Bigeye’s podcast features Stephen Pickens of AdvertiseCast, talking about growing US podcast listenership and how to successfully advertise in podcasts.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Advertising in podcasts. Stephen Pickens is Director of Sales for AdvertiseCast, a network that allows podcasters to monetize their content by partnering with major brands. With US podcast listenership seeing a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent, Stephen explains how podcast advertising works. We learn about new opportunities to target listeners dynamically and hear what COVID-19 and social distancing might mean for podcast listenership in the long-term.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello! I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. According to the latest annual Infinite Dial Report from Edison Research and Triton Digital, the number of US consumers ages 12 and up who listen to podcasts on a monthly basis continues to rise – up to 37% this year. While podcast listening has increased across all age groups, more young people – between the ages of 12 and 34 – listen than any other age group. The survey of more than 1,500 Americans ages 12 and above was conducted in January and February of this year – so before the COVID-19 crisis mandated stay-in-place and social distancing. The study found that 24 percent of total respondents reported listening to a podcast in the week prior to the survey, up two percentage points from the same time last year. But for comparison, in 2013, only 7% of Americans listened to podcasts weekly. The amount of time spent listening to podcasts has also increased. Among those who listened to a podcast in the previous week, respondents spent 6 hours and 39 minutes, on average, engaging with podcasts. And six in 10 respondents who listened to podcasts in the previous week listened to at least 2, while close to one-fifth reported listening to 6 to 10 podcasts during that time. A separate study from Westwood One and Audience Insight shows that the largest number  of podcast listeners in the US access them through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts. Research from Nielsen found that heavy podcast listeners are more likely than others to listen away from home – either at work, in transit, or other places such as the gym. Amid the array of media options consumers have available to them, podcasts are portable and are a constant companion when viewing a screen isn’t an option. Smartphones are driving podcast engagement, as more than 36 million Americans now access podcast content this way. The heaviest podcast listeners are also most engaged when they’re away from home. However, smart speakers are playing a bigger role in growing podcast audiences. Across platforms, smart speakers are more likely to attract audiences of more than one, which, from an impression perspective, is a key insight for advertisers. To help us understand advertising in podcasts, our guest this week is Stephen Pickens, Director of Sales for AdvertiseCast. I met Stephen at an event called PodFest which was held in Orlando at the beginning of March just before the enforced closure of hotels and resorts here in Central Florida. Stephen has spent his career growing startup, direct-response advertising agencies focused largely on national TV media buying for brands such as PokerStars, Zulily, and NordVPN. Last year, Stephen decided to follow his passion into the podcast space, joining AdvertiseCast, a podcast ad network that allows thousands of podcasters to monetize their content by partnering with major brands such as HelloFresh, HomeAdvisor, Betterhelp, and more. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Stephen!

Stephen Pickens: Thanks for having me, Adrian. Happy to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Could you tell us a little about AdvertiseCast?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, so the podcast space is pretty fragmented. There are thousands of shows out there, so from an advertiser perspective, if you wanted to add podcasts to your media mix, it can be a very daunting task. And on the other side of the coin from a podcast or perspective, if you want to monetize your content, you may not really know where to start in terms of sourcing that demand. So we stand in the middle of thousands of shows and hundreds of advertisers and we’ve got a really nice balance of supply and demand within our network to make sure that the podcast ad buying process is super smooth, efficient, and streamlined.

Adrian Tennant: So Stephen, what does your role with AdvertiseCast entail?

Stephen Pickens: I’m the Director of Sales and I work with a number of advertisers to determine what the best approach for them is in terms of podcast advertising. So they’ll come to us and I say, you know, “We really want to get into podcast advertising – how do we do that?” So we’ll determine how best to reach their target audience within whatever their budget constraints are. And within our platform that we’ve developed, we can put together uh proposals for them to consider and then go ahead and execute the campaign.

Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways is advertising within podcasts different from other types of media?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, so I like to think of it as word-of-mouth marketing, but at scale. So if you have a friend that recommends you try a particular product or service, it comes with a level of authenticity because you trust them. And it’s really similar to podcast advertising in that way because at least in terms of me, the shows that I listen to, I really trust the hosts. So when they take some time out of their show to explain a product to me and ultimately endorse it, it comes with a tremendous amount of weight. And oftentimes we’ll send our hosts samples of the product or a free trial of the service so that they can actually speak to their personal experience with it. So it’s a really high quality way to share your message with a very engaged audience.

Adrian Tennant: Can you explain the main ways that ads are actually inserted into podcasts?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, so podcast hosts will record typically around 60 seconds for the message and endorsement. And they’ll insert it into either the beginning as a pre-roll or the middle, as a mid-roll, and then they’ll distribute nationally to all the different podcast player platforms. So it’s largely been a national media play but more recently we’ve developed the ability to dynamically insert so that you can target geographically, demographically and on interest as well.

Adrian Tennant: So you’re saying that we are at a point when ads can be inserted dynamically into podcast streams to target listeners based on their data in real time. So I’m thinking of targeting based on their demographic and geographic data in addition to maybe their tastes in music or podcast genres?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And this is one of the more exciting areas of growth that we’ve seen in recent months. So podcasts have mostly been a national media play and so it’s left a lot of geographically targeted advertisers out of the space. But with dynamic insertion, we can target geographically, demographically, by interests and so, given that the CPMs are also a little bit lower with this dynamic approach, it opens up podcast advertising to a lot of smaller players, which is really exciting. We’ve seen a ton of interest for geo-targeting within podcasts.

Adrian Tennant: Okay, we’ll certainly get into how pricing works, but you just mentioned CPM, so for listeners that don’t know, can you just give a description of CPM?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah. So a CPM is cost per mille. I’m not sure why the industry decided to use that terminology because I believe it’s based on the Latin term for thousand. So to keep it simple, it’s cost-per-thousand listeners or cost-per-thousand viewers. It’s a standard metric to determine price between different shows and different campaigns. So with the programmatic or dynamic approach to podcasting, it’s a little bit cheaper. But with the host read approach, it’s a little bit more expensive just because it’s a higher quality kind of engagement and those CPMs can range anywhere from $25 to $35 for a host read campaign. And for a programmatic campaign with dynamic insertion, it’s typically around $15.

Adrian Tennant: Now, Stephen, you obviously listen to a lot of podcast ads. So for the creative directors and copywriters listening to this, what makes for a really great, engaging podcast advertisement?

Stephen Pickens: So just the authenticity needs to be there. Oftentimes when we set up a campaign, we won’t give a script to the podcast host, we’ll just give them bullet points – we call them talking points – and this allows them to craft their own message uh in a style that the audience is accustomed to. And, you know, oftentimes we’ll send the host, like I mentioned earlier, a sample of the product or the ability to try a service out for free so that they can actually tell a story about their experience with it, which is really way more effective than a rote speech.

Adrian Tennant: Now, for the media planners and buyers listening, how does advertising on podcasts compare with other forms of media? For example, you just mentioned, you know, selling on the basis of the number of ad impressions, but do you also support cost-per-action or cost-per-acquisition models?

Stephen Pickens: So at this time we don’t, there’s such a high demand for the listener’s attention. There’s really not a lot of demand for cost-per-acquisition pricing models, so we base it all on CPM and in the case of podcasts, an impression is synonymous with a download.

Adrian Tennant: Now AdvertiseCast represents around 1,800 podcasts which reach more than 70 million listeners each month. What are some of the differences you hear between podcasts produced by large entertainment or media companies and those from smaller, independent producers?

Stephen Pickens: That’s what’s so great about the podcast space. There’s such a wide breadth of content. You’ve got some really large podcasts out there that have really high production value hosted by celebrities and media personalities. And then you’ve got a very long tail of independent podcasters that you know, are producing out of their basement or out of their garage. And that is not to say that their content is not as good. Sometimes it’s much higher quality just because it’s so authentic. You have access to experts from many different fields, burgeoning comedians, it’s really just a tremendous space because there is such a crazy variety of content for you to access that we didn’t have access to previously.

Adrian Tennant: What are the most popular genres or podcast categories in AdvertiseCast’s network?

Stephen Pickens: So news is really popular, sports – prior to the coronavirus situation – are really popular. Obviously when sports get canceled, people talking about sports don’t have much to discuss. True crime is really popular. You may be familiar with the “Serial” podcast that kind of put true crime, that genre, on the map. So there’s a ton out there. There’s really a podcast for every conceivable topic.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the things that AdvertiseCast considers when it’s considering representing a specific podcast? I mean, how important are listener numbers, or downloads, or social media engagement?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah. So we just have a minimum of 2,500 downloads per episode. We are open to working with pretty much any genre, any kind of podcasts. We are true believers in the space so we want to bring content to everybody – we want a very wide net for the podcast space. So really the only thing that we look at is a minimum number of downloads such that it would be attractive to advertisers because we’re really serving both podcasters and making sure that they can monetize their content, but also advertisers and making sure that they have an attractive audience to reach.

Adrian Tennant: So, Stephen, what are your favorite shows? Give us two or three examples of what you like to listen to.

Stephen Pickens: So I love history and I love economics. Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” is a really amazing show. He hasn’t put out many episodes recently, but I encourage everybody that has an interest in history to check that out. The episodes are about four hours long, so you have to be one of the long podcast listeners to enjoy it. And I also enjoy “Macro Voices,” which has a lot of heterodox economic thinkers talking about things that are going on in the world of macroeconomics.

Adrian Tennant: Wow. That’s super-specific. 

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, I mean, I also am a huge fan of Joe Rogan’s podcast. That was the first podcast that kind of introduced me to the space and his show is super popular. He has a ton of irreverent characters on and discusses topics that you can’t really hear anywhere else. So he deserves a ton of credit for putting podcasts on the map.

Adrian Tennant: He regularly appears as the top show in terms of total listens, correct?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, I mean he’s a Media Titan now!

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back, after this message.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements.  If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Stephen Pickens of AdvertiseCast about advertising within podcasts. Now, podcast listening outside the home is obviously on hold for many people now given the shelter in place orders that we’re experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic. What impact do you think being homebound will have on podcast listening time in the future?

Stephen Pickens: So I think people are, obviously, their schedules are changing given that they aren’t commuting. So we have seen a little bit of a dip in listens but you could attribute that largely to some of the drop-off in listening to sports podcasts, as opposed to behavioral changes in terms of commuting. But I think people will get back to consuming the content that they love. I know I was talking to my brother earlier this week and he said, “I just had to turn off the TV. I’m tired of looking at this coronavirus coverage,” and he went back to revisit some of the podcasts that he had neglected given that he hadn’t been commuting for a couple of weeks. So I think people will gravitate back to the content that they’ve come to enjoy.

Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways are you seeing COVID-19 impact your clients?

Stephen Pickens: So it really depends on the category. I’ve had a few clients postpone their campaigns whether it be because they were promoting a conference which got canceled or if they’re seeing some sort of slump in sales demand. But for the most part, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the demand that still is coming in. You know, when life throws you a curveball, people adjust. So whether it’s a direct-to-consumer brand that delivers products directly to people’s homes – they’re actually gonna see an increase in activity. We have, you know, some clients that promote home wifi networking – they’re definitely seeing an increase in demand. So I think it really depends on the category and luckily enough for the podcast space, there’s still a very strong audience there that you can reach and make sure that you’re still staying top of mind for those consumers.

Adrian Tennant: COVID-19 and stay in place orders are impacting people around the world. According to research from GlobalWebIndex, almost one fifth – 18% – of consumers in the US say they may now subscribe to Netflix for the first time. Disney+ follows in popularity with 14% of consumers saying they don’t currently subscribe, but they are now considering it. And then music and audio platforms follow closely behind with Spotify at 11% and Amazon Prime Music at 10%. It’s interesting to see Spotify there as they’ve really focused on podcasts this year. As you know Stephen, behind the scenes, Spotify has acquired some major podcast networks including Gimlet Media, Parcast, and the podcast creation app, Anchor. What’s your perspective on podcasts potentially being exclusively available within Spotify’s walled garden, rather than across multiple platforms as is currently the case for most podcasts out there?

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, so there’s a couple of points I’d like to raise here. First of all, you know, I’m not a big fan of walled gardens. I think podcasts have somewhat of a democratizing force behind them. Not only in terms of, you know, the content that you may not be able to consume on mainstream media platforms, but also just the barriers to entry are very low. So the wider we make that net, the better. It’s going to be good for everybody, the listener or the advertiser and the podcaster. And you also mentioned that consumers are moving more towards streaming services, which I find to be really interesting because I spent most of my career in the national TV space and we were always watching the subscriber numbers and the Nielsen ratings with bated breath as it would kind of slowly decline over time as people move more towards consuming media on demand through smart TVs and things like that. So what I find really interesting about the coronavirus situation is that it may force a paradigm shift that otherwise would have taken many, many years to occur. When people are staying at home and maybe they’re getting tired of watching news coverage of the virus and they certainly don’t have live sports to watch, both of those things – live news and live sports – are kind of the anchor that TV has relied upon. And now that those two things behavior and consumption might be shifting around them due to this virus. People may find that they don’t need to subscribe to their cable anymore and maybe they’ll just stop to go with Netflix, Disney+ and other subscriptions through their Apple TV or Rokus. So I think it’ll be really interesting to watch whether or not a subscriber numbers plateau, decline, increase as a result of this situation. Definitely something to watch closely.

Adrian Tennant: Do you see any positives emerging from our current situation, say on the podcast production side of things?

Stephen Pickens: Well, I mean, it’s difficult to try to find a silver lining in a global depression, pandemic situation, but being an optimistic person that I am, you’re always trying to look for the upside. And given that people are changing their behavior and adjusting to this massive disruption and people’s normal everyday habits, there’s always opportunity in that. And I think given that podcasting is so flexible, we can adjust. We can optimize. In fact, over the past few weeks, we’ve introduced several Coronavirus-themed shows on our platform and the listenership is growing dramatically. So I think it would be pretty difficult for other legacy media to adapt to an ever-changing world the way that podcasts can.

Adrian Tennant: I certainly think it spurs creativity and innovation that there’s no question.

Stephen Pickens: Absolutely.

Adrian Tennant: If listeners want to know more about AdvertiseCast, where can they find resources?

Stephen Pickens: So you can go to We have a ton of great resources there. You can reach out to me directly – Stephen is spelled with a “ph” and we’d be happy to speak more about how we might be able to help you.

Adrian Tennant: Stephen, thank you very much for being our guest today. Really appreciate it.

Stephen Pickens: Yeah, thank you, Adrian. Take care.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Stephen Pickens, Director of Sales with AdvertiseCast. You can find our show notes with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights” – just click on the button marked “Podcast.” Please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.


Bigeye’s podcast with Dwight Bain of the Life Works Group, talking about mental resilience during the COVID-19 crisis and how changing our mindsets can help.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: How to combat ‘Pandemic Panic’ and boost personal immunity. Dwight Bain of Life Works Group explains why learning self-care is key to managing stress during the COVID-19 outbreak. Dwight offers practical tips for developing mental resilience – and explains why he believes many organizations will come out of the current situation even stronger. The show notes include links to online resources.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Today’s show marks the start of our third season of this podcast. When we launched in October of last year, we did so with the intention of reflecting Bigeye’s audience-first approach to marketing strategy. Our editorial plan incorporated stories that reflected emerging consumer behaviors, evolving attitudes towards brands, and regular updates on media consumption. Clearly, a lot has changed in a very short space of time. This past weekend, Pew Research Center reported that Americans are increasingly alarmed by the rapid spread of COVID-19. A majority of people now believe the outbreak poses a major threat to the health of the US population and the nation’s economy. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed by Pew said they or someone in their household has lost their job, suffered a pay cut, or a reduction in work hours because of the novel coronavirus. Here in Central Florida, we see the impact of the continued closure of the theme parks, resort hotels, restaurants, live entertainment, shopping malls, and all the other businesses that normally would be serving the millions of annual visitors to our area. Even for those who don’t have the virus, nor have been affected economically, stay-in-place orders and enforced social distancing have disrupted personal and professional lives – further blurring the lines between home and work. Domestic internet usage has increased thanks to a huge uptick in Zoom calls and video streaming, and traditional TV viewing is way up, especially among younger generations. While practicing social distancing, people are turning to social media as well as old-fashioned phone calls to stay connected with friends and family. To help us navigate these enforced changes in daily routine and learn how to remain resilient in what may be a sustained period of economic uncertainty, our guest this week is Dwight Bain, founder of The Life Works Group, based in Winter Park, Florida. Dwight has guided thousands of people through challenging times as an Author, Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Leadership Coach, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and former Family Law Mediator in clinical practice since 1984. Dwight is a best-selling author on the subject of creating change through his books, blogs, “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” stories as well as being quoted in over 20 books. A trusted media source, Dwight has been quoted by and featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, Orlando Sentinel and radio and television stations across the major networks. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Dwight!

Dwight Bain: Well, thank you Adrian. I’m very happy to be here and as you shared with those numbers, we can tell of course, your listeners can tell, these are very different times. If people are talking about the new normal and I’m calling it a new reality because we’re still in a rapid change cycle and for some people that’s recession. But for other people, I believe it’s not an economic recession as much as an emotional one. There is much to discuss.

Adrian Tennant: Could you tell us a little bit about the Life Works group?

Dwight Bain: This is a counseling agency. I founded almost 40 years ago. We’re a team of individuals, we’re faith-based, dealing with areas of mental health counseling, addressing issues of change, career repurposing, coaching people with communication skills and abilities, helping people develop creative ideas, and taking them to the marketplace. One of our counselors works extensively with the court system. People going through a change in their relationship sometimes after a divorce or custody issues. My focus in working with the community, working with the media is to bring a positive message about emotions and relationships because I believe there’s a lot of bad news, but if we can, we can change the perspective and change the focus. You can find the opportunity in the middle of the crisis.

Adrian Tennant: Now, before COVID-19, what did a typical “day in the life” look like for you?

Dwight Bain: That’s a great question. I work in the office four days a week and then I’m out either writing or speaking a day a week and it would mean a couple of days of clinical work in the area of mental health helping individuals past anxiety, loneliness. Sometimes, people feel overwhelmed because of traumatic episodes in their life. And the good news, things like PTSD, OCD, ADD, and other things that start with initials are completely curable and correctable. There are a number of new brain patterns that we can utilize so that it’s more about life skills and instead of more pills, speaking with corporations, with groups on the area of change, helping people change if it’s more of a mental focus that might be counseling Bates with clinical hospitals and psychiatric facilities, behavioral treatment centers. But if it’s in the area of change toward growth, those are coaching topics. And right now there’s some phenomenal opportunities for people that are paying attention and then have been able to turn off the fear. If we were a visual, I have a little model of a brain here, Adrian and I would show you the prefrontal cortex is the creative center of the brain. And when we’re in a panic, you know, fight or flight routine, that part shuts off because I don’t need to think creatively. When I’m running from the saber tooth tiger, I’m running for my life. I need to be able to utilize every bit of brain power for running and surviving. So we’ve got to calm people down so they don’t stay in that survival mode. Because if you’re in that fear-flight cycle, what happens is you’ll lose the ability to think creatively. You’ll, you’ll either break off connection with your core customers, vendors, and some people it’ll actually turn self-destructive. Their anxiety and panic will turn towards feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. And we’ve already seen that. And that’s why I think conversations like this are so important to let people know that we’re stronger together. We can get through this, but there are some steps that I want to see people taking for themselves, for their families, their staff, so that we get through it stronger together.

Adrian Tennant: Now with the 24/7 news cycle, COVID-19 coverage is immediately available to us all on our screens, our smart speakers. You know, the statistics we’re being presented with are often scary. How can we keep anxiety and negative emotions from spiraling out of control?

Dwight Bain: Adrian, we control our thoughts, get as much of the news media during a national catastrophe. You know, during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, during the economic recession, if people are old enough, they may remember the HIV AIDS crisis in the 1980s… Get as much news as you need about Y2K or some global event, Hurricane Dorian, and then turn the news off. Most of us, unless you work in the news media, most of us are not watching 24 hours a day of news. And so what that means is, unless you were watching that much news before, don’t watch it now. The more you focus, the more you’ll change your mood, right? Our mindset determines our mood. So there’s something I saw posted on social media today that I thought was really good. I don’t really know who the sources are, but it just simply said that during this episode with coronavirus lockdown, if you have not gained a new skill, if you have not learned something new, something powerful, your problem isn’t time – your problem is discipline. And I thought, “that’s a really good idea.” Because for many Americans, they’re shut down for a month. And if we could go on a time machine, Adrian, back 365 days to good old 2019, the number one thing that Americans have said they wanted in surveys the last several years, American said, I want more time. Okay, well now you’ve got more time. And what I’m starting to hear is that people spend a lot of time on Netflix and they spend a lot of time on video games and they spend a lot of time on Facebook catching up with people from high school. I’m not sure how many people have learned how to play the guitar. I’m not sure how many people have been very disciplined about moving forward and gaining a new skill. And for some people, maybe there’s a certification you can pick up. There are things you can do during this period of time to make you better, stronger, faster. That’s a mindset and when you change your mindset, you’ll change your mood. Here’s the other piece, you’ll also find motivation because if I’m learning a new skill, a side hustle, more knowledge, I’m reading the books that I want to read, I’m positioning my company for the future because this economic shutdown will end. This will not go on in perpetuity, but if you, if you finish this season, mentally strong instead of sheltering at home, you’re strengthening at home, you’re skill-building at home, you’ll be positioned to move forward very quickly. I think for many people when the economic shutdown stops, when individuals are able to kind of go back to work, the theme parks open back up. Adrian, I think they’re going to be some people that have gained five pounds and lost 30 days and that troubles me and that’s why I hope that that even now will spark them toward, “I need to use this time to build me, my staff, our company – so that we’re positioned for rapid growth and these rapidly changing times.”

Adrian Tennant: The World Health Organization has referred to coverage of COVID-19 as an Infodemic – highlighting concerns about the accuracy of information and reliability of sources sharing data about the novel Coronavirus across social media. I thought it was interesting, Facebook issued a statement in response saying that they want everyone to have access to credible information and to limit the spread of misinformation and harmful content about the virus. Dwight, what sources do you think we should trust at this time?

Dwight Bain: I’m glad you asked me the question because I certainly agree with the idea of information overload. One of the areas that we’re gonna ask people to do is to pay attention to what information do you need right before we even look at a trusted source? And by the way, that would be like – the Centers for Disease Control – or, or Johns Hopkins University. And it’s interesting, some of the spammers, I wish the spammers would work on a vaccine because some of them are quite clever. I almost clicked on a John Hopkins look alike and somebody thankfully was by my screen and said, “that one’s spam!” And I, it was an exact clone look alike. So we’re going to find some trusted news sources, but first Adrian, we’re going to pay attention to what information do you need? You don’t have to continually know what is happening in a part of the world where you don’t do business, don’t have family, have no connections. That information might make you feel very afraid. But it’s not going to make you feel better because you’re going to feel helpless. If there’s one word in the midst of everything that’s occurring that will change your emotional state. It’s the word control. You have to give up control of the things you cannot control. Now that may seem simplistic, but you can’t control the global economy. You can’t control what somebody in the White House says. You can’t control what happens with a disease and a part of the country that you’ve never visited or have no family members, but you can control your mood, your mindset, your attitude. You can control the information that’s coming in. You can control if you didn’t watch television five hours a day before, don’t watch it five hours a day now. Just spend time with your morning rituals and routines. I call those a daily dozen. They’re quite important because a daily dozen is being able to, when you wake up in the morning, first alarm, you get out of bed and you follow some routines, you follow some patterns and those patterns will do something remarkable. It will make you mentally strong and mentally tough. And that means as you go through the day, you go through the day feeling stronger, you go through the day feeling empowered. Instead of feeling weak. I want people to go through their days feeling kind of turbocharged of, “I know we can get through this together. I know what we can do about it.” And that starts with what you’re feeding, not just your body – because we all know we should eat healthy. I want to see people doing that with their mind and their information source. And one of the greatest ways is to simply put a timer on it. If you’re spending five hours a day on Facebook, I would challenge that individual to say, “how is that benefiting you? How is it making you money? How has being on a social media platform for five hours on Pinterest, what does that have to do with your responsibilities?” Because if it’s not helping you Adrian, I believe it’s hurting you.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm – so interesting to hear you talk about the importance of routine. Roughly three out of every four people here in the US are – or soon will be – under instructions to stay indoors as states and localities are trying to curb the spread of the Coronavirus before hospitals are completely overwhelmed. As the pandemic stretches into several weeks, maybe even months, are there any specific coping mechanisms or techniques that you think listeners can use to develop the kind of mental resilience that it’s going to require?

Dwight Bain: Even if you’re completely sheltering in place and you have no opportunity to go outside, I mean I hope that folks could go outside just for sunshine, for the vitamin D content and the vitamin D boost, but you can build routines. Think about Nelson Mandela in a prison cell, being able to just look out of a tiny window, but for 22 years he mentally focused on what his greater purpose was and then when he was released from prison, was able to change apartheid in South Africa. When you look at individuals who have been jailed or blocked or locked into a tiny space, they can come out of it much stronger. It’s a mental game. It’s mental, it’s emotional, psychological, spiritual. To be able to have a quiet time of meditation, a time of prayer to simplify everything in our life. And for me, a lot of that happens through reading, journaling. I’ve been told recently that it is very hard right now to find jigsaw puzzles because mentally it not only passes time, but it mentally keeps you sharp. If you’re doing something passive like watching television or playing a video game that’s passive, it’s not going to make you mentally tough or mentally stronger. People are going to have potentially a month in their homes and some will get weaker and stressed and worried and afraid, and they will create their own problems. Now this gets serious because the more you stay stressed, worried and afraid, the more you weaken your immune system. And the one great thing that you can have short of not being coughed on or sneezed on by someone infected, the greatest thing you can have is a strong immunity. And part of that immunity is mental and psychological. Of course, eat colorful foods and all the things that Dr. Oz talks about, but mentally and psychologically, you can make yourself stronger or weaker based on what you seed your mind. I believe something that Dr. Daniel Amen teaches, if you change your brain, you’ll change your life and people will have an opportunity to do that. And I believe in this type of an environment, we’re going to see some people, they’ll take the challenge, they’re going to read more, they’re going to clean out those closets. They’re going to stay mentally active at home and, and they’re going to help themselves now and likely prevent the onset of early adult dementia and 30 years. Because if you keep your mind strong and focused in this situation, you can stay mentally strong in any situation.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Karen Hidalgo: I’m Karen Hidalgo, Associate Account Manager at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising account professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with your audience. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Dwight Bain of the Life Works Group about the impact of COVID-19 and coping through the crisis. Well, let’s talk about some of our youngest members of society. With almost all US states closing schools until at least the end of this month, new data from a company called SuperAwesome, which is a kids technology company, shows that many children ages six to 12, spending at least 50% more time in front of screens every day during this pandemic. What can parents do to ensure that their kids’ screen time is beneficial?

Dwight Bain: I like that question because it’s funny, parents who were just screaming six months ago, “get the kids off of screens!” are now in a situation where the schools have said kids have to go back to screens. And so what we can do is to set timers. If a child was at school, there would be science from this timeframe until this timeframe and then we would go on to the next task. It’s going to be important, I believe, for individuals, for parents to be able to not only set timers on some things, but to be able to get up and do stretch exercises. There are ways for us to stay active. Whether you’re six years old or you’re 60 years old, there are things you can do to stay mentally tough, mentally strong, mentally focused. And with parents, the greatest thing that you can do with your children is keep everyone on a schedule. Keep everyone on a routine set, bedtime set. Wake up time for everybody. We have breakfast time, laundry time, folding laundry time. The more we can keep those routines in place, the more we’re gonna prevent, not just cabin fever, but the more that the whole family is working together. And I believe, Adrian, we’re going to see some families come out of this significantly stronger and significantly happier because they learned what families learned during the great depression: they learned how to do life together. They learned how to get through a difficult time together and they learned how to partner together. So it wasn’t just the parents having to be Supermom, Superdad – it was the entire family becoming more resilient in the face of difficulty. And that’s why sometimes after a crisis, we’ll say, “you’ve seen the best in people, you’ve seen the worst in people,” and the worst tends to make the news. But I think we’re going to hear some remarkable stories of stronger families of stronger and new companies doing inventions, things that came out of the 2008 Great Recession changed our new inventions. While people will be doing that as well. If they can get to that creative side of their brain and we get there by calming, deep breathing meditation. The Navy seals teach something called box breathing. It’s very important. You can actually change your pulse. You can change your blood pressure by breathing differently, breathing stronger and breathing in a certain way and your body will actually calm down. You can watch blood pressure go down, resting heart rate go down. It’s very interesting. But the part that I know for, for you and I, and for your listeners, even though we may not ever have a chance to go see the Navy seals, we can learn one of the principles of the Navy seals. And in so doing we can control our next breath with mental focus. And I think as we do that, not only will COVID-19 just be a memory and I don’t know, five years and people say, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” We will get through this. But some people will get through it stronger, focused, resilient and better. And other people, it will just be something that they live through. And, and, and there was no benefit to them other than they survived it. And while survival’s not bad, I think that we can, we can take a crisis and turn it into an opportunity for growth, an opportunity for a family coming together for stronger relationships, for organization, for gaining new skills. There are opportunities, but we do have to be disciplined to put them into place. And some of that starts with a daily routine and a daily schedule.

Adrian Tennant: Dwight, your one of the leading national trainers in the field of community crisis management. I know you’ve helped rebuild stability after national disasters like the Columbine and Sandy hook school shootings, hurricane Katrina, and across the pulse nightclub, terrorist attack here in Orlando. And you also worked with a team helping first responders in New York city after the terrorist attacks of nine 11 in 2001 in what kinds of ways are the impacts of covert 19 similar or dissimilar from those situations?

Dwight Bain: Mmm, that’s a great, great question because the, the difference in this situation is we are still spiraling down with the terrorist attacks of nine 11. It was limited to Washington, DC, one area of Pennsylvania and New York city. When we look at Hurricane Dorian, Hurricane Irma, it’s geographically limited. Some of the wildfires we saw in California several years ago that just decimated thousands of homes. It’s geographically limited. And so in this situation, Adrian, we’re also seeing some geographic limitations. Some cities like New York City, New Orleans, Miami, Seattle, I mean, just at a catastrophic level of need for quarantine because the disease is just highly contagious and running rampant. Then you have other parts of the country, North Dakota is not as affected. And so the differences here is those were events over a period of days or even with 9/11, it was a day. And this one has gone on for weeks and is projected to go on for months. And so what we have are some of the similar dynamics of the cycle of pre crisis crisis and the crisis recovery, except right now the crisis is extenuating. We’re on day 20 and some cities day 30 in some cities, some parts of the Pacific Northwest, here in Florida where I live and where we’re recording, you know, we’re on a community lockdown, a statewide lockdown that’s projected for another 30 days. And so what happens is that the crisis exposes things that were there before, but that were either overlooked or people didn’t want to deal with. For instance, an example would be a relationship problem. If people are in a strong relationship, obviously they’ll come through this much better. But people are in a distant relationship, a struggling marriage, maybe there was a lot of tension in their home. This is going to expose those problems. And sadly for some, I’m afraid that it will escalate. And here’s the number one rule in a crisis: Don’t make it worse. There’s enough problems. Don’t make it worse. And I think for many people, a hope is that they’re going to hear this and Adrian, they’re going to say, “you know, those guys made sense. I think that I should take some, some steps, build some routines, build some schedules. I think that it’s important for us as a family.” You know what? We need to spend time working on the things that matter to sit down and talk with your family. And there are a number of resources that our team has put together. They’re community crisis recovery – they’re absolutely free. People can go to our website, I’ll give you the PDFs. Please share them with all of your listeners because I know that going through this together, if we talk to each other, we can get through it. If you talk through it, you can get through it. Nobody wants to be in the middle of this. But the good news is that together learning from each other, sharing ideas, being creative, opening up conversations just like this one, we will come out of it. And for many people, many organizations, many families, they will actually come out of this situation stronger. And it’s because of the choices that they made in the middle of the crisis – choices that they’re making right now toward mental wellness and resilience and strength instead of living in fear.

Adrian Tennant: Dwight, thank you very much for being our guest today and for sharing your advice on staying connected, calm and honestly managing the anxieties of our current moment. Really appreciate it.

Dwight Bain: I’m glad to be part of the conversation to bring healing and strength as we all recover better together. Thank you.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Dwight Bain. You can find our show notes with links to the resources that Dwight mentioned on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.



Kara Baker, Director of Digital Partnership at the Golf Channel, discusses TV coverage of sports disrupted by the coronavirus.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: COVID-19 and sport. Every major US sporting event has been suspended or canceled because of the coronavirus. Our guest this week is Kara Baker, Director of Digital Partnership and Operations at the Golf Channel. Hear how her team is responding to shifting priorities and changes to signature events as a consequence of COVID-19. Kara shares practical tips for keeping remote teams connected and productive while maintaining a work-life balance.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: A unique perspective on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello! I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Today, we’re going to be talking about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sport, and what it means for marketing and advertising. Fifty-nine percent of Americans follow a sport or consider themselves sports fans. Yet, every major sporting event in the United States has been suspended or canceled because of the coronavirus. The N.B.A., the N.H.L., M.L.S. and Major League Baseball have all suspended play. The N.C.A.A. canceled all of its championships, including the men’s basketball tournament, which supplies most of its annual budget. Even the Boston marathon, usually a staple of the spring sports calendar, has been postponed until September. And the cancellations are not limited to the US. This summer’s Olympics in Tokyo are being postponed until 2021, UEFA too has postponed the Euro 2020 football competition until next year, and numerous marathons, including those in London, Paris, and Barcelona have all been postponed, as has the French Open tennis tournament. All of these cancellations have an enormous economic impact. Sports sponsorship is worth around $55 billion a year. There are the revenues that come in from people watching the games live, but also from television rights. For example, the revenue for the National Basketball Association is around $1 billion; Premier League Football brings in around $2.7 billion. Fans spend money traveling to games, on hotel stays, and buy merchandise. So it’s a big industry. I’m joined today by a marketing professional who is dealing with these changes to key sporting events as a consequence of the coronavirus on a daily basis. Kara Baker is the Director of Digital Partnership and Operations at the Golf Channel, a television network owned by the NBC Sports Group division of NBCUniversal. The channel focuses on coverage of golf, including live coverage of tournaments, as well as factual and instructional programming. Kara’s career has been centered around operations and partnerships. While she started in the non-profit sector running operations and project management, she ventured over to the sports media industry a few years ago and hasn’t looked back. Being a competitive golfer since she was a teenager, finding a career at the Golf Channel has been extremely rewarding and fun. She now oversees digital partnerships for both the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup digital products. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Kara.

Kara Baker: Hi, thanks. I’m super happy to be here today and kind of share a little bit in this ever-changing world right now that we’re living in sports and COVID-19.

Adrian Tennant: So Kara, what does your role entail?

Kara Baker: Okay, sure. Yeah. So I help oversee the digital products for the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship events. And so just to paint a little bit more of a picture, PGA Championship is one of the four majors in the golf industry. There’s also four events that are under the PGA Championship: there’s the senior PGA, the KPMG Women’s PGA, as well as the Players’ Professionals Championship, which kind of leads into this team of twenty that gets to play in the PGA Championship. But most people that are probably listening today will know the PGA Championship and that it’s one of the four majors. And then additionally, the Ryder Cup, which is a competition between Europe and the US that happens every other year, that is also a really big golf tournament, probably one of the best that there is in the sense of just camaraderie and country and team spirit. And so with both of those PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup, I’m helping with the digital products as well as the partnerships that these media kind of deals and rights hold for us at the Golf Channel. We’re building out the website and the apps that go along with these products and then the partnerships perspective are the governing bodies that are putting on these events. So that’s the PGA of America and the European Tour.

Adrian Tennant: So before COVID-19, what did a typical “day in the life” look like for you?

Kara Baker: So we have a small team that’s a hundred percent dedicated to these digital products and day-in, day-out project management, product management, the design, and a whole slew of different things. And then we have a partner that we’ve sourced from a development perspective that we’re constantly working with as well as what we call our shared resources within the Golf Channel and NBC Sports. And so when you look at those three buckets – our own team, our dev vendor, as well as our shared resources – we are in constant communication with all of those teams and ensuring that we have put together all the different moving parts. This is a new partnership for us that started that we signed the contracts for in 2019, so 2020 PGA Championship and Ryder Cup will be the first year that we actually are the ones producing these digital products. And so this is a big year for us. It’s an implementation year. And so we’re working with a lot of different people on ensuring that we get everything right and we get it all built from the ground up, the best way possible for year one. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, in what kinds of ways is COVID-19 impacting your work at the Golf Channel?

Kara Baker: Yeah, so like many companies around the world right now, we are working from home but I think it’s been really a pretty amazing testament to see how quickly we can go virtual. Our team specifically started doing an 11:30 standup call where we all are on video calls. And you know, before, I think there was a lot of reluctance to turn on that video screen, where now it’s, “no, let’s get personal, let’s, let’s make this humanize as much as much as we possibly can.” And so we turn on that video screen and we all share laughs about what our background noise is. My boss’s kids are coming in and out – and it’s great, I think it’s really cool. And so I think that the biggest way it’s been impacting us is by making us go remote. But I think it’s been really amazing to see how it’s almost become more humanized and it’s the new norm. There’s some kind of funky background noises and kids are coming in and out in meetings and dogs are barking and that’s okay. And so I really think, again I go back to it’s humanizing where we all are and that we’re all on this journey together and we all have lives at homes that we’re now bringing a little bit more into work than we probably ever thought we would.

Adrian Tennant: The Masters is the first major golf championship of the year in the US and has been played every year since 1934 – except from 1943 to 1945 when it was canceled because of World War II. Yet it has also been postponed this year because of COVID-19. How has that impacted your plans?

Kara Baker: So the Masters is the first of the four majors and it’s about five weeks prior to the PGA Championship. So when the news hit that the Masters was postponing, it was a foresight or was it a foresight – you know, in April, everyone knows right now with COVID-19 it was within the 30 days was then so many different warnings that the government was putting out with large groups of people. And so the question was, was the postponement of the Master’s going to be a domino effect for all the other majors? And we were the second one up with the PGA Championship. And so that was the biggest thing is that wasn’t foresight or was it that it just fell within a window of time that kind of made it obvious and that everything would stay as it stands right now with the PGA Championship. And so it was about three to five days later, I think, because I think the Master’s was announced on Friday that it was postponed and then by Tuesday, so four days, five days later, a PGA Championship was announced that it was going to be postponed. So I think that, I don’t know if they were absolutely correlated. I think it was just really the way the world stands right now. The Masters was just the first given that it was literally the first of the four majors to get started.

Adrian Tennant: In the wake of these cancellations, are you having to reevaluate your on-air and online promotional campaigns?

Kara Baker: Yeah, so you know, we have a programming department within the Golf Channel and they have been working around the clock and still ensuring that we’re giving good content. And, and one of the ways of doing that is that when these tour events get canceled, which would have been your typical Thursday through Sunday or Thursday and Friday, kind of watch cycles, what we’re doing now is we’re taking old content. So in 2018 at the Valspar, which was a PGA tour event that would have been played last weekend, we showed the 2018 one instead, which was a really good one to show. Tiger Woods performed quite well in it, Jordan Speith performed quite well in it. So from a ratings perspective, if we were going to give someone good television, we felt like the 2018 version of it was the best one to show.

Adrian Tennant: As the situation is changing so rapidly, to what extent are you constantly having to review the appropriateness of creative messaging, digital media placements or elements built into your websites and apps?

Kara Baker: In my role, you know, we’re representing and so in relating to PGA Championship, it’s important that we have just updated information as soon as it’s given to us. And we’re essentially a new source. We’re putting up the press releases and at the end of the day we’re all going to the different news channels and outlets for our first take. But then we’re going to the source and in this case is the source. And so people are asking like, “what’s going to happen now?” And so it’s really important that we are aligning with PGA of America and whatever decisions they’re telling us and we’re getting that content updated as soon as possible so that we are giving that end user, that consumer, that this is potentially affecting, the answers to their questions.

Adrian Tennant: In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen some unexpected moves by big brands in response to the pandemic. Tito’s Vodka has announced that it will begin the production of hand sanitizer, as has Anheuser-Busch. Chipotle Mexican Grill is trying to put an uplifting spin on the situation by offering “Chipotle Together,” which are virtual hangouts on Zoom. But we’ve also read about ads that got pulled. Hershey Company said it had pulled two ads that featured human interaction replacing them with spots featuring only chocolate bars, text and a voiceover, I guess in response to social distancing. And Molson Coors halted a planned campaign called, “The Official Beer of Working Remotely,” because it didn’t want to appear insensitive, as many companies like your own have now adopted work from home policies to deal with the coronavirus. How well do you think brands are doing to ensure their creative elements are appropriate and not tone deaf?

Kara Baker: I think a lot of brands have responded really well to this, whether that’s pulling down advertisements that maybe the world would never know that were actually going to go up or by creating new advertisements. And so, like you mentioned earlier when you were introducing me, I’ve come from a nonprofit background and so I know for me, my heartstrings are always a little bit pulled when you directly are impacting people and what their livelihood is. And there’s no doubt that COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the economy, for some losing their jobs. And so I think that the companies that are really shifting their stance in the advertising world and not just advertising, but actually advertising that this is something new they’re going to be offering as a byproduct of some of the economic downturns, I think that’s really amazing. And so Ford has done this as an example. You know, they created a new advertisement, I think it was in only three days, where they were specifically announcing that they are going to have some payment relief during the coronavirus crisis. And for all those people that have financing specifically with Ford. And so I think that that is really, really important in these times. 

Adrian Tennant: Have you seen or heard any examples that you think got it completely wrong?

Kara Baker: There’s a company, Mint Mobile that – I’m not sure a lot of people have even heard of them – it’s actually a wireless company that Ryan Reynolds owns part of. But they did an ad specifically with putting their fingers in their mouth and at a party and this whole double-dipping aspect. And it got a lot of poor, negative attention on social media because in today’s world, like you said, are we going tone deaf to certain things? You have to make sure that you’re being sensitive and it doesn’t matter how much money you put back in an advertising campaign, but you gotta make sure you hit the mark and you’re not ignoring or making fun of something that is causing just a huge impact on the economy, on our lives. You just have to be careful of that. So I think that they did not do the best job with that ad.

Adrian Tennant:

Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Erik McGrew: I’m Erik McGrew, Designer at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising and design professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations.This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused, creative-driven insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Kara Baker of the Golf Channel about the impact of COVID-19 on sports coverage. Now, I mentioned in the introduction that sport brings in big revenues here in the US, but money isn’t the principal reason that people take such an interest in sport. Many fans have a real emotional attachment to their team or their favorite players. Do you think, Kara, at a time when many of us are staying at home – with obviously no access to movie theaters or concerts – we especially crave connections through sport that can give our collective morale a boost?

Kara Baker: Yeah, I think it’s been unique to be part of the sports industry and to see how the stories are still unfolding and it’s still like I’m part of sports. So part of it is there’s a postponement and that’s a story right now and it’s just keeping me updated. It’s like, “Oh man, okay, the Olympics just got postponed.” Like that’s giving me something to read. The other stories, “Tom Brady’s now a Bucs – a Buccaneer,” and as a Florida resident, that’s a big story. And so it’s so interesting that even in the midst of all this, there’s a story that me as a sports fan, I constantly want to read and even, I’ve seen so many things about just higher activity from athletes on their social media platforms showing what they’re doing to help or what they’re doing to stay entertained. But I think that what I love even more than all this, and obviously I’m part of a media company, a sports media company, but I love that when we don’t have our favorite sport to potentially watch on television, maybe the current year, I should say 2020 – we can go back and watch 2019 and 2018 – what we do have though is the ability to get outside and to actually play. And so think this is a really great way that in the midst of that, we don’t have our team to cheer on, we can still be practicing ourselves and getting out in this really gorgeous weather right now, at least in Orlando, and get a chance to kind of put ourselves in that athlete’s shoes and get to be with family and really kind of embody that athletic team, sporting comradery that exists even when we’re just playing with our family.

Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways do you see COVID-19 impacting the coverage of sports and channels focused on sports, longer-term?

Kara Baker: I think it’s going to be creativity, um, in technology and innovation. I think I’ve already been amazed at the amount of things that are being produced in the most unique ways and in ways that we’ve never done before, whether it’s at the Golf Channel, NBC or any media company. And so I think NASCAR did a virtual race last weekend and it had great ratings. And so it’s things like that, we’re getting really experimental and what can we do? I mean, Ironman is actually doing virtual races starting very soon. And so there’s no doubt that we’re willing to film things with our iPhones now, we’re willing to get on Zoom and put a production piece together, and we’re willing to virtually have a race. And these are all things that were maybe not off the table, but were highly unlikely, kind of back- back-, back-burner ideas that now become a reality. And so I think that that will help in the future when we are past the COVID-19. I think we’ll go back and we’ll say, “remember when? And look how creative we were. And look how resourcefully we worked with what we had, and look how we put perfection aside, and we went back to humanizing something, and realized it was better to just see Jimmy Fallon on a screen and laugh a little bit. It didn’t matter that his wife was holding the iPhone and laughing in the background.”

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. “Deadline” reported last week that TV ratings have shot up as people rediscover live, linear viewing. The prevailing conventional wisdom has been that streaming services like Netflix would be the major beneficiaries of the current mandate for staying home, but viewers, many of them younger, are also checking out traditional TV. Viewership of NBC’s The Voice went up 38% and Ellen’s Game of Games, also an NBC show, jumped an eye-popping 44%. Do you think these viewing behaviors could become new habits – our new normal, if you will – post-pandemic?

Kara Baker: I think that’s, that would be the hope. I mean it’s hard to see and know how much of these percentages in these trends, how stable they are and what we’re going to see post-pandemic. But I think from a cable perspective, these are great numbers and it’s good television. Ellen’s Game of Games is hilarious and The Voice is talent. And so I think that these are all positive things that NBC and other media companies will just continue to leverage as we move past this. 

Adrian Tennant: So Kara, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you personally?

Kara Baker: The biggest thing is getting back to your roots, slowing down a little bit and really holding true and holding close to things that matter most to you. Um, I think that that’s something that my husband and I really, really looked at in this past week and a half. My family’s safe, which is amazing. And um, continuing to pray for everyone’s safety. But I think that you never know what things can happen and you never want to take things too seriously. So I think from a personal perspective, it’s reignited the things that I think matter most. Helping to kind of refocus, you know, the ability to slow down, the ability to spend time with loved ones and ultimately just even care for them even if it’s virtually a little bit more often than maybe I was before.

Adrian Tennant: What, if anything, is proving challenging?

Kara Baker: I would say, working too much. It’s so easy to just get out of bed and just grab your laptop. You forget the morning routine of shower, makeup, commute to work, all that goes out the door and there’s one part of it that’s kind of nice that it goes out the door. But then there’s the other part where we don’t want to be on our laptops for 12 hours and I don’t want that for my employees. I think there are seasons where we work hard, but I very much am an advocate of work-life balance. And as are my leaders, frankly, as well. And so I think that the important part is making sure that we still stick to routine and we still stick to relatively standard work hours because like I said, it’s easy – the laptop’s still there. It’s in your living room now and there’s not that official closing of the laptop and then jumping in your car to drive home. So it’s important that I even help my team say that like, “be done, like, you’re good. You know, it’s all good. It’ll be here tomorrow,” and really stop it. Stop at work at whatever time that may be. But I think it’s important and I know that’s something that I tried to do even last night. It got to a point where I just kept working cause it’s very easy to, and then all of a sudden I was like, “I can be done,” and I just shut my laptop and it was done.

Adrian Tennant: Do you have any personal tips you’d like to share with our listeners for staying productive when working from home?

Kara Baker: Yeah, I think one of the most important things is facetime – communication with people, making sure that you turn on the video when you are doing a conference call so that you get the interaction – it forces you to not multitask and actually be present in that moment. And don’t be afraid to have fun with that. My team just scheduled a Friday Happy Hour – Virtual Happy Hour – and we’re really excited about it. We’re actually going to dual it as a product roadmap session as well. And it’s like, “this is fun. Let’s do it.” So I think there’s so many different things where don’t be afraid to push virtual things the same way that you would in a normal, everyday setting: the happy hour, a yoga session, a stand-up meeting, and push those through some sort of video conferencing and calling to connect with people and to keep yourself sane. And so I think that would be this. The second thing is we all have different ways of finding joy and finding balance and kind of being rejuvenated. And I think it’s important that each person soul searches a little bit and makes sure that they’re getting… that gets very easy to have your workstation at work and just go in. Like once we start working, it can be hard sometimes to stop, but what happens is with that it can be three or four days and that same thing and all of a sudden you realize, “wait, I haven’t gone outside enough. I haven’t called my best friend and I could use a non-work-related conversation right now.” So I think it’s important just to hustle, but then also stop and make sure that you’re keeping yourself sane, whatever that looks like. I think that’s different for everyone. For some people it’s a run, it’s yoga, it’s a walk, it’s a TV show, whatever that looks like, just make sure you’re inserting that in.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. I think those are great tips, thank you. If listeners want to learn more about the Golf Channel, where can they find resources?

Kara Baker: is a great place to go. You can sign up, you can see all the different brands that we have in our ecosystem, and you can sign up to be part of our newsletters, and you can sign up for Golf Pass. If you’re a golf fan, it’ll give you access to so many different um, golf instructional tips, really cool like Golf Channel television shows as well as discounts on golf. 

Adrian Tennant: Kara, thank you very much for being our guest today. Really appreciate it.

Kara Baker: Absolutely. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. Thanks so much Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Kara Baker, Director of digital partnership and operations at the Golf Channel. You can find our show notes with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at, under “Insights,” just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening toIN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.


CBD product sales grew by 706% in 2019. Hear from CBD product and marketing experts to understand why this is a booming market on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: A sneak preview of Bigeye’s upcoming 2020 National Study of CBD Use. In the US, around 15% of adults regularly use products containing CBD. Year-on-year sales of CBD products grew by 706% in 2019. To examine this booming market, we hear from three experts with unique perspectives on the CBD industry. Learn how the retailing and use of CBD-based products is evolving and why the category represents such a significant opportunity.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. In the current situation, we especially appreciate you choosing to spend your time with us. Cannabidiol is an ingredient in a growing range of consumer categories. In addition to products intended to relieve conditions such as anxiety and arthritis pain, you’ll also find CBD in beauty products, food and beverages, sports supplements, and even apparel. And its uses are nor limited to humans – there are CBD products especially for pets, as highlighted in Bigeye’s 2019 US Pet Industry Study. Consumers’ receptivity to CBD use has been growing rapidly since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp production. Here in the US, around 15% of adults age 21 and older use products containing CBD. Earlier this year, Bigeye undertook a national research study to really understand CBD use and to help identify opportunities to tap into this dynamic market. We’ll be publishing the results of our study soon, but to contextualize the findings, today, we’re going to hear three perspectives on the market for CBD products and how purchasing and consumption is evolving. As we were analyzing the 2020 Bigeye CBD study results together, I asked Dana Cassell, our senior strategist, about some of the findings from the report. So first, Dana, can you give us a sense of what the market for CBD products here in the US looks like?

Dana Cassell: Sure. The popularity of CBD-infused oils, tinctures, creams, food items, and drinks, along with a host of other products, has exploded since December, 2018 when, as you mentioned in the intro, the federal government legalized regulated production of hemp with the Farm Bill. An estimated $5 billion was spent in the US on CBD products in 2019 – an eye-popping 706% increase over the previous year. That figure is set to grow to $24 billion by 2023 the increase in sales of CBD products is explained in part by broader distribution and availability in mainstream retailers such as Walgreens, Kroger, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. But the rise in popularity of CBD products has also brought greater scrutiny from the US Food and Drug Administration, which in November of last year issued warning letters to 15 companies for illegally selling products containing CBD. The FDA has since announced that it recognizes the potential opportunities that CBD-based products may offer and acknowledges the significant level of interest among consumers. So it’s a fast-growing market full of opportunity, but there’s also uncertainty around its regulation.

Adrian Tennant: Last year we discussed CBD regulation with one of Bigeye’s go-to experts. Joe Englander. Joe is a shareholder in the intellectual property practice group at Fowler White Burnett and leads the firm’s cannabis law team. Joe works with industry clients in the fields of hemp, medical marijuana, and affiliated businesses. When he joined us via phone from his office in Miami, I asked Joe what the legal status of CBD is here in Florida.

Joe Englander: There are two sets of regulations. There’s the federal set and then there’s the state set. The federal set has the Farm Bill of 2018, which has made hemp and CBD products legal. And there’s an interim regulation with the USDA, which is now in effect, which is helping States come up with plans and frameworks for regulations. In Florida, there is the Florida Hemp Act, which also makes hemp and CBD products legal and also provides for pilot programs for the universities to test different varieties of hemp. And there are new regulations which are being promulgated by the Florida Department of Agriculture, which have not yet been finalized, but are expected to be finalized soon.

Adrian Tennant: So Joe, how fast is the market for CBD and CBD-infused products growing?

Joe Englander: Very rapidly! Right now the only hemp that’s growing in Florida is with the university pilot program. But the interest and the businesses which are showing up to Florida showcases and seminars, it grows more each year.

Adrian Tennant: Could you tell us a little bit more about that pilot program?

Joe Englander: Well under the Florida state law, the university of Florida and other agricultural colleges are allowed to begin growing hemp to see what types of seeds are viable here in Florida. The thing about hemp is it can only have a certain low percentage of THC, so they’re confirming that the seeds which they are testing are in fact hemp seeds and not marijuana seeds.

Adrian Tennant: Right now, what should manufacturers include on CBD product labels to be in compliance with legal rules?

Joe Englander: That’s an interesting point there. You’ll find that in the regulations with both full regulations and the interim regulations that you have to say that there is CBD on them and the amount of CBD, but you can’t make any medical claims with regard to the CBD at this point. But you have to show what the percentage is and what I guess what you would say the dosage is, like what is recommended. For example, whether you’re supposed to take one edible or two out of a package of 50 edibles.

Adrian Tennant: It is a little confusing, the interplay between state regulations and the federal level. Do you see a path forward for greater clarity here?

Joe Englander: I don’t think that there’s going to be clarity until there’s legalization of marijuana in some way and then it would probably be similar to the types of regulations that go on with cigarettes or perhaps liquor. As far as Florida goes, I think there should be no general limitation as far as the CBD trademarks and protections of naming and branding, as long as the restrictions regarding age are are taken care of.

Adrian Tennant: While regulations on hemp-derived ingestible CBD products vary from state to state, the Food and Drug Administration has approved all topical CBD products at the federal level. This includes analgesics, joint relief, lotions, and creams. One person with direct experience of manufacturing topical products containing CBD is Michael Law of Eagle Labs, based in St Petersburg, Florida. Michael was also a guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS last year, and with his background in the production and marketing of consumer packaged goods, it was interesting to hear Michael’s take on the booming CBD market. First I asked Michael how Eagle Labs got involved in CBD product manufacturing.

Michael Law: So Eagle labs had been making skincare and nutritional products for private label clients, large national retail clients for about 10 years. The company was owned by a chemist with 40 years of experience formulating and Eagle Labs was purchased by an entrepreneurial pair of brothers that wanted to get into the CBD category, but in a way that would ensure that their finished goods would be nothing but the highest quality. So they purchased a very good quality manufacturer with chemists, as I said, with a lot of experience. And then they set about ensuring that their manufacturing processes were going to be ahead of any potential regulations. Our batch records, for example, are over 20 pages long for both the cosmetic products that we manufacture. Anything that might be a nutritional supplement with CBD, there’s extreme rigor. We qualify any new raw material vendor with three separate batch tests. We get certificates of analysis to ensure that the potency of the raw material for CBD is accurate and that the safety is also assured: that there’s no heavy metals, there’s no bacteria, there’s no pesticides and so on. So very rigorous on testing anything that comes into our facility. Any new raw materials that come in are quarantined until they’re tested. And then they’re moved into the area where they can be used for manufacturing. As we’re manufacturing – actually filling the tincture bottles for example – we’re testing from the top of the mixer, the middle, and the bottom to ensure that we’ve got a consistent level of CBD across the entire batch. And then when we get to the finished goods stage, we send out our samples from our finished goods to third-party labs for final testing. And we get what’s called a certificate of analysis or a C of A that shows the potency or if it’s a 500 milligram bottle, we want to make sure that it’s got 500 milligrams in it and that it doesn’t have any pesticides or any heavy metals or bacteria in it. So, I would say, a very, very strong focus on quality as you mentioned. And in fact, we believe that it’s in our best interest and our customer’s best interest to actually be ahead of what we think the FDA will decide in terms of manufacturing regulations. So we’re moving towards OTC qualification, which would essentially mean we could make a drug in our facility and we would have the processes for making drugs. I think when the FDA does regulate, there will be a lot of smaller manufacturers that either haven’t or aren’t willing to make those kinds of investments in quality that will disappear.

Adrian Tennant: We’ll be right back after this message.

Lauren Fore: I’m Lauren Fore, and I’m on the operations team at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as agency professionals and reflects the way that Bigeye puts audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our clients’ prospects, and customers. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with our client’s audiences. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking today about Cannabidiol ahead of the publication of a national study of CBD use conducted by Bigeye. CBD quality and certification are clearly important considerations for consumers, but how is spending distributed across the different categories of CBD products? Back to Dana Cassell for some answers from Bigeye’s study.

Dana Cassell: Yeah, so I mentioned earlier that the market for CBD was estimated to be worth $5 billion in 2019. With CBD gaining in popularity – in line with the trend towards health and wellness – and with product availability and variety increasing, the market is on track to grow to around $24 billion over the next three years. We asked users how much on average they spend on CBD products per month, in total. In the full report, we break the results out by condition, but the key data points are that over two thirds – 67% – of CBD users spend up to $99 per month on products containing CBD. Over one quarter – 26% – spend between a hundred dollars and $199 monthly. For the most frequent indications consistently around one-third of CBD users spend between $50 and $99 per month.

Adrian Tennant: Staying with purchase data, we asked respondents where they had purchased products containing CBD within the past six months, both in-store and online. CBD products purchased from physical stores are primarily bought from cannabis or medical marijuana dispensaries or from health, vitamin, or supplement stores. One-fifth of users report purchasing from drugstores, and another one-fifth from vape or smoke shops. Respondents identifying as male are almost twice as likely to purchase from a drugstore and more than twice as likely to purchase from a grocery store.

Dana Cassell: We’ve talked previously about CBD products making their way into supermarkets and grocery stores, so it’s interesting that this appeals to shoppers who identify as male.

Adrian Tennant: Over half of our study respondents never purchase CBD online and of those that do, was the most cited retailer. Right now, it seems CBD products are purchased primarily from physical stores. Michael Law of Eagle Labs offered some advice for store merchandisers.

Michael Law: If you’re a retailer and you want to be in the CBD business, I would say be in the CBD business. Have a significant amount of assortment. My advice is that you should have all CBD products in one central location. If you move them into their various subcategories, I think it’s going to be art for the consumer to know that you’re in the category. My recommendation would be to have all of the CBD products in one location. You can have secondary locations, for example, in the pain relief aisle for the appropriate products. But I would still have a home location that has got everything together. That way, you’re concentrating on the opportunity for education. I think that you should have in-store signage and pamphlets and other forms of consumer education that are going to address the most frequently asked questions that consumers might have either on a new brand or on the category itself. I think having it all in one location allows the opportunity to have an in store educator nearby. There are some great best practices from smaller natural food stores and health food stores where there’s an in-aisle educator that comes right to you immediately when you enter the aisle. They come right to you and ask if they can answer any questions for you in the category. That also, retailers are going to be very concerned about shrink. And shrink is a term for lost product that leaves the store without being paid for. Retailers, if they have an in-aisle educator, they’re going to have eyes on the product and they can ensure that they keep shrink to a minimum. Some of the larger retailers that are now entering the category have got a very limited assortment and they’re putting everything in a lockup case similar to what you may see in some retailers for expensive razor blades where you actually have to get somebody from the store to come and unlock the case for you to access the products. I think that retailers like that will sell some product, but they’re not optimizing the opportunity. I think the profit potential in this category is massive and I think it would be worthwhile investing in in-store educators, certainly in high-volume stores, so that you can have a broad assortment and have somebody that can drive consumer education – and that’ll help drive conversion. Because once you get that consumer, once they make their first purchase at a given retail location, that retailer becomes the destination where they go for that product.

Adrian Tennant: Great points there from Michael Law. In Bigeye’s upcoming CBD study, we report in detail on the attitudes that characterize different groups of CBD users and identify which factors are most influential in the decision to purchase and use each category of product. We also examine how respondents rank the relative importance of ingredients, product design, and on-pack information – and what prompts CBD users to try new products. Back to Dana and some findings that surprised us.

Dana Cassell: We asked survey respondents how likely they are to continue using products containing CBD long-term. So drum roll please…

Adrian Tennant: Okay. It’s very clear that existing CBD users are true believers in its efficacy. 88% are somewhat or extremely likely to continue using CBD longterm.

Dana Cassell: This is huge. Only 15% of the US adult population is currently using CBD. But of those, 88% plan to continue doing so long-term; the other 85% of the US market represents an untapped opportunity.

Adrian Tennant: Our research data highlights a correlation between the length of time consumers use CBD products and the number of indications they use CBD for. The number of indications rises the longer a consumer uses CBD. This points to CBD’s unique proposition as a multifunctional ingredient. In practical terms, a claim that CBD helps treat specific skin conditions can be augmented with a claim that it also calms the user and lessens the anxiety that a person may have as a consequence of their condition.

Dana Cassell: The study results show that some consumers are either supplementing or replacing the use of over-the-counter pain medications in favor of more natural solutions like CBD. Consumers using CBD to treat medical conditions were among the most likely to spend between $200 and $249 per month on CBD products. Pharmaceutical drug spending is a major concern, so it’s perhaps not surprising that consumers, faced with higher copays or exclusions from their medical insurance plans, are looking to CBD based products as alternatives to Big Pharma’s offerings.

Adrian Tennant: Watch out for an announcement about Bigeye’s National Study of CBD Use coming soon. Next week, IN CLEAR FOCUS will have a special episode exploring changes in consumer behavior and attitudes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A reminder too that you can find links to resources we discuss every week on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.


Audio branding can build long-term brands. Author Laurence Minsky joins us on IN CLEAR FOCUS to discuss the theory of audio branding and best practices.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Transcending language and cultural barriers with audio branding. We’re joined by Laurence Minsky, an expert and co-author of the book, “Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand.” Larry discusses the theory and practice of creating entire sonic languages and how they can be leveraged for long-term brand-building. The show notes link to the case studies discussed in the episode.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. While all marketers are likely familiar with visual branding, a growing number of marketers are using palettes of unique sounds and music to support long-term brand-building. Product designers too are leveraging the possibilities of audio to give consumer technology devices friendlier personalities. Researchers have found that music is a language that people all around the world can understand. Certain types of instrumentation and rhythms convey consistent meanings often subconsciously working at a symbolic rather than an explicit level. Audio branding is employed by many companies that compete internationally such as tech firms, Apple and Intel, beauty and skincare giant, L’Oreal, German car manufacturers, Audi and BMW, and their French competitors, Renault and Peugeot. But audio branding is less prevalent among domestic brands, which of course offers a novel way to differentiate from competitors. Our guest today is Laurence Minsky, an expert and co-author of the book, “Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand,” which describes in detail the theory and practice of creating entire audio languages for brands. Laurence Minsky is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Media Innovation at Columbia College, Chicago and the author of many books on advertising and marketing. He’s also an award-winning marketing strategist, creative director and copywriter focused on creating innovative and effective branding and cross-discipline marketing solutions for many leading brands. Professor Minsky, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Larry Minsky: Thank you for having me. And by all means call me Larry while we talk.

Adrian Tennant: Will do, Larry, thank you. What’s your definition of audio branding?

Larry Minsky: Audio branding is the use of sound that’s ownable by the company, by the brand to reinforce brand attributes. 

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the main reasons marketers need to consider audio branding today?

Larry Minsky: I’ll give you one reason why every marketer needs to consider audio branding today. And that is because of the growth of voice assistants. Right now it’s still in its infancy, but do you really want to leave your brand when there’s no picture, no visual, no colors, no fonts, no anything of the traditional branding sense representing your brand? And you’re leaving your brand up to Alexa or Siri? In Europe where audio branding is much more advanced. You know, the countries are smaller, there’s more languages and it gets really expensive to have a brand in every country and you want something consistent and you want to be able to convey it consistently. In America as we continue to diversify, our populations, that will become an issue as well. But Audio branding is a much quicker way of communicating your brand; sound communicates much faster and sound also helps direct visuals. 

Adrian Tennant: So you mentioned that the practice of audio branding seems a lot more prevalent in European countries than here in the US. Is there any other reason for that, do you think, beyond the language issue? 

Larry Minsky: You know, US marketing maybe is a little bit more hard-sell traditionally, “Buy now!” “Do this!” – all that kind of stuff. European marketing tends to be a little bit more indirect, a little bit more elegant. So, there’s probably an aesthetic area that helps bring it about quicker in Europe. But you know, practically, you do want your brand across cultures, cross borders and sound is much quicker and easier to do that than language.

Adrian Tennant: Now, when hearing you and I talking about audio branding, I’m guessing some listeners may think about jingles, that is advertising slogans that are put to music. But I know you don’t think jingles really qualify as audio branding. Why is that?

Larry Minsky: A jingle was written to carry the words. It goes back to what we just said that in America it was a lot harder sell. So, you know, “call 1-800-whatever,” and they sing it out is a jingle. And so the music was secondary. The sounds were secondary. A lot of those sounds don’t seem to be ownable. Some of them are like Nationwide. That is starting to become an audio brand simply by how they use it. And they’re starting to play around with how they use, “Nationwide is on your side.” But essentially that did start as a jingle. So a jingle can evolve into an audio brand but it is not the same thing. The NBC chimes started as a way to align things and it was a more technical issue but over the years it became part of the audio brand. So, there’s different ways in but the best way is the way you do any kind of branding and that’s to be strategic about it and think about what your brand attributes are and what do you want to convey and then develop the sounds that actually convey it.

Adrian Tennant: Mmm. Now, some brands of course do have sounds associated with them which advertising often supports. So, I’m thinking about, say, the roar of a Harley-Davidson’s engine, there’s the pop of a Snapple lid, and of course, when you start up your Mac computer, there’s a sound that accompanies that. Do you think these qualify as examples of audio branding?

Larry Minsky: Yes. Anytime you use sound to help convey an attribute, it’s an audio brand the snap of a bottle for Snapple pop. You know, you hear it, you’d get reinforced when you’re opening the bottle. So there’s positive reinforcement there, but you could use that in your advertising. You could use that on TV, on radio, on your website, eventually on your voice assistant applications. So anytime you’re using sound to help build your brand, it’s part of audio branding and really should be thought through strategically.

Adrian Tennant: Right. Now, one US brand that has consistently employed music as part of its brand is United airlines, which has used George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” since 1987, I believe, at an annual licensing cost of $300,000. Larry, I know you’re based in Chicago, which is United’s home base. What do you like or dislike about United’s approach?

Larry Minsky: What I like is Gershwin’s song is very adaptable to multiple situations and you still get it. It still reinforces and there’s a lot of positive emotion attached to that and movement and energy and things that convey United Airlines. What I don’t like is really, it’s not ownable by United. Anyone can license that song. It’s now gone into the public domain I believe. And so anyone can use it. It’s better to start with “what do you want to convey?” “who are you?” and then create something that you could own, basically permanently.

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you mentioned Intel as an exemplar of successful audio branding. Those four notes have been around for 25 years and while Intel has modified the instrumentation over the years, those four notes have remained the same. Do you think all brands should aim for this level of discipline when it comes to their audio identities?

Larry Minsky: All branding should be disciplined and if you’re doing it right, strategic and thought through. A brand is not solid where you don’t tweak it over time, you know, the, the best way to maintain a brand is to evolve it slowly, imperceptibly, so it stays up to date and it works in multiple areas, but still conveys values and, and the enduring attributes that you want to convey. Good brands, brands manage or companies that manage their brands spend a lot of time thinking about it and doing it visually. You should do that the same way with sounds. And do think of it as a long-term investment. You don’t see Intel chips when you’re buying, but it is a proof point for all the computers you buy with an Intel chip inside it. And that branding has helped Intel make a name and make it a proof point. What other chips are out there? What comes to mind really quickly and you could see why Intel is so effective because I don’t think a lot of people are going to come up with other chip makers that, you know, give them as much reassurance as an Intel when they hear that little sound.

Adrian Tennant: So Larry, I’m sure you encountered many examples of audio branding as you were conducting your research for the book. Do you have any favorite examples? 

Larry Minsky: One of the examples, for Royal Air Maroc from Morocco really captured the essence of the country. And there’s a lot of different musical styles in Morocco. So they had to bring them all together. And I thought that was a very, very interesting kind of audio brand from the French Open and, and how they use it, I find very interesting as well. It’s not just they have their audio brand that they use when they award the trophies at the end. And then they have whole environments for where you park when you go in retail settings. They even have an audio brand playlist for the athletes when they pick them up to drive them to the venue. So I found that kind of interesting. La Roche-Posay, it’s just an elegant kind of sound and, and really gets the feeling down. So, there are so many different examples out there of audio branding. MasterCard just came up with an audio brand not too long ago. And I do know on at least one scale, the value of their brand increased proportionally because of it. And that was the only thing they changed in their branding was their audio brand and refine their logo a little bit. And it’s just helping the brand differentiate itself today too. MasterCard did it after the book came out, but you could easily Google it or search for it and you could see the success that it has helped them.

Adrian Tennant:  Larry, I believe your introduction to audio branding came from your co-author Colleen Fahey.

Larry Minsky: In a way it did, but my exposure to it actually started earlier than that. I was a chief creative innovator or chief creative officer of a small agency and we had a publicly traded company as a client that had a pickle brand that was falling fast in the marketplace and the company was afraid that that would hurt their stock price. So they brought us in to stop the decline. And in our research we found that our pickle brand tends to get eaten up. A lot of people buy pickles, they eat a few, they put in the refrigerator, they might grab a few more, but eventually the pickle jar makes it to the back of the refrigerator. Pickles get soggy, they throw them out and then eventually maybe a back to school or some other kind of occasion, they’ll buy another jar and the cycle starts over. So we decided to promote the aspect that people love our pickles so much, they’ll eat the whole jar as our benefits. So we positioned it as the emptiest jar in the house. And how do you dramatize empty jars on radio was we decided to use a fork in a glass jar to hear the “ting” of it going in because it’s empty. And our campaign not only stopped a slide of the brand, it turned it around and made it the number one in the markets where it was sold most of its markets and in one market and in fact achieved a 40% share. So I started to get curious about the sound and how it plays in terms of building a brand and I thought that was an audio brand. Then I was working on another book and a collection of essays and Colleen and I, we come from the marketing services promotion firm and she had written an essay a long time ago about considering that as a career. And my publisher suggested that we use it in the book. And so I met with Coleen to modernize that article and she started talking about what she was doing with audio branding. And I learned that it was so much more than just a little logo at the end. It is a whole sound system. And one of the ways, in terms of how to use it, even for a package goods even for or, or any brand, even for a business-to-business brand, about half of Coleen’s agency’s clients – Sixième Son – are business to business firms. And you think of all the different touch points and it’s not just, you know, a consumer radio spot, which is where jingles end up. But think of the sales meeting. You bring all of your people together and, you know, you introduce the CEO with one type of music, you introduce the head of marketing with another type of music and you come across as disjointed to your employees and your employees need to understand the brand just as much as your consumers. And so you could bring a language to this that has full flexibility and, and, but still brings back the core notes so it conveys what they’re about. So you could use it even in an internal setting, such as a sales meeting. You could use it as a ringtone. You could use it on the website and voice assistance eventually, all sorts of things. So it’s really a comprehensive solution. And that’s what I learned when I sat down with Coleen and I said, “we gotta write about this.” And Colleen was doing a lot of writing. She’s a writer unto herself and that’s her background as well. And we collaborated on an article for Harvard Business Review where we looked at one of Sixième Son’s clients and that was the French railroad SNCF, which is one of the most recognizable sounds in Europe is their audio brand. They use it in stations, they use it on the trains when the doors are opening and closing. They use it in their advertising, you name it, it’s used and it’s highly, highly recognizable. And David Gilmore liked it so much he licensed the use of it for one of his songs and so every time that song gets played at reinforces SNCF. So there were so many different uses of it. So we wrote an article for Harvard Business Review on it where we actually went through the evolution of it and you can hear the different sounds in that article if you go on the online version of that article, if you go to it. And from there, we continued writing and you know that there needed to be a book on the subject because people understand it.

Adrian Tennant: One of the things I like most about the book, and I read a lot of marketing books, is the inclusion of pieces authored by branding practitioners such as Michaël Boumendil, who’s the founder of Sixième Son, the first sound design firm dedicated solely to audio branding. Plus you have articles from ad agency, veterans, Ben deSanti and Ken Hicks. But you also include contributions from academic experts, including professor Charles Spence, a cognitive neuroscientist based at Oxford University who explores people’s associations of musical notes with particular aromas. And his article describes really fascinating experiments that pair music with food often with some surprising results. Can you speak to that?

Larry Minsky: Yeah, I’ll give you a very basic thing, but cause audio branding is much more than just being in very tactical sales generating kind of thing. But there was research done in a grocery store chain where they had French wine displayed next to German wine. And on one day they would run German music and people would buy more the German wine. And other days they ran French music and the French wine’s brand would sell more. And people were asked, “well, why are you buying it?” And so, “well this one, this wine is going to pair better with my meal,” and all that kind of stuff. But what they were really doing was being influenced by the sounds, but they weren’t cognitively processing the information and saying, “well, I’m buying this wine because I heard this French song or this German song,” or whatever. It just helps set the mood for that kind of product. And so that was enough. That example might sound a little manipulative. That’s not really what audio branding is about. We’re not here to say, “okay, today you’re going to buy more French wine or more German wine.” But it’s really about reinforcing the brand attributes because if the brand attributes are what make people want to buy the product, they will buy the product or they like it better or I’ll talk about it or they’ll feel better about it. Whatever you need to have done and reinforce the qualities of the brand – it’s why you trust it. And  audio branding can help contribute to the trust factor.

Adrian Tennant: Many of our listeners are familiar with the creative process of designing a visual brand identity – for example, using visual mood boards and then refining designs based on some combination of client feedback and consumer research. Can you briefly explain what the creative process for audio branding looks like?

Larry Minsky: It’s very, very similar. It is. I’m first sitting down and figuring out what, what do you want to convey? What is the brand DNA that you want to send out to the world? And then from there you go into sound moodboards. It could be existing stuff, but you put it together and you hear, well, here’s one direction, here’s another direction, here’s another direction. What’s conveying, what’s working? And then you start composing those kinds of things and for mood boards and it becomes unique. And then you start researching it and you’re saying which one is working and what, what does it say to people when they listen to it? And, and then they refine it. It’s exactly like doing a visual brand. Doing a sound brand, you walk through the same steps except you hear it instead of see it. Really it should be just like figuring out what the visual brand is and what the visual brand promises and how you bring it to life in different aspects should be thought of upfront. In many ways, and this is another benefit is the licensing fees overall are lower. When you have an audio brand, you have all the development. And sometimes it depends on what you do in terms of how you get it, whether it’s licensed from name, audio, branding firm or whether you, you own it all clear out, but you need to make different iterations. But overall it becomes cheaper and easier to manage. So you’re saving money on one end because if you’re doing a lot of TV or doing a lot of radio and you need a lot of sounds, you know, you gotta pay for it.

Adrian Tennant: So do you have a couple of audio branding do’s and don’ts that you’d like to share?

Larry Minsky: I would guess the number one DO is create one and start bringing your sounds together and making them consistent and aligned and working for your brand instead of helping communicate that your brand is disjointed. Do follow a disciplined process. Go do it. Like you would do a visual brand, think it through, do the research, do, do the hard work upfront. Those would be the, in a, in a very short way, the very main dos. DON’T think of it as a jingle thing. Don’t think of it as one-offs. Think of it as a system and do think of it long term. Don’t think of it as a short term solution. It’s an investment in your brand, just like your colors, your fonts, your logo.

Adrian Tennant: Larry, you balance real world advertising practice with a parallel career in academia. In what kinds of ways does one inform the other?

Larry Minsky: Great question. My research, my writing, helps me inform what I do. I hope it helps inform other people, what they do. My teaching keeps me on and my consulting, my working in the field helps bring back, well what are the issues out there today and what can we look at? So what I do research-wise and writing-wise, they all work together.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. We will of course include links to the examples that we’ve discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS webpage. But if listeners would like to know more about your work, Larry, and either this book or the many other books that you’ve written, where can they find you?

Larry Minsky: You could just go to Amazon and put in my name, Laurence Minsky and go to my author page and there is the complete list of books. My two current books are on Kogan Page and then I have another one on with that just came out on Global Brand Management. So how do you manage a brand that crosses borders? What are the issues, and or crosses cultures? I have another book, The Activation Imperative on how do you align all of the different disciplines to drive people down the path to purchase? 

Adrian Tennant: Larry, thank you very much for being with us today on IN CLEAR FOCUS. It’s a really fascinating topic. Thank you very much for sharing your insights about audio branding with us.

Larry Minsky: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed the discussion. Hopefully, you found it just as interesting and enjoyable as I did.

Adrian Tennant: Thank you. My thanks to our guest this week, Laurence Minsky, co-author of Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand. You can find links to resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player, and if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.



George Zwierko of Rumbo Marketing discusses the characteristics of Hispanic consumers and what influences their estimated $1.7 trillion in purchasing power.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Hispanics make up around 18 percent of the total US population, yet there’s a disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics living in the US. Multicultural marketing expert George Zwierko of Rumbo Marketing joins us to explain the characteristics of Hispanic consumers, where they spend their time, and how they engage with advertising. We discuss popular misconceptions, dispel some urban legends, and identify what influences Hispanics’ estimated $1.7 trillion in purchasing power.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Within the next couple of weeks, homes across the United States will begin receiving invitations to complete the 2020 census on April 1st – and on November 3rd, Americans will vote to decide who will become the next president of the United States. Census data suggests that people aged 18 to 45 years old will represent just under 40% of the eligible voters this year and it’s expected that more than 30% of them will be non-white. This reflects an increase in the numbers of voters identifying as African American, Hispanic, and Asian since the 2016 Presidential election. A report from Horowitz Research published late last year showed that diversity in advertising can have a positive impact on the purchase decisions of multicultural consumers. Ads that show mixed-race couples and families had a 31% net impact on brand perception. 38% of respondents said that advertisements that portray diverse multicultural people in them are reflecting the true essence of the United States. Although Asians are the fastest growing demographic group, Hispanics make up around 18% of the total US population and currently command an estimated $1.7 trillion in purchasing power. The amount that brands have invested in Hispanic media has been rising over the past few years, but there’s still a disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics living in the US. Adobe’s research found that 40% of Hispanic respondents have walked away from a brand for representing them in its advertising. The Hispanic market is clearly an important one for brands to engage with. To help us understand the characteristics of Hispanic consumers, where they spend their time, what platforms they prefer, and how they consume branded content, I’m joined today by a pioneer and expert in multicultural advertising. George Zwierko is the Principal of Rumbo Marketing with offices in Tampa, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee. Since graduating with a degree in art direction from the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York, George has had an illustrious career in advertising, holding senior creative positions in agencies. In 2005, George founded Grupo D, the Hispanic marketing division of the Dutcher group, the success of which led George to launch Rumbo in 2008 as an independent multicultural firm. With over 20 years as a creative professional in general market and multicultural marketing, George has garnered multiple local and national Addy awards in a variety of disciplines as well as several Telly awards. In 2018, George was recognized with the American Advertising Federation’s Silver Medal for advertising excellence and service on behalf of the advertising industry. George is also a partner with Three Chairs Productions, a video production and marketing company based in Tampa. Welcome to In Clear Focus, George.

George Zwierko: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant:  I mentioned during the introduction that the expansion of the Hispanic population accounts for almost half of America’s population growth since 2000. What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions brands have about Hispanic audiences?

George Zwierko: I think that there is a barrier that’s put up by certain advertisers because there’s just a lack of understanding of what the capability of these audiences have regarding spending or regarding usage. There needs to be a level of education when it comes to how we can best communicate and connect with diverse audiences. I think the misconception is that you might have a product, brand or service, and you feel that if I’m spending money and I’m targeting my general market audience that somehow, some way I’m going to touch my ethnic audiences, or that my ethnic audiences represents such a small population of the folks that would utilize our service or product, that to give it any weight regarding, let’s say a media spend or any creative execution is just not worth the effort.

Adrian Tennant: Twenty-six percent of all children in the US up to the age of nine are Hispanic and more than half of the Hispanic population is under the age of 29. How do you think the growing strength of this population will impact, , popular culture and by extension, the kinds of creative developed for advertisements?

George Zwierko: I think there’s an opportunity to look at our Hispanic audience and see that, um, a good majority of our audience is bicultural, bilingual, because they do skew young. I think there is a greater opportunity for us to create campaigns that are more relevant and are more relatable. The problem that we run into is that in the past a lot of brands and many advertisers would strictly translate their ads, and I think that was because of lack of understanding of the Hispanic audience as a whole. The problem in translation is that if we create advertisements that are meant to be funny, witty, clever, highly conceptual, and then you translate that, those things don’t always translate correctly. And then what we’re left with is just a very bland advertisement. But what we like to do is really hone in on what we can create, what type of creative can we do and original content could be made that still keeps the essence of the original messaging. 

Adrian Tennant: So brands should think less about translation and think more about transcreation?

George Zwierko: That’s correct. And transcreation is just what that is. It’s taking your message or your content, your visuals, everything that you put into your campaign. And then developing an execution that’s going to be relevant to this new audience.

Adrian Tennant: Now, the amount of total ad spend brands have invested in Hispanic media has been rising in the past few years. But eMarketer has reported on the disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics that are actually living in the US. Why doesn’t the Hispanic audience receive its fair share of ad dollars, do you think?

George Zwierko: It’s sad to say, but think there’s a lack of understanding of the value these audiences bring to the table. I think many people in a variety of different positions just take a stance when it comes to communicating to other audiences, I don’t think they personally recognize the value. So therefore it won’t exist in any strategy moving forward. So I would say it’s narrow thinking or just missed opportunity. I do agree that the spend is going up incrementally. I don’t think it’s anywhere near where it needs to be. And I think there’s a great opportunity for us to just reevaluate what our spend does look like. And to us it’s a very simple formula: we’re doing a local campaign and we’re going to communicate it to our local audience. And we look at the local population as being a certain percentage of  non-Hispanic, a certain percentage Hispanic, and so on and so on down the line. And we look at those audiences. And we start to look at our customer profile within that population and we identify that, you know, within the non-Hispanic market, we’re going to be speaking to this demographic. But then a very similar demographic exists within our Hispanic population and in our African American population. So taking those new percentages, let’s reevaluate what our spend will be and then also look at what is going to be the best avenues and the best channels for consumption based on those consumer behaviors, based on what we know non-Hispanics do and, and Hispanics will do and African Americans will do and then target appropriately and spend appropriately. So that might mean that I’m not going to take 100% of my budget and throw it toward one audience and then hope that if I pepper in some folks that look Hispanic in my TV ad or I pepper in some people that look African American and my billboards, that I’m going to be effectively touching those audiences. We’re going to miss something, whether that’s going to be in the message or in the execution of the creative. Somehow, some way, we’re going to miss the mark. And what by missing the mark, we’re just doing an injustice to the brand. We’re not communicating that brand as effectively to other audiences as we did to our general audience

Adrian Tennant: Google has undertaken multicultural research and reported that more than half of Hispanic audiences are more likely to use English when conducting searches or consuming content online, even if they generally speak Spanish at home. So when you’re developing advertising designed to reach Hispanic audiences, how do you determine which language to reach them in?

George Zwierko: That’s a very interesting question and what we do is we understand that our Hispanic audience, because they skew young, more than likely a good percentage of that population is bilingual, bicultural. So that gives us a great opportunity to effectively reach this one audience on two sides of the fence, we could run English language ads, we can run Spanish language ads, because we know the consumption of this audience will be going back and forth. The ability to naturally go from English to Spanish is very fluid with a lot of Hispanic households. And we recognize that. Now that’s not to say that we don’t have an opportunity to just run Spanish ads. We might do that, but we’ve run campaigns that have been strictly English, strictly targeting a younger bilingual, bicultural household or audience. And we’ll run that ad in English, but we pepper in some cultural nuances, things that we know are relatable – that could be a phrase, it could be if we’re running a TV commercial, it’s a gesture. It’s just these little things that we know are culturally relevant and are relatable to the people that we’re speaking to. It just makes it more real to our audience. Even if it’s in English. It’s just a better reflection of how they live their lives. I think it really humanizes the message. 

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. I really like that idea. So the inclusion of some elements of Hispanic culture in advertising, even if an ad is in English makes audiences feel a little bit like the brand is understanding them with a kind of a cultural nod or wink?

George Zwierko: Correct.

Adrian Tennant: Right. While Hispanics own smartphones in similar proportions to the rest of the US population, our research suggests that they spend, on average, two hours more per week on their mobile devices, the non-Hispanic audiences. Why is this, George?

George Zwierko: It’s interesting. When it comes to smartphone usage, I think what we’re finding is that there’s, there’s two things. We have Hispanic households that could be multigenerational, you know, more folks in the household compared to non-Hispanics. So you look at just the devices someone would have on their home. So you have a desktop or you might not have a desktop. And so I think the access to the internet today with things like 4G, 5G, the affordability of wifi enables us to use our smartphones more as a way to consume and to gather information, and to live our lives online, than just being chained to a desk. So I think it’s the affordability of providing internet access to multiple people within a household, which I think lends it to the stat that more Hispanics are on their smartphones than non-Hispanics, for example.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That makes a lot of sense. A study from Viant in 2017 showed that Hispanic millennials – also known as Gen Y – is the cohort most likely to interact with brands on social media. And the study found that almost 50 percent of Hispanic millennials said they had talked about a brand online with others or use the brands hashtag compared to just 17% of non-Hispanics. So to cultivate brand loyalty, it seems like social media might be an even more important channel for Hispanics than say, for the general market. Do you agree?

George Zwierko: I agree, I think the opportunity to use social media to, to cultivate brand loyalty is across the board, I think you’re starting to see that uptick across multiple generations, everywhere from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. I think across the board, social media is just becoming more relevant in our lives and advertisers are beginning to realize that putting more money toward a social media platform just makes better sense for building brand loyalty or creating awareness. I think it’s identifying the social media channels also that are used with one generation over the other or one particular ethnic group over the other. I think you’ll find some stats that support that one platform gets more usage, when you start to look at certain demographics. I think there’s always going to be an opportunity for us to use social media to attract our younger Hispanic audience to create that loyalty. And I only think that that’s going to continue to grow. We’ve run many campaigns where we stay away from any advertising in the traditional sense and put more money into a digital space. Sometimes that’s 100% of our spend when it comes to targeting Hispanics. Just because we see the uptick in an online usage between Google searches and programmatic and retargeting. I mean, the numbers are just skewing so high. And, and that could go back to the last question we talked about when it comes to smartphone usage I think that where we’re identifying who has the most devices and the best way to talk that audience. 

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Yeah, that makes sense. So let’s switch gears a little bit. Can you explain how Rumbo typically works with partner agencies like ourselves to develop a multicultural campaign?

George Zwierko: Absolutely. You know, for us, partnering with ad agencies has been part of our model since our inception. It always made the most sense. It goes back to why, when we had our traditional agency, we created a Hispanic division, which was Grupo D, which you introduced earlier. It just makes sense for us to provide a multicultural service to agencies that don’t offer that. Now we can come and partner with agencies on multiple different levels and provide a variety of different services. For some agencies we come in on the creative side – but sometimes we come in as just purely as consultants and help guide their creative team or their strategy team or the accounts department just to kind of help them better understand or identify opportunities with their existing client base. And so we help clients identify the best clients on their list that would benefit from doing a multicultural campaign or developing a multicultural strategy. 

Adrian Tennant: So George, what does your process look like?

George Zwierko: Sure. So, for example, we do a lot of work with financial institutions. Over the years we’ve partnered with quite a few credit unions and banks. And with that relationship, the process always begins with us looking at their existing customer base or their member base. Usually we’ll launch with a campaign that communicates to their existing customers, showing that the credit union or the bank provides the types of services that our Hispanic customers are looking for when it comes to finances. I think the approach to how you sell bank products, financial products is a little different. There are certain nuances to the Hispanic audience that are very different from your English-speaking non-Hispanic customers. So what we do is we help the bank or credit union identify those things and actually see them. What we’ve known and what we’ve seen in the past is that you’ll have a Hispanic family come in and they want to speak to a teller who speaks Spanish. They would prefer to speak in their own language. And so the bank or credit union from an operational side may only have one teller available that speaks Spanish. And so that teller might be occupied and maybe the availability of that individual that they’re trying to reach, that person may not be available for about another 30, 40 minutes. But surprisingly, you’d find the Hispanic family will wait. They’ll wait 40 minutes, they’ll carve a lot of time out of their day because they really prefer to speak to this one individual and build a relationship with this one individual. And then every time this, this individual, this Hispanic individual or the family comes in, they’re always looking to talk to that one person. So from an operational side, you know, we’re advising credit unions and banks to staff up on Spanish speakers. So maybe then that graduates to a recruitment campaign, how do we staff appropriately to handle our Hispanic, Spanish-speaking customers? Then we also look at products. What products are you offering? What products resonate better with our Hispanic audience based on their financial needs? We notice that the financial needs might be different – certain products will resonate well with certain Hispanic households and others may not even be top of mind. But then how do we cross-sell those other products? And it’s always going to be a little different than you do your non-Hispanic audience. Even how you talk to these customers, your approach, we found that when it comes to talking about your finances, for many Hispanic families, it’s a very private, intimate thing. It’s something that’s not lightly shared. There’s a sense of privacy that needs to be taken into account so we have to be sensitive to those things.

Adrian Tennant: How have you seen really cringe-worthy, creative designed for a Hispanic audience that completely fell flat? 

George Zwierko: You know, that’s, that’s an interesting question because I think what we’re starting to see is that mistakes isn’t happening as often. And the reason it’s not happening as often as, because advertisers are getting wise to not relying on things like Google Translate or trying to ask their next door neighbor if they can help copywrite an ad. I think advertisers and agencies are starting to realize that they either need to hire professionals or bring in a professional to develop a messaging and strategies and copy and so forth. So a lot of the mistakes that were made are the ones that we’ve always heard in our marketing classes are really almost urban legends. Like the big one that was always talked about was Chevy’s Nova campaign where you take Nova and if you translate Nova in Spanish, it sounds like “No-va” – “doesn’t go,” but that campaign launched, they were selling Chevy Novas and in central America and Mexico and around the world without any problem. And actually there were upticks in car sales all over the country, all over South America, and central America. So there’s really no weight to this urban legend that that was an actual problem that consumers in those countries were looking at the brand name or the name of the product, Nova calling it “No-va” and then ridiculing the brand. And Chevy took a nosedive and sales that never actually happened, but yet it’s one of the sample examples that is used in multicultural classes and in classroom instruction to this day. I think what we can do to avoid, we can look at this, this story, even though it’s an urban legend and, and realize that what it really takes is us truly understanding our audience and not thinking that all Hispanics that make the Hispanic population are all pigeonholed into the same silo. I can’t assume that if I’m using cultural references that are very Mexican, that that’s going to appeal to every Hispanic in the population. Everyone comes from someplace else and there’s a variety of different traditions and cultures that accompany these populations. I think it’s just truly understanding, “who am I speaking to?” and, “how do I make it relevant to the people I’m talking to?” For example, if we’re running campaigns in Orlando there’s a large population of Puerto Ricans that live in Orlando, Kissimmee and that in Central Florida. So I’m going to rely on the cultural references that resonate with that audience. You know, what can we include in our messaging that is going to resonate with that particular group? But let’s say I’m in Houston in Texas where there’s a large percentage of Mexicans that make up the population, well then how am I going to address that audience? But if I live in a melting pot, like let’s say Tampa or New York, you know, there we’re going to take a different approach because we want to make sure that we can communicate across the board to our entire Hispanic population because they come from a variety of different countries. So I think we learn from these stories we hear about campaigns and brands that got it wrong. There was the “Got milk?” campaign that used the headline, “¿Tiene leche?” which can be understood as, “Are you lactating?”

Adrian Tennant: (Laughter)

George Zwierko: But that has never been proven to be true, you know, and a lot of promotional campaigns run locally. So sometimes it’s hard to prove if something was said wrong or if something was said right, but these are the stories that exist out there. And I think it’s just like any story, there’s a moral to be learned. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, George, I understand that your family has both Latin and European heritage. In what kinds of ways – if at all – did that influence you growing up? 

George Zwierko: That’s an excellent question because I grew up in a household where I was totally confused, I think! My mother was born in Puerto Rico and I grew up in the Bronx in New York, and we lived in a neighborhood that was – the majority of the folks in that neighborhood were a Spanish, Puerto Rican, Dominican. It was about 99% of our neighborhood. And my mother, which I always say was the head of household, regardless of what my father might think, we grew up in an environment where we lived on Spanish food. We listened to Spanish music. Spanish was spoken in the house. All our friends spoke Spanish. We just grew up in an environment where the influence was very Latin. And then my father, unfortunately, was the odd man out. He didn’t speak any Spanish – loved my mother to death. But I had very limited access to my dad’s side of the family. Occasionally we would do the family reunion thing or go visit my grandmother. And my dad being European, was born in Poland. There was a big Polish influence when we would go to those types of events. But it was interesting for me as a child just to see both sides and appreciate what both sides had to offer. The language, the food, the traditions, the values, the superstitions were always really interesting too. There was always a little bit of similarity between the two. But then, you know, you’d find these major differences. And so I think growing up, it just made me aware of that, you know, we all come from different backgrounds and we all bring amazing things to the table.

Adrian Tennant: George, we have a very active and engaged internship program here at Bigeye. For students or young professionals just starting out in their careers, what advice would you give to help them apply a multicultural perspective in their work?

George Zwierko: I come from a general market background. Most of my career was in the general market side of things – full service, fully integrated agencies. And I chose to get into multicultural marketing. It’s not easy. I think multicultural – it’s almost like there’s a science to it. I always like to say that we’re kind of like anthropologists, we really enjoy being multicultural because we love learning about the essence of people. How do people think? And why do they think a certain way? And how do they behave a certain way? And what causes them to behave a certain way? Is there some type of traditional influence or some cultural influences that are steering them in a direction to make a decision to purchase or use something? And how does that make them tick? And that fascination is what drives us to be on the multicultural side of things. But it’s a lot of work, but I think if you’re interested in learning about people or you have an interest in understanding people and the psychology that goes into consumer behavior, I really do think multicultural is the place to be.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That’s great advice, thank you. If listeners are interested in learning more about developing multicultural marketing strategies or your work at Rumbo, where can they find resources?

George Zwierko: Well, you could always start at our website, which is I think if you go online and just Google “multicultural marketing,” you get to see some amazing national international work. And then I know a lot of the universities are offering or beginning to offer classes on diversity inclusion, multicultural marketing. I think that’s becoming more relevant and at the university level just because we’re watching the landscape of this country completely change and just globally how we’re starting to become more interconnected. And the planet is much smaller than it used to be. 

Adrian Tennant: George, thank you very much for being with us today on IN CLEAR FOCUS and thank you for sharing your insights into this really dynamic market.

George Zwierko: Absolutely. It’s been my pleasure. This has been fantastic. Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, George Zwierko, Principal of Rumbo Marketing. You can find links to resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player, and if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Bigeye’s Senior Strategist, Dana Cassell, joins us to examine the current state of grocery shopping and the ways they are innovating to engage with shoppers.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: the $800 billion grocery wars. Amazon announced this week that it is opening its first full-size, cashierless grocery store. Bigeye’s Senior Strategist, Dana Cassell, joins us to examine the current state of grocery shopping and key challenges facing the industry. We look at the ways traditional grocery chains are employing technology to engage with shoppers, experimenting with new store formats, and testing delivery options.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Today, we’re going to be talking about something we probably all have to do: grocery shopping. A five point 7 trillion dollar business globally, based on 2018 data from, the top grocery chain in the US is Walmart – and it’s way ahead – with $514.4 billion in sales. And the number two position is Kroger with $121.2 billion. In addition to its own name, Kroger operates under 16 store names including Harris Teeter, QFC, and Ralph’s. Coming in third is Albertsons with $62.2 billion. Florida-based Publix comes in fifth with $36.1 billion. The German-owned chain, Aldi, which also owns Trader Joe’s, comes in ninth with $16 billion, which is just ahead of Amazon, owner of Whole Foods; that’s in 10th spot with $15.8 billion in sales. A 2019 report from the Food Marketing Institute reported that 92% of shoppers have a favorite store where they do the bulk of their grocery shopping. This is a place they know by name and where they spend the majority of their grocery budget, most commonly a supermarket. Today, the vast majority of grocery shopping still takes place in traditional brick and mortar stores, but this pattern is beginning to change as more retailers offer grocery delivery options either via their own services or in partnership with companies like Instacart. The online grocery market generated sales of $28.7 billion in 2019 with sales forecast to reach $59.5 billion by 2023. The biggest players in this space are currently Walmart and Amazon. Of course, marketing plays a significant role in how supermarkets offline and online position themselves relative to competitors. The industry is also known for having razor-thin margins, so there is significant incentive to optimize every aspect of the marketing mix to maintain the most profitable formula. To talk about the current state of grocery shopping and some of the challenges facing the industry in 2020, I’m joined here in the studio today by Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Dana.

Dana Cassell: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: So why are you interested in following grocery store marketing trends?

Dana Cassell: It’s really the combination of my personal and professional interests that make the Grocery Wars so interesting to me. There’s a lot in there about consumer behavior and experience. You mentioned the razor-thin margins in this vertical, so really experience and um, consumer behavior have to be optimized. So I just love that. Um, it’s a super competitive field and it combines food and local culture. So there’s always something regional about groceries and the way that regional grocers expand into new areas I find really fascinating. And then there’s also a fairly broad target as you mentioned in the intro. Everybody needs to grocery shop at some point. So I really am interested in the idea that it’s not a brand that can usually differentiate itself on its target. And then also just how much of our life grocery shopping takes up. An average household makes 1.6 trips to the grocery store every week, spending $113.50 every week. And then this part, this is what I get so excited about. The average household makes trips to 4.4 stores each month. So while someone might have their grocery of preference, they also probably have a place that they swing into that is more convenient, maybe a place where they buy produce or meat. And I just think that’s fascinating that really a mix of brands make up one category for a house. I just love it. This is an industry I really like to watch right.

Adrian Tennant: The buzz in Florida lately has been about the closing of many Lucky’s Market stores and also the news that Earth Fare, which is a health and wellness-focused supermarket chain, will be closing all of its stores. What’s the deal with these beloved brands going out of business?

Dana Cassell: So kind of two different stories actually for Lucky’s and Earth Fare, but we can talk through both of them. You might know that Lucky’s started in Boulder, Colorado in 2002 and their mission was to be organic for the masses. So they were trying to broaden access to organic food. And in 2012, they opened their second location in Colorado. And then there was a turning point for Lucky’s, which is that in 2016 it was invested in by Kroger. You mentioned earlier that Kroger has many stores under which it operates. Well, it invested heavily in Lucky’s in 2016. And at that point they had 17 stores in 13 States and Kroger started pushing Lucky’s to younger, more price-conscious shoppers. And then they made a strategic move into Florida. So in 2017, there were 11 Lucky’s in Florida. You can see how quickly the growth happened for this store. At the same time, though, we saw the growth of chains like Sprouts, Fresh Thyme and Earth Fare. And during that expansion, we also saw major brands like Walmart and Aldi start to double down on organic and natural foods. And even Kroger did. So the way they did it was with a private line in store, which is the way we see many major brands address natural and organic. So while Lucky’s was growing, the general market for organic was growing as well. And that message of organic food for the masses was not a point of difference any more because if Walmart has doubled down on organic, that’s a difficult place for Lucky’s to differentiate. So really, Lucky’s grew too quickly and then Kroger just decided to pull their funding. We know that Kroger is focusing on tech. It’s my assumption that the focus on tech leaves Kroger no option but to refine their strategy. So they’re really transitioning, transitioning to an omnichannel retailer, focused on store delivery, pickup and ship. And I think as this more strategic focus is happening, Lucky’s just is not a profitable element for the company. So I’m interested to see what happens with Lucky’s over time. I think the Kroger pulling out – obviously, it makes a major impact in this area of the country. And then Earth Fare is just a kind of a totally different story in and of itself. Earth Fare started in 1975 in Asheville, North Carolina. And their niche was organic natural foods and over time, as we just mentioned, that niche really disappeared. So grocers either have to compete on price or they have to compete on customer experience. Earth Fare was clearly too small to be able to gain the price advantage that larger retailers have. And while they invested heavily in local communities and had a really local feel for every store, the customer experience wasn’t enough to help the brand thrive. So their niche disappeared. Kind of two different stories for those two.

Adrian Tennant: Now, you mentioned Kroger pushing investment in technology. Is that a trend you expect to see across the industry?

Dana Cassell: Of course. You mentioned earlier about online grocery and the percent of sales that it’s taking. Absolutely. If a grocer wants to succeed, their online strategy has to be in place. I certainly expect to see that expand across the interest industry. I’m interested to see what Kroger does because of course their investment in technology impacts many of the stores that we all shop in, whether they’re named Kroger or not. But for sure we’ll see a technology push.

Adrian Tennant: And what other grocery trends are you looking towards in 2020?

Dana Cassell: Hmm, that’s a fun question. I see the trends break down into two different areas. They’re either experience or behavioral trends, or trends based on personal values. So the values trends that we’re looking toward in 2020 are things like plant-based foods and the availability of those in your average grocery store. The trend towards zero-waste cooking, and we’ll see that pop up in prepared foods as well. And then also this is one that we can be interested in as marketers: the story behind foods is a trend that we’re seeing – people really being interested in where their food comes from and how it’s grown and how it’s produced. My favorite current example of this is Vital Farms eggs. I also love that they’re a heavy podcast advertiser. So I love hearing about them just through my own media habits. But the way that they’re telling their story is they have the name of the farm where your eggs came from on the side of the carton. And you can go on their website, type the name of that farm, and they take you on a video tour of the farm. So you might have this image of dairy – of a beautiful farm, and a red barn, and sun shining on green grass. And that’s not true, as we know, in a lot of food production. And Vital Farms is not just dispelling that myth, but just saying, “Come take a look. Here’s the name of your farm, take a tour and see what it’s about.” So that storytelling behind foods I think will only be getting bigger. And then on the experience or behavioral side of trends, a few things that I’m interested in. Obviously, as technology grows and online ordering grows, grocers are able to have more access to habit tracking. So this is when you see, like in your grocery app, if you’re going to order for the week, you might see between when you finish your order and submit for payment, you might see a screen that says, “Did you forget your orange juice?” Because they notice that I’ve bought orange juice every week for the last three months and I didn’t this week. So that habit tracking is a way to optimize people’s experience. It’s also a way to optimize sales. We’ll also see a trend toward convenience foods. I think the first wave of this was really at home delivery and meal kits. And then groceries have gotten on board with this. So you can walk now into a Harris Teeter for example, and you’ll see meal kits prepared, ready to go home. So all of those herbs, chopped veggies, diced meat, prepared and you just need to go home, combine and cook. So we’ll see an increase in convenience store foods like that, but also things in more prepared foods like sandwiches over in the deli. You know, chicken ready to eat, to-go foods, those meal kits. We’ll see that growing this year. And then the delivery method is obviously an experience and trend that we’re looking toward and really living in right now. The different ways to get your groceries. If you’re going to come in store, we’re going to be focused on a speedy checkout process. You can order online, have it delivered home, or you can come drive up. We’re going to see groceries optimizing each one of those delivery methods.

Adrian Tennant: A couple of other tech innovations that I’ve been tracking: if you have a mobile phone app for the supermarket, it’s typically going to understand the layout of the store that you shop in most frequently and it can potentially guide you through the store to ensure that you get all of the items on your list in the most, time and footwear-efficient manner. But I’ve also seen things where, for example, freezer cabinets have got small cameras installed that look at the facial expressions of consumers as they approach the cabinet and might actually suggest products based on the emotion that’s being elicited by the facial characteristics of that moment. That’s a little Minority Report – but I know that Kroger is one of the supermarket chains that’s, I think, working with Microsoft on the idea that the shelf talker or the labeling along shelves can be personalized to the individual consumer. And even with the prospect of having personalized, dynamic pricing back to that loyalty scheme idea – so a lot happening in supermarkets, it seems, technology-wise.

Dana Cassell: It is interesting. On those digital tags. I also like the idea of the tags being able to talk to the phone. So as you pass by something being, you know, being reminded or if you have your list on your phone, the geo-locating in the store, I think it’s all really interesting. And as a consumer, I feel a couple of ways about it. You know, you just mentioned the Minority Report aspect, but also I’ve been in a store – I haven’t done this in grocery yet because I’m such an online order of grocery – but I was in Target recently and couldn’t figure out where something was in the store and went into the app and was able to find the aisle in the app. And I think that is super useful. So when you mentioned a phone being able to guide you through the store, especially if you’re new to an area or a new store is opened, you know, that you haven’t shopped in before. I think it’s gonna all optimize the consumer experience and at the same time deliver data to the brands that they can use to increase sales and you know, just make really the experience of shopping better.

Adrian Tennant: Now what are the lessons about consumer behavior marketers can learn from these Grocery Wars?

Dana Cassell: That’s really the question that gets into why I follow groceries in general because I just think that the trends that we see there can apply to a wide variety of brands. So the first is the digitally-demanding environment. Obviously we’re talking about this huge tech investment that grocers are leaning into right now and will continue to lean into. And the lesson that’s taught us is that stores have to have a promotional plan, a media plan, and an e-commerce plan in place, digitally. These are just the three baseline mandatories that we’re learning from grocery. A digitally-demanding environment means that you have to be up to speed. We also have in grocery the sea of sameness. You know, if you take a step back, they’re all selling food. They’re all in my neighborhood. So they have to figure out in this sea of sameness how to stay stand out. And I mentioned earlier two tactics that we see groceries use for that either price, competition or experience. And I’m really most interested as a marketer and the stores that choose the consumer experience as their point of difference. And we can learn a lot from that. I think, in general, there are four questions as a marketer that I would take away from the Grocery Wars and what we’re seeing here in early 2020 that I would encourage brands to ask themselves. And if we don’t have solid answers, you know it’s time to bring somebody else in the room that can help with these answers. So the first is, “what is our point of difference and how will we compete?” And then, “What technology do we need to invest in to meet our customer’s expectations?” I am so pleased that Kroger sees the need to do that rather than limp along with whatever technology they have. And we all know we’ve worked with brands day-in, day-out, that at this point have legacy technology infrastructure that has sort of been Frankensteined together to make things work. And sometimes there’s a moment where you have to pause and re-invest. So, “What technology do we need to invest in?” The next question is, “What’s the customer experience of doing business with our brand and is it exceptional at every touch point?” This is a hard one to answer if you are emotionally connected to your own brand. So I would encourage you to find somebody newer or less emotionally connected if it’s not exceptional at every touch point, what changes do you need to make? And then the last is, “Is our business model modern and evolved?” Meaning – is it values driven? We talked about people wanting to hear the story of their food. That question applies to all brands and that is not coming from one particular niche of consumers. As in the evolved business model, “Are we environmentally aware and do we have a customer-first mentality?” We’ve seen healthcare talk about a customer service mentality for over a decade. They’ll use the phrase, “Patient-first.” And I think we’re seeing grocer start to say, “Shopper-first mentality.” So these are kind of the lessons I think we can walk away with.

Adrian Tennant: Do you think we’re going to be looking at smaller footprints going forwards or do you think size still really kind of matters?

Dana Cassell: That’s really interesting. So we see Walmart’s Neighborhood Market being an answer to that. It’s a much smaller grocer that is only focusing on groceries. So all the things that you see at the Super Center are not there. And even Aldi, Lidl, Trader Joe’s, none of those are mega-footprint stores. I think you’re right. As online increases, I think the store experience is going to need to be optimized. And that does not necessarily mean a massive store that takes me an hour to get through. We saw that in the delivery trends for 2020, if we’re not doing drive up or delivery, speedy checkout is a big deal. And getting through the store quickly is too, so I expect that we’re not going to see an increase in mega-footprint grocery.

Adrian Tennant:

The average supermarket carries something like 36,000 to 40,000 SKUs compared to an Aldi or Trader Joe’s, which typically carries 3,000 to 4,000 max.

Dana Cassell: Right.

Adrian Tennant: Very different in terms of potentially being overwhelmed by the SKUs in a typical supermarket. But I believe most people probably only stick to 150 SKUs, habitually. So it seems like there’s a lot of choice out there. Do you think we need all of that choice, particularly with direct-to-consumer becoming a more viable option?

Dana Cassell: I think that’s interesting because I do think sometimes people find new brands to experiment with through their favorite grocery store. So I think it’s important that we continue to offer a variety. It’s a great place for trial. It’s obviously a wonderful channel for promotion as a marketer and the habit tracking. So the grocery delivers us a great experience as a marketer to say, people who like this, this, and this are typically buy this, this, and this tend to like our new product. So I really think that the in-grocery experience will continue to grow for trial brands, but certainly direct-to-consumer. I mean the world is our oyster with how we get our things. I also want to mention that the customer satisfaction score for Trader Joe’s in the latest survey, the 2018 one, it’s the number one highest grocery for customer satisfaction. So if a smaller grocer that has their own items, their own brands, it has is leading in customer satisfaction, I think that’s directional for where some of these larger grocers may be heading. Now obviously, two is Wegmans, three is Publix, and those are not smaller smaller footprints like Trader Joe’s. But that customer experience at Trader Joe’s just really turns the needle for them.

Adrian Tennant: Well it’s retail as theater, obviously and because they are their own branded products, there’s not really the ability to compare. And as you can probably tell, I’m a bit of a Trader Joe’s fan.

Dana Cassell: Right.

Adrian Tennant: And I’m not alone.

Dana Cassell: No!

Adrian Tennant: One of the top rated podcasts on Apple Podcasts is called, “Inside Trader Joe’s,” – it actually topped the charts a couple of times. So people are pretty passionate about their supermarkets.

Dana Cassell: No doubt.

Adrian Tennant: Great points. Dana, thank you so much for joining us today to discuss the Grocery Wars. It’s a fascinating topic for marketers.

Dana Cassell: Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Dana Cassell, Senior Strategist at Bigeye. You can find links to resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And please rate and review the show. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Virna Sekuj, Strategic Insights Manager at GlobalWebIndex, joins IN CLEAR FOCUS to discuss digital consumerism and evolving attitudes towards personal data.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: as new research reveals consumers’ growing desire to be compensated for sharing their personal data, we evaluate the viability of the business model that underpins the Internet. Virna Sekuj, Strategic Insights Manager at GlobalWebIndex, joins us to discuss digital consumerism. We learn how evolving attitudes towards personal data are raising privacy concerns and why the premiumization of in-real-life experiences is a growing trend.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Today we’re going to be talking about digital consumerism, our evolving attitudes towards personal data, privacy and the premiumization of in-real-life versus digital experiences. These are themes highlighted in new research from GlobalWebIndex. An international market research company established in London in 2009, GlobalWebIndex now has offices in Prague, Athens, and New York City, which is where our guest today, Virna Sekoj, is based. Virna is the Strategic Insights Manager for the Americas and uses GlobalWebIndex data to help clients with strategic business goals and decisions. Additionally, Virna contributes to GlobalWebIndex reports, infographics, thought leadership, blog series, press interviews and podcasts – like this one. Virna’s interests include consumer psychology, gender representation in media, and the relationship between society and technology. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Virna.

Virna Sekuj: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Before diving into the topics I mentioned in the intro, could you first explain the research methodology that GlobalWebIndex uses?

Virna Sekuj: Sure. So as you mentioned, we’re an international digitally-focused market research company. We are the world’s largest study into what we call the connected consumer. So essentially internet users all around the world and we conduct our core survey across 46 different countries, soon to be 47. And our objective really is to provide a full 360-degree view of the digital consumer and their lives online. And we do this by covering all sorts of different data points on topics that range from attitudes and lifestyle, media consumption, brand engagement, how people are interacting with brands, online marketing touchpoints, and everything in between.

Adrian Tennant: Perfect. In your report, “Decoding the data economy,” you make it clear that you believe the business model that underpins the Internet is really being challenged. What led you to that assertion?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, so probably the most popular business model that really underpins the Internet now is this idea of free services that are funded by advertising revenue. And advertisers ultimately get value out of this because they’re able to tap into the personal data of users who were on these free services and free websites. So if you think about all of the social media platforms we use: Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and everything, we as consumers get to take advantage of all of the functionality that they provide to us and all of the amazing features. We can stay connected to other people and consume content and all these types of things without actually giving the providers our money. But they have to make money somehow, right? And it’s actually based off of our data. So the exchange is that we give them access to all of this data that we produce our data footprint online and on social media. And they’re able to sell it to their advertisers who can then use it to better target us at different touchpoints in our whole online journey and our purchase journey with personalized ads. So this has been really successful for a pretty long time now and it’s allowed for all of these free services, these great services that we use to grow pretty rapidly. But that’s being challenged now particularly. And there are a few reasons why. So first of all, I think a lot of people are probably aware of some of the scandals we’ve seen in recent years around data breaches or fake news and Cambridge Analytica and all of these companies that are really in the limelight for not properly protecting consumer data. So there’s a lot of attention on that and there’s also the legislation side of it. So the legislation and the governments are starting to catch up with where technology has been for a while and things like GDPR, or the California Consumer Privacy Act are starting to really put some accountability on service providers to how they protect and store and track our data. So it’s really coming to the forefront of consumers’ minds and they’re starting to become more aware of it, more concerned about it, and are starting to challenge this model that has been very functional and successful for a long time.

Adrian Tennant: We’ve talked about this phenomenon on IN CLEAR FOCUS before – that is, that consumers often say that the really concerned about personal data privacy in the abstract, but then the actual digital behavior sometimes suggests otherwise. And you’ve coined a phrase for this, you call it, “The Privacy Paradox,” which I really like. What kinds of consumer behaviors exemplify this paradox?

Virna Sekuj: I think when people are faced with this idea of privacy and data protection in an abstract, they’re very pro-protection and very conscious of it. But then when it comes to their actual behaviors, they’re less likely to be going out of their way to do things that would, in the long run, protect their own data. So some of the things that we track in our global research are very high-level attitudes towards privacy. Like agreeing with the statement, “I’m concerned about the internet eroding my personal privacy.” So when you ask, “Do you feel this way? Do you agree with this?” we get really high levels of agreement. It’s something like two-thirds of people around the world, say that they’re concerned about the internet eroding their personal privacy. But then when you start to look at what people are actually doing to protect their privacy and whether they’re willing to give up a level of convenience or whether they’re willing to pay for services in order to not have their data tracked, there’s not the willingness to actually follow through. So people want the convenient use of social media. They don’t want to have to pay for things like that. They like having brands give them personalized recommendations off of what they might like based off of their internet history or what else they’ve purchased and all of these things. You have to give up a certain level of convenience and ease and I guess the quality of using internet services in order to really maintain an ironclad grip on your own data privacy, which people are not as willing to do.

Adrian Tennant: What types of personal data collection and use typically make consumers most nervous do you find?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, so all data is not created equal is what we like to say. There is definitely a spectrum of sensitivities as to what different kinds of data people are pretty comfortable sharing versus what they’re really not comfortable sharing. And this is important for brands that operate online and especially those that are considering tapping into trends like data monetization or asking people to provide their data in exchange for different types of access to goods or services or even money. And what we found in our research is that things like your location, your address, your mood, even to the extent of things that you’ve bought online are pretty safe areas of data. People are fairly comfortable giving away some of that, but what is probably the most highly sensitive is anything related to health or medical records – anything related to financial data, income, household spending is quite sensitive. And then browsing history is really sensitive so people are not willing to share data like that in many cases.

Adrian Tennant: Now in the report you write about the widening gap between data collection and management players within the digital ecosystem and the consumers whose data it is that’s being brokered. To what extent do you think consumers feel a loss of control over their personal data?

Virna Sekuj: I think it’s definitely growing, this idea of having a loss of control. So a lot of the research that we’ve done into data privacy and protection has been specific to the US and the UK and one of the big stats from the report that you’ve referenced a couple of times especially is that around 40% of internet users in these two markets say that they don’t feel in control of their personal data anymore which is pretty significant. And I would even argue that that’s a little conservative because, at the end of the day, I think as much as even some of us who work in the data space feel like we have a little bit more knowledge or a little bit more awareness, ultimately no one’s really that much in control and that’s kind of part of the problem.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That’s fascinating to me. I mean, you had mentioned obviously GDPR in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act, that one went into action just at the beginning of this year.

Virna Sekuj: Mmmm.

Adrian Tennant: Obviously the objective of these regulations is to give consumers the right to protect their data and personal information online. In what kinds of ways do you think the introduction of these regulations have maybe affected consumers’ behaviors or attitudes?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, so at the moment, I think that the probably most positive impact they’re having is on businesses and companies that operate in the data space. So they’ve introduced a lot more accountability and transparency. And a need for just better protections around how consumer data is stored and gathered when it’s deleted. All of these types of things, which ultimately protects consumers in a way that previously they hadn’t been. For consumers themselves, I think it’s brought the issue more to light and people are becoming more aware and a bit more suspicious and may be careful about what they think about when they want to share data. But generally, the picture is still quite complicated and confusing for people. You’re seeing more and more of these opt-in messages that come from whatever website or app that you’re using and people don’t really know what to do, sometimes. There’s this massive list of terms and conditions that nobody really reads. And it just adds to this whole environment of uncertainty around, “Who has my data? Oh, did I opt into that? Do I have any rights around this?” So the framework isn’t entirely clear yet. It’s becoming better but there is this kind of muddy waters for people to work through at this point.

Adrian Tennant: As you mentioned in the report, Governor Gavin Newsome has proposed the Data Dividend for Californians, a bill that would mandate tech companies to pay users for their digital data. In what kinds of ways are companies rewarding consumers for use of their personal data right now?

Virna Sekuj: There’s a couple of early examples, almost experimental ways that companies have started to do this. I think the Amazon one from last year is a good one. So they tried to see if people would sell their data by offering a $10 credit during Amazon Prime Day last year if they let some of their behaviors and browsing behaviors be tracked, essentially. So that was very obvious, “Here is a certain amount of money for us to be able to access your data.” Facebook has been doing this on some level in order to test how users who are on Facebook use other competitive services too. So they have apps that pay users to basically allow Facebook to track how they use other apps and competitors’ sites. This has been a bit contentious though and I know that Apple doesn’t allow these types of apps to be downloaded and used on their devices because it violates Apple’s terms for one app collecting data on another app. So it’s been complicated but we’re starting to see experimental efforts by companies to tap into data monetization. And as people become more aware that their data has value and they’re not necessarily the ones benefiting from this value, it’s going to become a more and more common occurrence.

Adrian Tennant: So your feeling is that we might well say the introduction of products that help consumers take back control of their data. What could such solutions look like, do you think?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, it’s definitely going to be an interesting sub-industry that comes out of the whole data economy. You can’t necessarily control your data as well as you would like to or you don’t have the time or the expertise to read all of these legal documents and opt-out of this and opt out of that. So for a fee, a service provider will probably help you navigate the whole world of T’s and C’s and data sharing and which websites you should trust. And can you delete your data and they’ll be able to help people get rid of their data footprint and remove some of the personal information that they have just floating out there on the internet that doesn’t necessarily need to be out there. So we’re in this data economy but we’re just at the beginning of it. This whole industry of data monitoring as you kind of hinted too, data management for the user is probably one of the next waves that are going to crop up because it’s just become so complicated for the average internet user to really manage their data footprint. And people are becoming, as I said, more aware of it and more concerned and they probably will be willing to pay for something like that in the future.

Adrian Tennant: It’s a fascinating prospect.

Virna Sekuj: Mmm.

Adrian Tennant: I want to turn now to the recent report entitled, “Connecting the Dots,” in which several contributors at GlobalWebIndex predict consumer trends that will shape 2020 and beyond. This is a very thoroughly researched report and it is also a great read. And Virna, your section is entitled, “Can I speak to a human please?”

Virna Sekuj: Yes.

Adrian Tennant: What data points led you to write this piece?

Virna Sekuj: So this is an interesting one and it’s probably one of my favorites, just like topics that people are discussing this year. And what led us to look at this as a theme was some of the trending data that we have tracked for a number of years and the changes that we’ve seen in it. So we’ve tracked in our global survey user attitudes towards technology and the internet for a while now. And one of the trends that we’ve started to see is that there’s a growing discomfort or uneasiness with how much technology has really permeated into our lives. So agreement with certain attitudes like, “Technology makes life more complicated,” has grown, for example, by about 27% between 2014 and 2019. So essentially, people are more than a quarter more likely now versus five or six years ago to say that they think technology is making their lives more complicated. But at the same time, people are more connected than ever before, which is another data point we track. So people feel like they’re constantly connected, that’s growing, but at the same time there’s this increasing rate of uneasiness with it. So technology is everywhere. We use it for everything. It’s part of our lives and like there’s a resistance towards that. So it’s a bit of a cycle. And it’s interesting that that’s really kind of coming to a head now.

Adrian Tennant: You also identify an emerging trend in the premiumization of in-real-life experiences in contrast to technology-driven experiences. Can you explain that?

Virna Sekuj: Sure. So as I said, technology has really permeated like every aspect of our lives now, right? So it’s not just in how we work or you know, how we go to school and how we communicate, but it’s becoming more and more a part of things like healthcare. It’s a part of our transportation systems, our entertainment, everything. So many of our experiences really are just mediated by screens and there’s a reason for that. So technology not only makes things more convenient and more efficient, but it makes things a lot cheaper as well. So it’s cheaper to put in a bunch of self-service kiosks in a grocery store, for example, in the long-run versus pay human workers and give benefits to human workers and train them up. It’s cheaper to put in e-learning systems and laptops in every classroom and only have one teacher oversee a whole group of students versus just have more staff and more one-on-one learning experiences. And technology as well is cheaper now than it ever has been before. So if you look at how much a computer cost 30 years ago, it’s just an astronomical difference. Versus now when everybody in developed, mature markets essentially – no matter your income levels – will have a smartphone. It’s just like it’s mass culture. So what is the more expensive and difficult thing to get at is to have a person work with you one-on-one: a person actually provide a service or enhance an experience for you and give you that personalized, one-on-one attention or to get something that’s handmade and slightly imperfect because it didn’t go through a whole automated, mechanized mass production system. So what is becoming more exclusive and difficult to get because it’s inevitably more expensive is having that human contact and the human element in all of our services and experiences. And that’s driving this whole idea that the human touch, the human element is becoming more of a premium.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Now, in the report, you discuss some of the ways that technology itself is becoming more human, like replacing jobs and services previously performed by humans. You also cite research from Capgemini that suggests consumers are about as likely to trust product recommendations from voice assistants as they are to trust human salespeople. So what does the rapid adoption of voice assistants on mobile phones and dedicated smart speakers tell us?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, voice is really interesting. It’s one of the device trends that we’ve seen grow so rapidly over the past few years and a lot of it is driven by younger internet users who are very, very comfortable using voice and automated services and bots and all of these things. So much so that I think it’s a little bit worrying how comfortable people have become, especially younger people with interacting with technology over perhaps interacting with a person. And that really points to a lot of potential questions in the future as to how adept or comfortable are people going to with picking up a phone and speaking to someone in an unprepared way or advocating for themselves to an actual human when they have to like look for healthcare solutions or something. Expecting the unexpected when you talk to a human is something that you don’t really get when you’re used to voice assistants and bots and all of these types of things. So there are a lot of questions and implications around – will people be able to do that? Are they going to be prepared for human-to-human interaction? And are there going to be implications around social anxiety and discomfort and all of these types of things when dealing with the basic, everyday function of just talking to people? Are we getting too comfortable just to go to voice bots and chatbots for everything?

Adrian Tennant: In an increasingly digital world then, you believe we’ll see human interaction become more of a premium commodity. And what kinds of implications will this have for commerce?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, so everything about commerce is going online or becoming automated in some way because that’s just the easier, more efficient, cheaper way to do it. But I think this whole concept, that human interaction and the human element is going to become more of a premium, has a lot of implications for brands that want to differentiate themselves and position themselves potentially as luxury or as a bit more up-market and upscale. And there are other people and analysts that have been predicting that the future of the luxury industry is really going to be shaped by how much of this human element they can integrate into commerce and experiences and provide things that are a bit more back to basics. So luxury is not necessarily going to be shaped by how beautiful or expensive or exclusive these material things are as it typically has been – although that’s always going to be an element to it – but how humanized, how unique, how much one-on-one attention you’ll be able to get is going to be part of what makes something luxury. And brands that want to kind of integrate that whole element into their positioning and into how they speak to consumers and how they offer something that’s different I think can tap into that and be really successful with it.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. It’s a fascinating hypothesis. Thank you.

Virna Sekuj: Yeah.

Adrian Tennant: Virna. We have a very active and engaged internship program here at Bigeye. Could you tell us a little bit about how you came to be working in research?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, of course. Um, so I’ve been working in research pretty much my whole career. Um, I started off doing a research assistant job when I was in college. Um, and I studied Sociology because I had a real curiosity and interest in human behavior and what drives people to make the decisions that they do and how our collectivist society impacts everything. So I was a natural person to flow into research. I’m a very analyst-focused kind of mentality and I think that for anybody who has similar interests, it’s a good place to be because there is a need for analysts and researchers right now. As we talked a lot about the data-driven economy, everything is going to be around data. All of the decisions that businesses make now are fueled by some sort of analytics, so it’s a good place to be, I think.

Adrian Tennant: It also speaks to the fact that you still need human beings to really interpret data sets and to find meaning. 

Virna Sekuj: Exactly. Yeah. You have to be able to make connections and tell the story from the data and fortunately, computers are not there yet. So you definitely need to have both a creative and technical skillset I think to be really successful in insights.

Adrian Tennant: Great points Virna. Thank you. If listeners are interested in learning more about GlobalWebIndex or your reports that we discussed today, where can they find resources?

Virna Sekuj: So you can check out our website, where a lot of our case studies and reports are shared or follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. And a lot of the new content that we produce is updated there as well.

Adrian Tennant: Perfect. Thank you very much for being on IN CLEAR FOCUS, Virna. 

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. It was great to chat.


Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Virna Sekuj, Strategic Insights Manager for the Americas at GlobalWebIndex. You can find links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And please rate and review the show. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist, explores ten drivers of marketing effectiveness and how to maximize ROI on this week’s IN CLEAR FOCUS.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: evidence-based measurement of marketing effectiveness. Bigeye’s Senior Strategist, Dana Cassell, joins us to discuss a novel meta-analysis of almost 6,000 award-winning campaigns and their ROI. Conducted by advertising strategist Mark Ritson, the research study identifies ten drivers of marketing effectiveness.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Last November, ThinkTV – a marketing and research association dedicated to commercial television in Canada – held an event examining the relationships between media marketing and effectiveness. In his keynote presentation, advertising industry maven and educator Mark Ritson presented practical recommendations applicable to brand strategy, media, channel planning, and creative content. Prior to the event, Ritson had enlisted the help of a team of MBA students to conduct a meta analysis of almost 6,000 entries to the Effie awards. The Effie awards were originally launched in 1968 by the New York chapter of the American Marketing Association as an awards program to honor the most effective advertising efforts. The award now honors all forms of effective marketing with a network that spans the globe and provides insights into effective marketing strategy. Ritson and his team coded the material, featured in the Effie case studies and mapped the information against the results generated by the strategies described. The process yielded an overall Effie score for each submission that could be translated into a proxy of effectiveness. The research team found a consistent correlation between the brands with the highest scores and their return on investment. Based on the Effies research, Ritson identified 10 leading drivers of marketing effectiveness. To talk about marketing effectiveness, I’m joined here in the studio by Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Dana.

Dana Cassell: Thanks. I’m so glad to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So Dana, working with clients, how do you typically define marketing effectiveness?

Dana Cassell: Marketing effectiveness for our clients is about the extent to which our marketing efforts meet the strategic goals that we set with our clients before we engage with them.

Adrian Tennant: Perfect. So let’s dive into the first of those ten drivers, which is brand size.

Dana Cassell: Yeah, brand size. This came right out of this study.  so the correlation between the scores and the effectiveness, and this is really the idea that bigger brands have an unfair advantage.  brands that are currently bigger at the time of their campaign because they have a larger share of or a larger share of shelf. So this is kind of an unfair advantage for a challenge your brand or a new brand. If you’ve been around a while, you’re a more established brand, it is more likely that you’ll have a higher score for effectiveness just to that it’s due to the size of the brand. But luckily for other brands that aren’t naturally huge, other factors come into play like creativity. Adrian?

Adrian Tennant: Yeah, we talked about this in the first episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS earlier this year. Exceptional creative can help brands big or small make an outsized impact. Ritson cited research by Nielsen Catalina Solutions which attributed 47% of sales contribution delivered by 500 campaigns to creativity. The only other individual factor to come close in terms of impact was reach, which was found to contribute 22% of campaign effectiveness. If we think about the differences between brand building campaigns and those focused on short-term activation, it’s those brand building campaigns – those without a specific offer or promotion attached to them – that also tend to offer more creative opportunities for storytelling. So talk to us a little bit about brand codes, Dana

Dana Cassell: Brand codes. The data nerd in me loves the idea of brand coding. And in this study we’re talking about how a wide range of assets in a campaign like logos or taglines, font, graphics can be codified and measured for effectiveness. The quote from the study that I love is that, “you really can’t over-codify a brand’s touchpoints.” He challenges us to try it. We’ll only make money. So it’s codifying is all about making a brand or a product distinct from its competition by testing the value of different pieces of its assets. And often he notes marketers or people on the client marketing team can get touchy about this because we’re so close to the development of all of these pieces and we can become over-attached to the way they are in their current state. So brand coding helps us to remove some of our personal feelings and attachments from these elements of the brand and really understand what are the most effective manifestations of those brands over time.

Adrian Tennant: And am I right in thinking that consistency is going to be a key with that brand coding?

Dana Cassell: Consistently coding pieces of the brand? Sure. Absolutely. In all measurement, that’s important. And as we code something we can learn about that element. For instance, the logo and over time we can even break the logo into additional codes. So once we find a little data point that seems to have some juice in it, we can keep breaking it down. So I think this is what he mentions. There’s not really an opportunity to over-code. We can find what’s happening and then dig deeper, dig deeper, right-size that for the moment and then move on. And of course as time passes, as you know, consumer trends and behaviors do too. So we can code over time and find new changes. It’s a nice way for me to remove the emotion from the creative pieces of the brand. So what did you learn from this study about long- and short-form communication?

Adrian Tennant: You know this was really interesting. Ritson calculated the payback from longer-running campaigns compared to shorter ones. He found that there is a correlation between the number of weeks and months a campaign runs and its Effie score. So a focus on short- term activation, which if you think about it is what most performance marketing in the digital space is typically focused on –  he found it can have a detrimental effect on long-term brand building, which is all about building associative memories. so Dana, I know you and I love to talk about the Grocery Wars. If you’re located here in the Southeastern United States and think of the Publix Supermarkets TV spots around the holidays, you know, strategically, those are 100% brand building designed to evoke, feel-good emotions. Two of the best-known researchers in the field of marketing effectiveness, specifically from advertising, both of which happen to be from the UK, are Les Binet and Peter Field. In their analysis, they recommend that 60% of marketing resources should go to long-term brand building and 40% to short-term activation. So the practical issue for many of us is that business cycles are often shorter than these findings suggest would be optimal. And the Binet and Field 60/40 rule, you know, requires some flexibility. Thinking about the channel mix is an important part of that.

Dana Cassell: Yeah. One element of this study that I found interesting is the concept of balancing mass and targeted marketing. So obviously this is a debate, well, well discussed in our field, whether mass or targeted marketing is the right approach for marketers. So essentially, before 2011, segmentation and targeting were dominating. And then we’ve had a shift toward an overall balanced approach becoming more and more common. And I think what’s important here is understanding what mass means for your brand. The learning from the Effie study is that rather than taking an either or mindset, both strategies are required for success. So targeting can be useful for performance marketing campaigns with short-term impact. Mass is obviously helpful for brand awareness, broader audiences, long-term brand building. But knowing what’s mass for your brand in, in your space is important. We wouldn’t want to dilute our targeted efforts by trying to go too broad and mass media. So when we bring this strategy in-house to balance mass and targeted for our clients, sometimes we have to narrow our focus on what types of media, geographies, and reach could be considered mass for our clients so that we can get this healthy mix where one does not cannibalize the other. And that segues into another piece of this study, which is the idea of the multichannel mix. What media are the most effective for advertising campaigns? And the Effies DataBank pointed to a simple fact: the more channels we add into the campaign, the more effective that work is likely to be. Of course, we have to balance, reach and frequency. We can’t add too many channels and dilute our message. So again, just like that mass and targeted approach, when we internalize a multichannel mix for our clients, we have to measure the effectiveness of adding another medium one at a time to make sure that we have the budget to support that. And that throwing dollars into a new media doesn’t cannibalize one of the existing media that we’re working with. So I think that balance, you know, is fascinating. During the study they point to an ROI index by media platforms and it’s just an upward drive from one platform all the way up to five. We just see the needle growing on effectiveness.  literally the data points to the more media you’re using, the more effective your campaign will be.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That’s interesting. So is it still a reach and frequency model underlying?

Dana Cassell: It is a reach and frequency model of course, which is why I think that the mass and targeted versus multichannel, this is what ties it together. We can’t say reach is King or frequency is King. It’s the balance. And that’s a nuance. It’s a reason that it’s important to have a team, a client agency team working together that really understands their strategic goals of the organization so that we don’t just let the philosophy of a mass approach drive that we understand the strategic goals and we can use a mass and targeted approach. And a multichannel approach that makes sense for our budget and reaches our strategic goals. So these are kind of some of the more interesting points. Speaking from the strategic side of the house, I never wanna ignore the creative. There’s clearly, you know, an emphasis here on how we’re buying our media, but it’s important that beautiful creative, compelling media as part of this. So as we’re using beautiful creative on all these multichannel platforms, how are we telling the story of our brand? Obviously it’s something that marketers are focusing on and how are we differentiating our brands and our products from our competitors? This report talks about realistically differentiating your brand and what kind of impact that makes on a marketing campaign. What did you learn about a realistic differentiation through this Effie study?

Adrian Tennant: Yeah, that actually achieving brand differentiation once again corresponded with a strong Effie score.

Dana Cassell: Hmmm.

Adrian Tennant: But Ritson does point out that the concept of differentiation is potentially a bit of a slippery slope.  and he also mentioned, you know, professor Byron Sharp’s research which is summarized in the book, “How Brands Grow.” The book was published back in 2011 but it’s still very relevant to today. The book is based on work done at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of South Australia and it’s really a manifesto for evidence-based marketing. That is what actually works in practice rather than what should work based on somebody’s marketing theory. And Ritson and Sharp both seem to agree here that brands are actually pretty small considerations in most consumers’ lives. So differentiation is achieved through salience, first of all, that is whether a brand, you know, immediately comes to mind when a customer is in a buying situation. Second of all, understanding the competition and using that knowledge to stand out in whatever modest way is obtainable in practice. And third, through brand associations, because no brands live on an Island.

