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New skool vs. old school

20 Jan 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
New skool vs. old school

It's often an unfashionable idea, but Dominic Mills shows that combining the best of new and old media strategy really does deliver. Plus: The joy of the portmanteau

We seem to live in an increasingly binary world these days, and that mindset is increasingly visible in adland when we think about the old ways of doing things — proper, thought-through branding, mixed media thinking that includes mass as well as targeted media — versus the new way, often substituting ‘purpose’ for brand structure and usually focusing only on targeted digital media. Rarely do the two meet.

Yet the reality is that you get a better result by combining the best of new skool with old school. But anyone who suggests that is considered to be a dinosaur.

New skool #1

Two stories from last week highlight this. The first was the publication of its pre-IPO filing by Caspar, the DTC disruptor (self-styled) which sells mattresses but posits itself as playing in the ‘Sleep Economy’.

Marketing Week’s Mark Ritson took both his scalpel and axe to Caspar and there’s not much I can add to that, except to highlight a few points from its 200-page prospectus looking at the different ways of thinking, which those with stamina can read here.

First, talking about media spend, the IPO document shows that spend as a percentage of sales is going up — from around 33-35% to 36.5%. Caspar launched in 2014 — an eternity ago in DTC terms — and at a point where you might think it would be levelling off, if not declining.

Second, as well as the standard DTC media toolkit of SEO, email and social, its also uses TV and — get this — direct mail. Now that is proper old school.

Third, a significant element of Caspar’s recent growth has been underpinned by a physical presence. Caspar has 60 stores in the US and is aiming for 200. You can see why because Caspar says that in areas where its combines a retail presence with its e-commerce activities, sales are growing twice as fast as in places where it has no stores. Again, old school thinking.

Fourth, noting its use of thousands of social influencers, Caspar sounds a warning. “Use of social media and influencers may materially and adversely affect our reputation or subject us to fines and other penalties,” it says. Really? Surely not if it a) pays them properly and b) ensures they follow the rules. That sounds like a social media policy operating right on the edge.

New skool #2

In the 2015 and 2017 elections, it was widely considered that Labour won the social media battle, even if they lost the war.

A piece in last week’s Economist, which pulls together some research by We Are Social and Bath University, as well as drawing on data from Facebook’s ad library, looks at the contrasting tactics of Labour and the Conservatives in last month’s election.

Starting from a lower follower base on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter — 60% lower — the Conservatives drew 10% more engagements.

How? Clearly “Get Brexit Done’” had more resonance as a slogan and there was a lot more going on than just social media, but the answer is that rather than going for micro-targeting, the Conservatives took a more old-school broad-brush, broadcast approach. This flew in the face of both perceived wisdom and Dominic Cummings’ approach to the Brexit campaign in 2016.

Better still, from the Conservatives’ point of view, this was cheaper - about half the price (estimated at £13.58 per 1,000) of Labour’s micro-targeted approach.

By the way, for anyone interested in the interplay between politics and social media, you can’t get better informed than by reading Benedict Pringle’s political advertising blog. This post is a good place to start.

The joy of the portmanteau word

I enjoyed Brian Jacobs’ Cog Blog last week in which he mooted various options for his ‘Word of the Year’ for 2020.

He picked 'Trust' (no argument from me there although, depressingly, you could say it’s the word of the decade stretching back to 2015 and forward to 2025).

Two he put aside were ‘Honesty’, suggested by Ian Darby’s piece on strategists in Campaign, and from ID Comms ‘Simplify’. You can always tell someone who’s peddling snake oil when their default position is to complicate rather than simplify. And that, it seems to me, is the prevailing trend in media.

I like those too, and now I am wrestling with them to see if there is a portmanteau word that combines them. ‘Ethics’ could be one that combines both honesty and trust, but how do you get simplify in there? ‘Ethicsify’? Horrible. ’Simplethicsify’ — hmm... it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

I love portmanteau words. At their best, they are instantly recognisable and make you smile. It’s old hat now, but ‘affluenza’ has always done it for me. Wordsmiths can find a good list here.

At their worst, they’re mere toss. You mostly see this when they are adopted/created for commercial purposes. I saw a poster for a retailer called Seekology which just irritates me to distraction.

And I was once subjected to a presentation by an agency about it’s new mantra: ‘Simplexity’. I think they were trying to claim that they could make the complex simple, but unfortunately they had the balance wrong and ended up making the simple complex. But that’s adland for you.

And now I’ll leave with a new one I came across last week. It’s the German word ‘Verschlimmbesserung’ (thanks to the structure of the language, German is fabulous for portmanteaus). It means making things worse by trying to make them better. Just thinking laterally, you might consider which parts of adland this might apply to.

Climate change and adland... pause to think

Last week, as part of a stab at trying to get my head round the (in my view) contradiction between advertising’s role promoting growth for its clients (i.e. consumption) and the desire on the part of some industry activists to do the opposite, I invited contributions to the debate.

Two took me up, Tess Alps of Thinkbox and Ollie Joyce of Mindshare, to whom I say thanks.

I’m taking a pause to think about this issue a bit more, and I’ll respond next week.

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ChrisWorrell, Strategist, Wavemaker on 20 Jan 2020
“I guess Simplexity is better than Complicity :-)”


26 Feb 2020 

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