How the Online Safety Act & Brand Safety Impact Marketing
James Beaven: The moment this really starts to gain even more momentum than it currently has - let's not forget that the creator economy is set to double in size in the next three years - people are going to be looking at the DNA of absolutely everything they're doing, and for that you need to understand the content. That's the be all and end all.
Becky Holland: Hello and welcome to the No Bull Marketing Ideacast. I'm Becky Holland.
The creator economy has mushroomed over the last few years. It's already worth $240 billion globally and it is set to double to $480 billion by 2027. It’s mahoosive! People with their own brands and online audiences are really emerging as the biggest developments of the digital age, quite frankly, with the advent short-form video across a huge multiplicity of platforms, has created massive opportunities. But with opportunity comes risk, and that's where my guests today come in.
BH: So, my guests today are Adrian Land and James Beaven from RippleXN and nobody that’s listening is going to probably know where you are or who RippleXN are. So, can you just introduce yourself and let my listeners know who you are and what we're going to be talking about today?
Adrian Land: Yeah hi, hi Becky. So, I’m Adrian Land. I am one of the three founders of RippleXN.
So, my back story started in the late 90s, early noughties, and I did the first 15 years of in-house marketing. Started off in .com version one.
I learnt my trade there, working with a lot of e-commerce and technical brands, figuring out how a lot of the industry works, as well as all the performance marketing, and I've kind of grown up over last nearly 25 years in the industry, the hard way, working out how things work, making things go and trying to be progressive all the time. The first 15 years were in companies such as hotels.com, Thomas Cook Group, [and] a number of start-ups, and then the last 10 years, I've had my own digital marketing agency, influencer marketing boards and other ventures as well as consultancy work. So, it's been a very long 23 years.
BH: 23 years…and you know a little, tiny bit about marketing?
AL: I’ve read a couple of books! So, I’ll see how much we know.
BH: And James, it's nice to have you on the show as well. Tell us who you are.
JB: Thank you, Becky. My intro is going to be much less impressive than Adrian's because I don't have any of the qualifications.
What I do have is longevity. I've been in the games industry for just over 25 years now. Predominantly, that's been in the PR space, but latterly I've been building marketing tech solutions. My most recent tech build was a system called Key Mailer which was designed to connect the games industry with content creators, streamers, YouTubers and give them the opportunity to send games, en-masse, and allow people to review them for their channels.
That was a wonderful project, and it was right at the embryonic start of YouTube and Twitch, really driving a lot of the marketing agenda for game companies, and it was super interesting to see how it's developed. Even in that short space of the last 4-5 years.
BH: So how do you and Adrian know one another? How did you guys come together?
AL: I actually met James, he's obviously on this podcast, we have a third co-founder called Bazil Cromer, who's in Ireland in Dublin, and we actually met in lockdown 1.
We actually met at an entrepreneur’s meet-up. There's problem-solving focus, and the community from that is actually still in conversation. We meet up periodically, and we started to have progressively more sidebar conversations. I was talking with James. I was talking with Bazil. Those guys were talking, and we ended up spending sometimes 4, 5, 6 hours a day, talking to each other and predicting what was happening with regulation, industry, campaigns, the “what ifs” that, “what ifs” that, and it was quite good fun because the world had slowed down, but our brains were actually speeding up.
After about four or five months of talking, we actually had an epiphany one day and said, “shall we actually start this as a company?”, and that was the birth of RippleXN. Our mission has stayed the same over time. But our proposition has evolved, and we met online, and we didn't actually meet in person until regulations, and COVID allowed, until months and months later after we actually formed a company.
BH: That’s mad.
AL: I know people will ask about that. But how often do you spend, 10,000 hours, directly opposite a colleague that you sit next to an office, and you don't really know them? Whereas we had that concentrated face-to-face time, fleshing out, getting to know each other, our values, where we wanted [to go], and our beliefs, and it all naturally fell into place one day.
BH: It sounds like the perfect bromance.
BH: So, one of the things you said in all of that stuff was that you kind of had a common mission. You had something that you wanted to do. But what is the problem that you identified? Or what was the thing that you got so excited about in these 10,000 hours of chat?
JB: Through all these conversations, and through looking at, historically, how certain media have grown up, there was one experience that we were all joined by in our collective jobs, and things that we'd built and trialled in the past, and that was around media listening.
