Teenagers, Facebook and The Rise of Visual Messaging

“It’s is Dead to Us. Facebook is something we all got in middle school because it was cool but now is seen as an awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave.” That’s how a 19 year-old American student described his generation’s relationship with the social media site in a widely circulated blog. This is not really a revelation. His views were evidenced by a teenage trend away from Facebook that was first identified by Pew Research in 2013 (and confirmed by the social media site themselves). In October 2014, a study by GlobalWebIndex found that Facebook’s user base grew 2% in the previous six months. The low growth is hardly surprising when you consider their user base is close to saturation point. However, the significant stat from the study was that teens were using the channel much less. 37% of young respondents said that they were ‘bored’ with the social network. Over the same period Tumblr saw an increased use of 120%. Popular with teens (and ad agency folk), its uptake has been driven by the humble ‘gif’. The ancient web-format has gained a new lease of life with highly sharable animated gifs of cats and celebrities.

Facebook has been aware of their teenage problem for sometime. They understand that young, early adopters are fickle when it comes to their digital channel choices. And thanks to mass smartphone adoption, that switch is happening faster than ever. There has been, for example a shift in messaging from SMS to What’sApp. The teen messaging channel of choice has quickly grown to over 700m users – nearly 3 times Twitters’ active user base. Fundamentally, teenage audiences are most active in messaging channels – and they’ll go where it is easiest, cheapest but above all, they’ll go where their friends are. A few years ago, they were using BBM. Before that, MSN was popular. It’s interesting to see, therefore, that the one Facebook product that remains relevant is their messaging app. A GWI study found that social messaging use grew by 50% in 2014, across all age groups.

Whilst messaging is still the driver of teenage online activity, the significant change has been the growth visual messaging. For today’s teens, pictures are better than words. This new found popularity of has been driven by smarphone cameras and apps such as Snapchat. GWI found that the picture app grew 57% – the fastest of any messaging app. UK teens especially love Snapchat, with 39% of them saying they use it compared to 15% globally (GWI). There’s an element of teenage rebellion about Snapchat. Part of attraction is that their parents (who are all on Facebook these days) don’t see the point of it. However Snapchat is also a bona-fide messaging app. Whilst it has gained a reputation as a place for ‘sexting’, it is an unwarranted tag. A 2014 University of Washington study found that the behaviour represented only 1.6% of users. The main use for Snapchat are is not to share amazing portraits or beautiful sunset pictures, but to share quick snaps with added comments or scribbles.

The real winner in the visual message channels though, is Instagram. Sure, it’s good for showing nice filtered photos, but spurred on by hashtags, selfies and numerous celebrity accounts, it has become the channel of choice for teenagers. By the end of 2014 it had overtaken Twitter’s user base and it continues to grow. Understanding the teen challenges, Facebook has been pretty shrewd in addressing them. When they bought Instagram for $1bn in 2012, observers thought it was an excessive sum for a company with just 13 people. In hindsight, given the level of uptake, that price seems like a bargain. After sniffing around Snapchat for a while (who reportedly turned them down), Facebook ended up buying What’sApp for $19bn in 2014. Facebook are aware that ultimately, no site is safe from a mass exodus of their users. Just look at the fate of Friendster or Myspace (and BBM or MSN for that matter). However, if Facebook are simply going to buy their most popular competitors, then the chances are, they’ll still be going in a few years time.

The Rise of The Phone Zombie

Earlier this year the picture below was trending on Twitter, with the ironic statement (and I paraphrase) ‘What on earth is this guy looking at? The World or something?’. It looks like we’ve become a society of phone zombies.

Instead of engaging in conversation with our friends or family, it seems we are constantly distracted by our smartphones. As if proof were needed, a recent IPSOS study identified this trend. They surveyed 16,000 people in 20 countries and 60% of them agreed that they were ‘constantly looking at their screens’. In the UK though, 71% said they were glued to their phones (second only to China). Perhaps our zombie behaviour is best summed up by Buzzfeed’s, 23 Pictures that Prove Society is Doomed. This phenomena doesn’t just impact on our social lives, there are other risks. One cyclist, writing in London’s Metro paper, explained that phone zombies were the most frequent hazard she had to contend with. Maybe in the future our smartphones will need proximity sensors to alert us of traffic hurtling towards us.

Is the phone zombie good or bad for marketing? A decent ad person would spin the problem into an opportunity. For example, we reach for our mobiles within 15 mins of waking and check them up to 150 times per day. That’s a lot of marketing opportunities. But perhaps, just perhaps the best thing we can do is to help society act a little less like the living dead and occasionally speak to other people. The Brazilian beer brand, Polar tried to do exactly that. They created the phone nullifier. A bottle wrapper was able to block the phone signal for anyone within a few feet, thus nullifying the phone zombies and ensuring that people enjoyed their drink, whilst conversing with their real friends.

