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Nik Roope: Make work for people - not bots

As I was notified by my phone to check a text, I found myself choked once again in a mountain of rubbish, dodging random pop-ups and cringe-worthy, awkwardly branded content, un-following accounts, slowly wearing out my thumbprint scrolling and scrolling down the infinite Instagram feed. The same thing every day. As a creative industry veteran, I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell we got here.

25 years ago the ad industry introduced the first banner ads, inaugurated by AT&T with a single call-to-action, “click”. The click-through rates were sky-high of course, “what are these lurid brightly coloured, flashing things? What happens if I click on one?” And the industry gave itself a pat on the back. The ball was rolling. A snowball. And it would never stop rolling or growing.

Today, we are living in chaos. The banners are still there, but alongside so much more: videos boasting (very) inflated metrics, click farms automating fake content on social networks, bots buying concert tickets before we can, articles written by AI and Instagram influencers who aren’t even real people. We are all overwhelmed, stressed and destabilised. We’ve lost trust in our industry and whilst we’re disoriented, addictive algorithms suck us in further. Everyone has become wary of their data - captured by the surprising ease of GDPR’s rollout in this climate of growing distrust.

So, back to my question - is this really what the future of digital creativity holds? The answer of course is no.

Nick Farnhill and I helped launch The Lovie Awards nine years ago to celebrate the best of the European internet, recognised on a very well-deserved stage of its own. Named after Britain’s own Ada Lovelace, the first female computer programmer, The Lovie Awards honours the best in digital creativity from across the region - from Spotify to The Guardian and so much more.

Creativity and innovation are innately woven into the fabric of Europe’s history. Time and again, Europe’s innovations in technology have made the world a better place—from Skype to BBC iPlayer—cementing our purpose and shining light where there was darkness.

The internet is our most powerful tool to continue this creative history. It has become an essential feature of cultural and societal discourse; to share ideas, to iterate, to develop, to question and to communicate with one another. We can and should utilise our creativity to pave the way forward for our industry. Though it may sound clichéd, we can make the world a better place, even amidst our internet of chaos today. In fact, we should make it a better place. We have the tools and the levers and therefore we inherit that responsibility.

At The Lovies, we have seen a number of brands and organisations create work that defies this chaos to successfully deliver meaningful experiences and win over consumers and subscribers. In receiving thousands of entries every year, we identify internet trends, seen with the vantage of our special birds-eye view and distilled into our Lovie Talks Tour - a thought-leadership series we share across Europe with the industry’s brightest, most inspired minds.

This year, we set our sights on the chaos, how we got here and why this presents both a huge challenge and opportunity for us all. Here are the award-winning projects that stand out and from which we can all glean some robust inspiration.

As people and consumers, we are overwhelmed by the amount of content constantly spawning and spraying across the ‘share-o-sphere’ every day. That growing snowball of stuff is chucking out more and more, faster and faster and we simply can’t keep up. We now rely on integrated software (like iOS ScreenTime) to help us cut down on notifications and to ease off our internet overindulgence, a proverbial nicotine-patch for the 100 filterless Camels a day-er. It’s nothing short of an epidemic.

However, social networks are thankfully catching on to users’ demands and frustrations. Twitter will de-emphasise the number of likes and retweets to keep users from deriving dopamine bursts by chasing huge numbers. Facebook, too, has acknowledged that people are favouring, even demanding, more private and direct ways to communicate with each other and with brands, as it moves more into ephemeral stories and locked down Instagram accounts. Zuckerberg says the future of Facebook is not the timeline, but Groups. Let’s see.

So how did we get here, to peak chaos? Some answers lie in the numbers. According to Brandwatch.com:

  • Today there are 4.4 billion people on the internet. That is more than half of the world’s entire population.
  • Of those 4.4. billion people, 3.5 billion of them are active on social media.
  • Facebook users post 350 million photos a day, and generate more than 4 million likes per minute.
  • In that same minute, more than 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube
  • So far, more than 40 billion photos have been shared to Instagram.

To call it “information overload” is an epic understatement.

With the internet becoming more and more bot-driven—by some estimates, more than half of all internet traffic is created and consumed by machines—the line between what’s real and what’s fake, what’s automated and what’s not, what’s human and what’s algorithm, is all but disappearing.

We’ve witnessed a number of brands launch initiatives to cut through these issues and these examples line up to the three tactics we recommend to help opt out of the chaos:

Take charge

Move your content to the spaces that your brand is fully in control of, like your own website. Yes, the microsite is back, did you hear?

Take Lovie winner BMW for example:

BMW
 
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BMW wanted to give the brand a dedicated community, and move their content marketing efforts to where they could control and own all the data and the interactions with consumers. Seems obvious right? Well not to the majority who have let social dominate their comms activity with the subsequent slicing and dicing of content and experience and gradual obliteration of any continuous narrative.

The site behaves just like a native mobile app thanks to tech like AMP (accelerated mobile pages) and PWA (progressive web apps). So far the new BMW.com has resulted in a 30% higher click-through rate from Google and they use the data they collect from users to adapt their content and make it more entertaining and helpful. All while keeping it within their own site. They’re back in the driving seat, with their hands on their data wheel.

Be intentional

Create work that is more occupied with intention than attention. Less jazz hands, more all hands on deck. Make things that people have to seek out with the desire to engage, at the right time and place of their choosing and with a clearer, conscious objective or point of view.

For example, look at the meteoric rise of podcasts. Great intentional content that goes as deep, as long, as niche and as rich as it likes. Glued together in the temporal audio file, the podcast maintains the narrative focus and creates an emotional intimacy unrivalled. As most listen through headphones, these external voices are literally speaking in our heads, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.

The Journey KLM
 
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This Lovie-winning podcast The Journey, made by KLM, is a great example of branded content that genuinely keeps listeners coming back. The episodes explore the transformative power of travel through stories, from those little joys to the epic adventures that take you all over the planet. Simply beautiful.

Create meaningful experiences

Take advantage of augmented, mixed or virtual reality to powerfully bridge the gap between the physical and the digital worlds. But not just for the novelty, make that exciting connection between worlds really count.

A stunning example comes from PETA, made by Kolle Rebbe and Demodern in Germany, who won a Lovie Award for this VR project last year. The experience puts viewers into the body of an animal to make them viscerally feel trapped in a science lab or in a slaughterhouse. The extremely high level of detail they were able to map from the viewer on to the animal’s body makes this incredibly upsetting, thus exploiting VR’s super power, that of empathy.

 
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The takeaway

We’re living in an internet of chaos where the amount of content constantly churning out into the snake-pit of share mongers is overwhelming all of us. It’s a major issue to navigate for humans,  for consumers, as well as for brands.

Challenging the toxicity of powerful algorithms is a huge battle. So make the work that the bots can’t crush. Create value for users who care about you, instead of maximising shallow, disengaged reach at all cost. Do that by taking charge, being intentional and creating meaningful experiences, because less really is more.

Long live the banner ad!

Nicholas Roope is creative chair at Publicis.Poke and jury chairman at The Lovie Awards.

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