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Former Paddy Power marketer: CMOs spending big to sponsor World Cup 'should be shot'

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Fifa boasts an almost full stable of sponsors ahead of World Cup 2018 despite these official partnerships costing as much as £100m annually. Ken Robertson, ambush marketing expert and former head of mischief at bookmaker Paddy Power believes that any CMO considering this investment "should be shot".

Russia will be ripe for ambush marketing, be it on the ground, or on social media from brands who have deemed not to invest in troubled football body Fifa's tournament. But they will have a tough time finding loopholes and vulnerabilities in Fifa's thick rule book which among other things protects its IP and the tournament's exclusivity to sponsors.

Since 2012, it has had ambush marketing on lockdown and it all comes back to a stunt from Robertson and the team at Paddy Power – starring Danish striker Nicholas Bendtner.

Denmark vs Portugal – Euro 2012

Paddy Power set up a "classic ambush" during the game. If Bendtner scored, he was to pull down his shorts and reveal his lucky Paddy Power pants.

Robertson recalls the incident wasn't quite smooth sailing. "We agreed if he scored he would unveil his lucky Paddy Power underwear but he scored the first goal and he didn't do it, we thought he bottled it.

"Ronaldo then equalised, so then true to form Bendtner goes up and scores the winner and revealed the lucky pants."

Video of Paddy Power Lucky Pants – Bendtner Euro 2012

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A pair of branded pants spurned Uefa, and by extension Fifa, to introduce severe penalties for brands intruding into the space. Bendtner was fined £80,000 and was suspended from the next fixture.

He breached a rule stating: "Players must not reveal undershirts which contain slogans or advertising. A player removing his jersey to reveal slogans will be sanctioned by the competition organiser."

Additionally, The Danish FA was sponsored by another betting company in Ladbrokes – it was not too happy with Bendtner's shenanigans.

Since this transgression, Uefa rules have changed. Fines are unlimited and are aimed at the football associations instead of the players. "That pretty much eliminated the opportunity for that kind of ambush," admits Robertson.

No longer could brands like Paddy Power – or Bavaria – cause a ruckus during the matches.

Shave the rainforest

Two years later, Robertson was looking to cause a stir at the World Cup in Brazil. With the physical stadiums effectively closed to on-the-pitch disruptions, the brand instead let social media and the press do the hard work. Robertson honed in on the issue of deforestation and created a devious piece of fake news – a not-very-good photoshop of the rainforest felled to read 'C'mon England PP'.

He says: "We saw the opportunity to shine a light on this issue by orchestrating what you would call a masterclass in fake news. We led people to believe that we had chopped down a massive swathe of the rainforest. We leaked the photographs and stepped away from it and let the whole thing percolate."

"We became part of the World Cup narrative by perpetrating this hoax and then revealing it was actually a collaboration with Greenpeace. All of a sudden, you go from sinner to saint, you elevate the brand into the narrative."

It was not all smooth sailing for the bookmaker. In 2018, with fake news an even touchier subject, it may have been a disastrous effort. In 2017, 20th Century Fox had to apologise for utilsing fake news websites in the marketing campaign publicising horror movie ‘A Cure for Wellness’.

Nonetheless, back then, viewers were somewhat more forgiving: "Until we did the rug pull we were absolutely vilified on social media. We had Hollywood actors who hadn't even heard of Paddy Power were now giving us an incredible platform in the days leading up to this event."

Video of Paddy Power – Shave the Rainforest

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While the battlegrounds, or ambush spots, for brands wanting a say in World Cup discourse may have moved, Robertson's definition holds true. "Ambush marketing, in essence, means attaching your brand to something you don't have a commercial interest in. Recently we've had to come at it more laterally."

Doing the unexpected helps elevate brands he says citing getting Dr Stephen Hawking on board to grant England the winning formula for Euro 2016. It's all part of the public's demand for "more sophisticated communications".

A warning to CMOS

This also applies to official sponsors who Robertson did not hazard particularly kind words for. "Any CMO who spends £100m on a category sponsorship at a World Cup should be shot, I think it is an appalling waste of money. It is a wallpaper logo. People expect more from brands now than seeing it on the perimeter boards during a major event. These partnerships show a lack of imagination and even some insecurity from the brand."

It may come as no surprise that official World Cup sponsor Visa disagrees with this assessment. Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer at Visa, told The Drum that the World Cup is one of the "last unchallenged bastions of appointment viewing," he added that it boasts the "the biggest audiences in the world, the events themselves stand for things that Visa stands for". Fifa estimates that the tournament will reach as many as 3.2bn people. Only about half of this figure live in households with a TV and there are only 7.6bn people on the planet – showing the sheer scale of viewership.

Similarly, AB InBev has concocted its largest ever marketing campaign to support Budweisers partnership with the Games.

Fifa has struggled to drum up sponsors for the big event in light of its corruption scandal and internal investigations. Even in Russian, sponsorship uptake was slower than expected with Gazprom joining Alfa-Bank and Rostelecom on the roster. Famously, space opened up after Continental, Johnson & Johnson and Castrol all backed out in 2015.