Arguably though, the phone zombie could be seen as a natural behavior. Humans, especially the younger variety, enjoy media that distracts us from the real world. The Victorians complained that young people spent too much time reading books. Television and video games have constantly been blamed for corrupting teenagers. Perhaps the phone zombie is just another example in a line of media distractions. Before smartphones, commuters were hiding behind newspapers on their journey to work. And maybe the only reason the man in the picture is looking at The World was because on that day, his battery had died.

The Best Mobile Campaigns from Cannes Lions

OK, not ‘the best’ as such. That’s the job of the Lions judges, but a few that caught my eye (stunts or not, they all have some interesting elements)…

I’d already blogged about the Bradesco Insurance iPad ad, so it’s good to see recognition for the innovative use of tablet advertising.

Why is it good? It uses a simple idea which connects, even disrupts, the user interaction on tablet devices. It is evidence that insurance advertising does not have to be boring.

Australian Defence Force Mobile Medic was created to attract medical students to the ADF medical scholarship programme. Posters were placed in university campuses. Medical students were encouraged to download the app, scan the people on the posters and make a real-time diagnosis of the injury.

Why is it good? This campaign is all about effective targeting, followed up with a great, highly relevant engagement.

Results – The ADF were looking for 840 candidates. The campaign saw over 9,500 applications.

The Micro Loan Foundation’s Pennies for Life campaign used SMS to create engagement and bring donations to support micro loans for women in Africa. Two large digital billboards displayed part of an African woman’s face made out of pennies. Users were invited to text donations, and as they did, the billboard added pennies in real time to complete the image of the face.

Why is it good? It shows how the immediacy of SMS means it still has a place in mobile marketing. The campaign clever linked message to the benefits of donating through live updates.

The Results – One weekend saw enough donations for 21 African women to receive loans.

Band Aid/Muppets used augmented reality to make their Muppet themed plasters to come alive.

Why is it good? - This a clever way to distract the injured child (or adult for that matter), and at the same time bring a nice warm feeling to the brand. If it was on a box of cereal it would be called a ‘consumption prompt’. It also shows how relatively mundane brands such as Band Aid can use content partnerships to deliver a great brand experience.

The Future of QR? Object recognition

What future does QR have? Apps such as Blippar and Aurasma approach it through image recognition of a photo or logo. But what if the item doesn’t have a logo? How about just recognising the object itself? This Japanese supermarket uses some new clever tech that can differentiate objects and scan them instantly. It is so good, it can even distinguish different types of (similar-looking) apples.  Maybe one day we’ll be getting these on our mobiles.

Will Drawsomething be bigger than Angry Birds? And what can brands do about it?

Five weeks and 20 million downloads (that’s more than Foursquare has managed in three years) has seen Drawsomething become one of the fastest installed apps ever. But is it just a flash in the pan or will it be bigger than Angry Birds?

ImageReasons why Drawsomething might succeed

1. It’s very adictive – once you start playing you get drawn into it (no pun intended)

2. It’s simple – ‘it’s like Pictionary with friends’

3. It’s very viral – being friend/Facebook based it’s going to spread fast

Reasons why Drawsomething might not beat Angry Birds

1. It’s very adictive – unlike Angry Birds you can’t dip in and out of it so easily. For some, it may be a case of playing with Drawsomething or getting a divorce

2. It requires a data connection. Unlike Angry Birds, you need to be online so there are fewer places that you can play it

3. It’s created some great doodles – http://mashable.com/2012/03/22/draw-something-best-doodles/#55083Manicure

What about brands?

Where there’s a trend, someone will jump on it. For starters, like Angry Birds (and many other apps), I can see branded versions come soon. But there are more guerilla opportunities. This Amsterdam agency is cleverly using it to hire creatives by getting people to play the game with them and show of their skills: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMH2N6rSUQQ&feature=youtu.be

One small step for … open data

Nasa Creates an Open Source Portal for Agencies

The US space agency has been open data for quite a while. Their data and images on The World’s highest mountains allowed EA Games to create snowboard runs on Everest. However, they have now taken their open data even further by providing a portal at code.nasa.gov. It lists open sourced projects and contacts for each. They intend to extend this soon with for tracking, hosting and planning for software they have created.

I previously blogged about how open data could be the solution for creating branded apps. This is another great example of how it could (should) be done.