Unilever and Comedy Central braced for a world where brands are ‘one swipe away from irrelevancy’

Mobile messaging apps are fast becoming an entry point for digital experiences, and for Unilever and Comedy Central, that shift has them thinking how to market brands in a world where they are one swipe away from irrelevancy.

The focus has to be on content, answered Robert Candelino, Unilever’s vice president of marketing for its haircare business in America, on a SXSW panel. Speaking alongside executives from Comedy Central and mobile messaging brand platform Kik, the marketer admitted he does not yet have “silver bullet” to hit that deeper level of engagement but promised its marketing on these platforms will “start with what value we’re adding to peoples’ lives”.

Private messaging apps - the future of mobile marketing

It sounds simple and yet the panellists all agreed it is hard to do against the pressures to hurry into a space that is growing exponentially.

The top four messgaing apps - WhatsApp and Messenger (both owned by Facebook), WeChat and Viber - have nearly 3 billion users between them. More than 75 per cent of smartphone users worldwide booted up a mobile messaging app at least once a month last year, according to eMarketer, and by 2018 the number of chat app users will reach 2 billion – 80 per cent of smartphone users.

“While there’s a lot energy and excitement around these emerging channels we [as marketers] have to be mindful that it’s a balancing act,” said Candelino. “The threshold on the quality of content and the importance in the value you add to someone’s life has never been higher. You are one swipe away from being irrelevant.”

He went on to cite the example of Dove’s ‘Curly Haired’ emojis as an example of offering up that value, which in this instance was the empowerment of an underrepresented group of women. Wavy-haired females are a marginalised group when it comes emojis, added the marketer, and while it might be hard to accept that the icons can tackle a social problem on their own, he assured that they could.

“Women were not being accurately represented in this new channel which is booming and we thought that was wrong and chose to do something about it. That’s the benefit of starting with an idea; yes, mobile messaging is important and growing, but if you start by saying we need a mobile messaging strategy then you’ve missed the boat. From a brand standpoint you’re going towards a solution and missing out the root cause.”

What the rise of mobile messaging means for content

That focus on one-to-one engagement is also shaping Comedy Central’s early forays into how it needs to push content out to mobile messaging apps. Off the back of a popular first season, Broad City’s creators at the broadcaster realized many of its so-called ‘super fans’ were using emojis to talk about the show on various social networks and messaging apps and so it created a custom keyboard. Built in partnership with mobile marketing platform Snaps, the keyboard was launched more than 12 million times and 30 per cent of those people that used it came through peer-to-peer sharing.

“We’re trying to capitalise on the behaviors that already exist [on these mobile messaging platforms]," said Lesley Robin, director of social strategy at Comedy Central.

“We’re mindful of where our super fans are and how we can reach them in their own different platforms. We’re also thinking about Snapchat and what it means for our brands to be part of their ‘Discover' platform, where we’re creating original digital content because we want to be reaching our audiences in the right places with the right content.”

If brands are to exist in these sacred places, where people curate what content they see and control the services they use, then it requires thinking that’s separate from what’s applied to other asynchronous channels.

“[Marketing on mobile messaging apps] is not just blasting out content for everybody because it’s the same," warned Anthony Green, director of business development and advertising partnerships at Kik. He went on to predict that the popularity of mobile messaging would bring about the end of the “age of apps”, adding that utility services, from “content to ecommerce” will fold into the “web browsers of the future."

Gemma Milne, tech innovation strategist at Ogilvy & Mather, continued on this point: "We’re hearing more and more about the importance of so-called 'Micro Moments' - 5–7 second periods of consumer attention which brands must use in the best way possible (I.e. Don’t send me shitty pointless content – either provide a quick, easy service and help me or send me something which is going to truly entertain me).

"Brands need to make the most of social to deliver these great pieces of content to consumers. For me, social is the perfect way for brands to engage meaningfully with consumers if, and only if, they can cut through the noise, act less like a biased publisher and more like a concierge for consumers."

Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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