Arianna Huffington: Canned Commentary at the CMA National Convention

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingSo early on this wet Toronto morning, in one of the cavernous convention halls of the Westin Harbour Castle, the Canadian Marketing Association presented its opening speaker–Arianna Huffington.  We were all really looking forward to it–she’s very smart and one of the early and best drivers of new media since launching her very successful Huffington Post in 1995. Her keynote topic was “Where Is New Media Going?” and she spoke for nearly an hour but in all candor, the best part of her presentation was trying to place her remarkably non-specific accent. She is very likable, warming up the Canadian crowd with hockey jokes, but nothing was funnier than how she pronounced “Canucks”.  Somehow she made it three syllables long and worked a ‘y’ into the middle.

But despite her charm and obvious leadership position in the industry, her comments tread well trod ground: the key to everything is engagement, blogging and Wiki editing has taken off because self expression is the new entertainment. And trust is the new black, with a reference to the hysteria around Balloon Boy.

She added some facts: we send 140 million tweets and watch two million YouTube videos everyday, and every month, we spend a staggering 700 billion minutes on Facebook.

All true, but all rather familiar.  And from someone who introduced a whole new media platform based on curating the latest and best content, oddly ironic.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


Debating the Rules for Brands in Social Media

In the latest issue of Advertising Age, the memorably-monikered Taddy Hall lays out Ten Essential Rules for Brands in Social Media.  Given the conflicting viewpoints regarding leveraging these platforms, these types of lists now clog every marketing outlet.  As someone clever once noted “Where there’s confusion, there’s money to be made” and advocates from all sides have leapt into the fray looking to profit.  But as the former chief strategy officer for the Advertising Research Foundation, Mr. Hall is no self-proclaimed spittle-lipped social media expert.  Instead, he drew data from hundreds of brand clients of his company Meteor Solutions to generate this shortlist of actionable insights based in proven fact.

Two of his essential rules really stand out as emblematic of the fundamental mindshift necessary for incorporating social media into marketing.  First is what he calls “The 1% Rule” where a tiny fraction of site visitors drive the lion’s share of total site traffic.  In case after case, his data demonstrates the power of heavy influencers to drive web behavior.  Importantly, that behavior goes beyond simply increasing site traffic to include a higher share of conversion.  For marketers, this means it is critical to identify, engage and reward ‘super-influentials’ when working in social media.  Historically, identifying and enlisting influencers on behalf of brands has been the province of PR.  Now that social media has grown so mainstream, that discipline must converge with general marketing if we want to effectively integrate our efforts.

The second is his “New Media/New Pipes” rule which shows that what consumers say about your brand means far more than what marketers say.  This is more quantified proof of the power of word of mouth and the need for a radical rethinking of how we present messages to the market.  More than anything, it means we must find more and better ways to cede control to consumers.

That’s hard.  Anyone with more than a few years of marketing experience has been steeped in the need to resist even looking at ideas from consumers for fear of legal exposure: brands must be managed, communication must be one way.  Except that today they aren’t, whether we like it or not.  Social media provide a mass channel for opinion.  More critically, that opinion can have more sales impact than our messages alone.  Content spread from consumer to consumer drives purchase intent far more powerfully than content directly from brands.  As an example, Mr. Hall says that brand content posted on a Facebook fan page has far less impact than the same content posted to an influential individual’s page.

The rest of his list makes for very worthwhile reading as well.  So much misinformation and conjecture fills the debate over social media; having guidelines culled from data, not mere experience, make this list actually worth reading.  Thank you for that Taddy.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Tiger Woods’ Problems Do All Kinds of Good for Yahoo!

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz has a well-earned reputation for being atypically blunt as a corporate leader.  Yesterday, she spoke at a UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, where she addressed the topic of recent site traffic surges and how that will help her company reach their quarterly revenue targets.


“God bless Tiger.  This week we got a huge uplift…Better than Michael Jackson dying.  Kind of hard to put an ad up next to a funeral.”

Now she said this because apparently, the golfer’s had some sort of trouble at home…

Better still for Yahoo! the Tiger stories around these revelations extend far beyond the sports page to include front page news, media and gossip.  When it comes to analyzing embarrassing, salacious details of one of the world’s highest profile celebrities, we can’t get enough.  And so we all watch the legacy of the world’s greatest golfer crumble down to the level of say, Jon Gosselin.

The news business has long leveraged our appetite for mucking about in humanity’s seamier topics while keeping our own hands clean.  Fox News’ famous “If it bleeds, it leads” philosophy behind it’s early nightly newscasts still sounds horrifyingly sordid some twenty years later.

