CAT | advertising
The internet is a weird and wonderful place. It connects people all around the world, people with niche and sometimes bizarre interests, people that would never meet in everyday life. I once saw a couple on a forum – I was doing that creepy thing where you read everything but don’t join in – who claimed to have been in a long distance relationship for a number of years, they had formidable ‘rep’ and were ‘respected members’ of the forum but it then emerged that they had never actually met. Through these relationships, and others, the internet gives rise to hundreds of new ideas, fads and crazes daily. An internet sub culture has formed and given birth to the internet meme:
What is a meme? Memes are spontaneous, amusing things which reflect some aspect of society or culture and can become every very popular very quickly. Recent popular internet phenomena are the Harlem Shake, before that Gangnam style and in the past we’ve seen planking, Rick rolling, lolcats and the list goes on and on and on and on. They can be anything from images, catchphrases, videos, words or themes, in fact here is a list that Wikipedia has complied and as you can see it’s all pretty random.
Yet these seeminly pointless phenomena have much wider implications, particularly on marketing. The aim of marketing is to promote a brand; you want to spread your brand image far and wide. This can be done by brute force – pushing your message in the consumer’s face through relentless adverts in magazines, on buses, on billboards, on TV, on the radio and on websites. But the holy grail of the marketer is known as ‘word of mouth’ – make the customer do the work for you and spread your message on their own. No only is this much less work intensive, but it also is more effective since consumers believe other consumers more than they believe billboards. The internet is busy changing everybody’s lives as usual and has the potential to revolutionise word of mouth marketing through memetic marketing – using memes, as concepts that spread from person to person via the internet, to encourage consumers to share a brand message.
Such phenomena are born and live on the internet, like a shameful secret they were once confined to the shady corners of chatrooms or forums but now they are plastered all over Facebook walls and taped to tweet decks. They are even slowly clambering out of our screens and into the ‘real’ world. (The real world is a place where two individuals in a relationship have had actual face to face physical contact.)
These are ideas and messages that go viral with lightening speed, reaching hundreds of thousands, even millions of people will little to no effort on the part of their creators. It certainly sounds ideal if you’re trying hard to get a certain message across – enter memetic marketing. Memetic marketing, is a term that seems overly technical for something which essentially started just for a bit of a laugh, and it means using memes in marketing campaigns. Simples. Only it’s not quite as simples as it seems.
As we know from the story behind key board cat, these phenomena tend to be things that somebody does messing around in their bedroom late at night that at the time they think is kind of funny, then the internet swallows it up and vomits it out everywhere, so they wake up in the morning and suddenly everyone is doing it. So these things tend to arise fairly organically and happen by chance. Nobody knows what will go viral and what won’t. Satire and political parodies tend to be popular, such as Mitt Romney’s ‘binders full of women’ but ultimately circulation and uptake are decided by the ‘internet community’ on forums, chat rooms, social networking sites and all other areas of web 2.0.
It is important to remember that memes are at heart humorous and simple which renders them not relevant to all marketing campaigns, but if memetic markerting is what you want then you have several options. The first is to piggy back on an existing meme and use this for the basis of your campaign. This is what Virgin Media have done with ‘success kid/victory baby’.The ‘Y U NO guy’ has been used on hipchat adverts and keyboard cat has been used to advertise pistachios. However, choosing the right meme can be tricky. The choice of meme and its meaning must be selected carefully to avoid any mis-interpretations. Memes have a shelf life and die out so using an existing one means that people could already be tired of it. Most importantly, stealing memes could initiate a back lash from an internet community unimpressed by your lack of creativity and willingness to free ride on others.
The second option is to create your own meme and this is obviously a lot harder but can be more rewarding. Old spice created a meme with their campaign ‘the man your man could smell like’ and Compare the Market have created one with their meerkat campaign http://www.comparethemeerkat.com/. You need to come up with something that is genuinely appealing or funny yet is still relevant to your company or product. There is no point generating a hugely popular meme that nobody associates back to you. In this way the meme replaces the traditional marketing ‘catch phrase’ and it needs to be very cleverly designed so that people want to share it of their own volition.
