Unilever skincare brand Dove is stepping up its commitment to body-positive narratives with Real Beauty Productions – a partnership with American TV producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder).
Inspired by a study that shows 69% of women don't feel represented on-screen, Dove turned to Rhimes' considerable professional expertise in portraying women to refresh its 13-year-old Real Beauty body-positivity brand mission. For the duration of the partnership, Real Beauty Productions will focus on turning real customers' stories (sourced from Dove and Rhimes' social media accounts) into compelling videos. The first project is Meet Cathleen – a short film about Cathleen Meredith, founder of body-positive initiative Fat Girls Dance.
As brands compete for digital consumers' atomised attention, they are increasingly joining forces with highly regarded entertainment talent to upgrade their brand narratives. Spanish beer brand Estrella Damm has just released two short films starring Hollywood actors. French cult actor Jean Reno charms international markets in The Little Things, while American actor Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones features in La Vida Nuestra, a Spanish-language short about a young man who leaves Spain to seek employment in Amsterdam.
With research predicting the obsolescence of interruptive advertising, high-quality branded content is likely to emerge as a powerful engagement tool. For more on how brands are preparing for the future of digital engagement, check out Dimensions of Trust: One Question London and our coverage of D&AD Festival 2017.
Launched to coincide with Mother's Day in May, ad firm Mother New York's The Pregnancy Pause campaign aims to redefine maternity leave. The project highlights the stigma attached to "gaps" in resumes caused by many new mothers leaving their jobs because of inadequate maternity-leave policies.
"We wanted to give working mothers in the US a simple tool, and make it easier for them to own maternity leave as the full-time job it truly is," said Mother New York's chief creative officer Corinna Falusi. To that end, mothers can now update their LinkedIn profiles to say they work for The Pregnancy Pause during maternity leave, and even use the virtual company as a reference on their resumes – a real phone number is provided for prospective employers to call.
The issue of maternity and paternity leave is becoming more pronounced as millennials enter the workforce and expect flexibility – willing to take, on average, a $7,600 pay cut for improved work-life balance (Fidelity, 2016).
Brands are increasingly tapping into this trend. Alaska Air has just enabled elite members of its frequent flyers Mileage Plan to extend their membership to cover parental leave. "This is just one less thing for new parents to worry about," said Natalie Bowman, managing director of brand marketing. Meanwhile, British beer brand BrewDog has introduced Puppy Parental Leave – offering all employees with new dogs a week off to look after them.
See Brands Take a Stand for more on changing bad narratives.
Australia's Millennials Marketing Conference, held in Melbourne on May 25, brought together some of the biggest players in the Australia and New Zealand media sphere to discuss millennial attitudes and the future of marketing.
Build Trust Through Humour
"Millennials want the truth – in fact, they demand it. The winning brands are those who can put truth at the centre of what they do," said Jessica Hackett, group marketing manager for The Urban List, an Australia-New Zealand media brand that sees 2.4 million unique visits each month.
According to research from The Urban List, humour came out on top as a tool for gaining trust, with digital media recognised as more trustworthy than print. In fact, 50% of millennial respondents claimed to be cynical of brands that take themselves too seriously, with a further 50% saying they are more trusting of brands that have a sense of humour.
Mark Henning, head of media (Australia) at market research and insights group Kantar Millward Brown, acknowledged that humour is a fantastic method for communicating across generations. He referenced The Boys ad campaign from Australian clothing brand Bonds as a game-changer in the Australian market. The campaign invited viewers to "take a sneak peek at life inside your undies".
"Ad-avoidance strategies are increasing – 32% of millennials living in Australia claim to have installed an ad blocker – so you need to keep it fun, and make sure that what you are doing fits well with the platform to make it effective in that environment," Henning commented.
Motion is the New Filter
Mobile video content was a hot topic. Paul Nahoun, travel industry lead for Facebook (Australia and New Zealand), highlighted that brands need to understand how audiences interact with their smartphones and then build video content around this – with a focus on pre-loaded content and new formats.
"Motion is the new filter when it comes to social media imagery," said Nahoun. "It doesn't have to be a big video production – motion applied to beautiful still imagery can be incredibly useful – however brands need to own the real estate that mobile provides and move towards square and vertical moving imagery."
Nahoun referenced AWOL, a travel media platform created by Australian media company Junkee and airline Qantas, as a benchmark for Instagram video content. AWOL's 15-second vertical video stories resulted in a three-point increase in brand awareness during a month-long campaign.
Stig Richards of Junkee said post-millennial generations are not digital natives, but mobile natives, who communicate with images and video instead of text. Punkee, which launched in May 2017, is Junkee's first mobile-only major media brand. It targets Gen Z audiences with vertical video as the primary focus. Content pillars are internet culture, TV, music, parties, viral videos, gaming, memes and movies. Regardless of pillar, Richards commented: "The big-ticket item is now short, sharp video."
