Good News: Apollo 13 > COVID-19

Ron Howard’s 1995 movie Apollo 13 stands as a stirring reminder of the transcendent power of well-applied engineering. In one critical scene, Ed Harris playing NASA legend Gene Kranz learns of the imminent failure of the onboard CO2 filters. He eyes his engineers and admonishes them “Well I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a round peg into a square hole. Rapidly.”

In real life, a young Irishman named Colin Keogh is playing a similar role right now with the Open Source Ventilator project. The OSV is the latest initiative from The Rapid Foundation, a charitable organization Keogh co-founded at University College Dublin six years ago. The Rapid Foundation distributes 3D printing know-how to developing countries so people can apply low cost technology to solve problems.

In this case, the problem is daunting: the global ventilator shortage.

Low-cost robot designer Gui Calavanti launched the OSV on Facebook on March 11. Since then, more than 300 doctors, engineers, designers, nurses and venture capitalists around the world have contributed to the project. Major corporations like Accenture and Deloitte offered their R&D infrastructure for ideation and production, all in an effort to create a low-cost, rapid build solution using readily available materials and 3D printers.

And they’ve done it.

In one week, they’ve designed and built a working prototype they hope to get validated by Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) next week for use on Covid-19 patients. The 3D printing uses Polylactic Acid (PLA), a non-petroleum-based bioplastic derived from corn starch that can be manufactured anywhere.

Their timing is remarkable. And a godsend in the face of this pandemic.

The independent, U.S.-based Society of Critical Care Medicine estimates the pandemic will create demand for 960,000 ventilators. These machines augment patient respiration in severe cases of Covid-19 where lung inflammation can quickly become viral pneumonia. Ventilators literally make the difference between life and death, but they simply weren’t available. Soon, they can be.

Much like Dr. Jonas Salk declined to patent his polio vaccine in 1952, this open source project continues that laudable approach making their solution available to all.

To Mr. Keogh and all the participants applying science and innovation in the service of humanity, slainte.

Gold, Frankincense…and Metal

So, how many times this season have you heard Paul McCartney’s treacly “Wonderful Christmas Time”? Did an act of congress dictate that every store’s playlist must feature an inappropriately-breathy rendition of “Santa Baby”?

If you’re struggling to find your musical merry this season, search no more. In what is the polar opposite of anything on Neil Diamond’s Christmas playlist, a metal band out of York, PA has released their own magical antidote of sorts. Small Town Titans have re-interpreted “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” with a metal sensibility that would make Boris Karloff smile. And it gladdens my heart more than all the sugarplums on Michigan Avenue…

Wow. The Zevon-worthy lyric “YOU HAVE ALL THE TENDER SWEETNESS/OF A SEASICK CROCODILE” never felt so ominously threatening. And apparently, lots of us agree that’s a good thing.

The unsigned power trio released this cover last year but according to lead singer Phil Freeman, “we weren’t really expecting more than maybe a million views by Christmas.” To their surprise, their Facebook post of a live performance went viral. It now has over 23 million views…and it’s still climbing. That’s what happens when your post gets shared by over a half a million people.

In a lovely twist of fate, Freeman, Ben Guiles, and Jonny Ross all met as students at Lebanon Valley College; my decidedly non-metal mother and sister’s alma mater.

So yes, it is a lovely season and indeed, it may well be the most wonderful time of the year. Still, there’s definitely room for this sentiment as well. Nicely done lads.


A Critical Essay for These Times

Ann Bauer is an amazing author, writer, and capturer of truths. Out of her own profoundly personal pain and loss, she came to sense a larger illness in society.

Ann initially posted this to Facebook, outlining a caustic and pervasive issue of our times and neatly summing up what we must strive to do to overcome it:

“Imagine if that were the goal: baseline civility and warm expectations.”

Indeed. Thankfully, someone smart at the Washington Post read it and asked her permission to publish it for a broader audience. Read her magnificent, inspiring, unflinchingly honest essay here.

Thanks Ann. And again, I’m so sorry for the loss of Andrew. God love you and yours.


Brands and “Authenticity”: When the Hackneyed Becomes Crucial

If you read a strategic brief at any point over the past five years, you read the word “authentic.” Whether yogurt, beer, or casual wear, brands fell over themselves in their rush to assert their ‘authenticity.’ Frankly, most protested too much and overuse diminished the word’s impact.

But this week, GoDaddy, the purveyor of web addresses that spent its early years lobbing embarrassingly sexist and sophomoric ads on the Super Bowl, did something genuinely authentic: they pulled their web-hosting services from the white supremacist site The Daily Stormer. It was a strong, very public move and truly embodied authenticity.

But that’s not how the story read Monday morning on Facebook…

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I’ll Vacuum My Own Floor, Thank You

I love modern conveniences. Cruise control, gas grills, TV remotes: I’m an unabashed fan. But this whole IOT invasion of smart assistants like Siri and Alexa and Cortana skeeves me out. Even my dog Hank hates it. There’s a house on our daily walk where a Landroid robotic lawn mower rolls endlessly back and forth and he growls at that thing every time we pass.

So last week, when iRobot CEO Colin Angle mused about the value of the data their high end Roomba vacuums collect, it stopped me cold.

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Brand Overextension: #WSJfail on Facebook

When The Wall Street Journal promoted leaders to oversee their ethics and standards in 2013, managing editor Gerard Baker sent out a memo which included this phrase:

“Everything we do at Dow Jones is underpinned by our striving to meet the most elevated standards of reporting and editing. It is the foundation of the trust our readers place in us.”

