Just prior to the 2016 US Election, something interesting happened on Facebook.

For the first time someone used Reactions functionality as a polling mechanic in live video. Publisher Demyos broadcast a stream where likes would vote for Hillary Clinton and loves for Donald Trump, with the results feeding back to the user in real time.

We call this creative hacking – finding exploits within a platform’s existing functionality to build ideas around. One of my all time favourites is the Whopper Sacrifice (which was later shutdown by Facebook – the best creative hacks often redefine the rules, literally).

This one is particularly clever because it’s not only ‘cute’ (the extent of many creative hacks), it combines two factors which Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm weighs highly; strong engagement and live video.

Within hours, it was replicated. The concept was recreated (same idea in similar execution), stolen (ripped and re-uploaded pretending to be live) and parodied (‘Hillary v Trump v Meteor’).

So too was the mechanism, particularly by publishers.

While this was happening, it was productised. From complete commercial out-of-the-box solutions through to free DIY tutorials.

Then, not unlike the Whopper Sacrifice, Facebook started cracking down on it. It took just 18 days. While there’s no official policy yet, they are reaching out to publishers and removing offending content. (Not wrongly either IMHO.)

And that is the very short life and death of Facebook Live Video Reaction Polls. Launched, mimicked, monetised and banned – all in less than three weeks.

Content marketing programs… are like upside down trees.

Exactly two years ago to the day I wrote a content marketing cheat sheet. Sometimes your strategy should be “just fucking start already”. Other times you need a more considered, comprehensive approach. You could call this post its sequel.

The easiest way to build a content marketing program is with a series of IF THIS THEN THATs. For example, if someone indicates they’re a warm lead by browsing a section of your website, trigger retail message via display. If someone watches an awareness video, trigger educational infographic on Facebook. If someone doesn’t open an email, trigger another one.

If behaviour occurs, then trigger content (and a means of distributing it).

Every IF THIS THEN THAT is built around a consumer’s action and steers them toward a goal – signing up to newsletter, consuming more content, using a financial calculator, etc.

It’s not too dissimilar to Google’s Micro Moments where a real world action triggers an online search (my son wins his hockey game so I search for ice cream in the area). Ultimately it should work across more channels, integrating with not just search but social, display, web, email, video, etc. It’s very easy to forget that distribution is just as important as the content.

Over a period of time, you steer people down the funnel, helping them convert when their ready. With the right message to the right person at the right time. Kinda like Advertising 101.

Eventually you end up a tree diagram made up of a series of IF THIS THEN THATs.

This can get complicated. Especially when you add the marketing tech requirements to build a single customer view, automation, asset creation and programmatic media buying (what a lot of buzzwords!).

But you can start with a single branch. Make an assumption about the current customer journey, and attempt to influence it with a single IF THIS THEN THAT. If you see a measurable improvement in their likelihood to move further down the funnel, add more branches. Or strengthen existing ones by testing different messages or formats or executions or means of distribution.

And watch your tree grow.

We’ve all become pancakes, with interests wide but not deep.

Years ago I sat in a session ‘Where Have All The Rebels Gone?’, a piece of research on young Australians by Junkee Media.

A key finding was what they called becoming the Content Generation – “content” as in a state of complacent satisfaction, not the thing you watch on YouTube (that gag works better when you present it out loud).

They described a generation of people who value experiences over things (think #fomo). Combined with the lack of housing affordability means they’re living at home longer. They hero their parents more than any previous generation. They’ve grown up comfortably where everyone gets a participation trophy and been told everything will be okay all their life.

As a byproduct of technology, they’ve never had to wait in line. And lines are where passions are formed. When you camp overnight for front row tickets to David Bowie, you meet others fans who love Ziggy Stardust just as much. And that’s when you decide to start the David Bowie fanzine. Interestingly the guys who started Junkee Media met while waiting in line at a record store.

We’re becoming pancakes – with a wide variety of interests but none of them very deep. We don’t have to know much about anything because we can look it up on our mobile, and when we do we only go so far as the Wikipedia entry. There’s no hierarchy to our news because it’s delivered in a newsfeed by an algorithm. Politics, health, education and finance sit right next to photos of cats and foodporn. And when we do see the important stuff it’s summarised in 140 characters of clickbait.

