CAT | Internet
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.
Last month YouTube (now the second largest global search engine) reached over 1 billion video hits, Vine became the fastest growing social media mobile app, and TED continued its success, with the site reaching 150 million users. These examples, alongside many others, demonstrate that video is fast becoming one of the most popular and effective forms of content across the web. Websites are under increasing pressure to make a first impression within 8 seconds and with an average of only 20% of web page text being read, it is clear that short, social, engaging and interactive content is in high demand. Video’s importance and popularity comes from its ability to embrace these new information consumption patterns.
So who should be using video as part of their communication strategy? The answer is, simply, everyone and anyone. Video is over 400x more engaging than static content and 70% more memorable. This has lead video to become essential for educational and training purposes, as well as B2B and B2C communication. In the B2B sales arena, video is progressively becoming a key informant for decision-makers and, according to a recent webinar on ‘The Future of Corporate Video’, video as a B2B communication technique is set to rise in importance by 77% annually. There are many different types of video content which can be used; for example, animated video infographics have recently increased in popularity as a result of their ability to convey complex information in simple and engaging ways. In terms of the B2C sector, a recent study by Practical Ecommerce, demonstrated that video content can increase online conversion rates by up to 30%. This transition, from viewing video content to making a purchase, has also become increasingly seamless with new website features such as ‘call to attention’ buttons.
Video has also arguable become ‘online marketing’s best kept secret’. Video is a key tool for content marketing and SEO. According to Marketingweek, video results appear in 70% of the top 100 listings when performing an online search and, in a recent study by MarketingSherpa, it was estimated that pages with video are likely to attract 2-3x more monthly visitors. Video is also becoming integral to mobile strategy; according to the Bytemobile Mobile Analytics Report 2012, online video now accounts for 50% of all mobile traffic.
It is clear that video is fast becoming the most important communication tool for a wide range of online businesses. By 2015, it is predicted that video will be the driving force for 90% of web traffic, and in this way companies cannot afford to exclude video from their communications strategies.
In the build up to this weeks Changing Media Summit 2013, disruptive digital innovation has been a hot topic. The term, first coined by Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, describes the process in which ‘a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors’. Since the 1990s there has been a succession of digitally disruptive and ‘game changing’ enterprises. These have been rapidly debasing traditional business models across the media, entertainment, retail, financial and education sectors. In a report by the BBC, Saul Klein from Index Ventures comments:
‘Our long-term belief is that there is no sector that will not end up being changed by a combination of the Internet and software’
So what are the key features that make a digital innovation disruptive? So far common features of such innovations include:
- The opening up of products and services to customers at the lower end of the market who don’t necessarily require all functionalities offered by current products
- Business models which work from a grass-roots perspective, facilitating new, non-corporate interactions between individuals in these new markets
Kickstarter and Airbnb are two of the most successful examples of such innovations. Kickstarter has revolutionised the funding of new ideas, products and services; allowing innovators to bypass the financial sector in securing backing for new ideas, through individuals willing to pledge money through the site. So far Kickstarter has been responsible for the launch of 90,851 new products and services worth over 500 million dollars. Airbnb is a platform allowing people to book rooms at other people’s houses, as advertised on the site; it has been described as an innovation ‘turning spare rooms into the world’s hottest hotel chain’ (Austin Carr). In Airbnb’s fourth year of operations it facilitated over 10 million bookings worldwide and is currently surpassing the Hilton hotel chain in terms of the number of rooms filled. However, it is naïve to think that it has been plain sailing for all disruptive innovators, Über cars is a notable example that has generated considerable controversy (see here for more details).
It is clear that the acceleration in such developments over the last 5 years is no coincidence. With website and app creation becoming progressively more accessible, and an increased distrust of global corporations since the financial crisis, these types of innovations seem to be part of a natural progression. So should these innovations be seen as a threat or an opportunity? Many companies have taken a fearful stance towards such innovations, however as Genevive Shore (Chief Information Officer and Director of Digital Strategy at publishers Pearson) argues:
‘digital disruptions push companies forward to be more radical in our approach to digital, and more courageous’
In a recent report by the BBC, the greater benefits of a focus on creativity and digital development are evident; in tough economic times the digital and creative sectors have shone through. According to the study, this is currently the UK’s fastest expanding sector, contributing over 6% of Britain’s GDP and employing over 2 million people (read more here about the thriving technology sector). So it is clear that this growth in disruptive innovation is good for business and the UK economy, spurring companies to think innovatively to remain at the cutting edge. As Lisa Arthur of Forbes Magazine argues, it is clear that companies must face and embrace these ‘powerful and incredibly motivating’ innovations head-on.
