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Ad blockers, Instagram ads and Twitter's character limit – making DigitalSense of the month's big news


By Jerry Daykin, Fractional CMO

October 7, 2015 | 8 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.

September was a tale of two weeks with some sharp contrasts between the experts at Social Media Week and the platforms at Ad Week, and it was a pretty big month in the world of digital marketing all round packed with product announcements, industry debates and the great ad blocking scandal.

Digital evangelists will have been cheering the news that mobile has overtaken print in terms of UK media investment, but news from the US that vinyl sales outstripped all streaming music services combined pours a bit of analogue water on the party, as does TFLs tease of its impending war on Uber. Carat research predicts that overall media spends will be up 4.7 per cent and while digital is the biggest grower, TV is still on a steady up as it celebrates its 60th birthday.

Social Media Week kicked off the month, and as in recent years the ‘This Is Not an Insight’ Tumblr is still possibly the best thing to come out of it, pouring a healthy reality check on proceedings. The worst thing was probably still the lack of female voices up front which is why this great opinion piece by Lynn Lester is well worth a read.

While gurus discussed the different ways to drive engagement and the importance of it, the platforms themselves continued their starkly different narrative of reach, impact and actual business results. Instagram had perhaps the most momentum as it opened itself fully up to advertisers, fresh after overtaking Twitter’s user numbers – for marketers it offers a premium ‘magazine’ addition to the more ‘newspaper’ like Facebook newsfeed. With its first branded hashtag for Coke (to go with one for the Pope) and improved third party attribution Twitter showed it was up to the challenge.

One of the biggest stirs was caused by Nescafe’s decision to move its entire website to Tumblr. A sensible one, but not truly that radical… websites have never had huge importance within FMCG marketing and any way to reduce the cost of building them is always welcome. Ultimately still looks very much like a normal website to the untrained eye, but the content the brand produces for it can now be natively amplified right across the Tumblr and Yahoo ecosystem.

With Facebook and YouTube both making advances in 360 video products I was less taken with Nescafe’s efforts there – nothing personal, even the mighty Star Wars video that debuted on Facebook fell for the same trap that a 360 gimmick in its own right doesn’t make for great content, and no one’s really cracked how to tell a story in a format where your audience can accidentally be looking the wrong way. Creatives: please don’t get too carried away.

Many of the biggest announcements came at Ad Week, and The Drum has its own summary which is well worth a read.

Facebook announced a new TV-like way of buying reach, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s paid attention to their reach focus over the past 3 years, but somehow did. Perhaps more surprising were the first results from Facebook & Mondelēz’s ecommerce partnership (disclaimer: which I help lead at Carat) which has already seen concrete sales lifts in its first few months. The boys in blue continue their dominance of social spending, with Instagram fast approaching the $1bn mark in its own right. The introduction of video profile pictures and the tease of a dislike button (which is really more of an empathy button) wrapped up their busy month.

Google’s ‘Customer Match’ product was welcomed but criticised for being years behind Facebook’s, though the truth is Google Search has a lot more native data on intent already before this is layered on. Of more mass market interest from my perspective was the quiet roll out of demographic targeting within search, which no one seemed to notice/report on at all. YouTube’s introduction of Shoppable videos is a nice touch, but its advanced linking functionality has meant this has arguably been technically possible for years, though sometimes it’s good to have things spelt out!

Twitter kept fairly quiet (perhaps it was distracted by picking its new/old CEO?) but still managed to get everyone talking about a possible removal of the iconic 140 character limit. Given that most users don’t tweet at all, it hardly felt like a big unlock on that front, but the opportunity to bring more content within its native experience would be a strong play. Oh hang on, isn’t that something it has publicly announced already in partnership with Google? Panic over.

Snapchat’s new selfie filters got people talking, and looks to be a promising new marketing opportunity – it apes Asian messenger apps where branded stickers and integrations are already the norm. Spotify for its part rolled out a programmatic offering and a clear push to be considered alongside radio in holistic audience-neutral audio plans.

And how could we forget ad blocking? From a niche conversation it’s become a dominant force that threatens to destroy the advertising industry… or so we’re told. It’s certainly a challenge, but we should be cautious of exaggerating it. Apple’s new iOS has made it a little more mainstream, but a couple of weeks after a series of blockers flew up the charts only one remains in the top 100 – did I mention that as much as 90 per cent of mobile use is within the ‘walled gardens’ of apps where these tools don’t even work? Certainly, as Marissa Mayer points out, it’s a push for better and more native advertising, but marketers who want to be noticed should be thinking that way already.

For a real dose of irony the ad blockers are turning back to industry experts to advise which ads are ‘good’ enough not to be blocked, whilst ‘users of ad blocking tools’ are now an audience you can target with programmatic campaigns. Oh, and by the way Tivo has a new box which blocks/skips TV ads at the push of a button so I guess ALL marketing is doomed?

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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