The Shadow of Digital’s Tactic-Heavy Origins Still Looms Large

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonYesterday, I served as a judge for the Effies. It’s an interesting awards show, one favored by many clients for it’s focus on outcomes and rewarding the combination of smart strategy and effective work to build businesses.

While I am honor-bound not to discuss specifics about the work we reviewed, our afternoon category proved as contentious as it was fascinating: Brand Experience.

The Brand Experience label applies to an admittedly broad swath of work, none of which can have traditional media like TV, radio or print central to their efforts. Instead, “It is to showcase how you can create a brand experience beyond traditional advertising.” And so we judged viral films and digital events and social media programs.

After reviewing five or six finalists and then discussing our impressions of them, it became painfully clear that the much-desired metrics on this medium are far from established.

Is it Facebook likes? Does anyone even care about those, or any other engagement scores? Is it sales, and can you isolate one experience from the rest of a marketing plan and calculate its impact?

Listening to the various judges debate, I wondered if this emerging category even has a place in something as Key Performance Index-focused as the Effies. And I couldn’t help but notice that the tactic heavy bulk of so much digital marketing creates an intrinsic bias against anything less linear than simple cause and effect. From the debates I heard, any digital brand experience that’s not entirely outcome based becomes almost indefensible as a media investment. Which is strange since brands flourished on softer,opinion-enhancing TV brand advertising for decades.

Does this mean there’s no room for suggestion in digital marketing? No place online for simple inspiration? As mature as digital advertising has finally become to most advertisers, its sad to realize that many cannot see beyond the most cudgel-like focus on raw metrics. And lacking those, cannot see the value of true brand experiences simply for experience sake.

Of course logic has its place. Metrics provide valuable feedback in a world driven by ROI. And yet I can’t help thinking the biggest decisions we make as human beings—who to marry, where to live, whether or not to go to war—are driven by emotion, not reason.

No matter how trackable we like to believe the digital medium is, digital advertisers cannot afford to ignore that.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

We Live Amidst An Unprecedented Tsunami of Digital Information…Assuming You Consider Instagram Snaps of Pancakes “Information”

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingI saw an item on HuffPost last night that credited IBM for noting that humanity generates over 2.5 quintillion bytes of information every day.

If you’d like that spelled out, it’s 2,500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. Rather a lot…

All this information means that ninety percent of the world’s data has been generated in the past two years.

Which really means I can close this blog post by noting “wiggling cacti are indigenous shirkers” and it won’t make a lick of difference.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

PS: For four years in the 80’s, Steve Steigman’s iconic “Blown Away” poster for Maxell Tapes hung in my dorm room. If you’re interested, you can buy it, unbastardized, here.

The Launch of Bauer’s New Campaign: Another Reason Why I Moved To Minneapolis and Olson

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingOn Monday, Advertising Age wrote about our launch of Bauer’s first new brand campaign since 1996. Their angle was how we adjusted our creative in light of the NHL lockout, shifting the focus from our roster of A-list professional stars to our core brand community of young hockey players. It was a nice article. And it was really nice when and ESPN’s Darren Rovell also picked it up.

My own angle would be far different. I’ve launched many brand campaigns during my career, but as a TV storyteller, I’m thrilled to be part of a major brand campaign that launched digitally.  On Bauer’s website. And Facebook page. And it’s been exciting and validating to watch how it’s spreading in the Bauer brand community. #ownthemoment is getting a lot of play on Twitter, even beyond our ice hockey community.

At Olson, we talk about the importance of communities to brands; how their endorsements shortcut the traditional sales funnel, how word of mouth is a powerful new media platform and mostly, how activating a brand community can help shape and improve a brand’s bottom-line.

It’s no coincidence that over the past seven years, the Bauer brand community helped grow this tired old brand that once stood a distant third to become number one in every category: sticks, skates, pads, helmets (and honestly, can you even name three hockey brands?). That’s a tremendous accomplishment that wasn’t done through a huge spend but rather targeted community engagement, giving them relevant content and themes to share with their friends, all of which added credence to Bauer’s credibility as the true brand in hockey.

But what’s most exciting are our plans to later launch the TV portion of the advertising. We’ve already cut a nice :60 brand spot featuring amateurs and pros alike, but we won’t air that version first. Instead, we are running a contest where we invite our community to share personal video showing how they own the moment: in practice, in games, while traveling, wherever.  We are collecting and sharing their footage and the kicker is, we will edit some of this community-sourced footage into our broadcast debut spot.

