From the death of the horizontal video to the myth of virality, here’s what you need to know to battle the marketing heavyweights in the coming 12 months…
“If you’re sitting at the top of a tree and you’re waiting to be disrupted, it’s going to come. My advice is you should disrupt while you’re at the top, not while you’re being disrupted.” – David Shing, Digital prophet, AOL
“I don’t think that marketers are becoming more bold. I think you have a few examples that have won Cannes Lion. They’re probably outliers. What I can gather, most people are still nervous that the brand shouldn’t be the star, because it deters people from engaging.” – Karen Nelson-Field PhD, CEO Media Intelligence Co. and Industry Professor of Media Innovation, University of Adelaide
“We didn’t want brands to be just focused on creating a one-off hit. We wanted them to be thinking about valuable virality. What is the point of that viral hit? It needs to be part of something bigger. It needs to be part of a bigger story, a bigger idea, part of the bigger business.” – Sarah Wood, Cofounder and CEO, Unruly
This week on The CMO Show we bring you not one, but three marketing superstars as we record live from this year’s AANA Reset Conference.
Spotlighting what to expect in 2017, JV is joined by an all-star cast to discuss the myth (and making) of viral video content, anticipating and responding to disruption, and how to have a lasting, meaningful impact on consumers.
Firebrands. Academics. New-age prophets. Tune in for this unmissable, one-of-a-kind special episode.
- ‘With uncertainty comes opportunity’ – Unruly’s Sarah Wood
- AOL’s prophet warns youth shutting out brands as they ‘privatise’ their networks
- “Snake oil” salesman can’t hide from AI: Karen Nelson-Field
The CMO Show production team
Audio Engineer – Jonny McNee
Design Manager – Daniel Marr
Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Jones (MJ)
Jeanne-Vida Douglas (JVD)
David Shing (DS)
Karen Nelson-Field (KNF)
Sarah Wood (SW)
JVD: I’m here with David Shing who has come all the way from, you’re based in New York is that right?
DS: I’m based in New York, yeah. New York.
JVD: So how does a kid from Armadale end up in New York in advertising?
DS: I thought this was going to be a walk and talk. This is going to be a slow-moving long story that will take forever to answer. I was eighteen, came to Sydney, studied design, helped invent some internet technology and moved to the US and the rest is history. So I had a failed start-up and I was one of the guys who help build that technology out, and I kind of fell into marketing really and I loved it. I really loved it because I’ve got part technology, very much design. Design technology marketing is a skill that I learned.
I’m from the generation where it used to be about specific careers. I’m very much a generalist and I’m finding now that the kids’ generation, young adults, are all about the generalists and I love that. I guess I was early in on that. I ended up in the US because that’s where the Internet took me, back in the day. I happened to stay there, which is kind of cool.
JVD: One of the things I’d loved about your presentation, is you immediately jump into code and creativity all being part of the one thing. When was your a-ha moment for that?
DS: When I realised that ones and zeros manifest everything that we have. To be fair, the microphone that you’re speaking on right now is made from ones and zeros. Whether that’s design from an industrial designer on a piece of software to create that or it’s clay-modelled out, somebody decided that’s what a market frame should look like. Or Bang and Olufsen back in the 1930s out of the Nordics. It’s really an exquisite combination of both and more and more, you can’t separate them. The challenge is when you think about code, code, code, you know, it’s interesting… Adobe did a survey of creative directors recently. Eighty-eight percent believe the best days are yet to come. Seventy-five percent trust technology to help give them control but seventy-nine percent believe that it’s about the gut instinct. So it’s a combination of both, right.
My background was traditional school with graphic design. If I told you what broad lines were, and fonts and Letrasets, back in the day and doing stuff in post, most people don’t understand what that is. The craft of going from ideation to production is so fast now, that that is culturing code. That is ones and zeros. That is the ability to combine those two together. The a-ha moment for me I guess is when I realised that code manifests everything we’re touching today. It’s not all just based on folklore. It’s not all just based on us sitting here, weaving something together. You have these tools that enable that to happen. It’s a bit long-winded, but you get my drift.
JVD: Totally. I guess the thing is too, how do you get the traditional CMOs who’ve come from marketing school, who’ve studied the 4Ps, or whatever it is, to understand the cultural shift that’s currently taking place and is not going to stop any time soon?
