Serviceplan Middle East Diary

We’re calling it the Serviceplan Group Middle East Diary: Every week, one of our team members will be sharing what’s currently going on in her or his life at Serviceplan Middle East.

The Next Reality

Thinking about buying a new TV? Ah, the excitement! Measuring the living room, looking for the right place where it could fit, or choosing the color of the bezel, the right resolution, figuring out the necessary connectivity options and brightness? And if the couch you will be sitting on watching TV has the right viewing distance, because you don’t want to watch a football game without being able to recognize the players, do you? If you are not dealing with decisions like this right now, chances are you did in the past or you are going to do it in the future. Let’s face it, it’s inevitable, just like most things that are coming our way, the future is worth talking about, so let’s focus on this concept of time right now: The Future.

In the not so distant future, you most likely won’t have to deal with decisions like this at all. Not because of the breakthrough in projection technology, not because TV will become obsolete, nor because manufacturers will die out and Apple or Netflix will take over the TV game (well, that is happening anyways); it’s because you will be able to watch TV on a screen any desired size, anywhere and anytime you want – not just on your comfy couch at home. The magic behind that is a thing called augmented (AR) or mixed (MR) or even virtual reality (VR), but only in its final form. The final form of media. The final form of consuming content. The final form of entertainment. The end game.

So let’s focus on the present for a minute: there are a couple of VR devices out there, and most of them are pretty nerdy; you probably heard of names like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR or Samsung Gear VR. Manufacturers gaining momentum in creating the device to end all other devices – no wonder, since VR hardware is supposed to earn $17.8 billion by 2020. By the way, Samsung has sold more VR headsets in 2016 than Oculus, HTC and Playstation combined, namely 4.51 million pieces. And a lot has already been achieved with them: High resolution: check. Variety of content: check. Availability of devices: check. A cure to motion sickness while using it: check. Even motion, movement and eye tracking has been conquered not so long ago, getting VR one step closer to be a realistic experience in an unrealistic, digital environment. But one crucial thing is still missing, and all of the current solutions are not even close in delivering it: ease of use. A no-fuzz device. A device for people who are not expert gamers or scientists or enthusiasts. Something you can put on your head without having to connect a cord, a battery back or a head strap. Easy as putting on your shades and unlocking your smartphone.

Some manufacturers are still trying to mimic the success story of smartphone development, because it is their field of expertise, and it worked already in the past: increase screen resolution, add a new camera, mix it with a better microprocessor, a newer software version, and a dash of some weird new experiential technology. But baby steps are for babies, in a saturated market walking slow is not an option anymore: we don’t need another device that’s slightly faster and better looking than the other one. We need a breakthrough. We need something to control our movements in a virtual world, that feels like the real world. We need a way to trick our brain into thinking we really are standing next to a lava stream or inside an imperial hangar from Star Wars, awaiting the devastating blow out of the Death Star’s Superlaser instead of knowing all the way that it’s all just a game.

So back to our initial question, adding some more amazing stuff: You want to turn your living room into a dark dungeon to hunt zombies? You got it. You want to measure your new fridge and see if it fits in this impossible slot in your kitchen? Done. You want to have a look at the interior of your new car in life-size, standing in the middle of your bedroom? Sure thing. Or you just want to watch the final episode of your favorite TV show in your garden, on a huge canvas, and next to it keep track of a hockey playoff game that happens to run at the same time, on a smaller screen – and all of this together with your friends? Yes. That is the future I’m talking about. And the end or at least a fundamental change in the field of consumer electronics.

If the rumors are true, the first company to deliver something like this is called Magic Leap. Quote: “This technology could affect every business that uses screens or computers and many that don’t. It could kill the $120 billion market for flat-panel displays and shake the $1 trillion global consumer-electronics business to its core.” Says David Erwalt from Forbes Magazine. And he is right: if this thing kicks off and has finally a release date and price, it will change everything we know about consuming digital media in an instant. So maybe you should hold off on that purchase of a new TV set for now. The future is just a (magic) leap away.

