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Advertising is a reflection of our times. It always has been.

Advertising of brands, like music and movies, can be a social message in itself. It influences how we look, what we eat and sometimes how we see ourselves.

So when brands join force with another global and cultural phenomenon, such as sports, it can be even more powerful.

Brands want to be more “human”, and are a lot more open-minded to have a point of view. They understand in order to do this genuinely they need to allow people to have a voice.

Athletes understand their roles in the society and are more authoritative than ever to choose what brand they like to use as a platform to allow them to have a voice, and represent their values.

But in a commercial world, brands have a lot to be accounted for.

Brands have every pressure from the shareholders to invest only in messages that guaranteed sales growth.

Brands have every right to avoid associating with sensitive political issues.

Brands have all the reasons to communicate a message that appeals to “everyone”.

Thank goodness Nike is not such a brand.

The recent Nike campaignmakes no direct reference to any political viewpoints, but by featuring Colin Kaepernick (among Lebron James, Serena Williams and a slew of other athletes), the association to his protest against racial injustice, and decided to kneel rather than stand for the national anthem before a 2016 National Football League preseason game is clear.

What’s so compelling about the Nike message is not because it’s charged with one of the most sensitive political messages at the moment, and confronting face to face with one of the most controversial leaders in American history, it’s the pure fact that this is so true to what we know about the brand – someone who has the courage to speak his/her mind, and giving people of any background the space to expression theirs.

Not every brand can do this though. Any brand who hasn’t got that long established history of credential and integrity, will come out feeling sheer opportunistic.

The clever approach of Nike is that it does not have to express a single point of view but just create a stage for the broad range of people to express the breadth of their standpoints. In the process, bring people of many different backgrounds together.

It makes the brand feels more human, an advocate of freedom of speech rather than siding with one point of view.

True, after the news went viral, it pulled waves of both support and backlash, even boycott. The brand’s shares dipped in reaction to the news. But on the other hand, the campaign also received millions of dollars of media exposure. Perhaps all these have fulfilled the brand’s calculated cost benefit analysis, in communicating the message of an inclusive world for all.

Even if some people don’t agree with what you are saying, they will appreciate that you have the courage to say it and speak up.

Perhaps it’s really time for brands to believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.

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The increasing popularity of using pictures and video to share on social media is driving a huge trend for using moving images to tell the brand story.

Speaking at an event in June this year, Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn endorsed this trend and said she would put money on Facebook “becoming all video over the next five years.”

No wonder clients want videos – lots of them.

Consider these stats:

  • Facebook grew to 8 billion average daily video views from 500 million users in Q3 2015. The jump from just 4 billion video views per day in Q2 the same year was massive.
  • More than a third of Snapchat’s daily users create their own “Stories”, broadcasting photos and videos as chronological narratives, and users are watching 10 billion videos a day on the application, up from 8 billion in February this year.
  • The time people now spend watching video on Instagram has increased by more than 40 percent in the last 6 months.

And that’s just a glimpse into the burgeoning popularity of video content.

Interestingly, we’re not just watching more video, we are becoming more discerning about it too.

We expect videos to offer a more immersive experience – for example, the 360-degree videos that let us move around and explore a certain space, and interact with responsive elements. The 360-degree video from Expedia, created by 180LA in partnership with Tourism Australia, lets viewers lead their own exploration of the dramatic land- and sea-scapes of Australia. Since making its debut on YouTube in June, it has already gathered more than 3 million views.

Tourism Australia makes the best use of immersive videos

We also have a totally different perception of “quality” for videos. Instagram used to be less aesthetically forgiving than Vine, but I think the line is going to be blurred.

Then comes personalization. Amazon has just started dynamic video ads as a pilot, using browsing data to decide what creative to show prospective shoppers on the fly and tailoring itto individual users’ interests.

The media, more than ever before, is becoming the message. And it is constantly evolving. Even the greatest creative will fail if it is not delivered via the latest and most relevant visual format.

The Video Revolution

There are countless forms of video content. At one end of the spectrum, you have the most practical eLearning or product videos delivering informative / educational content, while at the other you might have highly engaging, entertaining and stylized content that tells a brand story. Then there’s everything in between. All forms of video content serve a very different purpose and certainly take a very different type of talent to create and produce.

