MarTech and AdTech News Headlines Update on March 31, 2021

Media product of the year: TikTok crying with books.

Also known as #BookTok, this phenomenon involves mostly very young women recording themselves reading books and sometimes weeping for the camera “after an emotionally crushing ending.” Some videos have images related to the book set to a moody Eilish soundtrack. “But the most popular videos are about the books that make you cry. If you’re crying on camera, your views go up!” There are BookTok tables in U.S. bookshops that display titles that went viral. Sales are tens-of-thousands-of-copies-a-month crazy. Bestseller list-makers and publishers are delighted. Now do #JournoTok.

Getty Images is acquiring Unsplash.

Unsplash first started as this odd little company that would send me 10 free royalty-free, hi-res images in an email every week. (I literally still have one from 2013.) When you’re a design guy on a budget, you save those assiduously to your hard drive, even if they’re mostly random people posed in front of nature with their backs turned to camera (to save on model releases? Who knows?). They grew to become one of the most innovative image services online (they’ve just gone over two million images with three billion downloads), with scores of creators, products, integrations, and APIs for pic usage. So I’m excited for them — EXIT! — but also a bit wistful because, well, tech monopoly etc etc. The Unsplash founder knows this because he knows his users, which is why his announcement is a little bit defensive: “The reason I’m excited about this acquisition is because it’s not goodbye, it’s about acceleration. This is not one of those tech acquisitions where the company is bought to be shut down.” But there’s a consolatory accompanying FAQ, which soothes creators thus: “Does Getty Images own my photos now? No. Just as before, whatever you’ve uploaded or upload in the future is not owned by Getty Images nor Unsplash.” Well done, little pic company. I knew you when you were just THIS high.

Clubhouse needs an equivalent of Twitter’s character limit.

Like after 3 minutes it just automatically shuts off your mic

When you’re invited to speak at an event, do you vet the event for how inclusive it is?

What about when you’re the event organiser? This speaker rider is such a simple way to start thinking about how we think about events. There is some refreshingly nonsense-free straight talk in here in the form of recommended criteria: “5. You make sure people from marginalized backgrounds are not all talking about their identity.” And elsewhere: “Women and people of color should not be limited to moderating roles.” It’s really pretty simple. This should be the operating system for media industry events.

Domino’s just announced a new role — and potentially a whole new job market.

The pizza company is looking for a Data Journalist. I’m amazed there are only 26 applicants so far. I mean, the job sounds pretty exciting — they want you to be “a creative individual who can take complex topics and convey them through thoughtful design and compelling narratives”.You get to make decision-making easier across a gigantic logistics beast by working data “into actionable, succinct, and compelling visual stories across platforms”, and perform all kinds of data visualisations and “in-depth reporting features”. Something pie chart.

Reporters Without Borders sued Facebook in France alleging that the platform allows disinformation and hate speech to flourish

RSF says that FB has promised “a safe, secure and error-free environment” in its terms of service but hasn’t done enough. In France, companies can be sued for running misleading commercial practices and fined up to 10% of their annual revenue.

Looks like Clubhouse isn’t coming to Android anytime soon

Or at least not before rival Twitter Spaces launches in April. I know where I’ll be spending my time.

Clubhouse needs to keep an eye on Facebook as well

FB’s copy of Clubhouse looks, er, a lot like Clubhouse. Have a look.

Microsoft is reportedly interested in buying Discord for $10 billion

The chat app is popular among gamers, but it’s been increasingly used by communities. Two j-school lecturers I know are even using Discord as a hub for communicating with their students. So if this goes through, Microsoft will have Skype for consumers, Teams for companies, and Discord for communities. Looks good on paper.

Native advertising has moved to streaming video services

Brands like Ford and Nike are paying for long-form branded content on Hulu and HBO because they know people like you no longer watch short ads.

MediaNama recently put up a paywall

Like many media organisations working through a pandemic, the Indian publisher is looking for ways to trim their reliance on events. “It’s time for us to resume focus on de-risking revenue streams by diversifying both our client base and revenue sources.”

Yahoo is trying out a subscription model too

I can’t imagine a more under-differentiated mass product trying to go subscription by simply adding the word “Plus” at the back of it. How desperate.

Medium offered buyouts to around 75 of its editorial staff in its latest pivot

CEO Ev Williams said that while he admired the journalism created by the team, “our hit rate has been low, and we’re not near where we need to be to make it work economically”, which isn’t a surprise given the low discovery of the content.

Medium reportedly has more than 700,000 paid subscribers — translating to roughly $35 million in revenue. Not too bad for a nine-year-old media company. But it sucks if you’re supposedly a tech company.

Williams didn’t say how many jobs could be lost, but the company plans to shift its strategy from employing in-house journalists to supporting the independent writers already publishing on Medium. In an age of Substack and the diversity of options available to creators, you can see why this change matters.