Memetic marketing can be very dangerous, once you’ve released your meme out into the internet wilderness anything could happen and many end up subject to vicious parody http://arcticready.com/arctic-ready. The advice when this happens seems to be ‘just go with it’ – no publicity is bad publicity right? In fact, another way to stir up some meme attention is to create the inspiration for a meme rather than a meme itself – is this the purpose of some campaigns which are so bad they’re good? These campaigns can get a vast amount of attention, although they tend to be more popular if the attention is negative. I cannot believe that the instigators do not foresee the way some campaigns are going to go, like the #IShopAtWaitrose or #susanalbumparty – the latter must be deliberate, how could it not be? If it was it definitely worked – who cared about Susan Boyle’s new album before that and then suddenly, with that hashtag, everyone was interested.
Conclusion – is memetic marketing the future? I’m not so sure, it seems a bit gimmicky to me. Using memes in traditional marketing campaigns seems a bit odd, like taking a fish out of water and then expecting it to leap back into the water to tell all its friends. In digital marketing, however, it is more natural – using memes on social media is like speaking the local language. I suggest we turn to the King of social media for advice – Barack Obama. The subject of many a meme, Obama, during an AMA session on reddit referenced ‘his meme’ and the crowd went wild. He’s following the age old rule of talking to your audience in their own language. He looks cool and people love it. I think this highlights that there are two different ways to use memes – you can acknowledge them and use them to relate to an audience or take advantage of them. Obama does the former, aggressive traditional campaigns do the latter and speaking on behalf of ‘the internet community’ I think we’d all prefer Obama, I mean, the former.
Google Glass is the latest augmented reality (AR) technology which has caused a stir in the mobile advertising and marketing sector. Over the past few years augmented reality (AR) has become an integral part of several companies’ advertising and marketing strategies, fulfilling consumer demands for more creative, innovative and interactive methods of engagement. Increasing levels of investment in AR technologies are forecasted over the next few years, with a significant proportion of this investment likely to be for the purpose of advertising and marketing. According to a study by Hidden LTD, currently, almost 20% of AR applications are for the purpose of ‘bringing to life’ online campaigns and an additional 10% of AR applications are aimed at enhancing point of sale material.
The unveiling of plans for Google’s latest venture, Google Glass, has caused a recent resurgence in interest surrounding the possibilities of augmented reality in advertising and marketing strategies. Despite Google releasing statements that ‘there are no plans for advertising on this device’ and that they are more interested in making the hardware available, there have been high levels of speculation surrounding their advertising and marketing. As Greg Stuart, CEO of the Mobile Marketing Association commented, Google Glass could impact marketing in unprecedented ways.
The technology has the potential to revolutionize SOLOMO (Social, local, mobile) marketing. It is predicated that Google Glass will facilitate instantaneous access to information about local businesses when moving through an area. Social features such as Foursquare check-in and the potential for apps similar to the ‘Find Friends Nearby’ app, could allow intensified social interaction and social marketing surrounding local businesses. Google Glass could also facilitate more subtle, social, video marketing, with the potential for consumers to use the device’s video functionality to record short social videos of purchases, experiences and places, which could be shared online instantly. Finally, it is predicted that the technology could also enable increased targeted advertising and marketing, with the potential for tracking of website visits and search data; this could allow different people to interact with different types of promotions or adverts in the same virtual/physical space at the same time. However, it must be noted that there is still high levels of uncertainty as to how much information users will be willing to provide (See here for some of the latest on the Google Glass privacy debate), how wide spread the use of Google Glass will be and the exact form this new technology will take.
