The Data Confirms It: In a Contentious, Divided Society, Joy and Love Still Rule

I’ll admit. I’m a sucker for happy endings. I love those viral clips that demonstrate human kindness and thoughtfulness writ large. Nothing is as contagious as uncontrollable laughter.

Still, it’s easy to feel bummed out these days, particularly if you use social media. Most recognize how Facebook gamed our feeds to garner more attention, and in the process fiercely stoked polarization to the detriment of our democracy. It’s depressing to see how quickly even benign social media comments get weaponized into political spew. And political debate on the nightly news rarely elevates beyond schoolyard name-calling. Given this news environment, it’s only natural to consider our society as little more than a tumble of feral, clawing tomcats in a bag.

And then, right at the moment when hope fades, along comes a day-brightening bit of undeniable evidence proving the exact opposite.

Of the 3,019 emojis in the Unicode Standard version 12.0. the top two used are Face with Tears of Joy and Heart: 😂 and ❀.

Those are the two symbols we reach for more than any other: emojis symbolizing happiness and love. Those are the emotions we express the most. And yes, I consider that very good news indeed.

We are so loving and supportive with our emoji

I realize emoji choices aren’t long on anger or division, but don’t harsh my mellow here. I like that we have a language predicated on love and support for each other.

Admittedly, I don’t use emoji myself. I have nothing against them and will frequently type “heart” or “thumbs up” but I prefer the written word. No judgment, just preference. And I won’t deny that strings of these colorful hieroglyphics brighten up many an Instagram response.

If you’re interested in seeing where your favorite comes in on the frequency count, visit Unicode’s Emoji Frequency page.

I’m simply going to enjoy this sunny Monday a bit more, knowing that perhaps we’re not all spittle-lipped hatebags after all.

I heart that. I heart that a lot.

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On Winning Friends & Influencing +800K Others

Teri Turner is an innovator in the world of social media, an influencer who has built an incredibly passionate and engaged following over the past five years. She’s a hard-working, network building, life embracing and affirming force of nature.

Happily, she’s also a friend. Last night, I had the incredible good fortune to interview her in front of 300 followers during the final scheduled appearance of her 23 stop national book tour. It’s not often you get to interview someone whose career trajectory serves as a primer in new media marketing.

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In recent years, it has become clichĂ© how every brand seeks “authenticity,” but Teri’s “No Crumbs Left” brand personifies the power of exactly that. She did not start with a plan, she simply started, living and sharing her interests and expertise with others. A Facebook page led to Instagram posts, which in turn led to brand promotions and a podcast and a book tour; Teri produces an incredible amount of media content, learning and expanding to new platforms by simply “following the thread where it leads.”

Social media influencers matter in today’s marketing for one simple reason: recommendation marketing drives sales like nothing else. In Nielsen research, 92% of consumers cite recommendations from friends and family as the leading driver of purchase behavior.

A natural networker, Teri built a truly engaged following through DM’s and other direct online interactions. Early on, she collaborated with fellow social media personalities whose work interested her, an intuitive move that grew her audience. One collaboration was with Whole 30, when No Crumbs Left took over their feed for a week. That proved so successful, Whole 30 commissioned a No Crumbs Left cookbook. And that cookbook finally and firmly entrenched Teri as an Authority (currently available for fifteen dollars on Amazon, you will not find a better gift at a better price). As an authority, her website feels more like a media channel than a sales pitch as she relentlessly shares recipes, ideas, and inspiration.

As a social media Authority and Influencer, Teri’s in the unique position of choosing which brand partnerships she accepts. They must fit her sensibility and values. And her terms, like payment upfront. As she tells it, some large companies balk at why she won’t wait 90 days for payment. But as a small business person, that doesn’t work for her, and neither does having corporations set the terms. In the world of social influence, brands that want to leverage the incredible selling power of personal recommendation must embrace some new realities:

  1. Mass marketing approaches do not apply. Brands do not set the terms or dictate the message. But if they accept that and engage the right influencer, they will benefit tremendously.
  2. Brands can buy celebrity endorsements, but partnering with authoritative social media influencers and their audience relationships requires alignment more along the lines of a friendship than a standard business contract. It must be one-to-one.
  3. Participation is everything. Mass marketing broadcasts to large, passive audiences; influencer partnerships engage with smaller, far more engaged audiences. Any way brands can leverage that engagement builds affinity. And sales.