In addition, every channel demands a different format and creative approach in reaching a high level of engagement. And as every brand is likely to adopt a multi-channel strategy, we are going to see more and more services dedicated to curation. Brands will need to have a central hub overseeing the creation of videos across all touch points and bring them all together.  After all, in the eyes of the consumers, the different types of video content should all be channelling the same brand.

So, what type of video content is suitable for your brand? What are the latest trends? Let’s take a look at some of my recent observations.

Long Form vs. Short Form

The common belief is that short videos, with text overlays instead of sound, are becoming more popular. They grab attention quickly and, when designed appropriately, they can produce an instant emotional response.

However, that doesn’t mean long videos won’t work. It’s all down to the creative idea. Brands now understand that if the content is engaging and rewarding to view, consumers will be willing to seek out the longer form.

Gautam Anand from YouTube APAC recently remarked on the trend for longer video ads in the region. The most popular ads from 2015 averaged more than four minutes. Four of the top ten YouTube videos were more than 5 minutes in duration. The single most viewed ad, from Malaysia Airlines for the Chinese New Year celebration, is a majestic 12 minutes long!

Sound vs. Silence

Voice-overs, when produced cheaply and unprofessionally, can wreck even the smartest and most beautiful content. Worse than being ineffective, they can actually damage the brand. In this case, silence is definitely golden.

Another reason why videos for social channels are increasingly being created without sound is that, in many cases, people are in locations where they can’t consume the audio. Savvy brands ensure their idea resonates even with people who haven’t turned their speakers on.

“Tiny Magic” Videos from Lostmyname can be fully enjoyed with no sound

As video consumers become more discerning, the bar for quality video is raised higher every day. Even the humble screen text is enjoying a renaissance. It’s not just about adding functional subtitles or uninspiring supertitles any more. Visualizations and overlays are getting more sophisticated all the time, raising consumer expectations, and therefore requiring us to plan ahead, to include them as part of the storytelling rather than an afterthought.

Local vs. Global

Can video content really go global? Just because you can (technologically speaking), it doesn’t mean to say you should.

If we know how crucial it is to draw emotional responses from consumers, we know that we have to reach them not just locally, but somehow personally. Does anyone really still believe this can be achieved with one version of one video that has not been even adapted or localized?

Inevitably, global brands do have finite resources, so it can be hard to create different content for every platform. Not to mention tailor-make it for each market with its different language and culture.

The key is to think global from day one – to take a brand’s core assets from the beginning and consider how the local audience will consume them.  This will allow you to think about how to tailor your content for different platforms, and how certain assets can be shared for global releases.

Localization of video content has come a long way from the days when subtitling or dubbing were the marks of a successful international brand. As an example of just how far, take Coca Cola, who recently launched Coke TV in the UK and Ireland. Instead of globally developed TV ad campaigns featuring global celebrities, the channel is aiming to target young local audiences via YouTube. Fronted by two YouTubers, Dodie and Manny, each episode will be based around the themes of gaming, sport and music. The appeal is obviously very local (or at most regional). It will be interesting to see if Coke TV rolls this tactic out globally.

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CokeTV France

One thing is certain – for video content to go global, pre-production and planning are essential. Great videos, like any other content, demand the time-honored ingredients of success: a deep understanding of the consumer, superlative storytelling, and inspirational creative work. If you can combine that to deliver stories to people in each market in a new, exciting, and locally relevant way, then you will have won them – and quite possibly won the world.

It’s Chinese New Year on February 19. The Spring Festival is regarded as the most vibrant gift giving and shopping season in China, and therefore one of the major push for many leading brands. Many global advertisers follow the same old formula year after year, while others try to break away from the norm and do something different.

Pepsi curated a “crowd-sourced video” inviting consumers to submit 15-second videos via Mei Pai 美拍, a local mobile video app, to form a tribute to family reunions. The crowd-sourced final cut video will be eventually simulcast on the big screen in New York’s Times Square, symbolically bringing something local to a global stage. At the same time, the “Bring Happiness Home” themed promotion will deliver over 2000 postal parcels to help the mothers in the remote mountainous regions get through the cold winter days.

Apple, on the other hand, had taken this opportunity to unveil their first TV commercial produced specifically for the China market.

