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?

Comment threads are very unpopular right now. Their usefulness doesn’t scale and they’re abused by trolls. It’s become easier for publishers to disable them rather than deal with the headache.

But the comments aren’t the problem – it’s people.

My Grandma Nola has written letters to Editors since long before I was born. She has three scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings – some so old they’ve almost completely faded. Of them all, the following letter published in the Herald Sun in June 1991 is her favourite. As you read through, you may recognise some familiar behaviour.

(If you’re not from Melbourne, Brighton is a very affluent suburb. Preston is not, although it’s well on its way to being gentrified these days.)

Nola’s letter is published, kick-starting the furore. (I’m not sure what a “three-numbered address” is meant to imply.)

On the same day, not knowing what was coming, the cartoonist includes this piece next to it.

It doesn’t take long for someone to bite back (well 14 days seems fast for 1991).

Alongside P. Piper’s reply the cartoonist jumps in again. Decent satire, albeit not entirely relevant.

Nola defends herself. But in the comment game logic doesn’t get you anywhere.

Disguised as the moral-high-ground, a troll attempts to wind both parties up.

Well off topic, but commenter Alan can’t pass up a chance to make fun of the wealthy.

The comments start coming in from both sides. Interestingly, it’s later revealed that Wayne is in fact my father, Nola’s son, dubiously using the option of anonymity.

On the other side of the fence, Rat Packer makes it personal and challenges the OP’s (Original Poster) integrity.

Gang mentality kicks in.

Among the banter, a “taxpayer” looks down on Alan’s comment. Of course, completely off topic by this point.

Again under the guise of moral-high-ground, this time Diana struggles to hide her snobbery and xenophobia.

By this point in the thread there’s always one reader who’s clearly not followed everything. K.S. reposts someone else’s point.

Henry whinges about whinging.

The cartoonist returns.

Posted too late and buried right at the bottom, the most rational comment of all.

And finally, reminding everyone there’s more to life, the Editor closes the comments.

Months later, the now-infamous Dead Rat of Brighton has one last moment in the sun.

Other than just being amusing, it’s an interesting observation of human behaviour. We see 25 years ago the same problems we see today, long before comment threads or even internet.

The only difference is now it just happens faster. And perhaps with a few more references to Nazis.

I’m surprised there’s not more debate about content ownership. Not the usual “you wouldn’t steal a car” torrenting conversation, but one about brand pirates who steal content.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, you need only browse your Facebook feed to see global corporations, publishers, small businesses, non-profits and your grandma all publishing content they don’t own.

Stealing content has become standard practice. But you can’t really blame the users – rights ownership and brands ‘sourcing’ content for social has always been a gray area. Is a press image public domain? Who owns a meme? Can we publish someone’s user-generated content if they’ve used our hashtag? If you credit someone you can use their content, right?

Channels, for the most part, address this reasonably well. Google rewards original content. YouTube automatically detects stolen content and removes it (or more cleverly redirects ad revenue to the appropriate owner). Twitter even deletes tweets with stolen jokes if they aren’t attributed to the original author.

The problem is Facebook, who do almost nothing to protect content ownership, and in doing so only encourage a behaviour of stealing. So much so that whole businesses are built around it (how much content do you think the Lad Bible actually creates?).

To be fair, Facebook has kept up an appearance of giving a shit. Their Terms of Service explicitly forbid it, and they somewhat famously deleted the original Cool Hunter page with 780,000 fans for ongoing breaches. They even suggest that images, videos and links that the algorithm has never seen before will be viewed more favourably and therefore given more organic reach.

But Facebook’s not really trying to curb brand piracy. Users, brands and publishers are all still allowed and often rewarded for publishing stolen content. Even in their transition to becoming a video channel (which they now claim serves more videos daily than YouTube), most of this content is stolen. (And the original owners of said content don’t see any revenue either.)

This, of course, makes total sense. More content, original or stolen, means more impressions means more revenue. It’s in Facebook best interest to allow this culture of thieving to continue, because stolen content is easier to produce at volume.

Creating original content requires resources. And why would you invest if there’s little reward in doing so?

I wonder out loud (like much of what I publish here) if we’re not going to see some debate about our collective attitude to brand piracy on Facebook. Because the brands that create original content should be rewarded not punished.

