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From Transparency To Neutrality

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The media agency world, and its relationship with its advertiser clients is in a far better place than it was before the issue of transparency burst upon the scene back in 2015.

But – and it’s a very big but – here at the7stars we do not think it is good enough to believe that the transparency question is answered by sticking religiously to a clause in a contract. Within the media world, ‘transparent’ is a word whose meaning has shrunk.

We believe there is another layer to transparency – not just in the buying process but in everything that leads up to the buy. We believe in the principle of clarity, in providing impartial advice across everything we do in planning, buying and evaluating campaigns on behalf of our clients. We call this ‘neutrality’.

This month we released our white paper, “From Transparency to Neutrality: From Single to Double-Glazing. Why Transparency in Media Dealing Isn’t Clear”. You can read the full version here.

We believe that transparency (as often defined) is over-rated, and that clients deserve more. They have every right to expect agencies to be neutral in everything we do.

The art of planning should come from a neutral perspective with no preconceived rules as to which media channel will do the best job or how best to use it, and channel selection based on what will deliver the brief in the most effective way.

Neutrality equally runs through the decision-making process when it comes to partnering with specialist services such as research, data analytics, technology and tools. Our first question when approached by any vendor is ‘what will this do for my clients?’.

We use tools and techniques that meet our requirements of true objectivity and usability. Maintaining a neutral position throughout the process is the only way to ensure true transparency and deliver the best results.

Finally, we apply this thinking to how we evaluate results. Working with PwC we will be launching a new auditing framework built around evidencing effective neutral planning, to be released in March 2020.

Neutrality is true, double-glazed transparency. Every client has every right to expect it from their appointed media agency.

The topic of transparency and neutrality will no doubt continue to evolve as advertisers become attune to its importance, especially when it comes to effectiveness of their media campaigns, and overall business success. At the7stars we will continue to talk about its benefits and the important role it plays in our industry’s future long-term success.

Is Tik Tok The Next Instagram?

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TikTok was arguably the break out success of 2019. Following its acquisition of musical.ly in August 2018, its user figures rose rapidly over the following 12 months. It has quickly become a social media sensation – with recent highlights ranging from Courtney Cox dancing with her daughter, to Australian firefighters posting clips to ‘raise spirits’.

What started as a relatively obscure app now harnesses the attention of a huge audience, having exceeded 1.5 billion downloaded by February 2019 – and it’s largely made up of those under the age of 30. Many argue that brands wanting to attract this audience cannot afford to ignore the huge potential of the platform.

In recent years conversations around influencer content have predominantly focused on Instagram. And it keeps growing – last year, the Facebook-owned platform accounted for roughly 32% of the group’s advertising revenue.

Many of us turn to Instagram to discover new products and with Instagram Shopping, launched last year, brands are now able to sell products directly through posts and stories.

But with TikTok’s rise, the sphere of influence could be about to change. For Gen Z – a generation which has grown up around screens – the immediacy of TikTok is particularly appealing.

Precisely because TikTok does not demand the same kind of polish that is now expected on Instagram – MarketWatch recently called it the “anti-Instagram” – content, challenges, and memes shared via the app often spread quickly.

TikTok is also arguably more democratised than Instagram; rather than promoting content based on follower figures, videos are boosted according to audience engagement. Where many brands and advertisers have fallen into the trap of selecting Instagram influencers based on follower numbers, TikTok is set up in such a way that the very best content will become viral, no matter its origin.

A best-in-class examples is Nike’s recent, hugely popular, TikTok campaign. They paired three Milan-based content creators – who had a combined audience of 11 million followers – with an elite athlete, then recorded a dance and set their followers a challenge to re-create it. This simple idea saw huge success; challenge content gained 100m+ views and 540k+ likes, while #basketbeat recorded 20m views in the first 36 hours.

Any brand would jump at the opportunity to emulate Nike’s success – but with such rapid growth, there are concerns that problematic content will slip under the radar.

