Gray Matters: paying for eyes, diversity on boards, honest ads and Kiwi humour

Out of the blocks

“Will advertisers of the future need to pay consumers to see ads?” asks Charles Taylor, a professor of marketing at the Villanova School of Business and senior research fellow at the Center for Marketing and Consumer Insights. Writing for Forbes, Taylor highlights the major concern facing digital advertising today, “how to balance privacy concerns with sending consumers messages that are relevant to them”.

In the article, he talks about Gener8, a U.K. based company, launching software aimed at addressing this dilemma. “The product is a browser add-on, as opposed to a separate browser, that allows consumers to block ads they don’t want to see but get paid to view those they personally identify as being of interest.

The separate browser he alludes to is the Brave desktop browse, which has an anonymous donation system integrated directly into it. Called Brave Rewards, it is accessible to users from the URL bar via the BAT (Basic Attention Token) logo. The basic attention token advertises itself as introducing blockchain-based digital advertising: “Basic Attention Token radically improves the efficiency of digital advertising by creating a new token that can be exchanged between publishers, advertisers, and users. It all happens on the Ethereum blockchain.”

Sam Jones, CEO, and founder of Gener8, believes his product will enable people to control and monetise their data.

Taylor sees advantages in the approach, the first of which is that advertisers will be able to avoid blocking and target more effectively, while, “consumers will avoid ads they don’t want and see those they do”.

Taylor quotes Steve M. Edwards, professor and director of the Temerlin Advertising Institute at Southern Methodist University’s, an expert on digital advertising, who sees good potential for Gener8’s approach. He states, “When commercial speech is restricted, the ability to reach consumers with marketing messages becomes more valuable”.

At the same time, Brave suggests “digital advertising is overrun by middlemen, trackers and fraud,” drawing attention to the high mobile data use for ads and trackers.

“The disruptive influence of blockchain technology can actually clear away some of the opacity clouding the online advertising sphere,” says a feature on Krypto Graphe.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) asserts that “given the complex nature of the digital advertising supply chain, blockchain technology can offer greater efficiency, reliable and high-quality data”.

The IAB goes on to say: “new transactional use cases are emerging for blockchain such as buying and selling digital or advanced TV ad inventory”.

Sam Mire, a market research analyst at Front Lines Media, writing for Disruptor Daily, believes that part of the solution to the problems of digital advertising “lies in the adoption of blockchain-linked ad platforms on which users can directly benefit from consenting to view advertisements that they believe suit them, providing advertisers a more serious audience that is more likely to take long-term action instead of providing only fleeting page views”.

Banging on the boardroom door

In the latest issue of NZ Marketing, Jen Rolfe, managing partner at Rainger & Rolfe, has written an interesting opinion piece encouraging marketers to get onto boards. I too would encourage marketers to discover the value of adding their experience to boards that have been dominated by other professions.

That is of course, unless you are an old white man. A couple of weeks ago marked the one year anniversary of our Minister for Women, Julie Anne Genter, proposing that old white men should make way for others.

In a Newshub article on 24 March 2018 Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue was reported as saying “Ms Genter is on the right track”.

This “positive discrimination” should make it easier for female marketers and marketers of colour, to break through and supplant old board members who may have rested on their laurels for too long.

“New Zealand has a diversity problem in governance and business leadership. That is just a fact,” argued Jazial Crossley on The Spinoff. So, the ground was laid, as is still waiting for, a multiplicity of marketing femininity to grace local boardrooms.

In the United States, where white males comprise nearly 75 percent of Fortune 500 boards, a white men’s leadership study confirmed that “when the words ‘white men’ are used, things can get complicated”

The problem is with the decision-making power to improve diversity on boards remains with those who would be most at risk. “For a lot of white guys, it’s not clear that diversity includes white men,” says the study. “White male leaders tend not to be clear about how diversity and inclusion deliver valuable results, and many white men aren’t sure how a commitment to diversity and inclusion helps their career success.”

Established board members are often too busy, and diversity and inclusion seems like a distraction to them. The challenge is for all those female marketers and marketers of colour to bang on the boardroom door, because it is unlikely to be opened from the inside. As the leadership study shows, “diversity seems to be a win-lose situation, and white men don’t want to lose.”

Hold that call

Is it a case of buyer beware, or advertiser be honest? 

In the past month, the Commerce Commission has laid 10 charges against Vodafone alleging it made false representations in invoices sent to its customers. The Commission has also laid 11 charges against Spark alleging it made false or misleading representations relating to its billing and a $100 offer for new customers.

27 charges have also been laid under the Fair Trading Act against Vodafone for engaging in false and misleading conduct in relation to its FibreX broadband service. In November 2018 Vodafone pleaded guilty to 9 charges alleging that its website misled consumers about the options of broadband services available at their addresses. The remaining charges relating to the advertising of Vodafone’s FibreX broadband service are still before the Court.

Slingshot, has been warned by the Commerce Commission for likely breaching the Fair Trading Act in an online advertising campaign offering consumers a 10 percent discount for bundling broadband and electricity services. This latter case has however been closed with the issuing of a warning letter.

Back in January, Spark was warned for likely breaching sections 12A and 13(g) of the Fair Trading Act, by making unsubstantiated representations about the speeds consumers would receive from portable Wi-Fi devices, and false representations about the price of sim cards.

In its annual report, delivered last December, the Commerce Commission advised that many consumers still find broadband baffling, with complex products and pricing, and hard to measure in-home performance.