Social media influencer rules are being written and rewritten every day. And while it is woefully inefficient from a scalability perspective, for clients savvy enough to find the right relationships, this is a pathway to new, and far more engaged audiences for their brands.

Is it worth it? I think so. Spindrift, Pre beef, and Gotham Greens are now on our grocery lists, and we met all those brands through Teri.

You know, our friend, who recommended them.

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I Heart Pixar

Mostly for their amazing aptitude at capturing emotion in animation. Toy Story and Finding Nemo represent great storytelling, regardless of medium, and as a father, I will ever strive to be half the man Mr. Incredible was.

If you haven’t seen it, their latest release is a lovely, short form delight.

If after watching this you’d like to read a book that proves the lie in the incredibly unfair misinformation intentionally ascribed to this charming, and uniquely American breed of dog, a good place to start is horse veterinarian Vicki Hearne’s wonderful “Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog.” Reading it is both affirming and depressing, given the incredible media distortion callously ascribed to this breed.

Regardless, a short film like this is an uplifting way to launch the workweek. So Happy Monday.

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Not That You Asked…

My favorite part of the Super Bowl is not the commercials; it’s talking about the commercials on Monday with WGN’s Bill and Wendy. They’re not in advertising; they’re simply students of culture with curious, interesting minds, which means I’m never fully prepared for what they might want to discuss. They are also amazingly supportive and helpful, particularly if your voice sounds like you spent the morning gargling molasses and working on your Harrison Ford mumble…

 

And because it’s not really kosher to comment without sharing your own perspective for critique, here are my four top ads from Super Bowl LIII. Sure I loved Amazon’s over-the-top, super Super Bowl-y ad about Alexa’s mythical failures. I was also heartened by Google’s showcasing of data on the three most translated phrases worldwide (spoiler alert: “I love you” is #1). And who didn’t choke up at the emotional resonance of Verizon’s “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here” ad honoring first responders? Still, you can only pick four in this totally arbitrary exercise I just dreamed up, so here goes:

1. BUD LIGHT: GAME OF THRONES

I hate everything about Bud Light trying to conjure an issue out of corn syrup. As the category leader, these types of mean-spirited attack ads should be beneath them (did they learn nothing from the sweet Google Translate ad?). That said, the mash up ad with Game of Thrones was stupendous. It delivered what you rarely get in Super Bowl ads: genuine surprise. After an expectedly breezy dilly-dilly opening, the story makes a head snapping turn to the dark side that stopped me cold and was entirely brand appropriate for HBO.
And despite his gruesome death, I’m also certain the Bud Knight will be back in future ads with no explanation, kinda like Kenny in South Park.

2. NFL: THE 100 YEAR GAME

This was pure fun; a playful, winning nod to the amazing personalities that have played the game over the years. How can anyone not love this? It sidestepped mountains of controversy surrounding the brand without appearing to be sidestepping controversy. Nicely done. And great to see Singletary again.

3. HULU: THE HANDMAIDEN’S TALE

I haven’t read or watched “The Handmaiden’s Tale” but as an ad fan, recycling the Hal Riney-esque VO from the ad that got Ronald Reagan elected in 1980 was an inspired move. An amazingly simple, graceful idea…though admittedly, it probably spoke more to ad nerds than the general public.

4. THE WASHINGTON POST

Call me old fashioned, but I don’t believe the relentless attacks on the free press come from a place of selfless concern for the republic. Yes, both sides of the media aisle are complicit in exaggerating and framing facts to fit their frameworks; chasing clicks in a social media powered world does little to encourage centrist reporting. But the fact remains that Jamal Khashoggi was an American resident and father of three citizens yet we did nothing to hold the foreign powers who murdered him accountable. That’s weak. And wrong. And this spot does a tremendous job of speaking to a social issue in a manner relevant to the brand.

