Social is Visual

Todays MediaPost reports that HubSpot, creators of software for inbound marketers, released a new study on social engagement which found, perhaps not surprisingly, that using visuals on Facebook Pages boosted response and engagement.

Their methodology was pretty simple–take about 9,000 B2B and B2C company posts and  compare Likes-per-photo vs Likes-per-posts.  Not only did photos earn 53% more Likes than average, they also earned 104% more comments.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, Olson

Courtesy of Awkward Stock Photos

This follows the simple trend of our culture’s increasingly visual orientation.  The Facebook community uploads nearly 300 million photos every day and marketers who want to be relevant need to think visually as well.  Just please lord, don’t let this lead to a crush of vapid stock photography usage.

Then again, maybe that will help Mark Zuckerberg create huge demand so he can start to monetize his Instagram investment and sell businesses all of those photos…  Hmm…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


Two Posts: Two Conflicting Opinions

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonThis morning, my friend Matt Burgess forwarded the latest blog entry from the AdContrarian: the ridiculously well-opinioned Bob Hoffman of Hoffman/Lewis who regularly writes really interesting perspectives on the ad business (I should try to do that myself…). He argues quite persuasively that Facebook, with all it’s massive data and reach, is pursuing a misguided business strategy. As he puts it, “Facebook is the only media company in the universe that reaches a billion people on a regular basis but seems determined to sell cheesy $2 ads to dentists.” Ouch. He goes on to make a number of very astute observations regarding the nature of engagement and conversion, specifically that interactivity is the enemy of advertising since most people interact to avoid advertising, not play with it, unless they are looking for something. He makes a number of other really good points, all of which led to a healthy discussion in the agency.

Then, around 4;30 this afternoon, Rich Routman posted a blog on MediaPost lamenting that connected TV had yet to really find an audience. He figured it would take a long time before it becomes a dominant form of programming consumption. With less than half of connected TV owners using their internet connections, clearly there’s a lot of confusion. A lot will have to change, especially for us to use it for something other than the obvious Netflix streaming.

Or is there? Maybe Bob Hoffman is right. Maybe people will only use connected TV’s interactivity to avoid advertising (i.e.: streaming Netflix) making nothing else really worthwhile…

But either way, this future predictability is turning out to be quite the challenge.


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


360º Marketing: Nice Idea, Totally Unrealistic

I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday and she copped to the fact that she was sick of hearing about 360º marketing, simply because in her experience, it’s pure fiction.  And if you give it a moment’s thought, you’ll realize she’s got a point.

The idea of surrounding someone with advertising messages, of earning her attention in every medium at every moment is not simply absurd, it’s kind of creepy.  More importantly, it’s fiscally impossible.  Even automakers don’t have the kinds of advertising budgets that can even approach omnipresence anymore.  We have to be more choiceful.

The question of where, when and how to engage our consumers has never presented a greater challenge: in a dis-integrated media environment, it’s never been harder to select which opportunities to present our products in an engaging, relevant way.

It’s never been harder.  And it’s never been more important either.

The wiser way to think of targeting an audience is not the indiscriminate metaphor of a daisy-cutter bomb, but rather a series of purposeful rifle shots.

Actually, after typing that, it’s clear the first thing we should jettison is militaristic jargon.  Yeech…  So instead of the loudspeaker announcement to a disengaged general population, let’s arrange more opportunities to shake hands and introduce ourselves.

That’s so much more neighborly.  And social.  And welcome.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Record Television Viewership Numbers and the Struggle Between Active and Passive

It happened again…

Another Nielsen Report came out Tuesday claiming that Americans watch more TV today than ever before: a staggering average of four hours and forty-nine minutes a day.  If that number doesn’t smack you upside your metaphoric head, it should at least mildly unsettle you.  If nothing else, it can’t be very good for the GDP.  Or our national struggle with obesity.

1 of 12,305 Creative Commons "TV Watching" Images on Flickr

1 of 12,305 Creative Commons "TV Watching" Images on Flickr

Advertisers won’t be thrilled by this revelation either.  Over the last four years, major marketers have migrated away from television and into new media for a wide variety of reasons (cost) that help them get around the engagement issue (and cost) because really, how can anyone pay attention to TV for that length of time (and how about those costs?).