TikTok has recently partnered with the not-for-profit organisation Internet Matters to stress its commitment to internet safety. It is ultimately up to brands to decide whether they want to hold back on TikTok advertising – and potentially miss out on great advertising opportunities – or whether they dive straight in and risk appearing against dangerous content.

It is too soon to tell whether TikTok will become such a feature in our online lives to overtake Instagram’s success, but advertisers should pay close attention to its growth (or, with the recent launch of close competitor Byte, maybe its eventual fall).

Netflix: The End As We Know It

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Netflix’s dominance of the SVOD market is under threat. Earnings may be up 8% year-on-year but subscriber growth is slowing which, on the eve of AppleTV+ & Disney+ entering the market (November 1st 2019 & early 2020 respectively), is a worrying sign. Careful forward planning is needed for the market leader to succeed in what is about to become a seriously noisy VOD market.

Netflix have now missed two consecutive subscription targets; domestically (US) Q2 saw a loss of 130,000 subscriptions with Q3 growing by only 500,000 vs a forecasted 800,000. Global forecasts for Q3 were also off the mark with a 200,000 subscription shortfall v forecast (6.8 million v 7 million).

Content, or lack of, is a significant driver of this. Netflix are the victims of aggressive-walled gardening from their competitors. Once upon a time they paid HBO £78m to license Friends for a year. This arrangement concludes at the end of 2019 and will see the cult classic live on HBO Max. The same will be true of The Office UK & US which will be moving onto Britbox & NBC Peacock respectively, while all Star Wars, Pixar & Avengers films will eventually be housed on Disney+. Top content is leaving the Netflix portfolio and has so far been replaced with a deal to license Seinfeld globally from Sony for a reported $500m from 2021.

Despite this hefty investment Netlfix have made it clear that their long-term strategy is to focus on original content. A reported $15bn has been set aside to create fresh content this year; threefold growth on the $5bn spent in 2016. Back in 2017 just 26% of all Netflix content was original. By Q1 2019 this figure reached 46%.

Apple concur with this approach; 100% of AppleTV+ content will be Apple made. A-List stars such as Reece Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston & Will Ferrell have all had future programming confirmed on the platform. Oprah Winfrey, too, has been confirmed with a docu-series alongside Prince Harry set to launch later in 2020.

Evidently Apple are leaning on a blend of Hollywood stars in a fresh environment to build their video proposition. This approach though will take time before a library of content is

built up and customers may be hesitant to commit their hard-earned cash to; even with the app being pre-installed across the Apple device portfolio.  Apple claim that a budget of $6bn has been set aside for content creation this year. However, with a cash reserve in excess of $200bn there is every possibility that content expansion will be rapid.

And then there’s Amazon, rocking a blend of original and licensed content with significant investment in live sports, most notably the Premier League. Holding the rights to 20 games across a busy December schedule (including all 10 games on boxing day) is their golden ticket. Luring consumers onto the platform with a free month Prime trial over the festive season will see a groundswell of consumers engaging with the platform at a key time of year. Whether this short burst of consideration will lead to long-term investment from customers remains to be seen, though.

This is the crux of the VOD conundrum. Consumers are spoilt for choice. Mass content fragmentation means that there is no holistic option for consumers and hard decisions are going to have to be made. For the majority it will be the players with the best content that wins, although where brands are able to bundle benefits outside of video (such as Prime next-day delivery and access to Apple ecosystem) the value for money equation becomes ever more enticing.

September saw Reed Hastings announce he was willing for Netflix to be measured by BARB in the future, a big deal for a company that, until recently, wouldn’t disclose programme viewing data even to its own stars.

A willingness to be measured by a third party indicates that Netflix are fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead for them in the medium to long term. Third party measurement would pave the way for advertisers to get onboard and move Netflix from an SVOD to an AVOD revenue model. In a video space where consumers are being asked to spend more and more this could be a smart move to both differentiate as a product and survive a competitive decade to come.

 

Safari And Firefox Double Down On Privacy

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Both Safari and Firefox, the two browsers leading the way for further privacy features and web tracking prevention methods, have had recent updates that seek to further hinder efforts by advertisers and publishers to track users browsing habits.

