creative, digital, industry, trend

What’s Dead, And What’s Not

It’s become fairly fashionable in digital circles to pick on trends and describe them as ‘dead’.

And if you were to listen to every doomsayer out there, you’d probably believe that the digital marketing world was populated by brain-eating zombies.

Fortunately, to misquote Mark Twain, the rumours of certain deaths have been greatly exaggerated. So here is my take on what’s dead and what’s not.

The Digital Dead

The Digital Agency Is Dead

Doomsayers here, here and here.

Well, there’s no question digital agencies are the need of the hour. Unfortunately, not every digital shop has the ability to really think from a brand and business point-of-view. Most are still in the ‘engagement’ business, and spend their time coming up with different ways to give away iPads on Twitter.

The challenge is that the independent digital agencies in India have become acquisition targets for mainline agencies. Given time, mainline agencies will probably begin to truly integrate digital thinking into their mainline processes. Which means that digital shops may end up becoming nothing more than digital production houses.

The big “Unless…” here is that integration may happen the other way around. Where the digital shop may integrate video production, PR and event capabilities. They may start thinking from a brand and business perspective. And suddenly, they’ll be eating into the mainline pie.

Verdict: The digital agency isn’t dead…but unless they change their medication quick, they will pass on peacefully in their sleep.

The Full-Service Agency Is Dead

Obituaries here and here.

Sure, they’re coming under pressure from digital shops right now. But see above. Eventually, integration – whether driven by traditional agencies or digital agencies – will win out – from a creative, brand, business and economy point-of-view.

Verdict: The full-service agency is visiting the doctor regularly, and the pills are bitter, but the long-term prognosis is still good.

Email Marketing Is Dead

Eulogies here, here and here.

Yeah, look. As much as I choose to send most emails I receive straight to the bin, I have to admit that email marketing is far from dead. Gmail tabs notwithstanding.

Yes, open rates have dropped. But here’s another way to look at it. I was recently tracking Open Rates and Click Rates across a bunch of brands, and sure enough, they’d all declined to some level after Gmail tabs. However, Clicks Per Unique Open were up. Which showed me that I was engaging with my most meaningful customers.

Across all our brands, email marketing continues to drive conversions, cross-sell and up-sell. Based on smart analysis, segmenting and targeting. And it’s working for our clients.

Verdict: Alive and kicking. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Real-Time Marketing Is Dead

Evidence here, here, here and here.

Oreo screwed us all. What started as a single, beautiful (if opportunistic) tweet has snowballed into a flood of desperate attempts to capitalise on news. What Amul did in India on hoardings decades ago, brands are doing now on Twitter and Facebook.

And, let’s face it, 99.95% of all real-time marketing tweets are crap.

They’re a force-fit. A desperate attempt by a brand to sound cool and ‘with it’ by jumping on to an event that the brand might have absolutely no connect with. An event that may not even gel with the brand’s personality. And with creative that will most likely suck.

Verdict: It’s alive, but I wish it were dead so that brands could focus on what’s relevant to them and their audience.

Social Media Marketing Is Dead

Opinions here, here and here.

My take here is really simple. The last great innovation I saw on social media was Skyrec (Google it). Right now, I see brands busy spamming News Feeds and Timelines with “engagement posts” and, worse, contests. (More about that here.) It’s still driving clicks to e-commerce, but…

It’s become a numbers game instead of a quality game. Instead of following a funnel from broadcasting to narrowcasting, brands and agencies are sticking to broadcasting. 5 million fans? I have 10 million. And 30,000 Twitter followers to boot. Fuck you too.

Most importantly, Mark Zuckerberg has proved thrice in the last two years what I’ve been saying for a while longer – that social media cannot be owned media. Because you, as a brand, don’t set the rules. First, Zuck reduced the reach of Posts and made advertisers spend money to reach an audience they’d already spent money to acquire. Second, he introduced Timeline, and put paid to all those Facebook apps brands had spent crores creating. Thirdly, he gave image posts the maximum reach last year – and, this April, chopped that down, sending social media managers into a tizzy.

Over time, Facebook will become a brand’s RSS feed. And Twitter will become a brand’s influence marketing platform, once (if) agencies realise that contests are doing sweet fuck-all for a brand’s image and bottomline.

Also, from an agency standpoint, social media management is pretty much a loss-making proposition. Lots of man-hours, piss-poor retainers, ultra-easy to screw up. So yeah, it’s not exactly a bed of roses.