My last post about my dislike of display advertising caused a bit of controversy. Perhaps I was too heavy-handed in my language, although sometimes you need to be in order to cut through. In any case, I thought I’d balance it out with something a little more rational this time:

On average, more than 1 in 5 banner clicks do not reach the site.

This is the result from analysis of more than 110,000 clicks across four industries, fifteen campaigns and a variety of adservers, publishers, targeting, devices and formats. Click data (as reported by the adserver) was compared directly to site visit data (as reported by Google Analytics) resulting in an average click-to-visit ratio.

I’ll be the first to suggest this is by no means a robust piece of research. It’s a small sample of campaigns, and the spread of results ranged from as low as 37% in one case to more than 100% in another (meaning there were more visits than clicks). Without a doubt, it needs further investigation.

But even still I wonder if it’s not worth having a conversation about some data that suggests, on average, only 78% of banner clicks arrive at their intended destination.

Especially if you’re paying on a cost-per-click model.

Perhaps as an industry we need to move away from clicks and click-through-rates to something like visits and visit-through-rate. Although we’d need to add another decimal place in our reports.

I’ve been interviewing lately and one of my favourite questions to ask is “What is your biggest fuck up?” One candidate asked me the same question, and this is what I told them.

I used to write a monthly newsletter for my clients, updating them on some of the digital trends and changes in the industry. Each section had a paragraph on the news and a button to find out more. It was always proofread multiple times (nothing worse than sending a typo to a few dozen clients) but one time I forgot to include a link on a button before it was sent.

As a placeholder to update later, I put in “xxx” rather than a URL in the hyperlink. But most browsers have a feature now where if a URL isn’t properly formatted it will turn it into a search instead.

Every client who clicked that button ended up Googling “xxx”.

So if you’re proofreading something, check the links as well. And if you’re going to use placeholder text, try “asdf” instead.

“Hate” is a strong word. Used here with the word “fucking”, it captures precisely how I feel about display advertising.

And not for the usual reasons. I don’t hate banner ads as a consumer. They’re an (usually) unobtrusive means of generating revenue for content creators. That’s why I don’t use an ad-blocking tool.

It’s the broader industry I have a problem with. That no one seems willing to challenge the notion that perhaps banner ads don’t work.

This is not another article about how you’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad (although apparently that is true). We know click-through rates are embarrassing.

Here is what I fucking hate display advertising:

  1. The percentage of users with an ad-blocking tool is now in double digits (and growing).
  2. The percentage of impressions which are fraudulent is also in double digits.
  3. There’s little thought put into formats (so the defaults are used).
  4. There’s little thought put into networks and suppliers (so the defaults are used).
  5. Almost always, too much is spent on production.
  6. Even more is spent on rich media production.
  7. With each campaign, learnings are thrown out with the assets.
  8. Wallpaper is acceptable.
  9. Matching luggage is acceptable.
  10. There is a belief that banner ads increase awareness.
  11. There is a lot of talk about optimisation but not much of it (or even knowledge on how to do it).
  12. There’s also a lot of talk about testing and learning without knowing how to run a fair double blind test. Or what a confidence interval is.
  13. Reports often cover nothing more than impressions and clicks.
  14. Impressions are an entirely useless metric to report on.
  15. There is little talk about visibility or unique reach.
  16. There is little discussion about what happens after the click. Rarely does a report mention, let alone analyse, how users behave on-site (god forbid if they actually complete a goal or convert).
  17. You are more likely to spot a unicorn than a mention of ROI in a report.
  18. ‘Post-view conversion’ is a bullshit attribution model.

That’s not to say all banner advertising is a complete waste. There will be an exception to each point above, and in some cases it can work. Performance media done efficiently and optimised can be very effective. I can appreciate a retargeting campaign as much as the next guy if you can prove results. Sadly, examples of smart people doing smart things are few and far between in this industry.

But above all else, the biggest reason I fucking hate banner advertising (#19) is no one is willing to discuss the issues above. We’re too afraid to have these tough conversations, let alone attempt to address them. Given how much this industry invests in display, I’d have thought it was a debate worth having.

I’ve been looking for something for more than 12 months.

Two weeks ago I finally found it online. But the retailer only shipped within the United States. So I setup a international mail forwarding service and made the purchase.

