British airline Virgin Atlantic has released a podcast called The Venture. The show continues the brand narrative of doing things differently by exploring the success stories of pioneering brands. Guests include Jonathan Murray (co-creator of MTV's The Real World) and members of the founding team of US satirical news network The Onion. The Venture was created by American podcasting network Gimlet Media's native advertising arm, Gimlet Creative.
Twenty-four per cent of Americans (about 57 million people) now listen to a podcast at least once a month. More than half of those listen to three or more podcasts per week, and over 20% follow upwards of six shows (Edison Research, 2017). To connect with these deep listeners, brands are moving from interstitial audio ads into their own branded podcasts.
In 2015 – alongside the release of true-crime blockbuster podcast Serial – General Electric amassed five million downloads for its storytelling podcast The Message. Now, podcast creators are drawing in audiences with explainer formats that digest complex themes. From shows examining culture like American musician Hrishikesh Hirway's Song Exploder and The New York Times' Still Processing to Crooked Media analysing current events and global policy, listeners are flocking to competent voices that help them make sense of the world. Brands can play a part in this by exploring issues close to their core business and values, as demonstrated by DTR – a podcast on relationships in the digital age that Gimlet created for dating app Tinder.
For more on growth factors and brand communications in podcasting, check out our March 2017 Pop Culture Round-Up.
This week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg revealed his vision for an augmented reality (AR) future at the company's annual F8 developer conference. He sees AR as more than just a fun tool or service: "We see a new platform," he said. Crucially, Facebook is opening up its AR capabilities to developers via its new AR Studio, enabling them to build and distribute AR filters to Facebook users.
So what does this mean for Snapchat? The ephemeral app has led the way on AR filters, but it will have a challenge on its hands to compete with Facebook's developer-driven AR platform. In a bid to grab some of the attention away from Zuckerberg, this week Snapchat launched World Lenses, enabling users to place 3D digital items – such as rainbows or phrases like 'OMG' – directly into their physical environment.
Presently, Snapchat has the advantage when it comes to AR-powered brand partnerships: the app's geo-filters and lenses are a go-to tool for huge numbers of marketers. US automaker FCA launched its second Snapchat partnership this month – a lens that creates windblown hair for its Jeep Hair, Don't Care campaign – following the "incredible success" of their first partnership in 2016, according to FCA Global's chief marketing officer Olivier Francois.
Nonetheless, Facebook's move into AR will offer massive opportunities for brands in every industry, from simple e-commerce tools to immersive branded experiences. The AR wars are going to get very interesting for marketers.
While virtual reality gets all the media attention, the format's less-heralded sibling, 360 video, is swiftly gaining traction among consumers. According to research from Google, 360-degree video ads drive 41% more earned actions (views, shares and subscribes) than standard ads (Google, 2016). YouTube's year-old 360 video channel now boasts over two million subscribers.
Every major platform is getting in on the action. In March 2017, US streaming service Vimeo introduced support for this format to "usher in a new wave of immersive content that sets the standard for cinematic quality and powerful narratives in a 360 environment", according to Anjali Sud, general manager of Vimeo's Creator Platform.
Later that month, Snapchat ran its first ever live-streamed 360 ad in partnership with US media giant Turner to promote the latter's truTV series Upscale with Prentice Penny. In an April update, Facebook Live now supports 360 live-streaming, meaning any Facebook user with a compatible camera – such as the Samsung Gear 360 – can live-stream 360 video direct to their Facebook page.
The latest brand to experiment with the format is Nissan. In April, the Japanese automaker teamed up with Disney's Lucasfilm production studio on a 360 video promoting its latest Rogue car model. Combining Star Wars characters with the immersiveness of 360 has paid off: in less than a week, the video has racked up half a million views on YouTube.
Italian fashion house Gucci has applied the language of memes to its products and brand assets to launch its Le Marché des Merveilles collection of watches. The #TFWGucci campaign is a self-aware insertion of the brand's aesthetic into popular online communication habits. To bring it to life across social channels, Gucci collaborated with existing web artists and meme creators (including Polly Nor, Amanda Charchian and Goth Shakira).
Memes are created and reiterated by the same audience that shares them; a variety of skills in image manipulation is part of the format's power. Gucci's access to professional fashion photographers and international visual artists creates an interesting contrast between the easily replicated nature of memes and the fashion house's maximalist brand aesthetic; a kind of 'being extra' (putting in too much effort) that was last appreciated with the Salt Bae meme.
This maximalism also lends a particular honesty to #TFWGucci – the brand may be attempting to mingle, but it does not patronise audiences by pretending to be just like them.
In February this year, web service provider MailChimp similarly used its superior assets for 'Did You Mean...?'. The absurdist campaign scattered the brand's presence across seemingly unconnected online platforms and industries through stealthy content and products.
For those still confused about what memes are, Gucci also provides a short write-up of the format's history on its #TFWGucci microsite. Alternatively, check out our previous coverage of memes going mainstream in our Video Pop Culture Year in Review: 10 Trends for 2017 or our Pop Culture Round-Up: October 2016.
Joining the Conversation
This year's Guardian Changing Media Summit (London, March 15-16) was dominated by the discussion of "fake news". While this subject is most obviously affecting journalism, speakers offered strategies that equally applied to brands looking to engage distrustful, divided consumers.
"We have to listen to communities, understand their goals and needs, and only then bring them journalism," said Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. "Give up the notion that we are always the destination. We need to take journalism to the conversation when and where it occurs – be it Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, in the appropriate context for the platform." See our Macro Trend The Currency of Dissent for more on this subject.
Arguably, brands have been ahead of the media when it comes to understanding this need for joining and shaping the cultural conversation. Regarding the opportunities of chatbots and messaging apps, for example, brand marketers have led the way (see AI-First Engagement and The Messaging Opportunity for more).
At the summit, CNN's head of social and emerging media, Samantha Barry, described the benefits CNN has seen after launching on Line, Kik and Facebook Messenger in 2016. "We are reaching customers we haven't reached before," she commented. Kik, particularly, "has been a revelation in how we talk to young people in the US".
The Promise of AI
The other key topic of conversation was the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform media and marketing. In May 2016, Sarah O'Connor, employment correspondent at UK publication the Financial Times, competed with AI platform Emma to produce a piece of financial reporting – could a robot be a better writer than a real journalist?
While the story Emma produced was competent, according to O'Connor: "[Emma] didn't have news judgement. She did not know which were the most important facts – which is one of the human things that journalists need."
Marketing expert Sarah Speake nonetheless worried that, for marketers, AI could lead to homogenisation. "There's a huge danger if we over-algorithm ourselves that brands lack differentiation," she commented. David Harris, executive creative director at UK ad agency Gyro, agreed: "Tech only works if there's an ecosystem around it, and that ecosystem is not there yet."
For those concerned that AI will take over human jobs, Parry Malm, chief executive of AI email marketing platform Phrasee, had reassuring words: "If you're a lawyer or accountant, you're probably [in trouble]. But [AI] is creating new jobs. Phrasee just hired a dozen linguistics graduates – we're creating a new career path for people with specialist skillsets."
Tom Goodwin, executive vice-president of innovation at marketing measurement firm Zenith USA, offered 10 media trends that pointed to a future of increasingly omnipresent technology. "We've only ever known an internet that we went to," he commented. "The internet is now more a pervasive, assistive interface. I don't need to know everything, just the things specific to a need." Goodwin pointed to the Dark Sky app as an example: the hyper-local weather tool simply tells you when it's about to rain where you are.
He also discussed Sony's concept prototype N, a neckband wearable previewed at CES 2017 as an example of how we might interact with the internet in the next few years (check out our reporting from CES for more). Brands should "embrace the way that these products are and the philosophy they represent", Goodwin said. "Digital is oxygen."
For more on pervasive technology, see our latest Industry Trend, Invisible Marketing.
This year's South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas will be dominated by intelligent machines. As we discuss in our latest Industry Trend Invisible Marketing, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning innovation are transforming industries from marketing and media to fashion and retail.
We will be talking about findings from our Industry Trend in Invisible Marketing: AI Will Transform Your Brand at the Decoded Fashion House. As an official programming partner of SXSW and SXSW Style, the Decoded Fashion House will bring together leading minds in fashion, beauty and tech for a day of activities and content sessions.
SXSW will play host to a number of talks that aim to showcase the opportunities of this technology. For instance, Disney will be revealing how it's evolving its theme park, merchandise and entertainment experiences with AI (Using AI & Machine Learning to Extend the Disney Magic). IBM will explain the secrets behind its AI platform Watson (Mythbusters: How IBM Watson "Really" Works), while Deloitte will be sharing how Robots Can Restore Our Humanity.
Thinking Like a Start-Up
SXSW can be a great launchpad for new start-ups (Twitter went mainstream thanks to buzz at SXSW 2007). More importantly, it's a great place to connect with the latest tech companies and understand how they're achieving growth in a crowded marketplace.
