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Published: 20 Jul 2018

Aerie Carves New Commercial Body Positivity Benchmark


US lingerie brand Aerie is showing the rest of the advertising industry how inclusive imagery is done – including not patting themselves on the back for taking action.

The brand's latest online product pages include women with a range of disabilities, illnesses, ethnicities, ages and shapes. Wheelchairs, crutches, insulin pumps for Type 1 Diabetes, ostomy bags and mastectomies feature among the diverse group of women of all backgrounds, ages and sizes seen sporting the full product range – from bralets to performance wear.

Instead of orchestrating a big launch to shout about the new visuals, the brand simply added them to existing product pages – doubtlessly counting on customers to share them on social feeds in their own time. Response was vocal and overwhelmingly positive, with advocacy groups lauding the casual inclusion, and many people saying this was the first time they saw themselves in commercial imagery.

The move is a continuation of Aerie's previous efforts to shift the needle when it comes to keeping it real. In 2014, the #AerieReal campaign abandoned retouching its models, revealing the realities of stretch marks, scars, and all the ways flesh organically bunches and spills when even the trimmest bodies twist and bend – a move that led to drastic sales growth.

The takeaway is as straightforward as Aerie's approach: if a brand expects to sell to any type of consumer, it has to make every type of life experience a part of its brand identity. For more on navigating inclusive branding, check out No Offence: Speak the Language of Now and A Fashion A'woke'ning.

Published: 12 Jul 2018

Bacardi’s Crowd-Directed Video

For its first foray into Instagram TV (IGTV), Instagram's long-form video format, spirits brand Bacardi used poll widgets in Instagram Stories to let its fan community direct a music video shoot in real time.

The brand collaborated with Grammy-nominated Canadian DJ A-Trak and French dancers Les Twins, who have performed with the likes of Beyoncé and Missy Elliot. During the nine-hour shoot, Instagram Story polls were posted on Les Twins' account, letting fans vote on different aspects of the video. With the audience picking background locations, dance moves, colour filters and camera angles, the final clip arose from 1,024 possible variations.

Using Instagram Stories, a media format consumers are already familiar with, was a canny move by creative agency BBDO New York to draw Bacardi's audience into the new IGTV channels. The resulting Live Moves clip is part of Bacardi's ongoing #DoWhatMovesYou campaign, which focuses on self-expression and liberation.

"It's a much deeper, more meaningful level of engagement that pushes fans to really think about what moves them and take control of the narrative," said Bacardi's director of creative excellence, Laila Mignoni.

As we explored at length in State of Media: The Fan-First Revolution, interactive, personalised and crowd-sourced content will play a central role in brand media strategies going forth. In our round-up of developments from E3 2018, we also note how the latest developments in cross-platform gaming will unlock great potential for interactive brand storytelling.

Published: 6 Jul 2018

Minecraft Harnesses Player Creativity to Save Corals

Global hit game Minecraft is pulling its players' design skills into the physical realm to help restore coral reefs.

To promote its recent Aquatic update – where players can build and explore underwater landscapes – Minecraft drew players into the new game environment by challenging them to build virtual coral reefs. Once 10 million underwater building blocks were placed, Minecraft released a donation to US environmental charity The Nature Conservancy.

The gaming community further boosted donations by buying in-game design items, with all proceeds going towards the cause. The Nature Conservancy said the funds generated will enable the placement of 15,000 corals in the US Virgin Islands, Mexico, Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

The initiative also turned some of the resulting in-game designs into actual underwater sculptures made from BioRock – a man-made medium that promotes coral growth. Six BioRock structures have been installed off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico; three feature familiar characters from the Minecraft franchise, while the remaining three were designed by players.

On Earth Day in April 2018, Pokémon Go galvanised its mobile gamers by rewarding players who showed up at geolocations for environmental clean-up events. Clearly, there is huge engagement potential for brands that know how to harness the gaming community's creative energies and narrative passions.

For more on how cross-play (the ability to play the same game across mobile- and home-bound devices) will create opportunities for brands to use the narrative immersion of gaming to drive actions in the physical world, see our recap of E3 2018.

