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.”
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.