DS: I have a very, very, very frank answer for that. Which is, if you’re sitting at the top of a tree and you’re waiting to be disrupted, it’s going to come. My advice is you should disrupt while you’re at the top, not while you’re being disrupted. I see that in big companies, right. A lot of them think, “Oh my god, the movement of sugary drinks have gone out the window now. It’s all about organic deliciousness.”. They can’t get out of their way to create that and invent a new product, so they have to buy one, and somebody in the organisation could have turned around and said, “I could’ve told you about coconut water.”.
What’s amazing for me, is you have to look at these cultural changes in the landscape. How are you going to reflect it back? I kid you not, there are examples in every category. You can walk down and say, “Problem, problem, problem, problem, problem. That was disrupted by somebody that was small.” Now the real problem with that, is when you absorb a company, you tend not to allow them to do what they should do, which is continue the magnification of their love, and you end up absorbing them, and they end up being not so well treated, and those founders that come out with the great idea, tend to escape away from the business. I don’t think that’s fair either.
There are two things they need to do: one, look at the cultural change and are they being relevant, and if they’re not being relevant, they’re being disrupted; and, do they want to disrupt themselves, or are they going to be disrupted? The choice is theirs. The second thing is, look inside an organisation and say, who are the young people who are doing things radically different today, and why are they not paying attention to the traditional media that we’re trying to put in front of them? Some of them might cycle to doing things differently but on the whole, they’re not.
So what are you doing to reflect that, and how are you doing it differently? If you’re a hundred year old brand, don’t act like a twelve year old boy in Snapchat. That’s not probably where your brand should be, but somewhere in there is the ground to say, “This is where we’re authentic to an audience that gives a crap.”. Brands love shiny objects and that’s a problem but CMOs, I think, need to look at: what are the changes; how do we reflect that change back as marketing; and, can we be part of the cultural landscape shift?
The other issue I would say is that too many people have a piece of creative, which is about brand-building and they want it to perform like a piece of direct response. I don’t think that’s fair. You can’t bring those two together because you can actually choose to have people adopt your product by awareness based advertising today, and it’s how much you spend. The ups and downs of marketing reports, we see, but building a brand over time, is a much more languid, long story, that you can’t bring those two creatives together and say, “Those two need to meet in the middle.”. They can’t, they have different outcomes. One has a business outcome, one has a creative outcome. So, determine what they are, and if you can’t do that, get out of the way, and hire somebody much smarter than you, and you can pretend to take all of the credit. Maybe.
JVD: Speaking of shiny objects, next twelve months, eighteen months, what do we need to be thinking about now? What should we already be doing?
DS: It’s too quick to talk about that time. Anybody who forecasts super soon, it’s not quite appropriate to do that. I would say, that if you are not thinking about how sight, sound and motion combine, drives emotion, then you’re out of your mind. I don’t mean a thirty-second TV spot, I mean people buy emotionally. What are you doing to enable that? Also, what are you doing to enable efficiencies? What are you doing to give people back their time? Or, what are you doing to adopt the reflection of that? Which is if they have more time, because of efficiency based marketing and/or efficiency based tools, what are you doing with that time to fill it in?
What should you do? Maybe you should actually go back to old stories and produce a book. Maybe you should go the other way, which is maybe all the content should be shot square, so your TV ad, doesn’t matter if there’s bars left and right or if it turns up on Snapchat, it’s square anyway. Maybe it’s retro-fitted for Instagram. If you have a problem formatting or re-framing your content for all these new platforms, just build it in one that meets in the middle. Maybe you should do that.
I think the biggest thing you need to look at, is what are the behaviours happening on a phone, that you could be part of that culture? The challenge, if on average you have forty-one apps on your phone and you only use five, what are you going to do to be the fifth app that people use, and why would they want to use you? If you’re thinking you can advertise your way to success on that device, no can do. By the way, if all you’re doing is doing those traditional marketing mediums, which I think are very important, but the primary way that people are going to summarise all those different elements in marketing, is on the device in their hands. So what are you doing to make that bring it all together and how can that be useful?
I think that’s something that we need to think about. Don’t worry about the what, and the how so much. Worry about the why. Purpose, purpose, purpose, I think is really important, and brands seem to lose their marbles half the time when I think about that.
JVD: David thank you so much for joining us on The CMO Show.
DS: My pleasure. Thanks very much.
# # #
JVD: I’m here with Karen Nelson-Field, who I had the opportunity to meet several years ago, at another conference, when she was talking about virality and videos. You’ve gone on from there. Can you tell us a little bit about the projects you’re working on at the moment?