Safari, which has been most notably active with the rollout of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP 2.2) which heavily impacted 3rd party tracking and 1st party tracking, now has publishers in it’s sights. To work-around this clamp down on publishers and 3rd parties collecting audiences using cookies publishers have been activating metered “paywalls”. This means users have to create a login “tethering” them to the publisher, effectively giving the publisher consent to then create audience profiles for it’s now “logged in” userbase.

Picking up on this trend, Apple has already released an update to mitigate this effect. The latest versions of Safari will now prevent sites from detecting users that have the browser’s private browsing mode enabled.

This mode prevents publishers reading/writing cookies meaning that publishers will no longer have a way to count and detect how much content a user has consumed, rendering the metered paywall completely useless and denying publishers from both protecting their content and adding another user to it’s audience pool.

Firefox, who have been on a year long effort to block tracking in their browser, have taken the plunge to block 3rd party tracking cookies by default for all users (previous updates only enabled this by default for new users since June 2019).

Much like Apple’s ITP, Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) seeks to block all cookies and will take it’s current userbase doing this from 20% to 100% as users update their browsers. The rationale? Both Apple and Firefox want to put users back in control of their online experience by giving them the tools for protection the moment they start using the browser.

The impact of these measures is that both 3rd and 1st parties are finding it harder to measure and target audiences given the reduced userbase. Now, a combined global market share of 20% of internet users can no longer be tracked, with potentially more on the way with upcoming Chrome updates to their privacy measures as well.

As this ongoing ‘cat and mouse’ battle continues it does seem that it is getting harder and harder for advertisers to reach “the right users at the right time”. Advertisers and ad tech vendors are working to find ways to preserve the measurement and targeting capabilities they’ve become so accustomed to.

Get Ready For Brexit! …Or Not

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Touchpoints was launched by the IPA in 2005, with its primary function being to provide the media world with more cross-platform and cross-data media planning data sets.

Respondents are asked to keep a diary detailing their media habits, and also complete an online questionnaire detailing their attitudes, shopping and media habits.

As a result Touchpoints allows advertisers to map the media landscape much like a GPS – and reveals the opportunities that can arise from the integration of different media channels in campaigns.

The IPA and Facebook have now undertaken a joint venture to investigate how the media landscape looks today.

Fourteen years after the first survey, this research has revealed that there is now no single media channel that will allow advertisers to reach 90% of GB adults in a week, further highlighting today’s fragmented media landscape – and illustrating the importance of combined planning tools such as Touchpoints.

Commercial TV continues to reign as the largest channel when it comes to reach and time spent with the medium. This is followed by social media and the internet; unchanged from the last research conducted by the IPA in 2015.

However, we see interesting results when we look at these channels more closely. The amount of time spent on social media has gained six percentage points since 2015 (now at 24%) while commercial TV lost six points in the other direction (now 34%).

As media consumption shifts, brands should consider accessing a greater range of channels in their mix in order to reach their target audience.

Advertisers that have historically focused on a single channel – such as those heavily reliant on TV – are increasingly having to revaluate their media plans in order to make for more impactful campaigns.

It is often said that just one spot in Coronation Street in 1970 will have reached 30 million people. Nowadays, short-term campaigns looking to drive sales, or launch campaigns hoping to provide immediate impact, may no longer find it sufficient to utilise singular channels which in the past had been chosen for their ability to reach a huge proportion of a target audience with just one spot, or with a short burst of activity.

For now TV remains the largest media channel for all adult reach, but the generational shifts we’re already seeing may reveal what the future holds.

According to the earliest Touchpoints data, TV viewing habits of 15-34-year olds and the 55+ age group were not dramatically different. However in the last four years we have seen more and more young people favour subscription VOD (SVOD). Now only 77% of 15-34-year olds watch live TV each week, a significant decline from the 82% reported in 2015.

Ultimately, shifting media consumption adds another layer of complexity to media planning. Advertisers will need to consider a wider channel mix, but also be more creative in their approach, if they hope to reach a broad audience in their campaign. Tools such as Touchpoints more useful now than ever before.