Dana Cassell: Sure. I can see how codifying and differentiation are correlated.

Adrian Tennant: So Dana, I feel like the next point was made for you the importance of setting meaningful and strategic objectives.

Dana Cassell: Isn’t that beautiful? It’s the last one in my list and something I’m thrilled to discuss.  setting between two to five strategic objectives led to strong performance on the Effie score spectrum. And as a strategist, of course, I’m thrilled that it’s included in the list. More than that, I’m thrilled that the data points to it needing to be included in the list. So even in the papers that were written as Effie submissions, the research team found relatively few campaigns laid out true strategic aims. That is disappointing but not necessarily surprising to me because I think we go really quickly – we have a tendency in our industry to go really quickly into tactical goals as opposed to two strategic goals. So one example of this is an actual example from the 2017 Effies awards is the Australian Dares iced coffee case study. And  it won a grand Effie that year and they did set out a strategic goal. And their strategic goal was to increase consideration of the brand among blue collar workers from 15 to 65% in a five-year span. And I went into a rabbit hole of watching the ads that were created from this campaign. And I would encourage you to do the same. They have this campaign that talks about their iced coffee being the choice when your head is all over the place or when you’re places all over your head depending on how the campaign is running at the time.  and they were making a move to help this iced coffee become a habitual choice for when consumers aren’t thinking straight. So the blue collar set, you know, there’s obviously that’s a great market that they’re trying to expand into and they achieved that strategic goal over time. They had a 300% increase in sales in five years following this campaign. And it’s interesting to find they have eight products as of now here in 2020. They only have eight products. They have really simple packaging and they positioned cold-brew as fancy, which I think is really amazing way to differentiate that brand from other large coffee brands.  there’s no snobbery about their iced coffee and I love that they had this strategic objective to kind of speak to the everyman, the average consumer, to find a new market. So it’s beautiful as a strategist for me to see that it’s included. It was lovely to watch a case study of a brand, find a way to become the leading brand in their category through strategic differentiation.

Adrian Tennant: Fantastic. And I should say, we will include of course, links to all of these resources that we discuss on the “Insights” page.

Dana Cassell: Enjoy it, enjoy seeing a dog in a baby bjorn. So just you have that to look forward to.

Adrian Tennant: Okay. I’m there.

Dana Cassell: Yeah. So strategy was the perfect gift to deliver in my lap. I think our last point of the conversation is perfect for you. How knowing how much research to do can, can impact effectiveness.

Adrian Tennant: Yeah. Well of course I was delighted, but not surprised, that research is identified as a driver of marketing effectiveness. Ritson’s presentation underscored the value of the approach we take here at Bigeye – you know, that is that research is absolutely vital in making sure the foundational basis of a campaign is sound. We know that research is key to unlocking the right audience targeting, brand positioning, and establishing the optimal balance of long and short term campaigns. Enough said. So Dana, what’s your take on Ritson’s research methodology?

Dana Cassell: I love the concept of trying to figure out the common ground between campaigns from different parts of the world with different objective strategies, products, brands business motivations. Finding common ground in a set this big – 6,000 entries – is a huge undertaking. And I think in the industry we have a lot to learn when someone sets about to do this kind of research. There are obviously downsides to it. I think the first point we made was brand size impacts effectiveness. That’s kind of a wah-wah. Like, well, what if I’m not a big brand? There’s a whole piece of this research that doesn’t apply. Share of voice share shelf is another, you know, it’s something that’s hard to apply to myself if I’m not the leading huge brand in my category. So there’s pieces of this methodology that I think are difficult, but  in an overarching way, I love to see the common ground between those 6,000 entries, all of whom believe that they have a campaign that is, has produced enough effective result for their client that they’re worth examining for an award. An award driven on effectiveness obviously captures the heart of a strategist.

Adrian Tennant: Yeah.

Dana Cassell: What did you think about the findings in the study?

Adrian Tennant: I think for me what was really interesting was that we have perhaps a sense of some of these things being important, but rarely do we have access to empirical evidence. That is the case. I mean, we see our statistics from the campaigns that we run. But oftentimes it’s very hard when you’re working with a client who has maybe worked with a number of advertising agencies over the year to really compare apples to apples. For me obviously the big part was of course learning that research is fundamental, but also understanding the nuances of long-term versus short-term campaign thinking.  and to your point, you know, brands that are already famous tend to stay famous, but that isn’t to say that a smaller brand can’t compete and find a niche for itself and then follow the same rules as the bigger brands to develop their own degree of fame.

Dana Cassell: Sure.

Adrian Tennant: Dana, thank you very much for joining us again today.

Dana Cassell: Thanks for having me. Anytime you want to talk about strategy and research, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Of course! My thanks to Dana Cassell, Senior Strategist at Bigeye. You can find links to the resources we discussed on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” And please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you again for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.



Learn about brand safety and online advertising from Jonathan Marciano of ad verification service CHEQ on this week’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: brand safety and online advertising. Jonathan Marciano of online ad verification service CHEQ discusses the challenges of bringing full transparency to the digital advertising ecosystem. We discuss some of the unintended consequences of keyword blacklists that negatively impact publishers and consumers, and Jonathan explains how artificial intelligence is being used to improve brand safety solutions.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: A unique perspective on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Today, we’re going to be talking about brand safety online. In July of 2017, consumer packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble announced that it had cut back its expenditure on digital advertising by $140 million due to concerns about where ads for its brands were appearing. In explaining its decision, P&G said that it had decided to restrict spending in digital forums where it felt its ads were not being placed according to P&G’s brand standards. Earlier that year, P&G had pulled its advertising from YouTube completely after discovering that ads bought programmatically – that is, via an automated system – had too often appeared next to offensive material, such as hate speech. The industry term for this is negative ad adjacency. In April of last year, 2019, Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard issued a call to entirely reinvent the digital media supply chain. In order to understand why brand safety is a concern, and why attempts to bring transparency to the current ecosystem have trouble keeping pace with its rapid growth, we need to recap the way digital advertising works today. At the top of the supply chain are the marketers for brands that want to reach prospective customers. They have marketing budgets, a portion of which goes to advertising. The brands work with advertising agencies like Bigeye, and we develop the creative – the ads themselves – and plan where the ads will be shown – the media. We then work with a number of third parties, purchasing the inventory or ad space on networks of websites. And these sites – which is where digital ads appear – are owned by publishers, who ultimately receive payment for the advertising that appears on their sites. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. To talk about the complexity of the digital ecosystem and how brands and publishers can ensure their advertising avoids negative adjacency, I’m joined today by Jonathan Marciano, Director of Communications at CHEQ, an artificial intelligence-driven, ad verification service. In his role, Jonathan manages public relations, editorial content, marketing, and communications – and he’s the author of numerous landmark whitepapers that have been covered across the digital advertising industry and in media including The New York Times, Fast Company, AdAge, and CNBC, among others. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Jonathan.

Jonathan Marciano:  Hi Adrian. Thanks so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: What is your definition of brand safety?

Jonathan Marciano: Yeah, so brand safety is basically the controls that companies in the digital advertising supply chain use to protect brands against negative impact to their reputation. 

Adrian Tennant: Right. Where does ad verification sit within that?

Jonathan Marciano: So as you sort of outlined in your great introduction there’ve been a number of brand safety incidents, sort of most memorably was The Times of London, I think in 2017 where they had a front page revealing that some of the top brands were appearing to finance programmatically the videos and stories about terrorism and ISIS. And this was a big wake up call I think for the entire digital advertising space where basically brands couldn’t understand and couldn’t defend why their ads were being served in such toxic environments. And these incidents have kind of continued to grow and periodically brands have been called out for supporting everything from false information to terrorism to being advertised against negative stories even about their own companies. And so what came in its place was a number of ad verification players who were basically there to act as policemen to prevent the brands from appearing against this negative content.

Adrian Tennant: Now I understand CHEQ published a report called The Brand Safety Effect in October of 2018, which was based on a study you guys undertook with BMW and Hulu. What can you tell us about the research design and the methodology that you employed, first of all?

Jonathan Marciano: Yeah. So this was trying to get to the bottom of whether any of this, you know, really matters. Does a consumer who sees a brand next to a nicest video really care, does it really associate a brand with that? And we saw the answer was in fact, yes, they do know, and they do recognize the brands and they do have recall of the brand and the context in which sometimes horrific content is delivered. So we found in the research, which was with 2000 consumers, that there was strong sentiment about how brands where the company, the brands were keeping online. So the brands were shown adverts in basically unsafe, brand-unsafe content. So for instance, the classic example was an airline ad next to an article about an airline forcibly removing a passenger; a soda ad in front of content about diabetes. And basically the chief insight was that many consumers viewed this as an intentional endorsement for this negative content. I think some of the feedback we had was that it was manipulative, that it was disturbing, that they appeared to be generating revenue through disaster. And I think the headline figure was that there was a 2.8 times reduction in consumers’ intent to associate with this brand. So really hinting at an effect on the bottom line.

Adrian Tennant: You know, we will often track purchase intent and of course the likelihood to recommend to family and friends. So I think what I’m hearing is that those kinds of perceptions were indeed very negatively impacted as a result of this negative ad adjacency.

Jonathan Marciano:That’s right. 

Adrian Tennant: So could you tell me, how do brand safety platforms typically work?

Jonathan Marciano: So up until now, up until new players such as CHEQ basically there’s this very crude, and I’d say pretty unsophisticated, solution to the problem which is this idea of keyword blacklists, which have been created in the name of brand safety. So these are basically words, blacklists that are deemed too dangerous for advertisers to appear besides, so this is particularly talking about you know, no news content. So The New York Times or globally online the news industry. So anyone advertising against these sorts of sites, if an online news story contains words such as “sex,” or “terror,” or “ISIS,” or “killing,” then the concerned advertiser stays clear. They basically are prevented from serving ads against any of that content. And it basically de-monetizes the content for the publisher. And the side effect is that it’s a means that the reach of the brands themselves to reach engaged consumers reading this type of content is diminished.

Adrian Tennant: Why is it that keyword blacklists came to dominate the technology for brand safety? 

Jonathan Marciano: I think because it’s a fairly simple, I’d say a little bit of a lazy solution. It was a way to ostensibly get round this problem to kind of have a bit of a band aid solution to the problem. And I think in, in theory it’s not bad once the keyword blacklists kind of became manageable when you’re talking about a few words like “killing” and “attack.” But what’s happened is the number of keywords have increased to a crazy degree where there’s now 3,000 keywords on blacklists. And brands are basically having to avoid the news completely because there’s very, very little content that they can appear next to. And that’s affecting the whole system because it’s a hurting brand’s reach. It’s hurting premium publishers and it’s forcing advertisers to go to kind of the lowest common denominator and go to cheaper clicks, which are rife with fraud and and bad associations. And basically hurting, you know, the ultimate purpose of advertising, which is to create leads or convert customers.

Adrian Tennant: Now, just last month, you published, The Economic Cost of Keyword Blacklists for Online News Publishers. And this was a report that you undertook with the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore. In the study, the economic price paid by publishers from incorrect blocking of safe content on premium news sites was in fact quantified. What can you tell us about the research design and the methodology that you used for this study?

Jonathan Marciano: So we found in the US alone, that $2.8 billion is lost by new sites every year. Well in 2019 because of an incorrect flagging of their most read online content. So this does assume that there are certain flags that the that it shows that there are certain blocking that is, is, is justified. But basically we found that 80% of ads served to premium publishers are subject to keyword blacklists. I think the IAB actually came up with a figure close to 95%, which makes us even a bit more conservative in our findings. But these blacklists were designed, as we said, on brand safety grounds by these ad verification providers. So to prevent brands from appearing next to toxic news content. However, by analyzing the actual stories that would have been blocked by these blacklists across 20 premium news sites, including The New York Times, CNN, and The Guardian, we saw that around 40% of global premium media inventory is actually brand safe. But of the safe content of this sort of content that is really, basically 57% that is safe is being actually blocked even though it’s safe because these ad verification blacklists basically don’t understand words such as “killed,” “dead,” “shoot,” and “injury,” which could be talking about an NBA player killing it in a game, or an injury in a football game. In particular, we also found that LGBTQ news publishers are seeing 73% of their inventory being denied through keywords such as “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “same-sex.” And so based on the annual spend say in the US of 12 billion on online US news advertising we calculated that there’s at least $2.8 billion a year due to incorrect flagging for brand safety, which as you can imagine, for a hard pressed industry that’s already struggling, is a big pain point.

Adrian Tennant: One thing that stood out to me in the report was the way in which even really family friendly content around the launch of Disney+ service was flagged as unsafe. Can you talk to that?

Jonathan Marciano: Of course. Yeah. Google every year produces what is the most searched search trend of the year and in 2019 unsurprisingly, a lot of anticipation around Disney+ which is about, I think, is as brand safe as you could probably imagine a story could be a business which is solidly protective of its brand. But basically with stories about Disney+ proliferating, we found that many millions of impressions couldn’t be monetized because of entertainment. Because basically there were stories about Disney’s back catalog and what would be on the new platform. And it included things like a Star Wars Attack of the Clones and simply that one word, “attack” meant that brands were not able to advertise against this news. One of the first Avengers movies is called Infinity War. And we remember at the time when the Infinity War came out, a lot of publishers were turning to us and saying that they were basically seeing a huge drop off of revenue and all of these reviews of the movie, all these tie-ins to the movies, all this buzz was basically unmonetizable and put in the same bucket as terrorism and ISIS.

Adrian Tennant: You wrote an opinion piece highlighting the ways that keyword blacklists have unintended yet very adverse effects on LGBTQ consumers and the marketers and publishers who serve the community. Can you talk a little bit more about what you learned?

Jonathan Marciano: Yes. In general, there’s a 57% blocking of safe online news content. But when we started applying our methodology to LGBTQ publications like The Advocate and Pink News we found that there was a 77% blocking of their safe content. So there are stories, which are, you know, unarguably not safe. So there was stories of murder and those are fine not to be monetized, but it was stories about a lesbian couple that were being blocked. It was stories about Killing Eve because it was a TV series where they mentioned a a lesbian scenario. It was stories about same sex. So they were being blocked because of stories because of these key words such as “same-sex” or “lesbian.” I think that the point I wanted to make in the article was every year in Pride Month, we see every brand on LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook and all the platforms changing their logos and appearing you know, LGBTQ-friendly. But when it comes to programmatic advertising, they’re basically denying advertising to stories that the community needs to survive. And as a result, some publishers have already been forced to close because they’ve been denied advertising and it’s a daily struggle. And I think that’s unjust and that’s unfair.

Adrian Tennant: We talked a lot about the problem. Talk to us about CHEQ and why your solution is different.

Jonathan Marciano: Thankfully there’s been advances since this sort of decades old, the technology of key words. And to be fair, some of the ad verification players who are not CHEQ have also started to realize that this situation is just no longer sustainable. And they’ve also started exploring AI options, but because CHEQ is a fairly young company founded in 2016, we look at every problem anew. So we didn’t have any of the previous keyword solutions and I think no one in the industry who was coming in fresh to this problem would ever say that that was a good solution. So CHEQ invested a lot of talent and energy and money in AI to solve the brand safety issue. In this situation, AI complete sequences to understand the meaning of the text and it understands the context of a story, similar to how we read and understand stories. Essentially it builds up a full picture of what the story is and what it’s not. So this enables a more contextual approach. So if I give you an example, to go back to some of the things that people, the brands don’t like appearing next to. The fast food restaurant chain wants to avoid appearing next to content about obesity, for instance. So we’ve trained the AI to define obesity as a category but also trained it to understand sub-terms such as “heart disease,” and “diabetes.” So this helps to show what a piece of content is and it doesn’t just look at one specific keyword, but it analyzes how many categories sub-terms are present in a piece and the relationship between them. So this allows the AI to understand if an obesity-related word is just random or if it’s actually about obesity. So in another way, previously a story that would mention alcohol would be blocked. But this AI enables, through its training, it understands whether it’s simply a mention of alcohol for a recipe, or if it’s something that is brand unsafe, such as driving under the influence. So this basically is a way for brands to decide what is brand safe. And the AI, based on their parameters, will be a far more human judge of brand safety than keywords.

Adrian Tennant: Right, understanding you, this is artificial intelligence.

Jonathan Marciano: That’s right. That’s machine learning. It’s artificial intelligence. So for instance, in terms of artificial intelligence, what’s important is the training and the data. And so for instance, to avoid the silly situation of Avengers being blocked or Disney being blocked, our AI has been trained on film scripts and reviews of TV shows and scripts. So it knows what goes into a story, about film and movies and singers, so that it knows that the Avengers is not a real war. Whereas it would understand based on a story about an invasion in Iraq, for instance, that is a real war. It pieces together the puzzle in milliseconds to decide whether something should be served or not against that content.

Adrian Tennant: Where does CHEQ sit in that digital supply chain?

Jonathan Marciano: We work mostly with brands, so we protect brands from advertising fraud, which itself is a $23 billion problem. And we also prevent the ads from appearing next to unsavory content. So mostly with brands, obviously they’re the ones that have the budget, as well with agencies. We can also integrate with publishers as well, but we have less publisher clients.

Adrian Tennant: Right. And we’re talking about a software-as-a-service model?

Jonathan Marciano: That’s right. So it’s a SaaS model. It has a very, very impressive dashboard. So you’ll receive instantaneous data on why your ads weren’t served. We show you every URL that was blocked. You know and this basically shows how much you’re saving. And it’s also very open and transparent. So we’re not saying doing this behind closed doors, we’re showing you all the data. And clients have appreciated that. There’s not much openness and transparency in digital advertising. And they appreciate that they can mark our homework and if there are any improvements that can be made, we can work on it. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, as you know, Bigeye is a full-service agency. What are some of the conversations that you think we need to be having with our clients about just these issues?

Jonathan Marciano: So it’s it comes down to talking to clients about first of all, on the one side, making sure that you’re protected, from ensuring that your brands aren’t served in bad places. We shouldn’t hide behind that we just simply don’t know where programmatic ads are being served or what their funding is, because that’s not the case. We can. There is a way to plan and execute your campaigns so that you are putting your brand and your revenue in the best position because ultimately not only are you serving ads on a content that is undesirable, it’s also probably not the audience you want to reach. And so it’s basically wasted money and wasted spending that could be going elsewhere.

Adrian Tennant: Jonathan, if listeners want to learn more about CHEQ, where can they find information?

Jonathan Marciano: Yeah, so probably the best place is our website. And there you can find out all the information schedule a demo and get a pilot.

Adrian Tennant: Right. And what books, articles, or other resources, would you recommend listeners that want to learn more about ad verification in general, or brand safety in particular?

Jonathan Marciano: So I always read Dr. Fou’s articles about fraud and brand safety. Augustine Fou is not very complimentary about verification players, but he’s always very sharp with his points and they present a lot of challenges to the industry. So I like him a lot. Ad verification, I mean, there isn’t that much. Digiday and AdAge report a lot on some of the challenges about blacklists. And they’re talking a lot more about the challenges that publishers face. So yeah, those, those would be some, something to look out for.

Adrian Tennant: Perfect. You were very modest, you didn’t include your own articles in there, but I have to say everything that’s been written by Jonathan is also very on-point. Jonathan Marciano, director of communications at CHEQ, it’s been our pleasure to have you on IN CLEAR FOCUS today. Thank you very much.

Jonathan Marciano: Thanks, Adrian. It’s been a pleasure.


Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest, Jonathan Marciano, Director of Communications at CHEQ. You can find links to the resources we discussed on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights” – just click on the button marked “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player – and please, rate and review the show. And, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.