We’re calling it the Serviceplan Group Middle East Diary: Every week, one of our team members will be sharing what’s currently going on in her or his life at Serviceplan Middle East.
Thinking about buying a new TV? Ah, the excitement! Measuring the living room, looking for the right place where it could fit, or choosing the color of the bezel, the right resolution, figuring out the necessary connectivity options and brightness? And if the couch you will be sitting on watching TV has the right viewing distance, because you don’t want to watch a football game without being able to recognize the players, do you? If you are not dealing with decisions like this right now, chances are you did in the past or you are going to do it in the future. Let’s face it, it’s inevitable, just like most things that are coming our way, the future is worth talking about, so let’s focus on this concept of time right now: The Future.
In the not so distant future, you most likely won’t have to deal with decisions like this at all. Not because of the breakthrough in projection technology, not because TV will become obsolete, nor because manufacturers will die out and Apple or Netflix will take over the TV game (well, that is happening anyways); it’s because you will be able to watch TV on a screen any desired size, anywhere and anytime you want – not just on your comfy couch at home. The magic behind that is a thing called augmented (AR) or mixed (MR) or even virtual reality (VR), but only in its final form. The final form of media. The final form of consuming content. The final form of entertainment. The end game.
So let’s focus on the present for a minute: there are a couple of VR devices out there, and most of them are pretty nerdy; you probably heard of names like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR or Samsung Gear VR. Manufacturers gaining momentum in creating the device to end all other devices – no wonder, since VR hardware is supposed to earn $17.8 billion by 2020. By the way, Samsung has sold more VR headsets in 2016 than Oculus, HTC and Playstation combined, namely 4.51 million pieces. And a lot has already been achieved with them: High resolution: check. Variety of content: check. Availability of devices: check. A cure to motion sickness while using it: check. Even motion, movement and eye tracking has been conquered not so long ago, getting VR one step closer to be a realistic experience in an unrealistic, digital environment. But one crucial thing is still missing, and all of the current solutions are not even close in delivering it: ease of use. A no-fuzz device. A device for people who are not expert gamers or scientists or enthusiasts. Something you can put on your head without having to connect a cord, a battery back or a head strap. Easy as putting on your shades and unlocking your smartphone.
Some manufacturers are still trying to mimic the success story of smartphone development, because it is their field of expertise, and it worked already in the past: increase screen resolution, add a new camera, mix it with a better microprocessor, a newer software version, and a dash of some weird new experiential technology. But baby steps are for babies, in a saturated market walking slow is not an option anymore: we don’t need another device that’s slightly faster and better looking than the other one. We need a breakthrough. We need something to control our movements in a virtual world, that feels like the real world. We need a way to trick our brain into thinking we really are standing next to a lava stream or inside an imperial hangar from Star Wars, awaiting the devastating blow out of the Death Star’s Superlaser instead of knowing all the way that it’s all just a game.
So back to our initial question, adding some more amazing stuff: You want to turn your living room into a dark dungeon to hunt zombies? You got it. You want to measure your new fridge and see if it fits in this impossible slot in your kitchen? Done. You want to have a look at the interior of your new car in life-size, standing in the middle of your bedroom? Sure thing. Or you just want to watch the final episode of your favorite TV show in your garden, on a huge canvas, and next to it keep track of a hockey playoff game that happens to run at the same time, on a smaller screen – and all of this together with your friends? Yes. That is the future I’m talking about. And the end or at least a fundamental change in the field of consumer electronics.
If the rumors are true, the first company to deliver something like this is called Magic Leap. Quote: “This technology could affect every business that uses screens or computers and many that don’t. It could kill the $120 billion market for flat-panel displays and shake the $1 trillion global consumer-electronics business to its core.” Says David Erwalt from Forbes Magazine. And he is right: if this thing kicks off and has finally a release date and price, it will change everything we know about consuming digital media in an instant. So maybe you should hold off on that purchase of a new TV set for now. The future is just a (magic) leap away.
It’s hardly a revelation to say that video content has never been as popular as it is right now. Whether it be on Facebook, YouTube, Display, or increasingly, Snapchat & Instagram, more and more of users’ time online is spent consuming video in some form. By the end of this year, KPCB estimates that video content will account for 74% of all online traffic, and Mark Zuckerberg has even said that he expects Facebook to be almost entirely video within the next five years.
But while the digital video format itself has never been more accessible, many of the digital video ads that tend to make it out into the wild don’t truly take advantage of the opportunities that digital channels allow. Most still ape TV spots that have been adapted to digital – a new format but an old mindset. While television is a passive channel, digital is not, and its potential is currently not being fully utilized. Consequently, we seem to have reached a point where viewers have become numb to video on digital channels – not surprising when you consider the slew of formats that seem to have gotten increasingly aggressive in recent years such as un-skippable pre-rolls, auto-playing sound-on ads, and now the particularly jarring mid-roll videos that burst into your viewing experience half-way through.
Viewers are fed up of video ads taking over their digital experiences and forcing them to passively bear witness to their marketing message. In 2017, most consumers are used to interacting with content on digital channels, especially on mobile. Many expect a certain level of interactivity. Users are familiar with gamified experiences and tend to tune-out at the first sign of a countdown to skip an ad. As attention spans seemingly decrease, passive content just isn’t grabbing users’ attention as it once did.