Published: 5 Jul 2018

Finland’s Most Popular Film Ever was Brand-Made

There's nothing new about branded content. But how did one Finnish ad firm manage to produce a movie that outperformed Titanic at the box office, and offers an entirely fresh roadmap for funding entertainment?

At this year's Cannes Lions, Eka Ruola, chief executive of Finnish marketing firm Hasan & Partners, revealed how the company helped develop The Unknown Soldier. The World War Two movie, released in 2017, has now earned more than €14m at the box office – €6m more than the previous highest-grossing film in the region, Titanic.

Hasan & Partners involved top Finnish brands throughout the production and marketing process to bring the film to a huge mainstream audience. Finnish lottery company Veikkaus encouraged customers to submit casting videos, which the filmmakers used to hire extras; while dairy brand Valio used augmented reality to create milk-carton posters that enabled customers to see pre-release footage.

"The main objective was to set the bar high," said Ruola. "We aimed at being the biggest thing in the country altogether, not just the biggest movie."

It was an incredibly effective project in its ability to target potential viewers at multiple touchpoints beyond billboards and online platforms. It's a great example of a campaign that taps into numerous key marketing trends we've been tracking – from New-Wave Branded Content, to Third Spaces, to the Brand Studios concept discussed in our Look Ahead 2018.

For more from the festival, see our three Cannes Lions 2018 reports.

Future of Sneaker Drops: Nike Digitises Queueing Ritual

Waiting in line for limited-edition sneakers is ingrained in sneakerhead culture. However, not every enthusiast is in the city of the drop, or has the time to physically queue. Nike Korea has tackled this challenge by transferring the ritual to the digital realm – making it a global happening.

In April 2018 over the duration of two weeks, sneaker aficionados waited online using avatars in the first ever hashtag queue on Instagram to buy Air Max trainers.

Nike Korea decided to make use of Instagram’s latest feature, which allows users to follow hashtags, by creating #AirMaxLine as a digital waiting area. Fans were invited to visit a website to create and personalise an avatar using hundreds of exclusive characters and items inspired by Korean street culture.

To join the digital queue for the chance to buy, people were asked to share a picture of their avatar on Instagram with the hashtag #AirMaxLine – each avatar doubled as a ticket for an online draw. All avatars were displayed in chronological order on the Instagram feed, as if waiting in line.

More than 80,000 posts were uploaded to Instagram, generating over 15 million impressions, and the sneakers sold out within minutes. See also Monetising Social Media ’18: Five Trends to Watch to find out how to drive purchase via Instagram.

The sneakerhead phenomenon is far from cooling down with sneaker sales constantly growing globally. To get a better grasp of what it is, where it’s coming from and what it will evolve into, check out our spotlight trend Sneakerheads Unboxed.

Published: 22 Jun 2018

Mumbrella360: Less Advertising May Be More

Mumbrella360 2018

Held in Sydney, media and marketing conference Mumbrella360 (June 12-14) brought together a range of industry experts from companies including Google and Volkswagen. During conversations on how to use content marketing and artificial intelligence (AI) alike to reach 2018's diversifying consumer psychographics, some pundits suggested that the best way to fix a troubled digital advertising landscape, is to have far less of it.

  • Reconsidering Digital Advertising: PwC Australia gave a presentation about its report Outlook for Australian Entertainment & Media 2018-2022. The firm's entertainment and media industry leader Megan Brownlow said: "If you think about the problems that we've been having over the last couple of years, they are all about trust. Internet advertising having low viewability, brand safety issues, fraud issues – that's really blackened the entire industry."

    Brownlow is the latest expert in the global advertising industry to call for a simple solution: only selling high-quality inventory to the best engagement campaigns (see our coverage from Advertising Week Europe 2018, SXSW 2018, Incite Media Summit 2017 and Social Media Week London 2017).

    "If you reduce the number of ads, you make loading easier, and you make the costs lower for consumers both in time and data," explained Jeremy Thorpe, PwC Australia's chief economist. "This means they are less likely to install ad blockers, which is ultimately the death spiral the industry wants to avoid."

