What did you think of Festival of Media coming to the region for the first time this year?
I think it’s about time. Due to the way awards are structured here, they generally tend to lean more toward creativity, so they lack a certain level of rigor. What media companies have done here – and done better than the majority of the world – is to follow proper tracking and methodologies of seeing return on investment, which is why they [media agencies] clean up at the Effies. And that’s great because they are pushing ad [creative] agencies to get better and not be fluffy. I still have a small pet peeve that there’s no auditing of media, but at least there’s a thought process and methodology to understanding whether something is working or not. And a festival coming in here and starting to talk about the impact of these thought processes and methodologies is going to help diffuse this thinking to the clients and the creative agencies. When you stay in a small loop of creative awards, you start thinking so much about the work itself that you forget about the brand and the impact it [the work] has on it. A media festival would be something that can make media cool again.
Earlier, media meant traditional media buying and planning and such, but now, with social media and advancements in technology, the definition and idea of media is changing, isn’t it?
Every couple of years, you can look at anything and see that it’s changing. As far as social media causing a change is concerned, that’s done and we are over it. There was a period of time when everything changed because of the dotcom bubble; everything was going online and turning into businesses and it blew up. Financially, it crashed afterwards, but, from the perspective of its impact on the world, it kept going forward. Then came the period of uploading business online and after that came Facebook and the social media era when it was all about uploading personal lives online. Is that impacting media? Yes, there’s user-generated content and that’s changing things. Then, there’s content versus context. Before, we were very concerned with what we were saying; now, we are more concerned with where we are saying it, because the way a person perceives it can be completely different.
The cool thing is the new shift that we’re probably in the middle of. And the Apple Watch can help publicize it because Apple is really good at taking something that’s already around and making it super popular with its cult following. We are going from uploading our lives online to downloading the online into our lives through wearables, 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT). Google Glass was supposed to be at the forefront of this shift, but then Microsoft came in with Hololens and just destroyed all barriers. There’s also the virtual 3D glasses, Oculus Rift, and that’s where the real excitement is.
How does this affect media?
Media went from a method of dissemination into a set of channels of interaction, and now, it’s becoming a method and channel of immersion and that’s never happened before. You couldn’t use standard media to immerse someone in your brand; it had to be experiential. But now that we are downloading the Internet into our lives, experiences can be downloaded and that’s going to be the big change.
How do – or should – brands weave themselves into the story? Especially since users have far more control when they’re downloading the online into their real lives.
Brands can either mess it up or they can make it amazing. They have to be more subtle. Right now, there are two types of companies. Those who see that you’re uploading something related to you liking pizza and they’ll sell you pizza – that’s the very in-your-face hard sell. The other type consists of the ones that are smart about it. For instance, there was a project done by a hotel in Las Vegas where marketers looked into the reviews of their hotel and tried to understand what’s the best thing about it. It turned out that the best thing about the hotel was the view of the other hotel – the Bellagio’s fountain. They started using pictures [of the fountain] up front on their website. And this turned out to be more effective than a discount, and that’s great.
Would you say that this kind of smart thinking and subtle marketing is something brands are still struggling with?
Yes, but only the brands that are not subtle. You’ve got brands that are experts, like GoPro. The brand doesn’t tell you to buy a GoPro, it tells you to ‘show us your awesome movie’. It’s not about what GoPro will be; it’s about what you will be if you use a GoPro. It understands your current behavior: that you’re doing something cool. It understands your desired behavior: that it’s really sad to do something very cool and not have anyone see it. The brand then enables the desired behavior to happen. It gives you something that switches you from your current behavior to your desired behavior by acting as an enabler.
You’re going to have a bunch of technologies in your hand and brands have a couple of choices. They can either help consumers make their lives easier by complementing what they do, or they can use the technology to interrupt consumers’ lives, which is horrible. Another brilliant example is Amazon’s button for Tide. It’s a button that’s connected to WiFi; you stick it onto your washing machine and all you have to do is press a button when you’re low on Tide and it goes straight into your [Amazon] shopping bag. By the end of the day, it gets ordered and delivered. This is an example of technology being brought into our lives through the IoT. We have the opportunity to be one of two types of brands. We can find 100 places to say “stop and look at my brand”, or we can find 100 ways to say “you wanted to do this, let me help you out”. We really need to lean toward the latter because there’s going to be a big backlash if we go with the former.
In the region, Axe did a good job in Morocco and Tunisia a few years ago. The campaign by Ogilvy allowed consumers to go on a website, plug in their name and it would post a Facebook status on their behalf saying that, for instance, John is now in a relationship with Zoey and 352 other girls. That’s what Axe does: it takes you from being a normal person to a super attractive human being and creates that perception. Dove’s global campaign for Real Beauty and its application in the Middle East region was wonderful. Another example is Vodafone’s “Fakka” by JWT. The ‘current behavior’ was buying chewing gum, which people didn’t really want to, and the ‘desired behavior’ was replacing it with something useful. You know when you get insanely jealous of someone else doing something cool? This was one of those moments.
