Humanity, disruption and podcasts

Learnings from Advertising Week 2019, by Alex Ricketts

Vertical Visionaries: Brands and Publishers on snapchat

I tend to open snapchat once or twice a year, and one of those occasions is usually after I have been to a snapchat session at Ad Week. It’s not my favourite social media channel, I don’t really get it, and I suspect that is why it is so popular with people significantly younger than me. Not me specifically, but my generation aren’t there in large numbers.

What is interesting though, is exactly how the platform changes between my infrequent visits, there’s some really carefully considered professional content from brands, and it’s a place that seem to reward thoughtfully produced and authentic engagement.

In fact, the numbers are staggering. Vice has 35m engagements a month, 3.5million a day, in 4 languages over 6 international markets. They’ve achieved this in part by taking some of their existing content, that suited to vertical video and shorter formats, and repurposing it for snapchat.

Similarly, The Guardian have taken their long standing Fake of For Real feature and re-shot it to work vertically. This doesn’t just get them a totally new audience, but it also helps in their editorial goal of tackling fake news.

All very interesting, but where’s the money? One theme from all of the publishers was that the format allowed them to test ideas very quickly and talk to an audience that they might not normally think to engage with.

Pink News has used the channel to test which memes it will put on T-Shirts to be sold around Pride in the UK and US: real-time product evaluation. They have also discovered a surprising fact about their Snapchat audience: 50% of them identify as straight. This wasn’t necessarily their aim but it shows that power of great content to reach beyond those you think it will speak to.

Savvy brands such as Diageo, according to Mediacom, are starting to brief vertical video alongside traditional formats and it looks like there’s a serious movement under way. I can't wait to see what it looks like next year.

The Human Side of Leadership

I’d been looking forward to Hearing Caroline Taylor, Mark Given and Francesca Theokli for some time, not just because they are always engaging but because I knew they would all bring something vital to the topic. I’m pleased to say that they did not disappoint and we were treated to a brilliant, insightful and sometime raw look at the human side of three senior industry figures.

Each began by sharing a personal story of a time they have shown their human side. I wouldn’t want to break the Chatham House Rule, and nor could I do justice to any of the stories, but each brought their own examples of times they had been very “human” during their careers

One theme that recurred was of them feeling vulnerable and showing that vulnerability to those around them. They showed real strength from their honesty with those around them, rather than ploughing on regardless.

They talked about making mistakes and how mistakes make you a better judge the next time you have to make a decision. We also touched on how we all feel imposter syndrome and I’m sure Caroline wouldn’t mind me sharing my favourite message: “We are all good enough, otherwise we wouldn’t be here!”

This session and several others over the last year or so have shown that we are so lucky in this generation of Marketing Leaders. In the past it was taken as read that you had to be tough, teflon and tenacious to rise to the top. Fran, Mark, Caroline and our own Gemma, showed eloquently that you can achieve great things in our industry whilst remaining a flawed, funny, honest and brilliant human being.

The creative disruption

If there’s one rule for any conference it is that you won’t be disappointed in a session that includes Sir John Hegarty.

Now engaged in incubation interesting new businesses he was here to discuss Whalar, an influencer platform of which he is the Chairman. He believes this is the democratisation of creativity, realising it to embrace more people, and that the future is creative, technology is just the delivery method.

On the topic of creativity, he struck on a theme that came up in the Marketing Society session: being brave enough to be different. Over the course of his illustrious career one of the first things clients would say when presented with new creative was “oh. That’s...different”. Which is of course, what they should want. Although so many seem to want “the same”

Sir John also suggested that we should be risk averse…or rather that we shouldn’t embrace risk. Nobody wants to eat a risky breakfast, drive a risky car to work, then have a risky lunch. Instead what we should embrace is excitement - a much better way of looking at things.

And is it risky to engage with influencers? Perhaps, but if you treat them as editors, who know their audience and can tailor your message then that is the key to success.

Overall it is an exciting time to be involved in the communications industry!

Podcasts: Hitting the sweet spot

It seems that every other session is addressing podcasts, with audio being the surprise package in recent years. As everyone was looking a short, snappy, vertical content, it appears that there’s also a revival of long, in depth audio storytelling.

Listening to Acast and the guardian, as well as the man behind the Mostly Lit” podcast, there were strong words of warning to advertisers and creative directors alike: don’t try to control the podcasters.

Podcasting is an immersive medium, “the cinema of audio”, people select their hosts and the level of trust is incredibly high. Getting advertising wrong in this space is incredibly jarring. However getting it right is very rewarding.

Allow the host to explain your product to their audience and endorse it in a way that their listeners will appreciate.

Podcasting is not radio, two thirds of podcast listeners do not listen to commercial radio, it has to be approached in a very different way.

Alex Ricketts is Head of Membership at The Marketing Society. To learn more about us or join our network, please get in touch