The Creative Shortlist: Connecting the Global Community

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The Creative Shortlist is a new series that looks at the trends and themes informing innovative digital campaigns. This month we spotlight truly global campaigns—creative ideas that are so big, so fundamentally human, that they inspire people around the world to share, connect and come together.


See what Creative Sandbox campaigns we’re talking about.
This edition’s guest curator is Ben Malbon, director of creative partnerships, Google.

Language barriers. Vastly different time zones. The pain of managing multiple agencies. Egos. Control. Cultural nuances. Brands have plenty of reasons to shy away from big “global” campaigns, but if you’re able to find the right ideas and execute them well, they can be worth the slog.

Global moments like the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil—which it’s safe to say will be the most connected sporting event in history (it’s currently the fourth most searched event on Google Trends)—offer tantalizing opportunities for brands willing to take the plunge. The world won’t just be watching and partying and shouting at the screen. They’ll be on their smartphones and tablets, creating massive digital and social energy spikes. Smart brands will both fuel and harness that energy.

Take Coca-Cola. It kicked off its “The World’s Cup” campaign back in April. The centerpiece, “One World, One Game,” developed by Wieden + Kennedy, uses a new roll-over Engagement Ad to showcase five digital films about football players from very different parts of the world. In featuring these deeply personal, yet universally relevant stories in one place, Coca-Cola benefits from both the power of an individual story and the connective tissue: the triumphs and ambitions that make us human.

These kind of global campaigns are about more than brands exercising their creative and media muscles. They’re tapping a world itching to connect, to be part of something bigger and more meaningful. They’re on the forefront of something big—connecting people by building on human truths that can cross geographic boundaries (joy, peace, understanding, justice, love, loss, and so much more).

Some ideas have life beyond their own backyard, and brands can use the web to spread their big creative ideas across borders. Here are four strong examples from the Creative Sandbox gallery of brands that are reaching the world through their digital campaigns:

#1 Coca-Cola: The Happiness Flag

A crowd-sourced mosaic flag unites football fans around the world

#2 Manchester United/Google+: Front Row

A Hangout to bring faraway football fans to Old Trafford

#3 Burberry: Burberry Kisses

A letter sent to loved ones around the world, sealed with your digital kiss

#4 Embratur – Brazilian Tourism Board: The World Meets in Brazil

An interactive tour introducing World Cup fans to Brazil

Programmatic: Merging Data and Creative

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Marketers have long known that they need to evaluate their campaigns for both brand impact and tangible performance goals. They’ve worked hard to create compelling creative stories and then deliver those stories to the right people to achieve those goals. While the performance and data side of the advertising equation have gotten a boost, thanks to the rise of programmatic technologies, the creative side has been slower to follow suit.

Programmatic media buying and robust targeting technologies have created rich data signals that marketers can use to ensure that every impression reaches the right people at the right price. However, this deep focus on data has left a gap in the attention spent on the creatives served through these channels, causing them to become conversion oriented while lacking the engaging elements that grab consumers’ attention.

WHAT IT MEANS: Programmatic Buying

The use of technology and audience insights to automatically buy and run a campaign in real time, reaching the right user with the right message.

This imbalance in the data/creative equation can and should be remedied. Marketers can use the same data signals from their programmatic media buy to inform their creative message. We call this programmatic creative; it can improve the relevance and engagement of a brand’s creative, enabling marketers to run a campaign that can achieve both brand impact and performance goals.

 WHAT IT MEANS: Real-Time Bidding

Buying ad inventory dynamically, based on each ad impression. The winning bid is displayed instantly on the publisher’s site. Real-time bidding is a subset of programmatic buying.Consumer’s expectations of digital advertising have steadily increased, so executing successful programmatic creative is important. They expect it to be engaging and highly relevant, and marketers must appeal to them across a number of devices and formats. Media agencies now have access to a greater number of data signals—contextual data, audience and demographic data and more. The creative agencies that work with their media agencies early on to take advantage of this data in their creative messaging will better serve their audience. (I outlined these strategies in greater detail in “How Technology Makes Creative More Intelligent.”)

WHAT IT MEANS: Programmatic Creative

Digital ad creative that contains design elements, which integrate with programmatic and real-time bidding strategies. It enables advertisers to deliver a message that’s tailored to the audience viewing it and the environment on which it’s being viewed.

