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


Agency of Record? These Days, It’s More Like Agency of MP3

On MediaPost yesterday, Catalyst S+F President and regular blogger Cory Treffiletti posted an interesting piece bemoaning the demise of the AOR title. His opening point really hit home; while much has been made about how CMO tenure hovers just below twenty-four months, that’s quietly become the standard for agency-client relationships as well.  Given my position, it’s probably not surprising that I find this whole situation terribly sad.

Worse, it’s probably our fault.

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79Oh sure, it’s easy to whine and blame clients but I have always found clients remarkably helpful in our line of work. If nothing else, they let us do silly things on their behalf.  No, the real culprit must be that at some point, we agencies stopped selling our value.  Perhaps we considered it self-evident, maybe everyone just got too busy; whatever the reason, the end result was we stopped emphasizing our value, stopped taking the time to show the tangible benefits of our labors.

At the same time, the world got busy. Clients and agencies alike became caught up in the now, with nary a moment to stop and think amidst the non-stop demand to react, react, react. Whether you are a CMO or a partner agency, it takes time to truly know a company and their culture and we stopped investing that time.

And so, inevitably, we commoditized ourselves. Understandably, clients began to look at our product like any other staple–something to be sought out on the open market with the money going to the lowest-priced vendor.

But we can get it back. We must.  It starts with copyrighting our ideas, protecting the one tangible asset we create. It then improves as we take the time to quantify our contributions, to the point where everyone on the team both knows and takes pride in the value we bring to brands. And it gels when we communicate that value compellingly and concisely to clients.

These days, it’s not enough to sell our brands; we gotta sell ourselves as well. If we do, we stand a far better chance of sticking around until the next CMO shows up.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Learning To Promote Sharing

As a parent, you want to teach your child to share; it demonstrates a good nature and assures that your child will be welcomed into their communities.  Sharing is critical to their personal development.

Today, it’s also critical to every advertiser’s development.  Our biggest new challenge is understanding how we can encourage our market to share the video and promotional content we create.  How can we shape our ideas to encourage our audiences to pass them along?  That’s a radically different challenge for video messages created for broadcast on social networks as opposed to television networks.  More critically, it’s one where our success or failure  is easily measured.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingFor years, the challenge of brand video production was creating something that would make your audience feel “Wow, that was cool/real/hilarious.”  In today’s socially networked world, that challenge is now a compound phrase: “Wow, that was cool/real/hilarious, and I have to pass that on to my friends ____ and ____.”  The true power of new media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter lies in it’s ability to leverage low cost, highly effective recommendation, to activate crowdsourced PR.  Today, the best online video content becomes curated by key consumers to engage other key consumers.  So broadcasting these videos is not merely cheap, it’s highly selective and effective.

So what triggers a consumer to take your brand content and pass it on to other pre-qualified audiences?  In an entry on MediaPost yesterday, David Murdico, ECD of the rather hubristically-named Supercool Creative, takes a shot at defining what drives people to pass along video.  He lists seven ideas, but ultimately, the image that sticks in my head is of that kid back in grade school with the comedy record.  You know, the one who played cuts from Cheech and Chong/Steve Martin/Richard Pryor/Sam Kinison/Chris Rock/Dane Cook for his friends and somehow, through a mysterious bit of entertainment osmosis, accrued cred for his find.  These kids were never the entertainer, but they were the presenter, bringing their discoveries to a group of like-minded people sure to enjoy them.

That’s who we have to try to reach today.  And it will be a hill of fun to watch and see how different brands do it.

Because right now, it’s pretty much all fresh powder in front of us.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


An Emerging Super Low Low Price Ad Platform: Online Comments

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingI was reading an interesting if rather obvious article on MediaPost about research which concluded that given a choice, a third of teens would “unfriend” their parents on Facebook (yeah, I feigned incredulous shock at that myself). Beyond just how prevalent this kind of high-interest/simple science posting has become on the web, I couldn’t help noticing a comment on the piece from Douglas Ferguson of the College of Charleston which read: “I guess this explains why Scoop is rumored to be the new Facebook” followed by this link.

Not having heard of Scoop and somewhat curious, I followed the link and read about this new online sharing platform that sounds like a point-by-point duplication of Facebook, albeit with lots of window-dressing talk about “mobile/social app”: a distinction which apparently is enough to earn it the mantel “The Next Facebook.”

Of course, in the comments section below this post, someone named “David Prentice” added another long-winded, marginally-relevant note: “One way to retain your privacy on Facebook is to CLOAK your messages which makes sure that Facebook can’t read them.  You still use Facebook as normal but protect your privacy, by CLOAKing those parts of your messages you want to keep private. Neither Facebook nor its advertising partners know what you’re writing about.  Pick a keyword, select the Facebook message you want to keep private, CLOAK it and send. Only people you’ve shared your keyword with can then read that message.”