The next day it was refunded because the retailer “didn’t trust forwarding services”. I didn’t mind taking the risk, but she was insistent. So I asked if she could make an exception and ship to Australia. When she finally agreed, she couldn’t work out how to invoice me the shipping cost. I suggested I could just send her the money through PayPal. Of course, she didn’t trust PayPal.

Crazy cat lady aside, I persisted. And so I turned to a complete random on the internet. Using /r/favors on Reddit I asked if anyone would be willing to let me use their address, and then I’d send them some money to forward the item to me in Australia. Within minutes someone offered a hand.

Unfortunately the paranoid retailer still wouldn’t process the payment because the delivery address was different to the billing address.

So I asked the Redditor if he could do me a solid and not only forward me the package but make the purchase as well. And I sent a complete random person on the internet $220.

And today, the package arrived.

That internet thing ain’t so bad.

In my last post I attempted to answer the question What Does A Digital Strategist Do?

Some readers debated that the role definition was too narrow. They argued a Digital Strategist’s scope should include either digital creative or digital comms planning.

I still disagree – a pure-play Digital Strategist should not be more than what I defined in my last post. Of course, in this market those additional skills are incredibly handy as there aren’t many agencies that are big enough to take on someone who works only within the strictest definition of the word “strategic”.

However these conversations did spark a thought about another area Digital Strategists often play in. If you were to separate it into its own job title you might call it a Digital Tactician. Someone with extremely strong knowledge of platforms and channels who can assist in digital implementation. Their role would be to work with Digital Producers to ensure campaigns and projects leverage technology in the most effective way possible.

Rory Sutherland thinks these are so impact that there should be a name for small things that have big impact. Some digital specific tactical examples might include:

Again I don’t believe this should be in the scope of a Digital Strategist’s role,  but it often is due to how closely they relate.

Firstly, it goes hand-in-hand with doing digital strategy. Some recommendations might be tactical in nature, or are required to feed into and support broader strategic ones. Secondly, the way many agencies are structured, there’s likely no other resource who is in a better position to have this knowledge.

You won’t see the job title Digital Tactician any time soon, particularly as most other roles start to naturally build these skills. There’s also probably not an agency in Australia that would be able to support this role full time. But there certainly is value in being able to make recommendations like the dot points above to enhance a digital project or campaign.

About a year into my first job in advertising, I decided to change my job title. I updated my email signature, printed up some new business cards and suddenly people started introducing me as a Digital Strategist. It sounded about right for what I wanted to do so I ran with it, not really knowing what a Digital Strategist did at the time.

A few years later, it’s still a tough one to explain to my Mum.

The simplest definition is integrated problem solving through digital efforts. 

It works on a few levels. Firstly, solving marketing problems like increasing awareness or driving leads. Secondly, solving operational problems like making your sales team more efficient or increasing the accuracy of data collection. And thirdly, solving consumer problems, where you start building utilities and products (this doesn’t happen often in agencies).

It is the Digital Strategist’s responsibility to develop these strategic solutions. But just as importantly, it’s also their role to sell it. Not only the need for the work upfront, but the conclusions and recommendations that result as well. Hustling a project through stakeholders, aligned to resources and in cohesion with brand and campaign work is no easy task. The solutions must be integrated, working with the broader business context.

What people tend to find most interesting is that the word campaign has not yet been mentioned. A Digital Strategist does not develop concepts, even for big digital campaigns. Nor do they account manage, write comms plans or plan media.

Instead, Digital Strategists work on programs and projects. Efforts that often sit outside of campaign timelines and budgets, but help a client with their business problems.

This could look like a social program to change brand perceptions. Or a content program to retain customers. Email programs for lead management. Optimisation programs to improve conversion. Monetisation programs to generate revenue for the business.

Or it could look like a project to make a client’s life easier. Or their production budget more efficient. Or in one case we even freed up 100% of an internal resource by automating a process.

The scope of these start to vary incredibly. Yet at its core, digital strategy is solving client problems with technology, done with consideration to the rest of the business. A Digital Strategist sells this and then develops recommendations for potential programs and projects (usually prioritised on a road map).

And that’s sort of what I do. Admittedly it’s still not Mum-friendly.

What do you think?