In other words, our brand community will both shape our message, and then, further spread it as the winners notify their own networks about when to see them in a Bauer TV spot.

This is film doing more. This is TV with no dead ends. And this is exactly why I came to Olson: to learn, to grow, to reinvent. It’s really, really exciting.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Powering Down…

People blog for all sorts of reasons; the discipline of daily writing, the joy of self expression, the fleeting sensation of relevance when a couple hundred people read a post. Over the past two years, I’ve blogged every weekday for all those reasons and one far more important: to keep up. Or perhaps more accurately, to catch up.

I’ve enjoyed a terrific career making advertising but three years ago, when my prior agency’s fortunes changed suddenly and radically, I looked up and realized the world had changed while I was busy making TV campaigns. I had largely ignored the biggest revolution in marketing: the pervasiveness of digital screens, the stunningly-swift adoption of social networks and the increasing presence of mobile marketing.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingI started blogging everyday to force myself to explore all these emerging platforms and immerse myself in the new reality. As Facebook continued to work it’s way every deeper into our lives, I started to recognize how social networks can provide savvy brands with crowdsourced PR. I was amazed how transparent and public people had become, sharing remarkable details of their personal lives. I learned about search and geo-tagging and the seamy creepiness behind unchecked online tracking. And I probably saw more than my fair share of virals and flashmobs and public self-destruction at the hand of Twitter.

I learned a lot, both by actively searching for subjects to discuss and happily, by reading comments posted and emailed from smart people offering their own points of view.  It’s been wonderful catching up.

But I gotta cut back. We’re doing lots of interesting things up here in Minneapolis, expanding the agency as we build and activate all sorts of brand communities for a wide range of clients. And I need to dedicate more time to that process.

So thanks for reading, thanks for your attention, thanks for your help. Going forward, I’ll post every now and then–habits can be tough to break–but my pace is definitely gonna slow.

Because advertising’s pace certainly isn’t.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Why The Entertainment Factor of Digital Marketing Matters More Than Ever

We all know the jibes that go back and forth among different camps in the marketing world… “Brand advertising is dead–experience drives brands today.” “TV is not dead, it’s still the single fastest mass awareness medium no matter what the Twitterverse believes.” “Digital may be measurable, but all that means is now coupons live online–whoopee.”

But like all sarcasm, each insult contains a grain of truth, even if it’s ridiculously exaggerated.

When it comes to digital efforts, you must start by realizing that anyone online is only ever two clicks away from sports, gossip. comedy, prOn–the endless parade of distraction that makes up the world wide web. You must be relentlessly self-interested, but the self in question here is their self not yours.  Or your brand’s.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingAnd worse, you also must realize that you’re vying for attention amidst a Niagara-esque deluge of digital information that anyone even remotely plugged in deals with these days.  Our computers, our phones, our iPads–every platform presents endlessly renewed tsunamis of information and distraction. Which makes even something as light as Facebook both a joy and a chore.

But that’s anecdotal research. Now some smart people, the kind who probably wear lab coats, have actually done studies on the subject. Not surprisingly, their results match how most of us feel: we can’t quite keep up.

Of the people polled by for their April Digital Lifestyle survey (download it here), almost half admitted to being connected to the web  “from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed.”  Oh man…  Worse, nearly three-quarters of them called their data stream “a roaring river”, “a flood”, or “a massive tidal wave.”

This access is literally changing human behavior. Over three quarters of us regularly respond to emails on nights and weekends, half of us never turn our cell phones off, and perhaps worst of all, 40% ignore family and friends with over 35% answering work emails while with our kids.

And technology will only increase that data stream.

So the real hard question to ask is this:  is your idea worthwhile enough so it can pull people away from their friends and kids without making them resent you?


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson



You’re Doing It Wrong: Botching the Beautiful Potential of Digital Marketing

The promise of online marketing–all that immediate access to the pertinent information you want, served up within a context of relevant content, targeting to dayparts and geographies–even climate conditions or news events–all that promise still exists.

