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You guys do re­alise that we don’t like ads, right? Yeah, yeah, some of them might get into the cul­ture—or maybe even our hearts— and some of them might get shared around on Face­book by peo­ple pre­tend­ing their lives are bet­ter than they re­ally are, but that’s a rar­ity. Ads are an­noy­ing; a fly in our oint­ment; the chaff among our wheat; the dead mouse in our Big Mac. And while you all like to give tro­phies to each other to hon­our your re­mark­able tal­ents, as soon as we get the op­por­tu­nity to avoid those ads, we gen­er­ally do.

That won’t stop you, of course. The ads will keep flow­ing. And we will keep swat­ting them away. But if you are go­ing to make them, here are some tips.

Don’t get den­tists to share their pro­fes­sional-but-paid-for ad­vice with us. We’ve heard th­ese mono­tone voices be­fore when they were spruik­ing tobacco, and we know that any­one in a white lab coat is not to be trusted.

Dis­card the stony faces read­ing som­bre po­ems about their love for their sport/ team/sea­son. Sport is meant to be about fun and yelling and throw­ing plas­tic cups into the air. Leave the po­etry to the hip­sters on the spo­ken word scene.

And, last but cer­tainly not least, what’s with all the slow-mo­tion scenes of hands run­ning through grass/wheat? Rus­sell Crowe al­ready did enough of that back in 2000 dur­ing Glad­i­a­tor. And it’s just dis­ap­point­ing when there’s no regi­cide to look for­ward to.

Now, please ex­cuse me while I use this Briscoes pam­phlet to re­move from the bot­tom of my shoe what seems to be a re­cently de­posited piece of Sen­so­dyne gum, which I’m told re­sults in a 30 per­cent re­duc­tion in tooth sen­si­tiv­ity 65 per­cent of the time.

In the spirit of past heretics, ranters and ag­i­ta­tors, our res­i­dent an­gry out­sider Clax­ton tells you what’s get­ting his goat about this in­dus­try.

Kate Humphries, course leader, Me­dia De­sign School’s Ad­School: “Love the leap that some­one took here in spot­ting the let­ter and turn­ing it into Valen­tine’s love from Land Rover. Also love the craft­ing, from the open­ing copy, through to the art di­rec­tional at­ten­tion to de­tail, and the video it­self.” Chris Schofield, ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative direc­tor at DDB: “Ex­cel­lent fore­sight for Valen­tine’s Day (un­less it was an af­ter thought, Y&R). Good to see Land Rover do­ing big ideas again lo­cally. The best 4x4x­far is still one of my favourite end-lines.” Ben Rose, head of brand at Sovereign: “This is firmly in the ‘wish I’d done it’ list. Epi­cally dif­fi­cult to ex­e­cute, well thought through and pro­duced with a pal­pa­ble sense of what this ve­hi­cle means to its diehard fans. This is a piece of work that has ac­tual peo­ple (not just our in­dus­try) talk­ing and shar­ing and do­ing great things for the Land Rover brand. Back­ing work like this is both an in­vest­ment and im­por­tantly a risk. I reckon it’s paid off.”

Four Kiwi lads who owned a ‘57 Se­ries 1 Land Rover dur­ing their uni­ver­sity days re­luc­tantly listed it on TradeMe, dis­as­sem­bled and dereg­is­tered, af­ter a failed restora­tion at­tempt. Land Rover NZ no­ticed the list­ing (writ­ten in the style of a heart-felt ‘Dear John’ let­ter), covertly bought it, re­stored it, re­turned it to the ex­tremely grate­ful and sur­prised own­ers and filmed the whole thing, clock­ing up over two mil­lion views—and plenty of smiles—in the process.

It’s a hard road be­ing a con­spir­acy the­o­rist. They battle para­noia at home, at work, at lunch and in the su­per­mar­ket—and they spend far too much on tin­foil. But this spot shows how West­pac’s CardGuard man­ages to con­vince Martin, the overzeal­ous main pro­tag­o­nist, that he need not be so con­cerned.

