We love our old lab table. It’s become part of who we are and what we stand for since moving into our new office – one year ago today.
After rescuing it from the back of a warehouse, we’ve had politicians and company presidents, CEOs and managing directors, brand directors, marketing associates, friends and family, around it, on it and even under it.
At the table, we’re all equals. What’s said at the table stays at the table. It’s an open forum that invites debate and questions thinking. It’s been the Launchpad for global brands and international campaigns. We’ve laughed and cried around it. We’ve planned, created and celebrated around it. We’ve redefined markets and initiated global trends around it. We’ve bucked convention and set a path that many now follow. We’ve shaped government and bridged seemingly impossible challenges. Now however, it’s the centrepiece for a little self-indulgence and some fun.
Our aim is not to offend anyone with our nod to Da Vinci’s Last Supper, but instead translate one of the most significant and debated pieces of art into a reflection and interpretation of our own story – and have some fun in the process.
We often say that we don’t create pretty picture campaigns. Well – this is no exception. Each and every element within the shot is part of our own brand story and has a direct significance to the team and all those of our ilk!
- Skull – Our very own Yorick symbolises the power of the spoken word and also the relevance of our work for the betterment of human life. It also happens to be just one of the many skulls we have dotted about the office, a tribute perhaps to the fact that we’re frequently headhunted for our services by companies from all over the world.
- Globe – Well we do get about.
- Helmets – So much of the language used in our industry is drawn from the military lexicon, campaigns, strategizing, missions and freelancers. So we thought to show our own generals taking to the field to plan their next campaign. That and we have a massive collection of prop helmets that we’re not allowed to take home.
- Mac – The Holy Grail of tools for designers, but if you note, it rests on a book about strategy. You see, everything we do is rooted in strategy and without the strategic input of the human behind the screen – the Mac is nothing but a blunt tool.
- Awards – Proof that despite our quirky ways we consistently get results internationally for our clients. The awards are all for effectiveness – not just pretty pictures but they don’t dominate who we are and are just one of the many positive outcomes from creating effective work in partnership with motivated clients.
- BB8 – Star Wars is a topic that is often debated among the team and though we come from all walks of life, it shows how a great story can unite people and we believe in creating and telling great stories for our brand partners.
- Robby Robot – ‘Danger Will Robinson Danger.’ Working on the sort of projects that we do, we often get to see what was once considered science fiction become science fact.
- Phone & iPad – Working internationally, the phone is a vital tool within the office and for some of the team, a permanent fixture to their ear. We like to talk with people – not just email. Although face-to-face is even better.
- Cameras – Vintage tools of our trade, a reminder that whilst technology will continue to adapt and evolve, the skill needed to create a beautiful image resides in the experience and eye of the photographer.
- Empty Chair – The Judas chair. A poignant reminder that you should always be ready to walk away from the people and things that hold you back.
- Da Vinci’s Last Super – Or as we’re calling this shoot, The Last Cliché as the work we do in the real world can never be clichéd. Therefore we’re keeping this cliché where it belongs, as a bit of fun around the table in the studio that brings us all together and let’s some of the newer members of the team experiment with the many tools of our trade.
For those of you with a keen eye, you might spot a little character under the table busy with her very own creative endeavour. Well that’s our junior, junior creative – who frequently comes into the office to work, play and make snow and who constantly reminds us what a wonderful thing an imagination is.
Finally – a massive thank you to everyone that stepped up on the day and took part. Left to right: Adam, Zach with a ‘H’ and not a ‘K’, Trish, Laurence, me, Anthony, Matthew and Fehin. Oh and let’s not forget our other little helper under the table, LillyMay and Phil Smyth who was behind the scenes telling us all what to do and taking the shots.
Now let’s see what happens at the table in year two!
With almost a year under her belt as MD, not to mention over 600 international effectiveness case studies, a clutch of awards and no sign of slowing down, Patricia Killoran, Managing Director at The Mission Control Communications is starting the New Year on a firm footing and with a clear objective.
Ahead of a busy month travelling to meet partner brands on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout Europe, Patricia explains the importance of that face-to-face contact and why the agency will frequently travel thousands of miles for just one meeting.
