Matt Damon and the heuristics of finance
It may be cringeworthy, but sometimes the point of marketing is simply to look big
Welcome to Unmade, written in the UK while you were sleeping on Saturday morning.
Happy International Typing Day. I told my first employer that I could type at “about” 100 words per minute. That statement was, as one of the witnesses in the 1988 Spycatcher trial told up-and-coming lawyer Malcolm Turnbull, economical with the actualité.
Today: The marketing heuristics of crypto, M&C Saatchi up for grabs, and another bad week for Nielsen.
If you can’t get marble, get Matt Damon
The most expensive ad in a newspaper is usually the first to appear on a right hand page.
Publishing wisdom is that when they turn a page, people read the right hand side first. It was so drummed into me during my years in newspapers and magazines that I genuinely believe this to be an incontrovertible truth, despite the fact that I’ve got no data to back it up. I guess it’s similar to the way that some people find themselves believing in God.
In this morning’s edition of AFR Weekend, that first right ad appears on page 7, and is from the cryptocurrency trading platform Crypto.com.
Crypto.com is among the global leaders is assisting those who want to invest in (or is that bet upon?) the likes of Bitcoin, Ethereum et al.
I must confess to a heavy dose of what may well prove to be an irrational scepticism about crypto in an investment portfolio. The sheer number of chancers and shady characters involved leave me suspicious of where that leaves ordinary investors. But I’m often wrong when it comes to investment calls.
Indeed, so far, my scepticism has been far more wrong than right. Somebody who bought a Bitcoin five years ago has seen a 4,000 per cent growth in their investment. Mind you, somebody who jumped on that bandwagon a month ago has since lost 20% of their money.
At the moment, the crypto currencies are a far more speculative investment than the envisaged universal currency. Which has created a market opportunity for companies like Crypto.com and its rivals. Safer to sell the shovels to the prospectors than it is to dig for gold yourself.
This week, a Crypto.com ad created a few months back, but now in heavy rotation, became notorious for its pretentiousness.
The ad was created by US ad agency Pereira O'Dell. You may be familiar with the agency’s lifeless campaign for Adobe, featuring singer Billie Eilish. The agency seems to be big on celebrity and light on humanity.
That’s certainly the case for the Matt Damon ad. Publications around the world concluded that the correct summary for the ad is “cringeworthy”.
It features the actor stalking through a digitally generated museum of humanity’s bravest achievements.
Only the boldest people will be rewarded with crypto riches, implies the ad, as Damon reminds viewers: “Four simple words have been whispered by the intrepid since the time of the Romans. Fortune favours the brave.”
And if you thought the ad was cringeworthy, wait until you see the accompanying behind-the-scenes video featuring Crypto.com’s chief marketing officer Steven Kalifowitz.
“The first time I heard ‘Fortune Favours The Brave’ my mind was blown.” he tells the camera, as if the phrase had not already been incredibly common. “It perfectly captured what we were hoping to express as a brand.”
Over images of aviators, mountaineers and astronauts, Kalifowitz adds: “It genuinely makes me think about all the people who started the crypto revolution.”
Which is odd, because hearing him say that genuinely made me think about how pretentious some marketers can be.
However, the pretentiousness of the ad will not matter to its target audience. That’s not the point.
It taps into a much more important trope for the financial sector: It feels big, which is the reassurance potential investors may be looking for.
Rory Sutherland, one of the most entertaining experts on behavioural economics, had one of the most satisfying explanations for why banks always seemed to be in the grandest building on the high street. It’s about signalling the permanence and trustworthiness of the brand.
“There is an advertising heuristic, which is a fairly good rule of thumb, that advertised brands are of a higher quality than unadvertised brands.
Two things: You’re unlikely to spend an awful lot of money promoting a product that isn’t actually much good — it’s said that advertising a bad product merely speeds its decline in many ways. And, secondly, the assumption that someone who invests in a long-term reputation, through building a brand, is far less likely to risk that reputation by producing a crappy car or useless DVD player than someone you’ve never heard of before.
And this applies to everything. Nearly all transactions are based on asymmetrical information. It’s the same in the case of investing in a bank. What is there to reassure me that this guy isn’t going to disappear with my money? One of the signals that banks traditionally use is architecture. They build a big bank branch, with marble pillars and an impression of permanence.”
In other words, if a consumer is going to bet their money in a risky sector that they do not understand very well, they will opt for the brand that appears to be there for the long haul.
In the past for the finance sector that meant marble pillars for banks. Today it means Matt Damon and full page ads in the AFR. Indeed, the Singapore-based Crypto.com has gone further than TV and print. Just over a month ago it signed a US$700m, 20-year deal to rebrand Los Angeles’s Staples Arena as Crypto.com Arena.
And environment is just as important as execution. When a brand buys an ad in the AFR, it is also buying the halo effect of the AFR brand. The medium is the message.
Not long after getting a bit of money from selling Mumbrella, I remember seeing ads in the AFR for an attractive sounding product offering a high fixed rate of return from an outfit called IPO Wealth Fund. The sheer volume of advertising made it look legit. I found myself contemplating the product.