KNF: Sure. I’m a bit of an advocate for video, particularly in the digital space, but I’ve moved on from that. What I did find in my research, particularly in the media space, was that a lot of the measurement and the methodologies were falling behind. Given the technology and ad-tech and marketing tech, I needed something to inspire the research and be more real-time and be more passive measurement.
So to be honest, what I’ve done in the last twelve months is I have taken my entire research team out of the university and spun it out into a commercial venture with an artificial intelligence company. We also have a machine learning team that can, and some of the speakers talked about it today, looking at predictive marketing. For example, we’ve built a system that enables us to predict when someone is in the market to buy before they even know they’re in the market to buy, then we build programmatic profiles around them, then apply that, so we can target when people are in the market to buy.
One of the new pieces that I’m about to head into, is I’ve just been commissioned by ThinkTV to build a smart lab for the next two years.
My job, as an independent researcher, is to basically do what I’ve done in the digital space before, and that is look at some of the strengths in the TV space and say, “Okay, can we update the research?”, “What is it that TV does well?”, “Can we re-establish the baseline and kind of reassure advertisers that have potentially had digital in their face for the last ten years what it is that TV does well and reassure some of the advertisers that TV still does play a role in the media landscape.”
JVD: One of the things that sparked my interest when we first spoke was the fact that you had taken data, and you’d used it to challenge one of the big myths about the Internet and about distribution, and that’s the myth of virality, and that you could make something viral, quote-unquote. What you showed was it was actually a combination of excellent content but also really, really clever distribution. I’m wondering whether or not you think the marketing industry has become any better or any more nuanced in the way it’s using data, and what are some of the things that we’re, actually, getting right now, as opposed to not getting so right.
KNF: I actually call myself the professor of inconvenient truth. I found, particularly in my early days, when I was so enamoured by the digital space, that it was easy for me to be inconvenient, because, particularly marketers were so enamoured by the shiny, new toy that is digital. So the reality is marketers have become more savvy, and there hasn’t been a huge swing to one or another media, which is great, because each media plays a role, but I do think that, actually, we have sobered up a bit. We do understand that there is a downside to brand communities. We do understand that virality is not just putting a cat and a hot chick on a piece of content and it will fly. That distribution does play a role. I still think there’s more of that. I think the transparency space is where I’m headed next, and uncovering some of the inertia potentially in measurement, so that’s, probably, where my next set of inconvenient truths will surface.
JVD: Transparency is interesting. You don’t have to be shy about being a brand. You can put your brand upfront and bold right at the beginning of your video or right in front and centre of your content, and people won’t shy away from it, because they know they’re being sold to, anyway, so long as you keep them amused. Are brands learning these lessons. Are they becoming bolder with the way they’re expressing themselves?
KNF: I don’t think that marketers are becoming more bold. I think you have a few examples that have won Cannes Lion. They’re probably outliers. What I can gather, most people are still nervous that the brand shouldn’t be the star, because it deters people from engaging, which is the word I absolutely despise, but it’s that the brand then deters from people engaging in content. I believe that content should be made less to be watched but more to be noticed.
JVD: One of the things that you’ve picked up on previously is that, so long as ads, so long as content have an emotional content and have an emotional impact, they’re probably going to do better. Is that still the case? Is that a theme you’re still following?
KNF: Absolutely, and more so. I believe that distribution matters as well, but what it does do is it cuts through the clutter. High quality, premium and emotional content cuts through the clutter. At the end of the day, that’s what makes a brand penetrate in your memory. So, in that sense, it does.
And also, there’s plenty of other research around emotions not just in video content but also in memes and other types of forwarding behaviours. So the short answer is yes. That is definitely a marketing law, but emotions do more than just on forwarding. For example, you can’t on-forward a TV ad, but high emotive content allows your brand to cut through the clutter and be remembered.
JVD: Another theme that I’m picking up on from the conference and on the floor and through the speakers is this idea that you can’t forever do one good thing and keep on re-purposing it. Is this a tendency that you’re seeing, that there’ll be a lot of money put into a single creative and then it will be chopped and changed?
KNF: When you are investing so much money into high premium content, I actually think that you can only put it on for six weeks and then have to build another one is true wastage, and you have some ego to think that every single person in Australia has not only just seen it but actually taken it on board and now is bored with it.
I’m a fan of the re-purposing, because I think it’s consistent brand exposure, it’s efficient… We were just talking about the need to do more with less, so to throw however many millions out every six weeks and have some sort of inconsistent theme is a waste.
JVD: Always fascinating. Listen, Karen, thank you very much for joining us again.
KNF: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
# # #
JVD: I’m here with Sarah. Can you give us a little bit of a background? You have a very exciting business that you run in the UK.