Let’s Touch Base On Media Consumption: Review Of The Latest Touchpoints Data

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Touchpoints was launched by the IPA in 2005, with its primary function being to provide the media world with more cross-platform and cross-data media planning data sets.

Respondents are asked to keep a diary detailing their media habits, and also complete an online questionnaire detailing their attitudes, shopping and media habits.

As a result Touchpoints allows advertisers to map the media landscape much like a GPS – and reveals the opportunities that can arise from the integration of different media channels in campaigns.

The IPA and Facebook have now undertaken a joint venture to investigate how the media landscape looks today.

Fourteen years after the first survey, this research has revealed that there is now no single media channel that will allow advertisers to reach 90% of GB adults in a week, further highlighting today’s fragmented media landscape – and illustrating the importance of combined planning tools such as Touchpoints.

Commercial TV continues to reign as the largest channel when it comes to reach and time spent with the medium. This is followed by social media and the internet; unchanged from the last research conducted by the IPA in 2015.

However, we see interesting results when we look at these channels more closely. The amount of time spent on social media has gained six percentage points since 2015 (now at 24%) while commercial TV lost six points in the other direction (now 34%).

As media consumption shifts, brands should consider accessing a greater range of channels in their mix in order to reach their target audience.

Advertisers that have historically focused on a single channel – such as those heavily reliant on TV – are increasingly having to revaluate their media plans in order to make for more impactful campaigns.

It is often said that just one spot in Coronation Street in 1970 will have reached 30 million people. Nowadays, short-term campaigns looking to drive sales, or launch campaigns hoping to provide immediate impact, may no longer find it sufficient to utilise singular channels which in the past had been chosen for their ability to reach a huge proportion of a target audience with just one spot, or with a short burst of activity.

For now TV remains the largest media channel for all adult reach, but the generational shifts we’re already seeing may reveal what the future holds.

According to the earliest Touchpoints data, TV viewing habits of 15-34-year olds and the 55+ age group were not dramatically different. However in the last four years we have seen more and more young people favour subscription VOD (SVOD). Now only 77% of 15-34-year olds watch live TV each week, a significant decline from the 82% reported in 2015.

Ultimately, shifting media consumption adds another layer of complexity to media planning. Advertisers will need to consider a wider channel mix, but also be more creative in their approach, if they hope to reach a broad audience in their campaign. Tools such as Touchpoints more useful now than ever before.

Grab The Popcorn: Why Cinema Is The Second-Fastest Growing Channel

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Cinema has been revealed as the second fastest-growing medium this year, according to WARC’s latest Global Ad Trends report released this month.

While the internet remains the fastest growing channel, the global cinema market has grown 6.8% year-on-year; as a result, it is now worth a total of $4.6 billion.

The report follows DCM’s record-breaking first half of the year; the company, which controls 82% of the UK’s cinema industry, recently reported a 12% increase in ad spend compared to the same period in 2018.

The growth of cinema is in part due to the quality of content being released. 2019 has so far seen a strong slate of films, with blockbuster Avengers: Endgame grossing £89m at the UK box office, followed by several big-budget Disney re-makes including The Lion King and Aladdin, as well as franchise film Spider-Man and the recent return of Tarantino with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Advertisers are being attracted to the medium because it provides a captive audience – something that is becoming increasingly difficult to find elsewhere.

As “second-screening” becomes the default viewing behaviour for most forms of video, cinema provides a much sought after high-attention environment, allowing advertisers to show quality content to these highly engaged viewers.

With some reports suggesting attention spans are becoming ever shorter, particularly among the younger generations, the level of immersion provided by cinema could become even more pertinent.

In fact, cinema is a particularly key channel for accessing those hard-to-reach younger audiences. Indeed, research released by DCM, alongside Differentology towards the end of last year found that cinema was the medium the 16-34 audience felt most positively about.

For this reason DCM CEO Karen Stacey has this month described cinema as being “complementary” to TV because of its ability to “plug the gap” left by the declining viewership of TV by these audiences.