“Trust is more important than ever and well-established editorial brands still have meaning. But today, credibility and affinity are primarily built by people — individual voices — rather than brands”, Williams wrote.

Reading between the lines: This is part of the unbundling of media. Unless you’re a recognised byline, or an “influencer”, it’s getting harder to build a media brand today if you don’t have the right business model. If you’re starting something today, think about how you’ll capitalise on these “individual voices”. Your content business may depend on it.

The power of animation

Sometimes, animation can be dismissed as a novelty or even strictly for kids. While it’s true some marketing animation can be bland, it is actually a very versatile tool — something that reinforces messaging, adds to live-action and can simplify complex data.

Why does animation matter?

The sheer volume of video consumed online means animation has a good chance of standing out. Some studies have claimed an animated video on a landing page increases conversions by 85-95%. While these stats are debatable, it’s clear animation can save you money and appeal to a wider audience. Animation doesn’t age like live-action and can appeal to multiple demographics and nationalities.

Animation doesn’t need to be complex

The key to effective learning is grabbing attention, involving multiple senses, using metaphors to explain the complex and building on basic ideas. Whiteboard animations tick off all of these boxes, essentially helping us learn and remember information. Created effectively, even the simplest animation is engaging.

Digital news literacy

The recent 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer report found “fewer than one in five Singaporeans practise good information hygiene”. Basically, they are happy to share any news they find interesting without determining first if it’s correct. And the volume of information and content available means it’s impossible to be looked at with a critical eye. Sharing unvetted content is one way fake news spreads so quickly.

Improving news literacy

After endless controversies surrounding fake news, Facebook is attempting to change the narrative and cultivate responsible digital citizens. The social network is extending its We Think Digital global programme to Hong Kong. They plan to host a series of webinars covering digital citizenship, online safety, hate speech and bullying, privacy, cybersecurity and misinformation. The Wall Street Journal is trying the same thing, with a campaign explaining the difference between its news and opinion sections.

Can it work?

Well, with Donald Trump reportedly starting up his own social network, it’s better than nothing.

Interesting Marketing Video to Watch

Porsche leverages the Bill & Ted franchise by giving Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter the opportunity to see how far the new electric models Porsche Taycan can go on one charge.

GE takes content marketing seriously. It has a dedicated correspondent travelling across India, Europe and the US looking at its latest healthcare tech.

Cox uses a smooth, slick animation to show how its Panoramic WiFi solution protects our digitally connected lives.

Intel steals the former Mac guy to compare a flexible PC to the multiple Apple options.

Mercedes Benz confirms all your suspicions about valet workers. #MBsclass #MBvaletguys #mercedesbenzTV

A U.S state is banning companies that use dark patterns

Dark UX is also known as user experience design that influences user decisions for gain ( usually money or attention) deceptively. I mean, have you ever tried cancelling your New York Times subscription? Or tried closing a popup ad on your Deliveroo app (where’s that infernal little ‘X’ hiding?)?

AI & content creation

Everyone loves to make big predictions or promises when it comes to AI, and some of these predictions might actually eventuate. When it comes to content creation, we’re not suggesting that AI will take over anytime soon but it can make the job easier. Soft automation tools will make it easier to repurpose copy for multiple formats, and create real-time data visualizations and text to video summaries.

Who is using AI?

eBay has been using AI to connect its huge product range with its huge customer base. Utilizing the AI copywriting tool Phrasee, the eCommerce site writes thousands of unique and personalized subject lines for its newsletter in minutes. By automating this, it saves its copywriters hours of crafting content for each segment, so they can focus on higher concept campaigns.

Focus on the little wins

There’s still a lot of distrust when it comes to AI, and digital messaging in general. AI also has drawbacks when it comes to creativity, bugs, encouraging discussion, and looking at the wider campaign. Its strengths are in the automation of tasks humans don’t like doing. It won’t replace humans, but it can make us more efficient — even the creatives.

Importance of crowdsourced content

While most of us were spending more time online than offline, the COVID lockdowns supercharged this situation. With the decline in physical civic space, there has been a massive uptick in digital civic space through the creation of social media accounts and crowdsourced mapping projects. Basically, the digital user is becoming key to sharing information related to not only the pandemic but protests, wars, and other civic crises. Just look at the UN’s reliance on user-generated content (UGC) to share vital COVID-related info.

Can the crowd fact check?

Twitter is looking to its users to fight misinformation. Birdwatch is an attempt by the platform to use crowdsourcing to uncover fake news. Essentially, users can add notes to tweets, flag them as false or misleading, and add links to their source of information. These notes are rated by the community with the most helpful appearing at the top of the Birdwatch feed. Unsurprisingly there have been a few issues, especially around the concept of “rating” the truth.