    Regardless of how digital advertising might have to change to save its reputation, PwC predicts a sharp growth in the sector overall, from a 50.6% share of the advertising market in 2017, to 63% in 2022.
  • The Emotive Power of the Ordinary: Magnus Jakobsson, executive creative director at Åkestam Holst, held an opening keynote centred on the international agency's work for Ikea. To solidify the Swedish furniture giant's market position, Jakobsson said his agency concentrates on highlighting the impact of Ikea – whose products are so omnipresent as to be unremarkable – without glorifying it. "Our creative strategy was to take these unlikeables and make people like them, not by glamorising it or exaggerating it or being priceworthy or functional, but by attaching real emotional value to the product."

    Under the two-year-old Where Life Happens campaign, Åkestam Holst makes Ikea products an unobtrusive focal point of emotional moments in consumers' lives. For instance, a January 2018 print ad for one of the company's cribs doubled up as a pregnancy test.
  • Put Yourself First: Blending into the lives of consumers isn't about twisting your brand into unrecognisable shapes. Adam Ferrier, co-founder of Australian communications agency Thinkerbell, put brand ambitions for frictionless engagement into perspective against their need to be remembered. "Consumers don't need any of your brands. What they want is your category," he said. "The role of a brand is to be in your face at the time you need that product or service."

    To avoid turning into what he calls a 'Teflon brand' that is so frictionless that it doesn't stick in consumers' minds, Ferrier says brands have to avoid responding only to category-generic needs, and instead amplify their unique position in moments of engagement that create lasting impressions. Warning that there's a small amount of difference between a company's brand and its competitors, he added: "It's really important to understand that difference and magnify that, not regress towards the mean."

    As highlighted in our review of the 2018 D&AD Awards, having a strong position that goes beyond product functionality is especially important in a culture where brand hijacking is coming to the fore, and brands are building their own platforms outside of classic media channels. Successful marketers must create distinct brand experiences across media and experiential categories. 

For further thoughts on how to shore up your brand voice, check out SXSW 2018: Take Back Control of Your Brand and The Marketing Power of Events.

Published: 15 Jun 2018

Why Every Business Needs AI: Key Insights From CogX

Robot from Sheffield Robotics at CogX

"Artificial intelligence [AI] is a business opportunity, not a technology matter," said Akshaya Bhargava, executive chairman of investment insights firm Bridgeweave, at the CogX Festival in London (June 11-12). Speakers throughout the event were keen to prove him right, and highlight the need for every brand to be working with AI to supercharge their processes.

How AI Can Turn Your Brand into a Media Platform

"Increasingly, you can't separate out AI and digital," commented Alex Willis, head of communications at the All England Lawn Tennis Association. "AI is becoming a layer that underpins all of [our work], not just a single activation." Willis described the way the Wimbledon tennis championships have embraced AI to transform the brand into "a data-driven media organisation" more than simply a sports event. "We're being judged on technology being launched last week, not last year – how do we adapt to that? We need to think about audience, experience and content," Willis added.

The Wimbledon audience is being served this year by hyper-personalised tools and services, including two chatbots, on-site augmented reality experiences, and SlamTracker, a scoring and insights app that's tailored to the type of fan engaging with it. "You now think of innovation when you think of Wimbledon," said Willis.

This is the kind of transformation – from brand to media platform – that we're tracking in every industry, from fashion (see the Kate Spade example in SXSW 2018: Take Back Control of Your Brand) to automotive (see the BMW example in State of Media: The Fan-First Revolution).

IBM's Fred chatbot for Wimbledon

AI Won’t Take Your Job, It’ll Improve Your Job

According to Dr Karen Croxson, head of research at the UK's Financial Conduct Authority, "the Silicon Valley view is thinking about [AI] as an engineering problem: how do I get an AI to do what you do? They've set themselves a very high bar. Better to think about how can AI improve what I do."

AI as a job enhancer was exemplified by the work AI solutions firm Satalia has been engaged in with British furniture brand DFS. Satalia helped DFS optimise delivery routes to ensure greater efficiency, replacing a cumbersome non-automated system with one underpinned by machine-learning algorithms that could adapt in under 500 milliseconds to offer the most optimal time windows to customers in real time. "Adaptive is key," commented Satalia's chief executive Daniel Hulme. "If your system is not adapting itself then it's not AI."

