David Shing on the ‘new mass’

Consumer behaviour online is changing, and brands that want to connect in this world need to change too, says Oath’s digital prophet.
David Shing (10) (1)

“He’s wearing the outfit,” whispered one excited techie to another in the crowd anxiously awaiting for David Shing. When Oath’s digital prophet (a.k.a. Shingy) arrived in a warehouse-turned-event space in downtown Toronto he was indeed wearing the kind of outfit he’s become internet-infamous for.

He was donning dark clothing and clear frames, his iconic salt-and-pepper hair looking as if he’s just put his hand on the Van de Graaff generator. “Shingy” clearly knows brands – he’s even been able to turn himself into one. Following a punchy presentation to the thrilled techies, MiC sat down with the digital prophet to chat about what the future might hold for brands in an increasingly closed online world.

This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.

MiC: What is of interest to you in the digital media and advertising worlds right now?

Shing: I think niche is the new mass. Data can tell you what you need to do, but it can’t tell you how to do it. Getting back to the power of creativity is really important. Einstein said: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ I grew up in a world where you had to have knowledge to succeed. But, I think we’re moving to a place very quickly where you have to have imagination to succeed.

MiC: What changes are you seeing in the marketing/advertising space these days?

Shing: The industry is in the middle of change, so I think gone are the days when someone would say: “I just do craft.” Though craft today is more important than ever before, you also have to be a generalist. People want the width and the depth all wrapped up in this neat package. But the platforms are all homogenized. I mean Facebook is chambray shirt and Docker pants – it’s very conservative looking. You’re meant to be radical in that?

The real purpose of all of this is why should I give a shit? What’s the why? A lot of people are too quick to say this is what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, but why? I also think a lot of the platforms have matured enough that people can say we don’t need to be everywhere all the time and we certainly don’t have to take one piece of creative and run it everywhere. We can make it really personal on the place that we want the deepest type of engagement.

MiC: You’ve talked about the importance of advocacy versus awareness, so how do you get consumers to be advocates for a brand?

Shing: You just need to understand what service brand means. You can do something that feels quite remarkable in any type of service and then people are going to want to brag about it. Brands who want to be bragged about have to do something that’s brag-worthy. Now, that could be something that’s a surprise so people want to share it — it could be something as simple as that. Or it could be creating something that’s unexpected and that’s also true to the DNA of the brand.

MiC: A lot of people set their social media accounts to private in 2018. How can brands reach people who are spending much of their time on closed networks?

Shing: Brands need a totally different strategy than awareness-based campaigns. Most of the platforms are into awareness-based advertising so brands have to change their ethos to a service brand. And by the way, that’s quite hard. Brands are still catching up with the fact that people speak back to them. So they’ve gone from a conversation brand to a service brand. That’s new.

The challenge is how do you implement that? You have to have a different type of measurement. So, all these incredible ways to engage with humans can’t be measured the same way. Selling out overnight, for example, isn’t the same as building a brand over time. They’re totally different measurement points that an organization has to grapple with. They may come out of the same budget, they may come out of the same pot, but one takes a discipline over time and one takes spend.

MiC: Do you think people are using closed networks in response to privacy breaches, such as the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal?

Shing: No. I’d like to think that is the case and maybe it is for people who are aware of it. But if I grab people on the street and ask them they really don’t give two shits. The real issue that they have is that, as a human, perhaps they feel too exposed, too transparent for a large audience, so that honesty and that transparency comes in those closed networks. Anything that’s open is like a persona. Real intimacy happens in something that’s closed. So I don’t think it’s got to do with Cambridge Analytica. It’s got to do with society today and I think it’s just got to do with that surge of insecurity really, particularly for women.

MiC: Do you think consumers are becoming more reluctant to give up their data and privacy rights to brands?

Shing: I’m intrigued by brands that collect data uniquely and give me back something interesting in return, but I don’t see that these days. When it comes to mobile, particularly, the first thing brands ask is: ‘Can I access your mobile, your photos, your location and your contacts?’ Huh? No. Not until there’s a value exchange there are you going to get any of that, really. I think people have started to smarten up about that, thankfully. Which I think means companies are going to have to collect data smartly and differently than the way they do it today.