We may be in the world of new media, but the song remains the same.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Your Blog Post Will Resume In Three More Words…

3pleatsEarly in my career, I had to break down and buy a decent pair of dress pants for meetings.  I walked out of a prominent men’s store the proud owner of a pair of pleated wool trousers.  But not just pleated, or even double pleated: those beauties were triple pleated.  Further, the pleats were inverted.  Yes, for that brief moment in the era of Crockett and Tubbs, I owned it.

Of course in today’s flat-fronted times, such effusively-extravagant bunching of fabric around a male waist ranks as only slightly less abysmal on the “I’ve Quit Trying” fashion scale than say a home made Snuggie.  Because fashions change in dizzying, arbitrary ways, and that sometimes costs you a pair of perfectly functional pants.  

Changing fashions apply to our business as well.  Reviewing my TV reel, anyone can chart my forays into Morphing Mania, the Tony Scott Chocolate Filtered Phase, the CG-Enhanced Animals Era, the ‘I Loved Napoleon Dynamite‘ Period…

Today however, fashion whims extend beyond the obvious realm of advertising creativity to advertising’s less obvious creative realm of media and platforms.  Today’s new thinkers denounce the time-honored Interruptive advertising model as hopelessly dated, a relic of an earlier era of one way communication.  And to a certain extent, I agree.  Newer notions of Brand Alignment or Brand Bridging that seek to create contextual empathy with consumers as they connect them to or affiliate them with our brands seem much more forward-thinking and thus earn millions of words in industry press and blogs.  We need to encourage this kind of innovation, to re-imagine where and when and how we can engage consumers in meaningful ways.  Often, this calls for the greatest acts of creativity in our workday.

But unlike the rigid world of haute couture, where the ‘in’ stands rigidly defined and the ‘out’ lies hopelessly marginalized, most advertisers should avoid sweeping judgments. Because like it or not, old fashioned or not, irritating or not…the interruptive model still works.  Television still works.  Radio still works.  Transit posters still work.  The old interruptive model even works in new media iterations like pre-rolls and page take-overs.  As do new platforms like social networking and experience marketing.

Opinion leaders in advertising need agendas, they require outspoken, inflamed ideologies to champion.  Such ivory tower conceits draw readers and fill seminar seats.  But practically speaking, down in the actual trenches of commerce, in our imperfect workaday world that lies thick with the muck of situational decision-making and budgets compromised on both time and money, we don’t face an either/or decision regarding ad models; it’s both/and.  Just like we don’t face an either/or decision regarding creative mediums; it too is both/and.

It’s convergence.  These days, it’s all convergence.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A History Lesson. Courtesy of New Media.

Bill Gates, Devolved 500,000 Years or So

Bill Gates, Devolved 500,000 Years, Give or Take

As budget cuts, media confusion, and the baleful world economy wrack our incredible shrinking advertising world with round after round of staff reductions and pay cuts, we all worry about tomorrow.

But today, I attended an Omnicom DAS seminar where Jonathan Nelson, co-founder and chairman of Organic. addressed the current situation and how social media will reset the marketing game once again, with the same sort of revolutionary impact as Web 2.0.

He provided resonant insights and perspective on our changing business but one anecdote hit me like a ton of bricks.  Back during the dot com bubble of the early 90’s, Organic had 1280 employees.  Then the bubble burst, and within twenty-four months, Organic shrunk to 160 employees.  In other words, nine out of ten employees lost their jobs.  Moreover, of the thirty-nine web development agencies back then, only five survived.

Now I remember the dotcom bubble being bad from a general viewpoint, but I had no real empathy for just how bad that must have been until today.  Our troubles loom large; very good people have already lost their jobs and industry stability still seems out of reach at the moment.  Yet as Jonathan tells it, this bitter experience taught digital agencies how to expand and contract better than their traditional counterparts, which can be a real advantage in a scary marketplace.

But taking the upside, more than anything this anecdote reinforces that business flows in cycles; even the crappiest craptastical crapfest of crap-crap-crapellicious times eventually passes.  And you can quote me on that.

Though you might want to rephrase that last bit if you have kids…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

In A Just World, Creatives Seeking Ad Jobs Would Find Them…In Media

Confidence means jobs.  Unfortunately, consumer confidence, client confidence, market confidence: all languish at crushing depths compared to a mere year ago…

Lack of work means more than losing fat in the agency system: today’s historically bad numbers cut to the bone, costing talented thinkers and rich imaginations their paychecks, health plans, and office camaraderie.  The number of paying creative jobs don’t support paying the same number of creatives.