While that doesn't sound like a particularly big thing, when you sort break it down, it’s in the DNA of every piece of marketing or comms activity that most companies do. You need measurables. You need to be able to understand what's being said to be able to either react, adjust, or simply understand the market. So, when we were looking at the jobs that we've done in the past, and predicting the future, because regulation always trails innovation, and we were anticipating where influencer marketing was going to go, it really honed us into the point that there was no method, or technology, that allows you to actually understand what's happening in video content.
There are some fantastic tools out there that can imply and analyse the demographic, the view count, the watch time - all of those really, really important metrics - but when it actually comes to understanding what set is a totally different matter. It's not that it's been overlooked, it's just not been technically possible. You would have to have an intern army the size of several small countries to be to have enough people to listen, in real time, to everything that's being put up online. On platforms like YouTube, Twitch, Instagram reels and TikTok, and it's because you have to watch it in a linear fashion to actually understand the content.
So, our technology, what we were building towards, was the opportunity to use machine learning, natural language processing, to pick up on everything that's said and start to understand what an influencer is saying on behalf of the brand.
BH: So, you haven’t got an army of Oompah-Loompas that's watching Twitch videos then?
JB: We have that as well.
BH: It’s like Willy Wonka’s factory for influencer marketing!
JB: Minus the chocolate, yep! Frankly, if there was a way of solving this problem with humans it would have been done so much sooner.
BH: So, people are embracing influencer marketing in different ways, and clearly there are certain industries like, we've talked about, gaming, fashion, retail, these types of things, and by the use of influencers, is done massively on scale. But for a lot of brands, and particularly smaller businesses, if they're just using, I don't know, 10, 20, 30 influencers for a little campaign, can that not be done manually?
Or is there a case in that scenario to say, “well actually, we still don't really know what people are talking about and doing.”
AL: So, if you imagine you work with one influencer, on YouTube, they will also be producing maybe a live stream. They have a video on demand – their VOD - but they may also produce two or three or 17 shorts.
Those shorts may also be de-branded and put on TikTok and reels and streams. So, they get to a point where you have one influencer, and they may create 5, 15, 30 assets per person. So [to] actually monitor 10 people, you may have to monitor 100 pieces of asset. So, they will get to a point where you tip from what you can do manually, to where you need an enterprise level solution, and that is where we're aiming.
Our segmentation, our people are doing this at scale, who are running campaigns regularly. Some of the people that we've been trialling with are running 50 influencers and creators on a regular basis and some of them are running thousands, and in certain verticals, they could be working with 500 [or] up to 10,000 every month and to do all that in a linear fashion, manually is almost unsustainable. Especially with product launches, where there's embargos and it may go live at midnight. So suddenly you have to do all these things in a linear fashion.
BH: OK and I'm guessing if you're an agency and you're running multiple clients and doing this across multiple different brands, this problem’s only going to get multiplied. So, I totally get that. So, I guess my question - I'm just playing devil's advocate now though - is “why is that really important?”
Like surely the whole point about influencers is this is self-generated content. It’s not being policed by the brands. It's genuine. They're doing stuff that is relevant for the people that follow them. So actually, the more the brands police, it the less relevant it is and the whole industry is going to die a death. So, why do you need it?
JB: So, there's two things to pick up from what you just said. The first part is that the policing aspect. The one thing that we really want to be super clear about is that this isn't a policing exercise. This is about best practise.
JB: And that the best practice around this ad compliance has been there since the dawn of advertising. You'll know yourself that if you were to do a TV ad, the regulatory hoops that you have to jump through to make sure that that ad is compliant, or that product placement is ad compliant, it's enormous and that's just a single ad being aired on terrestrial TV.
BH: But this is kind of different though, isn't it? Because it's not being generated by the brands. It’s being generated FOR the brand but not BY the brand.
JB: Yes, but there is still a basis of regulation that looks at declaration of interest.
As soon as it’s taken from brief and put into the hands of the influencer, to make content that appeals to their audience, yes there is a disconnect. The brand has to be hands-off to a degree for it to work. But there is still the basic principle of the audience [having] to understand if there's a financial relationship in place. If there is something, where somehow, that influencer that has benefited from either money, free goods, a free meal, a trip, whatever it is, they have to be aware that it's not 100% impartial.
BH: So, knowing that an ad is an ad basically, knowing that there's somebody behind it that they’ve just not independently said “this is the very best face cream in the universe ever” off their own back. So, to speak.
JB: That's exactly it. Because people have a lot of trust in influencers and there's a lot of responsibility that goes with that.
BH: OK so this is a very positive thing. It’s interesting isn't it, because we start about compliance, and like you say policing and managing, you know, you start thinking “oh this is just going to suck all the life out of what's supposed to be a joyful thing.”
