Social Media Hasn’t Replaced TV Viewing, It’s Connected It

Sixteen years ago, academic and data geek Robert Putnam hit a national nerve with his essay “Bowling Alone” about our collective loss of ‘social capital.’  By 2000, he published a book expanding on his premise that Americans were growing disconnected from their families, communities and nation due to culture trends like two-career families and television, which reduce our participation in groups.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonAn article posted to Ad Age yesterday might gladden Robert’s heart…somewhat. Despite DVR’s, the declines in live TV viewership over the past few years are reversing.  Appointment TV has made a resurgence as Facebook, Twitter and cell phone based social media outlets now drive live tune-ins.

Apparently, we still like to watch alone, but we link up as part of a larger social group through talking, texting, posting and commenting. As we watch, e like to gripe about the White Sox bullpen, seek explanations for the Bull’s careless ball handling and whine about the Blackhawks disappearing offense. Okay, maybe that’s just me but the point is we form very active, regularly scheduled communities around live television viewing.

Robin Sloan, who works with Twitter’s media-partnership groups says “If you look at the tweets about a TV show, a huge proportion come from when the show is airing live, not an hour later.” Tweets and status updates have a shelf life shorter than shredded cheese in a warm refrigerator; it’s all about commenting in the now.

And how much do we like to tweet?  At this year’s Super Bowl, the most-viewed TV event in history, viewers launched over 4,000 tweets per second in the game’s final minute, earning that game the highest volume of tweets for any sports event.

We may be alone physically, but not socially. A whopping 86% of mobile net users watch TV with their mobile devices. Further, the communities that form range from the very broad, like for the Super Bowl, to the very, very engaged, like the people who tweet and text about “Glee.”  “Glee” earned the Number 2 spot on Trendrr.TV which measures TV chatter across various social media, which sounds awesome for ratings.  Unfortunately, the show itself ranked 77th on Nielsen’s prime-time list.

So a cheesy show about awkward high school types inspires awkward types to tweet cheesily just like high school…  Hmm, that figures.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


Let’s Call It Like It Is: Groupon = Crack

Yesterday, Advertising Age posted an item where SymphonyIRI states the obvious: Groupon and the emerging raft of social deal sites don’t provide any lasting lift for packaged goods brands. And what lift they do provide is shrinking.  So while industry-wide, the volume sold on price promotion is way up again for the second year in a row, the average volume lift per promotion fell.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

These findings feel a bit late since they seem so intuitive to anyone who thinks it through, but I’m still grateful that someone finally said it. With this type of promotion, the lead brand in consumers’ minds will always be Groupon while whatever brand that’s on-deal is transient, and thus secondary. Worse, a Rice University study conducted on 150 companies that ran Groupon deals between June 2009 and August 2010, found that only two thirds of them found the investment profitable.  Still worse, less than 60% of restaurants made money off Groupon promotions. Frustrated restaurateurs reported Groupon users only spent the face value, didn’t tip and didn’t return.  And worst of all, later users of Groupon were more likely to find it unprofitable than earlier ones. The truth behind all of this is that social deals may make a lot of sense for consumers, but they make increasingly less for brands.

The King of all packaged goods sellers has already walked away from promotional dependency. Last year, Walmart made a lot of news with their self-funded ‘rollbacks’ but when that didn’t jumpstart sales, they quickly returned to Sam Walton’s time-proven, everyday-low-pricing strategy.

So is Groupon still worth billions of dollars?  Probably.  To somebody.  And if you love a deal, it’s definitely worth signing up.  But given these research results, those young Turks might want to think twice before rejecting the next big dollar bid that comes their way.

Because they themselves might just be the next drastic markdown.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Can’t It Just Be A Product, Not A Value Judgement?

Political advertising depresses me.  All the accusations and mudslinging make me worry for the future of civility in our increasingly shout-driven culture.  I plan to vote for at least two candidates based solely on the tone of their radio advertising–call me Pollyanna, but it’s the only way I can reward behavior I endorse.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingSo I was almost too burned out to care this past Monday when Advertising Age posted an article that purported to delineate the differences between red brands and blue brands.  Apparently, certain consumer goods earn the preference of one political party over another.  Or at least, that’s what the pollsters at YouGov believe, after publishing their latest BrandIndex survey.