The upper case-inclined Mr. Prentice goes on to list links to free downloads, online tools and demos, meaning he is either a relentlessly helpful advocate for this product–which is possible–or he’s got a vested interest.  My suspicions tend toward the latter.

Between these comments and the relentless flood of pornography and online pharmacy spam that Askimet constantly filters from this website, it’s clear lots of people use a simple process of Googling then comment posting to sell all sorts of goods and services.  It only costs time, and entrepeneurs are always willing to put in that investment.

But like anything else, just being there isn’t enough.  These comment pitches may be free, but to be effective at all, they need the right balance of content and context.

You know, like all good advertising.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


File Under “Mixed Signals”–the Simmering Kids and Eyeglasses Controversy

In my daily scanning of internet ephemera that I justify under the catchall heading of ‘keeping tabs on the culture,’ two items popped up yesterday that my cerebral cortex couldn’t reconcile without massive cognitive dissonance.

First, an item posted on MediaPost’s Center for Media Research, presented a new study conducted by an eyewear client that found–perhaps not surprisingly–very positive benefits to wearing glasses.  Beyond the obvious enhancement of visual acuity, kids consider other glasses-wearing kids to be ‘smarter’ than non glasses wearing kids.  The 6-10 year olds surveyed also considered the glasses-wearers more honest but otherwise, didn’t judge them about their appearance positively or negatively.

Hmm…  All these findings constitute incredibly-favorable survey results for a seller of childrens’ eyewear, but that’s not what created the cognitive dissonance.  No, the problems arose when hours later, this concise item popped up on Buzzfeed, explaining that hipster glasses were officially no longer cool.

I can’t process both points of view and so, for the time being, my synapses will no longer be holding hands.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A Call To Creatives From Every Discipline: Converge Now!

The ongoing debate over who should lead the next iteration of marketing creativity has grown exhaustingly tiresome.  Anyone who still spends their energy debating the relative merits of digital or traditional creativity is wasting precious time.  Today, the only true going-forward solution must be convergence.

The metrics-orientation and experience-centric mindset of digitally-trained creatives must mash up with the video-centric expertise of traditionally-trained creatives to create something wholly new to truly drive sales in today’s marketplace.  Right now, neither has the upper hand.  Neither can claim sole ownership or any real competitive advantage.  The only way forward is collaboration and cooperation as we forge something truly relevant for these instant access, highly-distracted times.

Matt Kaplan, the Chief Strategy Officer for VisibleGains, presents one of the most cogent arguments for this notion in this terrific article from MediaPost last week.  His post outlines a number of practical ways that our use of video must evolve to serve the realities of today’s fragmented messaging market and diverse target audiences.  Matt’s B2B discipline and sensitivity to the buyer-led world rings clearly through many of his points, yet his overall message speaks to a far broader audience of marketing creatives.

Simply put, video has been and will remain an incredible engagement medium.  But anyone who believes that begins and ends with broad awareness messaging platform of television commercials shortchanges the real opportunity presented by that medium today.  People respond viscerally to video–no surprise in a culture that far prefers the immediate sensation of a multi-sensory engagement over the intellectual reasoning of the written word.  More importantly, Google values video as a powerful driver of search rankings, so marketers that expand their use of video into more specialized communications benefit on exponential levels.

The Video As Sledgehammer Medium Party is Over

The Video As Sledgehammer Medium Party is Over

If we continue to treat video as a broad sledgehammer, we miss the many layered opportunities for deeper, more persuasive engagement.  Video can serve as a laser, targeted and tailored to engage various types of prospects along their path to commitment.  Tapping into the vast data engine of the web and developing more targeted messages against various personas, can lead to a use of video that is both more expansive and more specific.

To date, most digital companies have yet to escape their origins as an updated take on classic direct response marketing.  Similarly, the majority of traditional agencies still seem hamstrung as they cling to a dangerously singular faith in broad reach awareness-focused brand messaging.  Neither approach addresses the complete picture and leverages the new possibilities of modern media consumption.

But we can move to something new.  We can consider multiple targets for our video messages and expand our production shoots to gather content far more in tune with how and where buying decisions are made.  By expanding what we shoot and how we edit and repurpose it for a wider variety of uses and target opportunities, we can take video into new worlds of unprecedented persuasion based on deep consumer empathy and customized messaging.

This is where advertising’s future lies, in the converged middle, where laser-targeted video messages impact far more people far more effectively, despite the broad scatter of disaggregated and fragmented audiences.

Kaplan’s suggestions provide an initial, rudimentary roadmap.  If we expand our current concept of video-based advertising creativity to adopt new possibilities, the best of both disciplines can come together to create something entirely new.  And exciting.  And effective.

If we open up our minds to new ways to innovate the medium, reinventing both uses and expectations, we can soar far beyond the limits of partisanship over yesterday’s debates. It is a scary time in advertising these days, but change can also be a time of unprecedented growth.

