Links of the Week

The Year Ahead For… Social Media

The Year Ahead For… Social Media

This article was originally featured in the Predictions 2019 issue of Campaign Middle East magazine on 13th Jan 2019.

It’s that time of year again, and while it’s usually a bit of a folly to try and predict the cycle of  broad consumer trends based on the layout of the Gregorian calendar, it doesn’t hurt to look at how some trends might continue to evolve over the coming months. While many yearly predictions can end up turning into a game of buzzword bingo (I’m looking at you Blockchain, AI, AR etc.), instead, the below focuses more on what the average user might experience on social media moving into 2019, and thus what advertisers should take note of. This is not an exhaustive list for sure, but it might help you make sense of the social media landscape over the coming months.


In the not-too-distant past, the News Feed was the centre of all life on social media, but in the last two years, much of this usage has shifted to Stories. People just can’t get enough of the ephemeral vertical video format. The incredible popularity of Stories has been one of the most noticeable trends in social media over the last 12 months, with every platform seemingly adopting the format. Today, more than 1.2 billion users around the world share Stories each day across Instagram (400m+), Facebook / Messenger (300m+), WhatsApp (450m+) and Snapchat (150m+). Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox has predicted that, in 2019, Stories will surpass feed posts as the top way to share on its channels.

At the same time, other platforms like YouTube, Netflix and even LinkedIn have introduced Stories-style video over the last few months and will undoubtedly aim to utilize this format in the coming year. With this in mind, expect to see vertical video continue to become even more ubiquitous across the board, giving advertisers more of an incentive to create custom creative for the format rather than just adapting current assets.


Ironically, despite the recent growth in popularity of Stories, advertisers have been slow to fully embrace the format. Expect this to change in 2019. With the feed having been saturated with ads for some years now, the Stories feature is prime real-estate for growth, so expect to see more and more ads there in 2019. While revenue and user growth is slowing on Facebook, Instagram is booming. As such, expect to see an even bigger push for ads on Instagram as Facebook looks to offset this slowing ad growth. The Instagram feed will inevitably continue to become even more clogged with ads, while advertising will also start rolling out on WhatsApp too. As these platforms struggle to meet revenue targets, the once-sacred ideal of user experience will continue taking a back seat to cold hard cash.

With more and more ads getting in the way of regular content, and users becoming more aware of, and resistant to, the concept of targeted advertising, at what point will they start pushing back? Ad blockers are becoming an ever-popular way of dodging this onslaught, and brands must tread carefully so as not to alienate their audience.


With it becoming ever harder to make an impact on users with traditional digital ads, brands are looking for more left-field ways of spending their budget on social media. Influencer marketing might have been considered a gimmicky and somewhat contentious approach in some circles up until recently, but this is an area that is maturing each year. With new regulation being introduced in the UAE in 2018, brands can be more confident that their budget is being spent legitimately. But with more money at stake, it’s increasingly important to choose creators that are a good fit with your brand, and to carefully consider what type of content you want them to create for you.

There is a huge opportunity for creating impactful content via influencers, but brands must be willing to budget accordingly. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Social media marketing in general was initially seen as a fluffy channel where marketers could get free distribution until organic reach evaporated in 2014. Since then, marketers have been forced to re-evaluate this belief and consider it as they would any other paid channel; one that requires a dedicated budget and a well thought-out strategy. The same is now true for influencer marketing.


2018 was a watershed year for social media as most platforms faced increasing pressure from both users and the media over how they regulate content and manage user data. This will likely intensify in 2019. From concerns over user privacy and ‘fake news’ on Facebook, to trolling on Twitter and bot accounts on Instagram, many users are getting fed-up and these platforms are aware of the threat that this could pose to their sustainability in the long run. As users become more knowledgeable about how digital platforms make money from their presence, the platforms are being held to a higher standard and pressured into becoming more transparent. Expect to see more moves to appease these concerns over the coming months.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Campaign Magazine, Facebook, Links of the Week, Social Media