Precisely. This venerable institution enjoys a richly deserved reputation for journalistic excellence. Even the President wouldn’t dare to refer to its trusted reporting as “Fake news.” And yet, today this blurb appeared in my Facebook feed:


Reread that opening sentence.

It’s nothing but a sponsored post on Facebook but take a look at that opening sentence…

Even the smallest filler item in a weekend supplement of the Journal would never open and close a topic sentence with a redundant phrase.

But that’s what happened here.

And that’s the danger of having a brand that stands for ‘elevated standards’ outsource branding, in this case, to some junior content writer at Facebook. In fairness, that person may well have been working against deadline on thirty similar items so perhaps this one just fell off their radar.

But this is how kingdoms are lost; for want of a proverbial nail.

Or in this case, one more re-write.


“Content”: Always a Noun, Never an Adjective

If you watch or read the work of Salim Ismail, you understand that today’s biggest business challenge is adapting our linear mindsets to an environment of exponential change. The pace of change is so fast that our assumptions of what’s known and valid are continually questioned, debunked, and reset. Which can be disorienting.

Consider content. As advertisers migrated from television to digital platforms, the demand for content exploded. Yet many clients’ mindsets remain stuck in TV-era thinking; if we make it, people will watch it.


Today’s media landscape is awash in content. Last July, YouTube’s CEO announced people upload 400 hours of content every minute of every day. That’s over THREE YEARS of video every hour. And that’s just YouTube. Facebook claims to generate 8 billion video views every day, Snapchat does six billion.

Clearly, the game has changed. And keeps changing.

Combine this new reality with the dropping price of computing power and ubiquity of motion graphics software which allows people all over the world to create the same beautiful 3D work that built DK’s reputation, and it begins to hit home how much we must keep evolving.

The world isn’t waiting for our work. Our every project must earn attention, drawing audiences to our exceptional ideas and amazing executions. And that’s just part of it.

Today, technology enables people down the street or across the ocean to produce similar work at a lower cost, so we must also provide our clients a superior experience. We must make working with Digital Kitchen more rewarding, more profitable, and more fun. We must continually find ways to add value and make working with us the best part of our clients’ days.

Yes, we make content. But we can never be content.


Ideas > Media Dollars: Using Facebook To Make the World Love Obermutten

ObermuttenChances are, you’ve never heard of the tiny Swiss mountain hamlet of Obermutten. We certainly hadn’t. But this article from Europe’s Digital Tourism Think Tank describes how a remote picturesque town with a mere 80 villagers created a viral sensation by taking a decidedly personal approach.

The offer was remarkably simple: if you liked Obermutten’s tourism page on Facebook, the town would print out your picture and pin it to a bulletin board in the town square.

That’s it. No t-shirt, no cash, no cars; just that most human of rewards–recognition. They also promised to answer any question posted on their page.

The response started slowly. Here’s an early video showing the town Mayor pinning up the first ten likes. In short order, they would need a bigger board and eventually, the postings would cover every major wall in the town.

Maybe it was the direct engagement. Maybe it was the palpable sense of participation. Maybe it was the simple reward of being part of something. Whatever the reason, this unassuming idea made Obermutten’s the most liked Facebook page in Switzerland. Before long, their quirky campaign was picked up by the international media and tourists began flocking to this town in droves. Within six months, Obermutten attracted over 60 million fans from 32 countries.

And the real kicker? The total investment totaled just over $11,000 US, for an ROI of $2,500,000 in tourism increases and media attention. That’s a multiple of 240.

There are lessons here for digital and social marketers;

  1. Keep things simple and whenever possible, make them personal.
  2. Create delight by engaging directly.
  3. If at all possible, build a community to belong to.

It’s like the old theme song from Cheers: “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” Or face.

Mike & Dennis

I Have No Idea What This Is About. Or Where It’s Going. But I’m Interested. Very, Very Interested.

So I stumbled upon a rather amazingly in-depth and celebrity-ridden “social film”, courtesy of Intel and Toshiba. Titled “The Power Inside”, it’s an incredibly elaborate production that exists solely online.

That’s exciting.

And yet, despite amazing production value, real star power (Harvey Keitel), and rather creative writing, the view counts on YouTube are abysmal. While the first episode of this six part series earned a million and a half views, the next three struggle to make the 35,000. That’s a true pity because this series is really well produced. For dedicated brand content, it feels incredibly generous, giving far more time to things like joke-writing and character development than product features and sponsored messaging. Sure, there’s a chance for viewers/fans to participate through social media and actually appear in the film via participation through Facebook. Nevertheless, the end result really doesn’t feel particularly compelling.

The problem is probably length, though that’s also what makes it kind of fascinating. So far, it’s been a very long driveway, often amusing but not really clear on what it’s overall message will be. And as an episodic piece with a new segment released every week, it may be struggling to sustain interest among so other distractions in our daily life.

Still, this is a brave experiment in a nascent medium. Creating shareworthy brand content driven by PR and fan engagement is truly the future of brand advertising…but it is arriving in fits and starts. And sadly, this seems more of a fit than a start.

Will the future of branded content accept a longer form, episodic release? We will have to wait and see.

But kudos to the brave marketers at Intel and Toshiba for trying. I was happy to sit down and catch up on this story, dedicating nearly a half hour to view all four episodes of the wild, shaggy dog tale you are spinning.

And I’m already looking forward to next Thursday, when you release the next one. I only wish there were more people like me looking forward to that also.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson