Platform/content fit – The biggest mistake brands are making with social video and how to overcome it…

Since the dawn of the TV era, the way we tell brand stories through video has improved considerably. The content and quality has improved, and the best brands and agencies have become masters at creating emotional, surprising narratives, often using a similar sped up version of Joseph Campbell’s famous ‘Hero’s Journey’ structure that most great movies are based on.

Traditionally, we’ve told stories built for a passive environment, meaning people have to watch the ad all the way through. In television advertising, the big reveal almost always happens towards the end, after a big lead in and before some brand message. Given a 15-30-45 second ad slot, that was the best way to gather as much attention as possible.

But there’s a problem.


We’ve become so accustomed to the TV way of telling stories through video, we’ve tried to shoehorn it into social too. How many times have you seen a TV advert placed in skippable pre-roll, or directly uploaded to Facebook?

To do this is to proactively harm the effectiveness of your video campaign. Video ad units tend to be set in the mobile newsfeed or another opt-in environment, whereby the user must choose to not skip, or to not flip past the video in their feed. Most of the time, sound is off too, creating another challenge to the way we’ve always done things.

Thus, the way we structure our video content has to fundamentally change to fit the reality of platform viewing.

To create truly integrated campaigns, we can’t keep trying to force the square peg of a TV ad into the round hole of a social feed, pre-roll or story.

‘3 second audition’

BBDO NY has done some brilliant work in this space, and the below graph describes the difference between the passive and active story arc.

One of the biggest challenges in an autoplay, soundless newsfeed that’s filled with other interesting things is to ‘win the 3 second audition‘. As BBDO references above, if people aren’t necessarily going to watch your full video then what you put in those first few seconds is more crucial than ever.

Unlike in ‘passive’ environments like forced 30 second pre-roll or TV, our creative needs to present a the idea and grab an audience in the opening few seconds. That’s a big shift in thinking and requires a change in the way we shoot and particularly edit branded content.


At a recent IAB Connect event, Facebook’s Olly Sewell discussed the importance of optimising and chopping video content for the mobile feed outlining the increase in recall and effectiveness if that’s the case.

This is something Facebook has been preaching for a while, and it’s something we must be aware of no matter what social or digital video we’re planning.

Here’s an example from social news brand ‘The Dodo’. Sure, it’s not a consumer brand per se, but it’s a perfect showcase of understanding the way people consume video in the feed and optimising for that.

If this was a TV or YouTube video, it would start at the start and leave the big reveal until three quarters in. But because it’s Facebook video, if the reveal is too hidden, the user is gone by the time the climax comes. So through a simple editing technique, The Dodo starts the video in the middle, and then literally re-winds to give the full story.

Here’s another example from Wrigley’s gum. The first clip below is a TV spot told in the traditional way.

The second is a shorter social optimised video clip that flips the story arc around to optimise for the way we consume video in feed.

Adapting for the platform significantly increases creative effectiveness, so be mindful of platform/content fit and don’t just lazily adhere to the old ways of telling stories in the passive TV environment. At the moment that’s the biggest mistake brands are making with social video.

The future of agencies – Business problem solving or creativity for creativity’s sake?

We’ve all seen it happen. A brand creates a beautiful TV ad with a strong idea and a clear call to action. Yet when you click onto their site, it looks like something an intern did 10 years ago. There’s no joined up thinking.

The problem starts from the very first day of planning on a new campaign. The creative agency comes with their approach (often a big budget TV ad), the media company gives their tuppence worth (let’s do display and media partnerships), the digital agency offers their input (let’s build a website and some social content) and the PR agency wants to do it their way (let’s do a press drop and some activation).

We all exist in our own little bubbles, biased by the way we generate revenue and the KPIs that have been set. It means that we don’t or can’t think about the bigger business picture.

The end result is that campaign integration suffers. Everything feels separate. Campaigns that should be brilliant end up completely disconnected and confusing.


Agency land isn’t the only part of this problem either. Within the companies that we work with, integration is a forgotten word. Silos are created. Often, marketing sits in one area, digital in another, product in another, loyalty in another, customer service in another etc.

This results in misalignment of incentives. If my job on the marketing team requires me to buy media and come up with a brand campaign, then I’m going to do that. I’m not going to worry so much about where we’re driving people to, or what the actual product I’m selling is like.

But this doesn’t reflect how the people we’re selling to experience our product or service. When consumers buy a product, they don’t see marketing and product and experience as separate things. To them it’s all one and the same. It should all feel coherent and consistent, part of the same package.