Video Ads on Google Search, News Media, Selfie Sticks, & Phone Calls

Google is testing promoted video ads on the Search Results Page

If you needed any more proof that video content is becoming increasingly important to promoting your brand online today then here you go. It seems that Google is beginning to test video ads directly in Search Results Pages, finally adding something new to the traditional ‘three lines of text and a link’ ads that we’re all used to. This opens up a whole new outlet for promoting your video content to a mass audience which, until now, has pretty much only been possible through YouTube and Facebook. This also calls for a different approach to video creation, catering to intent-based searches, such as for specific product information etc. Not to mention the potential of search hijacking your competitors — imagine Samsung sticking up video ads for the Galaxy S6 next to searches for the iPhone 6!

Either way, I think Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) design has long been in need of a revamp, and making it more visual and interactive will provide for a more pleasing experience for users.

Vice and CNN are in a battle royale for the future of the news

The news industry is in a state of flux at the moment. Even ignoring the decline of print and the growth in ad-blockers, with so many different news outlets available online today, users are spoilt for choice and the race for eyeballs is fierce. With the lines between digital and TV media publishers continuing to blur, Fast Company looks at how the gap between traditional news channels (like CNN) and digitally native outlets (such as Vice) has shrunk over the last couple of years. One interesting note to point out is the fact that Vice has an in-house agency called Virtue that produces “fresh content for brands—published on its site and anywhere else on the web—that still feels like stuff its viewers want to watch”.

The Decline of the Phone Call

Not so long ago, mobile phones used to be used primarily for one thing. Making phone calls. Not so anymore. This article discusses the different reasons that have sidelined the humble phonecall, mainly the fact that today’s mobile-savvy youth have grown up using SMS and Instant Messaging apps, but also less obvious reasons like the fact that making calls on a mobile has always been an unreliable experience when compared to how we used to make calls with the traditional landline (i.e. mobile calls have to deal with poor signal, background noise etc.) But this raises the concern that, as more and more people avoid telephone calls, are we risking the degradation of our verbal communication skills? Either way, you still can’t beat a quick phone when you need grab someone’s attention or get a response to something and don’t want to risk the likelihood of an email or text being ignored.

What Selfie Sticks Really Tell Us About Ourselves

It might not come as surprise, but according to research outlined in this New York Times profile, people who take a lot of selfies “tend to have narcissistic, psychopathic and Machiavellian personality traits”. Selfie Sticks are one of the most annoying physical embodiments of our digital world. Even so, it’s interesting to hear of the different ways in which people’s behaviour re: online sharing has developed over recent years, and the role that selfies in particular have in many people’s sense of self in the digital world.

Posted by Rob in Google, Links of the Week, Mobile, Old Media

The Post-Demographic Age, Chinese Millennials, Vine vs. SnapChat, & Vertical Videos

Post Demographic Consumerism: In a digital world, are ‘Generations’ redundant?

There’s somewhat of an obsession today around targeting the fabled ‘Millennial’, the general term given to the broad section of the population who have come of age since the digital revolution, who live on their smartphones and are totally immersed in the online world. It’s become clear however that Millennials are not so much a target group by themselves, but rather an almost infinite amount of smaller, individual groups based on a mountain of different tastes and preferences.

This piece from Advertising Age argues that the same is true for nearly every other target group that’s active today. We all now live in the digital age. Not just Millennials. And with the choices and options offered to basically all groups of the population today, trying to pigeon-hole people by age, gender, status or location, has become a fool’s game.

We live in a Post-Demographic Consumer age and sociologist Jane Pilcher Mannheim argues that what defines groups today is “less about their place in time and history, and more about finding their personal tribe — finding passions, people and brands that fit their vision of themselves… Quite possibly, a 16-year-old anime fan is more like a 32-year-old anime fan than she is similar to a 16-year-old sports enthusiast”. Food for thought.

However – some thoughts on appealing to ‘Chinese Millennials’ in particular

In contrast, one region where things are a little more straightforward when it comes to targeting by demographics is China, undoubtedly one of the biggest growth markets in the world right now. It’s not something I’ve ever thought much about before, but there are a few particular factors that go some way to forming the mindset of the young Chinese consumer.

