Oh, New York City. There’s nowhere else in the world where you can eat world-class pizza, experience about 30 unidentifiable smells and be woken up by someone playing accordion on the subway all in the same day. There’s also nowhere else where you can attend Advertising Week New York (obviously).
Last month, we did all those things and more, and have returned home to report on the top 3 trends we saw while we were at Ad Week.
#1: The TikTok train
First, there were AOL chat rooms. Then there was Friendster, then MySpace, then Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat — you name it. And while some platforms lasted longer than others (#RIPVine), there’s one thing they all have in common: each made a major impact in the lives of its users and the online landscape.
Today’s shiny new platform is TikTok. TikTok is a video app featuring user-generated 3 to 15 second videos — like a more musical spiritual successor to Vine. It was the most downloaded app on the App Store for the entire first half of 2018, with more than 1 billion downloads and a reported 800 million monthly active users. Plus, it has really great content like this:
So, if you haven’t heard of it yet, why not?
Maybe it’s because it’s not really a social platform. TikTok is all about creating and consuming really good content, not sharing it with friends or relatives. Or maybe you’re just not the target audience — much like Facebook’s initial surge among the older millennial crowd, TikTok remains largely a Gen Z platform.
And for that reason, it’s also a major marketing opportunity. There might not be a better place than TikTok to reach Gen Z right now. It’s more authentic than a highly curated Instagram feed, better curated than YouTube and has more engaging content than Twitter. There’s no other platform out there so rich with relevant, authentic stories. And since the platform is still in its infancy, there’s no better time for a brand to build a strong presence there.
So what’s the catch?
Compared to other platforms, TikTok is still super new, so measurement and reporting tools are still being developed. It can be hard to tell the exact impact your content has on the platform outside of likes and view count. On top of that, we don’t have a guarantee that TikTok will stick around forever. Not every platform can be Facebook — most of them will eventually go away, like MySpace and Vine did.
You can decide it’s worth the risk for your brand. But think about it this way: even when platforms die, the brand equity you’ve built doesn’t. You bring it with you wherever you go next — just think of all the Vine stars who migrated to YouTube and Instagram. And if you’re waiting for a reporting mechanism to justify marketing spend, you’re always going to be late to the party. Attention always moves. It’s up to you if you want to move with it.
Whether you’re using TikTok for marketing or personal content, one thing holds true: the platform is all about being authentic, stepping out of your comfort zone and taking risks.
#2: Rethinking the influencer
When we think of influencers, we tend to think of beautiful people in expensive clothes, taking lavish vacations — perfect lives curated into 10-second snippets and aesthetically filtered feeds.
But research on influencer marketing presented by The Outloud Group showed that, unless your product is compelling enough for someone to buy just based on a photo, marketers should be thinking about different platforms for reaching audiences.
Think about it: why use Instagram when video is king? With IGTV in its infancy, Instagram is still far from a video platform. It’s no secret that it’s a lot harder to tell a story using static content. What’s more, according to Outloud, Instagram is one of the most distracted platforms — one of the hardest places to capture audiences’ attention.
So why are so many brands still defaulting to Instagram for their influencer campaigns? It turns out, the platform’s biggest weaknesses are also its biggest draws. Marketers want control over the message, and Instagram allows for that. But this is often at the cost of creating a compelling story.
But if you’re ready to grip the reins a little less tightly, you could see some amazing results. See, what influencers do really well is brand advocacy, not parroting brand voice. Their biggest value lies in speaking for your brand in their own way — and that makes marketers uncomfortable. Without a controlled narrative, we’re at the mercy of the influencer.
But is that not why we work with influencers to begin with? We need their authentic voices to cut through the noise of social media. The moment consumers hear a brand’s voice coming out of an influencer’s mouth, you’ve started to erode their attention, their respect, or their trust.
A particularly interesting case study was used to illustrate the strength of influencers outside of Instagram and that was the strategic partnership between GrubHub (think SkipTheDishes, but American) and Twitch.