Verdict: Yeah, social media is dead, and I’m kicking the corpse on the way out.

Content Marketing Is Dead

Tears shed here and here.

Again. It’s a question of creativity. Most of the content going up on brand blogs and websites is repetitive, redundant and boring. There’s no newness, no novelty, no differentiator. Often, there’s no focus on a brand’s tone of voice. Most content is just clutter.

But, that said, we’ve just begun to explore content marketing. And, every now and then, brands like Red Bull will come along and do a space jump and content marketing will once again be the new darling of the crowds.

Verdict: Content marketing is alive, but just a toddler, and needs some hand-holding to grow up.

Banner Ads Are Dead

The shortest take yet. Yes they are. When was the last time you clicked on one, eh? Or failed to get annoyed by a pop-up, a pop-under or (that new darling of publishers) auto-play video?

Verdict: Save yer money, cut the life support, let banners die. And look for more organic ways to engage.

This kind of a topic sort of demands a poll, so I’d love to know what you think.

Standard
creative, digital, insight, mobile

From Big Ideas To Little Ones

We’ve grown extremely used to clients – and indeed, Creative Directors – asking for the Big Idea.

The Big Idea is the sacred cow of advertising. The rock around which campaigns – and agencies – are built. Businesses are won and lost, brands are built and torn down, careers are made or unmade, by that elusive Big Idea.

These are the kind of words we bandy about to describe the Big Idea:

What is a Big Idea?

How we describe a big idea.

Jaago Re, What An Idea Sirji, Daag Achhe Hain, Open Happiness, Real Beauty…these are the kind of ideas that we identify with as Big Ideas. The kind of ideas we’re benchmarked against, the kind of ideas we’d kill to come up with.

They’re gargantuan. They go viral. They’re loved, they’re hated, but they’re universally spoken about. The media picks them up. Celebs tweet about them. Inevitably, they become part of popular culture and lingo. (And the agency’s showreel.)

But when it comes to digital, the world of software-driven marketing, there may be a different approach.

When it comes to agencies trying to develop a great app for their brands, they might want to start by identifying a small niche. A small problem, left unresolved.  A small opportunity to do something better than someone else has. A small gap in a market that nobody may have noticed.

Little ideas which may not sound earth-shattering, but which turn into brilliant, useful, engaging, entertaining apps.

We’re seeing app developers take this approach, and churn out apps that fill small gaps and suddenly become the de facto solution. And brands need to follow.

Some already have.

Pampers’ Hello Baby Pregnancy Calendar took away the need to visit a baby website to track your unborn child’s progress.

Walgreens, the local pharmacy, removed the need to manually set prescription reminders by automating them and allowing users to order through the app.

ColorSmart, by paint company BEHR, allowed you to choose paint colours to compliment an existing colour in your room, and held interior design angst at bay.

A really brilliant one was Chase Bank’s Quick Deposit feature on their mobile app. Which eliminated the need for a user to go to a bank to deposit a cheque. All the user had to do was scan the cheque number and details, verify the amount, and VOILA! (A great example of digital transformation as well.)

All of these are based on real human truths, and sound like little ideas, almost not worth doing.

Yet, they stand head and shoulders above the ruins of failed branded apps.

So the next time you’re trying to crack a branded app, put away the pressure of the Big Idea, and focus on the little one. Try and solve for the real problems, the ones we moan about in the privacy of our minds.

You might find truth in the old adage, “Less is more.”

Standard
design, digital, industry, insight, trend

Digital Thinking. Design Thinking. #SameThing, I’m Thinking.

The real insight that came out of Kyoorius DesignYatra 2013 was, simply, this:

Digital and Design have a common goal – to solve human problems.

The notion occurred to me sometime on day one, during DigiYatra. It could’ve been sparked by the conversation that I had with a colleague on the flight to Goa. Or by the conference theme itself – Create Change. Or by something one of the speakers on the first day – Sanky, Joao Cardoso Fernandes, Laura Jordan Bambach – said.

You’ll find the proof in any products, digital or design, created by a brand or otherwise. As illustrated briefly below.

Granted, the scale of the problem may vary wildly, from personal to societal. But the essence is the same.

Identify a problem. Then build something to solve it.

The theme was hammered home on day 3, when Raj Kurup forcefully put a message across.

Everybody is a designer.

It’s true. In our world, you don’t need Photoshop and Illustrator to be called a designer. It’s not about what you do, it’s about the problem you solve.

