Never mind the winter Olympics, this week at Goodstuff has been dominated by our own sporting spectacle. The third annual Talksport AGP* – it’s been a long road to championship glory, heroes have risen, old stars have faded. We’ve even had professional coaching courtesy of the eccentric German Olav Stahl. Bets have been cast, and the big tournament pong’d off last night. The standard this year was higher than ever, with some unbelievable rallies and incomprehensible spin. But at the end of it all, in what is already being talked about as one of the great sporting upsets of our time – 40/1 outsider and recent joiner to the OOH team Charlie Pendry emerged victorious, triumphing over the evens favorite ‘crazy’ Phil Khao. Thanks to our sponsors once again for a brilliant evening of sport.

This week we also have a written piece from Account Director Jamie Cregan (23rd Pong seed), scroll down to read it at the end of the email.

*Amateur Goodstuff PingPong

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You’ve heard about ‘chatbots’, but what about ‘cobots’? Artificial Intelligence has paved the way for robots to enter more areas of the world of work, enabling robots to operate in complex environments and react to their surroundings. In August 2017 Just Eat and its Starship Technologies-produced delivery robots which have delivered 1000 meals to date.

Is the experience economy is killing youth culture? Research suggests that there’s been a generational shift away from owning things and instead towards activities. Vice have been looking into the effect of this on the richness and variety of youth culture.

On the subject, we’ve spoken before about the decline in youth subcultures – so it’s reassuring to see that some are still thriving. Photographer Owen Harvey has been documenting these modern tribes, from mods and skinheads in the UK to lowriders in the USA.

We all know that the humble GIF is regularly used here at Goodstuff – adding that little bit extra to a company meeting to keep everyone’s attention a few seconds longer. The renowned Giphy platform was founded in 2013 and since then the platform has grown to a vast creative community, driven by the speed of the modern internet enabling a new preference towards visual, rather than written communication.

The multipurpose messaging app WeChat is becoming China’s government backed ID system. WeChat has 902 million daily users and about 38 billion messages are sent on the platform every day. Facebook Messenger has been banned since 2009 – bringing questions on western privacy online into sharp perspective.

The most influential job in the world has become available. No, sadly the toupe’d tangerine hasn’t been impeached yet, but the source of most of his opinions, Fox & Friends, is hiring for a head writer. Fancy shaping the world, without the hassle of winning elections? This is one for you.

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Advertising as war – a step too far?

Since the angry tangerine made it to the White House it’s been hard not to notice the regular focus given to Russian cyber interference in Western democracy.  Or as the Oxford Internet Institute describe it, the deployment of computational propaganda.  This has meant political players deliberately exploiting the logic of social media algorithms for content distribution via bots and big data to manipulate public opinion. And it is not confined to Russia, as the recent Politico report reveals.  The strange, dizzying implications of this type of propaganda calls forth a dystopia more in tune with an Adam Curtis documentary, rather than the rational liberal principles embedded in notions around a free and open press.

How though does this all impact the world of advertising?

The obvious point to make is that this information war has and will continue to impact the media environment brands operate in two ways. Firstly, computational propaganda has only been made possible by the rapid development of the internet – whose origins can be traced back to the Cold War. Nation states still have a profound impact on science and technology, despite the Buzz Lightyear adventures of Elon Musk.  The current information wars being played out could well produce new state originated technologies that enter the mass market. The second point is possibly the most immediate, governments regulate media environments.  The warning signs are loud and clear for Google, Facebook and Amazon, as the Economist articulated so forcefully recently. Advertisers may soon find themselves operating in an unfamiliar environment drawn up by regulators responding to the new information war and fears around monopolistic market practices.

But there is another question…

Perhaps, the most important question is could most media agencies have set out such a devastating strategy as that devised by the recent architects of computational propaganda? The sad likelihood is no.  Ah, you cry that’s because we’re not morally corrupt and nor are we propaganda merchants manipulating the masses! True enough… But what is really striking about recent examples of computational propaganda is the guile and insight that underpin these approaches.  Could a media agency have seen and then developed a strategy to exploit the shift in power structures that have resulted from the move from vertical media structures to horizontal media structures? A shift that has revealed the soft under belly of the networked nation state.

The reality is no. Deep down media agencies don’t take themselves seriously.  Despite the warlike themes that often grip an agency during the pitching process. Too often strategic insight seems depressingly simplistic, based around narratives and rules propagated by media owners themselves.  Understanding the elevator pitch for each media channel is an important learning curve for any media planner, and a wonderful way for media owners to sell their product, but regurgitating these narratives for the next 20 years is not helpful. Yes, advertising isn’t an act of war, but media planning is too often trapped in shallow intellectual waters, willing to accept established industry thinking as opposed to offering clients vivid forensic insight and strategy.

To find the origins of this dilemma it is worth considering the ambiguous role of media agencies.  To sell media and to advise on media.  The result of this positioning has meant the dominant skill set in agencies is how best to use media, instead of how best to strategically achieve a client’s communication objectives in the current media environment.  Focusing on how best to use media helps explain why media agencies have been buffeted around over the last ten years by new entrants to market, largely being actors on the stage adapting to changes dictated by media owners. The result being black boxed solutions dictated by media owners that have often simply failed to deliver and commoditized brand messaging across sectors.  The latter focus on how best to strategically achieve a client’s objectives in the current media environment would have at least encouraged a more critical mindset, a willingness not only to reject some of the more questionable media owner offerings out there, but also fashioned the potential to create new media experiences that deliver a client’s objectives.

The decision for agencies is then the never ending one, for as long as the current business model persists – what role they want to take for clients? They have two options, they can cast a vision of the world that chimes with the one set by media owners and the latest industry zeitgeist. Or they can cast it as it is? A position that creates the potential to truly innovate for not just the brands they serve, but also consumers they’re trying to speak to.

Jamie Cregan │ Group Account Director