The mercilessly rapid pace of consumer technology constantly forces marketers into new and uncharted waters for brand communication. The sophistication of messaging, driven by modern technology and data, is accelerating at a tremendous pace. Now more than ever, having plan to adapt and evolve is crucial for any modern brand.
Stuff I’ve Written
Some deem my writing fit to print. A collection of my POVs and musings.
Are brands releasing content too soon? Azher Ahmed, SVP/Director of Digital Operations, DDB Chicago, discusses
Digital and social media have sliced up the consumer landscape in ways marketers and brands are struggling to grasp. Technology has paved the way for time-shifted, place-shifted, on-demand content that caters to our every whim. Consumers demand the control to create their own bubbles of personalized myopia.
Feeling this pressure, brands strive to be ‘always on’. Some have even gone so far as reframing their marketing efforts similar to more traditional content publishers and magazines. The anxiety to create new, interesting and timely conversations is matched only by sheer explosion of opportunities to do so. And so brands feel compelled to capitalize.
But despite this complex and vast digital landscape, the television endures. The allure of live television, particularly, connects us in a beautifully simple and effective way.
And why wouldn’t it?
Plop yourself on the couch, push a button and disappear into the experience – sometimes so deeply you forget to check your phone (and probably pay the consequences). Newer phenomenon such as co-viewing and ‘second screen’ experiences merely enhance the main course: we’re all staring excitedly at the same moving pictures and words. And even if it’s for one day a year, America looks forward to the television commercials on Super Bowl Sunday.
Therein lies the conundrum for modern marketers and brands: the collision of content and context.
The $4.5 million question is: How do you balance the special, communal viewing aspects of a live event with the desire to capitalize on the slew of opportunities before, during and after the game?
In their desire to chase the smorgasbord of opportunities and broaden exposure, many brands spread themselves incredibly thin. It’s like the philosophy of the short passing game. Get the ball out quickly and chip away to get the job done.
But it’s hard to get excited about most of them.
Brands are increasingly sacrificing the preciousness of ‘the reveal’ during the game by releasing their spots ahead of time. When aired, those that lagged behind were simply caught up to where everyone was days or weeks prior. With several million YouTube views being racked up before the game, it’s hard to argue against the effectiveness of that approach (assuming that views are one of your key metrics of success, of course, but that’s a whole new discussion).
What happened to the deep ball? It feels a bit deflated (no pun intended, Pats fans).
It’s encouraging to see that some are going the ‘teaser’ route or leveraging the element of surprise altogether. And it will be interesting to see if ‘holding back’ will result in greater bursts of exposure and help these brands cut through the clutter.
Assuming the spot is interesting, many will likely want to be the first to share it within their respective social following. With the right social and paid media support, brands could greatly amplify this phenomenon.
It’s a risk, no doubt. But with great risk comes great reward.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll see a few Hail Mary’s thrown into the mix.
Super Bowl season drove brands to preview their ads in multiplatform plays. Did the element of surprise help the ones that held their fire?
This year’s Super Bowl was a roller coaster of emotions and an epic battle for the ages. Rumor has it there was a pretty good football game sandwiched between the commercials. It’s rare to share an experience with over 100 million people, and with these masses come advertisers desperate for attention, relevance, and hopefully a little love and remembrance.
Brands are increasingly trying to capitalize on their investment by releasing their commercials ahead of the big game, but the effectiveness of this is still a question. Racking up views ahead of the Super Bowl can be perceived as success from an awareness perspective; however, it’s interesting to watch who holds back and uses the big stage as an opportunity to treat consumers, as viewers, to something new and unseen.
Let’s take a look back at the spots the world saw for the first time.
Skittles debuted its first-ever Super Bowl ad and went the teaser route, in terms of building early buzz. Reception was generally positive, and USA Today picked it as the most underrated spot. (Disclaimer: My agency, DDB Chicago, did the spot, so I’m a little biased.)
Carnival Cruise Lines showcased a very memorable JFK narrative that hooks viewers from the beginning. For a category and brand in muddy waters, it was the perfect way to take the high road and evoke the emotion that can inspire someone to consider them again. Despite this, it didn’t generate much buzz online, and the views aren’t anywhere near the top of the list.
Game of War was next with yet another Kate Upton spot that continued a lot of the same. The formulaic use of celebrity wasn’t particularly interesting — it could’ve run any previous spot and nobody would’ve noticed.
TurboTax gave it a big swing with their “No Taxes” commercial, but the message was awkwardly delivered and was fairly hit-or-miss in terms of humor. This resulted in a nearly silent reaction online.
Toyota’s My Bold Dad was one of many “dadvertising” spots targeting the male-dominated Super Bowl demographic. However, the spot felt indistinct, especially when contrasted with Nissan’s “With Dad,” which was a much more earnest and heartfelt.
The No More domestic violence spot was very powerful, and while the :60 was released ahead of the game (and gathered over 5 million views), the :30 was just as effective in getting its message across. Unfortunately, the shorter version has received much fewer views online thus far.
Things got weird with Jeff Bridges and Squarespace. The approach was interesting given that it’s an online brand and one of the few ads with a strong web call-to-action. Online views of the video aren’t tremendous, but driving you to Squarespace’s site is the point, and the obscurity was brilliant.
Microsoft’s “Empowering” spots went very aspirational and risked being somewhat abstract in support of a rare brand-building effort by the tech company. “Estella’s Brilliant Bus” already has over a million views and ignited plenty of conversation as well.