What about brands skirting the middle?
An example of someone trying to skirt the middle is JayZ with Tidal, which is a new music-streaming platform by artists. The artists actually own it. Independent artists, however, had a very negative reaction to it because it was the richest artists that got together and signed exclusivity agreements with their own streaming system. It’s great that artists are working together and collaborating to create something that has value, but they’ve overpriced it, especially for high definition (HD), and they’re disrupting something that is intuitive. Let’s be very honest, everyone who is streaming is either getting a certain amount of free songs or promoted songs that are paid for, or they’re paying a small amount of money. So if users see that they are losing all the artists from their streaming channel, they’ll just get on torrents and pirate their music. This is an example of disrupting an intuitive path by using Internet channels and platforms, and this is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing. It is the opposite of helping the world progress.
So how can brands help – or hinder – progress?
For instance, Apple is doing the opposite of someone like Elon Musk, who just provides the schematics for anyone who want to build electric cars and helps them do it. That’s the type of thing that’s going to propel us in the future. We all have electricity in our houses because Nikola Tesla never patented his alternating current (AC) system. But the world is the way it is because of that one guy.
Imagine if we apply Apple’s thought process on the things that keep us alive. Like, for instance, Volvo created the seat belt and decided not to patent it and, instead, put it out there for everybody – that’s where things need to go. Do we need to make profit from it? Absolutely, I don’t work for Greenpeace; everyone needs to make profit. But there’s a difference between making profit in a way that disrupts progress and making profit in a way that enables more progress.
You mentioned Apple…do you really think they’re disrupting progress?
That’s the other side to this argument. If Apple is so disruptive to progress, would we have the things we have without Apple popularizing them? I don’t know. What I do know is that while that is very good anecdotal evidence against what I am saying, if I look at it in terms of statistics, at how open sourcing helps progression happen, then there’s something to it. When it comes to Apple, what we think is supposed to be original was copied, but what we think was copied was original. The fact that it was a tablet was copied, but the interface was original, and the reason it became so popular is because of the interface. The interface is just as important as the tablet. Malcolm Gladwell was talking about the importance of coming third and this applies very well to Apple. The first invents: scientists in labs, for example, where it takes years of R&D. Then you have to get one thing that goes really big to be able to capitalize on it, but usually, it won’t. The second looks into what’s already available from the things that work and finds a way to mass-produce it. Apple is the third. It takes something that is already mass-producible and applies it in a separate industry or in a new way, so it minimizes the upfront cost but maximizes the usability afterwards. It’s a wonderful business model. I have nothing against it; but after they do that, why close everything?
How does this relate back to media?
I’d rather media doesn’t turn into that kind of scenario where it’s a matter of “I get to do things really easily” and then someone stops me from doing it because they want to make money, charge me for it and disrupt me while I’m doing something useful. That’s not what media is meant to do. The foundation of all of this was the soap operas that P&G came up with. They looked into the habits of the housewife back then and realized that she’s bored and is going to watch TV during the day, so they made a show for her and used it to sell soap. They didn’t find a way to interrupt her housework; they found a way to make her day easier to go through and then added the soap selling to it. Yeah, it’s a profit generator but it made life easier. That’s cool and we need to look at it that way.
What about newer forms of media dissemination such as wearables? Are brands ready at a time when they might still be struggling with mobile?
Absolutely, and that’s simply because of the technology adoption curve. As far as mobile is concerned, the early majority and innovators have fully adopted it, and the late majority [is in the process of] adopting it. You’re not going to make the innovators and early adopters wait for the late majority; you have to start talking to the early majority about the next best thing. So, no, it’s not too early. It’s too early for the masses in the world to assume that they can jump into it, but for early adopters and innovators, it’s the right time.
In terms of adoption of technology, the region is more concerned with human connections than the efficiencies of wearables at this point. Due to the repression of communications over time, places like KSA embrace mobile very fast. You’ve got the app Keek with ten percent of its global users from KSA alone, because they need to compensate for the human connection that they were missing because of restrictions on physical interactions.
The foundation of wearables is sports. That was the first thing they were used for and you’re talking about the region with the highest Type 2 diabetes and obesity rates. To adopt something that was founded on health and exercise is going to be pretty difficult, so from an intuitive perspective, I don’t know if it’s the right way to go. What we need to do is reposition those wearables in a new way, with a new functional and emotional benefit so it can be seen as something that has added value.
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