‘The distance is irrelevant,’ says Patricia. ‘What is important is showing partner brands that we are just as committed to their success as they are themselves. Naturally a lot of what we do can be trafficked and managed with email and calls, but nothing beats that face-to-face interaction and in my experience, people achieve more when they actually know the people they are working with.’
Have you a particular trip that you’re looking forward to? ‘I have to admit; I am looking forward to going to the States again. We work with some really lovely people out there and I do look forward to seeing them and just catching up.’
So it’s not all business then? ‘I don’t think you can work in this industry if you’re just all about “the business”. What we do is very personal. You can’t be involved in creating something and not have a personal involvement in it. You only have to look at the team in the studio to see that. For all of the strategy and creativity that goes into a project, there’s an equal measure of personal pride. It’s the same with the brand teams we work with. There’s not a job that goes out the door that isn’t personal.’
Is it just the boss that gets to travel? ‘No not at all! Since we officially started back to work after the Christmas break, everyone has been out and about at meetings. There’s been no shortage of red eye flights out off International the past week or so and that looks like a trend set to continue for the rest of the month. But it’s great that the team gets to meet with the people they are working with. One of the teams happened to be in England last week and they met up with some of their US partners and they achieved so much in such a short space of time. It’s that sharing of ideas and knowledge and getting to know people as people. That’s what it’s all about – people working with people to achieve a common objective.’
So 2016 is starting busy? ‘Starting busy. It’s always busy and that’s the way we like. I think Christmas Day was the only day that we weren’t actually working. We’ve a great team here and it’s the relationships they form with our partners that gives them that level of commitment to not only go above and beyond, but to do whatever it takes to get the job completed.
It was actually pretty funny on New Year’s Eve night. We were working with a partner across 3 time zones so we had 3 celebrations.’
The Mission Control Communications is seen as an agency that puts in a lot of hours, is that true, and if so, why? ‘We live in a world that is infinitely more connected than at any other point in history. Brands are doing business simultaneously across multiple time zones so you need to be on hand to work with them when they need you.
Yes we put in a lot of strange hours, but you have to remember, they are only strange hours here in Northern Ireland. In reality, they are just the normal office hours of our overseas partners. So whilst we might work late in the evenings when needed, there will be other times when we can start late in the morning. It’s swings and roundabouts – we’re not slave drivers.
I was chatting to one of the designers about it recently after he’d came back from a meeting and he made a very good point, ‘we’re at the big table, so we’ve got to put the work in’. I think that says a lot about the attitude of the team. They know we are getting to work on some amazing brands and that people listen to our suggestions. Our team sees that and appreciates it.’
What do you mean by being at the ‘big table’? ‘We work with brands that are valued in the billions of dollars and that truly understand the power of effective marketing. These are brands that set trends as opposed to following them. They are brands that want a partner that engages with them and is capable of taking them to the next level as opposed to simply giving them the same old year in and year out.
You only have to look at some work that is out there at the minute and you know the agencies responsible are following a formula that hasn’t changed in decades. That’s not servicing a client. It’s opting for the safe route and ensuring you’re leaving the office at 5pm everyday. That’s not us. We’re constantly looking at how we can work with our brand partners to engage with their audience in new and relevant ways. Granted – you spend a lot of your time in unfamiliar territory – but that keeps it interesting.
It also means that when we are working with international agencies, we are doing so with confidence and authority.’
There has been some criticism of the agency from your competitors for seemingly placing strategy over creativity. How do you respond to that? ‘Oh we’ll always have our critics. But what’s interesting is that those critics seem to end up weaving a lot of our thinking into their own messaging and positioning. Look, I’m not saying creativity isn’t important. It is. But it needs to be channelled. It needs to have a defined outcome. It needs to achieve an objective. We work with multi-billion-dollar brands. They want effectiveness. They don’t want pretty pictures.’
So is strategy more important than creativity? ‘I don’t think it’s an either/or option. You need strategy to direct creativity so that you can enable an effective outcome. So if we had to be labelled as anything, I’d prefer to have us labelled as an effectiveness agency. That’s what we do and that’s what the brands we work with expect. Strategy and creativity are just two of the tools we use to be effective.’