In fact, tomorrow’s creativity may be all about identifying the crux of the problem, for the solution is often obvious.

The best digital and design agencies do exactly this. Identify a problem, design something to solve it. As do the millions of startups that churn out product after product, hardware and software, to address problems they think are worth the effort.

If those solutions can also solve a brand’s needs, then you have truly great marketing solutions.

It’s all about a human-centric approach rather than a brand-centric one.

Not a bad way to attack your next brief, no?

Standard
challenges, digital, india, industry, trend

The Battle To Own Digital In India

I was at the Effies the other night, and something struck me hard.

We, Jack In The Box Worldwide, were the only digital agency shortlisted in the category Digital Advertising.

We got a bronze. But the golds went to Ogilvy and Taproot.

It’s time those who claim that mainline agencies don’t ‘get’ digital shut up and take a long, hard look at the awards tallies.

Image Courtesy: rotane.deviantart.com

At the Abbys, Ogilvy’s Fox Crime campaign swept the Digital Grand Prix. The same story was just repeated at the Effies last Tuesday.

And media agencies, the third wheel of our growing ecosystem, were nowhere to be seen.


Let’s face it – at both of India’s premier award shows, where digital agencies and mainline agencies compete in the same field, the mainline agencies have come out ahead. 

They may not have won as many awards as the digital and media agencies but they have won the top prize twice in a row now.

The disparity in the number of medals can be explained by the fact that mainline shops get much fewer digital briefs than digital and media agencies.

In fact, the only place you’ll find digital and media agencies competing and winning are at specialist digital award shows – Campaign India’s Digital Awards, the IDMA, etc.

But, and not very quietly either, mainline agencies have been working to catch up and get past the competition.

Lowe, as Joseph George announced in a recent interview, is working to ‘mainline’ digital.

Ogilvy presents and executes an integrated campaign for almost every brief.

JWT has, under Bobby Pawar and Max Hegermann, set up a very capable pan-India digital team.

Leo Burnett’s Creative Directors are, in their own words, asked to crack the digital idea before the TVC.

BBH is competing with their clients’ digital agencies, pitching digital ideas along with their mainline campaigns.

BBDO has integrated so closely with Proximity that the latter even pitches (and executes) TVCs, on occasion.

It won’t be long before they’re winning digital duties, either as part of an integrated package, or stand-alone.

They have the clients, they have the money to hire good digital people, and they can play the long game more easily than small digital shops. 

They also have better creative folk than media agencies, whose key business is in the planning and buying of media space, not creative solutions.

And which client wouldn’t want to give their business to a place that has proven their understanding of the brand time and time again, and shows that they can do it in digital as well?

Us digital folk are fighting a battle we haven’t fully realised we’re in. And we have two options in front of us now.

One: Sell out. Every network agency is shopping for digital agencies in India. There are at least two digital shops I know of in serious talks, and another that has already been stealthily acquired. Integrate with the network agency and play in a larger field, quicker than you would’ve otherwise.

Two: The option former Campaign India editor Anant Rangaswami suggests in his tour de force, The Elephants In The Room. Hire people who ‘get’ brands, across servicing and creative. Show clients that digital agencies can act as brand custodians too. And once you’ve consolidated your digital business, start attacking the mainline agencies by pitching for their mainline business.

What started off as a niche industry has become a full-blown battleground. It’s the Jedi versus the Sith, and it’s unclear, as of now, who’s going to emerge the winner.

Standard
design, digital, insight, trend, ui, ux

The Future Of Web Design

On 26 October 2012, the digital world changed forever.

That day, Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 to the world. A revolutionary reimagining of the world’s bestselling OS, one which blurred the lines between the computer and the tablet.


We’ve known for some months now that it was coming. And I’ve believed for some months now that Windows 8 heralds a complete reimagining of web design principles.


More and more, people are accessing the web using their mobile and tablets. Most of which are touchscreen devices. We’ve seen the stats for other websites we’ve built and maintain, and the ComScore reports too.


Microsoft realises this. That’s why they’ve built an OS that supports touch gestures on laptop and tablet screens as well as laptop trackpads.


Yet, websites continue to be designed for the point-and-click generation. They’re “optimised” for the mobile, and display on a tablet as they would on a PC.


But is that the same as “designed for touch”?


I would think that if a site were designed for touch, it wouldn’t have tiny hyperlinks you can’t put your finger on.


It wouldn’t force you to pinch-zoom to select text or a link.


It wouldn’t have plugins that don’t work on tablets and mobile phones.


