Costa Coffee Snapchat Spectacles campaign – This is why we can’t have nice things!

Imagine how cool it would be to get handed a shiny new toy that everyone is talking about and told ‘you’re the first to get it, now do something cool’?

There’s a definite first mover advantage for brands. The PR story of being the ‘first company to…’ do something can draw attention, and there’s also a little ego boost for the agency and brand manager. Everyone wants to be an early adopter, an innovator.

Costa Coffee in the UK got that opportunity last week. We’ve been waiting for Snapchat Spectacles to come to this side of the Atlantic for months, and Costa was the first brand in the UK to get their hands on a pair.

Now just imagine the creative possibilities at the brief stage? You get handed an opportunity to do something nobody has done before, to use a product that shoots video with distinctive look and to come up with a really cool, novel idea that’s guaranteed to get some interest.

Plus, there’s no pressure, the bar is automatically low since nobody has done much with the tool before. It’s literally an open goal for a digital creative. 


Unless you forget to come up with a creative idea that is.

Unfortunately, Costa fell into this trap. They created a campaign that’s the definition of ‘meh’.

Their idea was

“to give fans a unique insight into the world of Costa, specifically through the eyes of its baristas”.

Basically, they gave the specs to a barista, who made a coffee, and they recorded that. That’s the ‘campaign’.

According to a spokesperson,

“for our customers and followers, we know…they’ll be intrigued to watch their favourite coffee being made from the perspective of a Costa barista”.

Will they aye? Does anyone really want to spend a minute and a half watching a Costa barista pouring coffee? Is that interesting?

To me, this is a wasted opportunity. It’s a channel thought without any creative idea.

It’s relying on a shiny new thing to do the work, and lazily not thinking up of a way to bring it to life.

I know this is a first use in the market, and there’s no Spectacles campaigns to get creative ideas from.

But surely Costa could’ve looked to campaigns like this from Eighty Twenty and this from Old Spice for inspiration.

Both were built on top of an immature platform, but had a strong creative idea at the core. Both won awards too.

I’m not picking on Costa here, this is something that we’re all guilty of. We forget that channels and platforms are the equivalent of creative canvases that we paint on. But they’re  benign without a strong creative idea.  It’s up to us as marketers to get creative, build cool things on top of them, to understand them, test them and sometimes break them.

But just using a new channel can’t be ‘the big idea’ on its own.

In Ireland meanwhile, Aer Lingus were the first brand to be given a go. They decided to hand the specs to Conor Murray to give an insight into a ‘day in the life’.

Again, this isn’t exactly a revolutionary creative idea, but it’s a smart way to use their sponsorship assets and give fans a look behind the scenes that they wouldn’t normally get.

The resulting short social video got plenty of traction.

Who wouldn’t want to see the world from Conor Murray’s eyes?
(Don’t answer that one!)

A simple idea, but an idea at least.







Is Adidas about to commit brand suicide by ignoring TV?

Irish advertising legend John Fanning has a brilliant piece on the current state of advertising in this month’s Marketing magazine. Fanning spans the breadth of the business, speaking sense and bringing clarity to adland’s bullshit.

One of his main points is that for some reason, we love hyperbole. We love declaring the new thing, feeling like we’re ahead of the curve and forgetting about the fundamentals of marketing, the knowledge and experience that’s gone before.

We’re like magpies, addicted to the shiny new tool and forgetful of our past, always moving on, but never dwelling on what we already know to be true.

There’s never a shortage of biased gurus peddling snake oil and telling us that the ‘death of’ (insert channel here) is nigh, and we love to agree with them.

The result is that there’s a legion of channel biased marketers out there. People who are making illogical strategic decisions based on their own hubris and without understanding of how brands grow.

Enter Adidas.

A Fax Machine Marketing Strategy…

The German brand’s marketing team would do well to pick up a copy of Fanning’s article, because Adidas is on the precipice of making an objectively enormous and costly mistake.

Speaking late last year in Marketing Week, Adidas global head of digital ecosystem design David Greenfield offered a view that he might regret. He compared TV advertising to marketing via the ‘fax machine’.

“Of course TV still has a place but the fax machine still has a place too and I’m not about to create a fax machine marketing strategy.”

Last week, the company’s chief executive Kasper Rorsted went one step further. According to Rorsted, Adidas will stop spending on TV and focus on targeted digital advertising and creating more ‘direct engagement with customers’.