What do you make of agencies that position themselves as creative then? ‘Other people can do as they want. If they feel the need to constantly remind people that they are creative, then that’s their right. But for us, creativity is just one of the strings to our bow.’
You mention critics weaving your thinking into their messaging and positioning, does that happen a lot? ‘It happens. But we take it as a compliment. Truthfully, I’m happier that we’re in a position to inspire, inform and educate other agencies. If the roles were reversed, then I think I’d be having concerns. It can actually be funny at times when one of the team comes across something. I remember we did a campaign for one of our scientific partners and a few months later, another agency replicated the concept for a large inward investment organisation here in Northern Ireland.’
Are you ever tempted to weave other agencies thinking into yours? ‘That’s not who we are. When we launched The Mission Control Communications, we did it with the objective of challenging ourselves to constantly strive for better. If we were to simply take our lead from another agency, that defeats the purpose and we might as well just go work for another agency. That and truthfully, our partners wouldn’t stand for it. They work with us because we are that bit off centre. We don’t go to presentations and start with, “here’s an idea that we did for company X that really worked and we think it would work for you as well”. We’re constantly pushing boundaries and challenging not only ourselves, but also our partners.’
So what will be the next lesson you hope to teach those following your example? ‘Be yourself and stand up for what you believe in. Companies don’t want ‘yes’ agencies. They are paying for your expertise so bring something to the table that is worth paying for. That’s why we keep the lab bench in the middle of the studio to constantly remind our teams of that. Everything we do needs to add value to our partner brands, so before we bring it to the presentation, it has to pass our own internal bench test.’
In his first interview since joining The Mission Control Communications earlier this year, James Killoran talks openly about the move and his reputation as a workaholic and what it’s like going head to head with some of the largest agencies in the world.
You’re regularly described as a workaholic, how do you respond to that accusation? ‘If that’s the worst people can say about me, I think I can live with it,’ says James. ‘But I don’t see it as a problem. Most of the people I know and respect would be described as workaholics. I think there’s a tendency in the UK though with all of the legislation around working hours to see anyone that works more than the standard 48-hour week as some sort of class traitor.’
So what makes you a workaholic? ‘Nothing makes me a workaholic. I just enjoy what I do. I spend a lot of time working with people in the United States and they have a very different work ethic to most countries in Europe. Personally, I find their drive really motivating and if I’m honest, I thrive on the challenge and the energy I pick up from them. You can’t help but get enthused when you’re around people that are constantly driven and positive.
But I think the term ‘Workaholic’ is often misunderstood and taken out off context. A lot of people look at it like some sort of disease or illness. It’s not. There’s nothing wrong with working hard; it probably says more about the ills of our society that you’re treated like some sort of pariah for working hard. For me, being a workaholic is a means to an end that I just happen to enjoy.
And what is that end? ‘Everyone expects me to say money, but it’s not. For me the objective is creating work that exceeds expectations and allows us to grow internationally. I’ve never wanted to just be the wee local agency or the big fish in a small pond. I want to create something that stands the test of time.’
Can you explain what you mean by the term ‘Workaholic’ being misunderstood? ‘Most people think of a workaholic as being someone on the fast track to having a heart attack and who never gets to spend time with their family. That’s not the case. There is a balance to be had if you just take time to plan your workflow. I choose to work the hours I do. No one forces me to. Personally I’m happier when I’m working instead of sitting vegetating in front of the television and I’m not really gold club material.’
So how many hours would you work every week? ‘It depends on how busy we are. But a normal week would see me do 90+ hours. I’m normally up and responding to emails from about 5:30am. I’ll be in the office for 7ish most mornings and then that’s me until the end of the day. I try and get away for 5:30pm so I can have some time with the family and then I’m back online and calls with the States from 7:30pm through to about 11pm. Weekends – I’d have more personal time, but I’d still spend a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays catching up with people and prepping for the week ahead. But the hours I do are on a power with what the brand managers and directors I work with in the States do. So I don’t get hung up on them. For me its about outcomes and not time put in.’
What about your team, do you expect them to do the same? ‘I think most of them would tell me where to go to if I said I expected them to do that. I know it might sound corny, but we all look out for one and other and if someone needs time off outside their normal time, we cover for one and other. We’re not into working people into the ground. Mental fatigue can be really difficult to shake so our approach is to give people the time they need and plan jobs out so no one is expected to have to work suicide hours. But from time to time, it does happen and when it does, we make sure people get time off to make up for it.