Things are looking up though as the range of functionality open to digital video is getting broader and broader all the time. Interactive videos have been around in some form for a few years now, but this trend is starting to become more prevalent of late, especially outside of advertising. Just this summer Netflix introduced a series of interactive shows for children that allow them to make choices throughout each episode that dictate the journey the episode takes. This all seems like quite a novel idea for kid’s TV shows, but imagine being able to control what happens to your favourite characters, or reveal alternative scenes in shows like House of Cards or Game of Thrones. What better way to keep viewers engaged than by getting them involved and letting them influence the content itself, right? The same goes for advertising too.
Choice-driven videos have been shown to work especially well in a story-telling and educational capacity. The UK Resuscitation Council used such an approach in a campaign to teach viewers the basics of giving CPR by presenting them with an emergency scenario where they have to make a set of choices to save someone’s life. The thinking behind it is that involving the viewer in the process in this way provides for a much more visceral experience, and by getting viewers to interact with the content, they are much more likely to absorb the information.
We are also starting to see more examples of mobile video utilizing the particular features of the smartphone itself to enable the viewer to interact with the content in a more intuitive way. AdColony’s new Aurora HD mobile video ad format lets users manipulate video content by tapping, tilting or swiping during a video. A recent treasure hunt style video to promote the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie showcased the impressive graphical elements that can be used to immerse the viewer in the video while adding a gamified element to the experience. Similarly, a recent campaign from Visit Britain let viewers use their mobile device’s gyroscope to switch between visual tours of several different parts of the country by pointing their mobile either North, South, East or West to see what each part of the country has to offer.
These features can be used in a host of ways to let viewers define their own journey, answer questions, buy products, access exclusive content, complete forms and much more, all from within the video itself. There’s still a great deal of potential left to explore with interactive video, and with Facebook trying to muscle in on TV-style programming with its new ‘Watch’ platform and Snapchat et al yet to truly take advantage of this format either, advertisers better start thinking about how they might adapt their current approach to video for a more interactive future.
It’s refreshing to see the new ad for the Samsung Gear VR that focuses on VR’s ability to let the viewer experience something rather than just watch a piece of content.
At Serviceplan Middle East, we’ve always counted on clients to recognize the fine line between defragmented and consolidated services as we stood our ground pro-integration. Here we share our successes and some hard lessons learned along the way.
A decade and a half ago, network agencies initiated the epic move towards specialization, marking the exodus of in-house media departments into global media houses. By the time we set up shop in Dubai in 2009, the argument has evolved into full service vs. specialist shops. Full service agencies were valued for their one-stop-shop solution, but were heavily critiqued for going broad but not necessarily going deep. On the other hand, specialist shops were esteemed for perfecting their individual crafts, but were deemed hugely lacking in macro perspectives.
Specialist agencies have become the norm as digitalization started to hound traditional full service agencies. Today, the territories are all but blurred. The demarcation line between creative and media houses have seemingly vanished – with media agencies becoming content creators, and creative agencies becoming learned consultants of content platforms. Specialist agencies started offering integrated and consolidated services, while big network agencies began shape-shifting again. Take the decision of one French powerhouse in late 2015 when it announced that it was restructuring its ranks into four consolidated hubs, putting client services at the heart of its mission. Transformation, it claimed, will be driven by the fusion of technology and creativity, with focused divisions in creatives, media, and technology among its four hubs.
Sticking to our “I” Guns
As believers of Integration, the plan was crystal clear from the onset. While we started the traditional route delivering only offline services in 2009, we stuck to our long-term vision of building a “Haus Der Kommunikation” in Dubai to offer specialized services under one roof. We knew there was no room for alternatives since we belong to an independent, family-owned agency group, headquartered in Munich, whose “Haus der Kommunikation” concept has weathered the industry’s shifting tides across 45 years of operations. 7 years into our own experience, we came to realize that boundaries aren’t limitations but opportunities to reinvent oneself, if only to stay profitable and above water in a region that has yet to see its full potential but is already besought with fierce competition from all angles.
When we started, well-meaning industry advisers were saying you either go big or you go boutique. Boutique was the preferred route to gain a good share off the pies of big-name regional clients who remained stable or were recovering fast post 2008. Niche offerings, they said, would help one zero-in on specific gaps that big networks may not be quick or flexible enough to fill in. Niche, they argued, would guarantee a steady flow of income for boutiques for as long as niche is delivered with measurable efficiencies.
The problem? We were neither big nor boutique. We were, in reality, gap-fillers in our own industry, occupying a niche somewhere between a big network agency and a specialized boutique shop. We were extremely careful not to get across as another “indie” house wanting to capitalize on Dubai’s diversity and central location as we highlighted the hybrid nature of our concept. “A subsidiary of Europe’s largest and most successful independent agency group poised to offer innovative communications, innovative digital solutions, brand-individual media, and strategic market research under one roof,” we soon realized, is a concept unheard of in the region. Worst, it is one that often leaves most clients baffled, and at times doubtful.
But their doubts weren’t unfounded. On lots of occasions, we were too adamant to prove our case that we barged into pitches for specific requirements with a full portfolio of consolidated ideas that span offline, online, even experiential. Most times we would leave presentations patting our backs, elated over pleasantly surprised and extremely impressed prospective clients, only to rub ourselves sore come decision time when we are finally told that while our concept was by all means strategic and commendable, budgets could only accommodate specified requirements. Yes, those heartbreaks came in a handful, alongside our more substantial wins.
But with almost 8 years worth of learnings, we’ve come to reinvent ourselves. Not only are we the first agency established outside of Europe that ultimately catapulted the group’s internationalization, we are also the first to introduce a fifth communication pillar – Serviceplan Experience, which offers brand storytelling in a physical space. Today, Serviceplan Middle East continues to stand its ground, advancing the group’s three invincible “I’s” of Integration, Internalization, and Innovation.