Still, one area of advertising desperately needs creative minds in a way it never did: media.  Social networks and the ongoing new media revolution put media professionals at a horrific disadvantage.  Decades of metrics and planning no longer apply to a three screen world.  Worse, robust platforms like Facebook call for ad formats yet to be invented.  Platforms that will be most prevalent five years from now have yet to be invented. Seriously.

With the vast data engines of the internet and digital TV pumping out actionable information about audiences with unprecedented accuracy, our industry needs creative thinkers generating ingenious responses to these opportunities.  Hyper- customization, day-part targeting, contextual messaging and digital couponing: all of these will be commonplace tomorrow, despite being largely impossible today.  The media discipline has never faced a greater need for innovation and ideas.

In his delightfully-imagined book The Happy Soul Industry, Euro RSCG Chicago’s Steffan Postaer tosses his angelic protagonist into a modern hotelroom, where he turns on the TV news: “Finally and mercifully, the piece ended.  But then came the commercials.  And in their own way, David found them more obscene.  Not because of what they were about–banks and cars and video games–but because of how blindly they went about their business.  Like the reporters, the spots traipsed across the screen utterly unaware of their context…”

Great insight from Steffan.  But we will soon see the final days of commercials that are ‘utterly unaware of their context.’  The sad comScore fact that US Internet users saw 4.5 trillion display ads last year will soon become an archaic indictment of lazy media.  Context will change everything.  Context and that convergence thing: a convergence between disparate marketing entities far beyond mere online and offline…

I’m talking the convergence of creative and media.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Your Dentist and Neighbor Sent You Invites To Be Their Friend…

Reviewing the last few posts, apparently it’s Social Media week here at Collective-Thinking.  And that makes sense.  Disintegrating audiences in old media threw our industry into a tizzy; re-aggregated audiences in new media like social networks could provide a fresh playground for innovative marketing ideas and programs.

Eric Heneghan–digital smartguy, curious cat, and CEO of Elevation–tapped me into some amazing statistics about Facebook via, well, Facebook.  iStrategyLabs culled that social network’s demographic data for the past few years and just published these mind-blowing findings in their latest report

1)  The 35-54 year old demo is growing fastest, with a 276.4% growth rate in the last half year.

2)  The 55+ demo is not far behind with a 194.3% growth rate.

3)  The largest demographic concentration remains the 18-24 college crowd at 40.8%, but that’s down from 53.8% just six months ago.

4)  The 25-34 year population on Facebook now doubles every six months.

It's Getting Crowded In Here

It's Getting Crowded In Here

In other words, what we considered a youth market now features an emerging concentration of parents and professionals (this isn’t a problem: Facebook provides age filters on their ad targeting).

iStrategyLabs goes on to point out that anyone advertising alcohol can now reach an age-screened audience of nearly 28 million people: nearly two thirds of Facebook users.  The trick for the Budweisers and the Beams will be converting this targeting into engaging creative marketing programs that this captive but highly-particular community will embrace.  Creatives can’t simply pattern their work on a set precedent here.  Unlike the Super Bowl, we can’t look back at years of big ads to determine how we are going to enter the program with our work.

Considering how tired and uninspired so much of that work seemed last weekend, that could be a good thing.  This is a time when creatives can get really creative, reinventing platforms and experiences and messages in a medium where no one has outlined the rules yet.  Inevitably, someone will step up and earn recognition as the Lewis and Clark of this wild, unexplored territory.

That sounds like fun.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

From Passive to Active: An Industry Imperative Straight Out Of The Poisonwood Bible

Passive voice robs writing of vitality, sapping ideas of their strength and grasp on reader attention.  Writers should strive to excise Passive Voice, replacing it with more muscular, more engaging, more descriptive Active Voice.

I’ve banged that grammatical drum for two decades, to the point of self-parody.  But increasingly, I see this passive vs. active debate transmogrifying from mere copywriting to encompass every aspect of advertising.  As an industry–and particularly as practitioners from the traditional agency world–we need to replace passive thinking with active thinking.  As the world of communications and consumer behavior changes, we must change too.  That requires a new active mindset that questions assumptions and encourages innovation.

Too many creatives still value edgy executions over edgy platform mixes.  Your TV spot may look incredibly cool, but if you haven’t introduced it in some new manner or added content and extended the experience to new and hopefully interactive platforms, what did you really accomplish?  Maybe slightly bigger ripples on the lake, but even those disappear pretty quickly–it’s a busy lake with a lot of different traffic.

