Guardian Changing Media Summit and AdWeek Europe 2017

round-illustration-19 April 1st, 2017

The CMA and its members have been busy panelling away at two major set-piece events in late March, the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit and AdWeek Europe. Consultant editor Dominic Mills, who moderated content panels at both, reports back

If there’s one theme currently dominating the media and advertising worlds, it’s that of trust. This plays out in various ways, whether trust in the media itself, consumer trust in the content – fake news alert! – and brands, and brands’ trust in the channels they use, the latter evidenced by the firestorm engulfing Google and the appearance of ads on extremist or terrorist sites.

The latter led to the decision by a number of leading brands to pull their advertising off YouTube. They included the UK government, Channel 4, Jaguar Land-Rover, L’Oreal, RBS and M&S. Nor were they alone. In the UK, Havas took all its clients of the platform, and in the US huge spenders like Verizon and Johnson and Johnson followed suit.

All this was front and centre of last month’s two major ad industry gatherings, the Guardian Changing Media Summit and AdWeek Europe.

The CMA had a presence at both. At the Guardian, I chaired a panel examining the rise of brand partnerships with social media vloggers and the pressures this placed on trust. At AdWeek Europe, the panel looked at subjects including the consumer shift away from the virtual to real-world events and experiences; the rise of live events; and whether ‘fake news’ creates opportunities or threats for brands using content as a marketing tool.

One longer-term issue raised by the boycott of Google/YouTube by major advertisers – we don’t know yet whether it will be temporary or permanent – is what they might do instead. Would, for example, they shift some or all of that media budget into content and distribution of that content? There are certainly convincing reasons for brands to do so, not least because it could maintain or increase their share of voice.

The panels from both events included: Mark Evans, marketing director of Direct Line; Andrew Hirsch, CEO of John Brown; Yvonne O’Brien, chief insight and data officer at Havas Media; Jane Wolfson, director of Hearst Made; Jason Hughes, head of creative solutions and branded content for Sky; Sam Chapman and Nicola Haste, sisters who double up as YouTube social media stars Pixiwoo; and Phil Rumbol, founding partner of ad agency 101.

You can see highlights of the Guardian summit here and the full AdWeek Europe debate here.

In the hubbub of different voices, the one thing that drew universal agreement was the utmost importance of authenticity as the cornerstone of trust.

This, of course, ties strongly into content marketing, perhaps the most real of all forms of marketing disciplines.

Key themes

Here is a summary of the key themes and learnings that emerged from both panels.

  • In a climate of mistrust, whether about media or brands, content offers great opportunities to connect with consumers. The road to trust is about authenticity, meaningfulness, relevance and truly understanding consumers. Good content, from professional content makers, can do this.
  • It’s helpful to think of content as the ‘worker bee’ of marketing, acting as the foundation layer for other activities.
  • ‘Real-world‘ appeal is gaining ground as consumers turn away from ‘Brand Me’ perfection as portrayed on social media. Brands should focus on how their audiences behave in the real world as the starting point for content.
  • There is a trend for smarter brands to contextualise their products in real-world settings. Examples include furniture retailer West Elm and fashion brand JW Anderson, which curated an exhibition at the Hepworth sculpture gallery.
  • Brands are increasingly tapping into ‘live’ as a way of demonstrating real-world authenticity and the enhanced experience of immersion. Esquire Townhouse was a four-day live event in London with partner brands led by Dior. TSB, with John Brown, produced live content from its sponsorship of the Pride of Britain awards. Content generated from the both events was used extensively on owned and earned channels, including social.
  • Working with Carling, Sky’s branded content arm produces In Off The Bar, a live Friday night football show. As well as being filmed live, the show goes out on YouTube, Facebook and Skysports.com.
  • In all cases, the brands underline authenticity by working with professional content makers. Carling also generates authenticity (and therefore trust) by associating itself with a broadcaster with a long heritage in football.
  • Print is alive and well, and works exceptionally well in the right context. Its revival may be linked to the preference for the real and the physical, as well as the prevalence of online fake news.
  • Consumer trust is not only derived from the host channel, but the name and reputation of the content makers, film makers, editors and writers who assemble it. In theory, this should push brands towards using professionals to create and/or curate their content.
  • Influencers, mostly via their own social media channels, are increasingly an increasingly important vehicle for brands to tap into. But both sides need to be careful: brands that they are not undermining the influencer’s credibility, or their own by choosing the wrong one; and influencers by being seen by their followers to sell out to brands.
  • Brands can tap into consumers, especially millennials, by partnering trusted social media stars with large followings. But they must allow social media stars to speak with their own voices and convey the brand’s message their own way. Direct Line used Alfie Deyes, helping him pass his driving test, to promote its Safer Driving App to otherwise hard-to-reach younger drivers.
  • Ad agency 101, working for retailer Game, used Inbetweeners star James Buckley on social media and TV ads that self-consciously parodied the idea of ‘selling out’.
  • The current rules on vlogging state that only if the video is scripted does it need to state that it is an advertisement or brand promotion. In any case, millennials are marketing savvy, and are happy to be overtly marketed to if the value exchange is clear. Marketers believe the rules are sufficient and, if they broke them, they would themselves lose trust.
  • Pixiwoo turn down more brand opportunities than they accept. They partner only with brands that are relevant, that they believe in, and that their audience knows that they (Pixiwoo) would like and use. This approach protects their integrity and authenticity, as well as that of partner brands.
  • Proper business-related measurement of content marketing remains an issue – although for the right brands print impact can be separated out from other activities and measured. Brands and agencies need to focus on, and invest in, better analytics in order to move from softer, media-oriented, metrics to harder, business-oriented ones.
  • Content per se is not necessarily the solution to ad blocking – the world doesn’t need more content – but good, professionally produced content can help ameliorate ad blocking.
  • The big content trends in the next 12 months will be: AI-assisted digital assistants like Alexa; sound and voice; and AR and VR.

Dominic Mills, Consultant Editor, The CMA

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