The opportunity in interactive video

It’s hardly a revelation to say that video content has never been as popular as it is right now. Whether it be on Facebook, YouTube, Display, or increasingly, Snapchat & Instagram, more and more of users’ time online is spent consuming video in some form. By the end of this year, KPCB estimates that video content will account for 74% of all online traffic, and Mark Zuckerberg has even said that he expects Facebook to be almost entirely video within the next five years.

But while the digital video format itself has never been more accessible, many of the digital video ads that tend to make it out into the wild don’t truly take advantage of the opportunities that digital channels allow. Most still ape TV spots that have been adapted to digital – a new format but an old mindset. While television is a passive channel, digital is not, and its potential is currently not being fully utilized. Consequently, we seem to have reached a point where viewers have become numb to video on digital channels – not surprising when you consider the slew of formats that seem to have gotten increasingly aggressive in recent years such as un-skippable pre-rolls, auto-playing sound-on ads, and now the particularly jarring mid-roll videos that burst into your viewing experience half-way through.

Viewers are fed up of video ads taking over their digital experiences and forcing them to passively bear witness to their marketing message. In 2017, most consumers are used to interacting with content on digital channels, especially on mobile. Many expect a certain level of interactivity. Users are familiar with gamified experiences and tend to tune-out at the first sign of a countdown to skip an ad. As attention spans seemingly decrease, passive content just isn’t grabbing users’ attention as it once did.

Things are looking up though as the range of functionality open to digital video is getting broader and broader all the time. Interactive videos have been around in some form for a few years now, but this trend is starting to become more prevalent of late, especially outside of advertising. Just this summer Netflix introduced a series of interactive shows for children that allow them to make choices throughout each episode that dictate the journey the episode takes. This all seems like quite a novel idea for kid’s TV shows, but imagine being able to control what happens to your favourite characters, or reveal alternative scenes in shows like House of Cards or Game of Thrones. What better way to keep viewers engaged than by getting them involved and letting them influence the content itself, right? The same goes for advertising too.

Choice-driven videos have been shown to work especially well in a story-telling and educational capacity. The UK Resuscitation Council used such an approach in a campaign to teach viewers the basics of giving CPR by presenting them with an emergency scenario where they have to make a set of choices to save someone’s life. The thinking behind it is that involving the viewer in the process in this way provides for a much more visceral experience, and by getting viewers to interact with the content, they are much more likely to absorb the information.

We are also starting to see more examples of mobile video utilizing the particular features of the smartphone itself to enable the viewer to interact with the content in a more intuitive way. AdColony’s new Aurora HD mobile video ad format lets users manipulate video content by tapping, tilting or swiping during a video. A recent treasure hunt style video to promote the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie showcased the impressive graphical elements that can be used to immerse the viewer in the video while adding a gamified element to the experience. Similarly, a recent campaign from Visit Britain let viewers use their mobile device’s gyroscope to switch between visual tours of several different parts of the country by pointing their mobile either North, South, East or West to see what each part of the country has to offer.

These features can be used in a host of ways to let viewers define their own journey, answer questions, buy products, access exclusive content, complete forms and much more, all from within the video itself. There’s still a great deal of potential left to explore with interactive video, and with Facebook trying to muscle in on TV-style programming with its new ‘Watch’ platform and Snapchat et al yet to truly take advantage of this format either, advertisers better start thinking about how they might adapt their current approach to video for a more interactive future.

 

Brands, power and myths

Donald Trump is a complete failure. Above all when it comes to marketing. He is a textbook example of what not to do. He should have known better.