Despite uncertainties regarding the Google Glass, it is clear that augmented reality, in general, is beginning to take off as an important tool for generating increased brand engagement. Recently AR has been used in campaigns across a variety of sectors. Notable examples include: Net-A-Porter’s interactive store front, Airwalks’ invisible pop-up store, Mabellines ShowColor nail varnish app, Absolute Vodka’s AbsolutTruths Campaign, the National Geographic AR Installations (one of which is shown in the image below) and, Frauennotruf Munchen’s (A German Charity) domestic abuse AR campaign (see here for examples of more AR campaigns). It is evident that AR technologies are offering new and unique consumer-brand interactions, radically altering the way in which the physical and digital worlds interface. As Christina Austin, in an article for Business Insider, commented ‘AR campaigns resonate with consumers in a way that most other ad platforms fall short’. For this reason we can expect to see AR increasingly becoming an integral part of many companies advertising and marketing strategies, leading ‘us into a new era of active and reactive brand communication and experience’ (Mashable.com).
Since the first links between smoking and lung cancer were published by Richard Doll in 1950, legislation has been passed to try to control tobacco consumption. In addition to counter campaigns such as anti smoking adverts and specialist NHS services the Government restrict and regulate the tobacco industry in an unprecedented way. We’ve seen limits on smoking in public places, a ban on vending machines, compulsory warning messages on packets, excise taxes and unparalleled restrictions on advertising. This year the government are stepping up their game with more graphic campaigns and grotesque imagery.
Today most advertising campaigns are run online with a complementary social media campaign and since regulations began as early as the 1960s some of the most successful corporations, in one of the world’s largest industries, are unable to fully utilise any digital marketing. Furthermore, anti-smoking groups have been able to take full advantage of digital resources in the form of help quit websites, mobile apps, online adverts, infographics and web apps. So why do 157,000 children aged 11-15 start smoking every year in the UK? Why is smoking still a desirable thing to do? And why is brand loyalty still so strong – the highest of all consumer products?
The Government can ban tobacco firms from promoting smoking but they cannot ban the public from doing so. The tobacco industry invented marketing as we now know it. The first known advert for a cigarette brand was in 1789. The industry has a substantial legacy with strong, historically established brands to which few others can compare and this is not a market that is open to new entrants. These brand titans have been putting in the marketing ground work for the past 200 years.
As a result they are in a unique position; a comprehensive social media campaign is run – inadvertently – by smokers themselves. Whilst the only official smoking advertisements online are anti-smoking, there are ‘unofficial’ or implicit adverts for smoking all over the internet. Social media is full of indirect materials promoting smoking – photos, tweets, pinterest boards, discussions, polls, tumblrs, videos - all posted solely by consumers which perpetuate the brand message and cannot be regulated easily by the Government.
The Government have to be very carefully when justifying the regulation the tobacco industry for fear of appearing paternalistic. It cannot look like it thinks it knows better and needs to protect us from ourselves or from the big bad tobacco firms. As a result bans and restrictions are enforced with a focus on protecting children. Therefore, the focus of many campaigns is passive smoking and the messages are ‘I’m worried about mum/dad’, ‘you’re killing your children’ and ‘only way to protect your family’ is to quit.
Tobacco firms have been equally ingenious in response – their apparent aims are not to attract non-smokers only to try to get existing smokers to switch brands – but they’ve got into trouble. With the cartoon character ‘Joe Camel’ R.J. Reynolds were accused of intentionally targeting children. Internal documents emerged claiming that children were the ‘future’s smokers’, detailing that brand allegiance is formed before age 18 and instructions for campaign materials to be distributed near schools. R.J. Reynolds denies this but voluntarily ended the campaign in 1997. A study into the accusations famously found that that at one point more 6 year old children could recognise Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse.
So branding is important. It is powerful and the Government are worried. Branding is what gives your company an identity through slogans, name, colour, music etc. and advertising promotes this. Branding is what makes smoking ‘look cool’. It is renowned that teenagers are keen to ‘look cool’ and are more easily swayed by peer pressure – this has historically been sited as the main reason for teen smokers.
But whilst brand image is traditionally formed physically through packaging, labels and adverts, today brand image is predominantly created digitally. The brand ‘voice’ speaks through twitter, is showcased on the company website, interacts with consumers on Facebook and networks through LinkedIn. Therefore, every time someone tweets ‘need a ciggie #addicted’ or a picture is posted of someone smoking at a party, brand image is re-enforced. Smoking advertising has gone viral. It is shared, liked and retweeted constantly.
