Trevor Carr, Author at Noise Digital | Vancouver & Toronto Advertising Agency

SXSW 2014; Shit Kickers and Shit Disturbers, pt.2:

Posted by | Entertainment, Events & Conferences, General, Technology | No Comments

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Walking around Austin you can see the spirit of rebellion and creativity all mashed up into cowboy-hipster contradictions – imagine skinny jeans and cowboy boots. It’s as if Portland was dropped into the middle of the Texan plain with artisanal boutiques and artists’ squats intermingled with bars and BBQ on every corner. Austin is a city full of amazing contradictions; liberal vs. conservative, art vs. commerce, and rural vs. urban. It’s run by a new type of creative class, built by a DIY ethos handed down by the cowboy ranchers who founded the city in 1839. In Austin, ‘weird’ is considered a badge of honour.

This is the city where Cody Wilson was born and raised. Wilson is the man responsible for creating a plastic handgun on a 3D printer. “What does it mean to have a 3D file that could be readily assembled by a machine into a firearm?” asked Wilson. A self-described ‘gun loving anarchist’ with a strong libertarian bent, Wilson spoke with the intellect of a poet and a scholar and made a very strong argument for why we should care about his right to 3D print guns. Read More

SXSW 2014; Shit Kickers and Shit Disturbers, pt.1:

Posted by | Events & Conferences, Technology | One Comment

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I first attended SXSW at the height of the mobile app frenzy. Twitter had just launched and quickly became the app to have at the conference. The rise of Twitter intensified the Venture Capital feeding frenzy at SX (tech people are too lazy to enunciate the SXSW moniker). I recall sitting in the lounge of the W hotel – a few blocks away from the Austin convention center – observing multiple offer sheets being negotiated between young men in t-shirts and those in custom tailored suits. After overhearing some of the valuations the VC’s were giving a 6 month old company, I remember wanting to start an APP company… ah, the good ol’ days!

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The Digital Retail Experience gets Social

Posted by | Fashion | No Comments

levisstoreI have been seeing more and more examples of retail marketers looking to digital platforms to leverage the retail experience. Levis recently re-launched their website with Facebook’s new “Like” platform directly integrated into their retail strategy. A unique and innovative platform that Levis is using to augment their commerce strategy is its “Friends Store“. As an auxiliary store within the larger e-commerce platform at the U.S. version of Levi.com, the Facebook-based shopping channel is being advertised prominently on the homepage.

Visitors who click through to the store will see invitations to use Facebook Connect and to “Like” the brand (or in the former parlance: “become a fan”). If they enable Connect, viewers will see their Facebook friends’ upcoming birthdays – for those who have their birthday privacy control at a public setting – in a box slightly below the fold that includes names and profile pictures. Replicating the social experience online is the new holy grail of retail and Levis is blazing the trail.

Another recent example that launched in Vancouver, B.C. is the Gap’s new Sprize retail loyalty program. The Gap initiative invites shoppers to sign up for a free Sprize account at participating Gap stores for an opportunity to collect SprizeMoney. SprizeMoney is automatically accrued in a customer’s account when a product they bought goes on sale within 45 days of the original purchase. The account is credited the difference between the price paid and the best sale price.

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My initial take is that the program does a brilliant job at addressing the old adage “all customers are not created equal” by giving consumers the ability to customize their shopping habits. It takes loyalty to a new and innovative level – one that can be and is more and more tied into the digital / social lives of consumers rather the arbitrary whims of the seasonal fashion /sale cycle. With this program the Gap will be integrating their digital ‘brand advertising’ with direct retail marketing tactics that will weave its way into the fabric of consumer behavior. In my mind and from the research that I have seen from Forester et al, retail is becoming more and more dependent on digital communication and peer recommendation rather than pure temporal shopping behavior that was driven by fashion, schedule (retail store hours) and price discounting (end of season sales).

By launching Sprize, The Gap is trying to ‘get in the game’ early in order to develop a flexible platform to form longer term conversations with a broad range of consumers (the core of a Gap customer). Much like the TV broadcast industry who have now largely abandoned the rigid Fall scheduling structure, fashion retailing is moving to a ‘just in time’ product cycle (pioneered by Zara) that has transformed consumer behavior to be less dependent on pre-determined seasonal shopping periods.

Some have argued that ‘interrupting’ this routine – a routine that retailers have been training shoppers to follow for years is folly. Rather than inhibiting the fashion compulsive shopping habits of some avid consumers – I see this type of program enhancing engagement with the brand via social networks and actually making it more segment-specific and hyper-targeted. Why? Because the consumer is in control of the experience. I love that! Rather than breaking consumer habits, I see Sprize (although not perfect) as a way of enhancing and integrating the shopping experience via a shared environment with community platforms online.

Loyalty is passive – consumers may be loyal and buy products from a brand, but they are not inherently inclined to speak about the brand. Advocacy however is active – brands that use social retailing strategies will enhance and engage this consumer relationship.