As for expectations, the only expectation I have is that when people are here, they give whatever they are working on their full attention. Naturally, you’ll get people putting in more time on jobs, but that’s just personal pride when people do go above and beyond in terms of time, we always make sure they get a break at the end of it all. But no, just to clarify, I don’t expect the team to do 90+ hours.’
What are the benefits to being a workaholic? ‘For me the big benefit is that sense of achievement you get when a project is completed and you see it really works. This year we’ve had some amazing feedback on jobs and do you know something, that means more to me than all of the awards we’ve won this year, put together. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing clients are excited about the projects we’re working on together. The other thing is because you’re head is always buzzing with ideas, you can be much more proactive and take ideas to the client as opposed to just responding to a brief. That is a big part of the partnership relationship we have with brands.’
And the drawbacks? ‘I suppose when you crash, you really crash. I’ve seen times after it’s been really hectic that I’ve gone to bed and just slept for a full day. But that’s the exception as opposed to the rule.’
Do you see being a workaholic as a factor in the success of the agency? ‘It might contribute, but it’s far from being an overriding factor. Like I mentioned earlier, we have a lot of great people here and just as importantly, we have very switched on clients. Those are all big factors in our success. As for me being a workaholic, it just means I’m always about or chipping in with something or have my head buried in some research.’
Can you ever see a time when you’re not a workaholic? ‘I hope not. I think if that day was ever to come, it would be time for me to step aside and let someone else who is a workaholic take over. In this industry you need a hungry mind. You’re always learning and anticipating and if you’ve one eye on the job and the other on your golf clubs, something is going to slip between the gap if you know what I mean.’
How would you describe the year you’ve had? It’s been a rollercoaster. I started the year having to make some tough decisions, but they had to be taken or I wouldn’t be here today doing what I enjoy. Moving on and closing a chapter on your life is never easy, but sometimes you just have to do what is right for you. When I left my old agency, it wasn’t without a degree of fear and regret. I’d no idea how things were going to work out with the new place, so there were a lot of sleepless nights. But we put the work in and thankfully it’s all coming together. Though I’ve a lot more grey hair now.’
So why did you move agency? To quote Winston Churchill and Call of Duty: ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’ I wasn’t happy where I was. I’d known for a while that things were not going to change, but had kept giving it the benefit of the doubt. In the end though, I found myself contemplating leaving the industry and doing something else. Well – I was never any good at cooking so running off to open a B&B somewhere was never going to be a workable option, so I started looking at how I could carve out a new path for myself within an industry I actually love.’
Was the move easy? ‘Hell no! I was closing the door on almost 10 years of my life. When you decide on doing something like that, your head gets filled with all sorts of doubts and uncertainties.’
But it was worth it? ‘Yes. For the first time in a very long time I found myself in a position where things were happening and I wasn’t having to battle to get stuff done. There had been things I’d wanted to do for years with the old agency and could never get them off the ground. Here – I’ve been given the freedom to push ahead and within months we’ve proven that the thinking that had always been blocked in the old place was actually right. We’re picking up business, we’re winning effectiveness awards and we’re actually having fun doing it.’
What’s your plan for 2016? ‘I think there are some people who would pay you a lot of money to know that. We’ve deliberately tried to stay beneath the radar, but that has actually got some of the big names in the industry looking at us trying to figure out our strategy and how we’re managing to take projects they’d thought were theirs for the taking.’
You’re not intimidated by the big agencies then? ‘No, why would I be? We’ve proven time and time again that we can go head to head with the internationals and we’ve outperformed them on multiple occasions.’
How does that feel? The first few times it was terrifying. But you quickly discover it’s a bit like that scene from the Wizard of Oz when they discover the guy behind the curtain. Sure the internationals can talk-the-talk and they put on a great show – but there’s nothing they do that we can’t.’
How often do you find yourselves up against one of the internationals? ‘More often than you might expect and it’s not just the big London agencies. We’ve sat at the table with New York, LA and Paris agencies over the past 10 months. But we make a point of getting everyone in the team in front of an international agency as soon a possible to show them there’s nothing to be afraid of.