Outside of this elite, many upstart brands may be looking at the World Cup in Russia as an opportunity to say something, whether that is condemning the political situation in Russia, its attitudes towards LGBT people and free speech – or even questioning the morals of brands who claim they are operating in a political vacuum, focused only on the football.

To these gutsy brands who may swing a punch, Robertson said: "I tip my hat to any brands willing to have a crack at the World Cup and Russia. We're working on a campaign that ticks that box. It is a fertile place for a brand to play in, it is not without risk but it plays into the very interesting narrative at the moment that is more than football and sport."

He concluded: "You can't operate detached from the political, the lines are blurry at the moment. The narrative around political stability, homophobia and more. It cannot just be football. No way."

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Australian competition watchdog cracks down on Facebook and Google

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Google and Facebook will face greater regulation in Australia following a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The preliminary report by the nation’s competition watchdog raised concerns about the market power of the two media and technology giants including the companies impact on Australian businesses, particularly, their ability to monetise content. It also outlined concerns about the extent that consumers data is collected and used by companies to target advertising.

To address these concerns the report proposes a number of recommendations including a “new or existing regulatory authority be given the task of investigating, monitoring and reporting on how large digital platforms rank and display advertisements and news content”.

The report also proposes preventing Google’s Chrome browser from being installed as a default browser on mobile, tablet and computer devices. It also includes recommendations to strengthen merger laws, deal with copyright, and take-down orders, and the review of existing, disparate media regulations.

The ACCC is also considering a further recommendation for a specific code of practice for digital platforms’ data collection to better inform consumers about how platforms collect and use their information as well as changes to the Privacy Act to enable consumers to make informed decisions.

Rod Sims, chair of ACCC, said, “Digital platforms have significantly transformed our lives, the way we communicate with each other and access news and information. We appreciate that many of these changes have been positive for consumers in relation to the way they access news and information and how they interact with each other and with businesses.

“But digital platforms are also unavoidable business partners for many Australian businesses. Google and Facebook perform a critical role in enabling businesses, including online news media businesses, to reach consumers. However, the operation of these platforms’ key algorithms, in determining the order in which content appears, is not at all clear.”

Sims continued, “Organisations like Google and Facebook are more than mere distributors or pure intermediaries in the supply of news in Australia; they increasingly perform similar functions as media businesses like selecting, curating and ranking content. Yet, digital platforms face less regulation than many media businesses.

“The ACCC considers that the strong market position of digital platforms like Google and Facebook justifies a greater level of regulatory oversight.

“Australian law does not prohibit a business from possessing significant market power or using its efficiencies or skills to ‘out compete’ its rivals. But when their dominant position is at risk of creating competitive or consumer harm, governments should stay ahead of the game and act to protect consumers and businesses through regulation.”

The ACCC is currently investing five incidences of breaches to competition or consumer laws by digital platforms as a result of this inquiry.

The ACCC will take submissions regarding its recommendations with the final report to be delivered to the Government by June 2019.

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AppNexus and Microsoft's eight-year partnership: the story so far

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In the eight years since AppNexus and Microsoft formed a partnership, the programmatic landscape has evolved dramatically. Starting from when the industry was in a hypergrowth phase to considered advertising’s Wild West, where concerns around low-quality inventory, transparency, and scale were pervasive.

Even though there have been many changes in the industry since then, with AppNexus now acquired by AT&T and being part Xandr, many of those earlier concerns are still relevant.

To future-proof itself against ad fraud, Microsoft became one of the first premium publishers to test the programmatic waters eight years ago, when it says it committed to stringent quality and brand safety standards, working with AppNexus to apply quality control and transparency policies.

AppNexus also developed an audit process that became the template for how Microsoft evaluated every advertiser on the Microsoft Advertising Exchange (MAX), in order to set high brand safety standards. In 2017, Microsoft became the first publisher to join AppNexus’ transparent auctions initiative, which is a visible communication that tells buyers what kind of auction they are entering as the bid request is sent.

By informing advertisers on whether they are participating in a first- or second-price auction and alerting them to the price floor, this innovation allowed buyers to better understand how their bid prices influenced their win-rate and clearing price.

After AppNexus enforced ads.txt and made a commitment to proactively audits its partners to ensure that it works with clients who share its commitment to quality standards, Microsoft was also quick to implement ads.txt on MSN and part of Windows and is in the process of rolling it out globally.

Today, Microsoft delivers more than 700 billion impressions annually in the AppNexus ecosystem, across display, video, and mobile channels. By focusing on the user experience and setting up their pages to render ads in-view, Microsoft’s publisher brands has a viewable inventory rate of over 85% according to AppNexus’ viewability analysis, which is well above the industry average.

Tae Kyu Kim, the senior regional director at AppNexus, tells The Drum as programmatic continues to become a standard way of media buying, the industry has finally caught up to the vision that Microsoft and AppNexus outlined from the start, which is quality at scale no matter what method you use to buy media.