Death of the CPM

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trev_blog_picI have been ranting about this for some time now and it looks as though the media industry is finally taking notice. In the face of plunging CPM rates and even lower click-throughs, digital media types are now scrambling to justify value for online media spends.

Counting eye balls is an inherently old school manner in which to gage value – one that is predicated upon a traditional media structure dating back to the printing press. In this sense, media value was derived from simply seeing an ad that was, by definition, unique and impactful. Those days are no longer. Although I hear the old media guard defend the impression model from time to time by saying that it has become more accountable, more measurable, and more granular. Fine I say, so what? We are now able to prove to clients that people saw their ad – great. How does that translate into a meaningful metric like purchase intent or post-purchase loyalty?

In my opinion the real problem rests with the structure of the entire ad/media industry – we are still chained to an obsolete model of how media is purchased, consumed, measured, justified and paid for. So how do we address this?

For starters we need to stop treating online as just another media channel (platform). Online is different; it is an interactive (I sure hope we have figured this out by now) and not passive consumer experience. Indeed, online media should be viewed as a platform that ties all media together – the essential ingredient that captures and leverages all media communication. IAB CMOS studies have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that online amplifies a client’s media across all platforms. It is in this respect that media planners should be integrating online as a means to amplify and enhance existing communication channels. Thus, on one side we have clients demanding an integrated media plan and a way measure their spend, while on the other side we see agencies trying desperately to jam the new media paradigm into an antiquated value model. So let’s just say it… traditional media value measurement is failing to provide clients and agencies the proper structure to evaluate and scale their media investment.


Another reality that needs to be addressed is the virtually unlimited inventory of impressions that is available online. The massive shift of eyeballs going online is a double-edged sword for our industry – the more people generating page views the more inventory that can be sold. One of the primary reasons there has been so much downward pressure on CPM rates for online media is that there are no constraints to supply. Unlike traditional media where there is a significant cost to each unit of advertising space or time, online ad inventory is virtually free for each additional unit. Thus, the number of impressions that marketers can buy is almost infinite. In this environment where content is (virtually) free and impressions are mere commodities, we will be forced to find the true value of online advertising and a cost-model that reflects the true ROI of online media.

The growth of social networking sites such as Facebook and the continued importance of search in building successful media strategies only add more complexity to the online value debate. Social media has recently been co-opted by the PR industry as their traditional skills in media outreach and publicity have waned in lock-step with traditional media. In essence, Social Media is becoming a massive opportunity for marketers to influence and participate in brand conversations – a natural fit for PR, presumably. However, Social Media like other online platforms does not conform to a static one-way (push) method of communication. As an example, sending off a press release to a blogger asking them to write about a brand is not a social media strategy. Working from within a cost/value model that is rooted in traditional media is once again the crux of the problem. As much as I can pass judgment and criticize poor online strategic thinking – the fact is that agencies can’t make money if there is not sufficient value placed upon online media by clients. The gap between what clients pay for traditional media and online media will need to change if we ever hope to adapt to the rapidly changing media landscape.

Since the launch of Facebook ads there has been much debate over their apparent lack of effectiveness. This was primarily due to the fact that media planners were looking at the results through the lens of “how many eyeballs have seen and clicked on my ad?” In my opinion this is a huge mistake. When the topic of effectiveness comes up with our clients I usually ask this question: What is more important, having 100,000 consumers view your ad – or having 1000 highly targeted, consumers engage with your brand? Now let’s assume that both of these outcomes cost the same. It would take a very enlightened client to select the second option. Why? Because even if the second option would presumably result in a more meaningful interaction, the manner in which those 1000 consumers are valued is too far too low. When evaluating online with a traditional model, GRPs or reach dictate where dollars are spent. In my opinion, the new fractured media environment makes the GRP focus almost irrelevant. If a brand wants max GRPs today, the only option is an event like the Super Bowl or the Oscars.

Many agencies and clients that we work with understand this new value model and are focused on engagement, context, and relevancy as a key metric. But how do we value and charge for engagement, context, and relevancy? Once again it comes down to structure and pushing hard to understand the true cost of a brand engagement. To a keen observer, traditional ‘metrics’ cross through many separate and distinct marketing disciplines – TV advertising, promo, sampling, awareness campaigns, direct marketing, CRM, etc. For a digital agency however, all of these tactics come into play for an online campaign to be truly integrated – and successful. To a marketer, all of these strategies would seemingly be extremely valuable, and if they could all be done simultaneously? Wow! Sign me up. Back to my original point – this is what a truly integrated strategic digital marketing plan should be doing. It’s not something that happens by accident.

