This week saw some welcome platform updates and some noble experiments (live television spots, anyone?), but when it came to social, the conversation was dominated by one event...
Pass the 7-layer Dip (and the Righteousness)
It’s that time of year once again when modern-day titans throw down in a clash of mythic proportions for all the world to watch on their glowing screens. Of course we’re talking about the Super Bowl … of advertising. Every year, brands drop small (and sometimes not so small) fortunes to capture the attention of viewers of one of the few remaining mass-audience live television events. And agencies push the envelope with exorbitant production values and innovative storytelling, launching trends that we see throughout the next year.
This year, given the current political climate, many ads trended toward political statements. The keyword was diversity, and many major brands offered their own take on the concept. The timing could be seen as a rebuke of the Trump administration’s recent travel ban, but many of these ads had been in the works for months. From Budweiser’s immigrant story of its founder Adolphus Busch to Audi’s plea for women’s equal pay to Coca-Cola’s re-airing of its 2014 “America the Beautiful” ad, featuring the patriotic song being sung in a multitude of different languages, to 84 Lumber’s startling tale of a mother and daughter making a long journey across Mexico to illegally enter the United States, brands didn’t shy away from making bold statements, a trend that hasn’t gone unnoticed by analysts or by the public. Alex Holder declares in his Guardian column that “Sex doesn’t sell any more, activism does,” and while the actual verdict on sales may still be out, there’s no denying that these ads created more than their fair share of chatter, not to mention controversy.
Why do we care?
If the holy grail is total social conversation, these gambits may pay off, but weaving political messages with commercial ones can be risky. The adage says that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but Audi’s fairly straightforward support of equal pay in the workplace has generated almost ten times more dislikes than likes. With all the to-do about fake news these days, viewers have become avid fact checkers, pointing out that there are only two women on Audi’s U.S. executive team and board of directors combined. From hashtags like #BoycottCoke to online fury over the fairly innocuous Budweiser ad to denouncements of 84 Lumber’s beautifully executed but frankly mystifying salute to immigrant labor (the extended cut of which Fox deemed too controversial to air), it’s clear that activism cuts both ways. And given that authenticity is a major touchpoint for millennial consumers, brands need to tread carefully when they champion au courant causes, a move that can seem like appropriation rather than solidarity.
Brands like Kia and Avocados from Mexico scored big by using humor to de-emphasize potentially political subjects. Kia cast Melissa McCarthy as an enthusiastic but ultimately beleaguered eco-warrior, while Avocados from Mexico (who arguably has the most legitimate political beef on the table), depicted a secret society of bumbling Masonic avocado lovers. Both ads trended big on social with mostly positive mentions, but of course, there is already a small cottage industry of YouTubers dissecting the Masonic imagery in the Avocados from Mexico ad as some sort of conspiracy. The upshot is, while skewing political may fire a lot of conversation, brands need to be ready for the backlash.
Live from the Super Bowl, It’s … Snickers?
With Facebook Live and Snapchat Stories taking social by storm, it didn’t take long for conventional advertising to catch up. According to Advertising Age, live ads may be the future of advertising, and this Super Bowl offered some vigorous examples. Snickers and Hyundai aired ads that were shot and aired during the course of the actual game, while Tide constructed their ad to look like it was coming right out of the broadcast booth. In the scramble to match the immediacy and freshness of user-generated content on social media platforms, ad giants are jockeying to throw their hats in the live ring, with mixed results. The Snickers ad had little to do with the Super Bowl, other than a casual reference to the real-time score, and begged the question, Why go through all this trouble for an ad that could have been paired with any live televised event? Out of the three, the only truly innovative use of the live format was from Hyundai, who used their position to virtually bring together military families across the Atlantic.
Why do we care?
Live isn’t going away. The more portable and available video becomes, the more UGC we’re going to see, and brands have an opportunity to engage these consumers in a language that they speak fluently. Millennials like their content to resemble them, and conventional ads can seem ossified and archaic. The real question is whether brands can match the effortless, portable vibe of live video and still straddle the fence between it and the conventional broadcast space.
Uber Crosses the Picket Line
Coca-Cola and Budweiser aren’t the only brands to be targeted by online activism in recent weeks. Stepping into the fray of the protests sparked by Trump’s travel ban, Uber offered to disable its surge pricing during the protests at JFK, a move that many (given Uber’s ties to the Trump administration) saw as a deliberate attempt to strike-break the NYC taxi drivers who were protesting the ban. The hashtag #DeleteUber trended that weekend, and for the first time, Lyft overtook Uber in app store downloads.
Why do we care?
Digital blowback is swift and easy to disseminate. But while it only takes two steps to delete an app from your phone, a lot of users won’t go the extra mile to cancel their accounts. Still, regardless of how many users actually intend to discontinue using Uber, the negative publicity is fiery and profuse. Again, echoing the takeaway from the Super Bowl ads, venturing into the political storm waters can have serious consequences.