In our report Marketing Like a Start-Up, we explore the key strategies that brands in any industry can learn from start-up culture, and this year's festival is full of similar insight. Brands creating in-house innovation hubs for more agile experimentation will be explored in Dawn of the Labs: The Next Gen of Tech Innovation, while speakers from publications such as Vogue, Slate and Quartz will tackle the issue of scalability in the multi-platform world in Beyond Scale: Smarter Ways to Think About Growth.
Winning the Attention War
One of the key subjects at this year's event is how marketers can gain consumer attention in a world of information and entertainment overload – something we've explored in our report Mastering The Attention Economy: Social Media Week 2016.
When it comes to mobile media, "the thumb is in charge now, and it is demanding", according to Facebook. The company will address how marketers should approach smartphone consumers in two sessions: Moving at a Mobile Minute and Seconds Matter: Capturing Attention in Mobile Feed. Meanwhile, speakers from digital agencies including SapientNitro and RB will ask the question every marketer fears to answer: Is Anyone Paying Attention to Your Content?
Future Media Experiences
Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) have been buzz topics at SXSW for a number of years. But in the post-Pokemon Go, post-Snapchat Specs world we now live in, these technologies are edging towards the mainstream.
Viacom Next, the VR research and development arm of the US media giant, is showcasing a new VR experience at this year's festival. The Melody of Dust is a collaboration with musician Hot Sugar, in which participants explore a virtual castle and interact with objects to reveal 87 melodies created by the artist.
"We believe this is a glimpse of what the future of music could look and feel like as you step into the mind of a musician," said Chaki Ng, senior vice-president of Viacom Next. See our report Future of Video: Ignition 2016 for more on VR and augmented reality innovation.
Stay tuned for our reports from this year's SXSW, publishing in the coming days, and look back at last year's themes in our coverage of SXSW 2016.
Travel site Hotels.com is turning frostbitten Canadians cursing on social media into cash towards holidays in the sun.
The Winter Swear Jar, a campaign from ad agency J. Walter Thompson Canada, analyses Canadian Twitter in search of messages containing both profanity and comments on the weather. Whenever a Canadian vents their frustration with the cold on the social media site, Hotels.com adds 25 Canadian cents (US$0.18) to its jar. Once the jar has filled up with CA$1,000 (US$745), Hotels.com turns the money into a gift card to let a lucky winner escape to somewhere more hospitable.
The booking site isn't the only brand engaging with Twitter profanity. French TV broadcaster Canal+ launched its AiMen Twitter campaign to promote the addition of drama series The Young Pope to its programme. Creative agency BETC Paris has used IBM Watson's artificial intelligence (AI) technology to create a bot in the name of the titular Pope Pius XIII (played by Jude Law). Whenever a member of the Twitter flock exhibits sinful thoughts of boastfulness, gluttony, pride or old-fashioned swearing, AiMen's Pius XIII bot responds in real time, quoting one of the 39,000 verses of the Bible.
Our Industry Trend Invisible Marketing – publishing next week – will look at more ways of leveraging AI technology, in-the-moment engagement and mercurial consumer attention. Also check out Mastering the Attention Economy, our coverage from Social Media Week London, and read Personalising E-Tail and Contextual Commerce for retail opportunities with contextual data.
"In 2017, Domino's is going from mobile-first to AI-first." So said Domino's chief executive Don Meij at the company's annual technology showcase in Sydney in March 2017. The pizza giant is launching an artificially intelligent (AI) voice assistant in Australia this month, enabling people to order pizza using voice commands via the Domino's mobile app or online ordering platform, as well as via a Facebook chatbot.
Built in collaboration with US AI firm Nuance, DRU Assist (DRU stands for Domino's Robotic Unit, the company's innovation and technology arm) is able to handle 1.2 million different pizza combinations, as well as special instructions such as "hold the anchovies".
"DRU Assist is not just a toy. We genuinely see this as a real platform change," said Meij. As part of his desire to see Domino's image shift from fast food chain towards an "internet of food" technology company, Meij also announced the launch of Domino's Anywhere for the Australian market – a service enabling people to have pizza delivered to them wherever they are. Using your phone's GPS, you can alert Domino's to your precise location – at the beach, or the local park – and a delivery driver will bring your pizza directly to you.
"We know that pizza is a social sharing meal and many of our customers want to enjoy it on a day out with the family, and not be limited to a house or office," said Meij.
Our upcoming Industry Trend Invisible Marketing, publishing next week, explores more examples of brands joining the AI revolution. See also The Messaging Opportunity.