Donald Trump – oh dear, not him again. On this side of the Atlantic, we don’t want to see, read or hear any more about the presidential impersonator over on the other side. Not until we receive the news that he is finally gone. At least he appears to be working hard to make that happen. And despite all the signs of fatigue, this actually makes him interesting. Especially for those involved in marketing. After all, when the Americans elected Trump to head of state, for the first time it was not a politician taking office but rather someone who consistently denies being exactly that. In fact, Trump was a brand up until then, just like Coca-Cola, Oreo or Ariel. Something people see on TV so often that they’re bound to try it out at some point. However, things have been going wrong for the Donald Trump brand ever since.

There are of course a number of political reasons behind this, but these are only one part of the story. Trump regularly crosses red lines – the one surrounding the events in Charlottesville was clearly one too far. He made it clear that he is not just suspected of xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, but does in fact sympathise with far-right radicalism and neo-Nazis. If Trump the businessman were less narcissistic and if he didn’t surround himself with so many bootlickers, he would probably have a word with his head of marketing in light of the resulting situation. It’s like McDonald’s only wanting to sell the Big Mac and nothing else. Trump insists on serving the old-established customer base, which all polls indicate has since become a substantial minority. He never tries to appeal to a new clientele. Perhaps he’s not even interested in being re-elected?

In that case, a personality brand such as his can be an extremely positive thing, and advertisers would be happy to see more of it. We need only take a look – in a much more harmless context, of course – at coffee roaster Albert Darboven, who advertised his beans on television. Or Claus Hipp, the friendly baby food patriarch. These are people who can build trust. Faces that represent a product as well as the company that produces it. They convey truthfulness. However, the Trump brand, which should represent the president for all Americans, has become a fake.

He has meticulously built up this image of a tough property mogul who has become a billionaire through unconventional methods and good old elbow grease (something we can’t know for sure, by the way, since he stubbornly refuses to reveal his tax returns). The old “anybody can make it” story. In marketing, there exists a classic triad for brand trust: Raise awareness, generate sympathy, and arouse the willingness to buy. Trump’s election was simply a case of job done. The electorate bought into him. If you look at it from a business point of view, he succeeded in establishing his brand in a completely new market. The superman of the business world was now going to show politics the ropes. But then, egomaniac that he is, he began unnecessarily cutting those ropes.

Trump’s success as a campaigner is also down to the economy of attention prevalent in today’s world. Twitter, the preferred communication medium of the US president, gained an unexpectedly high number of new users in the first quarter of this year – nine million. 8.9 million of those are attributed to Trump. The respected New York Times and Wall Street Journal have also recorded a noticeable growth in popularity since he entered office. Clearly, people are looking for more than just news, and want signposts to help them navigate the jungle of information brought about by the Internet. After all, the web is not just a convenient source of daily information, but also a hotbed of misinformation due to its over-abundance. Too much, too quick, too often, and too unreliable – we are inundated with news and click bait, whether from politics or economics, with everyone trying to vie for our attention. We look for guidance and direction in this jungle. In other words, we look for truthfulness and trust. That’s what brands stand for. Once I have found “my” brand, my world is in order and I can confidently leave everything else aside.

One might then interpret a brand as being a good thing. It isn’t. It is only good for sales. In politics, for example, the brand of populism has massively increased in value in recent years, as analysed by Giovanni di Lorenzo, editor-in-chief of “Zeit”. He spoke about this during his keynote speech at “Best Brands” – an event where the best brands in Germany are awarded prizes. Populism means simple orientation with clear guiding principles and, above all, with enemy stereotypes. Which brings us back to Donald Trump. His populism has not only damaged his own brand, but this movement as a whole. The populists have been unsuccessful in their attempts to gain power in the Netherlands and France, and the story will be the same in Germany. It’s impossible to win in Trump’s wake.

The guy has a knack for marketing, as he demonstrated during his campaign. But politics is not his thing. That’s why he continues to act as though he’s still on the campaign trail. As much as we like to rant about politicians, The Donald makes it clear that even this job is one for professionals. It would be interesting to find out the course that his company’s business takes in light of the political debacle. According to the US press, after Charlottesville, charitable associations no longer wanted to book his golf club in Florida where they would have held events for a lot of money. And apparently he has been unable to sell a holiday villa in the Caribbean, even after lowering the price. Perhaps this is down to the “dictator chic” style of the interior design. Unfortunately we don’t know any more details.