Humphries: “Great in­sight ex­e­cuted through vis­ually grab­bing hy­per­bole. What’s not to like?” Schofield: Ab­stained. Rose: “Killer track, great cast­ing, funny ad. I LOL’d. Out Loud. Ad­dresses com­mon mis­con­cep­tions about con­tact­less cards in a charm­ing and en­ter­tain­ing way. Love the work th­ese guys are do­ing at the mo­ment.” Schofield: “God help any­one try­ing to fol­low up last year’s Mis­takes work. That said, this is pretty good.” Rose: “Vi­su­al­is­ing the ef­fect your speed has on oth­ers isn’t easy. So hats off to the team who man­aged this. How­ever, th­ese ads are all start­ing to play in the same ter­ri­tory of us­ing shock vi­su­als that tug on the heart strings to get driv­ers to change their habits. Who’s go­ing to break the mould and dis­cover a new for­mula?”

Agency: Barnes, Cat­mur & Friends Client com­pany: The Heart Foun­da­tion Brand/prod­uct: Heart Week Aware­ness Cam­paign Me­dia: TV, So­cial Me­dia, OOH, Ra­dio, Dig­i­tal/Email Cam­paign De­scrip­tion: “To help the New Zealand Heart Foun­da­tion raise aware­ness of heart dis­ease and com­pel peo­ple to do­nate, Barnes, Cat­mur & Friends de­cided to re­frame the prob­lem and por­tray New Zealand’s big­gest killer in a com­pletely new light.” Agency: Big Client com­pany: Vero Brand/prod­uct: SumEx­tra Me­dia: Mag­a­zine, DM, OOH, Ra­dio, Dig­i­tal Agency: Black­sand Client com­pany: TVNZ Brand/prod­uct: TV2, How to Get Away With Mur­der Me­dia: Dig­i­tal

Agency: DDB Group New Zealand Client com­pany: Sky Brand/prod­uct: Sky On De­mand Me­dia: TV Cam­paign De­scrip­tion: “Sky takes its au­di­ence on a stunning jour­ney in 60 sec­onds, fol­low­ing an unas­sum­ing young hero as she ex­plores the power of free­dom in her own hands.”