It has been an epic few months of localization activities for Apple. Recently they have opened five new stores timed right before the Chinese New Year. Four of the stores are in brand new cities for the brand including Zhengzhou, capital of central China’s Henan Province, West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. In each location, they have strategically partnered up with local artists such as Wang Dongling and painter Yangyang Pan to co-create signature murals inspired by each city for the local store.

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The TV commercial for Chinese New Year has been met with mixed criticisms. Directed by Ann Hui, best known for her films surrounding the topics of social issues, and cinematography by Christopher Doyle, a key collaborator in many films by Wong Kar Wei. However, you can hardly trace their signature style in the production. One of the main reasons, perhaps, is because they had to follow the tight guidelines imposed on the production – it has to be “consistent” with the global version. The story bears an almost identical storyline to a commercial entitled “The Song” released in the United States over the Christmas season in December 2014.

US “The Song”

China “Old Song”

Even though it is by large a just a localized version, but at the very least, there is a strong and relevant proposition. The storyline cleverly positions the brand being the bridge between the younger generation and the old, and technology plays a role in connecting the emotions across generations.

Different brands tend to adopt a different approach to localize brand messages for local market. In the old model, creating the localized version often involves so many levels at the client side. Depending on the category of the product, it could involve anyone from the local marketing team, the regional marketing team and of course ultimately the global brand team. During the process, any form of innovative thinking will be filtered, reduced, modified, tweaked, abandoned, shot down, reinterpreted or misinterpreted.

Any creatives who had worked within international network agencies on global brands will know the challenges. Fortunately, some global brands are now doing it differently.

Apple now adopts a centralized approach – global ideas being conceived centrally, while implementation and production being done locally. Local content are developed following the global guidelines. Pepsi has adopted a more locally driven approach, leveraging current consumer trends that resonate well in the local market. While brands like Microsoft, they have established processes such as “global-readiness audit” to make sure the ideas and executions can travel well.

No matter which strategy you decide to adopt, one thing is for certain – if you want a cohesive global brand at all, you do need to think global at the time when the idea was conceived. The key to success is to create a truly global platform, which could be so fluid that it allows local interpretations without losing its integrity.

Most global brands prefer the 80-20 ratio of global-local content – to adopt 80% of the content centrally and globally, and allow local market to reiterate and adapt 20% of the content to enhance local relevancy. I personally advocate the 70-20-10 model in which 70% of efforts focus on delivering quality global communications riding on universal truth, 20% on pushing the boundaries to contextualize it with local nuances, and 10% on ideas and approaches which are unproven but could transform the marketplace in each local market.

Which model works best for you highly depends on how you structure the global-local team, and where you put the right kind of resources.

It’s also not easy to motivate creatives to get all excited to work on adapting global ideas, but you can create the space and environment to allow creativity to grow. Here are a few tips:

  • Human insights trump cultural ones. Avoid merely dressing up the global ideas but rather go deep into the reasons why, because that’s what true consistency is all about.
  • Nothing should stop you from creating something that is uniquely local; using very native expressions as long as underlying it there is a meaningful concept that everyone understands.
  • Construct a platform that local teams can “build on it” fluidly and not wasting their time to think of how to make it work.
  • Give anyone on the ground the tools and resources to thrive in scale. Be brutal in keeping the platform intact and trust your own instinct.
  • Consensus is not about everyone agreeing, it’s about everyone being heard and the rallying around the best answer. Never go for the lowest common denominator.
  • You can’t tell creative people to be creative, but you can let them.

I wish everyone a prosperous year of creativity.

2015 prediction

It’s not quite what you are expecting. I know.

It doesn’t start with “50 tips to…” or “15 trends for…”

I did try. I promised you. Towards the end of December I have been thinking a lot about what happened in the industry in 2014, and what I think will we be facing in 2015. Like every year for the past couple of years I started jotting down the thoughts even a couple of months earlier. But I found that no matter how I tried to stay away from the “expected”, it’s hard not to be biased.

The truth is, we all tend to defend what close to what we do professionally. We feel almost a duty to do that, as we will be sharing the thoughts with our peers, who are, in the same way, pretty much defending the same thing.

It turns into almost like a sales pitch. An advertorial. Or worst, a product placement of some kind.