It wouldn’t make you touch-and-drag the site around so you could see what’s hidden in the margins.


There’s clearly a big difference between “works for touch” and “designed for touch”. 


The strange part is, the same publishers design mobile and tablet apps that are absolutely gorgeous and work the way a touchscreen user would want them too.


So why should the touchscreen experience on a website be anything less than gorgeous? Or different from the experience on a computer?

I believe that it’s up to publishers and digital marketers to drive a change. A new language of web design for the touchscreen generation.


A few days ago, we at Jack In The Box Worldwide took a small step towards that change. With the launch of the all-new Louis Philippe website, designed using HTML5, jQuery, JavaScript and CSS. A site born from the belief that web design needs to keep up with changing technology and user behaviour.



When we were designing the site, we threw all standard website references out of the window. And immersed ourselves in the world of mobile and tablet apps. 


Every element on the page, the way the wireframe has been planned, has been adopted, from tablet apps. As have all the little usability cues.


The site is responsive. It smartly resizes to fit any screen. Or any orientation.


There are no tiny text hyperlinks. Only buttons you can press comfortably with a finger or a thumb. 


On a touchscreen device – tablets, mobile phones, Windows 8 hybrids – you navigate with swipes. Swiping horizontally lets you navigate between sections; swiping vertically lets you explore a section further.


We wanted to keep the user experience consistent across devices. So you can also swipe through the site using the trackpad on your Win8 and Apple laptops, which support multitouch gestures. An aspect that should build familiarity through consistency and sheer novelty.


We haven’t sacrificed basic usability, however. You can also navigate by clicking through the links. Or using the arrow keys.

We learnt a lot about touch UI while working on the site. Every few days, we’d have to get together to solve a design or usability issue that popped up while developing. There are still features we need to add and problems we need to solve. That’s why we’re still iterating, and will be constantly trying new ways to solve old problems.

It’d be interesting to apply this thinking to other websites – like news media, for example, or e-commerce. Each of those will have their own problems, and we’ll have to find new, interesting ways to solve them.

A first step…and in my mind, a necessary one.

Standard
digital, industry, virals

The Dark Side of Viral Marketing

On 16th November, Jack In The Box kicked off what became India’s (and possibly the world’s) biggest viral campaign of 2011. By the time we took our foot off the gas, #kolaveri had covered most of the globe. The original video had gotten (at the time of writing this) over 25 million hits and spawned a whole bunch of cover versions. Dhanush was on billboards and news channels, and organising flash mobs at Churchgate Station. Amitabh Bachchan was tweeting about it. And Jack In The Box was getting a whole lot of phone calls and news coverage.

Kolaveri was a case study in viral marketing. It showed the world how great seeding and promotion could get a great piece of content to the right people, in the least time and the least cost. It showed the faith our client had in us – and the power of social recommendation.

Then, two weeks later, we got a phone call that made us painfully aware of the other side of social media marketing. The jugaad side. The dark side. The one that we’ve all been aware of, but chosen to ignore.

The Jedi Knights of social media do it the hard way. We identify the best channels to place the content, and seed it over and over again, each time giving the audience a new way to engage with it. We painstakingly identify influencers and engage with them. If we’re crowdsourcing, we slave over getting entries in. We slave over curating them and putting together the final piece of content. We track, religiously. We optimise. We celebrate every thousandth like and every hundred-thousandth video view. We celebrate the people who make the content viral.
The Sith Lords, of course, are another story.
We’ve heard of the agencies – and clients –  that pay money to buy likes on Facebook. The ones that pay people to create fake Facebook profiles and sit around all day clicking the Like button on all their Pages, creating an artificial spike in their Facebook Insights.
We know about the agencies – and clients – that ‘crowdsource’ videos and other content. The crowd is made up of agency employees and their friends. Of course, the film has been produced by the agency, scripted and staged to the last detail. And then passed off as videos done by fans in the real world.
The phone call we received the other day was one such request.
Why was I so pissed off?
Frankly speaking, we owe the client a lot for Kolaveri. They could’ve easily insisted we buy likes, we create ‘crowdsourced’ videos. They didn’t. They trusted us to do our jobs and supported us in any way they could. The results are out there for the world to see.
Contrast this to a client who refused to acknowledge that we know what we are doing. Who refused to trust our judgement of content. Who asked us to fake something that could’ve been done better and for real. All this after Kolaveri.
Why fake an orgasm when someone is willing to work hard to give you a real one?
It all comes back down to two things.
One: The Measurement Curse. Clients are desperate for the numbers that will make their bosses happy and their bonuses fatter. Agencies are desperate for the numbers that will help them retain the business. It’s a dirty business, really. As long as clients are going to be rewarding employees and agencies on the basis of quantitative measures – likes, comments, % virality, % engagement – this shit will continue to go down.
Two: The ‘Know-It-All’ Curse (I haven’t blogged about that yet). Clients who don’t understand audiences believe they are brighter and more creative than the agency they hire. They don’t spend a tenth as much time as we do tracking trends. Or understanding what makes a campaign viral. Or learning about the platforms we use. Yet, they mysteriously always know better than we do.
I’m under no illusions that this rant will change things. But I just have one more thing to say to the Sith Lords of viral marketing.
Agencies can fool the client. Clients can fool their bosses. Agencies and clients can both fool themselves. 
But ultimately, you can’t fool the audience.
Standard
advertising, content, copywriting, digital, industry