Infusing creative with data
There are two ways marketers can infuse data into their creative. They can use the information about the audience (the people viewing the ads), including demographics, location and previous behavior on websites gathered from first- and third-party data, and they can integrate the data about the context and environment in which the ad appears (how they’re viewing the ads).

Continue Reading →

March Madness: A Full Court Press for Marketers

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March means one thing for college hoops fans: March Madness. But the NCAA tournament, which kicks off next week, isn’t just for diehards. It’s a mainstream event and one of the year’s biggest marketing moments. The web makes it easier than ever to get into the action—whether you’re a pro bracketologist or casual fan. Here, we look at last year’s numbers and the early trends for 2014 to help predict the field for marketers.

Watching at work

Live streaming of the games has grown the March Madness audience dramatically, shifting much of the watching online. Last year’s tournament delivered record-setting video consumption across digital platforms. According to Turner Sports, which manages NCAA March Madness Live, there were 49 million live video streams. That’s 14 million hours of video.

Fans never have to miss a game—even when they’re at work. Last year, we saw a 26% growth over the previous year in various searches for where to watch the game online. On the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament, a disproportionate number of those searches, 82%, came from desktops (Google Internal Data, 2013). Surely, the “boss button” came in handy. This might meanlost productivity, but for the enterprising advertiser, it’s two more days each week to score points with customers on digital.

Mobile has changed the game

When they’re away from their desks, fans turn to their mobile devices so they don’t miss any of the action. Most often, they search for terms such as “scores,” “results,” “highlights” and “news.” Visuals are especially compelling for fans, so we also see a lot for searches for “videos,” “images,” “pictures,” “photos” and “reactions.” In 2013, searches for these terms grew 120% on mobile, compared with the previous year (see chart below). We especially notice an increase on weekends when fans are watching from the couch or while they’re out at bars. Brands and publishers will want to keep this in mind as they generate NCAA-related content and ensure it’s accessible across all devices to reach these constantly connected fans.

Mobile Searches for March Madness News, Information and Visuals

Source: Google Internal Data, March 13-19, 2012, and March 19-26, 2013, Indexed Search Query Volume, United States

It’s Merch Madness during the finals

If a team makes it to the Elite Eight, we see a spike in the demand for its branded merchandise, such as jerseys and t-shirts.

Apparel Searches for Teams in the 2013 Final Four

Source: Google Trends, Indexed Search Query Volume, United States

This demand is strong year-round for perennial sports powerhouses such as Louisville and Michigan, but more ephemeral for those Cinderella stories. As you can see in the graph above, apparel demand rose for last year’s breakout star, Wichita State, as it made its way to the Final Four. Demand fell once the team was eliminated, but it’s on the rise again thanks to the team’s record undefeated regular season heading into this year’s tournament. This goes to show the power of March Madness as a brand builder—one that retailers and universities alike can take advantage of.

The tournament can also be a boon to local business. Last year, Final Four host city Atlanta enjoyed its highest weekly demand for local tourism searches—a 22% rise (Google Internal Data, 2013). This year, fans will be descending upon Arlington, TX to see the final games.

Brands cashing in on brackets

For some, the fun of March Madness isn’t about watching the games, it’s about predicting the winners. Searches for brackets leading up to Selection Sunday have grown fourfold since 2008 (see chart below).

Searches Related to Brackets

Source: Google Internal Data, Indexed Search Query Volume, United States

Brands are fueling this trend by sponsoring contests. A great example is Quicken Loans’ Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, which the company is doing in partnership with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. We’ve seen huge growth in searches for this branded bracket; “Warren Buffett ncaa” and “quicken loans ncaa” are both top NCAA-related searches (see below).

Top Trending Google Searches Related to NCAA

Source: Google Internal Data, March 1-7, 2014, United States

Look for bracket searches to spike on March 16, Selection Sunday, and the day after as people research teams and place their wagers before the tournament begins.

Marketers can bet that these trends—streaming, mobile, merchandise and brackets—will continue to grow this year. UPDATED: To stay on top of what’s trending during the tournament, keep tabs for the latest.

Search Insights: Discovering and Testing Brand Associations

Brands work hard to establish their identities. Do they match what consumers think? Search data can be a helpful gauge. When people search, they often use a combination of terms. These “co-searches” hint at the mental connections they make among topics, products, objectives, and so on. When looked at in aggregate, this data offers a reflection of how and when consumers are thinking about a brand. Marketers can use this information in a number of ways—to inform new partnership opportunities, highlight natural spokespeople, test the strength of brand associations and inform future positioning, for example.