Convergence is an imperative.  Expanded thinking is critical.  Today, if you’re not learning, you’re dying.  It really is as simple as that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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

According 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 Commercials, Virals and the Legacy of Conditioned Expectations

Marketing leaders spend a great deal of time worrying about the changing media landscape these days, and an article on MediaPost by Gavin O’Malley this morning will only further their agita.  According to a Princeton Survey Research study, 90% of young adults use video-sharing sites.  Well, no kidding.  The only reason that figure is not 100% is that broadband has yet to penetrate the entire country.

One of the marketing leaders’ principal responses to these changes is their insistence on renaming television production as “content” production.  In their minds, “content” or “video assets” can be endlessly re-purposed with different edits of different lengths for different platforms beyond merely television.

That is good planning, even if it is nothing particularly new.  Candidly, framing a shoot as “content production” helps agencies sell something that every creative on a shoot always wants:  options and additional scenes.  Production experience will quickly teach you to get alternate takes, particularly alternate endings.  With so much of a commercial’s impact and engagement dependent on the actors’ performance, the cost of getting options on set is relatively low.  If you experiment a bit, the actor might deliver a different and better performance than you planned- -which explains roughly 75% of creatives’ bristling at dogmatic pre-testing.  An animatic is but the palest imitation of fully produced film with human performances.

Viral?  Or TV Commercial?

Viral? Or TV Commercial?

Consider the videos that have clogged your inbox over the years: Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”, the non-sanctioned VW “Terrorist”, and arguably the granddaddy of all internet virals: John West Salmon’s  “Bear”.  People forward clips like these to their friends and family because they’re entertaining, surprising and fun.  And yet, every one of these began as a television commercial, albeit an outstanding television commercial.  These may have also worked in a longer format, but thirty or sixty seconds often proves ideal for their impact.  And our attention spans.  Why?  Because we have spent decades absorbing commercial messages at these lengths; we have been conditioned to expect these clips in these concise formats.

All of which means that the changing media landscape will not suddenly render the way we have learned to tell efficiently-structured stories as meaningless.  We must still engage consumers with worthwhile messages presented in a rewarding fashion.  Technology will continue to change, but story endures.

So yes, the marketing landscape is evolving and will continue to evolve.  Change will continue to be a constant.  And so creativity must adapt to embrace and leverage new platforms but never at the cost of classic storytelling.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A Huge Television (and Online and Mobile) Audience Is There For Your Ad, But You Still Gotta Earn It

We’re still watching.  Actually, we’re watching more than ever.  The three-screen audience for video content has never been larger or more active, that is, if you define ‘active’ as sitting still and watching other people do things.

...And Everyone's Watching

...And Everyone's Watching

For advertisers, that’s terrific news. But candidly, it’s even better news for traditional ad agencies that long specialized in television production. Because despite the flurry of new formats and technologies, the fundamental consumer desire to watch video thrives unabated in a platform agnostic manner.  Clients who ran to new media shops based on the strength of their technical prowess alone may want to reconsider; the viewers are there, but you can’t assume they’re an eager advertising audience.  It takes compelling content to earn an audience, and that starts with story.

Two recent posts on this subject actually make for an interesting compare and contrast. Last week, Chris Rohrs, the president of the Television Bureau of Advertising (find their rather hideous website here), posted a persuasive editorial in Adweek where he cited recent Nielsen       time spent data that registered the highest numbers in their nearly sixty-year history.  Nielsen suggests the average American household spends eight hours and twenty-one minutes in front of the TV every day, with the precious Teen demo logging nearly three and a half of those hours.

He went on to cite a March study from Ball State’s Center for Media Design, hailed as the “largest observational look at media usage ever conducted.”  Rohrs takes great delight in that study’s finding that ninety-nine percent of TV viewing in 2008 was done on a “traditional” TV with less than 5 percent of that viewing using DVR playback.  Web video from YouTube, Hulu and all other Web/cell phone media accounted for less than one percent of all viewership.

Obviously Mr. Rohrs has a bias to present but still, he uses these facts well to rebut the conventional bromide of so many new media advocates: “television is dead.”

Of course it isn’t Chris.  Say it with me, won’t you?  “Television is not dead, it’s just diversified.”

And that’s the point Gavin O’Malley made yesterday on MediaPost: viewership on all three screens has never been higher.  Special events added extra fuel to online viewership numbers as people watched the Inauguration and the Final Fours from their desktops.  Again citing Nielsen, US online video usage grew thirteen percent year-over-year while mobile jumped more than fifty percent.

The two mens’ numbers around DVR use seem to conflict but the undeniable truth is that we are watching more video than ever…which must have something to do with this great nation’s rampant obesity, but that’s another blogpost.

Call me self-interested but my takeaway from all of these findings is that agencies deeply schooled in television production can no longer be cast as behind the times.  The collective skill and experience all that commercial production engenders gives us a leg up over any putative content provider, particularly if we’ve moved aggressively into new media anyway.

Like so many things, the means don’t matter nearly as much as the ends.  Facile skills on specific platforms mean nothing if the content isn’t there.

Stories, drama, ideas always come first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79