The Kidscreen Summit (Miami, February 13-16) is an annual event exploring trends and innovation in children's entertainment. This year the common theme was compassion, reflecting the fact that today's youth are far more exposed than previous generations to global events through their use of smartphones and social media.
"There's never been a better time to tell stories that reflect reality and inspire hope," said Colin Williams, creative director of Belfast-based production company SixteenSouth. In this spirit, Sky Kids and the BBC announced a joint initiative entitled Project Hope. The campaign is designed to promote kindness and tolerance via a series of short films and idents to be screened at the Children's Global Media Summit in Manchester, UK.
Key to inspiring greater compassion in children's audiences is ensuring all backgrounds are reflected onscreen. The Summit's Digging Into Diversity panel stressed there is still much to do: it's telling that the show still cited as a positive example (thanks to its African-American female lead), Disney Channel's Doc McStuffins, premiered way back in 2012.
"Children are searching for something else," Dr. Maya Goetz, managing director of children's TV festival Prix Jeunesse International, told Kidscreen. "They are looking for content that mirrors their lives and that is what they are finding on social media. Through other new players like Amazon and Netflix, I think we are going to see more content that runs counter to the mainstream."
As children become more aware – and accepting – of the realities of the world around them, they're increasingly becoming more self-sufficient, according to new research revealed at the Summit by US media giant Viacom. The report, Little Big Kids: Preschoolers Ready for Life, surveyed 6,500 families of preschoolers aged two to five across 12 countries. It reveals that the era of "helicopter parenting" is coming to an end: 74% of parents globally believe that children should learn through their own experiences, and 68% believe one of the most important developmental opportunities for preschoolers is learning to do things for themselves.
"What we're seeing is parents are getting their kids ready for life through experiences and controlled risk taking," said Christian Kurz, senior vice-president of global consumer insights at Viacom.
Technology use is obviously having a massive impact on the way children engage with the world. Globally, preschoolers spend around 14 hours per week on devices – although this number varies significantly from region to region, with US kids enjoying 25 hours to Germany's six.
In terms of where technology will take children's entertainment in the next few years, virtual reality (VR) was discussed as an area of massive opportunity. London-based production company Nexus talked about strategies for telling coherent, impactful stories using VR and AR (augmented reality) tech. Nexus has already produced interactive content for children in partnership with Google, and this week launched an AR app called The Gruffalo Spotter in partnership with the UK Forestry Commission. The app enables kids to seek out and interact with characters from the Gruffalo books in their local forest – they can even take photos of themselves with the virtual creatures.
Email marketing service MailChimp has launched an absurdist advertising strategy that pushes its messaging beyond omnichannel formats and into completely different product categories – all in the name of wordplay.
In 2014, MailChimp became a meme with a pre-roll audio ad on blockbuster podcast Serial that featured a young woman mispronouncing the platform's name as MailKimp. Now, New York-based ad agency Droga5 has created the 'Did You Mean...?' campaign, which riffs on more misnomers via three surreal short films: MailShrimp, JailBlimp and KaleLimp. For instance, MailShrimp features a shrimp sandwich singing about its career ambitions. The clips are being screened in cinemas across the US and UK – without any mention of MailChimp's actual name or services.
Bemused cinemagoers who visit the films' websites can follow digital breadcrumb trails to a range of products (bearing mangled versions of the company name) that infiltrate completely unrelated product categories. For example, FailChips are bags of broken potato chips – MailChimp partnered with media company Vice for a short documentary on the provenance of FailChips, while Vox Media's food vertical Eater uses them in a recipe for Chicken Karaage.
There's also WhaleSynth, a synthesiser tool distributed on tech product platform Product Hunt; and VeilHymn, an interactive music video. Meanwhile, MaleCrimp, SnailPrimp and NailChamp are aimed at beauty fans.
The appeal of regular omnichannel campaigns diminishes as digital content platforms become increasingly alike in format. 'Did you mean...?' is a delightfully obscure way of reclaiming versatile messaging.
Hopping onto the ‘New Year, New You’ bandwagon with a subtly activist stance (a perspective that chimes with our Currency of Dissent Macro Trend), two British retailers are remit-pushing with proprietary London summits.
See also: Stores Tap January Wellness Surge.
Since 2009, American ice cream brand Häagen-Dazs has used its platform to talk about waning honey bee populations. The brand's latest project to call attention to the issue will be The Extraordinary Honey Bee, a virtual reality experience that lets viewers fly with bees to gain a fresh perspective on the situation.