Allaying fears that AI could replace roles like delivery drivers, DFS's head of technology Russell Harte explained that using Satalia's technology has improved employee engagement ("drivers consistently get [home] on time now", whereas before they might have no idea when their shift would finish), as well as customer satisfaction.

Satalia's AI-driven solution for DFS

Can AI Save Advertising?

One of the most intriguing presentations at CogX came from Ben Livshits, chief scientist at web browser firm Brave Software. Brave is a blockchain-driven browser that seeks to offer users high levels of privacy and a faster experience by blocking ads by default.

So where does that leave advertisers in this Brave new world? "Digital advertising is broken," said Livshits. "There are too many middlemen, there's too much fraud – an estimated $16bn in fraud in 2017, rising to $50bn by 2025." Brave's solution is to offer "blockchain-based digital advertising" to brands. Brave users are rewarded for their attention with a Brave cryptocurrency called a BAT (Basic Attention Token). "User attention is privately monitored on-device in the Brave browser," said Livshits. "Advertisers achieve higher ROI, better targeting and reduced fraud, and publishers receive BAT based on user attention."

It seems like a neat solution, although Brave has a long way to go to challenge Chrome's dominance as the leading web browser – Brave currently boasts only 2.2 million monthly active users.

See Cryptocurrency's Journey into Mainstream Culture for more on the potential of blockchain technology.

Brave browser
Published: 14 Jun 2018

Domino’s Fixes Potholes in Pizza Protection Scheme

Fast-food chain Domino's is 'being a bit extra' with a roadworks initiative that ensures a safe final mile for its takeout pizzas – drawing branded attention to US infrastructure issues in the process.

On the Paving for Pizza campaign website, customers can witness what adverse road conditions can do to a pizza bouncing around in its box. To avoid such wasteful damage, they can then go on to nominate their own area for a visit from the Domino's road maintenance team, who will fill in potholes to create smoother rides for local deliveries.

"We can't stand by and let your cheese slide to one side, your toppings get untopped, or your boxes get flipped," said Domino's press release. "So we're helping to pave in towns across the country to save your good pizza from these bad roads."

Prior to the official campaign launch on June 11 2018, the initiative had already fixed more than 50 potholes. In Burbank (California), Milford (Delaware), Bartonville (Texas) and Athens (Georgia), where the brand worked with local administrations to fill holes in the roads caused by holes in public infrastructure budgets. Collaboration with local communities is key to ensuring the brand's assistance is welcomed and well-executed.

In our review of the 2018 D&AD Awards, we highlighted how brands can cut through the content clutter on media channels by surfacing their own platforms around community issues and spaces. Paving for Pizza is a great case study for turning a consumer problem into a point of brand engagement.

For more on proactive cause marketing, see Creating Shared Value: Sustainability Marketing and Tackling Taboos.

Published: 5 Jun 2018

Customised Storytelling Through Eye Tracking

Angry River is a short online film that uses real-time eye tracking information to edit itself into a storyline that reflects the viewer's interest.

The project by American filmmaker Armen Perian runs along five different narrative arcs. To determine which storyline to follow, New York-based content studio Crossbeat developed eye tracking technology that uses viewers' webcams to see where their interest lingers on the film. A custom algorithm uses that information to arrange the five story perspectives into one seamless viewing experience that reflects the focus of individual viewers.

The result is a narrative with near-invisible interactivity. "Watching something is still making decisions, and what the viewer decides to pay attention to ultimately drives the action. It changes the movie they see," said Perian.

Angry River's almost subconscious interaction format makes a compelling case for using branching narratives as a content customisation tool. The ability to adapt a story to individual viewers' real-time behaviour unlocks huge potential for intimate engagement moments.

For more on interactive formats and personalised content, check out State of Media: The Fan-First Revolution. To catch up on the use of contextual data in delivering messaging, see Third Spaces. To read more about branching narratives in gaming and TV, see our Pop Culture Round-Up: October 2017.