The opportunity, Junkee Media said, is for brands to connect people with their passions.

Of course, that’s a fairly pessimistic take on a whole generation (of which I am a part). My sample of one likes to think he has more ambition and passion. And would argue the internet allows for greater connections among like-minded people by removing the barrier of geography.

But what I find most interesting is how this impacts content strategy. Specifically, the premise and role of content hubs – a common strategy many brands invest in (and I’ll put my hand up to say I’ve been involved with a few myself).

The thinking is to build a ‘sticky’ environment full of relevant, regularly-updated content. People (not “users”) discover this rich content, browse thoroughly in an ‘experience’ and love it so much they want to return and/or share.

But this approach is broken. And not just because most branded content sucks either.

We consume media on the Buzzfeed model. If 62% of adults get their news from social media it means not only are we not picking up a newspaper (which we’ve known for ages) but we’re not even going to publisher homepages. The notion of browsing dies. People want their content served directly to them, one piece at a time. And once it’s consumed they’ll spit it out and bounce (and that’s okay).

Distribution becomes more important than the content creation, yet is often the most overlooked.

The role of a content hub should just be a container, not a destination. Don’t advertise the fact you have content, push the content instead. Your content becomes your advertising.

In some cases people may not even need to hit your content hub. Instant and formats like Canvas mean you can create a valuable, immersive experiences without ever needing to leave the Facebook environment.

In many ways Facebook Pages have also fallen into the same troubles. People don’t visit Pages for content (it would appear they only visit for customer service). Likewise distribution remains hugely overlooked, with either no spend behind posts or a media strategy which is too simplistic (it has never been easier to be more sophisticated with your targeting and ability to steer consumers down a funnel).

That feels like a really long-winded way to say if you’re investing in content, especially a content hub, ensure you have a clear distribution strategy. And align your objectives to how people actually consume their media.

The Hateful Eight, in glorious widescreen.

Ideally every placement in a campaign is created bespoke, embracing where the ad will be consumed and the context around it. The best executions lean into their channel, not blindly ignore it.

Aside from message cut through (kinda a big deal), this becomes even more important on Facebook. Because Facebook penalises brands who create shit content. They also reward those who are more relevant with greater organic reach and a lower CPM on the media buy.

Naturally the concept itself plays a major role in increasing relevance, but so too does execution. This is particularly pertinent with video, which is quickly taking over our newsfeeds.

And here is why Quentin Tarantino would hate contextualising video for Facebook (or “How to Make Your Videos on Facebook More Relevant”):

1. Play Your Cards Early
The Director’s Cut of The Hateful Eight starts with a three minute overture, followed by a slow series of establishing shots. Which works in a distraction-free cinema but not when you’re on the tram scrolling through your Facebook feed. Videos need to get to the point quickly with only a second or two to catch someone’s attention. The establishing shot is crucial, as is the preview image that holds while autoplay loads.

2. Use a Square Format
At select theatres that The Hateful Eight projected in 2.71:1 ultra widescreen. But with 60% of Facebook Video watched on mobile, that’s a terrible use of the screen real estate. 4:3 works well but for best fit run with a square format (or if you’re feeling really brave, tell the Creatives they need to film in vertical video).

3. Don’t Rely On Sound
A long dialogue-heavy scene is classic Tarantino. But in some cases we’re seeing up to 95% of video being watched without sound. The quick fix is subtitling, although don’t make it too small for mobile and consider caption overlays. More effective would be bespoke concepts that don’t rely on audio. Publishers tend do this best, building in visual cues and edits that tell the narrative without sound.

If you’re looking for inspiration, Tasty do it best. And without spending a cent they did more than 1.7 billion views in July. Not bad for a publisher only 14 months old.

You would never run your print ad as outdoor (although Coles just did) so don’t do the same with your TV ad on Facebook. And don’t ask Quentin to direct it.

Most people in our game cringe when you mention “affiliate marketing”. But despite its bad rap, I’ve had only positive experiences to date.

The first: on a couple of content websites I built and eventually sold. While a majority of revenue was generated through advertising, affiliate links to merchandise generated a passive, ongoing source of income. Even with relatively big traffic numbers the income was small, but incremental and not bad for a student who had no idea what he was doing.

