BEST OF 2017 OPINION: Ben Shaw, Head of BBH Live, and Jack Colchester, Senior Data Strategist, from the team at BBH London that created the Grand Prix-winning KFC Dirty Louisiana campaign in Effective Social Strategy of this year’s WARC Awards, highlight the difference between an impression and a lasting impression.

Years ago, marketing in social media meant figuring out what your audience liked and creating work that earnt their attention. Algorithms rewarded this engagement and promoted your work in feed. It often prioritised topicality over brand comms, chasing the moment rather than message. Then, overnight, social platforms changed the game and stripped back organic reach, meaning brands had to pay to cut-through. Social media went from being an engagement platform, to a broadcast medium; just like every other channel.

With this seismic change the ad industry breathed a sigh of relief. They could create, plan and buy campaigns like all other media and importantly could guarantee eyeballs. This shift from gaining attention to focusing almost solely on reach, led everyone in the industry to ‘creative laziness’. Agencies adopted a “broadcast to the masses” mindset, once again prioritising the brand message over the audiences they were trying to speak to.

By guaranteeing eyeballs we bypassed the algorithm’s natural inclination to serve up content that users are more likely to like. So as they rejected, skipped, blocked and scrolled past the seemingly irrelevant, intrusive communications, they contributed to the greatest boycott of anything in human history (over 800m people now have ad blockers installed).

This user behaviour has created a self-perpetuating cycle: the data tells us that most people skip/scroll past advertising within seconds, so we should adapt our work accordingly. Instead of challenging this, with work our audiences actually want to spend time with, this mindset has created a wind-tunnel of “best-practice” creative that is optimised for spamming audiences through shouting. Essentially we’ve turned social into a plethora of moving banner ads.

The cardinal sin on social is dullness

In all of this, we’ve become obsessed with the short term, in measuring view-through rate, completion rate and CPM. This new found focus on media efficiency is overshadowing what we’re all really after: long-term creative effectiveness. We don’t believe we should be going back to 2009 to try and be relevant on every Tuesday, National Ice Cream Day or Super Bowl moment - but we do think we need to start prioritising people, their interests, their habits and passions. These insights allow us to create great work. Great work is famous work. Famous work makes every marketing pound work harder.

Our award winning Dirty Louisiana campaign strategy for KFC explored some of the principles we think are vital to get us back to a place where we achieve communication effectiveness through prioritising people instead of gaming media metrics: 

  1. Decide if you’re going super short or super engaging, nothing in between. The average attention span of a Facebook user on mobile is 1.4 seconds. This short window of attention leaves marketers with two options. Either squeeze in your message simply and quickly, relying heavily on paid media for exposure. Or go longer, go highly engaging, overcome audience indifference and provoke a reaction, this route relies heavily on organic reach for scale.

    The first route has a place, just not in this approach. If the second route interests you, read on.

  2. There are no rules on social, only sins. Is it vertical? Is it over 30 seconds? Subtitles? Prominent branding in the first three seconds? None of these matter much. The primary concern should be ‘is it dull?’

    The cardinal sin on social is dullness.

  3. If you want to speak to everyone, speak to someone. Low risk, “please everyone” broadcast marketing doesn't excel in the digital sphere, unless you have enough money to plaster the internet. Successful digital marketing is peer-to-peer, bottom up and opinionated. But to ignite passions, you will undoubtedly make some enemies. The key is to find out what these audience's passion points are, champion them and match them with your brand message.
  1. Moving from an interruptive social experience to an additive one. The objective should be to aim to add to the cultural/social conversation rather than to disrupt it. Adding more clutter to the sea of sameness is unlikely to obtain cut-through and will inevitably result in frustrating your audience. Don’t follow news, create it.
  1. The internet is weird. What does your target audience like to like, like to watch, like to search for and like to talk about online. These are audience-first data insights and, more often than not, they lead to weird places, because people consume weird stuff online. These audience-first insights should inform the creative territory, with the ideal outcome being to outweird the internet. Even brands in seemingly drab categories, such as US insurance brand Geico, have used this to their great advantage.
  1. Managing the uncertainty of fame. The data can only go so far in ensuring the certainty of success. Taking a risk and operating outside of one's comfort zone is an uncomfortable but obligatory consequence of earning people’s attention. Doubt kills more ideas than failure ever will, so let's give a failure a chance.
  1. The Clean Eating campaign shows us that to maximise the potential of social, we need to go back to creating work that people will choose to engage with, not actively avoid. We should stop relying on the certainty of paid reach and start thinking how we can add to our customers’ social experience. People’s attention is out there, but we need to earn it, not just buy it.