Today’s Example of How Creativity Pays

Ad agencies struggle to convince clients to pay for creativity, mostly because we gave it away for years, trusting television’s healthy margins to more than cover the cost of development. And so we inadvertently devalued our industry’s one core asset that spans medium and format: the idea.

Which is why it’s so fun to hear the story of Max Lanman, who recently decided to help his girlfriend sell her car online. Actually, he used her old Honda to produce his idea of making a luxury car commercial around a junky car. Her vehicle was one of a whopping 382,298 Accords produced in 1996, but now, twenty one years and 141,000 miles later, her “Greenie” shows its age…

The thing is, this spot’s fun but not especially hilarious. A similar used car ad spoof featured on this blog back in May used outsized visual effects to far more hysterical effect. Yet the simple fact that Max took the time, made the effort, and did something delightfully unexpected in a tired, uninspiring venues made his work shine.

It also paid off handsomely. Kelley’s Blue Book values the Honda at just over $1400. After posting the spot on YouTube last Thursday, Max and his girlfriend listed the Accord on eBay for $500.

By the weekend, the bidding hit $150,000, and eBay took the listing down, understandably concerned about “illegitimate bidding.”

Now it’s back up and bidding currently hovers around $4300: almost ten times their initial asking price and well above the Blue Book value. All because of Max’s creative idea and approach.

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eBay also released this statement: “Mr. Lanman is a talented filmmaker and we’re pleased that the eBay platform brought us together. We’re hoping to work on some creative video projects with him in the future.

Wow. Nice work Max. Well played.

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Meg Whitman Reminds Me of Us

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingNo, not the former eBay chief/billionaire business woman part.  That is completely foreign to me.

What reminds Meg Whitman of us was watching her quest to become the governor of California as it dragged on and on these past couple of months.  The media loved talking about how she spent a record-breaking $141.5 million of her own money chasing something that candidly, probably wasn’t the best fit for her anyway. Nevertheless, once she made that her mission, she invested countless hours and nearly all of her personal energy pursuing the privilege of leading the government of the nation’s most populous state.

On the surface of it, that sounds pretty good.  But when you look a bit deeper, you realize that California is wracked by all sorts of problems: an economy battered by the recession and the fallout from a housing industry gone bust, an unemployment rate of 12.5%, 1.4 million jobs lost in the past two years, swelling immigration and unsustainable budget deficits that will demand aggressive spending cuts.  Meg spent a record amount of money trying to get…that?  Why would anyone want that?

But looking back at some (key word: some) of the new business leads we’ve chased over the years, we advertising agencies have done the exact same thing.  We have poured our hearts and souls–and considerable cash–into the pursuit of new business leads for broken, dysfunctional businesses: CMO’s at war with their board members, management at war with their franchisees, businesses whose relevance had passed.  All of these potential clients invited us to pitch their business, to offer up free ideas and the investment of our nights and weekends to chase what could at best, only prove to be pyrrhic victories.

So yes, this morning,  I feel kinda bad for Meg.  Billionaire or not, you don’t plow through that kind of cash and not feel at least sorta awful.  For her sake, I wish she would have won.

But then again, I can’t help but wonder exactly what she would’ve won.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Yeah! It’s Election Day! We Can Almost Watch TV Again!

Yes we only have to grit our teeth and bear one more evening of this biennial horror show…  Just one last painfully-drawn out election season evening where all the networks do their breathless, time-honored live TV grind of reporting early precinct numbers and staging shots of incumbents doing their “I’m-just-casting-my-vote-like-an-ordinary-citizen-except-that-I-enjoy-exemptions-from-the-health-care-system-I-mandated” photo ops.  By the time the TV stations start cutting live to concession speeches from the losing candidates, I’m ready to accept a benevolent dictatorship if it would spare us this expensive, mud-slinging debasement of democracy.Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

“He lied about his military service!”  “She sent jobs overseas and voted to raise your taxes!”  “He is a lifelong Washington insider!”  “He voted Wall Street Fat Cats the biggest bailout in history!!”

Seriously, does anyone besides political writers really use the term “Fat Cats”?

Of course this months-long TV and radio crapfest does provide a very real stimulus package for the advertising industry.  The Campaign Media Analysis Group estimates that political ad spending will reach $3 billion this year, a ground-breaking number for a mid-term election.  In fact, that’s a full ten percent higher than the amount spent in 2008, which featured both congressional and presidential races.  Between last January’s Supreme Court strike down of corporate and union spending restrictions and self-financed campaigns by millionaires like eBay CEO Meg Whitman, the spend has never been higher.  Seriously Meg?  Spending $142 million on the race for California Governor?  Doesn’t that much money get you a “Buy Now” option?