A few days ago I was congratulating Graca Machel (current wife of Nelson Mandela) for being the only woman ever to have been the First Lady of two different states. I then realised that a) the bus was moving very slowly, and b) I didn’t know much about her first husband, the socialist post-independence President of Mozambique. Enter Wikipedia, pursued by a bear. After reaching the climax (death by plane crash – at the hands of either inebriated soviet pilots or merciless Apartheid agents), I noticed that the article could be read in *31* alternative languages. Alongside the major ‘international’ languages (by which I mean, widely spoken as second languages or studied outside their regions of origin, the article is also available (albeit in greater brevity) in Belarusian (7.6m native speakers), Breton (206k), Catalan (11.5m), Estonian (1m), Georgian (7m), Latin (0), Lithuanian (3.2m), Mongol (5.7m), Occitan (2m), Venetan (2m).
On scanning the list, my initial sentiment was one of embarrassment – embarrassment that I didn’t know that Belorussia or Venice even had their own tongues, or that Occitan was even a thing anymore (it appears to have more native speakers than than all six Celtic languages combined).
Emerging from this introspective shock, I noticed that the article only appeared in one language of African ‘origin’ (not the sturdiest of criteria, but here I’m excluding French, Portuguese, English and Arabic) – Ido. This I found bemusing, as I was pretty sure that Ido was West African (ergo, pretty far from Mozambique). Once again smacked down by Wikipedia, I soon discovered that I was thinking of Igbo (spoken by 24m in Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea); Ido actually appears to be a descendant of Esperanto, and has a paltry 100-200 ‘users’.
And so, I was kind of stunned that an article about one of sub-Saharan Africa’s great independence leaders is available in a range of languages demographically-minor European languages (almost all speakers of which are multilingual), but not a single non-European language of Mozambique, or indeed of sub-Saharan Africa. According to a 2007 survey, Emakhuwa is the mother tongue of around a quarter of the Mozambican population, while only 10% claim Portuguese as their first language (although it is the second language of a further 40%).
Wikipedia handily details all 286 languages in which the page on Samora Machel is available, ordering them by the number of articles for which they are used. Incredibly, only seven ‘African’ languages are in the top 200: Yoruba (75th, with ca. 30k pages); Afrikaans (82nd, 26k); Swahili (84th, 25k); Amharic (112th, 12k); Somali (179th, 2.5k). ; Lingala (194th, 2k); and Kinyarwanda (200th, 1.8k). A further 31 African languages have a ‘wiki-presence’.
It makes sense; if you need to use the web to publicise a product, service or opinion, using Tswana, Kikuyu or Ewe makes little sense. It goes without saying that the global reach of the internet forces suppliers to market their wares/thoughts to a wider audience than they would in previously more localised markets. Uganda alone has over forty languages; although many within the same linguistic group may be mutually intelligible to a degree, the much wider comprehension of English makes it a much more dependable choice for anyone looking to use the web for intranational purposes (let alone international).
It’s not feasible to hope that individuals and businesses in African countries devote time to the creation and maintenance of web resources in languages other than (and possibly in addition to) those which will allow them to achieve their key economic or philosophical goals. It would actually be pretty paternalistic. But it is pertinent to ask if, as the web becomes an increasingly important mode of communication in ‘developing’ countries, can indigenous languages survive as means of verbal communication while being relegated to digital redundancy? UNESCO estimates that 90% of individuals in developing areas have no access to broadband, but a raft of initiatives (e.g. Inveneo’s BB4G) employing new business models and cheap technologies are changing the connectivity landscape at pace. Avanti’s HYLAS 2 satellite, launched in August 2012, has reduced dependence for millions in eastern and southern Africa on unreliable undersea cables. While cost may still be prohibitive to many, there’s an expectation this will decrease over time. As societies in Africa become increasing engaged in digital communications, how will the position of indigenous languages in the non-digital sphere develop?
It may even be possible to correlate the rise of the internet with the recently declining status of indigenous languages. Between the 1997 and 2007 Mozambican censuses, there was (apparently) a significant increase in the number of people claiming portuguese as their mother tongue to 10%. 42.9% of the inhabitants of the capital Maputo held the post-colonial language as their first language in 2007, although I couldn’t find out what this rose from. It would be interesting to see if it’s possible to plot sociolinguistic identity against the growth in internet access, although undoubtedly other factors must have major roles to play (tourism, demographic shift, increased literacy). If anyone knows of any relevant literature, forward it on!
Millions of people sleep at night completely unaware that personalised search has steadily been revolutionising the way they see the web and, as with most Google led initiatives, there’s essentially nothing we can do about it…or is there?