A trailer of the experience was released at Brand Storytelling, a five-day associate event of the Sundance Film Festival dedicated to storytelling in marketing and advertising.
Marketers up against ad blockers and divided attention are turning their energies away from interruptive advertising during engaging stories and towards producing such content themselves. "At the core, brands are basically a story, so if you don't tell a compelling and engaging story you're basically a commodity," explains Alex Placzek, Haägen-Dazs's US director of marketing.
Entertainment projects like recent feature film The Founder – a biopic chronicling how American salesman Ray Kroc turned the McDonald's fast food restaurant into a national franchise – show there's interest in the stories surrounding a brand. The question is whether in this age of 'alternative facts', the public will grow wary and weary of hearing these stories told by the original source.
For more on moving beyond interruptive advertising to spread brand awareness, check out The Messaging Opportunity, Mastering the Attention Economy: Social Media Week London 2016, and Live-Streaming Strategies. To help you stay attuned with how consumers connect through entertainment, follow our monthly Pop Culture Round-Ups.
As part of its 2016 Christmas campaign, Coca-Cola developed a bottle cap that allowed customers to record a message to friends and loved ones.
The special edition 'Message in a bottle' drinks were distributed among Central and Eastern European influencers and were available for a limited time at two stores in Sicily – a trial run for a wider European release in 2017. The audio bottles were launched alongside a promotional video, which demonstrated different ways to surprise your loved ones at Christmas.
This pack innovation follows the soft drink giant's camera-integrated bottle (July 2016), which allowed drinkers to take a selfie when the bottle was tipped to 70 degrees. The images were then uploaded to Coca-Cola Israel's social media pages. It's also a further example of the brand embracing personalisation following its wildly successful named bottles in 2015.
To read more about how beverage brands are upping the stakes through innovative materials and technology, check out our Alcohol Packaging Trends 2016 report. For further insight into digital packaging developments, read Packaging Futures 2016/17: Digital. For more digital Christmas campaigns, see Christmas 2016: Digital Trends & Tactics.
Global PR firm Edelman Communications has released its 2017 Trust Barometer survey, revealing that among 33,000 individuals across 28 nations, trust in government, media, business and NGOs is at a universal all-time low.
Less than half said they trusted the media (43%) or government (41%), while NGOs (53%) have fallen to trust levels on a par with business (52%). In the GDP five (US, China, Japan, Germany and UK), trust in NGOs has even dipped below the 50% mark.
Crucially, among global respondents stating they are "uncertain" whether these institutions are working for them, business holds the highest trust score (58%). Brands have a lot of leverage with dissatisfied consumers, with three out of four survey participants also believing that businesses can improve both profits and economic and social conditions in the communities they interact with. Consumers expect responsible business from brands looking for continued support.
The public is also increasingly withdrawing into peer communication. For the first time ever, 'a person like yourself' is now considered as credible a source of information as an academic expert, and 55% say an individual is more believable than an institution. To stay in touch with this hyper-individual audience, marketers will have to build and maintain brands through community engagement from the ground up.
For more on engaging with consumers in the era of distrust, see Brands Take a Stand and Renegade Retail from our Currency of Dissent Macro Trend. For more on how to connect with anxious consumers, see our report on Playful Escapists.
The publishing industry has been quick to seize on the audience-building opportunities of a Trump presidency. Daily Twitter updates from the man himself are driving non-stop analysis and reaction, to the extent that a number of news outlets have set up dedicated Trump-centric spin-offs.
Slate's Trumpcast podcast, Mic's Navigating Trump's America newsletter, and Crooked Media – a politics news site launched by former Obama White House staffers – are among a slew of new destinations devoted to tracking the Trump phenomenon. In December, the Washington Post even released a browser extension that enables users to fact-check Trump's tweets – from within the tweets themselves. The Post example is a useful case study for any marketer: culturally relevant, offering utility, and reflective of core brand values.
These media properties have been created to scrutinise and critique, but there's also an opportunity for brands to help consumers of any political stripe navigate the realities of Trump's America.
With the Brexit referendum in the UK, both political spokespeople and the media were attacked for failures in communication. A report from the Electoral Reform Society in September 2016 was highly critical of the campaigning, saying that the general public were ill-informed and misled by both sides. Clearly, brands could have played a part in engaging the public (as we discuss in Brands Take a Stand).
Unpicking the truth from Trump's communications could be an even harder task. As we can see, the media is starting to tackle this issue head on. Brands need to step up to the challenge.