Published: 22 May 2018

Samsung’s Predictive Text Improves Depression Support

Samsung has partnered with global creative agency BBDO to develop a predictive texting tool that helps users communicate with people suffering from depression.

Words that may seem harmless or encouraging to most can trigger a spiral of self-doubt and hatred in a person with depression. Texting is especially fraught, as it lacks the reassuring social cues of face-to-face communication – such as tone of voice, facial expressions or body language.

Predict to Prevent spots potentially harmful messages and suggests more unambiguously supportive phrases with the same sentiment from a database of more than 100,000 in English and Thai. For instance, 'You will be fine' becomes 'We'll make it through together'.

By recognising this problem, Samsung's project fixes an issue many consumers don't even know exists, neutralises harmful miscommunication before it happens, and helps increase awareness of mental disorders.

An estimated 322 million people worldwide are battling depression (WHO, 2017). With small everyday interventions like these, brands can demonstrate that they take their consumers' experiences into consideration, and supply invaluable tools to shield them from unintentional harm.

For more on how to respectfully address and support mental health issues, see Nurturing Mental Health, Compassion Culture: Embracing Empathy, and our April 2017 Pop Culture Round-Up focus on mental health.

Published: 16 May 2018

Burger King Turns Instagram Stories into Food Orders

Burger King Spain gave consumers the opportunity to build their perfect burger order by using the interactivity tools in Instagram Stories – a feature that lets Instagram users post a series of videos and photos that vanish after 24hrs.

The brand stacked nine Stories – one each per classic ingredient – into its Instagram feed. As fans swiped through them, they could use polling widgets on each 15-second clip to choose their favourite toppings. Once they'd completed the clips, each user received an automatically generated coupon through Instagram's direct messaging system that they could exchange for their personalised burger in store.

Created by Madrid-based ad agency Lola MullenLowe, the 24-hour activation – dubbed Stories Ordering – generated almost 35,000 coupons in under three hours. Burger King also took the data from all of the interactions to surface the most popular burger, with the resulting InstaWhopper then made available across Spain for a limited time.

Instagram claims 80% of its users follow at least one brand account (Instagram, 2017), and the Facebook-owned platform's ad revenue is expected to hit $6.8bn by the end of 2018 (Statista, 2018). As Facebook cranks up the monetisation of its apps, interactive ad formats that reward users' attention in exchange for disrupting their experience of organic content will be vital for brands to sustain consumer goodwill.

For more on unlocking new platforms and formats for conversion, see Take Back Control of Your Brand, Beyond Prime Time and Retail's Fluid Future.

Published: 9 May 2018

Adobe Summit EMEA: Key Innovations

Adobe Summit EMEA 2018

The most important skills for marketers in 2020 will be a combination of art and science, according to Garrett Ilg, Adobe's president EMEA. Speaking at this year's Adobe Summit EMEA in London (May 3-4), he said: "You can have a lot of one, but if you don't have the other, you're not going to be successful."

Illustrating what this means in the real world of day-to-day marketing, the software giant offered a sneak preview of its new Video Ad AI feature. Adobe's Sensei artificial intelligence engine will be able to judge the effectiveness of video ads uploaded to the platform before launch, and suggest ways to improve performance. The tool can also automatically create edits for social media – producing Instagram-ready animated thumbnails in just seconds, for instance.

An even more impressive example of mixing art and science was revealed in the preview of Adobe's Project New View tool. This is Adobe's solution to the difficulties marketers encounter when trying to navigate through reams of customer and business data. Using virtual reality (VR) technology, Project New View enables you to literally navigate through your data in three dimensions, and interact via voice with Sensei to extract deeper insight.

"This is going to have a profound impact on every industry," Adobe senior computer scientist Dylan DePass said in an interview with US business publication Forbes. "It will change the way we act and interact with the digital world."

For more on the impact of AI and VR on marketing, see State of Media: The Fan-First Revolution, Next-Gen Urban Branding, Lessons from Sports Marketing and Youth Marketing Strategy 2018.