While it has previously been largely the remit of launch campaigns or bigger-budget marketing activity, brands are increasingly beginning to understand the role cinema can play in any form of brand-building activity – as well as short-term activations, or even targeted, location-based campaigns.

In an increasingly fragmented video landscape, cinema should be considered not as a special feature, but as part of an integrated video strategy. And with huge franchise films including the likes of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen II still to come this year, cinema may be about to steal the show.

Season’s Greetings: The Effect Of Seasonality On Consumer Attitudes

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As the days become cooler and the evenings darker, so another summer draws to a close. And with the change in seasons comes a shift in consumer behaviour.

It is well-documented that seasonality directly affects retail performance, with obvious shifts in sector sales – demand for garden supplies and cider peaks in summer, while sales of knitwear and spirits spike during the festive period.

Research from Mintel suggests that nearly 60% of consumers change their shopping habits depending on the weather. In fact, according to weather-targeting specialists WeatherAds, a temperature change of just 1°C compared to the seasonal average typically causes a 1% fluctuation in sales.

But there are widespread attitudinal shifts relating to time of year too. It will come as no surprise that health and wellbeing is a focus in the new year, while the traditional concept of “spring cleaning” rings true, with consumers more likely to clear out their houses in the springtime.

Into the summer months, consumers tend to become more impulsive, arranging last-minute plans to make the most of the warmer weather. Brands can take advantage of spontaneity by creating inspirational content to break consumers out of their routines, and by removing barriers in the purchase journey.

Recent research from the7stars – alongside mobile research panel OnePulse – found that attitudes shift again as autumn approaches. Brits often have a “back-to-school” mentality in September, seeing it as a chance to reset.

According to Pinterest, as parents and families get back into a familiar routine, search terms relating to lunchbox recipe inspiration, cleaning hacks and time-saving tips become popular; brands catering to convenience should take note, especially as the new school term period is now said to be worth more than £1bn to brands (Mintel).

But it’s not just parents with school children concerned with the start of the school year – 23% of the 16-24 age group say they still think of September as the start of a new year. 19% of Brits “sometimes” or “often” make resolutions in September (YouGov), so any brands with products or services relating to goal-setting or behaviour change – whether it’s exercise, healthy eating, or saving money – have a role to play.

In fact, finance is the biggest priority for the month, with 47% saying they are looking to save money this month, according to our proprietary research. Searches for “financial literacy” peak in the autumn (Foresight Factory) as consumers look to take control their finances and prioritise budgeting.

Advertisers can take advantage of seasonal changes not only by tapping into consumer attitudes, but by aligning with shifts in media consumption as the days grow shorter. TV viewing increases into the winter months, at an average of around 24 hours a week, compared to 20 during the summer months, according to BARB data.

Meanwhile, 54% say they are more aware of out-of-home (OOH) formats in the summer as they spend more time outside – meaning the inverse is true of the winter months (Clear Channel).

Summer may be over for another year, but as consumers reset and retreat indoors, it may just fall in some brands’ favour.

Sky’s The Limit For AdSmart

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Sky’s addressable TV technology, AdSmart, has just turned five years old – and its scale is only growing.

Revolutionary at its launch in 2014, AdSmart works by dynamically inserting ad copy into the linear TV feed across all Sky and Virgin homes. It is targeted down to a household level, with ads only shown in homes deemed the most suitable for each campaign.

AdSmart’s portfolio – and therefore potential reach – now stands at 9.1 million homes in the UK. And this month, after much speculation, it was announced that Channel 4’s portfolio will also become available on the platform.

2019 has been the strongest year to-date for AdSmart, having acquired Virgin homes (from 1st July) – and adding Channel 4 will increase the offering significantly. A launch date is yet to be set, but this is one to look forward to for 2020 and beyond.

Over the last five years, AdSmart has already grown in scale, and in that time has delivered 17,000 campaigns for over 1,800 advertisers.