So, how do we look at putting a value on this complex set of consumer interactions and conversations? Here are a few ways to look at a new value model:

Make it simple. In order for a new model to be widely adopted and used, it needs to be based on hard but simple data. You have to have a way to create a streamlined process. Everyone wants and needs a way to compare campaigns and metrics to determine success. Simplicity can lead to scalability, which allows for more efficiency for publishers, agencies, and marketers.

Metrics need to be aligned with campaign goals. Whatever you pay for is what publishers will start mass producing. If you want engagement, pay for engagement. It is unclear whether there is one metric or many. A starting point might be to start with uniques, actions (like sharing, contributing, and engaging), and time.

Here is the truth: executing online campaigns (social or otherwise) is incredibly complex and difficult. It takes a lot of time from many people with diverse backgrounds to successfully develop, design, launch, monitor, track, engage, measure, and leverage a digital campaign. At the end of the day the value for digital media will come down to ROI. Does it work or not?

Zeros and Ones

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Okay, I know I am biased but hear me out. There has been much ink spilled over the strategic position that pure-play digital agencies occupy at the marketing table. It’s an interesting debate, and one that seems quite emotional and polarizing. The recent furor and subsequent responses to a blog post on AdAge.com has opened up the industry to a new ‘traditional’ vs. ‘digital’ agency smackdown. Although I adamantly disagree with its assertion that digital shops are not “strategic” in their nature, I do understand the argument.

The author’s experience comes from working with digital shops that are not structured around providing “strategy” as it fits the typical definition in the ad business. These agencies, among others, are production agencies. They are typically tasked with technological and creative innovation to drive a campaign that has been structured by an AOR. In many cases, these agencies are treated in a similar manner as a commercial production house where an agency briefs out a project and selects the one that can deliver the appropriate output. In this regard, we need to compare apples to apples.

Okay, so the music industry makes sense, but what about broadcast TV, radio, print, PR or Out of Home? That’s not digital – is it? Yup, it sure is. Digital is not a single delivery platform or medium in the same manner TV or print is. Digital is what integrates all media into an interactive experience. It does not live without the content that ‘traditional’ media has always been good at – copy, images, video, voice, and animation. Digital, as I see it, is the amplification catalyst that drives all brand communication across all platforms. In essence this is what integration is and should be.

Back to my original point – everything is digital. At Noise, we have seen first-hand the evolution of media’s attempts at transforming their analog business models into digital ones. Due to the fact that traditional broadcasters have now finally started streaming most of their content online and with the success of Hulu in the US, the need to figure out the ad revenue model is now more dependent on ‘digital’ than ever before. In the print world, The Globe and Mail’s online property continues to shift content online as a way to integrate their advertisers into their property with varying degrees of success. Print media, magazines, and newspapers in particular were the canary in the coal mine for the media industry and continue to suffer from the digital wrecking ball.

Wired editor Chris Anderson has written extensively on the Long Tail theory of economics and the book “Free” spells out the reality that we all need to deal with: Content will need to be free (or close to) if you are to survive in the digital media landscape. The high cost of producing print content has exacerbated the rapid restructuring of the industry. On the radio side of the business, we have seen a massive consolidation as it relates to content production (who plays the music, reports the news, sports, and traffic) and ownership. As a consequence the radio industry, against all odds, has squeezed impressive profits over the past few years. In typical “make hay while the sun shines” scenario, the radio business will be looking at being ‘Napsterized’ (the digital equivalent of vaporized) if they don’t invest those profits into a digital strategy. Radio, although it delivers its content primarily via the airwaves, is indeed in a digital industry. Although the digital threat of satellite radio has not impacted terrestrial radio as expected, the fact remains that kids don’t listen to radio anymore.

Digital music/audio information has forever impacted the manner in which people buy, listen to, and interact with audio content. If the terrestrial radio industry does not figure out a way to get their content to consumers on the digital super-highway, they can start digging their graves. I love radio and sincerely believe that they have the most opportunity to convert to a digital business model. Radio is a lot like online in a few ways that advertisers love. It’s highly targeted, local, real-time, and cost-effective. It could benefit most from a digital integration strategy outside of streaming their live broadcasts on their website (that is the equivalent of posting a 30-second TV commercial on YouTube). It ignores the interactive social community that a local radio station could become the hub of. Come on, radio, spend some money on your damn website(s).

Ask Noise client CTVglobemedia if they run a digital media company or ask a global ad network exec if they understand digital, and they would both, most certainly, say yes. Digital is at the very core of their future growth. If this seems like an obvious observation – it absolutely is. There will always be agencies that are constantly innovating and who will provide clients effective strategic direction (ie. they get it). Conversely, there will always be agencies who are unable to adapt to the new digital landscape and are incapable of executing strategic direction – digital or otherwise. Ultimately, the ‘traditional’ vs. ‘digital’ agency structure is irrelevant in the context of the industry at large. Indeed, technology has and is transforming the advertising and media industry. For agencies to add value to clients’ marketing objectives they will need to be ‘digital’.

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