Mass Mattering, Not Mass Marketing
Dion Appel, managing director of DDB Australia and founder of creative marketing agency Lifelounge, emphasised the millennial hunger for genuine emotional connection. "We need to be moving people, not telling them," he commented. "It's about mass mattering, not mass marketing."
Appel's key areas for marketers to learn from included "recipronomics" (creating cultural impact), authentic disruption that is based on transparency, 'real' experiences, and 'show, don't tell' marketing approaches. Tiger Beer's Air Ink graffiti ink and paint (made from soot harvested from air pollution in Hong Kong) and the Light Phone (a credit card-sized mobile phone only used for calls) were mentioned as significant projects that place genuine connection at their forefront.
For more on marketing to millennials, see Marketing to LGBTQ Consumers, State of Mobile: Global Youth Focus, and Youth Marketing Strategy 2017. For more on tackling issues of trust, see Rebuilding Consumer Trust: Advertising Week Europe 2017.
Augmented reality (AR) advertising is a growing trend, as consumers become more familiar with the technology via Snapchat filters and Pokemon Go. We highlight the latest AR media, marketing and advertising innovations.
US deodorant brand Axe continues its mission to reframe masculinity for a more diverse world (see The Art of Rebranding) with its new Is It OK for Guys To? campaign.
The video shows scenarios based on typical male online searches, highlighting the fears some men have about sharing their anxieties openly. Questions include "Is it OK to not like sport?" and "Is it OK to be a virgin?"
The campaign was motivated by a statistic from gender justice organisation Promundo, which revealed 57% of men have been told how a 'real man' should behave. "We want guys to see there's no holds barred on what men can or cannot be," commented Rik Strubel, global vice-president of Axe. "We need to help more men by tackling toxic masculinity head on." In the era of Trump and the alt-right, toxic masculinity has become a key cultural issue.
In a further move, Axe's UK brand Lynx teamed up with Calm (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) to launch the Calm Photography Movement. Photographers were encouraged to upload images that, according to Simon Gunning, Calm's CEO, "tell stories about our experiences of masculinity, what it means to be a man, and how we can tackle that old stereotype of needing a stiff upper lip".
The winning pictures were displayed this week – Mental Health Week – at London's Getty Images Gallery. They were also curated into a catalogue available for purchase in support of Calm's work towards preventing male suicide.
Crowdsourced navigation and traffic app Waze is promoting Disney's upcoming Pixar Studios film Cars 3 by making the film's characters part of the driving experience.
In the first promotion of this kind on Waze, drivers can change the app's visuals and voice interface to embody characters from the film – which happen to be anthropomorphic cars – as they travel from A to B.
Users can choose to be accompanied on their journey by the film franchise's lead character, Lightning McQueen, or use their transit time to get acquainted with new character Jackson Storm. As the mid-June release of the third instalment in the series approaches, Waze will also include branded pins and driving directions to cinemas.
At South by Southwest festival this year, Disney Consumer Products' senior vice-president and chief technology officer Mike White discussed the significance of translating Disney's characters across digital platforms. It's central to "making the brand work in those ubiquitous moments – three minutes on the subway when consumers just quickly want to dial up to that thing they love," he explained. This perspective is a key teaching for brands and marketers. In a fully distributed personal media landscape (and with UK research firm Forrester predicting the death of interruptive advertising), they need to create strong core narratives that can stretch across platforms in fragments.
For more on distributed messaging and how to tackle in-between moments of engagement, see Third Spaces: Targeting the Transitory (part of our Invisible Marketing Industry Trend) and SXSW 2017: Reimagining Advertising.
According to a new report from UK research firm Forrester, "society doesn't need advertising like it used to". The report predicts that $2.9bn will be taken from display advertising next year as marketers invest in new models of engagement – from artificial intelligence, to content marketing, to intelligent assistants such as Amazon's Alexa.
Forrester backs up this pronouncement with some sobering stats: 38% of US adults have ad-blocking software installed, while 47% avoid mobile in-app ads. At this year's South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, we heard some even more significant metrics from Josh Topolsky, editor of recently launched online news platform The Outline. He stated 56% of all online ads are either not visible on screen, or not visible long enough for humans to actually register them.
The Outline's fresh approach to online advertising – bespoke ad content personalised for the platform's small, but highly engaged audience – is paying off. In an Outline blog last month, Topolsky wrote: "Not only is our interaction rate 13x industry average, our click through is 25x what a normal ad does."
Clearly, then, there is still worth in reimagining online ad formats, as Topolsky has done. But consumers are increasingly shifting behaviours to platforms and environments where interruptive ads are redundant. As the Forrester report suggests: "Once they can get what they want without leaving themselves open to interruptions – whether through voice interfaces or AI-driven background services – they will feel even more hostile to ad interruptions than they claim to today."
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.