Tom Idle
24th April 2018 - 8 mins read

I couldn’t bear to sit around on the sidelines any longer while some agencies just messed things up,” is how James puts it when I ask why he’s decided to venture into the world of content marketing.

In his six years as MD of Media First, James and his team have been asked more and more to help with different communications challenges – to present better, to deliver more impactful messages, to shoot and edit film, to hone communications. “We’ve been naturally moving towards helping with content marketing over the years. Now, with Thirty Seven we will get to help our amazing clients in a much more involved way.”

James is joined by Mark, an ex-Microsoft application development consultant, who has been running his own content and design agency for the last five years. Having worked together enhancing Media First’s own content marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) performance, the pair decided to team up.

“We’ve built a loyal following and I enjoy knowing that what we are producing is worthwhile and entertaining,” adds James. “I knew that, so long as we kept enjoying the creative process and stayed true to our journalist-led concepts of always putting the audience first, then there was a good chance that people would continue to enjoy reading, watching and listening to the content we were making.”

Enjoying the frisson of their new business launch, the pair were keen to tell me how and why they plan to do content marketing better.

 

It seems that your decision to establish Thirty Seven was based on a belief that most content marketing is poor. What’s wrong with it? 

Mark Mars (MM): So much content is produced without any strategy behind it and the quality just isn’t there.

When it comes to SEO, there has been such a focus on creating pages that rank for certain keywords. What you often end up with is lots and lots of content which might create a decent search ranking, but the quality is so poor that visitors don’t stick around for long. Google has caught up with that and now has more quality measures in place.

James White (JW): SEO and content are still considered by some agencies to be separate pieces of work. But they need to be considered together. You don’t produce good SEO with poorly developed content; it just doesn’t work.

Also, the content marketing industry seems to be in a race to produce the most amount of stuff. Quality is coming second to quantity.

 

But clearly your customers are increasingly aware of the need to improve content quality. How have you evolved to cope with changing client needs?

MM: A hell of a lot has changed in the last five years. Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million, so brands really understand that this is the best way to reach their audiences.

There is also more appetite from consumers to digest content in many different forms, which opens up plenty of opportunity for publishers and content creators.

But that is not to say that it is being done particularly well. About 80% of B2B marketers claim to use content marketing. But 70% of them lack a consistent or integrated content strategy—and that’s a big problem. There has been too much focus on quantity over quality.

JW: ‘Quality’ is such a generic term because it’s all subjective. You need to develop the right content, for the right audience, in the right format, at the right time and in the right place.

Brands need to think more like publishers to really get the value out of content.

 

You use journalists to deliver content for your customers. The benefits of doing that might be obvious, but what is it you’re getting from journalists that you might not get from other content creators?

JW: Well, content should be more than just marketing. It’s not just good enough these days to tell good stories. You have to educate, entertain and excite audiences. You have to give people a reason to care.

Journalists inherently get this. They know how to sniff out unique stories that make people stop, sit up and listen. My wife is a journalist and she has a great ability to be brutally honest. I could spend all day coming up with, what I think is, a great idea. I’ll go home and tell her about it and she’ll challenge me by saying something like, “Who cares? Why will your audience give a damn?”

And that’s what’s great about journalists. They can easily put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and work out how people tick. That’s why I’ve loved working with our team of journalists at Media First these past six years.

 

Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million...

 

All of your customers will have very different needs. How do you approach each piece of work to deliver the best results?

MM: Well, you need to get into the mind of the client to find out what they want to achieve, rather than just blindly creating content. You need to help build a cohesive and coherent plan that includes not just what content you will create, but also how you are going to publish it and promote it.

JW: It’s all about meeting objectives. Is this content to raise awareness? Or is it to convert lurkers on a website into buyers?

It’s also about looking at data to find out what types of content a client’s audience wants and how it wants that delivered.

When we get into content creation mode, we work like an editorial newsroom to script, write, edit and sub-edit. That then goes through a cycle of refinements until we are happy for it to leave our office and reach the client for sign-off.

 

There’s a continuous debate about the virtues of long- versus short-form content. Which do you think is best?

MM: It’s not really about what’s better. It’s about what’s most appropriate.

We do live in a fast-paced world, but to say that nobody wants to read more than 500 words just isn’t true. Long-form content has always received more shares and links than shorter pieces. People do appreciate the time that goes in to creating quality long-form content. And Google does too, with their algorithm generally favouring longer content.

 

So, are there rules for creating great content that you stick to?