“It’s clear that the younger consumer engages with us predominately over the mobile device, digital engagement is key for us; you don’t see any TV advertising anymore.”

Now I don’t have access to any data about Adidas, nor am I an expert in their market. But I’m happy to make the bold prediction.

If this comes to pass, it will be incredibly damaging to one of the world’s great CPG brands.

How Brands Grow

For some reason, we keep hearing about the death of TV, how digital is so much more effective and why direct, personalised targeting is the holy grail. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

We now know How Brands Grow. Sharp et al’s seminal text examines thousands of companies like Adidas, and outlines some key tenets for growth like penetration, mental/physical availability, salience and sustained broad reach. It explains how communicating in an interesting manner with a broad range of people is the best way to drive sustained growth, and why loyalty and targeting strategies can often damage a brand’s bottom line.

The likes of Binet & Field’s ongoing IPA research has supported this viewpoint, and the evidence about how vital TV is to drive brand growth has been proven again and again.

We also know that, far from dying, TV is still a huge part of all of our daily media diets – young and old.

We know that digital isn’t as effective as we thought. Only last week, a major study of CPG brands found that while digital has edged traditional channels as share of CPG advertising spending, retailers & shoppers give digital low marks for effectiveness.

And we know that digital engagement alone doesn’t drive sales.

Strong alone, better together

But most importantly we know that digital alone isn’t nearly as effective as when it’s paired with other channels.

The most recent example of this comes from research by Bain & Co. Let’s look at some of the main takeaways.

  • Digital media is less expensive for reaching a limited group of consumers. However, the “recollected reach”—the percentage of total population reached who recall a campaign hits a ceiling at around 30%.
  • TV advertising is far more scalable. While it is more costly than digital media for reaching relatively few consumers, TV messages are recollected at a higher rate—as high as 60%
  • Our research found that purchase intent increases with multiple exposures to different types of media—not digital alone.
  • Purchase intent reached 80% for those encountering an ad on many different media types, including digital and traditional.
  • Big brands with mass appeal and high awareness benefit from “reach and repeat”.
  • The combination of traditional and digital was much more powerful than any single platform taken in isolation.

Pretty clear right?

But that’s not all.

Multi channel campaigns are more effective, more efficient, more awarded, drive greater ROI, deliver greater equity and build better brand associations. 

What I’m not saying that TV is a holy grail. Digital is obviously an incredibly important channel for a brand like Adidas, and they’ve created some brilliant, innovative and effective digital campaigns recently.

But digital alone is akin to slow suicide for such a large brand.

The question for Adidas shouldn’t be ‘Digital Or TV’.

The answer should be ‘Digital & TV’.

Online businesses who sell digital advertising like Facebook, Google and Amazon spent over £640 million on TV in the UK last year. If the guys peddling digital advertising believe in TV, why doesn’t Adidas?

Good luck David…

The real issue here is why would you automatically bias yourself towards digital? Surely media neutrality is the way forward – taking every campaign on its merits and working out what is the best channel to communicate?
Why as CMO of a huge global brand would you arbitrarily choose to not use a channel that’s been proven to be the best brand building tool and the most effective way to reach your target audience? It smacks a fundamental bias towards digital.

And that isn’t good for anyone.

Indeed, I’d go as far as to say it’s negligent!

Also, why the need to come out and crow about this decision, as if it were some stroke of strategic genius? Big congrats guys, you’re deciding to move away from the most effective marketing channel there is! Woah!

Adidas needs a strategy that will reach as many people as possible in inspiring and interesting ways, it needs to build mental structures to stave off the threat of Under Armour and Nike.

It does not need to focus solely on driving ‘loyalty’ and ‘engagement’ within a narrow target audience of current buyers, ignoring a large swathe of the market, while also damaging its brand recognition.

In his quote above, David Greenfield likens TV advertising to fax machine marketing, intimating that it’s a dead, dated medium that modern marketers should laugh at.

My take on that?

Best of luck with the new strategy David.

You’ll need it.




Drugs & Display – Why digital advertising’s moment of truth has finally arrived…

It was supposed to be so different.

Display was supposed to the fuel the internet ran on.

It was supposed to replicate traditional advertising online and represent a way for publishers to monetise content, brands to gain attention and people to consume ads in a familiar manner.

But it hasn’t worked out like that.

The chorus for change was small and secluded at first. Isolated, intelligent contrarians like Bob Hoffman and Mark Ritson spoke about the incredible wastefulness going on in digital adland. The industry was sporadically shocked by reports about viewability and click fraud. As far back as four years ago I was speaking about display and its future in very negative terms.

