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A monthly look at the world of digital from NORTH’s point of view

Why Reading Books is Harder Than It Used to Be

Devon Brown, Performance Marketing Manager

Image Source:

Sometimes I struggle to read books. This wasn’t always the case. I used to be able to crush pages without a care in the world. Lately, unless I’m reading something utterly riveting, my book reading attempts usually go like this: Read a sentence, then two, then three, my phone buzzes, it’s a tweet, I check it. Go back to my book, read another sentence, then two, then three, I feel a twinge in the back of my head, like I left something unfinished, or I need to check something, just in case. I reach for my phone, remember some super interesting article I started at work but never finished, get sucked into that. Ah, that’s better. My brain feels better. Sorry book. Game over.

It’s not so much the knowledge I’m missing out on that bothers me. My online reading is usually substantive. I read long, in-depth articles about science, technology, changing human behavior, etc, etc. It’s not like I’m scrolling through vapid Kardashian feeds. It’s the fact that I can’t focus on more than 6 lines of text on paper without getting distracted that bothers me. Why? Should I be worried about this? Well…one night I was worried enough to Google it (instead of reading my book), and I came across an article by Hugh McGuire titled “Why Can’t We Read Anymore?” He explains the reason he can’t concentrate on books is because he feels like he needs something more happening, something to scratch that brain itch. Reading a book is just so…quiet. All those pages and pages of stillness, just the words and paragraphs, with nothing else happening. Digital devices are designed to hold our attention despite anything else that’s going on, books just are. And every new piece of information we get from our devices, every tweet, email, rolling eyes emoji, provides our brain with a little flood of dopamine. And our brains are trained to seek out little floods of dopamine. Our brains are addicted to little floods of dopamine.

So all day at work we are getting little floods of dopamine. Tweet, emails, interesting spreadsheet numbers, Snapchat stories, NY TImes articles…that could be thousands of little floods of dopamine throughout the day. Then we sit down to read a book, and the dopamine stops. We live in an era of 3 second attention spans, where people can’t listen to an entire song all the way through without getting distracted. How on earth can we be expected to read books?

To help retrain his brain, McGuire set a few basic ground rules to “re-learn” how to read again. No phones in bed, no TV after dinner, no email at night, etc. To his surprise, his brain adapted quickly. In a short time he was able to begin giving the deep, therapeutic focus to books he had once coveted. And this, I think, is where culture is headed.

We live in a chaotic world that, sometimes, can feel like it is falling apart in many ways. We are politically divided, addicted to our devices, have no attention spans, live in economic instability with the cloud of nuclear threat, have a volatile climate, our social progress is being reversed day by day, and we are experiencing more health issues than ever before in the form of anxiety, depression, cancer, loneliness, social isolation, and obesity. Consumers are aware of this and becoming hyper aware that all of this digital noise and the onslaught of information doesn’t feel good, even if they don’t understand why. And they are starving for quiet meditation, and restful relaxation, and stillness. Even if it hurts at first, or they’re not used to it, they’re beginning to show preferences toward these types of lifestyles.

Things like meditation apps, adult coloring books, and self-help books about finding inner calm and peace can be found everywhere. You can’t hardly throw a rock in any american city without hitting a yoga studio, or a therapist that practices mindfulness. Are these products and services utilized, or aspirational purchases that go untouched? Who’s to say. And what does this all mean for advertising in our digital world? I have a few predictions about the changing tides:

  1. As consumers get smarter and better at being calm, they are going to start being very selective about what they view online. People will start limiting themselves to one or two social platforms which will in turn silo and faction them. Brands and advertisers will have to react via media plans accordingly.
  2. For many, digital time as a whole will be limited daily, and consumers will make active attempts to slow their minds and disconnect.
  3. Long articles will make a comeback. Publishers such as NYTimes will move towards creating few articles that are well researched and go deep within a subject, possibly being 15–20 pages long.
  4. Article series will become more popular than ever. Meaning, the subject will be deep enough to warrant 6 articles that come out over the course of a year, and might be all that journalist works on for an entire year. Why wouldn’t they just write a book? Because while good intentioned, consumers won’t exactly nail their digital addiction triumph.
  5. Ironically, a consequence of #1–4 will be that our brains will start needing a steady, slow trickle of dopamine rather than little floods and bursts that we’re getting now, and the industrial strength content machines of today’s brands will need to be mindful of the changing brain. Buh bye listacles.
  6. Brands and advertisers will compete for the coveted most stress free / simplest solution /get in get out / get back to your life / most minimalistic messaging in nearly every category.

Hopefully these awarenesses will point us toward consumer trends that make for happier, calmer, more peaceful people, despite the chaos around them. Time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on my own flailing attention span.

Facebook, Dmexco, and Brand Safety Tools

Izzy Kramer, Media Planner

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Over the past year, Facebook has faced controversy relating to inflated metrics and brand safety on their platform. This has created anxiety and uneasiness with brands and advertisers, catching them in a hard spot as Facebook is basically an inevitable element to any campaign. With that said, over the past year Facebook has made promises to improve, focusing mainly on transparency and measurement. These promises have slowly been rolling out with the introduction of brand safety tools available to advertisers using their self-serve platform. However, the brand safety tools Facebook has offered have left advertisers demanding more.

This past week, Carolyn Everson, VP Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, publicly made the announcement about new tools and standards they are setting for themselves via their blog. Facebook’s latest plan made more than promises and drew out continued implementation; Facebook also made these announcements at Dmexco.

Image Source: via the Dmexco Conference

But first, let’s step back. What is Dmexco? Dmexco is the Digital Marketing Expo and Conference held outside of Cologne, Germany. Is it like the Cannes Festival? Similar but, not really. Think more tech than creative. Dmexco is becoming a more international conference, but for the most part it is a proudly-German conference. Making it a funny place for Facebook to make such an announcement with Germany and Facebook’s recent controversy.

But pushing that aside, Facebook did make the announcement and there was a lot said. So let’s break it down and list the top 5 updates to note:

  1. For ad placements were context is crucial, Facebook introduced monetization eligibility standards that, as Everson put it, “‘will provide clearer guidance around the types of publishers and creators eligible to earn money on Facebook, and the kind of content that can be monetized.’”
  2. Facebook is joining forces with two viewability partners, DoubleVerify and Meetrics, and is in negotiations with other international partners to cover markets around the world.
  3. Already available but constantly improving, Facebook will continue to allow advertisers to see where their ads appear pre-campaign launch. Opt-out lists will be provided for advertisers to give more control over placement.
  4. To improve transparency, Facebook will supply analytics tools providing information about exactly where ads appeared post-campaign.
  5. Facebook is in the process of beginning to work with Trustworthy Accountability Group’s (TAG) anti-fraud program. Additionally, they have applied to receive their MRC (Media Rating Council) accreditation.

It is important to note, they made sure to emphasize this is an ongoing effort that can’t be solved in one night and shouldn’t be solved only in-house; Facebook reiterated they have brought on over 3,000 reviewers to help in this renovation. They are working hard and seeking outside resources to improve. It is a work in progress, but what isn’t?

Canvas Comes to Instagram

By Caroline Desmond, Director of Media

Image Source: Instagram for Business

On Tuesday of last week, Instagram announced the roll out of Canvas ads to Instagram Stories. Canvas has been available to brands on Facebook since early 2016, and it’s primary benefit has been to deliver an app-like experience in an ad. Browsers can expand to view video, browse carousel images or other rich content without ever leaving the feed, and Canvas ads load 10x faster than mobile web sites creating a more positive user experience.

Although Canvas ads within Instagram Stories do not yet allow video, the immersive experience still lends itself to Instagram’s traditionally more engaged audience who are more apt to be in a “lean forward” state of mind and therefore more likely to swipe to expand for additional info on product, ordering options, or swipe through additional product images. Although Facebook is still the gold standard for reach, Instagram has long delivered higher engagement rates. In 2016 Entrepreneur reported that engagement with businesses on Instagram is 10 times higher than on Facebook.

From a messaging strategy perspective, the added real estate within canvas ads also provides greater latitude for brands to tell richer stories beyond basic features and benefits. As Instagram noted in its blog post, “marketers are able to use the creative versatility of Canvas to tell compelling brand and product stories,” thus serving both brand objectives of awareness and consideration.

The barrier to entry for brands wanting to test this format is also low right now. Canvas ads are available to buy on an auction basis and early reports are that CPMs currently range from $5 to $10 CPMs. The variance in cost is influenced by the timing of the buy, target audience, size of the buy. How well creative performs also plays a role in CPM rates. On that note, one challenge some brands may face is making the case for larger production budgets to accommodate the increasing demands of digital ad formats ranging from square (1:1) or rectangular (16:9) aspect ratios to emerging formats vertical formats (9:16) for channels like Snapchat and Instagram Stories. Canvas ads to some degree will allow for some reuse of existing assets in the swipeable carousel features, for example, but they also have the potential to be harder working units that justify the additional investment in production to create assets tailored to the platform.

DIGITAL MEDIA DIGEST: SEP ‘17 was originally published in North Thinking on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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