We had to go to London a few months ago and it was a meeting with one of the biggest agencies in the world. You know the sort of place, stunning office, epic views out across the city, every surface dripping with awards. Basically everything you can think of that would intimidate a small team likes ours. Anyway, we were introduced to the other agency’s team and there were directors of directors. I suddenly thought my plan to show our guys that there was nothing to worry about was going to back fire on me. Anyway, to cut a very long story short, we let the big international do their thing and I could see the penny drop with our guys as they realised that there was no magic. They were hearing nothing that they didn’t already know and in-truth, some of what they were hearing was wrong.
When we left, our guys were buzzing. The myth of the international was shot. As we headed back to the Tube, my golden moment was one of the guys saying, “I can’t believe they didn’t have muffins”.’
So what can we expect from The Mission Control Communications in 2016? I’m not giving away any secrets when I say we have a pretty big announcement coming in January. We’ve also have some really amazing work in progress with one of the clients stateside. It’s one of those projects that redefines a sector and the brand director is a great guy to work with, which is always a bonus.
And will you be taking time off over Christmas? That’s the million dollar question. We’ve a couple of jobs going out this month that legally have to go live on December 31st. So at the minute we’re working with contributors in the States, Italy, Germany, France, England, Holland and Belgium to make sure that it happens. The nature of the job means that we’ll be on standby right up to the 31st for any updates. It’s that sort of commitment though that clients appreciate as they know they can trust us to always get the job across the line, regardless of the circumstance.
There can be no doubt that 2015 has been a landmark year for James, but it would seem that the workaholic reputation and unorthodox way of doing things gets results. The Mission Control Communications has repeatedly proven its credentials internationally this year, not only in terms of business acquired and awards won, but in the results it’s consistently delivered for clients and it appears that the motivation and drive that has propelled the agency in 2015 is set to continue well into 2016.
Tim Peake blasts off in a Soyuz rocked this morning, bound for the International Space Station. But what you might not know is that we’ve been there too Well our work has!
The scope of the project we worked on with a North American partner went far beyond anything we had ever done in the past, not just in terms of distance but design science. This is where experimental science meets intelligent design to create an outcome that could transform space travel and how our species explores the cosmos.
Assets created for the project included specialist packaging and the translation and interpretation of data on its return to earth into a suite of White Papers that included highly detailed graphical models, infographics and animations that humanised the content, making it visually engaging and suitable for bite size and attention grabbing post that could be used in presentations, documents and socially.
I guess you could say we’ve been living up to our name at The Mission Control Communications.
Good luck Tim!
When we launched earlier this year, we wanted to prove to people that our quirky way of doing things actually gets results. We’re strategic in what we do, but in a down-to-earth way. We don’t aim to baffle people with buzzwords and technical jargon; we simply aim to help them create work that is strategically destined to succeed.
Well – in less than a year, the team has scooped 4 international effectiveness awards including 3 Generator Effectiveness Awards and 1 Davey Effectiveness Award – so we must be doing something right.
At this rate – we might need to get a shelf or something.
Earlier this year whilst on a shoot at Terry’s, we spotted this old science lab bench tucked away at the back of a warehouse. It had been salvaged from a local school where it had been used by thousands of students over the years to carry out all sorts of experiments and then pretty much forgotten about. Well – with our experience working with brands within the sciences and healthcare sectors, we decided to give it a new lease of life and take it home with us.
Since then we’ve had brand managers and healthcare professionals from all over the world join us around it, not to mention we planned the 2015 Conservative General Election campaign here with a few very well known faces.
We’ve also been very lucky in that we’ve attracted some very talented people to join us at the table to help deliver multiple award winning projects with our clients’ marketing teams. But we’ve always got room for more.
Now we’re planning on using it as the backdrop for work that will be featured on our new website – due to launch early in the New Year not to mention something epic pre Christmas.
Well that’s what the brief on the hats said and that’s what we did. A massive thank you to all of our U.S. buddies for the two massive boxes of Thanksgiving goodies that just arrived. You guys are total legends and we’re all now about 3 stone heavier.