The Commission’s enhanced monitoring programme is focused on providing accurate, accessible and independent information about broadband performance across different providers, plans and technologies. This work is designed to incentivise providers to compete on performance and service, not just price.

Time with family

Chief executive Simon Moutter’s resignation from Spark reworked the tired old PR euphemism, ”to spend more time with his family”. As the New York Times so succinctly puts it: “Sometimes it is actually true. The family tug is strong, especially this time of year. But with large severance packages and corporate images frequently at stake, more often than not the phrase is part of a carefully scripted termination agreement, filled with non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses.”

Phrases.org.uk tells us the phrase usually means: “A euphemistic way of describing being made redundant.” Whether this is the case with Moutter is yet to be revealed.

Moutter’s replacement, Jolie Hodson, was previously customer director at Spark. In an article she wrote for CIO in December 2017 “Top tips from Spark Digital CEO Jolie Hodson”, she writes: “Customer support is crucial, but it can also be time constraining and costly”. She goes on to say, “tasks that are manual and repetitive will be increasingly automated so that support experiences that do require human contact can be delivered efficiently and effectively.”

With a background as chief financial officer, this approach probably makes a lot of sense to Hodson but the advice from Harvard Business Review, discussing the parts of customer service that should never be automated, explains, “service can be emotional; technology cannot”. HBR goes on to say: “we still prefer having people help solve our problems,” and “less work for employees often means more work for customers”.

The way Hodson approaches these customer-facing issues will determine whether Spark will have a financial or marketing disposition.

What’s so funny?

“Humour in executions is good for building awareness and positive associations, but in isolation does not drive sales in most contexts,” writes Charles Taylor, CEO, Network, in a Forbes article on humour in advertising. He references Marc Weinberger, who co-authored a book on humour in advertising, where he says: “Humour has a better track record on attention, positive associations and getting into the consideration set than triggering sales.”

New Zealand has a long history of humour in advertising, but as Colleen Ryan, head of strategy at TRA, wrote on StopPress in August last year, “the particular role it plays in New Zealand society is unique”. With many migrants in creative positions in New Zealand ad agencies, from the UK, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere, it is a warning to be, “careful when using their own culture’s humour,” because often New Zealanders don’t understand it.

Although Ryan sees, “a body of evidence that proves that a happy frame of mind is far are more conducive to taking positive actions or making positive evaluations,” she points out that, “it can be very damaging when it’s not quite on code.” The recent Air New Zealand video would be an example of that.

In October New Zealand Police released a follow-up campaign to the 2017 ‘The World’s Most Entertaining Recruitment Video’, with ‘Breaking News, a recruitment video encouraging diversity. The three-minute spot, by Ogilvy and directed by the Sweetshop’s Damien Shatford, tested what Ryan referred to as, “the nature of Kiwi humour,” which she said, “means that the delivery has to feel and be authentic”.

Are New Zealand ad agencies succeeding with the use of humour in advertising, and more to the point, is that humour driving sales?  DraftFCB certainly cracked the Kiwi cultural codes with their Mitre 10 ‘Sandpit kids’ ad that was voted by the New Zealand public as the Best Ad in Fair Go’s annual ad awards when it was released 10 years ago. The ad taps into the Kiwi attitude towards Australia and is a prime example of how to use what is a uniquely Kiwi mindset. The same can be said for DDB’s ‘Refreshingly Different,” sheep rendition which continued L&P’s irreverent voice established in the well-loved, ‘Famous since ages ago’ ad.

In his Ted talk, Dan Dennett, an American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist, describes how evolution wired us to search and respond to the four triggers of cute, sexy, sweet and funny. As an article in Psychology for Marketers says, “we buy from people we like, and humour is the easiest and fastest way to get there”.

But there is a fine line to tread. Although many of the most memorable ad campaigns around tend to be funny, “the balance between funny and obnoxious can often be delicate,” writes Mark Levit, managing partner of Partners & Levit Advertising and a professor of marketing at New York University.

Sometimes Kiwi ad agencies hit the nail on the head, but sometimes the cringe factor can be more damaging to the brand than not advertising at all.

No clicking sales

Once again there is more evidence that many marketers are relying too heavily on digital advertising clicks than using traditional advertising. “Only two percent of consumers globally click on an advert with the intention of making a purchase, with 56 percent saying they click on ads simply to find out more information, according to research published by Marketing Week.

“The average conversion rate on the AdWords search network is just below four percent How about for the display network? It’s less than one percent,” says an article in Adespresso.

As Tom Martin, a digital marketing proponent admits on Converse Digital, “while it’s been in vogue to poo-poo traditional advertising for some time now, keep one thing in mind as you plan next year’s marketing budget. At the end of the day, it’s really not about clicks…. it’s about conversions. Make your marketing investments accordingly”.


“If industry headlines and anonymous commentary are to be believed, job-seekers should run for the hills rather than risk their sanity and professional fulfilment on the ad agency life. High turnover, ever-shrinking margins, tough clients, inequality, lack of work-life balance, transparency woes, offshoring of jobs, consolidation and clients taking business in-house—the list of gripes is long……

“The fact is that the advertising industry offers opportunities that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. I believe that if we continue to work hard to address the aforementioned issues, the true golden age of advertising still lies ahead of us.” – Jared Belsky, president of digital agency 360i, commenting on AdAge.

About Author

Graham Medcalf is a freelance writer and owner of Red Advertising.

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