The Platform May Be Interesting, But The Idea Still Determines If You Care

So we just had the wonderful opportunity to announce that our client Cricket is now nationwide.  After starting as a regional cellular company ten years ago, they are  now in all fifty states.  Better still, they relentlessly focus on value, driving costs down to provide unlimited coverage for low flat rates.  To us, that’s treating people with respect.

Given the cutthroat competition and huge spend in the wireless category, the client asked us to try to create disruption with our outdoor announcing this news.  So we teamed up with the clever people at Monster Media and created interactive walls and mobile units that encouraged people to play a simple “Simon” like memory game to drive home the point that we are now in all fifty states.  Gaming seemed a natural fit given that 83% of the US population already plays games online.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/34762914001?isVid=1

The result is “Man vs. Map.”  It’s ‘Interactive Media,’ it’s ‘Experiential Marketing,’ it’s ‘Buzz Generating.’  And if you watch this clip from the local Denver news, it’s clear someone clued in their news readers with those buzzwords because they say them with an air of practiced archness.  When the local ten o’clock anchor all but puts air quotes around phrases like “non-traditional advertising,” perhaps it’s time we admit that our industry lingo has jumped the shark.

Because more than being emblematic of some emerging media platform, these screens are just fun.  “Man vs Map” is a simple game with a purpose that spurs engagement and gets people talking.  And texting.  And tweeting.

Which probably explains why we’re now looking to take it Online and Social.

Oh man, I just jumped the shark two more times…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


I Don’t Have All The Answers. But The Internet Connects Me To Smart People That Might…

People like Ad Age’s Randall Rothenberg certainly provide good, informed opinion and perspective around this whole marketing convergence thing.  Today, he posted a long, incredibly thoughtful, and refreshingly blunt assessment on Interactive Advertising Creativity.  Or rather, the horrific dearth of it.

...But Not Daniel Pink's

...But Not Daniel Pink's

Randall cites a number of valid reasons for this medium’s anemic achievements as a creative medium, starting with the direct marketing culture bred into its DNA.  From the outset, the web has been a metrics maven’s dream, easily measured and quantified. On one hand, we should take comfort that the industry avoided making up putative measures of creativity and imagination like so many over-reaching testing methodologies in the traditional ad world.  But still, the accepted practice has been an over-reliance on the logical, the rational and scientific, as opposed to the magical, the thrilling and inspired.

The industry’s finest mind, Bill Bernbach, nailed it years ago when he wrote:  “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”  Amen sir, amen. It’s too bad the logic-bound left brainers insist on grafting intellect into every sell, when the most fundamental decisions of humanity belie this conceit.  I did not marry my wife for measurable reasons like her IQ or her time in the mile–I fell in love and changed the course of my life based on the emotional imperative of passion.  Lucky thing too.  We go to war, we choose religions, we get surgery for dying pets for entirely emotional reasons: how can a logical mind dismiss emotion’s impact on buying decisions?

Anyway, I’m getting off topic.  Do yourself a favor and read Randall’s blog.  It’s smart.  And timely.  And a clarion call for a resurgence of creativity in online.

You know, the kind that would come if traditional agency creatives focused their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

Or rather, the kind that WILL come WHEN traditional agency creatives focus their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Goodby Sets an Example for Redefining Agencies By Redefining As, Well, Something

logoA feature on ShootOnline describing how GSP won both Agency of the Year and Top Interactive Shop accolades for 2008 quotes an internal memo: “This was the year we decided we should no longer be an advertising agency.  In fact, no one should be an advertising agency.  They just don’t know it yet.  Instead, it turned out we should be something that leads our clients to create and embody popular culture in the world at this point in time.  Something that puts them into mainstream media well beyond advertising.”

Given it was an internal memo, let’s overlook the arrogance of the ‘they just don’t know it yet’ comment because the rest of the statement outlines a bold vision, even if it is left open-ended.  How exciting to think you will leave ads behind and enter the culture to redefine yourself as, well, something.  As a something, GSP certainly is an amazing something.  They have developed a singular style for massive, cross-platform projects that is both technically impressive and imaginatively ambitious.  This innovation springs from their thorough embrace of true interactivity.  So what can that teach the rest of us?

Primarily, we simply must create cultures of innovation.  We need to embrace the ongoing need for change and improvement, for redirection and reinvention.

We should innovate our creative staff mix.  Bernbach teamed art directors and writers back in ’47 and we haven’t changed since.  At the least, we should introduce interactive experts into that equation: user experience experts, flash designers, information architects.  But how much more interesting would it be to bring in radio station programmers, rock critics, magazine editors, game and packaging designers, performance artists and improv comics?  It might not always work, but we’d at least get better stories.