JW: We like to use the simple TRUTH test – that the content is Topical, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble (solves, raises awareness of or discusses) and importantly, contains Human interest.

But it has to be delivered in the right format as well. Many people were surprised to hear that Media First and Thirty Seven have joined forces to create this magazine. Yes, it might seem a bit retro but not all audiences are the same; not everyone wants to read a blog or get their information from social media. I have a Kindle and iPad at home but still buy books, newspapers and magazines.

 

The General Data Protection Regulation is coming, giving individuals more control over how their personal data is collected and used online. What will it mean for the content marketing industry?

JW: It’s certainly something our clients need to be aware of, not least because the new regulation is so far-reaching. It will affect not just marketing but internal comms and even supplier contracts.

You can either hide under your desk and pretend it’s not happening. Or you can see it as an opportunity to be proactive.

I personally think it’s a great thing. I will have more control over my data and who markets to me. And as a content producer, I will know that we are providing our audiences with information they want.

 

So, what does the future look like for content marketing?

MM: We are drowning in content and it is getting harder to get results. The average number of shares of any content has been steadily falling over the last few years. So the whole practice does need to evolve.

That means content marketers need to be a lot more strategic about the type of content they create, backed by better research. And instead of asking inexperienced or new writers to churn out low-quality pages of blogs for long-tail keyword targeting, content teams will be comprised of creative designers, developers, AI experts, videographers, as well as plenty of experienced writers and journalists too.

JW: We also know that it’s going to be important to work closely with our customers’ teams. I hate the concept of a full-service marketing agency, where everything is outsourced. I hate to see comms teams dwindling in size. We want to support our customers to retain in-house teams because we’ve seen just how important they are during the last 35 years working with Media First.

 

What’s with the name, Thirty Seven? How did you come up with that?

MM: Well, if you ask somebody to pick a random number between zero and 100, a disproportionate number of people will choose the number 37. The more you delve into the number – the fact that it appears more regularly than any other number in films, for example – you realise just how special it is. It’s attractive and we’re in the attraction game, so it made sense.

 

What’s it like working with each other? Do you always get on or are there things you disagree on?

MM: We’re very similar. We’re both ambitious and want to succeed.

But our work lives have been very different so we have different ideas about how things should be achieved.

JW: Sure, sometimes Mark and I approach things from a different angle. Occasionally this leads to disagreements. But we complement each other. If we were both the same, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as a team.

Ultimately, we both want to deliver projects that excite and motivate us. That’s the reason we get out of bed in the morning; not to just earn money to pay the mortgage. It’s about more than that.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Marketing

5 marketing and advertising campaigns that imploded in 2018

Emily Stonham 5th November 2018 — 10 mins read
W

hat better way to mark Bonfire Night than to ‘remember, remember’ some digital marketing and advertising stories which went up in smoke this year?

We’ve picked five of the most spectacularly misjudged efforts from 2018.

Some of them are simply ridiculous, others are just offensively tone-deaf.

 

Mastercard Football Tweets

Starting off with a social media campaign that it’s hard to believe ever got approved, cast your minds back to May. Mastercard announced a two-year campaign on its Twitter feed that offered to donate the equivalent of 10,000 meals to the World Food Program.

It sounded nice in principle, until the next part of the paragraph which stated that the meals would only be donated if footballers Messi or Naymar scored a goal.

Understandably, people were outraged online. Why should the starvation and malnourishment of children be left down to a glorified game of fetch? (Sorry football fans - Ed)

There were surely good intentions behind this campaign, but the stunt did nothing but wind up social media users and paint Mastercard in a bad light.

If an organisation has the ability to donate such large amounts of money, it seems like a better idea would be to donate the money rather than publicly flaunt it online for the sake of a football match and a bit of misplaced PR.

 

IHOP/IHOb Name Switch

In June, the American brand IHOP (International House of Pancakes) announced to its distraught followers that they were changing their name to ‘IHOb’ and invited everyone to guess what the ‘b’ stood for.

It caused a lot of dismay with its audience, and earned them a lot of sassiness from other brands.

This stunt seems to have been a lot more trouble than it was worth. After a month or so of IHOb drama and many ‘b’ related tweets, the company announced that the ‘b’ stood for burgers.

I think Mashable put it best when they called the stunt ‘thoroughly underwhelming’. A brand’s name is a huge part of its identity, and the month long change doesn’t seem to have had the desired results for IHOP.

H&M Sweater

Moving on to a social media crisis that should really have been anticipated, H&M found itself in hot water due to one of its clothing adverts. The image depicted a black child wearing a sweater that said ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’.