For those who are unaware, Twitch is a free livestreaming service primarily for gamers. Millions of creators use Twitch to stream themselves playing video games, as well as other hobbies like cooking and art. The average user spends an average of 95 minutes on Twitch per session, adding up to about 20 hours each week. Compared to 4 hours per week for TV among the same demographic (predominantly millennial males), that’s pretty impressive. Oh, and it’s an $100 billion industry with 28% year-over-year growth.
GrubHub worked with a professional streamer, Myth, to have him promote their service as he streamed. For example, Myth would order and eat food live, praising the brand in the process. Twitch is a fairly tight-knit community, so when people saw their favourite streamer promoting a product, they also supported it to help him out.
But Twitch isn’t the right platform for every brand. Other livestreaming services, like Microsoft’s Mixer, might have a more relevant audience. Or, if you’re still feeling cautious, livestreaming might not be right for you at all — but that doesn’t mean video is out of the question. YouTube is an incredibly powerful but surprisingly underappreciated influencer market that gives you the opportunity to vet content before it’s released, while still giving influencers the freedom to appreciate the brand in their own way.
#3: Unlikely creative partnerships
The GrubHub-Twitch pairing is a perfect example of something we saw a lot of at Advertising Week: creative matches made in heaven. They were able to see the overlap between the two brands’ audiences, namely, the millennial gamer. GrubHub was looking to serve people who didn’t want to go out or cook, and Twitch had exactly that in its streamers and viewers.
This was just one of many examples we saw of the marketing world crossing over into other creative platforms. Another worth mentioning made a significant impact on the public imagination over the last year: Proctor & Gamble and Global Citizen, a worldwide movement aiming to end global poverty by 2030.
Through their partnership, P&G was able to tell new stories and highlight the work they’ve been doing in developing countries for years. They released a co-branded documentary series which featured key humanitarian initiatives in Global Citizen priority areas. They leveraged influential celebrities to help get the message out and share bite-sized content to their large networks on social media.
But how do you create the right partnership is right for your brand? Here are three rules you can follow:
First, you should find a partner that also has something to bring to the table to allow for stronger creative work. For example, P&G was able to bring their history of supporting global causes, and Global Citizen had the audience and authenticity to promote that history.
Next, make sure the goals and challenges of both brands are addressed by the partnership — P&G had the means, and Global Citizen had the message.
Third, the partnership needs to be able to tell a cohesive and compelling story. As people get better at tuning out sales-y marketing messages, a strong partnership can be an ideal time to send a message that sticks: one that promotes your values and lets you loosen a too-tight grip on your brand. This is why the Twitch-GrubHub partnership works so well — GrubHub traded control of their brand message for a truly authentic sales pitch.
Brand partnerships have benefits from a less commercial standpoint, too. They allow brands to find new angles to start important conversations. Take Boost Mobile’s partnership with rapper Pitbull’s new multicultural marketing agency, 305 Worldwide, for example. It’s a partnership that allows Boost to play a role in empowering multicultural audiences.
Value-based messaging and politically charged topics might seem like risky territory for any brand. But with Gen Z having a major role in today’s biggest political discussions, it might be even riskier to not take every opportunity to showcase what your brand stands for.
To sum it up
What we learned at Ad Week can be summarized by the title of our favourite talk, by Burger King Global CMO Fernando Machado: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. But Do It. Taking risks, whether it’s with your platform, your message or your partners, can be the best way to make a lasting impact on your audience. In five years, people are going to remember your viral TikTok over any billboard or bus ad — even if the platform is completely obsolete by then.
“You need to be afraid of the idea,” was one of the week’s best bits of advice. “It needs to have uncertainty, or else you’re not doing anything different.”
Eleanor Beale is a Strategist and Liz Jackson is a Copywriter at Banfield Agency in Ottawa, Canada.