The Nielsen numbers raise a few unsettled industry issues: the confusion about our splintered media environment, the difficulty in assessing ROI across various platforms, and even the kneejerk CMO dismissal of television as a dated medium.  The fact is television is not dated so much as confusing.  Prime-time viewing remains basically flat, but it’s still at it’s highest levels since the pre-net days of 1991.  Unfortunately for that once-dominant medium, the programming options are endless and the cost of production and placement dwarf the cost of digital options.

And what about engagement?  How receptive to your thirty-second spot (or god forbid, fifteen second blipvert) is the mind of someone vegging out in front of the tube for nearly five hours a day?  Besides, with that TV-watching schedule, when would they ever have time for shopping?

As opposed to the passive TV audience, the online audience actively seeks information.  Digital engagement levels are exponentially higher than television.  But then again, with all the distractions available across hundreds of billions of web pages, why should they engage with you and your message?

In the end, whether you seek passive or active audiences, the only true engagement technique at any marketer’s disposal is a powerful idea.  You can study those, analyze those, and even run the numbers on them–but so far, you can’t write a program to generate them.

Ideas can come from anywhere, and that’s a very good thing.  Because in an increasingly confusing world battered by cost and fragmentation, we will need more and better ones.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Facebook Fan Pages Make Perfect Sense When Your Brand Actually Has Fans

Picture 1According to an item in Mediapost, the NHL will unveil it’s new fan page on Facebook later this afternoon.  The screengrab of it looks beautiful; loaded with continually-updated content and highly interactive, it resembles nothing so much as their own website.  And that’s a very good thing.

The press release makes a big deal about virtual gifts like digital jerseys and the updates where you send a friend to ‘the penalty box’–Facebook specific actions that link directly to the NHL property, but that’s mostly windowdressing.  Sure, you can send a drink or a flower or a poke, but as Facebook has moved from a virtual novelty to a widely-accepted social networking platform supplanting even e-mail for a large majority of users, that kind of ‘let’s pretend’ capability seems wildly besides the point.

The reason for the NHL–or any brand–to take an active stance on Facebook is to be part of a community that spends an increasing amount of time there, encouraging sharing and forwarding easily-accessible content.  Better still, the reason the NHL should find success with a Facebook fan page is because that brand already has fans.  Professional sports are built on the notion of fandom and rabid engagement.  Unfortunately, fandom is not intuitive for a brand like say, Odor Eaters.  Once you’ve reminded a friend that his sneakers stink, how else are you going to meaningfully interact with that brand?  In the end, brands like these inevitably make a big deal out of the number of friends they acquire, whether or not those friends have any active, ongoing engagement with the brand.

And that’s the point where marketers need to re-imagine.  Or at least reassess.  Because ten to one, that’s the point where brands sacrifice strategy for cheap affordable tactics.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On Engagement and the Search For Meaningful Metrics

Last week, Gene Liebel, a managing partner at Huge, wrote a terrific piece for Mediaweek that took a skeptic’s view of engagement as the ‘metric du jour’ for success in digital projects.  As someone who has a turnkey presentation titled “Engagement is the New Black,” I read Gene’s article with a decidedly vested interest.  What was most interesting is that he doesn’t discount the importance of engagement; he simply doesn’t believe it is an accurate indicator of the ultimate metric of in-market success.  He considers engagement more of a ‘side effect’ and offers very strong cautionary arguments for anyone who would make it the end goal.

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Possibly the strongest point he makes–and one that’s not surprising coming from a User Experience expert–is how optimizing an e-commerce web site to make finding products easier will actually reduce page views and time on site, both of which are key measures of engagement.  At the same time, that type of optimization will increase a site’s conversion rate dramatically as visitors find what they need more quickly.  So even though engagement falls, sales increase–a powerful argument against making engagement your end goal.  Liebel contends consumers rarely invest time ‘engaging’ with brands anyway; when consumers visit sites, they have specific, practical needs–whether that’s information or purchasing.  Staying on a site longer does not necessarily correlate to deeper engagement–it could just indicate that consumers must dig deeper to accomplish what they want–a strong negative.

