2016: A Year in Review

2016 has been a big year, filled with a lot of unforeseen changes from Brexit to Beyoncé dropping Lemonade. The events and business decisions from this past year have affected everything, including our own little world of media.

As the final issue of Rocket for 2016, we wanted to compile the reflections and predictions of  those around the network, each one reflecting a unique background and point of view.

It’s been (sur)real; see you on the other side.


The year we gained a little more balance

Kate Williams, Executive Producer, Carat APAC

“The fucking debate is all over” was one memorable 2016 industry headline for me. The katemad man behind the statement resigned and the global industry discussions that followed evidenced how wrong his claim regarding gender bias was. Our reality is gender bias is one element of our wonky advertising industry. Advertising is in-balanced in many aspects; gender, ethnicity, age. Due partly to out of date agency models and legacy leadership hiring and promoting people who remind them of themselves.

What is brilliant about our industry though is the overwhelming need for us to cultivate diversity, and the actions smart businesses take to foster this.

Our creative business, Carat Content has been designed from day one to be nothing like legacy creative agency models. Our approach means we strengthen our team with people who are not like ourselves. We unite team members with different perspectives, backgrounds and skills. 2017 is a year of significant growth so I am excited we will continue to sharpen our edges, building even more diverse, challenging and stronger teams. As a result, we are more reflective of society, and collectively we produce the most creative, successful work.


The year AI broke into our consciousness

Ben Milne, Head of Innovation, Client Services, Posterscope

This year I hired a PA, Amy. She is now a regular feature of my day, autonomously emailingben colleagues arranging our meetings and putting invites into our calendars.

Amy is an AI bot. She only does one thing, but she does it brilliantly. So well in fact that a number of my colleagues have invited Amy to lunch so they can meet her in person! There is potential for improvement though, when I asked her what the weather was, I got a stock “I’m sorry Dave I can’t do that” type reply, something that Siri, Cortana or Google Now can all do with ease.

2016 was the year Artificial Intelligence (AI) broke into our consciousness at scale. In the future AI will become more ubiquitous and interconnected. We will become more familiar and comfortable with its presence and begin delegating more of our tasks and decision-making to them.

From a marketing perspective, we already know a lot of content and advertising that consumers discover and consume is being curated and created by the AI code powering ad tech platforms the world over. In 2017 I expect that the advances in the way AI mediates human lives will necessitate a greater focus on marketing to bots not people.


The year we realized how important it is to break out of our bubbles

HyoJae An, Strategy Associate  Director, Carat APAC

November 9th hit me to the core personally, I was so sure like all the other liberals out there that Hilary would win, and that only the minority of uneducated racist people voted for someone like Trump. Since the shock win there have been numerous articles that have been written about the “bubble” that the Democratsscannable-document-on-29-nov-2016-5_18_26-pm lived in and criticisms soon followed on how they failed to really listen to the white working classes.

This hit a chord with me on how we and marketers today approach our job. How much do WE really listen and empathise with different types of consumers today? Are we living in our own marketing bubble?  We get in the habit of generalising a whole group of consumers, because of course ALL Gen Z’s have an attention span of a goldfish and need a distraction ALL the time, oh and they also take in information instantaneously apparently.

Trump’s campaign had 40,000-50,000 different Facebook ad variants that were constantly A/B tested, a process which made the messages more meaningful and personal to the individual voter. He also understood the rural voters much better than Clinton, as marketers and media specialists I wonder how much we skew our communication from our urban lifestyle POV, forgetting to understand the different media landscape and motivations of rural consumers.

Development of technology allows us as marketers to make our communications that much more relevant and targeted.   There is no excuse anymore to generalise a whole generation of consumers, we need to start being more empathetic, curious and most of all listen if we want to come out as winners.


The year FMCG brands didn’t grow

Jonathan Rudd, Head of Digital Strategy, Carat APAC

‘Big brand’ FMCG in is facing real challenges. 90% of the top 100 FMCG brands didn’t grow last year. For the majority, jonathandoing things the same way they’ve always been done clearly isn’t the path to growth in the digital economy.

The problem is brands are too often guided by their defined ‘category’ which is often dictated by retailers. This dependency on existing customers and networks is a root cause of the innovators dilemma and one of the core reasons so many well-known brands are in decline.

By looking beyond a brand’s traditional category and understanding the broader Consumer Activity Cycle, it is possible to redefine what value a brand can create for people and unlock tremendous growth opportunities. This involves understanding how people behave (how they go about getting jobs done) and creating value such as saving time or money, or providing entertainment or social worth during the activity cycle. Typically addressed via a tech solution(s), it also helps accelerate digital competency and promotes innovation whilst opening up new opportunities around data collection, targeting and commerce.


