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US political reporting

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Like most people at the moment I have been following the US presidential election. What struck me was the state of US political reporting I was watching on US network ABC and foreign media coverage.

Polling station
Polling station sign

Polls

Something seems to have gone wrong with polling methodologies. There are a variety of explanations for this but the impact is felt on US political reporting.

  • There is a lack of polling coverage in areas that are more likely to vote Republican: white working class, working people in rural areas
  • Conversely the models tend to skew more towards urban and suburban based voters
  • The very nature of polling questions is usually done out of context

Qualitative data

What becomes apparent is the there are huge swathes of the country that there is no longer qualitative research from. There are no longer local newspapers in a number of areas and ‘local’ TV networks are often an agglomeration of several former stations. This impacts on the granularity of the US political reporting. The greatest impact of this is felt in areas that are also ‘under-polled’.

Disintermediation of the media

The campaign for incumbent president Donald Trump seems to have been organising under the radar on social media and seems to have focused on getting more people who share their world view to get out and vote rather than reach ‘new constituencies’. This aspect of the campaign seems to have been missed by media pundits.

In many respects it resembles the UK leave referendum grassroots campaigners and supporters of Nigel Farage’s various reactionary political efforts. What they lack in absolute numbers, they try and make up for in commitment to getting out their base.

This resulted in Republican supporters creating convoys of cars and pickup trucks in their neighbourhoods to show their visibility, creating a form of social proof.

Opinions

Instead of data, the US political reporting seems to be based on the opinions of pundits affiliated to both major parties. This allowed networks and audiences to ‘drink their own kool-aid’.

While the Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign strategy was to try and build interest across the spectrum – there wasn’t a manifesto the way we’d understand it in Europe.

Instead there was an exchange of negative character messages about each candidate bolstering this wider battle of opinions over substance. This hasn’t been questioned in the US political reporting that I’ve seen, which surprised me.

More media related content here.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

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Holiday season e-tailing links –

Exclusive: Huawei in talks to sell parts of its Honor smartphone business – sources | Reuters – interesting move that move Honor out of the US sanctions. Less convinced that Huawei can focus on high-end phones as there was a supply chain and design synergy with Honor. More on Huawei here.

Amazon launches an AR app that works with new QR codes on its boxes | TechCrunch

Why the Serverless Revolution Has Stalled | InfoqServerless computing refers to an architecture in which applications (or parts of applications) run on-demand within execution environments that are typically hosted remotely. That said, it’s also possible to host serverless systems in-house.

China’s Games Streaming Giants Huya and DouYu to Merge – Variety – Twitch analogues

EFFECTOR® -ROCK ON THE EYEWEAR- – amazing Japanese eyewear. More style related content here.

Samsung pulls BTS-branded products from online Chinese platforms | Financial Times – this just makes Chinese netizens look ridiculous. It shows a fragile nature in Chinese nationalism. The kind of fragility that could drive China to conflict as the party tries to stay ahead of nationalist sentiment

The ‘Fake Rich’ of Shanghai: Peeking Inside a Wannabe Socialite WeChat Group | What’s on Weibo – this shows the lengths people will go to be ‘living their best lives’. There have been examples of western and Russian netizens doing similar things for Instagram

Caterpillar bets on self-driving machines impervious to pandemics | ReutersFred Rio, worldwide product manager at Caterpillar’s construction digital & technology division, told Reuters that a remote-control technology, which allows users to operate machines from several miles away, would be available for construction sites in January. – They’re not self driving as the headline says, but controlled remotely: think drones not robots. John Deere had done work on pre-plotted courses guided by GPS for ploughing and spraying in large fields. However in agriculture, this is also tied into a bigger issue around the ‘right to repair’ making automation to date non-viable for many farmers

Taiwan academics told to identify as Chinese in journal | News | The TimesSpringer Nature claimed that under its editorial policy, authors alone could choose their affiliations, but said that it was “unable to enforce” the same standard on journals it did not own. It considered Eye and Vision, owned by the Wenzhou Medical University in China, as a “co-publisher” that operated under separate editorial guidelines. “The stipulations of this and other Chinese-owned journals with respect to Taiwanese affiliations are beyond our control,” it said. Its position has prompted outrage from leading academics in Britain, who have demanded that Springer Nature stop partnering with journals that operate under rules set by authoritarian regimes

