David Shing at ADMERICA! 2014
Monica Helms (a resident blogger here at the American Advertising Federation) sat down with AOL’s Digital Prophet, David Shing, to dive deeper into his thoughts on where things are headed with online advertising and how we can get the most out of it. The interview touches on image production and sharing, cutting through media overload, and creating an experience for those who engage with your brand.
Monica: There is new content on social media every day. Now more than ever, the users have the ability to create and customize images quickly, easily, and fairly professionally. What is your favorite image you have seen on social and why?
Shing: Greg Olsen, actually, from my presentation – Jesus talking to the young kid, that’s my all-time favorite. And it’s a painting, actually. It wasn’t meant as crude – he’s actually a Christian artist. But I just thought it was absolutely appropriate to tag, it’s one of my all-time favorites.
Monica: Understanding that users now have the ability to create art from an app and share it quite globally, what type of impact do you see this having on brands?
Shing: I do think the impact is massive, because it reduces what it costs to commission. We’ve already seen that; and I know that as a real designer, there’s always a revolution that happens. But what does happen, once you go through the cycle of it being inexpensive and easy to produce – what sticks out are people who have become craftsmen, who have done all these crafts with digital pixel design, and have become (in my mind) artists, with an incredibly powerful new craft. And so there’ll be a new genre. Let me be very frank. Back in the day when I came through design school, desktop publishing was just starting. Color printers were just starting. Everyone designed in their head, ‘cause you’ve got 40 fonts, but don’t know what the hell you can make them do, so everything looks like crap. And so once you cycle through that, you really need to design as a particular art, so arts, craftsmanship becomes very important. So it’ll have a new genre as a craft.
Monica: You’ve spoken on media overload in the past as a contributor to stress. In the attention-economy, brands struggle to consider their utility and capitalize on how they can be useful to someone’s day-to-day habits in the midst of this overload. These things considered, what advice would you offer a brand on where to start when building a strategy?
Shing: The first thing is insight – you’ve got to use enough insights to understand what you’re doing. Then the insight asks the question: Why? Why are you doing that thing? Most brands that I know jump into the water, with the attitude “Well, we need social. We need… just do it.” I’m like, are you out of your mind? What you really want to do is make sure you have the insight that says this is why people want to engage with you, so you can go this way. It’s all about authenticity; it’s not about creating a motion because everybody seems to be doing that. What’ll happen is that, over time, we will move away from distractions. It’s already happening. People are sort of fragmenting their marketing. They’re not focusing their time on the ones that really matter.
Monica: Many brands understand that they have to engage their audience with something unexpected. Often times, you will hear a request to “create something that will go viral.” What do you say to these leaders requesting a “viral” content piece?
Shing: First of all, “viral” needs to go away. The way that people, I believe, have to think about marketing, is a portfolio. Because if you’re going to do one beautiful craft or experience and say, “That’s it. We’re going to put it all out. We’re going to put our muscle behind this. This is the thing that’s going to get us the awards,” then it’s probably not going to happen. But if you do 20 of them, you have a chance that one might work, ‘cause at the end of the day, somebody who’s looking at that experience is a human. They’re the ones who are going to determine what it can do, not you, not you as a brand. You may have an instinct, but the best ideas, I think, come from making mistakes. Coke is really good at that. It divides the budget by 70/20/10. Seventy percent of it goes to ROI-driven tactics, so nobody gets fired – amen. Then they spend 20 percent of their budget on stuff that’s perceived has having risk, and then ten percent goes to stuff that they have no idea if it’s going to work.
Monica: Similarly, leaders of brands are often looking at the number of “likes” as a success measure and are developing content with this objective in mind. Can you speak to this a bit and offer guidance to brands who may be working to achieve “likes.”
Shing: Yeah: “likes” are rubbish. And they’re rubbish because it’s passive. There’s no skin in the game. If you and I want to be friends, you have to accept my friend request. That used to happen. So we went from a brand having several hundred committed friends to several thousand “likes” because we thought it was a better concept than what it was. The “like” button came out of a hack, and it feels like it. It’s just a soft metric. You need metrics that are verbs; you need something that allows people to pass it on. That’s why I like “share,” because it’s physically something you commit to.