Every brand marketer has a strong belief about what its brand stands for. After all, marketers spend time, money and significant effort defining a key value proposition they hope will lead to marketplace success. Campaigns, products and creative strategies are all designed to support these carefully thought-out brand identities. But does the reality in the consumer’s mind match our objectives? Do the brand associations line up with the positioning we intended?

Search data can help us find out. It’s a valuable tool for examining a brand in numerous ways, including how well it stands for what we think it should. By tapping into the vast data set made up of millions of consumer searches about brands and their competitors, we can gain a sense of the perceptions and associations consumers hold. In this series we’ve already explored the use of search data as a brand planning tool and showed how search data reflects the collective moments and movements in our society. We also showed how marketers can use search data to gain new insights into categories and competitive landscapes. Now let’s take a deeper look into how to use search to investigate associations and positioning.  Continue Reading →

How Technology Makes Creative More Intelligent

Today’s technology can target and customize ads with unparalleled precision. At the same time, busy consumers expect ads to be both incredibly compelling and highly relevant. With consumers using multiple devices, creative must seamlessly move across them. Marketers also need to measure and optimize faster than ever. Google’s Creative Platforms Evangelist, Pete Crofut, talks about how new tools and platforms can address these challenges, helping marketers create “intelligent” ads that are engaging and meaningful to consumers in the moments that matter.

Intelligent, engaging, creative. This may sound like a personal ad, but it’s also the future of ads in general. In fact, advertising is getting more personal, more engaging, more interesting and more thought-provoking than ever.

Today’s technology can target and customize ads with unparalleled precision. At the same time, busy consumers expect ads to be both incredibly compelling and highly relevant, and thus meaningful to them at that moment. This means that while the opportunity is bigger than ever, the stakes are higher too. If your brand “matches” with a potential consumer, you might have one chance to make a first impression, so it had better be a good one.

Adding to this are technological obstacles. With consumers using multiple devices, creative must seamlessly move across smartphones, desktops and tablets, a demand that can seem daunting to marketers inexperienced with HTML5 and the coding needed for such content. Marketers also need to know a campaign’s effectiveness and be able to scale it more broadly when it succeeds.

To overcome these challenges, we need to change the traditional way of reaching audiences by prioritizing focused engagement over broad exposure. We also need to rethink how we talk to audiences. Once your brand is in front of the best people, are you delivering the most relevant message? Are you catching and holding their attention?

To do so, a good place to start is to leverage the technology and platforms available to you. They can be used to develop creative solutions that are engaging, relevant, measurable and scalable—in a word, intelligent. But how do creatives actually use technology to build more intelligent ads? And how do marketers piece together the right joint media and creative solution to make the message relevant for every viewer? Continue Reading →

CEA Chief Economist on 2014 Tech Trends Every Retailer Should Watch

Since 1967, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has been hosting the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a global trade show that highlights innovation in consumer technologies. Beyond this yearly event, taking place this week in Las Vegas, the CEA plays a crucial role in the industry, sharing market research, forecasts, legislative news, and more. Helping guide these efforts is Shawn DuBravac, the CEA’s chief economist and senior director of research. If you want to know what’s happening in technology and consumer behavior (and what marketer doesn’t?), DuBravac is your man. He spoke to us about the impactful trends he’s watching, including the explosion of sensors, the digitization of information, mass customization and the “third industrial revolution.”

Part of your job is directing market research initiatives for the CEA. What are the big trends you’re seeing among your 2,000 member companies?

One of the most impactful trends I’m seeing right now is the digitization of everything. This trend is being empowered by the sensorization of consumer technology. History shows us, when things move from scarcity to surplus, we begin to waste those resources. This is especially true in technology. Continue Reading →

Redefining Advertising: How 2013 Transformed Digital Marketing

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It was a great year for digital advertising. New technologies took off, helping brands, agencies and publishers reach today’s constantly connected consumers more easily and effectively than ever. Creative got more intelligent, campaigns spanned screens and formats, media buying went real-time, and new metrics for success emerged. Here’s a look at the big shifts that redefined the industry this year—and for many to come. Continue Reading →