The love fest that is Advertising Week Europe took place during a dramatic and tumultuous week, starting with Google apologising to brands who were affected by the brand safety issue on YouTube, and finishing with the far more serious terrorist atrocity in Westminster. That meant that Sadiq Kahn - a great catch for ESI on Thursday - obviously had to cancel. A sombre time to remember - this is only advertising.
But the show must go on. And I have to say the 2017 edition of AWE was packed with genuinely useful sessions, and a lot of entertainment along the way.
With the majority of the agenda devoted to aspects of digital marketing, it was nonetheless refreshing to fill my Trump bingo card, as the Donald came up in so many seminars and panels. Here are just a few highlights and discoveries from my Advertising Week.
Data and the Donald
A couple of years ago everyone was talking big data, and how many peta-bytes they could process in one afternoon. So I just loved this quote from Karen Crumm of McCann: “Data is like an over-excited bunch of puppies who've been let loose in a living room and left a great big mess.” But of course, data used creatively and interpreted properly is really powerful.
Which brought us to the Guardian’s ‘Big Data Backlash’ panel and the subject of Cambridge Analytica, who claim they interrogate 5000 data points to capture profiles on 220 million American voters. That’s a bold boast considering there are (only) 240 million US voters. But Cambridge Analytica claim they know people better than they know themselves. Others might say, that with so much insight based on social channels, most people are just demonstrating how they want to be perceived.
The Trump campaign ended up paying Cambridge Analytica $5m dollars to target swing voters, while Clinton invested $30m on Facebook in the month leading up to polling day. But the panel agreed this just resulted in an echo chamber effect – where like-minded people agree with each other.
So how influential was the data profiling, really? Ben Shimshon of Britain Thinks said the campaign slogans played the biggest part. Hilary Clinton’s was “I’m with her”, which, apart from heralding the first female president, doesn’t stand for a lot. But you can hang any issue you like off “Let’s make America Great again”. As you could back in 2008 with Obama’s “yes we can!”. And remember, “Take back control” by Vote Leave? All these people-empowering campaign headlines scored.
What’s the lesson for brands? A compelling central message and purpose count for a lot. And don’t keep saying the same thing with no point of difference, or you’ll lose.
Found a market gap? Build a new app!
Young millennial entrepreneurs were a big theme for enjoyable sessions hosted by both Cosmopolitan and Facebook.
The first thing we learn is, when it comes to the all-important elevator pitch for an investor or journalist, it clearly helps if you can make an easy comparison with a successful app: It's Gaydar for women (Her). It’s Uber for healthcare (Vida). It's Tinder for new mums (Peanut).
But let’s talk reinventing slippers. Nakuru Shah, the founder of www.Mahabis.com has a neat story of data and brand. Basically he found he couldn’t name any brand of slipper. And spotting this obvious gap in the market, he designed what he believes is the world’s best range of slippers, and launched it worldwide from day one. It caught on – but customers’ expectations of swift delivery were like those of ‘any billion dollar company’, so when orders outstripped expectation, Nakuru had to adapt very quickly.
What’s great about Mahabis is they control the end-to-end design and production of the slippers, which powers the progressive content for advertising. Very slick.
One thing all budding millennial entrepreneurs agree on is that nearly all potential investors are old, white males. And to get them to sit up and listen, the trigger words are ‘disruptive’ and ‘mobile’. Duly noted.
I'm 57, but hey, age is just a number.
Actually, at a dark Advertising Week after show party I can easily pass for 43. However, I was strangely drawn to this session with Katie Derham and Jo Whiley with M&S CMO, Rob Western.
But the real card on the panel was Vicki Maguire of Grey London, clearly proud to win the M&S creative business, and full of great one-liners like these:
“The over 50s got to grips with their consumption ages ago, but brands still think we're in the market for Stannah stairlifts and elasticated pants.”
“Mutton dressed as lamb? I'm more worried about being mutton dressed as mutton.”
“In a country so fragmented, the one thing that unites us is M&S knickers.” (Her client keenly pointed out that they supply a third of the nation’s underwear.)
The gags kept coming. Vicki also had a great anecdote about the folly of announcing her 50th birthday on Facebook. The behavioural advertising data got to work straight away, and she was duly bombarded with ads for Saga, no-medical life assurance and Spanx shapewear.
The lesson from the panel: Talk to me for who I am not what I am. Attitude is the determinant of modern behaviour, not age.
I must be living proof.
Jonathan Pie - Three months to do or die.
Finally, a rib-tickling session with the new satirical political sensation, Jonathan Pie – who’s act is built on the insight that TV news reporters might say what they really think to their producers via the earpiece, while off-air before and after broadcast.
Real name, Tom Walker, an out of work 40 year old actor, he was about to give up and become a teacher ‘before committing suicide’, when he decided to give his Jonathan Pie creation three months to make an impression on YouTube.
Good call. In the age of fake news, we have an angry, in-yer-face fake news reporter, who tells it like it is – whether it’s Corbyn, the NHS, the police, The Guardian, or Trump. But Pie has had to ration himself on Trump after scoring 20 million hits in one week across the pond with this gem:
It works because, unlike mainstream news channels, which invariably have an agenda and their own ‘prism’, Pie can cut through all that and contextualise the news with a dollop of unvarnished truth. And I love it when he inevitably goes into serious on-air broadcast mode before fading out at the end of each skit.
So there’s a lesson for content marketers. How to go from a nobody to a worldwide hit in a few months. Just what any new brand launch should aspire to.
I leave you with Pie’s reaction to George Osborne becoming the new editor of the London Evening Standard. “Anyone who thought that was appropriate, when we desperately need the free press? Who would approve of that, I wonder? ...Probably Tony F***ing Blair: the turd that won't flush.”
Bring back Jonathan Pie for AWE 2018! Especially if it’s in Amsterdam!
Guy Phillipson is chairman of iCrossing UK, and the former CEO of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK).