Engaging the Young with News

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I remember a chart showing print newspaper reading by age.  The bars stepped upwards as each ten-year cohort read a little more than those younger than them.  It often led editors to conclude that people develop a print newspaper habit.

It was the wrong conclusion.  Deeper analysis showed that people in each age group read newspapers less than those same people did ten years previously.  The habit was being broken, not adopted.

As that lesson sank in, gurus offered explanations.  Young people have shorter attention spans, was a popular theory; they prefer video, was another. 

Fast-forward fifteen years to a lecture hall where Mark Thompson is speaking.  Mark is now the President and CEO of the New York Times.  15 years ago he’d been the CEO of Channel 4, riding the video wave.

Across town there’s a panel discussion where Katie Vanneck Smith, the co-founder of Tortoise, a new news organisation daring to be different, is on the panel.  She’d moved to Tortoise from a long career in News Corp, where she too, fifteen years earlier, would have seen that chart.

These two bright sparks, one at a start-up and the other at a 170-year-old business, are using these speaking engagements to say they can engage the young with news.  Neither thinks the obstacle to overcome is attention span or the lure of video.

Thompson’s approach can be summarised as: invest in content, listen to the young to find out how they want to consume it, and utilise the Podcast.  Audio, for news consumption at least, is killing the video star.

Thompson represents the New York Times and they have deeper pockets and greater magnetism amongst investors than, let’s say, The Sheffield Star.  It can, therefore, be both galling and uplifting to hear Thompson talk about investing in content. 

“We believe in journalism, it’s what we stand for, it’s also the only thing we have to sell.  So, almost unlike everyone else we’ve invested in journalism. We now have around 1,750 journalists working for the New York Times, that’s 300 more than in 2012 and the greatest number in our company’s 170-year-old history”.

He draws a direct line to companies adept at attracting the young, “Heavy investment in content is Netflix’s strategy; it’s Disney’s strategy”, he argues.  He adds, “This is unavoidably a capital-intensive period in media history”… yet we’re probably headed towards a new recession.  Eek.

He attacks “former digital darlings“, like Buzzfeed, who came to fame by holding short attention spans for a monetise-able second.  With too great a dependency of ad revenues, he argues, they are, “Players who today look more like legacy publishers but without an actual legacy”.

On Podcasts he says the following: “The Daily, that podcast of ours, is reaching and deeply engaging a significantly new audience for us.  ¾ of that audience is 40 or under.  45% is 30 or under.  I grew up in broadcasting being told by everyone that very few young people would ever listen to serious speech audio.  It turned out to be rubbish.” 

Considering the cost difference between good video and good podcasting, this at least offers some cheer to lesser publishers.

Thompson concludes about young people, “All you had to do was go to them and listen to them and figure out what they wanted.”

Let’s turn now to the thoughts of Vanneck-Smith.  Her approach can be summarised as: reinvent content, listen and discuss, reach beyond the professional classes, and, of course, use audio.

Tortoise are reinventing news content, taking time to produce ‘slow news’, not chase breaking news.  Fast news had become noise, she argues, saying, “When you ask people why they joined Tortoise three quarters gave ‘news had become noise’ as their reason”.

On listening, she says, “When I was at The Times we talked about our role being to inform, educate and entertain our readers.  It’s slightly different at Tortoise, where we don’t start by thinking we need to inform, we start by thinking we need to listen.  We listen and we learn and we understand.”

She doesn’t mean they start with market research (as much as I’d like that to be true), she means they involve their members in editorial style meetings called Think-Ins.

She says Think-Ins are, “engaging, participatory, we’re having a conversation in a room, it’s not a panel [with] sages on the stage, it is a genuine conversation in a room.  That is the number one reason our membership skews younger, it’s why they joined Tortoise, to be there in person and be part of those conversations.” 

You can see how Think-Ins appeal to millennials given their pursuit of experiences and keener sense of entitlement.  40% of Tortoise’s 8,000 members are under 30.

However, she says, “Even though we see a younger membership than I traditionally see in other [paid for news] organisations, they are still the professional, urban classes.”  Tortoise now runs bursary memberships to extend their reach, and conversations, beyond the bubble.

Like Thompson, Vanneck-Smith sees the value of audio.  She says, “You can’t have enough audio, one of the things we get asked is, can you actually read the article to me?”

The funny thing is that none of these approaches were unheard of fifteen years ago.  In fact, the term Podcast was first coined fifteen years ago, and not with great fanfare.  Podcasts were stepping-stones on the way to video solutions.  They have since been rediscovered and better appraised.

Listening is a far older word, but listening to the customer is being practiced with more urgency now.  Publishers are leaning in.

And we’d all love to see more investment in content.  Great content holds attention, no matter how old the audience.  And we should welcome the reimagining of quality news content and how it is delivered to younger audiences too.

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Friday Lyric Quiz: Ten Types of Responder

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Every Friday, on Twitter, I publish a Friday Lyric Quiz.  The format is simple; guess the lyric.  There’s no prize, just the joy of getting it right. 

I first started it ten years ago when I got the idea from Michael Vaughan, the cricketer.  He posted a lyric one Friday and I recognised it (ABC, The Look of Love).  It made me smile and forget I was stuck on a train. 

Let’s spread that sort of escapism around a bit, I thought.  The following Friday, I started.  I didn’t imagine I’d get to 520 Friday Lyric Quiz tweets and still be going.

People respond in different ways but there are patterns, there are responder types and this is my attempt to categorise them.  For you fellow researchers out there it’s a lyric quiz respondent segmentation, if you will!

I’ll use some lyrics to illustrate my points but, in true quiz format style, I won’t say what songs they are from until the end of the article.  How many of the song lyrics can you recognize?

ONE: The Muso Response.

A muso is a music-obsessed person, with clear thoughts about what is cool and what isn’t.  The Friday Lyric Quiz isn’t just for musos; it’s for Christmas hits, 80’s cheese, chart toppers, one hit wonders, boy bands and girl bands and everything in-between.  I’m dealing in memories not refinement.

Occasionally I stray into muso territory.  Here’s a recent example, I met one man who was wounded in love, I met another man who was wounded with hatred”. (Recognise it? Write it down. Remember, answers are below).

Musos let me know they know it without condescending to answering directly.  They might ‘like’ the tweet, for example, or make an observation to tell me they know about the song.  For this reason it tends not to be the muso who wins on a muso week, but a general music enthusiast who follows up with the right answer. 

TWO: The Original Artist Responder

The original artist responder can be a muso or just someone old enough to remember the original.  There are a lot of cover versions out there, and often they’re the most famous.

The week I used Give Me Just a Little More Time (the week Brexit was delayed), someone said Kylie and was ticked off by Chairmen of the Board fans.

Of course, the older you get the more you spot cover versions – but I suspect you still go through life thinking some songs from your youth were originals.  I grew up thinking Siouxsie wrote Dear Prudence.  I know. So shoot me.

Here are lyrics from a quirky song that I associate with one artist, that I never realised was a cover version until I posted it: You’re gonna need an ocean of Calamine Lotion”. I’ll even give you the original artist, which was The Coasters (1959), in case it helps.

THREE: The I-See-What-You-Did-There responder

On that Friday, nobody got my Give Me Just a Little More Time/Brexit-delay connection.  I can’t blame them; it wasn’t the best.  However, the day after the referendum someone did make the connection with The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum).  And they have.

Most of the time I don’t try and link the lyric to anything going on.  Sometimes, like the day after a terrible news event, I’m just mindful of the mood.  As I don’t really plan the song choices they tend to reflect my mood anyway.

People do spot some deliberate choices; Snow Patrol when the snow came, Ashes to Ashes for the start of the cricket and, at Easter, Good Friday is a lyric day, of course.  Admittedly, Good Friday is stretching my knowledge of songs about crucifixion (yes, I’ve done The Stone Roses and The Army of Lovers). 

Sometimes the link is personal.  I should probably be ashamed to admit I tweeted one Friday Lyric Quiz from the maternity suite the day my boy was born.  This was the choice that day, Friday’s child is full of soul”.  And he is.  And I’m biased.

FOUR: The “Tuuuune” Responder

Nothing can take you out of the present like music.  I work at home with my old iPod on shuffle and my mind bounds between school, university and jobs and between summers, friends, parties and holidays. 

If I post a lyric from a song that puts someone’s mind in a DeLorean Time Machine the response can be enthusiastic.  “Tuuune”, is a typical response.

I think the one song that generated the strongest “Tuuuune” response from those responding has these lyrics: “Wipe your feet really good on the rhythm rug, If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug”.

I think it’s a “Tuuuune” too.

FIVE: The Unsurprising Responder

In general responders fit a type, depending in the song choice.  Some people have a favourite genre.  I have a responder who will pop up for Soul, another for gay anthems and a usual suspect for Madchester.

Aside from genre lovers there are mums and dads who spot current chart toppers because they’ve lost control of the car radio. 

Mostly responders are products of their age.  Music dates us.  Spotify data tells us we all over-play songs from our mid teens.  My Twitter photo is now ten years old but I suspect my Friday Lyric Quiz dates me more accurately.

This one’s for those Mum or Dad Taxi responders, God bless them for the hours they put into driving their darlings, and their very up to date musical knowledge:  But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out. And I’m just like, “Hey, are you okay?”

SIX: The Surprising Responder

Some people are more surprising.  One responder is a discerning gent and the very model of professionalism.  However, cheese runs through him like a Philly Steak sandwich – from every era. 

People who know him tell me they’re amazed he knows the songs he knows. “I know”, he told me, “I’ve got the musical taste of a twelve year old girl”.

But it’s more than that; he’s just got a great memory for lyrics and a broad knowledge of general radio airplay music, and not just from the Dad Taxi runs.  It makes him a great ‘mopper-up’ of Friday wins. 

I salute you, sir.  This one’s for you: Tank fly boss walk jam nitty-gritty.
You’re listening to the boy from the big bad city

SEVEN: The Horrified-at-Self Responder

The thing about my Surprising Responder is that he owns it, without shame.  You’d be surprised how, on some weeks, I get DMs, via Twitter, from people who know the answer but don’t want to be seen to know it.

Others respond and then recoil when they realise what they’ve just admitted to knowing. An attempt at an explanation follows.

So, this one is for the responder who spotted this lyric immediately, to his enormous surprise and the surprise (and delight) of people in his network: Paul’s gettin’ down on the floor, while Hannah’s screaming out for more”.  He’s got an explanation (it was big when he was at uni), of course.

EIGHT: The My Town Responder

Moving on from shame to pride.  No responder exhibits more triumphant pride than someone spotting a lyric from a hometown band.

The lyrics of Pulp’s Wickerman appeared in an A Level paper this year, illustrating a question about how music and art can influence someone’s perception of a place.  Jarvis peppered his lyrics with Sheffield references and Sheffielders, like me, love it.  I went to Forge Dam café too, Jarvis.

However, it’s not just about local references, it’s just about being from the same town as a credible band.  I’ve discovered Mancunians are still fiercely proud of Madchester bands and people in my adopted borough of Greenwich still love a good Squeeze.

This song recently had the responder celebrating his hometown of Leeds: She said that my chance has been and gone (Going out with) (Going out with) Cause I’ve been in for the same clothes far too long”. 

NINE: The I-Can’t-Believe-I-Got-One Responder

I’ve thought about stopping the Friday Lyric Quiz.  Ten years is a long time, after all. 

Then I’ll meet someone, maybe at a conference, who says, “I know your name.  Are you the Lyric Quiz guy?”  If that’s who I am, this is what I do.  They’ll also tell me they try and get the answer every week but haven’t got one yet.

Some people tell me I get up too early and so late risers stand less of a chance.  Sorry!

Often I’ll get a responder who is delighted they’ve finally won one.  I love these responders.  This is for them: I will be King. And you, you will be Queen”.

TEN:  The Too-Easy Responder

Finally, there’s the Too Easy responder.  They don’t rear their head up these days but were around a lot at the start. “Too easy”, they’d cry, but the fact I wouldn’t hear from them again suggests to me that music is very personal. 

We all have our collections and our lives have different soundtracks.  One person’s ‘too easy’ is another person’s ‘never heard of it’.

This one’s for them: “You see I begged, stole and I borrowed”

But my hat is off to all you responders.  Thank you to all who took part in good humour and with enthusiasm for music.  I’m sorry for the earworms but I’m happy to have stoked many wonderful memories from your lives, if I have.  Every Friday should start with a song.

Answers below:


A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.  Bob Dylan

Poison Ivy.  The Lambrettas (OK, The Coasters)

Through the Barricades. Spandau Ballet

Can I Kick It?  A Tribe Called Quest

You Need to Calm Down.  Taylor Swift

Dub Be Good To Me.  Beats International

S Club Party.  S Club 7

I Found Out.  The Pigeon Detectives

Heroes.  David Bowie

Easy.  Commodores

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Measuring apples and apples: OOH and online advertising

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Recently I took up a temporary position as acting head of research at Exterion Media, the company that run the ads on the London Underground, on buses and some of the over-ground train network.  It was an interesting time and I enjoyed working with a great team.

Working in Outdoor media is always interesting. What is always very striking is the rigour of their advertising measurement. Here I’ve written about an eye-catching study by rival Outdoor firm JC Decaux in which they’ve tried to level the playing field between their measures and the measures of online advertising.

JC Decaux commissioned Lumen Research (famous for large scale eye-tracking studies) to run a project.  The idea was to create a level playing field for measurement of online advertising and OOH advertising.  They called the study, Attention: the Common Currency for Media

The online industry has very minimal requirements for an advert to fulfil before it is measured as viewable.  It needs to display 50% of pixels on screen for 1 second or more.  For OOH ads to be considered viewable the requirements are far more stringent.  It needs to face the right direction, have both edges visible, have no more than 10% obstruction and have dedicated illumination at night.

However, advertisements that are viewable are not always viewed, of course.  Therefore, Lumen use eye cameras to measure the ‘hits’ (or fixations) an advert gets.  One ‘hit’ is a viewed impression.  It’s something the OOH industry has measured for years (for their own inventory).  What happens when they apply the same approach to online advertising on mobile and desktop screens?

There’s a white paper for this and it can be found here.  It discusses the methodology in detail and there is an important methodology points to note here.  The eye camera work wasn’t done in an actual OOH environment, unlike, for example, Exterion’s excellent Engagement Zone project, which was done in real locations.  It was done using mock ups of OOH locations on screens that respondents looked at.

There are two main parts to the findings.

One: likelihood to see a viewable ad in each media

On desktop, if an ad is served in a viewable position, consumers have a 22% chance of noticing the ad (i.e. having at least one fixation on it).  On mobile the same figure is 59%.

For OOH static panels, consumers have a 66% chance of noticing the ad (i.e. having at least one fixation on it).  For digital OOH panels the same figure is 69%.  Please note that in situations of less dwell time e.g. amongst motorists or in a London Underground station, digital panels get noticed more.  Where the dwell time is longer, static ads ‘catch up’ and can have as much chance of catching the eye as digital.

Two: what happens when you build in the fact that not all ads are served?  After all, some are simply not seen by the audience, e.g. when less than 50% of all pixels are in view or when a digital OOH ad is in a loop of six.

The answer is that on desktop an ad has a 13% likelihood of being seen.  For mobile the same figure is 25%.

For static OOH the number stays the same at 66% (i.e. no change because the ad is there all the time) and for digital OOH the number is 39% (because some people will see other ads in the loop instead and because the ad won’t catch every eye).  For a total OOH number, the average of these two is 53%.

Notably, the OOH numbers are higher than the online numbers, which, of course, proves JC Decaux’s point about the value of OOH ads.

It’s a neat little study with a clear aim – and it is a great addition to the advertising measurement debate



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How digital assistants will change media research between now and 2028

Recently I was invited to speak in a debate at the Media Research Group (MRG) conference in Bratislava. We had to imagine what media research would look like in 2028.  I chose to concentrate on the effect digital assistants will have.  We were encouraged to be a little controversial and it was an enjoyable theme to warm to.  Here is my script:

If I think back now to media research in 2018 I could laugh.

But I won’t laugh because I’d be using laughter as a heuristic cue for you to process in a low involvement way.

In short, it would be weak communication with your weak human minds.

And I’m happy to say that in 2028 we’ve now eliminated human weakness from media research.

Back in 2018 we dressed human weakness up and gave it the name System 1 Thinking. It’s what we do when we’re not concentrating. It’s automatic, emotional … and weak… thinking. It saves us energy but it’s enormously flawed.

Can you believe this; it’s how we used to make most of our choices?

A whole discipline grew up called Behavioural Economics, about the impact of human weakness on economic decisions.

But a big problem for us researchers is that System One thinking made people unreliable witnesses to their own behaviour.

For example, people say advertising doesn’t influence them, but it does.

16 years ago the psychologist Robert Heath wrote a book about how advertising Seduces the Subconscious. The less attention people pay, the more seduced they are. Did you ever have your subconscious seduced by advertising in 2018? Hashtag Me Too!


But since then we all got Digital Assistants. They became our very own digital PA, our synthetic butlers. Digital Jeeves to our analogue Woosters.

We delegated our choices to them.

They make all decisions for us in high attention System 2.

There were two phases in our willingness to delegate choice to them.


The first phase was about convenience. Even in 2018 we gave away data for convenience – so we were equally happy to give up our choices for the same prize.

It immediately paid off. They made better decisions. We became content.

Studies of human happiness show that people are more content when their purchases fit their lives. Not when they fail to live up to some impossible dream like the subliminal stories in branded advertising. Drinking Nespresso does not a George Clooney make!

So we also gave them our media choices. I used to read The Guardian and The Economist because – it turns out – I thought they made me look dead clever.

My digital assistant pointed out that I was intellectually more suited to watching reruns of Tattoo Fixers – and Extreme Tattoo Fixers – so that’s what I do. It makes me happy.

We called it the “big pivot to content marketing”. Not Content Marketing like Native Advertising Content Marketing (that’s so 2018) but marketing to make me content.

More specifically, marketing to MY digital assistant to help it make ME content.


We’re now in Phase Two.

We now give our digital assistants more control because it guarantees us a longer life.

My digital assistant has full exposure to my biology. He knows what I’m going to die of – and how to delay my death.

Marketing has pivoted to Lifetime Value Marketing. I don’t mean marketing based on someone’s estimated total spend on a brand in their lifetime. That’s so 2018. I mean marketing aimed at adding more value – i.e. years – to my lifetime.

When my assistant orders my shopping an old bearded sailor advertising a brand of fish finger doesn’t influence him. He no longer cares about brands that make me content. He’s interested in finding the right piece of fish to protect my heart.

He puts in front of me the media content that will keep me alive by reducing my stress OR keeping me alert OR helping me sleep OR giving me pertinent information.

His KPI is getting me to my 100th birthday.


Now, my main KPI, as a media researcher, is still consumer insight. But, these days I only talk to digital assistants.

It is refreshing. I can ask them questions a human would struggle with, like:

Why did you buy this brand?


What programmes have you watched?


Qualitative work is fun these days.

I love paired depth interviews with both human and assistant.

It’s a bit like paired depth interviews used to be with married couples….

…Where he’d say:

“I like a bit of chutney on my cheese sandwich”

And she’d say, “You don’t, you’ve never liked chutney on your cheese sandwich”

Except now it’s a bit more like this.

Human, “Telly? Dunno. I just like watching football”

Assistant, “He’s saying that because he’s in his ‘Comfort’ needstate. Give him some sugar and he’ll tell you what he watches in his ‘Indulge’ needstate”


So, digital assistants have brought a new age of media research. It’s a return to asking somebody questions to get answers only this time you get answers.

It’s not asking people for an unreliable commentary of their own life.

Nor is it asking questions of big unstructured datasets that those datasets were never designed to answer. That kind of big data, these days, looks… small. Or… weak.

Digital assistants have only one job, to understand their human inside out, what makes them content and what keeps them alive.

It’s not big data; it’s strong data – about individuals.

And THAT absence of weak data is what characterises media and advertising research in 2028.




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To Print or Not to Print: The Publisher’s Dilemma

I’ve recently joined with a few industry luminaries in a venture called Red River Blue.  As a freelancer it is always good to join forces occassionaly with others to see what might come of collaboration.  To get their site up and running we’ve been writing blog posts.  Here is my first contribution and you can see it on the Red River Blue site here – or read it below.

To print or not to print, that is the question publishers are asking themselves as their audiences increasingly turn to smartphone screens.

On one side of the argument is economics. When The Independent stopped printing it was selling 55,000 copies a day but there are around 30,000 independent retailers in the UK and 13,000 supermarkets. Sending one or two copies to each of them just isn’t good economics.

It doesn’t help the economics when the costs of newsprint and glossy paper go up. Nor does it help when the public are increasingly concerned about the use of paper, no matter how much of it is recycled.

If you stacked up every copy of the Evening Standard distributed in one evening the tower would be ten times the height of the Shard. That’s an awful lot of paper to buy and recycle.

But print is resilient. Kindle reading didn’t take off as thought and book readers still buy paper books. Metro and Evening Standard reading is still high even though 55% of the London Underground is over-ground where the newspapers compete against smartphones.

And then there are the Lazarus titles that made it back into print despite going ‘digital only’ with great fanfare. Centaur brought The Engineer back into print and readers rejoiced, saying how much they’d missed it – but its content never actually went away!

Some work has been done to understand just what it is about print that makes the experience different to screens. In a nutshell print reading requires a different sort of energy and you learn more from it.

Research by NewsUK discovered that reading The Times via a tablet triggers more electrical activity so it encodes into memories faster than print. Screen reading is the hare but print reading is the tortoise. Reading The Times in print encodes the information into memories more slowly but in a more relaxed way.

Compare that with the findings of researchers in an Israeli Institute of Technology in 2011. They had people prep for a multi choice exam either using screen based or print based course material. When given only 7 minutes to prepare both groups did equally well. When given an indefinite period to prepare the print group did much better. The researchers put it down to print encouraging people to read with goals and revisit paragraphs to ensure they understand. This is consistent with the idea that print is Aesop’s tortoise.

Funnily enough there’s a new news organisation called Tortoise Media. It is the pet project of James Harding, ex Times editor and BBC News director.

Harding’s gamble is that slow news is better than the constant wearing whirl of breaking news and that people want to take time to learn and make sense of news. Slow Down, Wise Up is his slogan. Tortoise will run digital editions but their “small book of big reads” called the Tortoise Quarterly will appear in print.

Harding has had the advantage of building from scratch and deciding on his ideal use of print. Notably it’s less central in the proposition than digital content, despite his willingness to throw out the worst of the new.

The Guardian, with a strong legacy print history, are also re-thinking ink. David Pemsel, CEO recently said, “You can imagine at some point there will be a brief, saying, ‘What are the various ways that print can add value to people’s lives?’ But then there’s this binary thing of, ‘When are you going to turn it off?’ – it’s much more nuanced than that. People in this digital age love the tangibility of print and we’ve got to respect that.”

Romantics might like to think his brief will uncover aspects of print unique to print. More likely he’ll look at the benefits of print and ask if they can be replicated digitally.

Notably The Times has been more successful at finding and keeping digital subscribers by adopting digital editions (they publish three daily digital editions) rather than chasing breaking news. The idea of daily editions has been taken from the print world.

It’s probable that other print tactics will find their way into digital publishing. The ability to annotate articles, for example, is like the age-old learning aid of jotting notes down in the margin.

Print isn’t dead yet, not by a long chalk, but nor are attempts to replicate the best of it in the digital world. Publishers should keep an eye out for emerging examples.

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Holiday mCommerce – the new Jackie Collins

woman wearing sunglasses at the beach

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This week I presented at a breakfast conference given by JC Decaux Airport to mark the launch of their new “Possibility Guaranteed” proposition to the market.

When I was helping myself to coffee before the event I spoke to someone from a media agency. She said that what she’d most like to hear about is money spent via mCommerce by people on holiday.

It was great to hear that because it was exactly what I was about to present! It put a spring in my step.

I gave my paper the quirky title, ‘The New Jackie Collins’ and my point was that the time holidaymakers would traditionally spend reading (and Jackie Collins has to be the ultimate holiday novel writer) can now be spent shopping on their mobile phone.

I’m very interested in the idea that traditional reading occasions are now becoming shopping occasions too. Previously I’ve conducted research looking at the money people now spend via mCommerce on their commutes. Now, along with JC Decaux, I’ve investigated the time people spend on sun loungers and deck chairs and in airports – and the money they spend via mobile from there.

Holiday mCommerce, as I call it, has gone from nothing to a market worth £4.4bn a year in just a few years, according to my research. If it rises in line with mCommerce projections it will be worth £7.5bn four years from now.

Here are ten highlights from the research:

  1. 83% of those who flew on holiday from a UK airport last year took a smartphone and half took a tablet computer. In fact, 95% used at least one Internet enabled device.
  2. 29% of people who flew on holiday last year downloaded something at the airport on the way out. 11% downloaded something on their flight and 10% downloaded something at an airport they changed planes at.
  3. 43% of those flying on holiday make at least one online purchase at an airport, on a plane or at the destination.
  4. A third of those who fly on holiday describe online shopping as a BIG ACTIVITY on holiday these days and say they’re doing more of it now than ever before.
  5. 20% bought groceries online at the airport and half of them spent over £100 on groceries. Have you ever worried that if your plane is late on the return trip you’ll miss your Sainsbury’s order?
  6. 12% bought clothes online when at the airport. Half spent over £90.
  7. 67% of people who download things at the airport or on holiday love looking at airport advertising. They’re 22% more likely to enjoy it than the average air traveller.
  8. 72% of people who buy online at the airport or on holiday love looking at airport advertising. They’re 30% more likely to enjoy it than the average air traveller
  9. Two thirds of downloaders and buyers say they’re thinking about things to buy in airports. Two thirds also say they’re less price-sensitive than usual when in airports.
  10. Four out of five holidaymakers’ look for accommodation that has WiFi. No wonder most sun lounger shoppers say they will be doing more of it in the future.

The research breaks out the spend data by category so there is plenty in it that will be super-useful to media agencies. It is a neat little project and certainly worth re-visiting in time as this market place really takes off.

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Tomorrow’s Advertising World: What will become of media context and gentle nudges?

white and clear glass syringe

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Recently I finished a thought-provoking book called Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. The author theorises about the future of everything from democracy to longevity.

What lessons did it have about the future of advertising and media?

First, let me describe two current obsessions of the media and advertising worlds.

At this moment in time media advertising teams talk about the importance of context. They know their audiences aren’t hard to reach anymore (an ad buyer can bypass their title and reach their audiences on another site, like Facebook). Therefore the media ad sales team talk a lot about reaching their audience in the mindset created by their particular title or programme.

Mindsets might include ‘fun and relaxed’ (Heat Magazine), ‘serious and engaged’ (The Spectator), ‘busy and fast paced’ (Metro) and ‘tired and hungry’ (the commuting audience of The Manchester Evening News).

The theory goes that you can guess the moods they are in and talk to them, via your advertising, in an appropriate tone of voice. A tired evening commuter or a Heat reader enjoying a light-hearted break might be more susceptible to chocolate bar advertising than the same people in different day parts.

Also at this moment in time the shelves of advertising practitioners are filled with books about behavioural economics (for example Richard Shotton’s The Choice Factory: 25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy) and psychology (like Robert Heath’s Seducing the Subconscious: The Psychology of Emotional Influence in Advertising).

They’re fixated with the point at which advertising meets the human mind. They know most people pay little attention to most advertising and know that can be good for them.

Behavioural economics tells them System 2 thinking requires heuristics that nudge people towards particular brand choices rather than persuasive features and benefits.

They know advertising works best when it doesn’t trigger the part of the brain that rationally appraises and counter argues messages. The more peoples’ brains do those things, the less advertising influences them. After all, the human brain is, right now, the most sophisticated intelligence tool we have.

So media context and the moment advertising hits human brains are obsessions, right now. But what happens right after right now?

Two long passages from Homo Deus stand out.

The first is this:

“For four long years I may have repeatedly complained about the PM’s policies, telling myself and anyone willing to listen that he will be ‘the ruin of us all’. However, in the months prior to the election the government cuts taxes and spends money generously. The ruling party hires the best copywriters to lead a brilliant campaign, with a well-balanced mixture of threats and promises that speak directly to the fear centre in my brain. On the morning of the election I wake up with a cold, which impacts my mental processes and induces me to prefer security and stability over all other considerations. And voila! I send the man who will be ‘the ruin of us all’ back into office for another four years.

I could have saved myself from such a fate if only I had authorised Google to vote for me. Google wasn’t born yesterday, you know. Though it won’t ignore the recent tax cuts and election promises it will always remember what happened throughout the previous four years. It will know what my blood pressure was every time I read the morning newspapers, and how my dopamine level plummeted while I watched the evening news. Google will know how to screen the spin-doctors empty slogans. Google will understand that illness makes voters lean a bit more to the right than usual, and will compensate for this. Google will be able to vote not according to my momentary state of mind and not according to the fantasies of the narrating self, but rather according to the real feelings and interests of the collection of biochemical algorithms known as ‘I’.”

And, of course, if you turn it around, Google will know when I’m susceptible to political ads and chocolate bars and all sorts of other choices.

Homo Deus talks a lot about the new collaboration between biology and technology and how we will gladly give away our biological data in return for extended lives.

If our biological data tells ad servers when we are tired or low on blood sugar or happy or experiencing a high, what need is there for media contexts that simply suggest audiences might be in certain moods?

Another interesting passage is this:

“Cortana is an AI personal assistant that Microsoft hopes to include as an integral feature of future versions of Windows. Users will be encouraged to allow access to all their files, emails and applications, so that it will get to know them and can thereby offer advice on myriad matters, as well as becoming a virtual agent representing the user’s interests. Cortana could remind you to buy something for your wife’s birthday, select the present, reserve a table at a restaurant and prompt you to take your medicine an hour before dinner. It could alert you that if you don’t stop reading now, you will be late for an important business meeting. As you are about to enter the meeting, Cortana will warn you that your blood pressure is too high and your dopamine level too low, and based on your past statistics, you tend to make serious business mistakes in such circumstances. So you had better keep things tentative and avoid committing yourself or signing any deals.

Once Cortanas evolve from oracles to agents, they might start speaking directly with one another on their masters’ behalf. It can begin innocently enough, with my Cortana contacting your Cortana to agree on a place and time for a meeting. Next thing I know my potential employer will tell me not to bother sending a CV but simply allow his Cortana to grill my Cortana. Or my Cortana may be approached by the Cortana of a potential lover, and the two will compare notes to decide whether it’s a good match – completely unbeknown to their human owners.”

And if all that can happen why can’t my Cortana be approached by the Cortanas of all the supermarkets? They can discuss my cholesterol level; my blood sugar and family history as well as my upcoming 10k run and decide who will deliver the best basket of groceries to my house. The decision is made and the deal is done without my any part of my brain being triggered (consciously or subconsciously). Plus it was all done in System 1 thinking (because artificial intelligence doesn’t need to think in System 2).

Where is advertising now?

Where is media context and where is marketing’s interest in behavioural science and psychology? The marketing director’s day job will move to ensuring access to the best biological data and the most up to date and best informed Cortanas. How different our world will look.

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