 

Social media users were immediately enraged - citing the fact that the other white models were wearing different sweaters, and questioning how this photo got approved by an entire team.

This particular controversy caused a lot of debate. Some people immediately declared this a racist act, with celebrities such as The Weeknd publicly breaking any ties that they had with the company. Consumers boycotted the brand, and stores were even faced with vandalism in response to the advert.

 

Here's a video of the protesters destroying a store, via EuroNews on YouTube.

 

However, some determined that this was not at all a racist act, including the boys own family, who said that it did ‘not ring alarm bells’ and they didn’t deem it offensive. Other social media users defended the company’s actions, questioning whether a large company would have deliberately tried to offend people in this manner.

 

Heineken Light Beer

Continuing the theme of unintentional offensive advertising campaigns, this particular one had critics wondering whether Heineken had deliberately created a racist advert in order to attract more attention.

The advert in question is for their light beer, and features a bartender sliding a beer bottle down the bar. It passes several black people, and ends up being picked up by a light skinned woman - with the tagline ‘sometimes, lighter is better.’

People were fuming. The ad suggests a preference for light skin, and the tagline comes across in a horribly offensive way.

Chance the Rapper, a popular musician, branded the advert as ‘terribly racist’ on social media. He also opened up an interesting discussion about whether brands were deliberately using racist imagery or offensive slogans to gain more media coverage.

Shortly after, the advert was pulled, and Heineken issued an apology, announcing that they ‘missed the mark’ with this advert.

 

Snapchat Rihanna Advert

The final example we have today is an advert that caused a lot of distress and outrage online.

For those who may not know, the singer Rihanna was a domestic abuse victim at the hands of her ex-partner Chris Brown. The case is understandably something that Rihanna has tried to distance herself from.

It’s therefore a shock that Snapchat would allow a game to promote this advert on its ‘story’ feature.

The advert was for a ‘would you rather’ styled game, and presented the option to slap Rihanna or punch Chris. Social media users called it ‘tone deaf’ and ‘awful’.

As one user pointed out on Twitter, adverts on social media have to go through an approval process. This means that multiple people looked at this advert, thought about it and said to themselves ‘yes, this is fine.

Rihanna herself condemned this advert, wiping over £700m off of Snapchat’s parent company's value in the process. She discussed the ad on an Instagram story, saying it was ‘intentionally shaming domestic abuse victims’.

 

Snapchat immediately pulled the advert and issued an apology, saying it had been put up in error, but it seems the harm had already been done. Countless people were upset by the fact this advert had ever been created in the first place, regardless of Snapchat’s insistence that it was a mistake.

 

Overall

Overall, there’s been some pretty poor advertising and marketing mistakes this year. From the ‘simply underwhelming’ to the ‘disgustingly offensive’, there hasn’t been a shortage of questionable campaigns to learn from.

So, what can your business learn from these examples in particular?

Firstly, and I know it sounds obvious, but consider carefully how people will react to your campaign. This is especially important if it features something sensitive, e.g. poverty, discrimination or politics.

For example, there were undoubtedly good intentions somewhere in the Mastercard football campaign, but the delivery and perception of it online led to it being seen as something twisted and ugly.

Using crowd feedback to gauge responses on topics like charity can be a great way to prevent things like this happening. Try tools like Instagram or Twitter polls, or encourage users to submit questions or statements - perhaps which charity they’d like your business to support.

Another important consideration is how social media will impact your campaign. I’m sure that the H&M photo didn’t seem like a huge issue at the time to the photographers and creatives, but once social media users got hold of it, the story took on a different turn.

Consider how your campaign will look out of context. Does it still make sense? One of Dove’s ads from 2017 shows the importance of considering context more carefully. A sequence of 4 photos were taken out of the whole advert, and they spread like wildfire.

Here’s the sequence of 4 photos.

 

And here’s the full advert, from Business Insider's channel on YouTube.

The set of four photos looks to be implying that dark skin is dirty and that white skin is pure. It’s crucial to make sure that your advert can’t be taken out of context and be given a whole new meaning.

The final thing to consider is using humour. It might be hilarious to you and your team, but jokes in marketing and advertising can often be lost in translation, especially if it’s dark/offensive humour. If you’re not sure, it’s best to leave it alone.

What’s the worst example of marketing or advertising that you’ve seen this year? Feel free to let us know on our Twitter at @37agency.

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging, informative and shareable so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Adam Fisher
14th January 2019 - 6 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.