Due to past decades of years of truly extensive marketing – and a highly addictive ingredient – the tobacco industry have a product that people want to share and promote of their own accord. Studies have noted for years how smokers tend to use their cigarettes as a ‘badge’, a ‘prop’, a ‘symbol’ and as long as they continue to do so – and post it on social media – they use their cigarettes to reflect and promote the brand image.
The irony is that this kind of promotion is so much more powerful than commercial, official, paid-for adverts. Consumers are much more likely to be swayed by what their best friend is posting or what Kate Moss is papped doing rather than a banner at the top of the page or an ad word on google. This is why businesses today work hard to create ‘share-able’ content on social media sites. This kind of marketing is self-perpetuating and there is not much the Government can do about it.
First things first: ‘What is ad retargeting?’. Simply put, it’s advertising targeted specifically at you, based on things you have already shown an interest in, but not bought. Say, for example, you were mulling over a lovely pair of socks on your favourite sock retailer’s website but navigated away without purchasing said pair of socks. The chances are, you will suddenly notice adverts appearing on websites you visit later on that day as if you were being hounded by some kind of relentless electronic sock salesman (an RESS, as it’s known in the industry). Coincidence? No. You’ve been retargeted.
This sort of advertising is set to start happening a lot more in the coming year. Some of the major retailers are investing heavily in ad retargeting, making it one of their key online marketing strategies for 2011. The reason they’re switching investment to this area: it works. All Saints (the clothing retailer, not the girl band), say they generated a return of £21 for every £1 spent on retargeting ads in the last two months of 2010. Struq, a specialist retargeting company, claim they are generating conversions of up to 640% for their top ten clients. So, you can clearly see why it’s appealing to online retailers. But how is sitting with the consumers?
Joseph Turow, a professor from the University of Pennsylvania and a specialist in online advertising, thinks that people really don’t like it once they learn how it’s happening. Whereas to others, perhaps, it’s not quite as bad as full-on behavioural advertising because you know why these adverts keep following you around. But what if you don’t want your shopping interests to follow you around the internet? You left the site because you decided not to buy the product, now it’s appearing on every other site just to torment you. Worse yet, you might find products being targeted at people who you share your computer with, products that you really don’t want to be brought to their attention. There are some companies, such as Criteo, that provide an opt-out option at the bottom of their retargeted ads but unfortunately this is not a universal principle followed by all advertisers. A better solution may be appearing as browser firms are working on integrated ‘do not track’ systems, like the recently released Keep My Opt Out extension for Google Chrome which keeps opt-out settings even if your cookies get cleared.
The rise in retargeted advertising is not going unnoticed. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising has called for immediate research and the formulation of best practice around its use. Although this is borne of a fear that there will eventually be a backlash from unhappy consumers, it is a positive nevertheless. This is an issue our friends at the Internet Advertising Bureau are tackling by including it in their EU self-regulatory good practice framework. As highlighted in our preview of the 2011, online privacy is a hot topic at the moment. If the issue of retargeted advertising is not developed with consumer control and transparency in mind, there could well be an eventual uproar from consumers. What’s more, if left to develop freely, along with personalised behavioural advertising, what’s next? Personalised biometric advertising, Minority Report-style?
Consumers may not be totally adverse to retargeted advertising: there are circumstances where it could be truly useful – where it’s used not just to readvertise something to you but if it’s remarketed in a different way. That pair of socks you decided not to purchase may have been because you thought the price was too high so you went to look somewhere else. If, later on, an advert for those socks reappeared on a different site telling you they had been reduced by 50%, you might be extremely happy and praise the ingenuity of those clever retargeting advertisers. On the other hand, you may have already bought another pair of socks and therefore the retargeted advert serves as more of a kick in the teeth than anything else. The key really lies in the proper implementation of sensible guidelines. Hopefully in 2011 that is exactly what we will see.