As someone who has sworn off all non-sports television viewing until after the election, this data feels like yet another unnecessarily divisive issue for this country. Okay, so Google is the number one brand for Democrats and yet it doesn’t even make the Republican’s Top Ten…  And Fox News is top for Republicans while it certainly doesn’t make the Democrats Top, well, pick an integer…  How does knowing this bring anything positive to the debate?

To me, YouGov’s truly interesting findings are the universal brands like UPS, FedEx, Craftsman, and Cheerios.  What makes them successful in a non-partisan way?  What gives them cross-aisle appeal?  Not being a researcher, I don’t have a ready reply, but those are questions worth asking, whether you’re a brand or a candidate.

Maybe the way to increase your appeal to everybody is to focus on what we have in common, on what we share, rather than on how hard the other side sucks eggs. It’s just a thought…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


If You Wanna Fish Where The Fish Are, Change The Channel from MTV to VH1

Of course we love the kids—every marketer loves the kids.  And year after year, we send out message after message in desperate attempts to win the hearts and minds of those fickle young folk.  Their tastes drive the culture; it’s totally understandable.

Except in a down economy.  Considering just how much spending power lies in the wallets and purses of baby boomers, it seems kind of silly to fish anywhere else.Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

In a blog referencing this week’s Consumer Issue, Matt Carmichael of Advertising Age takes some time to analyze the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest consumer expenditure data to discern the actual purchasing habits of tweens, millenials, singles, affluents and every other silly label we slap on groups of people as a means to parse data.

Long story short: baby boomers spend the most on pretty much everything.  From a consumer point of view, they are an overwhelming economic force whose spending towers over every other generation in every segment—in most segments, it’s double the spend of other generations.

So as much as you love the Arcade Fire, you might want to find your next commercial soundtrack in classic rock.  Again.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Just Because 15 Is Half of 30, Doesn’t Mean a :15 TV Spot Is Half As Effective as a :30 TV

(The inmates are playing cards and betting with cigarettes)Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Martini: (rips a cigarette in half) I bet a nickel.

McMurphy: Dime’s the limit, Martini.

Martini: I bet a dime. (Puts the two halves onto the table)

McMurphy:This is not a dime, Martini. This is a dime. (shows a whole cigarette) If you break it in half, you don’t get two nickels, you get shit. Try and smoke it. You understand?

Martini: Yes.

McMurphy: You don’t understand.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Golden from the novel by Ken Kesey

Last week, Advertising Age editor at large Jack Neff wrote a telling article where he analyzed the results of over-the-counter drug advertising’s move to 15-second television spots.  Over the past few years, that category boosted it’s investment in :15’s from one fourth of the media mix to two-thirds.  And yet, during that time, their market share eroded to private label faster than other packaged-goods categories.  From 2009 to now, Symphony IRI shows private label sales volume rose 1.9 share points compared to .9 point gains for general packaged-goods.

I’ve long believed :15’s are the crack cocaine of media buys, giving numbers-obsessed brand managers the false belief that they are ‘extending’ their media buy when all they’re really doing is diluting it.  The irony really gets heavy when you consider Ameritest–the copy-testing firm that’s broken many creative dreams through the years–actually backs this up, finding a marked decrease in ad effectiveness for 15’s vs. 30’s.  In fact, Ameritest CEO Charles Young came right out and said it: “It’s an awfully short form for creatives to work with. If it devolves into simply reminder advertising, you’re not building brands. You need to bring emotion and news value to those brands.”

Fifteens have always been with us, but the recent recession really spurred this move to short form, which now accounts for around 30% of conventional TV ads from national advertisers.  And it goes way beyond pharma.  Fast food is another category strung out on this platform that’s the media equivalent of adding fillers to burgers.

Yes, it’s cheaper to add more water and make your Kool Aid go further, but it doesn’t taste as good.  I’m no mathematician, but if you pay half price for something that only works 35% as well, you’re losing money.  Could someone please explain that to procurement?


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Facebook Privacy Settings Confusing You? There’s an App for That.

