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My favourite ad of all time: First Direct’s ‘Live and Unedited’ from 2010

The principles of this near-decade old digital campaign from First Direct have been replicated time and time again and are still relevant, says Teads director of strategic accounts Sam Pattison

As I stare down the barrel of 10 years in the industry, it is fairly fitting that I spend a few minutes to appreciate the ad that got me into it in the first place. 

I’d love to say that it was a glossy piece of creative mastery that served as the inspiration for my lifelong advertising ambition. 

Alas, it was simply the subject of an interview presentation for my first job in the industry, at Carat UK. “Find your favourite ad of recent years and create a short presentation” is a pretty daunting prospect for a 21 year old with no real knowledge of what is expected. 

I’ll be honest, I’ve always appreciated good ads, but I’m far from an ‘adophile’. However the one I chose happens to have been somewhat ahead of its time in the use of social media to fuel content.

For those unfamiliar, First Direct was one of the first banks in the UK to have no branches and function entirely online and by phone. 

While this was seen as a novelty as it launched in 1989, the recent rise of the likes of Monaro and Sterling have utilised technology and user behaviour to take this concept to a new level. 

But returning to First Direct, ‘Live and Unedited’ was a campaign launched in September 2010 that scraped forums, blogs and social media for comments related to the bank.

A map was then created to understand where sentiment was positive and negative, and comments were streamed – totally verbatim – to their own digital properties and digital OOH. Imagine that.

I would guess there are approximately zero major brands, let alone banks that would be prepared to do this in 2019. The old adage ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’ has been the death knell for more than one social media manager over the years.

What Mindshare UK managed to do so successfully was to understand the brand’s major weapon (its customer service and approval rating) and utilise emerging technologies to create a genuinely simple, yet uniquely honest campaign. 

A well deserved Cannes Lion later, this type of execution has served as inspiration for similar activations to this day, albeit heavily moderated and often missing the point.

Now this is not an opinion designed to dismiss overly cautious brands today. 

And frankly there are very few brands that haven’t fallen foul of at least one unimpressed group of people at some point. 

Times have certainly changed, and society’s penchant for using social media as a weapon mean that we all need to be a little more wary when attempting to create something genuinely different. 

The results on the comment sentiment for the First Direct campaign make for compelling reading: 70% Positive; 15% Negative;​ 15% Neutral.

I think there are very few of us that would be happy to display one negative comment, let alone 15% of the total. This speaks very well to the change in all of our approach to social media as brands, as well as shifting attitudes to online rhetoric as a whole.

Authenticity is clearly at an all-time premium – ‘influencers’ anyone? And that is really what I love about this campaign. It does exactly what is says on the tin, and doubles-up by serving as a solid performer in media KPI bingo

Displays to vast audience​ – Reach

Utilises new technology​ – Media first

Uses traditional media​ – Media mix

Live focus group – User generated content

Speaks to future customers – Millennials

Some close to me would suggest that I’m old (not necessarily wise) beyond my years, and a big part of me appreciates what some would consider to be fairly traditional media play by modern standards. 

What strikes me is how far ‘digital’ has moved in the past ten years, and yet the principles of this campaign are still replicated time and time again. 

Brands are desperate to be relevant. They want to have a ‘relationship’ with their customers and to use them as their own personal micro-influencers, but many don’t want to hear the bad stuff. 

Some manage this well and some fail miserably, but in my mind legitimacy should celebrated and championed. We really overcomplicate things sometimes.Sam Pattison is director of strategic accounts at Teads and is based in Singapore

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