“From a technology perspective, Microsoft and AppNexus partnered early on to improve viewability and increase quality and transparency. Over the last year or so, we have really seen our vision be validated and affirmed by a demand for these qualities and capabilities across the buying landscape,” he explains.

“From an integration perspective, the complexity of the ecosystem means a lot of development work to ensure integration. The key is identifying opportunities and integrations that optimize and bring efficiency to your programmatic strategy, rather than complicate it.”

Giving an example of how MAX has worked with clients over the years, Tae shares how an airline that wanted to generate click-through rates (CTR) to their website in Taiwan and chose to run an MSN Home Page Takeover (HPTO). The result was a 0.42% CTR.

For another advertiser that wanted full control of guaranteed impressions, even delivery, time targeting, MAX proposed a large format priority deal (PMP) on MSN. “The buyer experienced a significant average CTR of 0.98% with their deal for a custom header, which resulted in them increasing their budget to the campaign,” says Tae.

Increasingly, supply chain inefficiencies have become a big topic for brands who are concern about the money they are spending and wasting. Tae acknowledges this an unfortunate by-product of programmatic’s rising popularity is that it has made the entire ecosystem more complex.

He points out that removing supply chain inefficiencies is why Microsoft chose AppNexus as its exclusive SSP and why Microsoft is supportive of initiatives that built trust with buyers by giving them visibility into their spend on the AppNexus platform.

“It’s early days, but I’m pleased to say that as of September 2018, Microsoft finalized testing around transparent fees,” explains Tae. “All Microsoft app and display publishers transparently will expose fees to buyers that are using transparency partners (like Amino Payments) to track payments through the supply chain.”

Together with Microsoft, the road ahead for AppNexus will be driving the understanding of the critical importance of transparency, openness, and quality to the programmatic industry. While it continues to innovate its technology through new formats and offerings, it wants to simultaneously partner with Microsoft on initiatives that build trust in the marketplace and supply chain.

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10 questions with…. MediaLad

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In an attempt to showcase the personalities of the people behind the media and marketing sector, The Drum speaks to individuals who are bringing something a little different to the industry and talks to them about what insights and life experience they can offer the rest of us. This week's 10 Questions are put to the most anonymous of industry commentators – MediaLad

What was your first job?

Baker.

Why did you get into advertising?

I’ve always had a business or economic brain and marketing was the most attractive area for me given the psychology and quantitative aspects of it.

What’s the worst buzzword in the industry?

Transparency, leverage, gap – take your pick.

Leverage – makes it sound like you’re using someone or something to get around a problem not solve it.

Gap – basically means someone isn’t doing their job.

Transparency – no one knows what transparency actually is until they try to do it and fail miserably at it.

If you could improve Twitter – how would you go about it?

Tweetups with people near you or a gaming element to it a la HQ.

Which industry event do you have to attend every year?

The IAA Xmas ball – The biggest celebration of media in the calendar year.

What’s the most surprising thing you have learned about the ad industry since working within it?

The most surprising thing is how little the so-called knowledgeable industry experts get to grips with both sides of the buy or sell side. The fact that they don’t know that not all third-party data can be bought on premium publications (even before GDPR). The fact that some technology does not interact with others in the most fluid way, yet expect a “transparency” that just will not be there unless there is a drastic change. The fact no one even talks about that astounds me. The fact they’re so focused on the buzzwords and chasing followers or awards, and not actually fixing the problems pisses me off.

Who is the one person in advertising whose advice everyone should listen to – other than yourself?

The guys at Avocet for digital buying, namely Ezra Pierce and Simon Critchley.

Who or what did you have posters of on your wall while growing up?

Eric Cantona, and House Record Labels.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

There’s a couple. From a life perspective, it’s about how much is in your control. 70% of your life is outside of your control. Stuff that happens to others in your life like your partner, parents, and loved ones. The stuff they do to annoy or delight you. 20% is what you’re in control of including life choices and what you do for fun, work, spare time etc. The rest is just pure luck and chance. For that reason only take time on the 20% as you really don’t have a lot of say on the rest.

What do you think ‘Media Lad’ means to the industry and what has being him meant to yourself?

I mean it started as a joke for the company I used to work for. I handed my notice in and had a bit of time, Twitter was new to me and I used it as a bit of a platform to promote jokes in my career that turned out to be common problems faced by everyone. It’s turned into this mad Banksy type character that (most) people enjoy, and want to unmask. I am honestly so humbled by that. Others hate it, for calling out their shit, but you know what… it’s not about who I am but it’s about what should be the “right” way to do media or your job. Bring perspective and enthusiasm to a job that really doesn’t save any lives or do anything meaningful in the world apart from raise awareness for certain companies/products. I try not to raise my own profile as (believe it or not) I’m not that type of guy that wants a headache to appear on stage. I’m busy working for my clients and that’s what motivates me.

More entries from 10 Questions With… can be found here.

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