YOUR WEEKLY PLATFORM UPDATES
THE COLLAPSE OF THE ABUSIVE REPLY
Twitter is getting proactive about stamping out abuse, or at least hiding it. Following Facebook’s lead, Twitter has made it standard on its web service to activate a Safe Search feature. Users can disable the feature by clicking the Overflow button and modifying their search settings. The company assures users that they aren’t deleting anything, just altering the visibility of certain content. Vice President of Engineering Ed Ho says, in a blog post, “While this type of content will be discoverable if you want to find it, it won’t clutter search results any longer.”
The company is also making efforts to “collapse,” or essentially hide, certain abusive replies in the feed. They’ll still be there, you’ll just have to look for them.
And as a preventive measure, Twitter is taking steps to prevent the creation of fake accounts intended primarily for the purpose of harassment. Presumably from here on out, if you want trouble, you’ll have to go looking for it.
SNAPCHAT ENTERS THE FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
People have begun to take the narrative potential of Snapchat Stories to artistic levels, like this London art student who made a gritty short film entirely using Snapchat. The company seems to see the same potential in the platform, as they’ve partnered with the Tribeca Film Festival to create Tribeca Snapchat Shorts. With the tag line “Small Screens. Big Stories,” the platform hopes to capitalize on the Memories function, encouraging “people who are passionate about Snapchat and narrative storytelling to present their mastery of the smallest screen.”
SPECTACULAR SURGICAL TECHNIQUE
UK-based surgeon Shafi Ahmed used Snap Spectacles to record a hernia surgery that he performed, employing an assistant to press record when the video played out. He says that 200 students tuned in to watch the procedure.
FAKE NEWS IS OUT. KIND OF.
We have Germany to thank for a new initiative to stamp out propaganda fake news. Oh, how the tables have turned. From now on, when readers flag a story as questionable, researchers at Correctiv, a fact-checking nonprofit that uses Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles, will be there to check it out. If the story is labeled as untrustworthy, Facebook will post a link further explaining the decision. Germany is particularly concerned about the dissemination of false information leading up to their upcoming elections (and given their history), and the government has put pressure on Facebook to do something about it. Again, like Twitter’s abuse policy, Facebook won’t be removing stories published by users, just flagging them. It may not be a comprehensive strategy, but the first step is always the hardest.
SEARCH ADS COME TO PINTEREST
Now, when users enter a search term, Pinterest uses keywords to serve them a relevant ad. Being a predominantly visual medium, the ads are big on images, low on text, and the feature also comes with improved targeting and reporting options. This is a great way for brands to get involved with the platform and opens up a world of possibilities as 97% of Pinterest searches don’t mention brand names. Because Pinterest serves micro-communities so well, this is a great way for smaller, special-interest brands to activate their base.
WHO’S DOING COOL STUFF?
As mentioned previously, Hyundai staged quite a coup on Super Bowl Sunday by shooting and airing an ad, all within the time-span of the game. But even more impressive than the precision logistics it took to coordinate an international, multi-location, simultaneous shoot was the custom-made tech involved. Innocean, the agency behind the ad, built three enclosed pods with 360-degree video screens inside at a military base in Zagan, Poland. They then invited three soldiers to the pods during the game, and when they sat down, the screens lit up with live, interactive footage of their families who were seated in the arena at the game. The families could see the soldiers via a monitor attached to a teddy bear. The spot was directed by Peter Berg, who has worked with the military on several of his films. It’s hard to imagine another director pulling a production like this off, and the end result was both heartwarming and breathtaking. And given the attention-grabbing politics of some of the other ads, Hyundai’s biggest coup may have been that they didn’t feature a single image of their product. Only the slogan, “Better Drives Us,” banking on the idea that “better” is something we can all get behind.
The Recording Academy is using a new tactic to try to lure younger audiences to its 59th Annual Grammy Awards show on February 12: Snapchat. The organization has hired YouTube celebrity Jack Baran to host a four-part Snapchat video series called “Pop Before the Drop.” The first two episodes of the show, which lands somewhere in between Billy on the Street and Jimmy Kimmel’s Lie Witness News, have already clocked a half-million viewers. Following up on this, Baran will be doing live Stories from the event itself. If Snapchat users tune in to the broadcast in anywhere near the numbers they have for “Pop Before the Drop,” the Grammys might actually find themselves on the way to relevance again.
While brands vied for attention and gravitas at that most-American of events, the Super Bowl, Denmark’s TV 2 may have trumped them all (sorry) with an ad that aimed to undo the divisiveness that has been so prevalent in the cultural conversation. The concept and execution of the ad are refreshingly simple. A group of people are led into an open room and grouped according to their standard demographic characteristics — religious, native, immigrant. Then a moderator asks a series of questions about who they really are — “Who in this room was the class clown? Who are stepparents? Who loves to dance?” — that cause the groups to shuffle and interact. By the end of the spot, the strangers are rooting for each other and embracing. The voice-over concludes, “And then there’s all of us, who just love Denmark. So, maybe there’s more that brings us together than we think.”