Red Bee is celebrating a birthday. We’re 10 years old this week. Amid the usual swilling of champagne, wailing of karaoke and bitter tears of the tired and emotional with which we normally greet Tuesday mornings, we’ve been casting our eyes back over what we’ve achieved since our birth back in the dim and distant days of 2005. And we’ve been feeling quite proud of ourselves. You can check out what we think are our greatest hits on our Twitter feed: @RedBeeCreative #RedBeeBirthday. To put that little hit parade together we went trawling through the archives of over 50,000 pieces of creative work we’ve made in that time. And it’s been refreshing to see how well most of that work has aged, especially so, given that’s a compliment that can’t applied to many of us that work here. But during that review process it struck us what a different place 2005 was, and how much has changed since then.
Let’s start with the obvious stuff that’s different in 2015 – the brands and tech innovation that has most dramatically transformed the way we live and the way organisations communicate. Back in 2005 we were dealing with a media landscape into which two current giants, YouTube and Facebook, had only recently made tentative first steps, and myspace was generally predicted to be the VHS of social media – rather than the Betamax it eventually became. No marketing brief is now issued without consideration of YouTube and Facebook but back then the closest anyone got to thinking about social video was a hope that the ad/promo might ‘go viral’ on the web in some barely definable way. And in 2005 it was still pretty rare to have a mobile phone that took photos, let alone a phone permanently connected to the web.
So, the rise of the high-speed mobile web and its associated social platforms has enabled marketing’s biggest shift of the last 10 years…
The rise of content marketing
This one was well-predicted, not least by our good selves, it’s why we stared a video-driven content division after all. But there’s no doubting that content marketing is a far more potent weapon in 2015 than it was in 2005. In 2005, broadly speaking, if you wanted to seduce an audience with editorial content, you could either launch a magazine (great if you’re an airline with a captive audience, not so great if you’re selling cans of beans), send out some emails or navigate your way through the contortionist’s obstacle course of OFCOM regulations to do an expensive AFP. But now the channel choices are more varied (online video, apps, digital magazines, social media feeds, etc) and provide much greater creative opportunities (we couldn’t have done many of these things in TV ad breaks). And as ad-skipping technology in both PVRs and online has decreased the reach of traditional interruptive campaigns, content has become a key way to attract and influence the audience.
But as significant as this has been, it was no surprise: it’s pretty easy to find predictions from the early 2000’s stating that by 2015 we’d all be on the internet everywhere, with a powerful yet tiny computer in our pocket. And plenty of people predicted a move from interruptive marketing to more attractive and editorial model.
What I’m more interested in is the real surprises. Like these.
Twitter bucks the trend
Firstly, step forward Twitter. Imagine the pitch:
“Right everyone, we’ve got something that’s going to change the world. It’s gonna be like crack for the web-enabled middle classes. It’ll get people stuck to their phones, it’ll both spoil and enhance TV viewing, it’ll be the fastest news service on the planet, it will help give rise to the notion of citizen journalism, it’ll truly globalise activism, it’s going to turn a troll into a verb, make Stephen Fry the de facto head of state and lead the Labour Party to think they’ve got the 2015 UK election sewn up.”
“Wow. Our dollar bills are clean, ironed, stacked and ready to ship. Tell us more.”
“You know how the world is going image and video crazy due to 3G and wireless and all that? And Apple have released the iPhone which can do all these fancy things? Well, we’re going to get people to share their thoughts and links in just 140 characters, with no videos, no embedded images and no choice of font.”
“That’s a text message”
“How about texting lots of people at once?”
Twitter’s moved on a tad since then and has fully embraced video, but it is mind-boggling that it spread like wildfire against all the prevailing technological winds of the time. Now no marketing campaign is complete without a Twitter strategy. But on what brand of device did we assume anyone would be tweeting in 2015?
Nokia, Motorola and Blackberry wither on the vine
Every pun intended. The rise of super web-enabled new smartphones from Apple and Samsung saw the dramatic crash of three of the world’s biggest tech companies. Chances are in 2005 your mobile phone was made by one of three brands above. Mine was. Little did I expect that in consumer terms they would be all but extinct by 2015.
