What’s Hot

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.

The Best (and worst) of April Fool’s Day​

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Once a day for practical jokes (salt in the sugar jar), we’ve come to expect pranks from our favourite brands on April Fool’s Day. This year was no different, seeing everything from new ‘product’ launches to Black-Mirror technology, to unlikely brand collaborations. 

Several of our own clients participated this year. launched their first-ever ‘Grow Your Own Sofa’, Iceland hilariously added CBD to their hash browns to have consumers starting the day stress-free, and Papa Johns partnered with Pot Noodle to launch Pot Pizza – every snack-lovers dream meal.  

But not every brand got it right. UK beer subscription site Bier Company tricked customers into signing up for a monthly subscription with a message stating they had won “free beer for life”. The ASA received over 40 complaints once the prank was revealed, with some angrily calling the stunt a “scam” on Twitter. 

McDonald’s also disappointed their audience by refusing to participate at all, tweeting “Okay we’ve got to tell you. We had an April Fools ready – a hybrid Big Mac Breakfast McMuffin but it looked too good, and our boss was worried you’d all try and order it.” 

The most successful pranks are those which poke fun at the brand themselves (we’re thinking of Subway’s bread-scented room diffuser, “Eau de Dough”), particularly as the now-expectant masses are less easy to fool. 

At best, a well-calculated April Fool’s prank can be a great short-term boost for brands, with the potential to spark earned media opportunities. However, poorly placed jokes can be costly, so it is important for brands to think hard before they jump on the bandwagon next year.

The Evolving Future of AV

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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? 

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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

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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

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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.

Did Coinbase Really Win the Super Bowl?

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QR Codes Hit the Big Time

It doesn’t happen during every Super Bowl, but once in a while a commercial airs that will be remembered long after the game. Crypto exchange platform Coinbase made the biggest impact among Adland commentators with an audacious 60” ad featuring a floating QR code in the style of the DVD meme. No branding or call-to-action, it simply held attention by enticing viewers towards a satisfying corner bounce. According to Coinbase, 20 million people were intrigued enough to get out their phones and activate the code which sent them to a promotion on the Coinbase site. That’s quite a conversion rate out of the 150 million viewers for the Super Bowl.

Difference Generates Mass Appeal

This isn’t the first time QR codes have made it onto TV, but it probably is the first time they have appeared solo in a $14m dollar media buy. Some have been quick to herald this as the dawn of a new era of addressable TV, but this wouldn’t necessarily be a sound conclusion. Above all, this was about standout; generating buzz and conversation. It grabbed attention because it was different, so it’s unlikely to have the same effect a second time.

The ad itself was polarising in the extreme. Adweek named the spot the best of this year’s Super Bowl ads, though the mainstream viewers who determine the USA Today Ad Meter rankings placed it dead last among the 2022 line-up out of 66 commercials.

This raises the question of who this ad was actually for. As the biggest crypto exchange brand, awareness is unlikely to have been the aim. This was more of an acquisition play. Coinbase used a quintessential top of funnel spot to pull off a lower-funnel stunt. Their primary audience is millennials; old enough to have disposable income and open to crypto. The visual cue of that QR code bouncing and changing colour like a ’00s DVD player is subtly but precisely targeted.

The ad can also be deemed a success if we consider earned amplification – we’re all talking about it. Coinbase probably doesn’t care whether the overall sentiment is positive or negative. It was far more important to be noticed by its core audience than to be liked by everyone.

A Touchdown for Attention

You may think it’s the death of creative storytelling, but if you’re judging whether it was effective and a creative way to address their business challenges through marketing then it does seem to have delivered. It doesn’t really provide a playbook for meeting a brand’s marketing challenges, beyond underlining the importance of getting noticed in the first place.

Using the most iconic ‘traditional media’ ad spot to create a ‘digital activation’ also demonstrates that there’s no real division between digital and traditional anymore, just integration – which is a perfect fit for a marketplace of digital currency.