Return Of The (Long) Copy Writer?

My love affair with long copy began in 2002, during my internship with Ambience D’Arcy. My then boss, Raghu Bhat, suggested I focus on learning how to craft copy. So during my next internship, I pestered my Creative Director, Elvis Sequeira, to teach me how to write, and never looked back.

All through my mainline stint, long copy was my – pun intended – long suit. I set myself a goal – every year, I would present at least one long copy campaign to a client. In a period when everyone wanted to crack a TV commercial, I became the long copy guy. A lot of work remained unpublished as clients showed ever-decreasing belief in print and long copy. But there were some memorable releases, and I fed off those.

Copywriting became a bit frustrating about three years ago. There wasn’t much appreciation for the carefully crafted paragraph, or for print as a medium itself. Most long-copy ads were written as scam entries for Goafest, hung on the walls for an audience comprising twelve jury members and a few hundred festival delegates. Worst of all, it became impossible to find young talent that could actually put together a grammatically correct sentence in the Queen’s English. Fewer still possessed the ability to vary their tone and vocabulary to suit different brands, the way David Abbott taught us.

And so long-copy advertising in India seemed destined to fade into oblivion.

Until the digital explosion came along.

Portals like Yahoo have long known what digital marketing professionals are just beginning to cotton on to – content, if interesting, relevant and well targeted, will be consumed, no matter the length or format. Long-form content, mostly text, keeps websites alive and audiences engaged. Millions of text-heavy blogs are consumed each day, read through from cover to cover. While video views are increasing rapidly in India – YouTube is the second most-widely searched site in India – bandwidth considerations mean that text is still the primary form of content online.

The other aspect of this is the explosion of social media. Brand engagement on Facebook and Twitter is growing exponentially. Each day, users’ timelines are populated by a plethora of content from brands, be it long form or short.

Here’s the rub. What I’m seeing right now is an explosion of social media content, but an appalling paucity of good writing. I see strings of cliches masquerading as headlines, reams of soulless copy packaged and labelled as blog posts. Take the line, “Winter fashion just got hotter!” How many times have you read this line, in print or online? Replace ‘winter fashion’ and ‘hotter’ with ‘travel’ and ‘easier’, and you have yet another bad headline. Look at brand blogs next, and you will see generic news coverage instead of engaging brand content.

Social media and branded content demand a mix of advertising and journalistic writing skills. The best-written Twitter account I’ve seen for a brand in India is the one for Hippo. It’s run by the copywriters at Creativeland Asia, and brings a distinctive brand voice to popular news and culture.

The other problem with journalism in India is that ideas have become stale and worn, giving way to sensationalism and battles to coin a superlative. Every sale is India’s biggest sale; every party is India’s most happening party. What happened to the idea of positioning each piece of content to make it distinctive, impactful and memorable? What happened to the need for command over the English language? (If you’d watched the TV coverage of the Indian F1 Grand Pricks, you’d know what I mean.)

I believe that there are skills each discipline can learn from the other. But I also believe very strongly that if we can get the hardcore journalists among the social media fraternity to understand nuances of brands a lot better, we’ll be in a happier place. After all, those nuances are what distinguish a Red Bull page on Formula 1 from ESPN F1.

It’s going to take a whole lot of effort to train journalists to think differently when writing for brands. But at the end, my aim is that in my company, we blur the lines between the Content Writers and the Advertising Writers.

And then, perhaps, our people will truly deserve to be called copywriters.

Standard