The second was directly influenced by the first. After selling one of the websites, I was discussing with a Creative how the site made money. Less than a month later, he came up with Homepage For The Homeless, a simple but brilliant idea to turn your everyday online shopping into a charity donation.

Since then I’ve always wanted to explore further, especially understanding if communities can be built and leveraged while maintaining transparency. And if affiliate marketing is sustainable on higher priced items.

With that in mind, this post is about to become my third experience with affiliate marketing. That’s why I signed up to FlexOffers, an affiliate service who combine a number of various networks into one program, making it easy for newbies like me.

And yes, that link is a referral one. And they sponsored this post too.

So here’s the question – does paying the bills hurt my credibility, even with transparency?

In 2013 I published a list of ideas I wasn’t going to do anything with. And did it again in 2014. I believe the expire date on an idea from ‘light bulb moment’ to action is about a year. If you haven’t actioned something after 12 months, you should open-source it – put it out in the world for someone else to do something with.

But it’s not true for just the ones sitting there collecting dust – people hoard ideas even as they work on them. Sharing exposes them to theft, they think. Or (worse,) criticism.

I have never experienced this to be the case – in fact every time I’ve shared an idea it’s been made better.

A year ago I had a beer with a mate and told him about an idea, which included the clichéd napkin sketch. Like most ideas, it was fleeting and I didn’t do anything with it. Until recently, when we had another beer and he walked me through how it had stuck with him, and he made some renders of his interpretation. Suddenly we now have a viable product and are hoping to bring it to market soon.

When you share ideas with people, they get better. Maybe they’ll help you bring it to life. Or introduce you to someone who can. Or make a suggestion. Or just give you some good old fashioned feedback.

Hackerspaces are built on this premise. They’re not just garages with tools, instead a community of knowledge which thrives through sharing.

More than anything though, sharing creates commitment. Having an idea is the easy part, the tough bit is making it tangible. While technology has made making ideas happen easier than ever, each time you share something you expose yourself just a little. And in doing so you give yourself another reason to bring it to life.

Don’t be selfish with your ideas. They’ll be better because of it, and you’ll probably make more of them happen. I’ll put my money where my mouth is too – if you’re interested in the side project I’m working on above, get in touch and I’ll share.

I’ve always been critical of digital gimmicks. Ideas like pizza boxes that turn into projectors or Coke packages that fold into a VR headsets. They are concepts that get a lot of views on YouTube but normal people don’t actually use. They also make really good scam entries into awards.

Maybe I’ve been drinking too much Kool-Aid, and despite my opening paragraph – my skepticism is softening.

Because there is value in the gimmick. Being first to do something builds a perception of innovation and agility. It doesn’t matter if the end user doesn’t use it, because the value of such concepts is the PRability of the video. We see this in a trend toward “consumer-facing case studies”.

Not only do ideas like these build a perception of innovation but can fuel a culture of innovation as well. Fresh gimmicks breed thinking that can be truly effective. No one really wants to order a pizza with an emoji. But Domino’s use and balance these concepts with proper innovation like GPS driver tracking and profit-sharing crowd-sourcing (stuff real people use that drive sales and loyalty).

One approach to innovation, and a much cheaper one, is simply getting there first. It won’t disrupt an industry, but it’s not intended to.

As long as your video doesn’t get caught up in the circle jerk that is the marketing tech industry and actually reaches some of your target audience. Ideally in the right country too.

I spend more time discussing hashtags than I’d care to admit. This is mostly due to a general misunderstanding about what they’re used for (clustering and participation) and a too-generous assumption that people give a shit about brands (they don’t).

Hashtags allow the grouping of like-minded conversations. This can look like many things; from real-time commentary during Game of Thrones to streams of people tagging their holidays photos with the destination. At their most powerful, hashtags are anchors that allow movements to build.

With rare exceptions, brands do not play in this space. At least, not as the creator of such hashtags.

If you’re still not convinced:

  • Real people do not use branded hashtags
  • Putting a hashtag on something doesn’t make it more shareable
  • Measurement should not be the only reason something exists (and is not user-first)
  • Turning your brand line into a hashtag for the sake of it is lame
  • Turning your campaign line into a hashtag is even lamer

As always, there are exceptions. But when someone asks if you need a hashtag, the answer is probably not.