Every marketer tacitly understands that the customer experience is important. But most of us only focus on the parts of that experience under their direct control. We need to take a broader view and pay attention to the entire customer experience from end to end. This includes the product, the buying process, the ability to provide support, and customer relationships over time. That takes time and resources – and it also requires bringing creative thinking to unfamiliar business problems, rather than seeing everything through our own small filter.

Rory Sutherland and Dave Trott, two of the foremost thinkers in advertising, come out strongly on this topic recently.

According to Sutherland, siloed agency thinking is opening the door to consultancies, hungry to steal our supper.

He feels that adland is preprogrammed to not see the big picture, to focus just on comms challenges. We answer all briefs with the same set of tools, and feel like if there’s not explicit bought communication in the solution, we’re cheating. As a result, we focus too much on the cosmetic issues of business and not enough on the hundreds of ways to apply creativity to business. As the old quote goes:

If all you have is a hammer you’ll see everything as a nail.

Luckily, within agencies we have more than just a hammer, we have other tools too. But we’re forgetting that marketing is not just about communicating. It’s about solving business problems. Sometimes they can be solved through communications, but sometimes there’s another way.

All of this creates a self fulfilling prophesy, where consultancies like Accenture and PWC will start getting asked to solve strategic, high level problems problems and agencies will just be used as a way to communicate the solutions – commoditising our worth and thus, further decreasing our value.

As Sutherland says…

“a good agency should be a general hospital, but currently it has a sign out front saying ‘cosmetic surgery’.”

We pigeonhole ourselves as communicators rather than business problem solvers, and by doing this, we close off our access to board level.

What’s the solution then?

Let’s start seeing things more broadly. Let’s be brave and humble enough in agency land to propose the right solution, instead of the solution that will improve our bottom line but lead to headaches in the longer term.

Let’s understand the end to end experience and not just focus on our own area.

Let’s start seeing business problems rather than comms challenges.

The more I think about it, the more I start to realise that the biggest problem in Irish marketing at the moment, an unquantifiable black hole of wasted budget, revolves around siloed, biased, close minded ways of operating.

Marketing must now do more to impact areas outside communication – experience, product, pricing and business strategy.

As Trott says, it’s the difference between function and decoration.

If we want to be taken seriously, we need to be able to do both.






Instagram and the value of a business premortem…

In the modern business world, positivity reigns supreme. If you’re not positive to the point of delirious and motivated to build a utopian future, the common wisdom is you’re doing it wrong.

But there’s power in the opposite too. In fact, there’s a major benefit to visualising scenarios in which things go wrong. It might sound strange and counterproductive, but in direct response to overly optimistic, naive thinking, many business leaders are encouraging their employees to think negatively.

In a brilliant Fast Company magazine piece on Instagram’s growth this month, there’s one really illuminating paragraph. Insta launched more features in December last (live streaming, stories, advertising options) than it ever has before. All of them were successful. But according to CEO Kevin Systrom, the reason behind this wasn’t ‘the power of positivity’, rather something very different.

“Every recent change the company has wrought sprang from the team asking itself ‘what would we do if Instagram as we knew it suddenly stopped mattering?’. What kind of decisions would we make? This unlocked a torrent of creativity. It allowed us to be more risk seeking than we would have been in the past. Ironically, it would almost be risker not to do something like this”

The technique that Systrom describes actually has a name coined by psychologist Gary Klein – the premortem. In a premortem, a project manager must envision what could go wrong—what will go wrong—in advance, before starting. Why? Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish. A premorten insulates the company by preparing it for the worst. It opens people’s minds and allows the threat of adversity to stir creativity.

In a postmorten, we reflect around what happened in death. But having a ‘worst case scenario’ plan alleviates the need for a postmortem in most cases, since the company becomes more robust and antifragile to threats. It’s about preparing for disruption and working this into your plans. In earthquake threatened areas like Japan, engineers build slack into buildings to insulate from tremors. A premortem is the business equivalent. We can anticipate, pre-empt and then mitigate possible future problems.

The premortem goes back to the Stoics, who had an even better name for it: premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils). The concept may seem pessimistic, but actually it’s just pragmatic, realistic and smart preparation.

As the old quote goes:

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.”

Think of it as pre-emptive hindsight, a decision insurance policy to protect your future self.


Further Reading:

Simple ways to prevent failure
The overthinkers guide to launching your next project
A simple technique to save any project from failure
Performing a premortem
The stoic art of negative visualisation