Arianna Huffington: Canned Commentary at the CMA National Convention

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingSo early on this wet Toronto morning, in one of the cavernous convention halls of the Westin Harbour Castle, the Canadian Marketing Association presented its opening speaker–Arianna Huffington.  We were all really looking forward to it–she’s very smart and one of the early and best drivers of new media since launching her very successful Huffington Post in 1995. Her keynote topic was “Where Is New Media Going?” and she spoke for nearly an hour but in all candor, the best part of her presentation was trying to place her remarkably non-specific accent. She is very likable, warming up the Canadian crowd with hockey jokes, but nothing was funnier than how she pronounced “Canucks”.  Somehow she made it three syllables long and worked a ‘y’ into the middle.

But despite her charm and obvious leadership position in the industry, her comments tread well trod ground: the key to everything is engagement, blogging and Wiki editing has taken off because self expression is the new entertainment. And trust is the new black, with a reference to the hysteria around Balloon Boy.

She added some facts: we send 140 million tweets and watch two million YouTube videos everyday, and every month, we spend a staggering 700 billion minutes on Facebook.

All true, but all rather familiar.  And from someone who introduced a whole new media platform based on curating the latest and best content, oddly ironic.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

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Selling the Apocalypse: The Challenge of the Morning After

It’s becoming a common storyline.  First, you introduce the unthinkable (“A mother of a child beauty pageant contestant injected her own eight year old daughter with Botox!”).  Next, various news organizations run with this sensational story, assembling a cadre of experts to comment on how this reflects modern society’s moral degradation/overstimulated digital centrism/ever declining civility.

But oftentimes, there’s also the coda—balloon boy is found hiding in the attic, Y2K wasn’t so nasty afterall, the Botox Mom story was a set up by a UK tabloid.  And so this coda provides a platform for yet another round of handwringing, often around those exact same themes of modern society’s moral degradation/overstimulated digital centrism/ever declining civility.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingAnd that is the question I have for the hysterical alarmists behind the Rapture™, presently scheduled to commence with global earthquakes tomorrow because, as the headline reads, “God Is No Respecter of Persons.”  (Apparently the Almighty is also not particularly adept with English language prose, but that’s a side issue: it’s hard to blame a deity forced to communicate through such simple-minded vessels.) The marketing department at familyradio.com has been spending enormous sums running full page newspaper ads in USA Today.  No doubt their purchasing department was savvy enough to hedge by making these investments on credit, but still—they are spending a lot of money.

If you can force yourself through their three columns of long, digressive copy, they source their prophecy in Harold Camping’s book 1994? which you may have already surmised predicted these end times would hit seven years ago.  But this ad has an answer for that and why the second part of The Great Tribulation™ skipped that appointment: “Critics ignore the “?” in the title and the fact that Mr. Camping was quite clear in his book that 2011 was an alternative year for the end of the world.” Ohh, right–that clears things up nicely, thanks.

Somewhere in the files of USAToday, a layout exists that references Mr. Camping’s new book “Time Has An End” which explains how critics also ignore the ongoing truth that indeed Time does have an end, it just wasn’t May 21, 2011.

So after this lovely weekend, we have that to look forward to. Let’s all make a point of reading it together. Happy Friday.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

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WWHD? The Comic Virulence of the Hitler YouTube Meme

Knock-knock jokes…  Top Ten lists…  “That’s what she said”…  Over time, cultures build stockpiles of shared comic references.  Back when we all watched Saturday Night Live, everyone copped Dana Carvey’s “Isn’t that special?” complete with the Church Lady’s off-balance lip pursing.  More recently, Kanye West’s obnoxiousness led to a spate of  “Imma let you finish–” bits.  Sharing laughs around common reference points builds bonds between people, and simply makes the day pass more pleasantly…Picture 1

So it’s no surprise that this video popped up at the end of last week.  Mark Wegener, the man behind the consistently intelligent humor of ‘Local Paper’, passed along this latest version of Downfall, this time with Bruno Ganz’ Hitler screaming about the news media’s breathless over-coverage of the Balloon Boy hoax.

These days, you really are nowhere in the cultural landscape if you haven’t been referenced and had the piss taken out of you by ridiculous subtitles laid over this 2004 Oscar nominated film.  Type “Hitler Downfall” into YouTube’s search box and you’ll get 2,280 hits.  People have re-edited this clip to make Hitler rail on everything from Twitter’s server fail to Michael Bay’sTransformers to Tony Romo dumping Jessica Simpson.  It’s become such a common reference point it’s even gone meta, with Hitler losing it over his discovery of all the Hitler parodies.

It will take a far smarter person than me to explain our collective subconscious enjoyment of seeing history’s most notorious villain alternatively simper and explode over the banal topics of everyday life.  But the simpler truth is that the internet, originally designed to link brainiacs involved in military research and development, now serves a far more noble purpose: enabling distant people–often complete strangers–to satisfy our deeply human need for connection.  And laughter.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Latest Web-Enabled Game: Worldwide-Hide-And-Seek

Most everyone does stupid stuff as a kid; you play games and try things with only the most minimal concern for personal safety (“Sure we were shooting each other with BB guns–but we were wearing shop goggles!”).  It’s the nature of kids–particularly boys–to chase a thrill, mindless of dangers or consequences.  It’s why my nephews wrestled on a sidewalk in their Sunday best outside a First Communion Ceremony…

The Jiffy Pop Has Landed...

The Jiffy Pop Has Landed...

But six year old Falcon Heene took this phenomenon to a whole ‘nother level yesterday…a level estimated between 8000′ and 8500’, according to Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden.

As the quickly-christened “Balloon Boy,” he owned CNN for five hours…

He earned a minute-by-minute blog on the NY Times…

#Balloon Boy was Twitter’s #2 trending topic  yesterday, and was number one when aggregating all Balloon Boy variants.

Balloon Boy re-routed all of Colorado’s Northbound air traffic for fifteen full minutes…

In the cold light of a new day, the Balloon Boy may turn out to be a hoax–and he clearly never left the ground–but it’s head-spinning how he managed to garner national and even global attention so quickly.  Apparently the formula of GRAVE RISK TO A CHILD + FOCUSED ATTENTION & INTENTIONS + HAPPY FEEL GOOD RESOLUTION = CULTURE STOPPING MOMENT.  Of course, much like how the passing of any obsession brings up vague embarrassment over one’s outsized collective enthusiasm once the moment passes, a lot of people are backpedaling today.  Some are downright angry and considering pursuing potential charges.

Still, the notion of apply this lesson to create breakthrough for a product naturally crosses any marketer’s mind.  Imagine the impact such an event would have in the marketplace–imagining how truly awesome it could be to span our brutally-fragmented media environment with one compelling story…  It would solve so many media allocation issues.

But then, even if we could determine the precise factors behind this fast-rising phenomenon, we might not want to apply them to brands– the backlash risk would simply be too great and too virulent.

We’re glad Falcon’s safe.  But clearly, he’s no Captain Sully Sullenberger.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79