From a young advertising age you’re taught about the Unique Selling Proposition. It’s the most important line on a brief – the single thing to communicate to the consumer. By definition, the first word suggests the proposition must be something no other brand or product could own or use.

But we’re seeing this notion increasingly become redundant. Rightly or wrongly.

I attended a session at SxSW called How Norton Hacked Hollywood, a case study about the antivirus software brand releasing a 20 minute documentary on cyber crime. The discussion included the client, creative agency, director and film distributor.

I rate it, although I haven’t watched it (which says a lot actually). It’s definitely more interesting than what their competitors are doing and I totally dig they bought on a film distributor instead of getting the intern to ‘seed’ it.

With increasing investment into content strategy, we’ll see many more brands explore this approach. I wonder though, could McAfee (Norton’s competitor) have done this? And does that even matter?

If a beer brand creates a poker app, does it matter any number of competitor brands could have done the same – beer, alcohol or other? Does your answer change if the target audience regularly uses it?

We see this lack of uniqueness in traditional channels too. TV commercials often do a category job, and occasionally not even that. The strategy behind most Superbowl ads is to make the audience laugh and slap a logo on the end.

Byron Sharp says distinctiveness is critical in making brands identifiable, which may be a better interpretation of “unique”. To answer my own question, perhaps the proposition doesn’t have to be something only your brand could own, but rather your brand is first to own.

One of my favourite content pieces ever created is Gatorade Replay. Does it matter Powerade could have made it? Stealing from a meme, the above image (which replaces the word art with advertising) suggests an appropriate response could be “Yeah but Powerade didn’t.”

Being first might just be more important than being unique. Both in owning your proposition and what you create. Especially in categories where there is little difference in the product benefit.

Or, is that the difference between good advertising and great?

A depressing glimpse into the future.

Virtual Reality is so hot right now. Facebook, Samsung and Sony have all announced consumer headsets to drop in the next few months and it was all anyone could talk about at SxSW this year. Presenters spoke to its potential, exhibitors showcased new hardware and software, and every brand used it as part of their activation. (You could ride a virtual roller coaster with Samsung, race a virtual bike with IBM or paint virtual 3D art with McDonald’s.)

But here’s a few potential problems I’ve noticed:

  • The screen resolution still sucks
  • It’s nauseating (called simulator-sickness)
  • Blinded users were running into walls or getting tangled in cables
  • The headsets are awkward and heavy (well at least on my big head)
  • It’s hard to take a selfie when you’re wearing a headset (actual problem for social norming)
  • People have greasy foreheads and noses (hurts shareability)

No doubt, VR will have many uses. It’s fairly disruptive (for want of a better word) when it comes to activations. Education feels like a rich territory. And of course, as with most tech, the best uses are often not discovered until they land in the hands of smart consumers.

But VR will only take off if there’s a headset in every home. And the big players are banking on this (given their billion dollar investments). They think the answer is gaming, and have built their penetration strategies accordingly; Facebook’s Oculus Rift in partnership with Xbox, Sony’s VR through Playstation and Samsung’s Gear through the Galaxy mobile.

Here’s the thing, the bullet points listed above can all likely be addressed in future generations. The fundamental problem is not with the tech, but the experience. VR gaming is novelty, and will quickly grow old. Like the short-lived bell curve graph of Nintendo Wii’s sales, VR is a fad. Gamers do not need or want a more immersive experience. I suspect it’s the same for VR porn (although I’ve not yet tried it).

Of course that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore this space. When Coke changes is packaging to create cardboard VR headsets, they don’t need anyone to actually use it. The campaign video is more important than the product, and by the time it hits market, PR has already done what it was meant to. Gimmicks like this don’t necessarily need adoption to be successful (especially not for award case studies).

Long-term, I’m pessimistic when it comes to consumer adoption. It’s rather easy for someone to call you out when you blog a prediction, but if I had to put money on it I’d say after a burst of sales from early adopters, numbers will crash and burn. And in 18 months there’s going to be a rather large supply of second-hand VR headsets collecting dust.

While I’m being skeptical, anyone else hate 360 degree video?