Unfortunately, it exists in the same reality as miracle diet pills: a wonderful idea we have yet to realize.  Which may explain the dismal findings of a Zussi Research survey prepared for this weekend’s ad:tech London, a series dedicated to next generation digital marketing.  The key finding was that consumers consider most online ads ‘annoying’ and ‘ill-constructed.’  In comparison, they found traditional advertising more informative, entertaining and necessary.  Nearly 70 percent believed traditional advertising was relevant, compared with 45 percent for online.  Worse, among 25-34 year olds, that gap widens to 81 percent for traditional versus 53 percent for online.  And perhaps worst of all, annoyance over advertising on the web is twice as high online as offline; consumers say that digital ads represent a bigger unwanted distraction for them.

Whoops.  That wasn’t how it was supposed to go.Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79And yet it makes perfect sense.  Consumers don’t get caught up in platforms and communication methodologies: all that matters is relevance and engagement.  You can deliver that on a matchbook cover if you have the right idea.

The real reason behind this eye-opening reset of assumptions lies in execution.  Or more specifically, over-execution.  ComScore says the web was littered with a little over a trillion banner ads last year.  A trillion!  That’s 1,000,000,000,000: a Federal Government sized number.  You couldn’t count to that in a year.  And Facebook alone places more than 50 billion of those banners…each month.

Which means advertisers are foolishly substituting tonnage for quality.  Even the most ideal digital context can’t salvage a lame idea, not in a world where our greatest surplus is distraction.  And when advertisers resort to pop-ups, pop unders and other annoying tricks, they’re just driving away their potential market.

The promise of online marketing is still very, very real.  The affordability, the targeting, the possibilities for deeper, more meaningful engagement have been brilliantly tapped by a few, but the majority lags far behind.

Either because they don’t have a clue or a particularly worthwhile idea.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


A Call To Creatives From Every Discipline: Converge Now!

The ongoing debate over who should lead the next iteration of marketing creativity has grown exhaustingly tiresome.  Anyone who still spends their energy debating the relative merits of digital or traditional creativity is wasting precious time.  Today, the only true going-forward solution must be convergence.

The metrics-orientation and experience-centric mindset of digitally-trained creatives must mash up with the video-centric expertise of traditionally-trained creatives to create something wholly new to truly drive sales in today’s marketplace.  Right now, neither has the upper hand.  Neither can claim sole ownership or any real competitive advantage.  The only way forward is collaboration and cooperation as we forge something truly relevant for these instant access, highly-distracted times.

Matt Kaplan, the Chief Strategy Officer for VisibleGains, presents one of the most cogent arguments for this notion in this terrific article from MediaPost last week.  His post outlines a number of practical ways that our use of video must evolve to serve the realities of today’s fragmented messaging market and diverse target audiences.  Matt’s B2B discipline and sensitivity to the buyer-led world rings clearly through many of his points, yet his overall message speaks to a far broader audience of marketing creatives.

Simply put, video has been and will remain an incredible engagement medium.  But anyone who believes that begins and ends with broad awareness messaging platform of television commercials shortchanges the real opportunity presented by that medium today.  People respond viscerally to video–no surprise in a culture that far prefers the immediate sensation of a multi-sensory engagement over the intellectual reasoning of the written word.  More importantly, Google values video as a powerful driver of search rankings, so marketers that expand their use of video into more specialized communications benefit on exponential levels.

The Video As Sledgehammer Medium Party is Over

The Video As Sledgehammer Medium Party is Over

If we continue to treat video as a broad sledgehammer, we miss the many layered opportunities for deeper, more persuasive engagement.  Video can serve as a laser, targeted and tailored to engage various types of prospects along their path to commitment.  Tapping into the vast data engine of the web and developing more targeted messages against various personas, can lead to a use of video that is both more expansive and more specific.

To date, most digital companies have yet to escape their origins as an updated take on classic direct response marketing.  Similarly, the majority of traditional agencies still seem hamstrung as they cling to a dangerously singular faith in broad reach awareness-focused brand messaging.  Neither approach addresses the complete picture and leverages the new possibilities of modern media consumption.

But we can move to something new.  We can consider multiple targets for our video messages and expand our production shoots to gather content far more in tune with how and where buying decisions are made.  By expanding what we shoot and how we edit and repurpose it for a wider variety of uses and target opportunities, we can take video into new worlds of unprecedented persuasion based on deep consumer empathy and customized messaging.

This is where advertising’s future lies, in the converged middle, where laser-targeted video messages impact far more people far more effectively, despite the broad scatter of disaggregated and fragmented audiences.

