Friday Reading #126

Never mind the winter Olympics, this week at Goodstuff has been dominated by our own sporting spectacle. The third annual Talksport AGP* – it’s been a long road to championship glory, heroes have risen, old stars have faded. We’ve even had professional coaching courtesy of the eccentric German Olav Stahl. Bets have been cast, and the big tournament pong’d off last night. The standard this year was higher than ever, with some unbelievable rallies and incomprehensible spin. But at the end of it all, in what is already being talked about as one of the great sporting upsets of our time – 40/1 outsider and recent joiner to the OOH team Charlie Pendry emerged victorious, triumphing over the evens favorite ‘crazy’ Phil Khao. Thanks to our sponsors once again for a brilliant evening of sport.

This week we also have a written piece from Account Director Jamie Cregan (23rd Pong seed), scroll down to read it at the end of the email.

*Amateur Goodstuff PingPong

You’ve heard
about ‘chatbots’, but what about ‘cobots’? Artificial Intelligence has paved
the way for robots to enter more areas of the world of work, enabling robots to
operate in complex environments and react to their surroundings. In August 2017
Just Eat and its Starship Technologies-produced delivery robots which have delivered
1000 meals to date.

Is the
experience economy is killing youth culture? Research suggests that there’s
been a generational
shift away
from owning things and instead towards activities. Vice have
been looking into the effect of this on the richness and variety of youth

On the subject, we’ve spoken before about the decline in youth subcultures – so it’s reassuring to see that some are still thriving. Photographer Owen Harvey has been documenting these modern tribes, from mods and skinheads in the UK to lowriders in the USA.

We all know that
humble GIF
is regularly used here at Goodstuff – adding that little bit
extra to a company meeting to keep everyone’s attention a few seconds longer. The
renowned Giphy platform was founded in 2013 and since then the platform has
grown to a vast creative community, driven by the speed of the modern internet
enabling a new preference towards visual, rather than written communication.

The multipurpose
messaging app WeChat
is becoming China’s government backed ID system
. WeChat has 902 million
daily users and about 38 billion messages are sent on the platform every day. Facebook
Messenger has been banned since 2009 – bringing questions on western privacy
online into sharp perspective.

The most influential job in the world has become available. No, sadly the toupe’d tangerine hasn’t been impeached yet, but the source of most of his opinions, Fox & Friends, is hiring for a head writer. Fancy shaping the world, without the hassle of winning elections? This is one for you.

Advertising as war – a step too far?

Since the angry
tangerine made it to the White House it’s been hard not to notice the regular
focus given to Russian cyber interference in Western democracy.  Or as the Oxford Internet Institute describe
it, the deployment of computational
.  This has meant political
players deliberately exploiting the logic of social media algorithms for
content distribution via bots and big data to manipulate public opinion. And it
is not confined to Russia, as the recent Politico
report reveals.  The strange, dizzying
implications of this type of propaganda calls forth a dystopia more in tune
with an Adam Curtis documentary, rather than the rational liberal principles
embedded in notions around a free and open press.

How though does
this all impact the world of advertising?

The obvious
point to make is that this information war has and will continue to impact the
media environment brands operate in two ways. Firstly, computational propaganda
has only been made possible by the rapid development of the internet – whose
origins can be traced back to the Cold War.
Nation states still have a profound impact on science and technology,
despite the Buzz Lightyear adventures of Elon Musk.  The current information wars being played out
could well produce new state originated technologies that enter the mass
market. The second point is possibly the most immediate, governments regulate
media environments.  The warning signs
are loud and clear for Google, Facebook and Amazon, as the Economist
articulated so forcefully recently.
Advertisers may soon find themselves operating in an unfamiliar environment
drawn up by regulators responding to the new information war and fears around
monopolistic market practices.

But there is
another question…

Perhaps, the
most important question is could most media agencies have set out such a
devastating strategy as that devised by the recent architects of computational
propaganda? The sad likelihood is no.  Ah,
you cry that’s because we’re not morally corrupt and nor are we propaganda
merchants manipulating the masses! True enough… But what is really striking
about recent examples of computational propaganda is the guile and insight that
underpin these approaches.  Could a media
agency have seen and then developed a strategy to exploit the shift in power
structures that have resulted from the move from vertical media structures to
horizontal media structures? A shift that has revealed the soft under belly of
the networked nation state.

The reality is
no. Deep down media agencies don’t take themselves seriously.  Despite the warlike themes that often grip an
agency during the pitching process. Too often strategic insight seems
depressingly simplistic, based around narratives and rules propagated by media
owners themselves.  Understanding the
elevator pitch for each media channel is an important learning curve for any
media planner, and a wonderful way for media owners to sell their product, but
regurgitating these narratives for the next 20 years is not helpful. Yes,
advertising isn’t an act of war, but media planning is too often trapped in
shallow intellectual waters, willing to accept established industry thinking as
opposed to offering clients vivid forensic insight and strategy.

To find the
origins of this dilemma it is worth considering the ambiguous role of media
agencies.  To sell media and to advise on
media.  The result of this positioning
has meant the dominant skill set in agencies is how best to use media, instead
of how best to strategically achieve a client’s communication objectives in the
current media environment.  Focusing on
how best to use media helps explain why media agencies have been buffeted
around over the last ten years by new entrants to market, largely being actors
on the stage adapting to changes dictated by media owners. The result being
black boxed solutions dictated by media owners that have often simply failed to
deliver and commoditized brand messaging across sectors.  The latter focus on how best to strategically
achieve a client’s objectives in the current media environment would have at
least encouraged a more critical mindset, a willingness not only to reject some
of the more questionable media owner offerings out there, but also fashioned
the potential to create new media experiences that deliver a client’s

The decision for
agencies is then the never ending one, for as long as the current business
model persists – what role they want to take for clients? They have two options,
they can cast a vision of the world that chimes with the one set by media
owners and the latest industry zeitgeist. Or they can cast it as it is? A
position that creates the potential to truly innovate for not just the brands
they serve, but also consumers they’re trying to speak to.

Jamie Cregan │ Group Account Director

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