But nothing really changed because nobody really had much incentive to change.

Until now.

Negative Momentum

There’s a palpable growing negative momentum around digital. The ‘digital truther’ movement is gathering pace. In the last 24 months, the display mirage has been slowly revealed. And the emperor has no clothes.

The wave of news coming out of digital advertising is troubling to anyone within the industry.

  • We’ve seen the speedy rise of adblocking as a way to combat intrusive, annoying, creepy and spammy advertising.
  • We’ve heard the IAB, in an unprecedented move, come out and admit that they fucked up
  • We’ve had Mark Pritchard, CMO of one of the world’s largest spenders on digital P&G give a passionate and practical speech decrying display and its “unreliable measurement hidden rebates and fraud”.
  • We’ve had Keith Weed of Unilever, another giant digital spender echo Pritchard’s sentiments.
  • We’ve had reports outlining how CPG retailers and shoppers alike gave digital advertising low marks for effectiveness despite rapidly increasing spend.
  • We’ve had numerous measurement ‘errors’ attributed to Facebook and Twitter, all of which seemed to overcharge advertisers rather than undercharge. Oh, and the new hot kid on the block has been receiving some bad reviews from marketers too.
  • We’ve had the growth of a media supply chain that’s at best unnecessarily complicated and at worst deliberately murky.
  • And at this very moment, YouTube is under serious scrutiny after a decision by Havas to join the British government in pulling ad spending from Google and YouTube in UK.

In the vein of some deep governmental scandal, the bad news just keeps on coming, and there’s only so much bad news an industry can take without being permanently scarred.

Trough of disillusionment

Speaking at the recent DMX conference in Dublin, I gave my take on digital advertising as it stands. In my opinion, we’re in the teenage stage of digital advertising – immature and unsure of what’s coming next.

To map digital advertising out onto the Gartner Hype Cycle, you’d place it as hurtling towards the trough of disillusionment.

We’ve passed the point where we thought digital could do everything, and was the holy grail for the web (peak of inflated expectations).

Quickly, it’s been realised that digital display and the industry that surrounds it is a deeply flawed house of cards that we’ve been pumping up for the last decade, blind to its failings.

In order to move towards maturity and the ‘plateau of productivity’, we need to clean house. We need less unnecessary complexity, more of an awareness of the failings of display and more critical thinking.

The industry hasn’t been intellectually humble enough over the past decade, and that needs to change. More healthy skepticism about digital might’ve gotten out of this mess sooner. But we’ve made our beds.

Institutional Scale Fraud

Just this week, a widespread report into ad fraud concluded that it could be bigger than any of us imagined, with an estimated $16.4 billion wasted to fraudulent traffic and clicks manufactured by bots. The report, commissioned by WPP agency The&Partnership and conducted by ad verification company Adloox described digital malpractice as an organised crime “second only to the drugs trade.”

This is Wall Street circa 2008 level institutional scale fraud. It’s the type of thing that Michael Lewis could write a book on, only we don’t realise it because we’re in the eye of the storm. It’s the advertising equivalent of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. It’s a time bomb waiting to blow that will pull in agencies, brands, ad-tech companies, social networks, publishers, holding groups and more.

Personally I believe that this is the end of days for the current model of display advertising, and the fallout will be enormous. Don’t rule out agencies being dragged into courtrooms by brands who only now realise what’s been going on in terms of fraudulent metrics, unethical kickbacks and malpractice.

We’re finally reaching a tipping point that could either clean up and improve, or obliterate digital advertising. Up to now, we’ve gotten away with it. But the digital display bubble is finally about to pop, and it’s up to the industry to ensure it doesn’t wreck our credibility completely and leave scars for years to come.

To look on the positive side, this is a chance for new beginnings, a clean slate for us to change the way we advertise to people online.

Hopefully the industry will take the opportunity to press the reset button so that we can move towards maturity.



Further Reading:

The rise of the digital truther – Digiday
Pagefair 2017 Adblocking Report
Display ad tech ‘lumascape’
French advertising giant pulls out of YouTube – The Guardian
The Goldilocks Approach & Moving to Maturity
Pritchard calls for digital to grow up and clean up – Adage
Keith Weed ‘We need comparable digital metrics’ – Marketing Week
Getting LEAN with digital ads- IAB
CPG Digital Report – Adage
UK government suspends YouTube spend – BBC