Of course there is.  There’s an app for damn near everything.  So given the rising chorus of complaints over Facebook changing it’s privacy settings with the onset of Open Graph, it’s only natural that someone would step into the breech with a digital solution.

That someone is, a shareware app written by a JavaScript developer who takes his own online privacy seriously, hiding his name and only offering that his full-time gig is running Olark: a lightweight app for websites that provides online chat capabilities.  On Reclaim Privacy’s simple page, they publish their full privacy policy:

“Our privacy policy is not long:

  • we never see your Facebook data
  • we never share your personal information”

Impressive.  Anyway, once you drag the app to your browser menubar, you open Facebook’s privacy settings then run the program.  Using a simple Red-Yellow-Green warning system, it suggests where you might want to change your settings.  The whole process is remarkably easy.  And reassuring, even if the cow is already out of the barn, so to speak.

Facebook has been under withering scrutiny lately as people rebel against founder Mark Zuckerberg’s silly statement that ‘privacy is no longer a social norm.’  He’s right, but he’s a fool for announcing that.

But 400 million Facebook members who don’t understand that nothing is free in this world and that hosting the world’s largest social party runs up enormous costs are being equally foolish, or at least willfully ignorant.  Facebook’s only asset is data, data we all agreed to sign over when we signed up.  For an insightful assessment of Facebook’s privacy follies, read this article B.L. Ochman wrote for Advertising Age.

If marketers learn anything from Zuckerberg’s troubles, it should be the singular value heavy web users place on transparency.  Because that can be so easily abused.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Debating the Rules for Brands in Social Media

In the latest issue of Advertising Age, the memorably-monikered Taddy Hall lays out Ten Essential Rules for Brands in Social Media.  Given the conflicting viewpoints regarding leveraging these platforms, these types of lists now clog every marketing outlet.  As someone clever once noted “Where there’s confusion, there’s money to be made” and advocates from all sides have leapt into the fray looking to profit.  But as the former chief strategy officer for the Advertising Research Foundation, Mr. Hall is no self-proclaimed spittle-lipped social media expert.  Instead, he drew data from hundreds of brand clients of his company Meteor Solutions to generate this shortlist of actionable insights based in proven fact.

Two of his essential rules really stand out as emblematic of the fundamental mindshift necessary for incorporating social media into marketing.  First is what he calls “The 1% Rule” where a tiny fraction of site visitors drive the lion’s share of total site traffic.  In case after case, his data demonstrates the power of heavy influencers to drive web behavior.  Importantly, that behavior goes beyond simply increasing site traffic to include a higher share of conversion.  For marketers, this means it is critical to identify, engage and reward ‘super-influentials’ when working in social media.  Historically, identifying and enlisting influencers on behalf of brands has been the province of PR.  Now that social media has grown so mainstream, that discipline must converge with general marketing if we want to effectively integrate our efforts.

The second is his “New Media/New Pipes” rule which shows that what consumers say about your brand means far more than what marketers say.  This is more quantified proof of the power of word of mouth and the need for a radical rethinking of how we present messages to the market.  More than anything, it means we must find more and better ways to cede control to consumers.

That’s hard.  Anyone with more than a few years of marketing experience has been steeped in the need to resist even looking at ideas from consumers for fear of legal exposure: brands must be managed, communication must be one way.  Except that today they aren’t, whether we like it or not.  Social media provide a mass channel for opinion.  More critically, that opinion can have more sales impact than our messages alone.  Content spread from consumer to consumer drives purchase intent far more powerfully than content directly from brands.  As an example, Mr. Hall says that brand content posted on a Facebook fan page has far less impact than the same content posted to an influential individual’s page.

The rest of his list makes for very worthwhile reading as well.  So much misinformation and conjecture fills the debate over social media; having guidelines culled from data, not mere experience, make this list actually worth reading.  Thank you for that Taddy.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Best Way To Scale Social Media? Use TV. And Vice Versa.

One of the biggest complaints about Social Media is how difficult it is to scale.  Sure, your Twitter feed may have a thousand followers, but aren’t those people likely to already be in your brand’s camp?  And what exactly do you do with them, besides, you know, be social about your brand and stuff?  It’s way too micro, too one-to-one.  It’s simply not scalable unless you happen to be that allegorical advertiser with a million monkeys typing on a million socially-networked Dell computers…

No, what’s scalable is aggregating a big, whomping audience around one cool, memorable thirty second TV spot.  Television is scalable–that’s long proven.