“Ad­ver­tis­ing is very im­por­tant for us in terms of driv­ing traf­fic to our stores, so there­fore our ad­ver­tis­ing ac­tiv­i­ties need to be ef­fec­tive in achiev­ing that. And re­tail­ing is a re­sponse to cul­ture. So, if you cou­ple those two things to­gether, you kind of see that we need to adapt and speak to cus­tomers where they are in an ef­fec­tive way. And, with­out a doubt, more and more peo­ple are mov­ing on­line through their dig­i­tal de­vices. It’s even got to the stage now that peo­ple don’t need Wi-Fi when they go to a store be­cause they’ve got enough data and a great con­nec­tion. That’s just a sig­nal of how much things have changed. As a re­tailer we’ve had to re­spond to that cul­tural change.” “It used to be the case that you wouldn’t visit web­sites on your phone, be­cause it would cost you nine dol­lars for the page to down­load, but now you don’t even worry about it. It’s be­com­ing more avail­able, cheaper and eas­ier to ac­com­plish, so peo­ple are do­ing more of it, and we’ve no­ticed that in terms of our web traf­fic. Every­body is us­ing search and web­sites to find stores to look at prod­ucts just to try and save them­selves time and make their task eas­ier.” “We en­gage with cus­tomers in a home im­prove­ment cy­cle. It starts off with cus­tomers get­ting in­spired to do some­thing. Then, they’re look­ing for some in­for­ma­tion in terms of what they’ll need and how they should go about do­ing it, and that’s where the ‘Easy As’ videos come in. Next, they move onto the stage where they do the shop­ping of the items, ma­te­ri­als and tools they’ll need. And then they get stuck into it, and they might need a lit­tle help again, be­fore fi­nally ly­ing down on lawn that they’ve sown and mowed for the first time. It’s a mat­ter of a brand be­ing there right through that jour­ney, and the on­line videos play an im­por­tant part in giv­ing them that in­for­ma­tion. More and more peo­ple are [re­ly­ing on on­line videos]. You might’ve heard that the in­ter­net will have to dou­ble in size by 2017 just to ac­com­mo­date the growth in YouTube, and you kind of see that that’s where peo­ple are head­ing.” “De­spite ev­ery­thing, tele­vi­sion re­mains the cheap­est place to ac­cu­mu­late an au­di­ence. Tele­vi­sion is all about reach in terms of how it fits into the me­dia mix of an ad­ver­tis­ing plan. But, I would ven­ture to say that re­tail­ers like Briscoes, for ex­am­ple, sur­vive on the fact that tele­vi­sion is very af­ford­able in New Zealand. It just couldn’t af­ford to ex­ist with this kind of for­mat some­where like Cal­i­for­nia, where the cost of tele­vi­sion is very ex­pen­sive. Rel­a­tively cheap tele­vi­sion ac­cess in New Zealand has led to some dif­fer­ences in our mar­ket when com­pared to oth­ers, but that’s just the way things go around geog­ra­phy, pop­u­la­tion and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances.” Th­ese days we have a spe­cial­ist agency, So­cialites, look­ing af­ter so­cial me­dia for us. In terms of public re­la­tions, we’ve taken a very dif­fer­ent ap­proach, be­cause through so­cial me­dia you have the abil­ity to speak di­rectly to cus­tomers; you don’t have to nec­es­sar­ily rely on news­pa­pers to re­lay what you’re say­ing. That said, there is still an im­por­tant role for PR, although the ap­proach is very dif­fer­ent. We’re also fo­cus­ing on up­skilling and keep­ing peo­ple mov­ing, be­cause what­ever you learnt a year ago has moved on now any­how. For ex­am­ple, the rules on Face­book in terms of or­ganic reach or on Google an­a­lyt­ics change, and we have to keep up with th­ese things.” “We have four screens up in our of­fice here, which show: so­cial me­dia and what’s be­ing said right now in real time; how many peo­ple have en­tered our ‘win a Toy­ota’ com­pe­ti­tion; what they’re search­ing for on­line; and which videos they’re watch­ing. This way we can keep track of which prod­ucts are go­ing to be in de­mand this week, then we can re­act to that through so­cial me­dia, on our web­site or wher­ever. We’re re­ally re­spond­ing to what peo­ple are do­ing, and we can see the ef­fects of what we’re do­ing. So, if we put a ban­ner on a web­site that ad­ver­tises swim­ming pools, we can see if peo­ple are go­ing on­line and look­ing at swim­ming pools. This has also saved our ba­con a few times. When we’ve seen things com­ing through on Face­book, we’re able to climb on there and pro­vide in­for­ma­tion that’s help­ful. It’s just a mat­ter of be­ing re­spon­sive.” Tra­di­tional me­dia still ex­ists, but it’s not used so much. So, for ex­am­ple, we’ve gone from 62 press in­ser­tions a year down to 22. And in­stead we’re

of short-term gain lead­ing to long-term pain, whether it’s the use of mer­cury to cure syphilis, thalido­mide as a rem­edy for morn­ing sick­ness, or in­vest­ments in sub-prime as­sets. Some won­der if the cheap thrill of clicks and the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing could be placed in a sim­i­lar cat­e­gory, but tell that to the brands, pub­lish­ers and agen­cies who seem to be tak­ing to it like Bren­dan McCul­lum to a half tracker.

Bob Garfield, the host of NPR’s On the Me­dia, is one of the most vo­cal na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing naysay­ers and calls it “the lat­est gim­mick for in­fus­ing a dy­ing old in­dus­try (and a sickly new one) with des­per­ately needed cash”; prom­i­nent US po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor and erst­while blog­ger An­drew Sul­li­van said “jour­nal­ism had sur­ren­dered” and le­gacy me­dia com­pa­nies seemed happy to sell the in­tegrity they had built up over decades; satirist John Oliver, whose wither­ing and very funny attack on na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing clocked up mil­lions of views, ex­plained it by say­ing “ads are baked into con­tent like choco­late chips into a cookie. Ex­cept it’s more like raisins into a cookie be­cause no-one fuck­ing wants them there”; and some jour­nal­is­tic purists see the com­mer­cial ten­ta­cles stretch­ing into ed­i­to­rial as a threat to the demo­cratic func­tion of the me­dia.