All in all, the general consensus seems to be that the crop of spots were disappointing, but I didn’t really find that anymore true this year than others. It’s nearly impossible to please all the people all the time, and this is the one few advertising platform where that’s still the job. It’s an unforgiving spotlight, and yet everyone in the ad game still wants to be there. That says something…

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A Sweet Act of Creative Generosity

Most challenges modern agencies face stem from how we, as an industry, spent decades devaluing our one, singular asset: creativity. We gave it away for years since we earned our margins in media markups.

This worked fine, until it didn’t. By the time broadband and mobile fragmented the media landscape into a thousand platforms, we had trained clients not to pay for the one thing we truly own. And the results have not been pretty.

It’s a situation made worse by creative people themselves. We tend to underprice our own product, accepting lower compensation due to our sheer love of making things. That’s why a story last Saturday involving a creative team from Wong Doody LA made me smile so much. Call it “The Saved Quinceañera.”

The creative team was prepping a massive video and still shoot down in Houston with Patrick Molnar, a nationally-recognized, professional lifestyle photographer. As they worked in the museum district off Rice University, producer Amy Wise noticed a group of teenagers posing around a fountain as family members snapped photos with their phones. Being curious and outgoing (invaluable traits in an agency producer), Amy quickly learned it was Jasmine’s quinceañera–the traditional celebration of a fifteen year old girl’s transition from childhood to womanhood. Unfortunately, the large bus they had rented for their celebration hit a curb and blew a tire, setting them back a few hours. By the time they arrived at the park for their shoot, their photographer had given up and left.

And yes, the movie-of-the-week scene you are currently imagining in your head is exactly what happened next. Amy told the creative team, the creative team told Patrick, and within minutes, a major professional photographer was lining up shots of the young woman and her court, saving the day with a level of professionalism far beyond anything the family might have imagined. For no other reason other than it was fun, and it would brighten this girl’s day, transforming disappointment into delight.

The whole experience lasted less than fifteen minutes, but in that time, Patrick squeezed off bursts, insuring he’d have lots of selects to choose from, which he did later that night, retouching frames in the hotel bar.

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Unretouched photo courtesy of Patrick Molnar.

Creative people get into the business for the joy of making things. On Saturday afternoon, they didn’t make an ad or a piece of content or a digital experience; they simply made someone’s day. And in this case, that feeling was compensation enough. Well done Matt Burgess, Vanessa Witter, Callie Householder, Amy, and Patrick.

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The Enduring Magic of Motion

Video drives powerful branding. On air, online, in environment: the power of moving imagery to evoke emotional responses is unparalleled. Today we have more places than ever to showcase moving imagery and attract attention.

That wasn’t the case in 1973, particularly in the gray environment of Leipzig, East Germany. Long before HD flatscreens or mobile video, and years before reunification, two graphic designers created a neon advertisement that has since become a beloved landmark: the “Löffelfamilie” or “Spoon Family.”

At 40′ wide and 23′ high, no passerby can miss the nuclear family gathered around the table to enjoy the delicious products of “VEB Feinkost Leipzig”, a catchy title translating to “People-Owned Enterprise Delicatessen of Leipzig.” The ad copy is not particularly better, translating to “fruit and vegetable preserves, table ready-made dishes, double concentrated soups” (yum!).

The illustrative style is ham-fisted and the animation is rudimentary and relentlessly repetitive. The more than 650′ of colorful twisted neon was updated to more economical LED’s seven years ago. And keeping this relic in repair requires ongoing donations. If you’re in the neighborhood, send a text to 0900-LOEFFEL, which charges you a donation of 3€ to light the sign for three minutes.

Still, the size, colors, and simple motion continue to earn our attention.

For all the enormity of changes in communication, it’s remarkable how this endures.