What he’s really arguing for–just like so many other leaders in the field today–is a better measure of value.  In a difficult economy that continues to squeeze marketing budgets, we need to arm our client partners first with programs that work and then with solid proof that those programs work.  As data points continue to improve (Google claims 85% of all media will be trackable by 2012), we will need new measures of our programs’ in-market effects.  More importantly, we will need multi-dimensional measures; today’s socially-networked world of mass-channel opinion requires a new measure of the combined impact of both paid and earned media, and how that drives sales.

Sales may be the ultimate metric for brands, but accountability remains the ultimate metric for agencies.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Detroit Doesn’t Need Ads, It Needs Documentaries. And Transparency.

So I was quoted in the latest issue of Newsweek

And I’m trying to be cool about it, but this kind of thing doesn’t happen everyday.  I considered spending the morning riding the El around the Loop with the issue open on my lap, saying things a bit too loudly like “Now here’s an interesting point of view” or “This fellow seems to have something to say…”

The Big Story Is On Page 29

The Big Story Is On Page 29

It’s flattering to be asked for commentary by a national magazine, but it’s also an inevitable compromise: you talk to a journalist for twenty minutes or so and from all that, they select a single sentence that supports the point they need to make.  It’s not that they misquote you; it’s simply that the story you hope to tell rarely matches the story they are telling.

Under the headline “Turn This Lemon Into Lemonade”, Newsweek writer Matthew Phillips asks six advertising people for their perspectives on the challenge of selling GM and Chrysler cars today.  My quote reads “Show me plants shutting down, let me hear from the workers…  That story’s powerful.”  I definitely said that; the sad reality that America has shifted from manufacturing to service sector jobs bums me out and the long list of sins by boneheaded corporate and union management that led us here is soul-suckingly demoralizing.

But the larger point I’d hoped to make was that Detroit doesn’t need another ad right now–and certainly not more over-produced anthems like the “Reinvention” spot currently airing.  This kind of clever speechifying, as much as it approaches a mea culpa admission of errors, still feels like more of the same: the requisite slowly-building rock track, the irrelevant NHL and NFL clips, the timelapse of seedlings sprouting, the barn raisings and sweaty-brow moppings–all of it reeks of yet another round of highly-polished obfuscation.

But as tough as things currently are, somewhere among GM’s 235,000 employees good people have great ideas and workable plans to change things: to improve fuel economy and engine reliability, to streamline production and lower mistakes, to ratchet up aesthetics and bend metal into forms that make pulses pound again.  Those stories need to be told, specifically and with rich detail.  We need to know what GM is doing right now, today, this moment, to change their fortunes and set their ship right.  These stories don’t require massive film crews and Panavision cameras to tell; in fact, they are far more effective without them.  The honesty of documentary storytelling focused on sharing a constant stream of new stories would be far more effective than a few super slick generalizations.

Detroit does still need the massive reach of compelling television commercials to get their story out–but they should be producing great television commercials that not only turn heads on air but drive people to deeper, more complete engagement online with opportunities to weigh in and share their own opinions.  Things like new car designs excite people–GM and Chrysler should share those and invite responses from the public, conducting polls and encouraging debate.

What Detroit needs now more than anything else is transparency.  The time of an all-controlling, monolithic monopoly has passed; that mentality simply can’t sustain in today’s information-saturated culture.  Moreover, truly leveraging modern manufacturing requires sharing and openness–unless Detroit starts to encourage their secondary suppliers to bring their own technologies to the task of improving performance, their cars will remain deeply compromised.  Detroit management simply must get over their outdated need to control all aspects of production.  That scene of the barn raising in their current spot brings to mind a very relevant Amish expression: “Many hands make light work.”  Detroit can get further faster by changing from a vendor to a partner mentality, but they’ll have to do that quickly before they drive those smaller partners out of business.

America doesn’t want our car industry to fail.  Sure many of us are angry and consider this crisis largely self-inflicted, but still, we want GM and Chrysler to be strong.  Whether or not the government proves to be the answer, radical reinvention will have to be part of the solution.  And that must start with the mindset first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


PS:  I would like to thank all of the Element 79 contributors who kept collective-thinking fresh last week: Ryan, Lance, Kim, Todd, Amie and of course Brian, who was both incredibly generous and flattering in his comments and dead nuts right that I would have found a way to radically revise them had he shared his post in advance.

