Determining The Value of Creative Ideation and Execution

I am not a wine guy.  I like it, I will rarely turn down a glass after 5 pm, but still, it’s not my thing; I don’t have nearly a sensitive enough palate to tell the difference between ‘oaky’ and ‘buttery.’

So I’m hard-pressed to blame clients for not recognizing a good ad from a bad one.  Or more commonly, a good ad from a slightly better one.Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

The difference comes down to taste and an appreciation for craft and aesthetics, neither of which is measurable.  And so creatives inevitably grumble about things like clients picking the wrong board or insisting on the lame cast or ruining the spot in edit.

But those who insist on using measurability as their guide may suddenly find themselves in an uncomfortable position.  According to an extensively-researched study released Monday from comScore ARS, “sound strategy and strong creative elements” have a measurable impact on ad effectiveness for TV and digital.  In fact, they conclude that “…creative quality drives more than half of the sales changes for brands analyzed, four times higher than the impact of the specific media plan involved.

In other words, the power of the idea makes the biggest impact on advertising efficacy.

I’ve long believed bigger clients should hire a Chief Creative Officer in addition to a Chief Marketing Officer to both improve the quality of the work and drive better cross-discipline integration.  CMO’s have business backgrounds–they aren’t trained to discern the subtle creative differences that separate good from great ideas.  The work at our client ConAgra has noticeably improved over the few short years since they instituted a Center of Excellence and hired agency creatives to shepherd the creative development process.

And yet the challenge for selling great work remains, and probably always will; in the planning stage, an idea’s greatness lies in the eye of the beholder that will be paying for it.  And just as you’ll never meet a single person who doesn’t think they have a sense of humor no matter how painfully dry they might be, you won’t meet anyone who doesn’t have a personal opinion regarding advertising, no matter how unsophisticated that might be.

Another reason you should never be bored in this job…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Swing and a Miss: The Fascinating World of Failed Breakfast Cereals

Somewhere, sometime, some brand manager saw some idea–something that from our distant objective viewpoint stands as an obviously lousy concept–and thought: “this is gonna be big.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingAt least, you hope someone did.  Otherwise, there’s absolutely no explanation for General Mills’ Sir Grapefellow, Ralston Urkel-o’s, or Sugar-Frosted KISS Krunch.

Web Urbanist has a hilarious post that showcases dozens of these odd cereal ideas.  Given that grocery store cereal aisles contain more brands and varieties than any other, it stands to reason they would have some misses over the years.  But wow, some of those duds have been spectacular.

Packaged goods rely on product innovation and line extensions to drive new growth, but sometimes those extensions are a bridge too far.  I’ve worked on meat and cheese toaster pastries for Oscar Mayer (“It’s like a a bologna Pop Tart™!”), peddled an alkaline battery marketed specifically for Walkmans (distinguished only by it’s label which, unfortunately, no one sees once you insert them in the device) and like everyone else selling beer in the early 90’s, developed work for every permutation of dry/draft/ice imaginable.

Business thrives on new ideas.  Posts like these that showcase the wreckage of brand failures left smoking and charred along the superhighway of American commerce serve as powerful reminders that business really thrives on great ideas.

Speaking of which, one kids’ cereal idea I presented that horrified my General Mills client but I know would fly off the shelves was “Dinosaur Toes™”–puffy cereal tubes stuffed with gooey fruit centers.  If anyone has access to large scale manufacturing and distributing, drop me a line and let’s talk


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The Office is Now Closed

Put a fork in 2009–it’s done.  Not to say that we’re done, particularly.  The business of ideas never truly shuts down for a Holiday.  It bubbles along, freeriding the subconscious, honing in on quieter moments, casually filling the idle hours.  Because there’s always another assignment, always another avenue, always something you could do more remarkably, more memorably, more effectively.

trailerOfficially, we’ll start doing that again on January 4th at 9am.  But during those off days, chances are good thoughts of work will share top synaptic billing with all those sugarplum visions dancing in our collective heads.  Merry merry indeed.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Advertising Industry Lighthouse: Enthusiasm

As part of a new business pitch this morning, we’ve been reviewing the Lighthouse philosophy of challenger brands as espoused by Adam Morgan and the big brains at “Eat Big Fish.”  At the most simplistic level, a Lighthouse Identity helps a brand define what it stands for, both out in the marketplace and inside the company hallways.eatbigfish_logo

It’s a well-reasoned, very pragmatic approach to positioning and shaping brand considerations and perceptions.  And last night, over omelets and coffee at a roadside Perkins, it got a few of us thinking about what we would consider our own agency identity, what one thing galvanizes us and represents the best of this advertising business.  We quickly arrived at one thing: enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm for the process, but far more importantly, enthusiasm for our product: ideas.  In the marketing business, ROI really boils down to Return on Ideas.  Ideas create perceptions, differentiation, empathy and engagement.  Ideas separate and celebrate.  Ideas are our ultimate product.