Earned media is even more persuasive. Around the same time, there was also a lengthy and uncritical news article in the AFR about IPO Wealth Fund that read like it came from a press release.
Although I was interested enough in the product that I still remember considering the ads at the time, I’m thankful I bought a house in Tasmania with the money instead. According to ASIC, last month the federal court ordered the fund’s parent company Mayfair 101 Group to pay $30m in fines. The court ruled that the company has used misleading and deceptive conduct in its advertising, implying that the risky investment was as safe as a bank deposit. In fact, investors lost their money. Many of them, I’m sure, believed in the product because it was advertised in the AFR.
Which is not to imply that those who chase the crypto wave will suffer a similar fate. After all, fortune favours the brave, even if a full page in the AFR comes cheaper than a marble pillar.
Unmade Index: Third day lucky
The Unmade Index finally saw a positive day on its third outing.
Most of Australia’s ASX-listed media and marketing stocks grew, with the index up by 0.83%. However, this was still below the performance of the wider ASX All Ordinaries index, which was up by 1.24% on Friday.
The best performer of the day was Seven West Media, up by nearly 5%, taking the company’s market capitalisation back above $1bn.
The Nine-aligned Domain was the worst performer, down by another 1.17%, which means its price has declined by more than 10% this week alone.
New York Times to buy The Athletic
The biggest media story of the week came from the US, with the announcement that the New York Times is spending half a billion dollars to buy sports publication The Athletic.
The move is fascinating because it offers the strongest evidence yet of the publishing industry’s pivot towards subscribers and away from advertising as its main source of revenue.
It’s just the latest big price media deal. As AdWeek observes: “It’s a great time to sell a media company”.
M&C Saatchi on the blocks
The London-listed advertising agency M&C Saatchi may be about to fall into the hands of a SPAC, or special purpose acquisition corporation, to give it the full name. Shareholder Vin Murria is leading the charge via SPAC AdvancedAdvT. However, a few hours ago the rest of the board advised shareholders that the imminent offer appears to be undervalued.
In Australia M&C Saatchi is among the largest creative agencies not owned by the communications holding companies. Clients include CommBank, Victorian government, Woolworths and Tourism Australia.
TV network for sale?
ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia may be about to sell down their joint stakes in US television network The CW Network, the Wall Street Journal has revealed. Nexstar Media Group is well advanced in talks as the potential buyer, says the WSJ.
An indirect effect of any deal for the Australian media market would be the further easing of Ten owner ViacomCBS’s debt position. This could make it more viable as a buyer of regional affiliate Southern Cross Austereo’s TV business, and help turbo charge its plans to roll out ad-supported video streaming service Pluto TV beyond the US and Europe.
Another Nielsen setback
Nielsen’s once dominant position as the global leader in media metrics has suffered a further blow, with WarnerMedia leaving the company off its three-way shortlist for developing a new system of measuring cross platform viewing in the US. Comscore, iSpot.tv and VideoAmp have made the cut, reports AdWeek.
In the US, the Media Rating Council last year removed the accreditation of Nielsen’s TV ratings services because it it had been undercounting out-of-home TV audiences.
News Corp’s next deal?
After adding data company Base Chemicals to its Dow Jones portfolio, News Corp may be looking to do an even bigger deal. Flashes & Flames analyst Colin Morrison writes:
“(my prediction) News Corp acquires or merges with the private equity-owned, $300m-revenue Argus Media, the world’s largest owner of the coveted Price Reporting Agencies which regulate commodity prices. Acquisition would make Dow Jones into even more of a global B2B powerhouse generating much of its profit from high-value data and price indices – and with a valuation well in excess of News Corp’s current $13bn market cap.”
Morrison also reports further intriguing speculation “that Rupert Murdoch has even contemplated hiving off his prestigious daily newspapers in the UK, US and Australia (The Times, The Australian etc) into a non-profit trust. There are many options for huge gains from a News Corp breakup, but the most likely – and probably the most profitable – would be the de-merger of Dow Jones.”
WARC looks to 2022
Warc (originally known as the World Advertising Research Center) has revealed its annual Marketer’s Toolkit. The overview offers a trove of useful insights into the key issues likely to affect marketers during 2022. The rise of walled gardens and the retreat of third party data lead the way.
2022 in preview
Speaking of the rise of walled gardens, the best and clearest speaker I’ve seen in recent months on the programmatic advertising chain is analyst Richard Kramer, founder of Arete Research. He’s running a webinar on the marketing outlook for 2022 called Feast and Famine - Digital Advertising in 2022 next week. It’ll be in the small hours Australian time but may be worth replaying later. If you miss it, I’ll be watching.
As always, I welcome your thoughts to email@example.com or via the comment button.
Time to let you enjoy your Saturday. I suspect this may be the final weekend of summer freedom before a return to the office for some. Enjoy that sunshine if you get it. Where I am, the forecast is rain, snow and sleet.
Have a great weekend.
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