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The Bridge – why marketing and mindfulness are two sides of the same coin

Kunal Gupta, the founder and CEO of US-based format management platform Polar, came to Dubai recently to talk about his company’s technology, and also to spread some mindfulness vibes among its partners at a morning meditation session.

In the region, Polar’s technology is licensed exclusively through DMS, the digital arm of media house
Choueiri Group. The platform gives agencies and clients a way to reposition their social posts for use on popular websites within the Polar network, including The Guardian, Bloomberg and MBC. The posts have the look and feel of native social ads on Facebook or Instagram, and are clickable in the same way. They can also use the same creative.

This means that people spend more time with the brands. The average social media user scrolls the height of the Empire State building every day, says Gupta, and spends an average of 1.7 seconds on each social media ad. Compared with that, Polar’s ads have a view time of 9 seconds. This is because people scroll slower when reading articles than surfing in social apps. At the same time, because the ads are in a format – mimicking social posts – that users are used to, they overcome the “banner blindness” that can render on-site ads all but invisible. Polar’s ads perform 10 times better than regular web ads in terms of site traffic, says Gupta.

When planning integrated campaigns, standard wisdom dictates that creative departments should make the best ads to fit the medium, and that web ads and social ads should be created differently. But in reality, social executions tend to look and work better, says Gupta. “The web has forgotten about creative, where social has continued to innovate,” he says. So far Facebook has raised no objections to Polar’s ads looking like its own. “We use all their brand guidelines,” says Gupta. “I’ve talked to them and they know about this and like it.” People he has spoken to within Facebook say Polar is giving their ad formats a boost across the web, and helping make them the standard ad format for web pages as well as social, superseding formats agreed through the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). He adds that 80 per cent of time online is on five apps, none of which
carry IAB ad formats.

The platform should help brands – including SMEs that historically have only advertised on Facebook – on to non-social websites. “There are 150 million businesses that are inside Facebook. A lot of them don’t even have a webpage,” says Gupta. The share that Polar hopes to take, while substantial for a 30-man tech company, is unlikely to be enough to worry Facebook, he adds.

This shift of ad spend also gives the Polar team some purpose, says Gupta. “Our focus is technology, and the technology is used for advertising, but 100 per cent of our ads run on trusted websites,” he says. “So if you were to ask my team (outside a paycheque and solving technology problems) why do they work … They’ll say that everything we do supports trusted journalism, which is what supports democracy.” The publishers Polar works with globally include The Washington Post, Bloomberg, News Corp, Conde Nast and Buzzfeed.

While Kunal Gupta makes a living from repurposing social media ads, he does not himself use social media. “I know how it’s made and I know how it is designed,” he says. “It is designed to steal your attention. It’s designed to make you feel a lot of negative feelings like FOMO [fear of missing out]. It leads to a lot of anxiety. It leads to people feeling symptoms of depression. It leads to feelings of inadequacy.”

As a strong proponent of mental health, involved in several charities, Gupta has seen brain scans of a
13-year-old girl’s brain as she browses Instagram, and watched the same nerve centres being stimulated as those of someone using cocaine. Social media today is at the same stage smoking was in the late 1970s, he says. Back then smoking was cool. It was in ads and it was on television. It was allowed on planes and in restaurants, and no one would lift an eyebrow if you smoked in a meeting.
On top of that, by the late 1970s there was research showing the harm smoking could do, but it was being hushed up by the manufacturers. The comparisons to social media today are directly analogous, argues Gupta. “It’s an addiction,” he says.

Social media is designed to grab attention. So is marketing. And so, says Gupta, is mindfulness. But while advertising and social media try to take time from others, mindfulness is a way to look inward.
“Attention is the bridge between mindfulness and marketing,” says Gupta, who jokes that he is invested in both because “I’m hedging right now”. He got into mindfulness because he “got tired of the other way of approaching life and business”, when you prioritise work, then family and friends and then yourself. “I flipped the model upside down to say, let me start by taking care of myself,” he says. “Then I feel grounded and centred and calm, and then let me bring that energy to the people around me.”

He wants to share that energy with his business contacts as well as himself and his family, and says that once you realise you are in need of some relaxation and mindfulness, the next step is to spend two minutes each morning concentrating either on the space, sounds and sensations around you, the way your body feels or on your own breath.

“Two minutes will then become three minutes and then four minutes and then five minutes,” he explains. “Once a day will become twice a day or three times a day. It will become with your kids, with your family. That’s really what mindfulness is; it’s a skill.” Gupta now meditates for 30-40 minutes every morning. When Campaign asks about his mindfulness habit, he says: “I’m meditating now.” So next time you’ve got a few minutes free, focus it on yourself, not on your social feed. You’ll be able to see the same ads on other web sites anyway.