What cannot be ruled out, however, is that the Trump brand has become a financial burden on the Trump company. After all, the most important thing for a brand these days is the product (something often underestimated or overlooked by those responsible). Whoever makes a promise about a product needs to keep it. If the detergent doesn’t actually make clothes whiter, then customer confidence – the essential capital of the brand – quickly disappears (by the way, have you noticed that this type of advertising is barely used anymore? There is a reason for this!). If the president just keeps producing sound bites and failing on his promises instead of getting down to politics (which we are actually used to with politicians, but didn’t expect from this anti-politician), then something is wrong with the product. Quality has never been more valuable.

 

This article was also published at Horizont

You won’t need a turtleneck to be creative

We often ask our self the question, where do good ideas come from? and we seem to be sure that a great idea is born in a single incident, Eureka! .. like Newton’s apple.

Moreover, we think creative ideas come from the selected few, guys with turtleneck sweaters and rounded glasses, or it has to be written somewhere in their title, they also have to work in a special place, preferably with a lot of colors and bean bags .. and the occasional pool table.

The first truth is, ideas take time to be form, it’s usually the collection of everything we face in our lives, the problems, the challenges, the stuff we read online, a story our mom told us at a certain point, and although you may not know it, your brain files all these information for later use.

Ideas are created in our daily lives, in the cultures we live in, so if you are a creative person, an accountant, a photographer or a cook, you can find inspiration everywhere, and if you remember that ideas come from creative collaboration and the impact of and the role of users and consumers in creating your ideas are guaranteed to elevate to an upper level.

The second truth is, ideas are more likely to come from the combination of different thoughts that clash together, you see why workshops are important, for an idea to be born it needs a collision, a friction if you may, that challenges the single thought in a purpose of improving it or creating something completely new out of it.

Best examples of innovations around the world we created or only find its true purpose by customers, end-users, people who created beautiful things that would not have been created by big corporations because they couldn’t see the need, the opportunity: they didn’t have the incentive to innovate.

This is a huge challenge to the way we think creativity comes about. The traditional view still follows in much the way with think about creativity – in silos.

Ideas are problem-solving, seizing opportunities, creating a change but ultimately selling a product. And if an idea doesn’t deliver on any of those goals, then it’s a waste.

Sadly, you see a lot of “waste” around us, beautiful execution and products that cost a lot of money and the most expensive media touch points, but no results, no sales, no test drives, no interest.

We need to have a mindset that allows everyone to contribute, under one roof or many, from any department, client or agency, small business or big… trust me it makes a difference.

So, what does a creative coder do?

Let’s get started with the creative coder. Hopefully Ret Lauterbach, technical director at Plan.Net Technology and Stephan Enders, head of innovation studio in the Plan.Net Group, can help us figure out, what creative coders do for a living.

Digital Retail…Really?

Why is e-commerce always reported as taking away from bricks and mortar sales? Is this really the competition? Shouldn’t all brands be embracing both aspects to deliver a cohesive journey? Shopping malls are as popular as ever, however, our purchasing habits have evolved. The problem is mall and retail experiences are stubbornly antiquated.

Our shopping experience typically begins in the carpark and yet these are a barren wasteland when it comes to delivering a positive sense of arrival. Then what about way-finding inside the malls? There has been some improvement in recent years, and the Dubai Mall App is a leader in this area, however the ongoing prevalence of traditional static grid-style location maps and the lack of smart apps that can identify your location while feeding you relevant brand information means the experience in most malls continues to be underwhelming and disconnected. Then once you enter the retail store, and if you are time challenged and shop for clothes like me by pointing at a mannequin and telling the sales assistant that’s what you want, then you are typically limited to the 5 or 6 static mannequins that are on display, despite the myriad of combinations created by that brand’s designers and displayed on their online site.