Earlier this year Sky released its whitepaper “AdSmart: Five Years and Forward”, alongside Differentology, which sets out the journey so far – as well as being what Sky describe as “the most comprehensive research into the UK addressable TV market ever”.

The research, based on 100+ individual campaigns, found an increase of 35% in ad engagement for AdSmart campaigns, as well as a 48% reduction in channel-switching – which makes sense considering ads are served into households deemed most relevant for their product, or brand. Additionally, brands are 14% more likely to be talked about when AdSmart is used. Once again this makes sense as you are targeting through proven data metrics.

A watch-out is that, while AdSmart offers data-level targeting far beyond that of the broad audiences traded via linear TV campaigns, there are still some limitations to its targeting capabilities. For example it is only possible to target at a household level, meaning reaching a specific individual within that household cannot be guaranteed.

Alongside this, reporting is limited compared to linear TV, and comes directly from Sky rather than a third-party. However, while not at the standard of TV, it is similar to that provided for broadcaster VOD (BVOD) campaigns, widely used in the industry.

But the proposition can be used to a brand’s benefit. Data sharing in particular provides more advanced levels of targeting, giving advertisers the opportunity to discount customers who have already converted as a result of a campaign, or even the ability to target those who are known to be in-market or close to converting.

AdSmart might not replace linear TV any time soon, but as a product which can reach 30 million individuals, and rising, with only the most relevant product messaging, it can take a targeted campaign to the next level.

As its scale increases, and as the product itself improves, we are seeing an even stronger offering: the Sky really is the limit.

Gen Z: Talkin’ About A New Generation

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Everybody’s talking about a new generation – of youth. “Generation Z”, or “Gen Z”, is a catch-all term for those born since the mid 1990s (exact dates vary depending on the source).

Gen Z has grown up in a fast-paced world, with a lack of political and economic stability – meaning as a group they are as fragmented as ever. Yet marketers often try to stereotype and over-generalise them – just like their predecessors, the Millennials.

Keen not to let history repeat itself, the7stars recently joined forces with social enterprise VisionPath. We conducted research with a core group of 15-19 year olds, involving a 1,000-strong quantitative sample, as well as face-to-face interviews and in-school workshops in Norwich, Cheshunt and Liverpool.

From this we identified key themes when considering this highly engaged and connected audience:

Connection Obsession v Expression: When it comes to communicating, they are not a one-platform-fits-all kind of group. They flex between many different social platforms in order to engage with their multifaceted social circle. WhatsApp is used to facilitate group chats and organise family circles, while Instagram and Snapchat are almost exclusively reserved for their closest peers.

This flexing is not only relevant when communicating with friends and family – they also like to interchange between channels to serve specific needs – e.g. relying on YouTube for homework help and using Twitter to keep up-to-date with the news and current affairs.

Experience v Education: When it comes to their future many feel confused, and lack relatable role models to prepare them for what comes next.

The idea of a “9-5 job” is divisive one. As we found, negativity towards the idea of an office job is evident among this generation, who view the office environment as stifling and confined. Creativity is the currency this generation seek in their future jobs.

However, 1 in 3 also stated that money would be the most influential factor on their future career choice, while their purchase power is not to be overlooked – 44% of them were already engaged with some form of part time or paid work.

Empowerment v Disillusionment: There is a consensus among this generation that they are more accepting and more inclusive than those who have gone before.

When it comes to social activism, Gen Z are often quoted as the flagbearers for change, however, we found there were two opposing mindsets. Those who felt passionate and empowered to make change, and conversely those who felt unprepared and unable to get involved.

In fact, 56% feel that current affairs only act to make them feel worried about the future.  And only 1 in 2 say they feel confident about the future, which means that almost as many simply aren’t sure.

So, what can brands do? Here are our three takeaways:

Take it Offline – Promoting diversity of experiences, knowledge and entertainment in both the offline and online world will have most impact.

Inform and Upskill – Brands that can help them understand and navigate the future choices available to them will fare well.

Celebrate Progression – Continue to celebrate equality progression with them, but don’t view them as a panacea.