Dangerous, Dated Conceit #3: Assuming An Advertising Audience

We now work amidst a cavalcade of technological and social changes that actively assail the long-reliable notion of an aggregated audience for advertising messages.  Instead of simply worrying that some portion of the audience may leave to use the bathroom during their commercials, advertisers now face DVR’s, DVD’s, Hulu, hundreds of niche channels, and the ugly reality that in poll after poll, the number of respondents claiming to actively dislike or avoid advertising never dips below the mid sixties and frequently soars far higher.   TV viewers recognize advertising as the tax demanded for their free entertainment, but new technologies make it easier than ever to avoid them. Besides, who likes taxes?

Today's Audience Is Far From Captive

Today's Audience Is Far From Captive

Online advertising fares no better. Last year, the online pollsters at VIZU conducted a survey of 2000 internet users where 72% said they found advertising ‘annoying’ or ‘extremely annoying.’  Wow. Given the amount of free tools available to help people avoid our messages–RSS feeds, online aggregators–merely placing an ad means far less than it once did. And remember, this environment is a huge Brandfill: last year, advertisers threw up 3.6 trillion banner messages online. Written out, that’s 3,600,000,000,000.  In layman’s term, that’s a lot.

And as for print, well, we’ve been reading print’s obituary for the past five years now, although the stubborn cuss refuses to outright die.

As Howard Gossage, advertising’s own H.L. Mencken and a man who never once wrote a TV ad, was fond of saying “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads.  People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

When you can’t assume an audience, it forces you to adapt your strategy from informing first to engaging first.  Engagement must be the primary mission of advertising messages these days because now, more than ever before, the audience has options.

Be interesting first.  Being engaging is step one.  Without it, there is no step two.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Five Things I Learned Speaking In Madison Today

The Madison Advertising Federation

The Madison Advertising Federation


I drove the 143 miles to Madison today through light flurries (!) to speak at a luncheon put on by the Madison Advertising Federation.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I discussed convergence and Element 79’s experiences as we, like every other marketing entity in America, struggle to master these emerging mediums.  Preparing the speech proved rather reassuring: considering how the market tags us as a TV shop, we have a number of highly successful viral and social networking programs to highlight–always a good reminder.  Yes, despite what the creative head of Akqa might contend in public panels, traditionally trained creatives can create powerful integrated programs so long as they insure their idea includes meaningful and relevant interactivity.  Do that, and you don’t have to apologize to anyone about your background.  Hell, in three years, those of us fortunate enough to still be working in this industry will look back at these times and think how quaint it was back when we made such a distinction between offline and online marketing: those are simply media, our true business is ideas.

But that’s what I walked in knowing.  I walked out knowing a number of new things, particularly after fielding questions at lunch and a subsequent breakout session…

1.  I like people from Wisconsin.  Who doesn’t like people who are honest, direct, and polite?

2.  I only spoke about video-based virals.  One woman questioned whether viral existed–or could exist–in other media as well.  When you think about it, chain letters, certain health tips and pop culture jokes could qualify as viral as well.  This is probably a better question for Paul Rand and his word-of-mouth experts at Zocalo Group (

3.  Everyone worries about shrinking ad budgets.  And reallocation of dollars away from their specialty.

4.  A lot of people work in business-to-business advertising and wonder how viral and digital can help their clients.  Given the specificity of the target, viral and social network solutions could be particularly powerful.  I referenced the classic story about Google (this excerpt taken from Inc.:  “The quintessential employer brand is Google. In 2004, the company posted obscure math problems on billboards in several major cities. Any enterprising math geek who could solve the equation was directed to Google’s hiring website. The billboards drew a lot of press attention as well as thousands of resumés.”  Speaking so selectively identifies individuals as members of a Godin-like tribe, and everyone likes to be on the inside.  Additionally, to establish themselves as a leader, doctors or lawyers could start blogging.

5.   Everyone, from agency types to designers to specialty in-house creatives, misses having media partners right down the hall.  Holding companies may have aggregate buying power, but they inadvertently destroyed knowledge centers.  Pity that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79