May be that’s the reason why when I stumbled upon Bono’s A to Z of 2014, his version of the year’s account, that I think it is so refreshing. It does not feel like selling. It’s real. It’s authentic. It’s transparent. It’s slightly flawed. It’s human.

It leads to my thinking that perhaps that’s exactly what we should all be doing in 2015. No matter as an individual or as a brand.

Content is cheap. Meaning is expensive. Don’t make content marketing another form of advertising.

Produce tailored content that does not feel like selling.

We want to be connected with things other than those directly related to our business.

No preconceived answers. Give me a bit of surprise.

We don’t need to hear that you are the greatest. Because “nice is the new cool”.

We have been so obsessed by the new, shiny trend that we fail to realize what consumers are really just looking for a brand they can believe in. If there is no “purpose”, there is no brand.

We want brands to be good. Not necessarily the best. Just good in every sense of the meaning.

If you are a bank, don’t just sell finance products, talk about how you help people to be a better human being. If you are a food producer, stop just reinforcing how good the ingredients are, but tell us why associating with you make a meaningful relationship. If you are a business software brand, stop just promoting the new features, start telling me how you see things the same way as I do.

In 2015, the only way to stand out from the competition is not just thinking out of the box, but go beyond product truth and think what it means for the consumers.

New Toyota Yaris Hybrid | The Musical City_00024

I often say that a great idea does not have language barriers. Because deep down there is a universal truth that can always be translated in any culture.

I also often advocate that when localizing a global idea or creative platform, think beyond language. Because language though is important, is not the defining factor.

The recent stunt turned video content for Toyota Yaris Hybrid car is a perfect example.

Conceived by the Saatchi & Saatchi Europe team, the campaign was designed to launch the new Toyota Yaris Hybrid, riding on the existing creative platform of “Fall in love with driving again”. In one day, they turned the centre of Prague into “The Musical City”. The street signs were changed to read cheesy pop songs titles that anyone would sing along to. Activated by the GPS-connected stereo, the car played out the backing track of the relevant song, as the participants driving through the city – literally loving every minute of the driving experience.

Staged? May be. But certainly a great video that gets the brand message across.

There are a few brilliant things about this video:

1. The film featured great shots of the city. This is essential to gain support of the local authority while adding distinctive local flavours to the film.

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2. The act of removing original street signs gave the film added credibility. It was staged and controlled but executed in an authentic way – with a touch of humour.

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3. The very essential, and relevant, beautiful car shots were done in a seamless way. I am sure anyone who has involved in car commercials will know how important that is!

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4. The product feature was so naturally incorporated in the film. The hard sell element was done in a non-contrived way so that people won’t feel hesitant in sharing the content. Sharing, ultimately, is what we want!

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5. The universally appeal sing-a-long, with fun choice of cheesy pop song titles makes the idea and execution easy to travel beyond one territory. Not only does the film sit well in social media platforms (which is inherently global), it can easily be localized with a local touch in other cities. Japan? Brilliant. China? Absolutely. France? … Let’s check with ARPP.

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6. It works perfectly with the existing creative platform “fall in love with driving again”. The creative execution was not done in isolation and detached from the other parts of the brand message. Think “multi-channel” is important.

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Now take a look at the film:

Let’s also take a look at other previous executions of the same platform for other markets, and see how they differ:

UK:

Italy:

Work Relation 2014 - A film by Marina Abramović, in collaboration with adidas_00001

We ought to be excited when we saw this video. Commissioned by Adidas, designed to be coincide with the World Cup season, it featured an artistic interpretation of the brand’s ongoing “All In or Nothing” proposition. It’s the perfect example of brands creating cultural properties in the world of branded content.

Entitled “Work Relation”, the three-minute film captured the first ever re-staging of the iconic 1970s performance of the same title by Abramović and her partner at the time Ulay. In the statement from Adidas, they described it as a performance that “focuses on commitment, teamwork and the strength found in togetherness – reimagined through the lens of the 2014 FIFA World Cup”.

As part of the World Cup themed content, it was not the usual celebrity fuelled spot, nor did it deliver yet another manifesto type of script. It was actually a surprise in many levels. The collaboration is one – not a lot of artists are willing to let commercial brand take such a big part in their original piece of art. Timeliness is another – Marina Abramović is currently staging a premiere of her new durational performance at the Serpentine Gallery London.