Imagine the internet as a vast department store filled with everything you could possibly think of and many things you’d rather not. Google’s place in this department store is the plucky store attendant; tell them what you’re looking for and they’ll gladly guide you to the relevant bits of the store. In the carefree days before personalised search, Google would guide everyone searching for ‘shoes’ to the same shop filled with only the most relevant items, presumably shoes. Now this store attendant takes us to our own bespoke storefront filled with shoes in exactly my size and taste; some utopian retail fantasy where the bricks and mortar are data culled from my past shopping excursions and those of my friends. It’s a favourable analogy: this notion of personalisation has been the death of the retail high street. In the online world where everything is freely available in shiny web 2.0 style, the consumer and search user expects, nay demands, to get exactly what they want.
But the façade of user control is a thinly veiled one. The problem with the covert landing of personalised web over the past few years is just this – it’s entirely justifiable from a user experience point of view. Hate them as you will, but the Panda and Penguin updates did actually provide better results for the casual searcher; this has always been Google’s prerogative despite the indignant gnatter of the SEO’s keyboard. This new UX incentive seems a little twisted though. Clearly everyone likes what they like so there is considerable justification in throwing up related items again and again in search results. But we may also like things we don’t know we like and more importantly, things Google doesn’t know we like. Perhaps I don’t want the same Italian restaurant in my area, but even after the food poisoning subsides the search history remains. I want to holiday somewhere new this year, far away from all my friends and everything they like and generally everyone else on the web, will Google let me? What if I want to boldly go where my search history has never taken me before?
Internet searchers have responded to the increasing relevancy of Google’s search results by making it their shop attendant of choice (alas poor Jeeves, I knew ye not), but personalised search have moved away from this key metric. The notion seems to be that by showing us results we’ve responded to before before, Google is second guessing our future preferences, presumably to make the choice easier, quicker or remove it altogether. But my search history is a terrible approximation of who I am and what I want and thus what is relevant to me. What if I’m on a public computer, my friend’s browser, his Gmail account, what if I mistyped those saucy search terms and never want Google suggesting them at work again? The illusion is that I have already chosen these results through my past search activity, that I am in control here – the reality is that Google’s algorithms are in control.
So is personalised search better in any sense? The pedantic answer is that it depends what you mean by ‘search’; Google, after all, would be the first to concede that not all searches and searchers are the same. Whether any of this bothers you or not will probably depend on whether you’re the semi-mythical user who always knows exactly what they want, or, more likely, if you’re just conducting a basic informational search. But to fall in the other camp you don’t even have to construct leftist arguments about equality and freedom of online information to all, you just have to posses that very human characteristic of mutability.
One site that seems to recognise this is Match.com. Their occasional suggestions of people who don’t fit your ‘type’ recognise the fascist half-truth that the people probably don’t know what’s good for them. ‘I am not just what I search’; a new kind of social rallying-cry against the algorithmic oppressors. Don’t shout it from the streets, rage against the search engine my friends. Turn off personalised search now and rediscover the joy of finding what you weren’t looking for.
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.
As seems to happen every time a new year rolls around, the media focus has now shifted from the recaps, summaries and top-ten lists of 2012 into predictions, forecasts and a crystal ball gazing free-for-all for 2013. A quick glance at the prognostications of those with their ear to the ground of the digital marketing terrain reveals all manner of cheery optimism for this year’s prospects. To give you a sense of the exciting things to come, we’ve put together this round up of the leading experts’ views of the field.
As always in the digital realm the key players (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are discussed avidly with a certain degree of fear combined with sycophantic praise. Rob Eleveld writes for Forbes, ‘we predict that Google is making a move towards charging for the data it collects and stores, and we might see this happen as early as next year.’ However, this daunting prospect is offset by his predictions that, not only will the number of digital marketing agencies double in 2013, but the marketing budgets of companies will expand to keep up with the growing digital demand.
Add to this the outlook of Lara O’Reilly at MarketingWeek, who reports on findings by the research company Forrester that digital budgets will grow to account for 20% (£31bn) of worldwide marketing budgets. Based on last year’s trend of 13% growth in the UK alone, it is reasonable to expect 2013 to be a year of marketing breakthroughs for companies on the digital front. If 2012 was all about ‘big data’ then 2013 appears to be time for some ‘big spending.’
With numerous other trends and developments to keep up with, 2013 promises at the very least to be a year of new opportunities to engage in interesting ways with more targeted audiences. Whether any of these experts can accurately predict the future of digital marketing is uncertain, but it is clear that whatever new surprises 2013 brings, the areas of search, social and other facets of digital media can no longer be ignored by competitive businesses.