This came to the fore re­cently in the UK af­ter The Tele­graph’s chief po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Peter Oborne quit the pa­per be­cause he be­lieved it had gone soft on the HSBC, one of its big­ger ad­ver­tis­ers. He said the lack of cov­er­age of the bank’s dodgy ac­tiv­i­ties was a fraud on read­ers. And Matt Bale, co-founder and direc­tor of MBM Me­dia, says na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing, if not done prop­erly and trans­par­ently, could be seen in the same light.

Mind the cu­rios­ity gap

Bale says con­sumers have be­come con­di­tioned to not click on ban­ner ads— and, with ad-block­ing soft­ware, many have found a way to avoid them com­pletely—so, as ads start to cam­ou­flauge them­selves in the con­tent streams of sites and as some pub­lish­ers and plat­forms seek clicks at any cost, he be­lieves there’s a pos­si­bil­ity they might even­tu­ally be­come wary of click­ing on con­tent as well.

“Con­tent is an in­ter­est­ing space for brands and au­di­ences alike and na­tive is a de­liv­ery mech­a­nism for it. But I do worry about the rush for peo­ple to think of short term gam­ing and hood­wink­ing peo­ple. In the long term, jeop­ar­dis­ing reader trust is not in any­one’s best in­ter­ests. No-one wins.”

That’s not en­tirely true, how­ever. Some­one has to be win­ning with na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing gain­ing so much steam. Bale says there are prob­a­bly mar­ket­ing man­agers or pub­lish­ers who can “put up a great graph show­ing all the traf­fic they drove”. Or a me­dia agency say­ing ‘look how great our cost per click is’. Or a spon­sored link plat­form that‘s mak­ing heaps of cash. But he says very few of them would be show­ing the mas­sive bounce rates or the long term im­pact on the brand or the pub­lisher of trick­ing peo­ple into click­ing on an ad.

Trick or treat?

Whether you be­lieve na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing is right or wrong, it’s hap­pen­ing. New Zealand data is hard to come by, but, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Na­tional Ad­ver­tis­ers (ANA) in the US, 58 per­cent said their com­pany used na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing dur­ing the past year and bud­gets in­creased for 55 per­cent of re­spon­dents. This year, 63 per­cent of re­spon­dents ex­pected to in­crease bud­gets al­lo­cated to na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing. But it’s still a tiny frac­tion of over­all spend, and de­spite the in­creases, na­tive ac­counted for five per­cent or less of the to­tal mar­ket­ing bud­get for 68 per­cent of re­spon­dents.

While na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing is now closely as­so­ci­ated with dig­i­tal and so­cial me­dia, com­pa­nies have long un­der­stood the ben­e­fit of craft­ing ads that look like ed­i­to­rial. Back in the 1890s, they were of­ten known as read­ing no­tices and the long copy ad was in­tro­duced for a very good rea­son; brands helped fund ra­dio and TV shows in the 1920s and 1930s; Mer­riam Web­ster added ad­ver­to­rial to its list of ap­proved words in 1946; and even TV ads are of­ten de­scribed as be­ing mini-shows with a com­mer­cial mes­sage at­tached. This is the ar­gu­ment the pro­po­nents make about the ac­cept­abil­ity of na­tive ad­verts­ing. It has been this way since Adam was an ad sales­man. There is no black or white. Only grey.

Th­ese days there are spon­sored Tweets and Face­book posts; brands in­te­grat­ing them­selves into the con­tent of TV shows; rel­e­vant ads pop­ping up on Google’s search re­sults; ads that look like an email in your in­box; sug­gested apps for your smart­phone; and ac­ti­va­tions like Tui Catch-a-Mil­lion, a mar­ket­ing cam­paign so en­gag­ing it came to be seen as a valu­able part of the ex­pe­ri­ence (fash­ion mag­a­zines have long claimed the ads are an en­joy­able part of the ex­pe­ri­ence for read­ers be­cause they’re rel­e­vant to the con­tent). All of those things are cut from a sim­i­lar cloth of con­tex­tual rel­e­vance, but OMD’s man­ag­ing part­ner An­drew Rein­holds wouldn’t go so far to call them na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing. He be­lieves na­tive ad units, whether in-feed ads like those of­fered by Sharethrough that are de­signed look like an ed­i­to­rial post, or spon­sored links through plat­forms like Ta­boola or Out­brain (of­ten ti­tled some­thing like ‘from around the web’ and lo­cated at the bot­tom of a web­page), are at the more ba­sic end of the branded con­tent con­tin­uum and can of­ten be “the first step to­wards giv­ing up the se­cu­rity blan­ket of an ad­ver­tis­ing unit”.