Due to the massive economic growth in the country in the last couple of decades, coupled with the Chinese one-child per family policy, this has resulted in a certain type of generation. A generation that is much more self-obsessed, care-free, and more likely to seek out  short-term feel-good experiences than any generation preceding it. They don’t face the same type of hardship as their parents, and they are the sole focus of not only both parents, but both sets of grandparents as well. That is a hell of a lot of special attention. Interesting to see how some brands have adapted to appeal to these particular traits (read here).

Vine should not be ignored despite SnapChat stealing all the headlines

SnapChat has been the ‘it’ social network of the last 12-18 months, there’s no question about that. Evan Spiegel has been courting the ad world recently after a huge period of growth for the platform. While all this has been happening however, Vine has been racking up solid numbers of it’s own. Apparently Vine has the same amount of unique monthly visitors as SnapChat (34.5 million according to comScore) as well as playing 1.5 billion monthly “loops”.

It’s fallen under the radar somewhat since it burst onto the scene after being acquired by Twitter in 2013 and this article by Quartz suggests that one of the reasons why SnapChat has seen so much coverage is due to constant speculation over being acquired itself. Either way, these figures act as a reminder that Vine could still be a viable channel to use for brands (some decent examples in the article too) . Advertisers take note!

The rise of the vertical video

If SnapChat is responsible for one thing however, it has been the massive growth in popularity of the vertical video. Up until recently, shooting a video in portrait mode was one of the cardinal sins of video creation. The tides are changing however, and the fact that 30% of our total time looking at a screen of any kind is spent on a device held vertically is conditioning us to accept this form.  YouTube have revealed that uploads of tall videos have grown 50% in 2015. The growth of SnapChat and the recent roll-out of their ‘Discover’ section has meant that users are now more accustomed to seeing vertical videos from publishers and not just their friends. I’m betting that’s it’s not long before we start seeing vertical ads popping up in YouTube pre-rolls and the like.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Links of the Week, Mobile, Snapchat

Target tests iBeacons, Absolut Vodka goes IoT, Facebook ‘LIVE’ & Twitter News

Target experiments with Beacons in 50 of it’s stores

Beacons have been bubbling under the surface for the last couple of years now but any real mainstream adoption has yet to materialize. Lots of brands we have come into contact with recently have expressed interest in the technology, but the issue remains that, to utilize Beacons, they already have to have a mobile application that their customers use. It’s really an add-on to an already operational and successful mobile experience and not a standalone technology. Brands can’t simply decide to ‘do’ Beacons without already having a mobile strategy in place.

Another hurdle is the fact that for Beacons to work at all, your customers need to have downloaded your app, have Bluetooth switched on, and have opted-in to receiving push notifications from you. There’s a lot of friction in the way of adoption. In short, your customers really need to want you to target them with Beacons for it to work at all.

US mega-retailer Target is confident though, and is rolling out Beacons in 50 of it’s stores this year, with more scheduled to follow. They will use Beacons to inform customers of personalized deals, something that bargain-hunting loyal Target shoppers would presumably find value in and be incentivized to avail of. Beacons are yet to really take off in retail but if anyone can do it, it should be these huge retailers.

Absolut Vodka wants to get in on the ‘Internet of Things’ action

Relatively speaking,  we are still at a very early stage of the Internet of Things revolution. While there is some crazy potential yet to be realised for connected devices, it’s unclear how many consumer brands might take advantage of this. Here, Markus Wulff, digital creative business developer at Absolut Vodka, discusses how the brand intends to get involved in connected packaging and how other FMCG brands like Heineken have used this in the past. Some of the examples given are a bit gimmicky but it’s food for thought nonetheless.

Facebook launches ‘Live’ video streaming feature

This week Facebook showed their hand in the suddenly overcrowded live social video streaming space. It’s only open to celebrities for the moment but will no doubt be rolled out to the masses over the next few months as users become more familiar with it.