Unfortunately, those big, whomping audiences are increasingly rare in today’s hyper-proliferated media world.  People simply don’t gather in one place anymore.  But they’re doing that right now.  And they did it last Sunday.  The Winter Olympics and the recent Super Bowl have drawn huge television audiences.  One reason for this resurgence in the most traditional of mediums?  Social media.

In an article for Advertising Age, John Rash posits that one of the reasons why the Vancouver Olympics are drawing an audience that’s 25% larger than four years ago in Turin could be the effect of tweets and Facebook updates.  The “I got it first” nature of so many social network messages, particularly when they concern an event or a personality, can actually drive larger audiences to the television.  Given a reminder, lots of us would like to catch a glimpse of Lindsey Vonn’s downhill gold or Shaun White’s latest halfpipe innovation, thus re-aggregating an audience around specific events.  And it is better watching it on television, particularly if you have one of those HD big screens that had such huge price drops last Holiday season.

Events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics get everyone talking, but most advertisers don’t need everyone; they just need large like-minded groups.  Integrating and encouraging messages on social media that drive traffic to television events large or small can clearly serve that purpose.

Media scalability is still very much possible.  Chances are, you’ve been experiencing it personally these past few weeks.  It’s not about any one medium; it’s about integrating multiple mediums.

Want to aggregate an audience?  Aggregate your media messages.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

So Apparently There’s This CGI Film In Theaters. And It’s Rather Popular.

Fact: Avatar’s first weekend worldwide box office was $242.5 million.

Fact: Avatar grossed $1.3 billion worldwide in less than a month.

Prevalent Speculation: Including marketing, the project represented a nearly $450 million bet.

Tactic: In this week’s Advertising Age, a cover story discusses the way 20th Century Fox marketed the movie: traditionally, with a $150 million ad spend, and big promotional partners.

Conclusion:  Don’t dismiss mass marketing yet.

Krakow, Poland

Yes, we live in radically altered times.  Opinion enjoys new mass channels as consumers actively dis-integrate old mass channels.  And yet, given a good story that piques our interest, raises some classic themes, and gets everyone talking, a compelling mass market message can still drive outrageous success.  It’s just now, when that advertising gets the whole world talking, individuals have places to further the discussion: Twitter, e-mail, even self-important blogs like this one.  When a story captures peoples’ imaginations, they pick up and pass it along for you, expanding the coverage and radically extending the media buy.  Today, if you generate good word of mouth, you get something mass marketing can rarely buy: sustainability.

People who’ve seen the movie, rave about it.  And that drives more sales, as positive word of mouth sways people who were considering seeing it, particularly in the pricier IMAX 3-D.

So Avatar’s wildly successful initial weekend box office results were not driven by social: there was no official Twitter account to follow.  And there was no viral digital experience (those lost favor when the Snakes on a Plane hysteria failed to drive audiences to theaters).

Just a lot of TV–including long format buys and major sponsor support–and some really strong PR.  Clearly, Avatar is a mass brand.  And it advertises that way.  Pepsi meanwhile, has loudly announced its decision to shun the Super Bowl.  Hmm…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Tombstones and Dead Magazine Titles

Because it’s the internet and the source of all things you need even if you didn’t realize it, I found myself looking at this site: a collection of the twenty-five funniest tombstones of all time.  And in that interesting collection of granite misfortune, I came across this particular gem:

Picture 2

Stone cold irony, that.  But it made me think of another article from Advertising Age that cited all of the magazine titles that had failed in the past year.  The list is kind of staggering, including such well-recognized titles as “Gourmet” “PC” and “Blender.”   Of course, everyone attributes this to behavioral shifts brought on by the internet era and they may well be right, though I still like the tangibility of paper magazines.  Doing the NY Sunday Times crossword just feels better with a pen.

Anyway, here are just some of those recently deceased magazines.  You might not miss them when you have your laptop, but on your next flight, all that could change when you have to shut down anything with an on/off switch.

Picture 3

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79