Discover’s “Surprise” spot was good for a laugh and would’ve been most interesting had Dorito’s not already done the whole “screaming goat” thing. Sprint also brought a goat to the party as it continued to jab at bigger rivals.
Fiat’s “Blue Pill” took a “guy humor” approach that disenfranchised the growing female audience but received some good traffic and buzz regardless.
GoDaddy is no stranger to controversy ,and after pulling their puppy spot they made a valiant effort with their “Working” spot. Unfortunately, the homage to small business owners had very little connection to what GoDaddy actually does (since websites aren’t built with a pen and paper) so it’s questionable as to whether or not it was worth the money.
Esurance swung big and hit a home run with “Say My Name.” Tapping into a cultural phenomenon (and bringing Walter White back from the dead) was teased, and this spot was delivered beautifully. On the other end of the spectrum, rival insurer Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” is the perfect example of communal viewing taking a darker turn. The spot was powerful, but the Super Bowl was totally the wrong context. People want to have fun and relax, and one YouTube commenter noted that it’s a “gut punch to anyone who has suffered a recent or past loss.”
Despite the self-promotion, the NFL’s “Together We Make Football” was produced very well and a great defensive play as the league continues to deal with player, ethics and overall integrity issues.
Budweiser went right after the craft brews in” Brewed the Hard Way,” and from the early buzz it appears to have backfired. It’ll be interesting to see how this battle plays out and ultimately affects the landscape.
Jeep’s “Beautiful Lands” was great for about 99% of it. Then came the confusing tagline and I didn’t know if “Play Responsibly” was tying to gambling, drinking or both (and neither of which you should probably be doing while driving).
T-Mobile entertained with Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman going toe-to-toe, and reaction seems to be fairly positive.
Speaking of toes, Jublia’s “Tackle It” ad was probably the worst of the bunch. It blew the opportunity with misfires on both content (it looked like it was animated by a crowdsourced freelancer) and context (people eating and watching sports probably don’t want to hear about toenail fungus).
Clash of Clans surprised many viewers by moving away from its animated spots and giving us a splash of Liam Neeson. Nearly 2.5 million views shortly after the game makes it a runaway hit at this point.
Loctite substituted for GoDaddy in the “bizarre for the sake of being bizarre” camp and appears to be generating buzz.
The next few days will tell whether live or prerelease end up being a better strategy. I suspect the choice and effectiveness will vary by brand — as many things often do — but it’ll be interesting to see how the aftermath shapes what we see next year.
Never in history has such richness of information been so readily available to so many. We’re only beginning to realize both sides of this technology-empowered coin. It’s one that can simultaneously enrich and complicate our everyday lives.
The simplicity of a web search allows knowledge-sharing or plagiarism. Tweets can share real-time stories in a war zone or take school bullying to a whole new level. The cloud itself holds the promise of preserving our digital memories, while enabling unprecedented levels of piracy, hacking and identity theft.
Information can become a weapon, and those who know how to wield it are running far ahead of those struggling to keep pace. Individuals and businesses alike are treading water in this flood of data and ever-expanding technologies. Government regulators struggle to reconcile our laws with behaviors unimaginable only a few years back.
While “best practices” become quickly antiquated, a few guidelines can help you harness both positive and negative elements of this cultural shift.
Find your voice. This is especially important in the world of participatory dialogue in social. You’re a business and as much as you may want to be “friends” with your customers, businesses and corporations will always be perceived differently. Don’t pretend you have it all figured out. Your audience will appreciate a flawed, honest narrative over pretense. And remember: exaggeration and misinformation are only a search query away from being disproven, so just don’t do it.
Expect (and plan for) the worst. If you’re doing it right, you’ll get a lot of eyeballs and generate conversation. Not all of it will go the way you intended. Hashtags will be hijacked, promo codes will be sprayed everywhere and user-generated content will fall victim to Internet trolls. This is the new normal. Roll with the punches and have a sense of humor about it. Make sure you have a clear protocol on responsiveness and funneling feedback within your organization.
Think like a hacker. Internet culture loves to remix and customize. Think of ways to open up your creative and communications to allow participation and feedback beyond standard commenting. Think: meme generators, user-generated video edits/subtitles, canv.as, or a reddit thread.
Don’t fear the pirates. Counterfeiting and piracy are nothing new, but successful businesses recognize that people who find value in your offering will contribute to keep you in business. Embrace change rather than litigating against it. Artists such as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and (more recently) Louis C.K., for example, have proven that great content can generate revenue via newer, direct-distribution models.
Try something new. When trying to build a culture of innovation, it’s essential to remain firmly rooted in your core organizational culture and attributes. You started for a reason and provide things of value. This value transcends what you’ve traditionally done, so if you’re a product-based company then don’t limit yourself to product-only innovation and the same applies to service providers. Also, consider funding innovations via newer ways such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The gaming industry, in particular, is seeing a revival via of classic via Kickstarter (Road Redemption, Carmageddon, Broken Sword).
As tech innovations continue to splinter into an array of devices and platforms, we can rest assured that we can’t rest assured. And as these virtual stages are built and torn down, businesses will continue evolve, according to how and where they invest along the way. Sooner than later, your business will need to decide whether to be pioneers or settlers. Use that as a filter for the decisions you make, then create and let the chips fall where they may.
Have some ideas for guardrails or edits to the ones above? Please send them my way and they may end up in future articles expanding on these rules and ways to facilitate organizational shifts.