Yet there is a certain kind of uneasiness about the film.

Perhaps it is the unnecessary placement of the product in the performance.

Perhaps it is the deliberateness of the set up. (In the reenacted piece, eleven performers reference the total members of a football team.)

Perhaps it is the over rationalization – or over simplification – of the idea of teamwork.

Work Relation 2014 - A film by Marina Abramović, in collaboration with adidas_00012

The “human chain” passing the stone by hand was described to be “the most efficient method”. “The chain has the most endurance. The chain stays forever.” says Marina in the voice over. We all know that the human chain is, in fact, not exactly teamwork, nor can it be called collaboration. It depicts the most primitive form of assembly line work. Each person in the human chain has the identical skill, not complementing each other. They might collectively accomplish a “task”, but they will never be able to innovate.

In the video, the eleven performers were recruited from “varying walks of life” and probably have never trained with each other before. That is a fundamental key element in any collaboration, and is not being represented in the piece.

In a true collaboration, differences between partners mean that one plus one will always equal more than two.

Teamwork is often chaotic and messy. And it may not always last. But it is the most enjoyable, and the only way to be creative.

If we choose to be rational, we can analyse it forever. But debates, discussions and active engagement from the consumers are what brands really want nowadays, especially if brands want to become cultural properties of the world. In one of the interviews of Marina Abramović in the book “Live Art and Performance” (published in 2004), she pointed out the need to “elevate” the public in order for them to experience art:

“…They (the public) have to make this radical step of not being an observer anymore, or a passive thing, but being participants. It’s essential, they have to be creative to finish the work.”

May be that’s what the best content should be – being open-ended, let the consumers interpret it themselves and own a piece of it. May be that’s the point.

JOMO

It has become very difficult for us to think about just one thing at a time. In the process, we have all become self-confessed information junkie. We absorb everything from every sources, and joining the dots along the way. In the past month or so we have been reading every piece of articles and reports from journalists, thought leaders, trendspotters, you name it, on what we will expect in 2014.

One insight that I find particularly inspiring is the desire to stay focus in the increasingly mad world of multiscreen, multi-channel, multi-everything life.

The JWT Intelligence team call it ‘The mindful living’, predicting that more people will be drawn to the idea of shutting out distractions and focusing on the moment. The Ford 2014 trend report defines it as ‘the joy of missing out’.

There is a saying in Chinese 物极必反 that literally means ‘when something reaches its extreme, it reverses its course’. That is exactly what’s happening here.

In the visually dependent culture, every day, 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook. An additional 40 million go up on Instagram. We are very busy.

We look at our smartphones 150 times a day, sometimes during times when we should be enjoying the moment right in front of us.

We multitask. We spread all the devises in front of us while watching the TV, and willingly interacting with everything and everyone at the same time.

We all do these sometimes not out of design, but out of a FOMO (fear of missing out) mentality, a habit, or that they are just so readily available.

We crowdsource. From making things happen to getting funding for our next invention.

We strive to gain the first million users in the first week of launch of any new app, so we do everything we can to ‘growth heck’. In the process, we lose sight of the fact that we could be damaging the brand rather than building it.

We give excuses for imperfections.

I think this will lead us to the next wave of new opportunities – for brands to focus back on genuine experiences and differentiate what they offer with the others.

Technology once were a novelty in our lives had become a commodity. We crave personal connections again. We want meanings. That I believe is what will guide everything in the year ahead.

I believe there will be true innovations that help us to achieve a new kind of mindful way of living.

We still take pictures, but now we may use it to learn something. Enter #Jelly, the new app that allows you to snap a picture and ask questions about it to your network of friends. Co-founder Biz Stone said, “Because knowledge is different from information”. A snap on Jelly, may seem to have a bit more depth to it then?

Food creators will do more in order to draw our attention back to enjoying the food rather than photographing them. May be even a ‘slow food movement’?

Now, if you think you have missed out on any of the trend reports, don’t panic. Here I have curated a selection that had caught my eyes. But scan it quick, for you should know that, what’s true today will be history tomorrow.

Enjoy the moment.