But the one very bad thing about those particularly nasty ads is that a full 31% of voters say negative campaigns make them less interested in voting, according to an October Zogby International survey.  The memorably-named John Zogby himself says “Sometimes, discouraging people from voting can be part of the strategy if a campaign believes increased turnout will hurt their chances of winning.”

In which case, good citizens stay home and the political advertising dirtbags win.  That’s unacceptable.  So if you can, vote.  Personally, I plan to vote for that guy with the refreshing jingle that doesn’t once mention his opponent.  No, I don’t know that candidate’s voting record on the hill–just call me a sucker for a decent ad…

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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I Know The Latest On US Durable-Goods Orders, Consumer Spending, and First Time Jobless Claims Yet Still Know Nothing

Picture 2Funny thing about this massive internet data engine we all plug into: I have access to more information than ever and still don’t really know anything.  At least regarding the US economy; I do know way too much about pop culture, beer and bourbon.

That’s the thing about data—it’s not actual knowledge, only its unrefined ore.  Before you can leverage a fact, you need to convert it into something actionable, something larger: an outcome or a conclusion.

The only reason I’m chasing this tangent on a Wednesday morning is that in rapid fire succession, three different data points popped up in my inbox this morning:

1.  U.S. consumer spending up in October

2.  U.S. durable-goods orders dip in October

3.  First-time U.S. jobless claims decline to 466,000; stock futures get lift from data

I’m not exactly sure how or why I started getting these Marketwatch headlines on my email.  I mean, I know why Land’s End and Amazon and Ebay clog my inbox every single morning with an endless supply of largely indistinguishable offers, but Marketwatch?  Where did that come from?

Still, it’s news, I scan it, and much like the level of intellectual engagement one gets from the Captivate elevator screen, I leave with a bite-sized intellectual nugget to idly chew for the rest of the day.

Data may be king in the new economy, but the true power still resides in knowledge.  Dag, I gotta get me some more of that…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

This just in: October new-home sales rise, paced by gains in southern states.  (man, this stuff never stops…)

Opinion’s Omnipresence Renders Traditional Conceits Like “Brand Truth” and “Consumer Truth” Irrelevant

The HSBC 'Points of View' Campaign   

The HSBC ‘Points of View’ Campaign

For the past four years, HSBC has run a provocative poster campaign from JWT.  Using a brilliant media buy in high traffic airport jetways, the ads highlight paradoxical points-of-view.  Simple graphics and headlines illustrate the insight that people from different regions, backgrounds or cultures often view the same phenomena in vastly different ways.

More than anything, this campaign demonstrates the fungible nature of opinion; something that’s become all the more relevant with the massive informational and behavioral changes brought on by the pervasive, worldwide adoption of the participatory Web 2.0.  By most any measure, opinion’s recently emerged mass distribution channel makes it far more impactful than TV, print, and radio combined.  We may not think of it as a traditional medium per se, but we ignore it at our peril.  As word-of-mouth experts are fond of saying, as much as 92% of all purchase decisions are driven by recommendation, which is nothing more than vocalized opinion.  More importantly, opinions have never been easier to come by; out culture is literally awash in it.

Google “review of Pixar’s Up” and you get 3.6 million entries in .33 seconds…  Every product on Amazon features buyers’ ratings and other key retailers like iTunes, NetFlix and eBay encourage prominent feedback opportunities.  The crushing volume of blogs and soon the exponentially larger world of Tweets can be simply searched.  We even edit our own networks to match our personal opinions, watching Fox News, listening to Air America, or subscribing to magazines and blogs because they reflect our personal politics.  Opinion is literally everywhere and louder than it has ever been.

All of which threatens the relevance and usefulness of those long-held marketing saws ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth.’  What is ‘truth’ in a wold where opinion holds such dominance?  And whose truth?  Can there truly be a universal product or consumer truth?

Instead of the classic Venn diagram that guided years of integrated marketing by highlighting the intersection of ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth’ we now have one vastly larger, much less uniformly shaped universe of consumer opinion, with all of it’s variants, anomalies and conflict.  Brands are opinions–and so our agency job today is to determine not something as debatable as brand truth, but rather the Brand Authenticity (and yes, Authenticities) within all of that opinion and then help meld and coalesce them into a universally-accepted Brand Authenticity.

Do that, and you bring powerful alignment to the often warring worlds of paid and earned media.

At least, that’s my opinion…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79