The year people created their own truths

Reuben Png, Director of Experience Design, Carat APAC

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded reuben
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) was not referring to the fake news sites covering the recent US elections that received more engagements on Facebook than mainstream news sites. Neither was he singing about the average ability to discern between fact and fiction in this era of clickbait, scams and misleading thumbnails. Perhaps times were simpler in 1988 when he wrote the song.

What is certain today however, is that anyone can be presented with varying versions of information according to what topics they are usually interested in, who they regularly connect with and where they access the information from. The truth, it seems, depends on what the beholder chooses to perceive (and what the data source provides).

Data in its most common form is one-dimensional. The chief responsibility of those who gather and interpret data is not simply to deliver it, but to also understand and provide the context to which the findings are true. It takes bravery to test your findings against datasets that are outside your comfort zone, but the end result is insightful information that is robust and trustworthy. This not only maintains our credibility, but also builds long-lasting business value for those whom we advise and design for.


The last year we should care about clicks

Ed Wilson, Regional Digital Manager, Carat APAC

2016 saw many changes, both good and bad. But there was one thing that didn’t evolve as much as it should have. In all but a few cases digital measurement is still being done the same was as ever and it’s getting increasingly more wrong. The reliance of clicks continues to cloud the most important measurement of marketing: who was reached, how did it affect them.

If I asked a marketer to give me $0.50 and in return I would click their ad – what would they say? They should say no – because clicks only tell marketers how good they were at getting clicks – and who cares about that?  What they do care about is how their brand/campaign is perceived and sales.scannable-document-on-1-dec-2016-11_33_39-am

For the upcoming year I think that there are a couple of glimmers of hope to look forwards to:

Atlas, although suffering a rocky resurgence is going into full measurement mode. This means we’ll be able to use Facebook ID data to see where interactions happen across their many devices and better understand how they fall down the ‘funnel.’ Advertisers with no conversion point need to be asking their account teams to ensure that brand tracking is implemented – that is to ask the question to the intended audience “what do you think of my ad?”

For advertisers in South East Asia there is a Nielsen integration with Google’s DCM coming so we should be able to activate that ever too neglected brand tracking with a simple flick of a switch.. OK so setting these things up is never that easy but at least some complexity is being removed!

Finally solutions such as Google Consumer Surveys can give both pre and post campaign insight. The ability to ask people what they thought of the campaign and to then get answers back in a matter of minutes. These have been little utilised since launch, as they incur additional costs – but these are answers worth paying for.

I’d like to see at least one of these on each plan in 2017. Then we can talk about clicks.


The year that felt like a serious blast from the past

Jasper Distel, Regional Associate Director of Strategy, Carat

There is only one clear superstar this year. It created an overnight phenomenon, gotjasper people killed and even had governments all over the world introduce official legislation. And no, I’m not talking about the latest synthetic homemade drug—I’m talking about Pokémon GO. Actually, not just about Pokémon GO itself, but more about the ‘secret ingredient’ that catapulted it to immediate success.

Little over 20 years ago, there was a Japanese fellow called Satoshi Tajiri who created the Pokémon franchise. Nintendo quickly spotted its massive potential and decided to jump on board. It then reached and moved millions of teenagers all around the globe during the 90’s.

The most interesting part?! These teenagers who grew up with Pokémon are now the group silly media peeps often refer to as ‘millennials.’ Guess which group were the quickest to adopt the game? Yep, same same but a little older.

And it didn’t end there. Stranger Things—a show heavy on 80’s nostalgia—broke all records when it was released by Netflix and even kicked Narcos and House of Cards’ ass. In your face Pablo. But wait, there’s more… Nintendo just relaunched the most iconic game console EVER. It brought back the NES and sold out within a matter of minutes. The secret ingredient behind all these successes? Embrace nostalgia and marry it up with modern tools and trends.

I’m already looking forward to 2030 when iPhones, Musical.ly and Snapchat Lenses potentially make their comeback.


The year we got even closer to becoming a sci-fi film

Kim Doan, Regional Digital Manager, Carat

Remember back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, sci-fi films such Total Recall and Minority kimReport would be so mind-boggling? Not only because of the story plot, but how imaginative and forward-thinking technology was portrayed in these movies; as if it would be a lifetime before these advancements would exist.

A memorable scene is when Jon Anderton (Tom Cruise) enters the GAP store and a hologram message was targeted directly at him – or rather since he replaced his eyeballs – targeted at Mr. Yakimoto. This story was set in year 2054 and it doesn’t seem like the prediction from this film about “predictive analysis” is that far off.

We’ve had industry leaders going into 2016 saying “By 2020, 50B devices will be connected” (since revised to ~21B devices) – to put into context, our global population is recorded at 7.4B. Internet of Things (IoT) continued to be a huge topic this year with developing news of Google Smart Lens and the launch of Uber and Volvo’s self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.

Marketers are diving further into a space where internet connection can come in many forms, making our media channel choices and consumer journeys more complex as every action feeds into a matrix of data. Ultimately, our channel choices will be difficult and as important as being asked whether to take the blue pill or red pill.


The last year we should start a communication plan with a TV ad

Jonathan Rudd, Head of Digital Strategy, Carat APAC

Many brands in APAC are still a long way off reflecting how people consume media. Whether it’s salary men in Tokyo or Gen Z in

rudd Jakarta, the majority of people are watching a lot less linear TV and spending a lot more time on their phones. However, media agencies are repeatedly briefed to distribute TVCs on digital platforms, the majority of which are simply not fit for purpose.

Consumption behaviour in digital, particularly on newsfeeds, is totally different. Many marketers in the region still start their communication planning process with a TV ad or a TV script. Instead, it should begin with a creative idea that can be effectively amplified across platforms and screens where people spend their time. This also means customising content to reflect platform consumption habits as the user experience on Snapchat, LINE, Facebook, YouTube and many others varies significantly and users are now much more empowered as to whether to stop and watch or swipe/tap away content that doesn’t stand out or resonate.


The Year of Open Source and Collaboration

Clay Schouest, Chief Strategy Officer, Carat APAC

Three things come to mind in terms of notable changes I’ve witnessed for the industry in 2016.

Firstly, there’s been a real shift toward more claycollaboration and development of solutions on open-source platforms and APIs. Whereas previously brand ecosystems used to be closed to competition, 2016 was a shift toward opening up to allow enhancement and development. Facebook comes to mind in terms of API plug-ins. We’ll see more of that to come as brands realise they can’t do it alone and that the benefits of collaboration result in far better consumer experiences.

Which brings me to my second observation: the increasing usability of Big Data. There seems to have been a steep uptake on pulling multiple data sets and an increase in ability to combine and use them.

Lastly, my third observation is about the growing emphasis towards context-driven marketing and how it enhances mental availability for consumers and thus brand relationships, à la the huge popularity of Laws of Growth.

I think 2017 will be about how we continue with the above to further enhance consumer experience within the communication ecosystem. I hope the new year will also bring about a shift towards how to inject more creativity into our work.


The year Snapchat became a media force

Tam Le, Senior Strategy Manager, Carat APAC

This year, the social media account I placed above all else was Michelle Obama’s Snapchat. In a year plagued by copy-and-paste features tam(Instagram Stories and disappearing photos, Facebook Live), Snapchat felt surprisingly fresh. Always one to go against conventional wisdom—temporal content, vertical videos, little to no user instruction—Snapchat continued to do its own thing in 2016.

During this year’s SXSW, I watched Mashable founder Pete Cashmore state that Snapchat will be the new cable TV. And it’s clear from the app’s redesign in June to combine publisher-created Discover channels from companies like CNN, Hearst, etc. with user-generated Live Stories from your friends or celebrities that Snapchat aims to be more than a social media company. In fact, with the introduction of Spectacles (sunglasses that can shoot videos for Snapchat) and the rename to Snap Inc., the company aims to be more than Snapchat alone.

Snapchat is an important channel for marketers to watch as they continue to introduce more ad products and tools for advertisers. And don’t underestimate its growing user base: this year, Snapchat surpassed Twitter in daily users and it’s only a matter of time before it takes over Asia as well.


The year we had to scrap everything we know…again

Jude Koh, Regional Associate Strategy Manager, Carat APAC

In 2016, amid the numerous celebrity deaths, earthquakes and shocking election results, the media and tech industry

judealso went through a year of turmoil. We saw Pokémon GO which finally led us to seriously advocate or doubt AR (again). Instagram is slowly taking all of Snapchat’s features. The new Apple TV combined social, news and actual television programming all into one screen. IBM Watson proved predictive analytic and neural learning could be the smart assistant we need for media buying and planning.

Although all these developments seem like just headlines, they pave the way for even bigger changes in our industry. These changes are natural given the increasingly fast progress of technology and rise of competition. 4 years ago, I started my career as an intern in a digital agency. Everything I learnt then has since been disrupted or flipped. Today, Atlas isn’t so bad anymore, mobile is all the rage, and video became cool.

So what do all these changes (or disruptions) mean for us? It means that what we know (or think we know) today has a high chance of being obsolete tomorrow, but what will not change anytime soon are basic human behaviors. People still love cat videos. People still love looking at themselves—whether it’s in the reflection of a pond, a commissioned oil painting portrait, a Polaroid picture, a duck-faced selfie, or a puppy-filtered snap. Media is just an amplification of these human behaviors and the better we understand them, the better we can navigate these changes. Here’s to the changes! Cheers to a turmoil year! Here’s to more AR selfies and may the lonely hearts always get a swipe right.


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Illustrations by Tam Le, Senior Strategy Manager, Carat APAC.