There’s a saying that’s been doing the rounds for a while: ‘the best place to hide a body is on page 2 of Google’. But that’s not necessarily true anymore.
SEO is one of those terms that everyone talks about in planning meetings as if it’s the holy grail of marketing. But as more and more people become digitally astute, the value of SEO is being diminished. You see; SEO was never a genuine measure of popularity, quality or effectiveness. It was just another means for the marketers to trick audiences and clients’ to a certain extent, into believing a brand was successful. Think of it like this, you can be on the front page of the London Times if you really want to be and are prepared to pay enough. It’s the same with Google’s front page.
I don’t mean to sound cynical, but how many of us actually trust search engine results anymore? We all know that the brands at the top of the page are only there because they have paid to be. So what do we do – we ignore them. Outcome – brand advantage instantly lost.
So what can brands do to regain the advantage? Well the answer really isn’t all that difficult. All you need is a simple upgrade to your CEO (Customer Experience Optimisation). Treat your customers like real people and not just faceless analytics. Respect them and their opinions and ensure that all of your employees are equipped and motivated to be effective brand ambassadors.
It all sounds so obvious yet you’d be surprised how many brands overlook it. SEO is important – but it’s only one piece in a much bigger puzzle that is making brand teams all over the world re-examine their communications strategies.
In the past, some brands followed the philosophy: ‘Build it and they shall come.’ But that’s a route to failure. Brands need to think beyond Google and SEO and look to creating consistent customer touch-points across multiple channels. Think of it as laying the breadcrumbs that will guide visitors to your site with tasty content – you might even discover along the way that your brand doesn’t need a ‘website’.
‘Oh no he didn’t!’ Oh yes he did! Companies and brands can survive and succeed without a traditional website format. Now this is normally the point you’d expect me to start quoting some other brand that has trialled life without a site. Well I’m not. I’m going to quote our own experience. When we launched The Mission Control Communications earlier this year, we did it without a site.
Heresy I hear digital gurus cry. But guess what – it worked! I mean it really worked. Within a few months we’d picked up four international accounts without the help or need of a website.
How you might wonder? Well we did something pretty revolutionary. We reached out to people using things like good old fashioned, creative direct mail and we went to meet them in person. It turns out that people actually appreciate that sort of thing.
You see, when you get down to it, terms like B2B infer a very cold form of business relationship that is distant and impersonal – added to by the fact that companies and brands often have no idea of who they are actually working with other than some name on a suppliers list and the occasional email or phone call.
But when a company sees that you’re prepared to make the effort and in some instances, travel halfway round the world to meet with them and get to know them, that shows trust and commitment.
They see that you are just as committed to making their brand work as they are. You also get to know them as people. You break through that self-imposed barrier that keeps everyone at arms length and by default, that leads to a much more open and effective working relationship.
But back to my point – our experience proves that not every business model needs a website. In many respects and for all their protestations, website are going the way of the traditional corporate brochure. They are an indulgence in an age of increasingly short attention spans and increased distractions. In truth, as a brand, you’re lucky to get your audiences attention for more than a few seconds and you really need to work for even that.
Thinking digitally, look at the other platforms that are relevant to your audience and allow you to stay relevant. There’s no shortage of options from the usual suspects including Facebook, Linked in and Twitter, to Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.
So my advice is this, if your planning on hiding a body on Google, put it is in one of the sponsored Ads at the top of the page. When was the last time you looked there for anything?
If there’s one thing we worked out a long time ago, it’s that if you want to make things happen in this world, well you need to get up off your backside and go out there and make them happen. There’s no point in sitting waiting or expecting for someone else to do it for you. That’s simply not going to happen.
So when an opportunity presents itself, grab it with both hands. That’s why when earlier this month, when we received an invitation to meet with a brand visiting London during a tour of their European facilities, well we were more than happy to oblige – even if it meant being up from 3:15am to catch the red eye out off International.
It turned out to be an 18-hour day well spent as we came home with the new business.
We’ve created something of a name for ourselves when it comes to delivering highly effective campaign strategies in what many would consider to be some of the most complex and niche markets in the world. As a result, we get recommended a lot and this has led to a lot of great opportunities coming our way over recent months.