Heal­ing the ban­ner blind

So why are some me­dia own­ers will­ing to risk the most im­por­tant thing they have— in­de­pen­dence and trust—for a few ex­tra clicks or a bit more ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue?

“Me­dia own­ers are say­ing the ban­ner model in par­tic­u­lar as a way of mak­ing rev­enue is very one-di­men­sional,” he says. “And I would say that it prob­a­bly has a limited shelf life. If you look at fall­ing re­sponse rates, it’s not re­ally work­ing from a me­dia per­spec­tive, cre­atives gen­er­ally strug­gle with it, and con­sumers don’t like it. Lots of con­sumers have ad-block­ing soft­ware. So there are a few di­men­sions to it.”

Much has been writ­ten about the ‘you’re five times more likely to get eaten by a shark/sur­vive in a plane crash/com­plete

in­deed ad­ver­tis­ing and 13 per­cent felt that such dis­clo­sure was not needed).

Colin Pea­cock, host of Ra­dio New Zealand’s Me­di­awatch pro­gramme, says me­dia own­ers shouldn’t be con­demned for run­ning na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing, es­pe­cially if it’s in a sep­a­rate sec­tion or if there’s a clear dec­la­ra­tion of why it’s ap­pear­ing. But while most me­dia own­ers are at pains to point out they are be­ing trans­par­ent, as Garfield ar­gues, if that was truly the case they would sim­ply la­bel it ‘ad­ver­tis­ing’. In­stead, they use “weasel words” like ‘spon­sored con­tent’ and ‘pub­lish­ing part­ner’, or make the back­ground a dif­fer­ent colour and ex­pect the au­di­ence to know the dif­fer­ence, as Stuff does on mo­bile with the vague term ‘pro­moted con­tent’ at­tached.

Young says a re­cent study showed that the dis­clo­sure has to be put in the con­tent, not just around it, for the reader to un­der­stand that it’s paid for. And con­text can some­times get lost be­tween print and on­line. Pea­cock points to a con­tent part­ner­ship be­tween the NZ Her­ald with ASB and Auck­land Coun­cil as part of cel­e­bra­tions around Auck­land’s 175th an­niver­sary. In the pa­per, it ad­ver­tised a $10,000 give­away, in­cluded two pages of fi­nan­cial ad­vice from ASB staff and ran a story about how “Auck­land’s old­est bank sur­vived against the odds”. That story was la­belled as be­ing part of a con­tent part­ner­ship, which is a fairly vague de­scrip­tion in it­self, but on­line there was only a 175th an­niver­sary logo to show that it was paid-for.

“That’s a prob­lem. I guess you’d call it clumsy,” says Pea­cock. “And you’re left think­ing ‘what am I read­ing?’ … Read­ers do ques­tion the ethics if they feel am­bushed by it … It just needs to be clear that it’s be­ing writ­ten about be­cause money changed hands.”

Fringe benefits

ASB also worked with the Her­ald on a video con­tent cam­paign called The Am­bi­tionar­ies, which fea­tured in­ter­views with suc­cess­ful New Zealand busi­ness peo­ple and linked into its busi­ness bank­ing cam­paign around am­bi­tion. This wasn’t very clearly la­belled, but, on the other side of the coin, it’s a brand help­ing to fund the cre­ation of some in­ter­est­ing con­tent. Pea­cock points to an­other in­ter­est­ing ex­am­ple of this, the TV-fo­cused web­site The Spinoff, which launched with Light­box as ex­clu­sive spon­sor.

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