Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Liam Brennan: You are not normal

Liam Brennan (@LCBrennan), Global Director of Innovation, MediaCom is one of our industry’s preeminent thinkers in innovation and NDA’s monthly columnist.

There was a point in my life where I genuinely believed that MySpace would outlast Facebook.

I loved MySpace. It allowed for greater self-expression, you could discover new friends as well as old, and you could listen to music on demand, explore virtual art and discover ‘hidden’ club nights and gigs which really appealed to me as someone in their mid-twenties new to living in the city.
Facebook was new, but it was cold, clean and closed. Everyone’s page looked reasonably similar, and (at that time, fifteen years ago) lacked a newsfeed where you could clearly see updates on other people’s activity. Facebook felt more about connection than expression and discovery.

I can recall trying to defend my pro-MySpace position with my work colleagues and was very clearly in the minority.

A year later, I was almost exclusively using Facebook, as were most of my friends, as it was a great way to share my travel photos, stay connected to friends back in Sydney, and there was finally, like MySpace, a newsfeed.

In hindsight, my prediction seems rather ridiculous, but at that time MySpace was a better manifestation of what I wanted in a social media platform.
But I had very clearly made the mistake that we so often do when making predictions, in that I valued my own opinions and beliefs over hard data on the wider market and the ‘trend’ direction of travel. I had assumed that everyone is going to think, and act, along the same lines as myself, and that’s usually not the case.

Statistically, you are not normal. Your opinions and beliefs regarding what you like and dislike in a product, a platform or a publisher may very well not be the same as everyone else’s.

Ask any good media planner and they will tell you how important it is to detach your own media consumption habits from that of the brand’s target audience. You need to need to look into the data that’s available to you and make choices based on that and in line with the asks of your brief and campaign strategy. The induvial approving the plan must also let go of their beliefs and consumption habits when reviewing your plans.

There is always conflict on Twitter whenever UK TV industry body Thinkbox releases their TV viewing data. One side will always argue that “TV is dead” as more and more people are watching TV on demand or Video on Digital Platforms on YouTube. The other side will argue that majority of people still watch TV in a linear fashion. The former often defends their argument by refusing to believe the report data can’t true because that is not their or their peer’s behaviour. The latter group defends their argument with the (correct) Thinkbox data and typically wins the argument – though the former may have a very good point on the direction of travel for the TV industry.

Detaching yourself when futuregazing has never been more important than it is now, as our desire for ‘the next big thing’ appears to have accelerated during lockdown. For example, as I write this, brands such as Pringles, Taco Bell and Charmin have been dipping their toes in NFT – non-fungible token – artworks, playing cards and other virtual collectables that are essentially a unique blockchain token with a virtual asset attached, and are exchanging hands for tens and thousands of dollars.

Personally, ‘NFT’ items aren’t things I’d collect. I value the physical object over the concept of virtual ownership. But although the NFT fanbase is a small but vocal group, and not representative of the wider populous, the audience are the same as those that paid hundreds of dollars for virtual weapons, add-ons and player packs in games. They are (typically) young men who often now view investing in stocks and crypto as a game, hobby and, in some respects, a lifestyle.

Perhaps those brands are just jumping on a ‘micro-trend’ to get some traction on social media. But just perhaps, like the NBA’s NFT based Top Shot product, they’ve looked at this emerging trend through a more objective lens – who are the people that are most interested in this, why are they interested in it and what are they doing with the product or platform – and seen potential in terms of audience reach, or indeed how they can use the tech to evolve/modernise their product.

NFT may just be yet another hype blip on the newness radar. But scan Twitter and you’ll see its largest detractors in the media and marketing sector are often the very same people who usually (rightly) defend their arguments with solid proof points based on hard data.

Why? Because this new behaviour just doesn’t feel…normal.

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