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Google out-rebrands Facebook while Ashley Madison gets exposed – the #DigitalSense Digest puts the month's headlines in context


By Jerry Daykin, Fractional CMO

September 7, 2015 | 7 min read

In the latest instalment of the series, Jerry Daykin tells us what the big headlines from the last month really mean for the marketing industry.

It’s been a fantastic month for branding enthusiasts with Google (or should we say Alphabet?) springing two big surprises on us, whilst others like Ashley Madison less willingly spent some time in the spotlight. Thanks for spending some of your daily 2 hours and 51 minutes online reading this take on marketing’s most interesting stories!

Google got tongues waggling back in early August with the big surprise announcement of its new company structure and name ‘Alphabet’. Lots of very clever people weighed in on The Drum to say what it all meant, but for most marketers the impact is limited and probably mildly positive. For me the most interesting point was that Google made no attempts to secure the most obvious domains, and to this day doesn’t have a PPC search strategy to guide you there… damning its own core business model? Or perhaps the perfect strategy when you don’t really want to be found by consumers.

Given that its logo sits on millions (or perhaps even billions) of home screens, the move to update the Google logo itself will be a longer felt change. Love it/hate it or struggle to spot the difference with it, the most interesting things about it are some of the wider trends it represents. Personally I find it a little more childlike, but it is much better suited to the mobile screen (even at low bandwidths) and really comes to life when allowed to animate… criteria that other logos going forward will now start to be judged on too.

Although Facebook’s business grows more complex by the day, there’s no sign of a corporate name change there yet (though now’s the time to place bets on that) and the minor tweaks it made to its own logo in July now look rather tame in comparison. It was anything but a quiet month for the social giant though: Facebook itself had 1 billion people log in to it on the same day for the first time; WhatsApp outran Messenger to hit the 900 million user mark; and it finally began testing the rich media ‘creative canvas’ mobile ads it previewed at Cannes.

Those new ads offer an interesting middle ground between the strong reach-focussed narrative Facebook has been telling, and the social media creatives pushing for extra engagement – it remains to be seen how they’ll perform but there’s a big watch out for brands who use them to be self-indulgent rather than creating something people might actually care about.

Everyone loves a gossip so Ashley Madison’s downfall has been making headlines all month, though as with the Sony Pictures hack it raises some questions about when journalistic/public intrigue crosses the line into being invasive and encouraging in its own right. Early commentators discussed how the dating site could look to bounce back, but it’s hard to imagine how the business (considering an IPO just months ago) could ever hope to in anything like its current form. As if failing on privacy when it’s your main selling point wasn’t bad enough, the revelation that about 99.9 per cent of active users are men is just embarrassing all round.

Brands that aren’t thinking seriously about their own data security should take this latest high-profile hack as a wakeup call, but then perhaps all publicity is good publicity so now might be a good time for the Ashley Madison owners to completely pivot the business model in a new direction. Awareness is at an all-time high.

It’s clear that public scrutiny of brands is only increasing, as is the resulting need for transparency and good business practices. Burger King pushed new boundaries on this front when it publicly challenged McDonald's to create a joint product, but while it may have generated more buzz there weren’t really any winners from the discussion.

It’s a glimpse of the real-time antics we’re bound to see during this month’s Rugby World Cup. Samsung is publicly gearing up for its onslaught, though sees it more as a warm-up to Rio 2016, and Daniel Todara made some fair points about how serious sponsors could benefit by pulling the partnership right through the line. My personal advice for brands gearing up their own real time efforts is often not to bother – big events like this are an absolute guarantee of huge levels of noise and distraction and for the most part marketers will see their efforts regulated to irrelevance pretty rapidly. If you are thinking of having a go then sort out your paid media strategy first.

Oh and in case you missed it: programmatic (a word I sometimes think just means ‘targeted’) continued its all-conquering march by entering the OOH sector; Ted Baker took peculiar pride in how its ‘non-advertising’ approach connected it with some small percentage of its 230,000 Instagram followers whilst keeping it invisible to the millions that advertising could reach; Twitter continued to find creative ways to offer marketers valuable scale by offering reach within other apps; and a BBC presenter showed that with the best preparation in the world sometimes you still don’t know where great content might come from.

And that was the month that was, or at least what I took out of the biggest stories of the past few weeks – see you next time or follow the ongoing #DigitalSense on LinkedIn.

Jerry Daykin is global digital director at Carat


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