate all humans. The exposure of industrial-scale propaganda demonstrates how misinformation and negativity are amplified and given legitimacy through fake social proof (likes and approving comments from bots). 

If Musk is successful at removing such inauthentic activity, one would hope this would improve matters considerably. Particularly if this involved identity confirmation. Counterarguments to misinformation would suddenly become weightier and more effective by sheer proportion alone; misinformation would become a less valuable currency as a result. Fringe opinions would be more likely to remain fringe, without false social validation. Toxicity, bullying and harassment would be reduced without the mask of anonymity to hide behind. The platform could essentially regulate itself into greater harmony. 

Monthly Active Users could drop dramatically in the wake of such a concerted non-human purge, but this would expose the real scale of opportunity for advertisers. We would know exactly how many real people there are to reach and would be able to revalue this accordingly with more reliable business results. All enabled by plans to overhaul the business model, fewer ads and possibly a subscription.  There would be no need to protect overinflated user numbers to appease shareholders. Perhaps we should reserve judgement on the takeover being all bad. The scale of the opportunity will undoubtedly change, but, as long an advertising opportunity remains, the result could be a more authentic one.

Sustainability and Web Design

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When it comes to Web Design, sustainability isn’t a factor many consider but the truth is, the way your website looks and functions impacts our environment. Whether its hi-res images slowing load speeds, fancy fonts people struggle to read or an overload of unnecessary content, all it takes is some TLC to make your website eco & user friendly. 

Data centres consume the same amount of global energy (1.4%) as countries like Spain and Australia. Global computing is responsible for 3.9% of annual global emissions. In comparison, aviation contributes 2.1% and the UK 1%. 

As well as these figures sounding alarming for our environment, they can also affect your user’s experience when browsing your website. Sites that use a lot of data can be slow and inefficient. Optimising your website can improve performance, UX and accessibility, in addition to reducing carbon emissions, hosting costs and site maintenance. 

Removing unnecessary images from your website can shorten load times for your users and reduce how much data your website uses. With any images you’d like to keep, you can compress these to reduce their file size without affecting their quality. Even blurring the sides of the images or making them black and white can significantly reduce memory usage. 

Replacing images with icons is also beneficial to the environment and user, as they use much less data than images. Removing unnecessary layers on icons can reduce their memory usage even more. You can also easily edit icons into your brand colours, so they look just at home on your website. System fonts like Times New Roman, Arial and Tahoma are also zero waste. 

As well as annoying your users, autoplay videos are terrible for the environment. Videos use a lot more data than images and, as you can’t stop them from playing, every time a user visits the webpage, more unnecessary data is consumed. 

You can also help your users and the environment by getting rid of any tracking you aren’t using. Not only does this use less data, but it also improves privacy for your users. 

Carrying out a content audit for your website can give you an understanding of what blogs your website already has. So rather than creating new content, you can reuse and recycle existing pieces. You can also combine blog posts that are too similar. Fewer web pages = less data and quicker loading speeds. A streamlined content structure for your website can also improve traffic, as it helps search engines and new users to find your website. 

With the world becoming more digitised and data-driven day by day, it’s important we all do our bit for the environment and our users.