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#HaveHerBack: From Awareness to Initiative to Action

The #MeToo movement and its immediate, widespread adoption raised awareness of the blatant sexism and privilege in Chicago advertising. It was nauseating to learn the firsthand accounts of people forced to deal with everything from institutionalized boorishness to outright criminal behavior. So when Ron D’Innocenzo, a colleague from Element 79 and current ECD at Golin, asked me to sit on a panel to discuss the issue, I agreed. But Ron insisted I first talk to Caroline Dettman, Golin’s CCO and the creator behind this initial #HaveHerBack event.

Caroline quickly let me know I’d be the only white male on the panel and that, while no one was looking to attack me specifically, I would inevitably represent the kind of dirtbags that forced this corrective initiative. Fair enough.

I went, I learned, and I walked away inspired by so many people working to evolve actionable steps to create a better, more inclusive way forward for the industry.

My heartfelt thanks to Caroline Dettmann, Liz Traines, Jewell Donaldson, Kat Gordon, Mary Pryor, and Megan Colleen McGlynn. You make this industry, and all of the people in it, far far better.

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Creativity Will Save Advertising. Again.

I know, I know–it’s too late; advertising’s already dead. Digital/social/experiential/big data killed it…

The only problem is this constant, dire drumbeat sounds juicy, it creates alarm, but it’s mostly just opinion or self-promotion. It’s clickbait.

If you want facts, follow the money. In the most recent case, digital entertainment powerhouse Netflix bid $300m to buy Regency Outdoor Advertising.

That’s right, the disruptive, disintermediating, digital content giant wants to buy a billboard company.

Their motivation is fascinating. Netflix noticed that big outdoor imagery stokes social sharing. People posted lots of shots of their “Netflix is a joke” campaign to Instagram which promoted their comedy line-up.

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In other words, people share great creative.

These days, $300m might not sound like an earth-shattering number, but it represents the largest acquisition in Netflix history. Imagine; a leading digital giant offering to pay one third of a billion dollars on a oft-declared dying medium…a smart company wouldn’t do that unless they knew it worked.

And that’s a fact.

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This post originally appeared in Screen Magazine.

Score One for MassMutual vs. Russian Trollbots

I’m an unabashed fan of films that feature people being nice to people. When all of Bedford Falls shows up to support George Bailey, I tear up. When the ground support team works around the clock to create a hack for the overburdened CO2 scrubbers in Apollo 13 because failure is not an option, I tear up. Heck, when H. I. and Ed McDunnough get caught returning Nathan Jr. to the home where they stole him, only to have Nathan Sr. free them both with a wave of his pistol and the admonishment “Before you go off and do another foolish thing like busting up, I suggest you sleep on it…at least one night“–yep, waterworks. I just like seeing people being nice to people. So you can guess how I reacted to this epic, affirming, inspirational ad on the Olympics last night…

The perfect song and amazing true life stories, all told with many of the people directly involved in them, this ad exemplifies genuine emotion powerfully realized. If you want to read more about all the individual stories, you’ll find them here.

At a time when broadcast networks, self-interested lobbies, and foreign operatives actively work to divide us, this spot serves as a wonderful reminder of America at its best and how we can all do and be better. Mass Mutual, their agency collaborators at Johannes Leonardo, and Radical Media should take great pride in this work.

Yep, I teared up a bit. And I don’t care who knows it.

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Talking Super Bowl Stuff with Wendy & Bill

Every year, I look forward to this day and my annual Super Bowl commercial recap with WGN 720’s Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder. Aside from being pants-wettingly funny, Wendy and Bill always bring their own fascinating, non-advertising-centric perspectives and I walk away thinking about things a bit differently. Good conversations have that effect.

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On a side note, if your city ever gets an opportunity to host a Super Bowl, do it. It’s a lot of fun and brings a ton of energy to the downtown that more than makes up for all the visitors and their unimaginative “but it’s so cold” whining. Even better, if your city planners can install special lighting around the venue, maybe you too can create something half as amazing as this…or you can do it in post, whatever.

Prince

Almost two years gone and Prince still owns this city. Remarkable.

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