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

A Lesson In Lemonade Making, From Sammy Stephens

What Could YOU Do With This? 


What Could YOU Do With This?

Take a look at this place. Take a good long look.  This is Flea Market Montgomery, a roadside strip mall built on the cheap, all 73,000 square feet slavishly adhering to the aesthetic of ‘how little per?’  To put it charitably, this is an unassuming business.

But not to Sammy Stephens.  Not to a guy who started out renting booth space there in 2000 and a few years later, bought it outright.  A former AM disc jockey on local stations, Sammy has a love for music and a promoter’s soul.  And through his singular focus and one dubious rap, Sammy extolled the virtues of his Flea Market on radio and television, announcing to the world how his spacious selling floor “is just like, is just like, a mini-mall.”  Dig it.

His ad’s production values are the video equivalent of something pulled off a middle school mimeograph machine–sloppy and decidedly low-fi.  In fact, many websites declare this “The Worst Ad on TV”  though the folks at the Effies might beg to differ. Because this rap has travelled far beyond the local cable market in Montgomery, Alabama, to achieve legendary status on the web.  Go to YouTube and you’ll find dozens of parodies, mash-ups and Super Cuts, all using Sammy and his Flea Market Montgomery rap.  My favorite takes the Pet Shop Boys’ “Minimal” and mashes in a Sammy vibe, mostly by adding another “L.”  Genius.  More locally, the Smithe Brothers of Walter E. Smithe hitched their wagon to Sammy’s internet sensation in this clever interpretation for their decidedly more upscale furniture stores.

After tens of millions of views, Sammy’s rap earned him a spot on The  Ellen Degeneres Show.  In what deserves to be the greatest textbook case of bootstrap integration, Sammy has cobbled together this notoriety into quite an adhoc media plan, starting with his own webpage.  It doesn’t look like it’s been updated too recently, but it’s hard to imagine Sammy has a big staff tending to his brand and helping him produce those ‘Just Like a Mini-Mall’ CDs.  No, it’s probably just him, bartering a dinette set for some web development, a loveseat for a couple of t-shirt designs.

Yet unlike many big companies currently tripping all over themselves and throwing money around hoping to understand how to approach the one-to-one social media experience, Sammy seems to get that intuitively.  Because he’s a social kind of guy.  Check out this fan-produced video captured during a chance encounter at an Applebee’s.  Though he’s off his home turf, Sammy stays on message, delivering his signature rap and closing with some merchandise.

That’s a personal connection, that’s one-to-one marketing, and whether or not you think his jingle possesses any redeeming value, I’ll freely admit, I’m a fan.  I admire this guy a great deal.  He doesn’t intellectualize his brand, he lives it.  

And makes some sweet, sweet lemonade.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79