And anyone who touches them, influences them or sells them does that better when alight with the energy and group-lifting zeal of enthusiasm.  YEAH!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A High Decibel Reminder of The Thrill of Possibilities

My wife and I wanted to do something special to mark our older daughter’s sixteenth birthday.  Sunday afternoon, it became glaringly obvious that taking her to the U2 concert at Soldier Field would definitely qualify as something special, and after a quick trip to Stub Hub, we scored four tickets to the show.

Reasonable people may ask what we hoped to accomplish taking not just one but both our young daughters (we do things as a family so Zoe’s nine year old sister came too) to a rock concert, on a school night no less.  Aside from some lessons we weren’t looking to teach either of them (“Smell that?  That’s marijuana smoke and we better never smell that on you.”  “See them?  They’re tripping on ecstasy–notice how stupid they look.”), the lesson that was declared with rib-thumping, giga-watt intensity was the transcendant power of imagination and possibility…

Smell That?  I Better Never Smell That Near You

It's About So Much More Than Music...

How could four guys from Dublin evolve from a high school cover band to an international cultural phenomenon that transformed both music and activism on the global stage?  How could their pure love of music lead them to create an 80 ton ‘spaceship’ for a stage, an eye-popping behemoth Bono jokingly referred to as “…the latest in a long line of U2 collectibles.”  How can music unite 65,000 strangers into one arm pumping, head bobbing, grin wearing mass?

All of this happens from ideas, from imaginations running loose to explore new possibilities.  And more than anything else, I hope Zoe takes that as her gift.  She’s a sweet, thoughtful kid whose remarkable imagination first impressed me back in the first grade.  She crayoned a drawing of clouds, each in a different pattern of stripes or polka dots and the rain she sketched falling from those clouds fell in stripes and polka dots as well.  It was a marvelous bit of whimsical fancy she tossed off without thinking, without consideration, something bubbling up pure and sparkling from an unfiltered muse.  Knowing all of the obstacles that rise up and conspire to stifle that free-thinking spirit, particularly during the often casual brutality of the high school years, I hope and pray she takes last night’s lessons to her latent artist’s heart.  And never stops dreaming.

Maybe that’s a Disney movie sentiment, but hey–it came with an awesome sound track.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Don’t Confuse “User Generated Content” With “Original Content”

Not Exactly the Wisdom of Crowds           

Not Exactly the ‘Wisdom’ of Crowds

If you go to Flickr and type in the phrase “Holding Up the Tower of Pisa”, you will get 324 results, all featuring tourists documenting themselves as they interpret this classic comedy meme of flawed Italian architecture optical illusion photography.

There is nothing original about this gag, and yet, like the compulsion that drives Pacific salmon to swim hundreds of miles to return to their birthplaces and spawn, thousands of tourists can no more leave the Pisa area without documenting themselves in this act then they could visit Kiev and not order the chicken.

As advertising adapts to the realities not only of convergence, but also the creative democracy of mass amateurization ushered in by today’s wonderfully accessible digital photography, video editing, audio mixing, and desktop publishing tools, one fundamental truth becomes absolutely inescapable: the best idea wins.

Despite budgets, despite production values, despite credentials and titles, in the final measure, the best idea wins.  Most times, that won’t be an amateur’s idea.  But if you spend anytime surfing the net, and you see things like this, this, and this, you can’t deny that a good idea can come from anywhere.  And does, just often enough, to create a vague sense of doubt among some clients about whether or not they should buy a concept…or wait around and hope for something better.  From someone.  Anyone…

It’s a major frustration of the business.  But the only way around it is to have the best ideas.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Ideas on Marketing and Advertising Come and Go…

To the creative mind, thoughts are like birds.  They come, they go, they swarm and flock and mess up the public statuary…  Okay, maybe that’s pushing the metaphor: regardless, I needed a place to let mine roost; a repository of thought and opinion for big ideas, little insights and total misses.  Some thoughts rarely stray from your synapses, returning to your consciousness time after time like swallows to Capistrano.  Involuntary thoughts, if you will.  But others fly off, never to be seen again.  Those are the ones that inspired this blog.

Consider this a Facebook for ideas about the advertising and marketing industry.  A little spot on the web where we can friend thoughts and then let them go off to live their own lives and chase their own muses…until that day comes when we want to contact them again.  And then, voila, we’ll be able to find them roosting right here, conveniently accessible in perpetuity.  Which is, you know, nice…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79