Experience applied passively is no more than habit; experience applied actively truly breaks new ground.  All that wonderful video storytelling experience many traditional TV creatives possess remains vital, useful and differentiating when they apply it actively, pushing the delivery experience as well.

This Is Not A Book On Advertising.  At Least, Not Intentionally.

This Is Not A Book On Advertising. At Least, Not Intentionally.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s richly-imagined novel The Poisonwood Bible, the mother character looks back at her horrific experiences in the early-60’s Congo and how much of her family’s loss sprung directly from the intransigence of her husband.  Pushed to her breaking point, she simply walks away from their pathetic mission outpost, and her preacher husband…  “I moved, and he stood still.  But his kind will always lose in the end.  I know this, and now I know why.  Whether it’s wife or nation they occupy, their mistake is the same: they stand still and their stake moves underneath them.”  You got that right Barbara, whether wife, nation…or agency: rote behavior leads to failure.

Advertising agencies face increasing challenges regarding compensation, resource management, and results delivery.  Passive reliance on the old ways will doom us to failure.  Active innovation and opportunity generation deliver the possibility of new revenue streams, new markets, and new category benefits.  And unlike our brethren in the financial world, ours will probably remain a free market, without government intervention, stimulus packages or bailouts.  The agency  organizations most open to active thinking will thrive.  The passive ones will provide the lion’s share of lost industry jobs.  Time to start thinking.  Hard.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Thanks for Reading This Blog, But Go Here Instead…

Admirably Old School  

Draplin Design Co.: Admirably Old School

Seriously, surf over to the Draplin Design Co. website and you will not be disappointed.  Aaron Draplin is a compulsive blogger and designer with a strong bent for mid-century American graphics.  I’ve visited his site daily for months, compulsively reading his opinionated ramblings and perusing the odd ephemera uncovered by his rabid curiosity.  I look forward to every new post.

It’s remarkably powerful, the relationship between inspiration and ideation.  Everytime I drop by, his offbeat images spark my imagination. For instance, one of his links led to this stunning image.  Another led to this remarkable Flickr collection of shots of an old Kansas City Star newspaper press.

Which got me thinking how easy and fun it would be to assemble a collection of the most oddball hairstyles ever captured by film or pen and post them as a Flickr set provided by Supercuts.  It may never gather a huge audience like a TV spot, but it could earn a cult following.  And unlike TV, it costs virtually nothing.  As does a YouTube page, a Wikipedia entry or any of a hundred other new media opportunities.

In our Web 2.0 world, these kinds of innovations will grow increasingly critical to maintain meaningful engagement with our far-flung consumers.  Keeping a watchful eye on some of the most accomplished and interesting creative minds working the web today makes it far easier to integrate these ideas into our daily worklife. 

So thanks Aaron.  Wherever you are.  I’d really like to meet you someday.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Goodbye 2008. Now Get Lost.

Don't Let The Door Hit You In The Ass 2008...

Don't Let The Door Hit You In The Ass 2008...

I won’t miss 2008.

We hit a rather rough patch this past year.  Personally, professionally, heck even meteorologically (Chicago’s wettest year on record)–2008 delivered a seemingly unending series of heartbreaks, bad breaks, and just plain disappointments.

But somehow, despite the fact that nothing more separates 2008 from 2009 than an arbitrary draw of chronological numerics, I know the coming New Year will be different.

Because I will be different.  And I believe a good number of people in our industry will be different as well.  

We will be different because we won’t wait to see what changes technology and evolving media habits bring; we will be a part of those changes, riding the wave and trying new possibilities on web, mobile, and social platforms.

We won’t wait to see how clients react to those changes, we will stay a halfstep ahead of our clients, introducing changes and helping make sense of them.

And we won’t wait for consumer confidence to return to the market after hitting record lows in December, we will hustle it back ourselves with ideas and campaigns that build something even more meaningful than short term sales: long term brand faith.

I don’t have a lot of John Mellencamp on my iPod (though in fairness, the man is woefully underrated and puts on a surprisingly amazing live show), still just this once, I want to quote a lyric from Your Life Is Now:  “CAUSE I BELIEVE YOU COULD CHANGE YOUR MIND AND CHANGE OUR LIVES.”

It’s not what happens to us, it’s what we make of what happens.  So on to a New Year, new thinking, and bold, new experiences.  I can’t wait.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79