Monica: With advertising being the backbone of digital, it’s important to build experiences for the user that can be passed on, with “experience” being key to success. Creating sharable experiences may be easier for larger brands that have more budget to afford, leaving smaller brands in a more difficult place in the competition. Can you offer any advice to smaller brands that may be unable to afford a celebrity or more attractive experience?
Shing: That’s a multi-threaded question you’re asking. It’s no longer about digital marketing, it is marketing in a digital world. You need to balance paid advertising marketing, which gives you scale with marketing which is you are prepared to experiment with channels, where you know your prospects are spending time. For example, Trulia. Earlier today, when I showed you the example of Barbie’s house being sold for $25 million, by Mattel, and they supplemented some paid ads around it. It’s a really smart way of saying, “Who buys our product? Where are they shopping? How can I grab their attention?” Barbie’s house? Genius. It’s a genius idea. And in the place of Trulia, it would be really inexpensive to do that as a listing. If you put it as a listing? It would be tiny. But they were just trying to pitch this new way of thinking. So brands just need to do that. It’s not about budget. Budget will get you scale, but it’s not going to get you attention. So you need to have really good ideas. Niche ideas can be really good, as long as they actually have a use. I’ll give you another example – I can’t remember the brand that did it, but the concept, it was called a Band in a Banner. They took a standard, 720×90 banner, and they built an actual stage, with the same particular scale, and they had a band crawl into it and play their instruments, and so if you come across it, you see this band playing, and you think, “What’s that about? Is this a band or just a banner ad?” It was just lovely. Different. Unusual. And contextual to the banner, because they did the 720×90 scale; it was pretty cool.
Monica: Then it comes to storytelling in your content strategy, creativity has to be redefined with each product launch. Brands don’t have to originate the story but rather just have to own it by placing it in smart places. This can present brands the opportunity to use their audience for curating content by having them blog for them, create home videos for testimonials, etc. You’re familiar with the suggested hoax by Apple, wherein a band held a jam session on a train by playing music from their iPhones. Considering the pressure that brands are experiencing to stay ahead in the game, can you speak to the importance of transparency when developing content?
Shing: I don’t think transparency is necessarily that important. The reason for that is, if it’s just good content, people will pass it around. A good example of that is Pepsi. I don’t know who the driver is now, because I’m not really a sports fan, but there’s a NASCAR driver who took a guy on a whiz round in a car. And the only thing you saw is that Pepsi MAX was on the dashboard. So if you did look close, you’d see the Pepsi MAX was there. But the thing about it was, the idea, was that it was a hoax. And they all transparently said it was a hoax, but people could care less, they still shared it a hundred million times. It’s just the idea. Where it becomes really important is if you’re able to balance that with doing something authentic and interesting, then it can happen. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Dog driving is a classic example. But it’s been viewed a hundred million times.
Monica: Shifting to the topic of search, search is always changing, and although the intent is to better serve the consumer, it can actually be more difficult to find what you’re looking for now. Do you have any predictions for how search might continue to evolve and what challenges brands might consequently face?
Shing: It’s really going to change from the model of search today. Search is important, because it’s what we do. A referral code goes up because people tend to want to learn by what’s recommended. So if you go to a recommendation, that’s a search thing, it’s just going to evolve into something completely different. In addition to that though, if we’ve gotten all the gadgets that actually have push, meaning I don’t have to search because it’s actually pushing me information as I want it and need it, in location-based services, it’s going to evolve into something completely different. So search today is just a very passive environment. However, if you think about it, search is the number one way they’re able to afford to do all the things that they do – “they” being Google. They took an organic search results page on Google, and the majority of it is not organic, it’s paid. So search is already an evolving environment. But if we have wearables, and the penetration of wearables goes up, it has no screen to take with you. So yeah, it’s coming back to how you change or morph. As somebody who is selling a physical brand, you’re going to have to become really, really interesting, and different when thinking when thinking about your physical brand connected to a physical device that has no screen. It’s easy on phones today; you have an iPhone. That iPhone is your brand particularly. And if that brand is of use, than I promise that’s something I’m going to remember and travel with it. If there’s no screen, there’s no icon. So either brands are going to have to get into wearables, or they’re going to have to figure out ways to connect their physical product to the wearable that connects to the phone to give them a reason to actually use their phone.