We should innovate media planning.  With today’s hugely splintered audiences, there’s real opportunity in creating bespoke brand networks across unrelated platforms.  The instruments in the media mix have never been more diverse; it’s time for new sounds, new experiments with how and where we hear brand voices.

Finally–and this is perhaps the biggest example Goodby sets–we need to innovate the reach of our assignments.  A client may want an ad, but it would be so much cooler to expand that assumption and deliver a movement, a force for social change or a platform for real commentary and engagement.  ‘Enter the mainstream media’ indeed…

A friend of mine who sold a successful Chicago business and moved to New York to start an entirely new successful business recently told me “That old ‘if you can make it here you’ll make it anywhere’ bit really should apply to Chicago because it’s harder there.  New York and the West Coast want innovation; Chicago resists it.”

It’s an interesting if debatable point, but ultimately, it is no excuse for a stumbling Chicago ad scene.  Because innovation doesn’t begin with clients.

It begins with us.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

What ASI, LINK and other Quantitative Tests Have In Common With Inflatable Love Dolls… …

–they are all lousy reflections of real life.

Baal Probably Lived for A.I. Scores

Baal Probably Lived for A.I. Scores

Look, I understand the need for testing.  I’ll even admit that some of my work has improved through qualitative.  But in nearly twenty-five years, I’ve never seen any piece of work escape the soul-crushing process of quantitative testing without compromising everything that made it remarkable in the first place.  Worse, this kind of testing ignores the undeniable fact that people lie.  Not intentionally or maliciously, but when we’re asked to reveal ourselves to another, exaggeration and overstatement rule the day.  Just read the personal ads…

There may once have been a time when a product could actually have a unique selling proposition without three identical alternatives lined up beside it on the Walgreen’s shelf.  But that was long before the personal computer, the cell phone, and eBay.

Still, too many otherwise smart advertisers continue to worship these false gods.  Some corporate cultures even dole out media dollars based on AI scores.  And so whether to earn a larger investment dollar or to simply cover the brand manager’s butt, marketers plow ridiculous resources into long processes where the only sure thing is that the advertising they develop and test will absolutely not result in sales.

Imagine if those same advertisers took the money they spend on animatics and instead made two or three rich media banners.  They could then run them on-line in test markets and know immediately which one performed the best.  On the fly, they could adjust the creative, tweaking the art and copy to see if it made any difference in conversion.  By running this kind of real world test, you remove the all too human penchant for exaggeration and overstatement and instead, see how people actually respond in real life when there are no two way mirrors or bowls filled with M&M’s.  Better still, even ads that don’t perform as well, will still drive some sales for you.  It’s an indesputable win-win.

So why don’t more advertisers innovate their testing?  Probably because it’s hard to tell the difference between a benchmark and a bad habit.  And that’s a darned shame.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Two Newly-Emerging Dirty Words: “Paid Media.”

picture-12

A recent blog by Catalyst:SF planner Cory Treffiletti on onlineSPIN (you may have to join Media Post) raised some interesting points regarding a little-discussed aspect of the digital revolution; the proliferation of platforms offering free –or very low cost — engagement opportunities.  He challenges: “why do advertisers assume spending money is the best way to sell?”  It’s a timely and provocative thought.

 As one can always safely expect from a new media blog, he stretches the point a bit to cudgel traditional agencies (no Cory, agencies are not compensated to spend money: commissions have been gone for well over a decade), but still his rejection of solutions that assume spending money is extremely smart.  Denying that assumption forces innovation, including something he calls ‘engage and activate.’

Like most things touted as a new paradigm only made possible through digital platforms, the notion of finding solutions without big media investments actually way predates the web…and TV for that matter.  The smartest marketers have worked this way since the beginning of time.

Talk value didn’t start with DDB’s first Superbowl ad for Bud Light; PT Barnum built a fortune on it by the mid-nineteenth century.  Conversational media began long before MySpace; the Friedman sisters traded in it since the 50’s by printing reader responses as part of their syndicated columns.  And what were those Bobby Sherman 45’s stamped into the sides of Honey Comb cereal boxes but early, analogue apps?

The only difference today is the speed and depth of the interactive reach: opportunity has always been—and always will be–available to clients and marketers who view the established way of doing things as merely comfortable habit and challenge themselves to think in new ways.  As the economic crunch hammers our industry, that better mean all of us.

After all, convergence isn’t an event; it’s a mindset.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79