But actually, I guess if you flip this on your head, at the end of the day, influencer marketing is all about telling stories, bringing stuff to life, and making stuff more interesting and brands need to know and understand what's being said and being done. Because there's all sorts of ideas. There's all sorts of intellectual property there, that if they don't know and understand what's going on, they can't leverage.
AL: Absolutely. All of the things around things like brand safety, vetting, pre-checking these have not changed.
The difference is, with social video, we talk about stories, and shorts, and reels and all these technologies that come and go, and they all evolve overtime and they come in and out of fashion, and the different platforms have different benefits, and pros and cons with how they perform. But ultimately, if you are booking media, and working with somebody, collaborating with them, they are essentially accentuated or amplifying your brand.
So, it's brand alignment. So, if you wanted to monitor somebody before you make an approach, to make sure that they are brand safe, that's not a bad thing. That’s a sensible thing and the more understanding of who you're working with, allows for better decisions.
BH: So, I appreciate this kind of this is new technology cause there's AI and all this sort of stuff that's happening in the background. But is nobody else doing this? Are you genuinely the only people that are doing this?
JB: As far as we know. There could be other companies in stealth. But as far as we know, we are the first to market. We’re the first mover.
We often joke between us that because we've all got quite short attention spans, we're more likely to look for solutions where there's a problem quicker than saying some of the bigger brands. So, I think one of the reasons why we've homed in on this being a problem to solve, is born of our own experiences.
So for example when both Adrian and I – and Bazil - we've all been looking at influencer marketing reports and looking at the view count and going “alright yeah it's got 2 million more views in the last campaign that I ran.” But why? View count never really gives you enough of the story. It doesn't tell the story of the campaign, and the simple fact that it's never going to be like-for-like comparison if you're saying, “well my last campaign did 1,000,000 less, why is that?” Well, it could be just this time around there was a very funny cat in the video. You literally do not know without watching the video.
But if you can understand what's being said, you all of sudden start to understand the story of the campaign at large, and you can see if there's certain points that resonate between different channels, different influencers. You can look at if there was a transition of sentiment over time. You look at the difference between a live stream and a VOD. A VOD is a highly edited piece of content usually. Whereas a live stream is entirely experiential. So, you’re actually with that content creator on the journey as they experience a product. They're not scripting something for 9 hours. They're literally jumping in, filling some dead air, chatting to the chat, and [we] get [to] see what they enjoy about the product.
So, it can start being really good, or really bad, and it can change overtime. So, you actually have to understand that transition as they're experiencing their first touches with the product.
BH: How does that work in terms of the interpretation of all that stuff? So, let's just say, for example, it is about the funny cat that you mentioned, you know, large language models are not known for their sense of humour. They're not going to go “oh that cat was hilarious! that's what it's all about!”
So then is there then a human element there? Or like, how does that work? Or is the technology is going to go “there was something in the content of this video. This is the thing”, and then you need to look at it.
JB: There will never be a technology that it can replace a human entirely. What we're doing is we're looking - it's a numbers game - we need to look at the 20% of content that drives 80% of your sales, or the 80% that fills up your time when you need to concentrate on the remaining 20%. The 80-20 rule of business applies so brilliantly in this space.
We are looking to take away the bulk of that workload. We're looking to direct you to the pieces that make a difference. It's literally answering the resource problem.
If you can't watch 80% of your content and you can have it summarised for you, or we can take the majority of it and just highlight problems, bonuses, opportunities, trends. Those things can only be done once you have the data. Our first step has always been [to] get the data and there's a world of things that you can do with it.
AL: So, one of the things we're building going forward is this influencer marketing, sort of large language models approach[es] to things, where we can query the data in any way that you want and classical questions that marketers should do where they're trying to do market research or idea validation, competitor analysis, strategy segment finding, whatever it is. This is the tool that will actually look for the substance of the video.
BH: So, is it all about looking at stuff after? It's it feels to me like this is a piece of technology that can be used in lots and lots of different ways, and trying to understand the landscape of what people are talking about before you even spend money on influencer marketing.
JB: You've absolutely nailed it. You look at this as the before, during, and after of processes. In the same way as, traditionally we've used media monitoring, media listening tools, and services. This does exactly the same. Before a campaign – as Adrian mentioned it earlier - you're looking for the brand safety, the brand alignment aspects. You want to look back through hours and hours of content, to make sure they resonate the same values.