However, change is coming. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods for $13.7B suggests an overhaul of the retail experience is coming and could see an integration of their payless Amazon Fresh Pickup concept. Imagine the world without the horrible experience of queuing at the supermarket check-out…it’s almost too good to be true!

When I meet with a retail brand, the first thing I ask them is how they believe they are offering a genuinely different experience in their space. Often their positioning is very good online, but it is somewhat lacking in the physical space making it difficult to see what attributes will connect customers emotionally to the brand. Furthermore, if digital connectivity does not continue into the physical space then crucial data on the purchasing habits is lost.

Without the appearance of an ‘always on’ experience in the retail space, then the message is that the retail environment is always one step behind the online offering. To retain a top-of-mind position then brands need an integrated programme of in-store digital interaction, online activities, in-store events and co-branded experiences that reiterate how the brand is an integral part of our life.

This article was first published by People Retail magazine.

Seven social and economic trends in China

On June 27th 2017 I have given a speech at the „International Roadshow 2017: China Insights“ to German enterprises in Munich with the title „The Future is Now“. I have shared some current social and economic happenings in China that are influencing the future, including consumption upgrade, sharing economy, live stream, and cash-free lifestyle, at the same time I have unveiled some business and marketing potentials embarked behind.

The meaning of ‘creative’

What does creative mean?
What a question.
Ideally, creative is something one just is, without any lengthy discussion.
However, if I must.
Here goes:

Creative is new, unpredictable, capricious.
A smartass take on this is that being creative is a paradox. It is the meaningful combination of things which do not belong together.
And then you suddenly just get it.

The word “meaningful” is important. Randomly combining thoughts, feelings and forms usually ends in confusion. Creative combinations on the other hand must make sense – but ideally not until they are in the mind of the consumer. If he or she completes the chain of thought, decodes the ultimate meaning of a film or a picture then, test institutes please take note, the effect is much stronger than when everything is pre-digested.

Actually, “consumer” is a word that I don’t really like to use. Yes, ultimately, advertising is concerned with selling, but the more messages rain down upon us “consumers” the more we only take heed of the relevant ones. That can be the much-quoted “right product at the right time in the right medium”. Programmatic is the key word here. However, the crucial factor is that the better a message is packaged, the stronger – again – the effect. I prefer to side with “Saint” Sir John Hegarty, and refer to “the public” rather than to “consumers”. We want to sell to consumers. We want to entertain the public. What is good is that a well-entertained public buys more than a well-informed public. After all, we speak of a “buying mood”.

What is good entertainment in a creative form? It’s more than just fun. It’s a new, stimulating thought, for example. A new perspective on life, giving rise to the observation, “Wow, I’ve never really looked at that in that way before”. That is what we remember, that’s what we like to tell other people about.

Good creation thrives on strong feelings. Being enthused, touched, unsettled, buoyed up, amused, everything that moves you. Tedious lists of information do not move me. I am moved by good stories which end with a surprise. Human stories which turn my prejudices and my neatly ordered thoughts inside out and upside down, which develop a dynamic of their own, never to serve their own purpose but that of the brand. This is easy to say, but damn difficult to realise every day.

Of course, creative also means unyielding, untiring and tough. Here’s a good thought: it is not ideas which set good creatives apart from bad ones but their refusal to give up.

P.S. I’m quite proud that I didn’t use the current buzzwords “disruptive”, “diversity” and “digital transformation” a single time in this text. But if you need to, my dear public, just add them mentally where appropriate and then you too will get it. 😉

This article was published in German at W&V.

Cannes Lions 2017 Jury Presidents: Mike Rogers, Health & Wellness

Serviceplan Health & Life creative partner Mike Rogers on judging a category with endless ways of execution.