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Lightbox Loves

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.

Beyond Binary – the7stars Whitepaper

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

     

    Lightbox Loves: 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: Location, Location, Location

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

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

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

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

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54533924
    The QT, the7stars proprietary consumer tracking study – October 2020

    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: Travel in 2021

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

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

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

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

    Sources

    Sky News: “One Booking Every 11 Seconds As Brits Scramble To Buy Staycations”: https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-one-booking-every-11-seconds-as-brits-scramble-to-buy-staycations-12013892

    The QT August 2020

    BBC News: “New COVID Restrictions Could Last Six Months, Says Boris Johnson”: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54250696

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherelliott/2020/08/29/if-2021-becomes-the-year-of-travel-this-is-what-will-happen/#7131eda132d6