SW: The business that I founded 10 years ago is called Unruly. We get videos watched, shared, loved across the internet for 90% of Ad Age 100 brands. What’s special about Unruly is we bring emotional intelligence to digital advertising. We test content for emotional impact. Then we apply emotional targeting to audiences. We help brands create content that will have the most emotional impact. Then we distribute to the people who are most likely to enjoy and love that content.
JVD: Tell me about virality in video because that’s of course what everybody wants to make, is a video that goes viral. I just actually noticed you were chatting with Karen who obviously disagrees with that fundamentally. Can videos go viral?
SW: Videos can go viral but you always have to ask yourself, “Why do you want them to go viral?” We launched our platform 3-4 years ago now. That was designed to predict the shareability of ads. We were able to predict, with good degree of confidence, 90% with the local algorithms, 80% with the global algorithms. How shareable a piece of content would be and how viral it would go.
But ultimately we realised that it just wasn’t about sharing. It was about much more than that. We didn’t want brands to be just focused on creating a one-off hit. We wanted them to be thinking about valuable virality. What is the point of that viral hit? It needs to be part of something bigger. It needs to be part of a bigger story, a bigger idea, part of the bigger business. That’s been the big shift really.
So I would say we’re in a post-viral landscape. Sharing habits have changed. People don’t broadcast share so much anymore. Especially in developed economies where we’re all suffering from content shock. People tend to narrowcast share. They’re much more selective about the content they share and who they share it with. This is about consumers, people sharing branded content very carefully. It still does happen but it only happens when the content is absolutely spot on. Which is a big challenge for brands.
We would say to brands, “If you want sharing awesome but maybe think why you want that sharing. Is it because you want to drive sales? Is it because you want to drive brand uplift? It because you’re looking to reposition the brand? What is the marketing rationale behind that desire for virality?”
JVD: When it comes to creating video, you used lot of different types of sources. What is that CMOs really need to understand about the sorts of videos they’re creating and the sorts of markets they’re going out to?
SW: One key message is, it’s very difficult to lift and shift. Sometimes one mistake that gets made is the brand will create a bit of content from the centre and disseminate it out globally and expect it to fly in all markets. That rarely works. We are very subjective, very culturally determined in terms of the type of content we enjoy watching. Women aged 18-24 in Philippines will like very different content from the CEO of a tech company in the U.S. who’s aged 60-64. There is no one size fits all.
The other thing I think is super important to think about is that context and where that ad is going to be seen. It’s not just about posting and praying. You can’t just get a video, pop it onto YouTube or pop it onto Facebook and hope for the best. We’re seeing brands now realising they need to adopt a much more sophisticated strategy. When you create a bit of content it’s not going to be consumed in a vacuum. It’s going to be consumed on a device and increasingly that device is going to be mobile. It will be held with a certain orientation and increasingly that is vertical. It will be seen in a specific format. Whether that’s a skippable format, whether that’s a sound off in-feed format, whether that’s a long-form format. Thinking about the whole piece, not just the content in isolation. Joining the dots on the content creation and the content distribution is absolutely key to CMOs that want to have a joined up end-to-end approach towards smart video content.
JVD: Tell me what sorts of video technologies are you really paying attention to at the moment? What should CMOs know about and be thinking about integrating into their overall processes?
SW: There’s lots that CMOs can be experimenting with at the moment. This is a great time for experimentation. Be experimenting with VR. For any brand that is interested in creating immersive experiences. That’s interested in deeply engaging consumers and having full mindshare. VR is a wonderful opportunity.
It’s also a more potentially transactional opportunity. Say you’re in real estate and you want to be showing consumers around houses. VR experience is going to be super practical, tactical and lead to ROI. As well as the great storytelling experience. Experimenting with AR, be experimenting with mixed reality. There’s lots to experiment with. That said, there’s lots that can be done with the technology that’s here right now today, to improve consumer experiences.
The one I’m very passionate about is polite advertising formats. We really want to see the death of interruptive advertising. Flash died this year and we want see the pre-roll die next year. There is no place for forced pre-roll in our ecosystem. That is not a fair value exchange, to force consumers to watch ads. We’re seeing that consumers are completely backlashing against this. This is why we’re seeing ad-blocking rise. When we survey consumers two-thirds of them say they’re put off by brands that force them to watch pre-roll ads. I think we do need to see a fundamental shift and a reset in the way that brands are approaching video advertising.
JVD: Thank you so much for joining us on the CMO show.
SW: Thanks very much.