The persuasiveness of crowdsourcing

Reviews have been part of eCommerce for years now. Potential customers value the real life experiences others have with products and services. This level of trust increases when the content is visual. In a recent survey, 62% of respondents said they were more likely to buy a product if they were able to view customer photos and videos. We live in an age where the crowd is more trusted than the brand or Government. The question is, how do you control that content?

Interesting Marketing Video to Watch

3M is determined to flip the scientist stereotypes with its Beyond the Beaker series. Apparently, they’re normal people outside of the lab.

How do you differentiate your smartphone in a crowded market? Oppo asked German film score composer Hans Zimmer to create its ringtones. #AwakenColour #OPPOFindX3Pro #OPPOxHansZimmer

Redbull isn’t all about extreme sports — it also gets to curate its favourite crashes (er, finishes) from its Soapbox Race. We think they also sell an energy drink of some sort? #RedBull #RedBullSoapbox #Top5

CMS-builder Ghost now has similar functionality on its latest 4.0 product update

Website + posts + newsletters + monetization for creators are now table stakes for every single publishing product out there. We’re way past peak content now!

CMS-builder Ghost now has similar functionality on its latest 4.0 product update
CMS-builder Ghost now has similar functionality on its latest 4.0 product update

Clubhouse announced an accelerator program to get more creators on the audio platform

It’ll provide hardware, brand deals, or a guaranteed basic income of $5K during the program. Apply for Clubhouse Creator First starting today till March 31, 2021.

Clubhouse fixed one of the biggest privacy concerns about the app

It no longer suggests that you upload your phone contacts so that it can connect you with all your friends. That’s great but a little late since the app has already achieved critical mass, so it actually no longer needs invasive data. For those of you who uploaded your address book, what was it like seeing your ex’s name show up?

Sick of talking to your boss or a tough client on Zoom?

Try Zoom Escaper, a little self-sabotaging widget that will help you fake a bunch of tech and home problems so you have an excuse to leave the call. My dog is barking. Maybe someone is trying to break in. Sorry I have to go. Send me notes later.

Facebook is going after Substack

Facebook is working on a new publishing platform and will pay independent writers in the U.S. to create newsletter and website content.

BuzzFeed is laying off 47 employees at HuffPost, which it acquired less than a month ago

In an internal email seen by The Information, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti revealed that HuffPost lost $20 million in 2020. HuffPost Canada has been shut as part of the company’s plan to trim costs. The site went down — even before staff were told. Douche move, Jonah. Clearly the acquisition was for traffic and reach — not talent.

BuzzFeed is reportedly planning to go public through a merger with a SPAC

Bloomberg says BuzzFeed would pursue further acquisitions with the additional capital.

Roblox went public this week

If you have young kids around you, you’ll know why this is a big deal. Kids are spending 2.6 hours a day on Roblox — more than twice the time spent on YouTube or TikTok or Instagram.

Some popular YouTubers are building their own sites

“Google has been very, very good to me. But it’s a lot of eggs in one basket.

Apple Podcasts will reportedly stop using the label ‘subscribe’ because it’s confusing

People obviously associate ‘subscribe’ with a paid subscription, so listeners will be prompted to ‘follow’ instead. Podnews says the new wording will start showing up in iOS 14.5 this month.

A social media watchdog says Instagram’s recommendations are pushing people toward misinformation and anti-vax content

Posts claimed that there was “no pandemic” and told people to “stop getting tested”.

Microsoft stopped new member signups on LinkedIn in China

It said it needs to comply with local laws, but didn’t say which one. This follows Microsoft’s finger-pointing last week when it accused Chinese state-sponsored hackers of attacking its Exchange email servers.

Singapore classified news reporting as an essential service

Reporters are now on the priority list for the next phase of vaccine rollouts.

Real-life conferences may be coming back soon

Mobile World Congress plans to meet in Barcelona on June 28, with a “multi layered plan” to keep everyone safe. All physical attendees will need to test negative for Covid, and repeat the test every 72 hours.

Google set aside $25 million in grants to help women and girls

The Impact Challenge will go toward addressing economic needs to create “pathways for prosperity”.

Enhancing your next webinar

Why enhancement matters

You want people to pay attention and learn something from your webinar. Speakers talking over a PowerPoint presentation featuring data they can’t read isn’t going to cut it. Fun, enjoyment, engagement, curiosity and liveliness improve the learning experience. At its heart, a webinar is about sharing your knowledge so you need to make it fun.

Who is doing it well?

Organisations that rely on audience participation have been driving innovation in the world of webinar related events. The NBA partnered with Microsoft Teams to create Together mode where basketball fans could watch games together and connect virtually. Using AI technology, the line between virtual and person-to-person is truly blurred. Meanwhile, massive Dance festival Tomorrowland held a virtual rave featuring 3D visuals, games and workshops alongside DJs performing.