One thing that makes it stand out slightly from the likes of Periscope and Meerkat is the fact that once the video stream has finished, the video then appears on the user’s timeline, ready to view again for those that missed it first time around. This is one of the most frustrating aspects I’ve found of the other platforms. The amount of times I’ve seen “LIVE on #Periscope” links and clicked through only to find that it’s finished. So annoying, and such a barrier to actually experiencing and familiarising yourself with a new service.

Twitter experiments with a ‘News’ tab

During the week Twitter started rolling out a ‘News’ tab in their app to some users in the US, breaking down trending stories into bite-sized chunks and putting them at the centre of the experience. It’s part of the effort to make its best content easier to find and helps new users get more involved with what’s happening. News is at the heart of what Twitter does, so essentially padding out the discovery section so that each topic has a deeper context will only make the experience more valuable for everyone. A great tweak to their mobile experience in my opinion.

Posted by Rob in Beacons, Facebook, Internet of Things, Links of the Week, Twitter

Apple Music, Facebook Video Ads, Airline Co-branding, and Man United Marketing

First impressions of Apple Music look pretty positive

The launch of Apple Music on 30th June was the undoubted tech / media story of the week, and first impressions seemed quite positive across the board. Despite some minor gripes about it being a bloated service with a questionable user interface, people seem to like it. Whether it will be enough to persuade the legion of dedicated Spotify users to switch allegiances, or more importantly, to convince a chunk of the 800 million iTunes users to start paying a monthly subscription fee, only time will tell. Streaming music will likely become somewhat of a commodity product over the next few years, and the fact that Apple Music is baked into every iOS device will likely be their ace-in-the-hole when it comes to whether they come out on top or not.

Facebook is starting to ramp up it’s video ad revenue generation service for publishers

It’s been clear for the last couple of years that video is becoming an increasingly popular medium and that Facebook are keen on stopping YouTube from hogging all the action. Over the last few weeks it seems that they have begun testing in-line autoplay ads on ‘suggested videos’ and in doing so, making it more rewarding for content publishers to push video directly on the platform. YouTube has traditionally been a more valuable platform for content publishers as they can earn money from the ads served before their videos start. While this is harder for Facebook to deliver because the vast majority of video views come from directly in the timeline (i.e. users will likely keep scrolling if an ad plays before a random video in their timeline), playing ads before ‘suggested videos’ that users actively pursue (and might be willing to suffer through an ad for) gives them a way of getting in on the action.

What global brands can learn from Manchester United’s marketing playbook

This is an interesting piece from AdWeek’s current Sports Issue detailing the multiple different ways that Manchester United have blazed a trail when it comes to creating a truly global brand. From being one of the first teams to embark on regular international pre-season tours all over the world, to launching their own television channel (MUTV), bringing out branded credit cards, signing multiple region-specific partnership deals as opposed to finding broad global sponsors, and generally being one of the first global sports teams to truly embrace unique digital content, there’s plenty of lessons to learn for brands in general and not just sports teams.

Co-branding opportunities in the premium airline / travel market

Another great post from Skift, this time discussing the different ways that airlines might be able to add value through premium co-branding initiatives. Air travel is becoming a much contested space, especially at the premium end of the market with the likes of Emirates, Etihad etc. constantly trying to out-do each other in offering the most outlandish experiences in the air (Emirates introduced on-board showers and cocktail bars to their A380s in 2008. Not to be outdone, Etihad answered back with their first class apartment suites last year). With such an onus on airlines wanting to position themselves as premium brands, why is there not more collaboration between airlines and other premium brands that compliment each-other? Bulgari already makes the first-class amenity kits for Emirates, but that is only the tip of the iceberg – “there could be Louis Vuitton First Class suites, … Millennial-focused rows at the back offering free connectivity and music streaming, courtesy of Apple. There could be Happy Meals in the Family cabin for the kiddies. Starbucks could offer everything from Lattes to Teavana, from scones to healthy sandwich options, to those Gen-TREP passengers in a dedicated Connected cabin. Beautyrest could sponsor special bedding and more comfortable seat cushions for a Rest Zone cabin.”

Posted by Rob in Apple, Branding, Facebook, Links of the Week