In-fact, in four months we’ve won four effectiveness awards in New York and been appointed to handle four global marketing accounts – including the one mentioned above.
Proof that it pays to work hard, do a good job and keep clients happy.
If you’re a marketer, you’re probably very aware of the latest wave of panic sweeping through the industry – namely ad blocking. It looks like people have finally cottoned onto the fact that they don’t have to sit and be force fed ads on a daily basis like chickens in a battery farm.
Historically, ads have been the unspoken price society paid for free content. But it looks like it’s a price people are no longer willing to pay. When Apple released its latest version of iOS in September, it gave millions of users their first proper taste of a fully native ad blocking reality.
Whilst publishers and advertisers are the unwitting casualties of the new iOS operating system – many believe that there is a bigger strategy at play. One in which the pawns are now being sacrificed as Apple makes a decisive move against Google. Remember – Apple doesn’t make its money from ads, unlike Google.
In 2014 Google made almost $60billion from advertising but according to PageFair, during the same period, ad blocking cost it a further $6.6billion. It’s not only Google that will be feeling the pain.
Mike Germano, chief digital officer at Vice caused a stir earlier this year at a conference in New York when he said: ‘I love my audience, but fuck you, ad blockers – 20% of my revenue is gone’.
This raises an interesting conundrum. How do publishers pay for generating the quality content people want without advertising revenue? Some publishers have responded by introducing paywalls whilst others are exploring anti-ad blocking technology.
The FT is probably one of the best examples of a brand and business model to have adapted to the situation. Its subscription-based model has something in the region of 500,000 paying subscribers.
But ad blocking isn’t actually something new. For an old hand like me, I first encountered it way back in the early 90’s when I started out in the industry. Back then it wasn’t some piece of clever code created by a hipster in a trendy warehouse with cappuccinos on tap, it was a chunky piece of black plastic, usually made in China, though sometimes Thailand, that came with big coloured rubber buttons and we called it the remote control or ‘commercial killer’.
The remote control was one of the most fearful and powerful pieces of ad blocking technology ever invented. Yet I don’t recall their being the same level of fear as there is today. Back then, the industry just responded by creating better ads. We looked at the problem but better yet, we understood people and what led them to flick between channels.
Looking back on it, the answer really wasn’t that difficult. By creating content that people liked, we actually had them tuning into see the ads. People would talk in the pub about the ads they’d seen. Brand slogans worked their way into our everyday speech. Hell – the brands even started to merchandise characters from their campaigns, opening up new streams of revenue.
But when digital arrived, things started to change and it wasn’t necessarily for the better. Publishers and agencies made fortunes for doing very little and brands quickly realised that they didn’t have to put as much effort into reaching people. They had a captive audience. This led to a degree of arrogance and bit-by-bit, the relationship that existed with people changed. But what brands failed to recognise was that as publishers sought to standardise platforms with page templates set to basically allow for the maximum number of paid ads to appear, their hard won relationship with customers was being steadily eroded.
It was inevitable that society would eventually rise up against the meritocracy and arrogance of the industry. So when Apple introduced their upgrade to iOS in September it gave millions of users their first proper taste of a fully native ad blocking reality.
This brings us to an important crossroads. Whilst some publishers and brands are responding by exploring anti-ad-blocking technologies, testimony to just how deep rooted, the arrogance of the sector is, others are embracing the opportunity that now exists.
Think about it. If people are opting out of seeing ads, it means they won’t be seeing your competitors’ ads either. That allows you to get both imaginative and strategic with your messaging and positioning. It allows you to get up and go out into the real world and get to know your customers as something more than algorithms. Remember the old Ogilvisym, ‘your target audience are not A,B,C1 demographics. They are your mother, your father, your brother and your sister’. In other words they are real people.
It challenges you to think about the content you’re creating and makes you ask yourself, is this just all about me, or has it a worth and relevancy to the people I want to influence? You know that saying about thinking outside the box – well it’s time to start thinking outside the standard 728 x 90 pixel box.
For the first time in a long time, brands have an opportunity to get to know their customers again – as people and not digital personas. Ad blockers are not the end of digital advertising – instead they are simply a much needed kick up the backside that will force agencies, brands and publishers to respect their customers and stop taking them for granted.