FOMO marketing (fear of missing out)

There’s no denying the hype surrounding the latest social platform, Clubhouse. We’ve discussed the voice-only social platform previously. While it does offer a different social experience, could part of its appeal be the “by invitation” feature? How important is exclusivity and FOMO when it comes to brand appeal and marketing?

The science behind FOMO

With the ubiquity of social media around the world, understanding FOMO and the psychology behind it have become a growing research topic. People use social media for different reasons but studies are beginning to show that the common emotions behind FOMO are social exclusion and regret. The need to make a purchase based on FOMO is real with 60% of millennial consumers making a reactive purchase within 24-hours of feeling the emotion.

Brands understand FOMO

Ethical considerations aside, brands are using FOMO to great success. Skateboarding brand Supreme deliberately under-produces goods so they can’t meet demand. This increases exclusivity and has created a huge resale market. Other techniques include adding purchase deadlines, bundles or influencer endorsements. It’s clear anxiety sells.

Interesting Marketing Video to Watch

Johnnie Walker re-creates the feeling of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, complete with voiceover from astronaut Danny Olivas. Yes, you’d head straight to a bar after landing.

Cable network Adult Swim summarises the wasteland of social media in a 30-second manga-inspired channel ID.

Management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company want you to get to know its Middle East employees in 60-seconds. #60secondswith

Animation is probably the only way to picture New York’s streets without gridlocked traffic. Created by the #nyc25x25 initiative whose aim is to convert 25% of car space into people space.

Denovo explains its Dental Space Maintainer solution via a cute animation for kids who may be a little nervous about visiting the dentist.

This media startup just monetised the shoutout

Lokal is a hyper-local media company in India. Their app offers news and other useful information like prices, jobs, classifieds, and life tips. Recently, Lokal experimented with a whole new business model around hyper-personal news — people sending public kudos and congratulations for things like retirement and visiting relatives from out of town — and it really took off. “[W]e hit $50,000 revenue in the month of Feb 💵😀 Growing 25% MOM.” Brilliant.

“Diagnose with data. Treat with design.”

Julie Zhuo is a former design boss at Facebook who, with her also-ex-Facebook co-founder Chandra Narayanan (who is responsible for the sparkling clarity that is that quote above) recently built Inspirit, their product advisory firm. User data (“people’s reactions to what you are building”) helps with building great products because it allows you to make decisions beyond your intuition. Then design kicks in with its “creative, open-ended, problem-solving” approach once the data helps you understand the problem, the possibilities, and the opportunities. Design is not about how it looks. It’s about how it works… for the audiences and users you’re testing. “The more your target audience does not look like you, the more you should be sceptical of your design intuition.” This sparkling thread is a complete lesson on product design.

Doodling-as-a-service is a thing

If you’re a doodler with talent, the future is probably going to go well for you, especially if you’re a 9-year-old with encouraging parents.

Welcome to non-fungible music

Kings of Leon are dropping an album as an NFT. That’s ‘non-fungible token’, in case you’ve missed all the crypto action. The band is actually selling two kinds of NFT: one is the “deluxe version of the band’s new album When You See Yourself; the other, of which just six will be sold at auction, is effectively a lifetime ticket to the band’s shows.” How do you play the album? You get a digital download, but you also get a vinyl copy because, let’s face it, it’s just way more fun to stick on the wall.

The problem: American prisons charge their inmates exorbitant rates for video calls and internet access

A new non-profit decided on a solution: free snail mail. Ameelio decided to take on the privatised billion-dollar prison comms racket, which often charges its captive audience a dollar a minute. “People are charged exorbitant sums to send emails or make phone or video calls, often on proprietary platforms that are hard to use, and may find their communications censored.” Ameelio partnered with the non-profit newsroom The Marshall Project to enable people to send snail-mail articles to their loved ones in prison.

Pablo Stanley may be one of my favourite makers in the world

Here’s another reason why. This designer-illustrator-experimenter-entrepreneur just dropped his latest creation, and it’s called Pablito Planeta: Design Astrologist. As in “Let’s travel through the pixel galaxy and take a look into the future of your sign as a designer.” He even offers a subscription. Why aren’t more media orgs not making more astrology products? What’s yours?

Amazon updated their new app icon to look less like “cardboard Hitler.” Graphic designers, add anthropomorphism-proofing to your brand design checklist

What started out being a fairly straightforward new logo depicting an Amazon parcel with a tab of blue tape on it ended up being compared to the Nazi dictator’s toothbrush moustache. The logo tweak removed the jagged tape edge — and gave it a little fold, and everybody moved on.