Kaplan’s suggestions provide an initial, rudimentary roadmap.  If we expand our current concept of video-based advertising creativity to adopt new possibilities, the best of both disciplines can come together to create something entirely new.  And exciting.  And effective.

If we open up our minds to new ways to innovate the medium, reinventing both uses and expectations, we can soar far beyond the limits of partisanship over yesterday’s debates. It is a scary time in advertising these days, but change can also be a time of unprecedented growth.

Convergence is an imperative.  Expanded thinking is critical.  Today, if you’re not learning, you’re dying.  It really is as simple as that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): Advertising Is Magic

Guest Blogger: Tom NapperPicture 2

Tom Napper is our Director of Digital at Element 79, but that hardly describes his real mission; what Tom does better than anyone in his field is drive convergence in constant practical ways.  For years, agencies wrestled with the best way to integrate online expertise into traditional creative development.  Instead of theory, Tom does that everyday through immersion and a calming understanding that, in the end, all that really matters in digital or any medium is the power of ideas.  Our recent awards for interactive creative at the Addy’s, D&AD, and New York Festivals all bear Tom’s influence.  For the past fifteen years, starting at Accenture and then on to Chemistri, Burnett and WhittmanHart, Tom has strengthened brands’ relationship with their customers in the digital marketing space, from Harley-Davidson and their owner/travellers to the KISS nation and the band.  With experience on everything from Secret to the US Army, Adidas, Quaker and Gatorade, Tom connects people, brands and minds.  Our agency deeply appreciates his willingness to commute down from Milwaukee, bringing us his insights and experience across the Cheddar Curtain…

Say what you want about what we do but I think it is magic. We take everyday things and do something remarkable with them. Our creative invokes a sense of wonder or curiosity: “What the heck was that?”

As a geeky kid in Connecticut, I was an amateur magician. I was paid so I guess I was a pro but that would put me in the league with Houdini and I was nowhere near that.

One of my best tricks was the coin-in-the-matchbox trick. Maybe everyone knows how this is done, but back when I was doing the cocktail party/birthday party circuit, it amazed even the most skeptical person. I would ask for a coin, telling the audience member they could mark it however they wanted. I remember one time a guy spent ten minutes marking his coin. When the guy was done marking it, I dropped the coin into my left hand pocket and pulled out of my right hand pocket a match box. You know, the big cardboard ones that have a bunch of matches in them. The box was secured with a bunch of rubber bands. I handed the matchbox to the guy (or anybody) to open up. What they found inside was not the coin but a series of five increasingly smaller matchboxes that were bound with rubber bands. The final box was about 2×3 and covered in rubber bands. Inside that box was a pouch that was secured at the top with another rubber band like a very tiny money bag.  Inside that pouch was the coin.  It freaked people out.

What was so great about this trick was that it used props that everyone had seen before. I let them handle every part of the trick. They could inspect the rubber bands, the boxes, the pouch, the coin. As I made more money doing magic, I tried buying fancier tricks from magic shops, but those tricks looked like tricks and people weren’t as satisfied. They liked my tricks that used everyday things, like their stocking caps to pull a bird out of or stuff like that.

MagicOkay, so what does this have to do with advertising? See I got into this field because I liked making something really cool, things that surprised people. The internet really helped with that. People logged into their computers and holy smokes; there was AT&T with a castle and a frog at their front door.

Our clients want magic to happen constantly. They want that magic moment where eyeballs turn to their table. If our clients were out there standing in the grocery store trying to get someone to buy their product, you bet they’d want a magician. That’s who we are. We take everyday objects or intersections or actions and surprise people. Sometimes we literally surprise them and they are surprised by how we’ve made them feel. We usually do this not by some fancy trick but by using things people know and relate to.

Working in the digital space, I’m constantly asked about the latest thing and how we can use it and what is it all about. In those conversations, what people really want to know is how is everyone else using it?  Until we know that…well, it is hard to find out what the surprise will be and how to create the magic.

One of the things I learned by being a magician was that it isn’t the fancy stuff that made you good, it was what you did with the normal stuff. We fall down when we start turning to the magic stores to supply our tricks. The trick or the surprise isn’t in the things that people haven’t seen before, it is in the cool ways we make the things everyone has seen before act. Everybody is talking about convergence and to my way of thinking, that is just about opening up and looking around. Digital is a space were we all can play. The best minds making creative in TV, print and radio can make really great creative in digital.