Published: 3 May 2018

Diageo’s Virtual Reality Cautionary Tale

International drinks and spirits giant Diageo has released Decisions: Party's Over, an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience that lets users step into first-person perspectives of the dangers of binge drinking.

The launch follows Diageo's October 2016 release Decisions – a simple 360-degree video that placed viewers in the front seat of a fatal drink-driving crash. The campaign accumulated almost 14 million views at the time, with 75% of viewers saying that in future they would avoid drink driving by planning ahead. Now, Diageo is building on that success with interactive features to increase the impact of its message.

Created by American immersive cinema production company Jaunt, Decisions: Party's Over is a VR experience depicting a party that ends in a case of lethal alcohol poisoning. During the experience, viewers can toggle between the point of view of four different characters, including the victim, to gain a broad perspective of the night's events and experience numerous missed opportunities for intervention.

"While drunk driving and underage drinking are at historic lows, binge drinking rates have remained stable," James Thompson, chief marketing and innovation officer at Diageo North America, told The Drum. "Our hope is to reach our audience on an emotional level and prevent future detrimental impaired decisions associated with binge drinking."

Immersive storytelling experiences like the Decisions series are a great way for brands to achieve emotional impact and boost social responsibility messaging.

For more on the latest boundary-pushing VR projects, check out our coverage from Tribeca Immersive 2018.

Published: 27 Apr 2018

Adidas Creates 27,000 Personalised Marathon Videos

To celebrate its 30-year partnership with the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), Adidas took its 'Here to Create Legends' campaign to the Boston Marathon. Using runners' performance data, the sportswear giant turned the event into a content creation engine to surface personal experiences.

Adidas worked with US digital agency Grow, which placed seven cameras and a nimble crew of 20 around the track to capture consistent footage of the entire event. Grow then used the RFID chips in runners' bibs to pinpoint footage that corresponded with their checkpoint times, and generated nearly 27,000 videos.

Each clip includes an individual's name, multiple checkpoints and finish times, as well as a personal clip of them during the race. After the marathon, runners received an email with an access link to a shareable video documenting their achievement. In the two days following the event, 95% of the clips were viewed to completion.

Facebook's algorithm change, which now favours content shared by family and friends, makes hyper-personalised content like this social gold. Documenting and highlighting personal experiences within mass events encourages consumers to share branded content as part of their online identity, and is a great way for brands to stay on social feeds.

For more on how to create tools and content units that let consumers curate their social brand, see State of Media, New-Wave Branded Content and 7 Platforms to Watch in 2018.

Published: 26 Apr 2018

Sysomos Summit: Social Media Trends

MailChimp customer service gif

Social media analytics firm Sysomos hosted a one-day conference in London on April 24, which explored how brands can turn social media data into actionable insights.

Elizabeth Motta, senior director of data analytics at World Wrestling Entertainment, emphasised how crucial social listening had been in evolving WWE. For the sports giant, responding to the online conversation has meant adapting a huge line-up of live TV content in almost real-time.

The positive feedback for WWE's women's matches has completely transformed female wrestling. In little more than two years, it has grown from a poorly-served sub-brand that fuelled the #GiveDivasAChance Twitter protest, to its own division given equal billing with the men's matches.

US marketing automation firm MailChimp stressed the need to engage on social media in a way that not only conveys your brand but turns it into an experience. MailChimp's strategy is to humanise its online voice and try to speak in the same language as its customers through custom-made gifs. The firm has created an entire library of customer response gifs on gif platform Giphy, filmed by and starring MailChimp staff.

"They share expertise with customers every day but now can share a bit of their personality, too, making people feel there are actual human beings involved," said Brooke Hatfield, social media associate at MailChimp.

It's a great example of an axiom articulated by Mylene Vellay, digital account manager at European customer experience firm CCA International. "We can't separate the marketing and the consumer care any more when we interact with customers on social media – consumers interact with the brand as a person."

As Rich Evans, senior digital strategist at UK health marketing specialist Ogilvy Healthworld, noted, this can be complicated by the fact that "social media is evolving our language at a rapid pace". His advice is to ensure your social voice is "authoritative, empathetic and relatable".

For more on social media language, see our upcoming report No Offence: Speak the Language of Now.