You cannot - and we actually see this a lot with the companies we’ve been working with - you cannot take months and months and months to establish that brand safety aspect. Because we know that content creators can change on a dime. They will migrate with their audiences ups and down. So, they really do need to be looking at real time data when we're talking about this particular media segment. Then you have the “right now.” You when you're in the midst of your campaign. You want real time results of what's happening because it is immediate. If you, if anyone in influencer marketing, was to say, “yeah we're just going to do a post-mortem at the end”, well good luck.
BH: Do you think, kind of in terms of where we're at the moment, that brands really know and understand the importance of all of this stuff that you're talking about?
Because I just think about Brand Managers, Heads of Influencer Marketing, and brands that I know. I'm not sure they even know you can do this, or you can look at this in this way. It feels like it's a great mountain of stuff to be done. It's better to just…I could say “all the fun stuff”, but that sounds really terrible. But “OK we've got this product. We’ve got this great new shower gel. It's fine the 100 influences we really want to talk to…ooh these could be really great.” All that kind of good stuff. I'm not sure they're even talking about what you're talking about.
AL: Some are. Many aren’t. Is my personal experience and through the last couple of months, since we’ve come out of stealth and we've started our sales pipeline, we’re reaching out to people, we know we've been cold outreaching and we're starting that process, The diversity of conversation is massive.
I think most people know the words, but not all the people know the actions that need to go behind it. I spoke to one company recently that had a well over a dozen members of the staff just working in influencer marketing, and they’re a retailer, and they have a combination of a decent tech stack and some manual processes, and they've kind of stitched together and they've been very successful with it.
AL: Then other people we speak to, they instantly want to jump in on the advertising compliance and then they want to ask those questions [like] “why do I even need to know about this?”, and we're like well the rules have been around since the invention of the Billboard. They’re just evolving overtime and catching up and I'm moving towards video and social media as we go.
The diversity of knowledge is staggering, and I think marketing is such a fascinating industry and I love it. But the barriers are a low and lots of people have come in from different angles. So therefore, people's knowledge have started from different places.
BH: There’s a cool little thing on this app I've never seen before where James’s picture’s going up and down over this little hand going like this saying “James has something to say?” James, what would you like to say?
JB: Oh, it's like being back in school!
It's really to pick up on something Adrian said, we are still in a very embryonic stage of influencer marketing’s growth, and for as long as people can get away with it, the throwing-mud-at-the- wall-to-see-how-much-sticks approach is going to be done at large. It will still be done way into the future. But the more people that are competing in this space the more strategic they get and the more they'll need to be professionalising their approach. So, the moment this really starts to gain even more momentum than it currently has - let's not forget that the creator economy is set to double in size in the next three years - people are going to be looking at the DNA of absolutely everything they're doing and for that you need to understand the content. That's the be all and end all.
BH: Maybe I should have asked this before but are all platforms created equal? I know the beginning of this you talked a bit about YouTube and Twitch - I've never been on Twitch - but lot of the complaints come in around Instagram Stories. That's what I'm more familiar with. So, is it the same across the board and like is that a factor that we need to think about?
JB: Absolutely. That's a really interesting point you picked up on. So, if you look at the ASA's naughty step and you look at who is currently being told off by the ASA, it tends to be Instagrammers. That's really where the volume of complaints are coming from, and that is about the nuances of the platform as opposed to this particular sector. Whereas if you go to the other end of the spectrum, let's say a Twitch live stream that's eight or nine hours, everyone that was likely to complain has to be there in the middle of it, watching at that particular time code moment and being similarly outraged. It could be very easily dealt with on screen, and in the chat.
But when it's an Instagram or very shareable post, it involves a lot more people, not always in the same context, it basically exposes that problem much wider. Which is often why there is never a single answer whenever a question is posed about influencer marketing for everyone thing that’s said you could probably have 100 people disagree with it.
BH: So, this is all quite exciting, and I think the reality is, because consumers spend such a huge amount of time on social media, they trust influencers. There’s clearly a massive opportunity for brands to create that kind of social proof, through the influencer network and that's obviously going to drive purchase intent.
But I know you're quite keen to talk a little bit more about how the industry is getting organised around that and some of the regulation and particular the partnership that you've recently created with IMTB. Can you just tell us a little bit about who are IMTB and why is that important?
JB: Quite simply, IMTB, The Influencer Marketing Trade Body, is the mouthpiece for the influencer marketing industry in the UK. When any industry reaches a certain size, you need to have a focal point, someone that will take your message to government, to the media at large, to speak with one voice. It also puts in place a general code of conduct, of ethics, that means that everyone is moving together.
Because we often forget just how young this particular industry is. It’s grown so fast and is worth so much and is part of so many lives that we tend to forget it's not that old, and when you compare to more established medias. So, we overlook the fact that you need components like this. Individuals that are going to stand up and either take the flag, or shout about the wins. Defend when something is going wrong, because often in the wider media, when there's something new, it's one of the easiest things in the world that hit it with a hammer. Gaming, in particular, has always been a victim of this where it's the scary thing that's happening next door that you don't really know about.
So yes, let's vilify it and we see this time and time again in the media. When you've got a trade body like IMTV, that's able to stand up and go and explain in a calm controlled way, “this is actually what's occurred”, “and this is actually the reason why”, “and this is what's being done to combat this particular instance.” It's a very, very grown up and mature way to approach the growth of an industry.
AL: And obviously we're really pleased and excited to be the first partner, and obviously provide our tools to our members. We're also talking with these guys and obviously providing data and evidence as well to show what good looks like, and if you look at the members list of the agencies that have signed up to it, some of the work they're doing for their clients is absolutely brilliant and I would encourage you to check out the IMTV website and to see what they're doing.
BH: This is a lot like the GDPR where everyone went “Oh my God. This is an awful, awful thing.” But the reality is, if you were doing stuff the right way in the first place, it makes no difference at all. You just change how your tick box works. The people that are negatively affected by these things are the people that are not behaving in the way they should. Catch the naughty guys! Catch the bad guys!
JB: Bang on the money. Obviously, no one can see us frantically nodding on this podcast, but yeah that is the essence of it. This is a GDPR-sized event for influencer marketing.
All the problems that we see, that are called out in the news, I mean you look at even the Kim Kardashian news piece where she fined $1,000,000 for not declaring a relationship with a cryptocurrency that she was promoting. That's a big scale thing, and when you look at undisclosed advertising, we’re looking at it being part of the online harms and protection of children.
That is quite simply because a younger individual is not necessarily going to understand, or infer, that there is a money relationship with the person that they're following. So, they do need to be protected and the only way to do it is by being upfront and obvious with the declaration. That this is an ad. So that will be a primary driver. Make no mistake, when we speak to legal departments in big organisations, they're saying, “yes, every now and then we stick our head outside the door and shout into the marketing department, “are we compliant?”” and everyone with an upward impression says “yeah!”
BH: “I think so! Probably!”
JB: “We think so!” We were last week!” So, by putting a calendar date when legislation passes that's just a great way for everyone to come together, make sure that it's a clean ship and move forward.
BH: I just want to come back to you guys and your story cause obviously you're 3 entrepreneurs with your fabulous bromance, and you talked at the beginning about your mission. But what's your vision for the future what's next for you guys?
AL: We’re developing our roadmap. So, we've got the products that we spoke about today. But if you think forward, we want to help enable the whole of the creator economy. So, from my perspective I just say, “watch this space.” Look at our website join our LinkedIn follow us and come along for the journey.
BH: This isn’t an ad you know.
Any final words Adrian, James, in terms of advice or thoughts for – whether it’s agencies or founders or influencers themselves I guess – that are listening to this?
AL: So, working with influencers, and commercial relationships, typically happen in three different ways.
Number one is like a direct sponsorship, where you pay money for them to do a piece of work or works.
Two is incentivized reviews or paid by product.
But the one that people least know about is affiliate programmes. So, programmes where you pay by result. These are also commercial relationships. The fact is they get paid after the event also is something that you should be aware of. These are all part of your brand engagement. They need to be managed correctly and it takes a lot of effort. So, know what's going on. Pay attention and make good decisions and we hope we can be a part of that and help everyone grow and do things better.
JB: From our perspective, and what we're seeing happen right now from the creative briefs, through to the objectives of brands, when they’re asking agencies to pitch, what we believe will be the biggest service differentiator, going forward, will be this ability to report the story. Not just numbers.
BH: Awesome. Thank you so, so much for joining me on the show. It has been fantastic. It has slightly blown my mind I've got too much to think about. But it's been amazing and really, really appreciate your time and keep in touch and let me know how it all goes!
AL: Thank you for talking to us today!
BH: Cool. Perfect this is great. I'm sure it will turn into something slightly more cohesive in the edit.
JB: Yeah, and Chris if you can make me sound a lot more intelligent than Adrian, I'll give you money!
BH: I’m Becky Holland. Thank you everybody for listening to the show. I will see you again soon. Take care. Bye!