The digital space allows us to surprise and freak people out on so many levels because its reach is so great. What is freaky about Twitter today will be old news in about two months. But how the crazy creatives use Twitter to freak us out?  That has no time frame.

The digital space allows us so much flexibility because it is so fluid. What is out of reach today will be normal after you turn the page on your Kindle. And that is just so cool, right?  It can be frustrating to feel the sand moving under your toes, but the next wave is coming for you to body surf into shore. Paying attention and listening is what the best folks in the digital space are doing.

So what I love about this magical thing called advertising is that I can surprise you by pulling a lion out of my hat today, but tomorrow, through the magic of internet, I can make a lion eat your tweet.

Well, not really.  Not yet.  But wouldn’t that freak you out?

by Tom Napper, Element 79

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): Fastest. Smartest. Wins.

Guest Blogger: Tim Mauery

Picture 1

Until a few weeks ago, Tim Mauery was a Senior Partner and Director of Planning at JWT Chicago, but his career in advertising has taken him through a number of shops and more remarkably, a broad variety of disciplines.  After graduating from Medill, he began his career at Backer & Spielvogel as a copywriter, creating spots 1-257 of the Dave Thomas campaign for Wendy’s. He then moved to the account side with Ammirati & Puris, helping craft the strategy that led to the “Priceless” campaign.  Eventually, he moved on into business development with JWT, over to integrated and digital development at Euro RSCG and then back to lead planning at JWT before ultimately helping shut off the lights at that legendary shop.  Currently between gigs, Tim’s active curiosity and deep knowledge and experience in advertising keeps him lecturing at Northwestern, Kansas and Oberlin College, not to mention coordinating his three daughters’ active calendars in Park Ridge.  Speaking from personal experience, Tim’s also simply a damn fine fellow.

Due to the bizarre closing of JWT Chicago (fodder for another guest entry someday), I have recently been pounding lots of pavement in these economically challenging times.

Let me state the obvious:  “wow, things are different out there.” 

It’s been five years since I interviewed for a job, and those five years have bred mucho change.  Some more obviousness (is that a word?): the economy is a mess, particularly for advertising folks.  And yes, the new world of media – and the confusion around who does what – has left agencies scratching their heads while scrambling.  But it’s quite apparent to me that the intersection of those two factors will change the agency business forever – even after the economy recovers, and new media (whatever that is this week) is no longer new.

Each and every agency I have chatted with– from lumbering behemoths to scrappy start-ups — is trying to figure out how to make money in the face of rising client demands and lower revenue.  Not only has the economy caused clients to cut fees, the explosion of new media outlets has introduced said clients to new kinds of agencies – agencies that charge less and work on faster timelines.  These client-types wonder why they pay so much, and wait so long, for the work being done by “traditional” shops.  As a result, they are either re-assigning work to “cheaper faster” shops, or lowering their fees for work done by mainline agencies.

Now, this isn’t fair.  Because we all know that the traditional shops do lots of heavy strategic and creative lifting – from brand positioning to broad creative platforms, and everything in-between.  Without that strategic and creative acuity, the other agencies wouldn’t be able to perform so quickly or cheaply.  But life isn’t fair; the world is changing and agencies need to change as well.

Speed To Smarts

It seems to me that what these agencies need can be summed up with the notion “speed to smarts.”  Mainline agencies cannot give up being the smartest; they just have to do it more quickly.  When they are smarter faster, they will realize a higher margin.  And each time they’re the smartest fastest, they’ll get another chance to make a high margin, since clients will reward them with more work.  How are agencies going to get smarter faster?  Who knows, but I do know that those who get there first will win.

What does this mean to agency folk?  The ones who succeed will adopt an “impact mentality.”  They’ll actively seek to make a quicker difference; to see results faster.  They won’t just “work on” an account or “work for” an agency –nor will they float from meeting to meeting or project to project.  They will channel their energy, their restlessness, and their passion into making things happen.  And they certainly won’t be bound by the walls of their job description or their department; they’ll have the ability to play wherever, and whenever needed.  And at the end of the day, each and every day, they will be able to say to themselves, “this is what I made happen today”.

Smarter/Faster – first one in, wins.

By Tim Mauery, Planning Business Develoment, Kantor Wassink   

PS:  As of July 20, Tim began working with KantorWassink.  Proof again that talent never stays on the sidelines for long.  Bully Tim and good move KantorWassink.