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Keeping the spark alive

Keeping the spark alive
Ed Warren, Founding Partner of Creature, reports back from day one of the IPA/UKTI West Coast Mission on the sights and sounds Silicon Valley has to offer UK adland.

I was talking to a friend the other day that compared rock music to hamburgers.

He reckoned that the straightforward pleasure of a 4/4 beat and a 3 chord melody are like the big simple flavours of a cheeseburger; satisfying and uncomplicated, and for most people good enough to prevent them wanting to look any further. He went on to compare discovering Jazz or Classical music to discovering another cuisine – your palette readjusting to say “Oh, there’s a different way to do this”, a new rhythm that’s more complex but just as satisfying.

Being familiar with the uncomplicated flavours of advertising thinking, I’d been hoping this trip would introduce me to some new and surprising tastes. And with our agenda for day one of the IPA’s West Coast Mission including such intimidating giants as Twitter and Facebook I was excited to see what new thinking we’d be exposed to. So, here are my tasting notes from the first day. 

Our first stop was Twitter’s beautifully shiny (and spookily deserted) new offices in downtown San Francisco where Nola Weinstein, the head of Executive Engagement and Brand Story took us through what Twitter’s currently excited about.

And what they’re most excited about is their new ‘Moments’ feature: which in a nutshell is a curated video channel that clusters content around the ‘moments that matter’ in the lives of Twitter users.

This (hopefully) will be an exciting feature for users of Twitter because it will allow them to navigate via the cultural moments that matter to them – be that the World Series, a breaking news story or the fact that Starbucks have released their Christmas red cups again (FINALLY!) – an easier way to browse the service for things that are going on right now and then follow those moments as they develop.

But this is profoundly, pant-wettingly exciting for Twitter themselves because (FINALLY!) it gives them a way to build brands deeply into the Twitter experience in a way that is richer than 140 characters or an Oreo-esque visual pun (the Starbucks red cup moment didn’t happen naturally, it was bought and sold). 

“Hang on a second?” I hear you say, “Isn’t this basically exactly the same as the ‘Discover’ feature on Snapchat – where a social platform builds a series of curated video channels into its functionality?” – and the answer is yes, it’s exactly the same and Twitter aren’t the only people who are looking to curated video as the answer to how to integrate brands into their service. 

What’s interesting about this development to me is how it smuggles in quite a profound change for everything that made Twitter what it’s been – in Moments they have made a decision to move from being a fiercely democratic platform that gave an equal voice to all of its users, to being a publisher who will curate and edit content on the shiniest surface of its experience.

It will be very, very interesting to see what the addition of a curatorial voice will do both to Twitter and to the Twitterati’s relationship with it. 

On to Facebook over at 1 Hacker Way – now in the interests of full disclosure, I’m definitely not Facebook’s biggest fan.However, the slightly cloying taste of my first impression of the place was soon cut by a very useful and clear-headed meeting with Tom Brown and Scott Drey from Facebook’s Creative Shop – the in-house agency that sits within Facebook.

As well as introducing us to some of the new services Facebook are about to offer (Guess what? They think the answer to brands getting more involved in the network is through curated video! ‘Great minds’ I guess.) their remit is to work with agencies to help make the quality of brand’s activities on Facebook better. Which is quite a big ask, given that there’s only a hundred of their team at Facebook towers compared to the tens of thousands of brands who want to be on Facebook, not to mention the 1.5 billion users of the service (which, to dwell on it for a second, is a crazy, crazy number. There are more people with a Facebook account than there are Catholics in the world – a statistic that makes me feel a bit sad for some reason). But their confidence comes from one thing, data. 

Someone once said that if a product doesn’t cost you anything then you are the product. Never has that been more true that with Facebook who through their billions of users have access to such vast malleable oceans of data that they’re able to interrogate it in millions of ways to assess the effectiveness of advertising and branded content on their platform. 

What was interesting (and heartening) in talking to Tom and Scott was the realization that despite having all of the data, all of the money and all of the tech the one thing that you can’t algorithm is the Creative spark. Much of what they shared with us were very clever and robust ways of targeting audiences more precisely, reading their reactions more accurately and delivering messages that you could be more sure were relevant to them. But what the data needs (and so do Facebook) is the lateral, mischievous spark that translates all that data into the unfair advantage of a famous idea. 

That’s what Facebook and Twitter need, and why agencies will continue to be a relevant and vital part of their growth.

You can also follow highlights from the mission on The Drum and on Twitter #createuk 

Last updated 13/11/2015

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