Africa goes mobile
And who would have thought that the world’s most enthusiastic embracers of mobile phones would have been those in the developing economies of Africa? As development and prosperity boomed, and wireless networks expanded, Africa skipped desktops, laptops and landlines and went straight from paper and calculators to the smartphone, using it for all manner of business purposes. In Lagos it’s common to see street scenes with a young entrepreneur wielding two or three of the devices, like some sort of smartphone business ninja.
So, those are the surprises that few people saw coming. But what about the world we expected to find in 2015? What happened to that?
Unlike Twitter, what should have spread like wildfire was of course the Red Button. Back in 2005 we at Red Bee were gearing up for a deluge of Red Button projects. Every brand was surely going to be running TV ads with a Red Button option for people to get all interactive with their chosen brands. Alas the more popular Red Button proved to be the one that turned most tellies off when the ads came on, so that the owners could go and grow a beard or something and then watch the main programme later on their PVR or iPlayer.
A similar level of excitement greeted the second-wave of Connected or Smart TVs. This time instead of hitting the Red Button and waiting 4 hours for it to load, people would simply shop directly from their fancy new telly. For marketers this would be the best of marketing from the TV and online worlds combined. Reacting to precise personalised ad targeting from your TV, based only on your interests. Bookmarking an ad, with one click on your remote control prompting an email about the product. Sitting down to watch a brand’s channel through an app on the Smart TV. Not exactly normal behaviour yet is it? What the Connected TV marketing evangelists didn’t anticipate was the rise of the tablet or smartphone and the notion of dual screening. People don’t want to faff about with their big telly. More than ever, the big screen in the comfy room is about lean-back entertainment.
Dual-screening will transform marketing!
Meh. Maybe, but not yet. Yes, people are dual-screening themselves to distraction, but not many brands have yet worked out how to successfully commercialise that behaviour. Shazam and Zeebox/Beamly are banging the drum, but I don’t think I’ll need a PO box to handle the letters of testimony from those of you who’ve had a meaningful dual screen experience with a brand.
QR codes will transform marketing!
OMG, QR codes are like sooooooo 2011. Though still used here and there the QR code seems to have been superseded by more advanced AR software that can make anything interactive without the need for downloads. It didn’t help that so many QR codes were plonked in pretty unscannable places: “Shall we put it in the bottom corner of the poster?” “Why not, I’m sure the audience won’t look daft at all bending down to scan that…). But to give the humble QR code its due it did usher in the potential for any item to be interactive – a notion now readily accepted.
Google Glass will replace the smartphone!
Okaaaay… But I haven’t seen that many people donning their Google shades round my way. Maybe that’s because the average wearer manages to make this famed time-travel pioneer and futurologist look like an understated style icon:
Return of the GIF…
Now this is a piece of technology we thought would have died away a long time ago. A basic loop of images in a file? Surely in the new high-speed broadband wi-fi world of the everywhere internet we’d have full HD videos on screens at every turn? No need for juddery little GIFs. Well, yes and no. We are predictably video-centric, but GIFs are booming. In our world of over-bearing content choice and multi-media distraction, where our attention spans are shorter than ever, GIFs have cut themselves a handy little niche as light, quick, off-the-shelf reactions that can be viewed more seamlessly and with fewer megabytes than proper video. The GIF was perfect for the early stages of social media and an entire generation has now grown-up with GIFs as a natural digital language. Entire GIF libraries now exist and earlier this year Channel 4 launched 4Newswall, a GIF-driven Tumblr news service for younger viewers.
Who, in 2005, could have foreseen that it would be easier for a woman to gain access to an AD33 Judean stoning than for a clean-shaven male to gain a creative role at a marketing agency?
Who on earth decided that dressing like an ailing Victorian or an overly tumble-dried lumberjack, or perhaps just tying a woolly jumper to your face would make you seem strategically or creatively credible? And who could have known it would go on for soooooo long? Despite reports that we passed ‘peak beard’ back in 2014, I see no sign of this hirsute trend dying out.
In my next blog I’ll be musing on the facial hair trends we’re likely to see for our 20th birthday in 2025. My first prediction is that Gillette and Wilkinson Sword will be no more. Do let me know your views on that critical issue, or any of the other predictions for the trivial stuff about human behavior, technology, marketing and communication.
In the meantime, do wish us a happy birthday if you’re passing by.
Michael Reeves, Business Development Director, Content