#MyLevisMyVibe Hashtag Videos on TikTokEarlier this year, Levi’s tested the TikTok ‘Shop Now’ button, which allowed them to provide their fans with a more integrated shopping experience within the app. We are truly moving towards the type of social commerce that has already been going on in China for several years. Now Levis has come back for another big TikTok campaign. This #MyLevisMyVibe is a simple, fun way for people to play around dressing up with Levi’s apparel. What better way for retail brands to connect with their fans than by highlighting them trying on actual clothes? It reminds me a bit of the Asos #AySauceChallenge we covered a few weeks ago. We’re starting to see so many brands now use TikTok that the total set of case studies to draw from is getting larger. I also noted that the language used by Levi’s in the hashtag challenge says “Show us your authentic self,” emphasising the trend of authenticity we are seeing across all modern advertising. I must say that by seeing random people creating their own videos to voluntarily participate in a challenge, it really does feel authentic. – the take from Good TikTok creative

Orders from the Top: The EU’s Timetable for Dismantling End-to-End Encryption | Electronic Frontier Foundation – interesting that this appeared, alongside Five Eyes governments, India, and Japan make new call for encryption backdoors | ZDNet 

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Dettol – back to work

Reading Time: 5 minutes

At the beginning of the month, Dettol launched a ‘back to work’ poster campaign appeared on the tube as part of McCann London’s Keep Protecting series of adverts for Reckitt Benckiser.

The ad campaign had been launched in July with out of home posters like this one celebrating a return to school and video spots.

Dettol keep practicing
McCann London for Reckitt Benckiser

Here’s what Ads of the World had as an explanation of the ad’s rationale:

Lockdown has taught us all to appreciate the little things in life we previously took for granted. As we move out of the lockdown phase, we are all at risk of forgetting the importance and impact of the other little things we have been doing to keep ourselves, our families and our community safe. To remind us of these, Dettol has launched a fully integrated behaviour change campaign ‘Keep Protecting,’ comprising TV, VOD, digital and OOH.

Ads of the World^
McCann London for Reckitt Benckiser

Online conversations featuring Dettol went up 2245%*. In terms of sentiment**:

  • 22% of posts were assessed to be negative in nature
  • 11% of posts were assessed to be positive in nature
  • 67% of posts were assessed to be neutral in nature

Was the Dettol campaign successful?

Was the campaign successful? It depends. At the moment we don’t know how Reckitt Benckiser were assessing the campaign, or what they wanted to achieve.

Reasons for thinking that it was:

  • Dettol would have been top of mind with regards to hygiene thanks to the increased talkability
  • The posters achieved reach far beyond tube travellers; which meant that the ads could be considered to be good value for money. I would presume that they already bought the posters at a considerable discount due to the overall surplus of inventory available in out of home advertising and diminished footfall
  • Any negative impact is likely to be short lived. Discussion peaked on September 3rd, with 3,286 mentions, declined to 414 on September 4th and 96 the following day. Whilst PR experts claimed that Dettol would have a hard time cleaning up after this mess – the quantitative online data tends to suggest otherwise
  • The (small) association of the Dettol ad with the government back to work campaign has potentially alligned Dettol’s personal care and household products to align more closely with the more socially conservative majority outside the big cities. And yet doesn’t seem to have impacted the appeal of the brand abroad in markets like India and Thailand
  • Prior to the ‘back to work’ themed poster, the campaign didn’t seem to have spurred a significant increase in online social discussions at all. Despite the investment in out of home advertising and video. No increased discussion about product usage, or preparing for back to school. The Back To Work poster gave Dettol a brief burst of cultural relevance.
Dettol. Keep Protecting
Data* from Meltwater Social.The mini-peak that occurred on August 24th is unrelated to Dettol marketing efforts ***

Reasons for thinking that it wasn’t:

  • Dettol is already a by-word in the UK when it comes to antiseptic and disinfecting. It is already ‘verbing’ (as Faris Yakob would say) in UK culture. So there would be marginal gains
  • As much as the posters drove talkability, they didn’t seem to drive content on Instagram. So for youth-obsessed brand marketers after millennial Mums and gen-y office workers, it was a bit of a wash out.
  • Awareness and recall probably took a bit of a knock when 203 posts commented about how they thought the Dettol ad (with its prominent logo placement) was part of the UK government’s (currently postponed) back to work ad campaign. This connection has driven some of the media coverage that followed
  • Dettol is likely to remain top of mind for only a short time. Discussion peaked on September 3rd, with 3,286 mentions, declined to 414 on September 4th and 96 the following day. TfL claim that the footfall at the tube is running at less than 30% of usual capacity at the moment
  • The advert spawned memes that were negative to the brand and arguably more culturally relevant
  • The media is likely to have a longer memory than the general public about the Dettol advert. It has placed the brand as a potential football in wider culture wars currently going on. Whilst the brand marketers and advertising agency won’t care, the communications team will likely to have clean up any mess coming to Reckitt Benckiser.
  • The relative furore around the brand, looks bad compared to the results Dettol brand marketing teams have achieved across Asia. For instance Dettol India’s #HandWashChallenge got an astonishing amount of visibility on TikTok. It has achieved over 125.1 billion views across Asia****. More on that campaign here. And the Asian campaigns didn’t cause discord.
  • Only 67 of the 3,870+ mentions associated the Dettol brand with hand sanitiser. Yet a key part of the ad artwork was a silhouette of their personal hand sanitiser bottle
Dettol at Camden Town
Dettol ad in question at Camden Town tube station

The copy:

Hearing an alarm. Putting on a tie.

Carrying a handbag. Receptionists.

Caffeine-filled air. Taking a lift.

Seeing your second family. Watercooler

conversations. Proper bants. The boss’s

jokes. Plastic plants. Office gossip. Those

weird carpets. Face-to-face meetings.

Not having to make lunch. CCing.

BCCing. Accidentally replying-all.

Hearing buzzwords. Leaving early for

a cheeky afternoon in the sun.

Disinfect surfaces we use throughout the

day, so we can do it all again tomorrow.

The little things we do help protect the

little things we love. Keep Protecting.

McCann London for Rickett Benckiser

What about the craft?

My issues with the campaign are more craft-related. The call to action at the bottom made perfect sense when associated with the ‘back to school’ creative iteration of the poster. It makes less sense in the ‘back to work’ and ‘back to commute’ posters, where it has been used unchanged.

The language used in the ‘back to school’ poster would bring back emotive memories of school. The back to work poster evoked the ennui, awkwardness and embarrassing moments that Ricky Gervais skewered quite eloquently in the comedy TV show The Office.

There was also a clear comparison to Renton’s ‘Choose Life’ speech in Trainspotting 1 & 2

Original version from Trainspotting
Updated Trainspotting 2 version

This could have been done so much better. It would still have been controversial – instead much of the abuse has come at the expense of its mediocrity. I suspect that the ad was an unintentional troll.

I am confident that this wasn’t a Dominic Cummings-type of deliberate trolling. It wasn’t designed to stir up brand relevance amongst the general public at the expense of the work-from-home metropolitan elites.

What next for Dettol?

The account planning team and client service staff members at McCann London will be wrapping together much of the reasons and data I’ve suggested above into a positive narrative for the client. If they manage to pull that off; they may even try to use it for award entries next year.

Dettol is a well-loved brand in a relatively low-passion category. Everyone I know has a bottle in the cupboard under the kitchen sink with the cleaning supplies or in the first aid kit. It deserved so much more from the marketers at Reckitt Benckiser (UK) and copywriters at McCann London.

More FMCG-related content here.

Notes and references.

^ VOD means video on demand like Netflix, Hulu in the US, NowTV in Hong Kong or ITV Player in the UK. OOH means out of home. Poster adverts that could be on billboards, electronic Jumbotron type signage, trains, buses or taxis. They can be inside like the London underground (mass transit) posters or out on the street.

*All data quoted from Meltwater Social. I looked at data only in English from the UK. The sources for mentions that I selected were: Twitter, forums, blogs, comments, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and YouTube.

** Machine derived sentiment, so assume that it is only 65-85% accurate

*** The mini-peak on August 24th was Twitter users sharing a meme about childhood in 1970s Britain. It associated Dettol with a simpler, if more deprived Britain. The original tweet that got things going said:

I was moulded in the 70’s…when ya school jumper was knitted by an intoxicated grandma…when ya bath had Dettol not bubbles…ya phone was a pissy smelling red box..you was tucked in & couldn’t move….fish finger sandwiches & lard fried chips & I’d go back in a heartbeat ❤️

Mark Norris on Twitter

**** TikTok like other social platforms have issues with regards engagement metrics.

UPDATE: September 15, 2020 – YouGov surveyed the British public on each of the concepts in the copy and you can understand from the results why it went over so badly. TL;DR – People really don’t like their alarm, they don’t miss the smell of the office or even eating out for lunch and your work colleagues definitely aren’t your second family (PDF)