Yes, Creativity for Creativity’s Sake Can Generate Significant Agency Value

It was nearly five years ago. Mike Fetrow and I were struggling to bring better, more interesting creative work to Olson–the kind that keeps the incredible talent we’d recruited happy and productive.

Back then, Cory McLeod worked in Olson’s studio, creating web banners and microsites and generally bringing far more creativity to his projects than they deserved. A multi-lingual Canadian/Latvian immigrant, Cory had a rich life outside of work, creating public art and collaborating with his documentarian wife, Mara Pelecis (here is the trailer to Surviving the Peace: her emotionally-shattering, powerfully personal film about the effects of PTSD on America’s veterans).

During a trip back to Latvia, Cory struck up a friendship with Rabbi Menachem Barkan, who created the Riga Ghetto Museum to commemorate this overlooked chapter of history. And that’s how a midwestern agency in a city populated by Norwegian Lutherans ended up making a website for a Jewish pro-bono client halfway around the world. We worked on this project during down hours, nights, and weekends. Brilliant people jumped all in, much to the growing concern and outright displeasure of agency management and our militant project managers.

We were scolded for wasting time, since time is money in the agency business. Upper management and our VC owners pressured us to drop it, to do the bare minimum and move on, since they were trying to sell the agency and needed to optimize our margins and billable hours.

But we weren’t and we didn’t. Our only personal payment may have been pride and trees planted in Israel in each of our names, but the Olson agency garnered international attention, earning coverage in high profile outlets like Fast Company. Which proved very valuable to the agency sale process.

In today’s margin-stressed agency world, passion projects are often the first to go, but that’s inexcusably short-sighted. Done right, they serve as compelling ads for agencies, drawing in new audiences by showcasing creative capabilities without restraint.


I bring this old story up again because Cory’s back–this time with a magnificent VR Rockumentary about the Latvian band Perkons. It’s another Cory passion project, one that drove him to teach himself VR filmmaking. And it was only made possible through the continual support of Fallon.

Perkons had its US debut last night at the Walker Art Museum. For ten minutes, lucky people strapped on Oculus GOs and HTC Vive’s and lost themselves in a tale of Soviet repression, artistic expression, and the changing tides of history.

On the surface, Perkons is far from a project with obvious agency value. But ex-ECD Jeff Kling supported it (going so far as to provide the VO) and now Fallon has a tremendous, widely promotable example of VR storytelling that makes any agency envious. The project is beginning to gain press (some amazing outlets are already making sponsorship inquiries) in a way that will inevitably attract client interest.

Thanks to a creative thinker. With a dream about a forgotten Latvian band that changed the course of modern history. And an agency wise-enough to fund it.


What Makes People Share Videos? Well, Self-Interest Helps…

Social media and the omnipresence of the mobile web makes sharing videos and other content remarkably easy. With the click of a button or two, you can send something that you find worthwhile to all your friends and neighbors.

But what motivates people to share a particular video?

A point-of-view helps; people love sharing pieces that confirm their personal opinions.

Surprise works really well; and there’s nothing quite like sharing that experience with others.

And of course, there’s always self-interest. At it’s worst, self-interest comes off like a stream of tropical vacation Facebook posts during the brutal days of February.

I hope this doesn’t come off that way, but I’m sharing a video with you that doesn’t espouse a particularly point of view we might share…one that doesn’t surprise overly much…but one that shamelessly reflects my own self-interest. Because it’s not everyday you and your agency get featured in the Wall Street Journal. And it’s even rarer that they extend that into a short video on their online site.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

The WSJ embed code isn’t working so please click here.

Olson Minneapolis does enjoy the nicest, best designed, most collaborative office space I’ve known in my career. It’s nice to see Gensler get a nice shout out for it. And man, I work with good looking people.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

The NFL, The Viral Audience, and Rapping White Guys

The NFL is big, big business. Two weeks ago, Forbes pegged the average value of its 32 teams at $1.17 billion dollars and its operating margin at 15.4%. Those are huge numbers, reflecting just how pervasive professional football has become in our culture.

At the same time, the best way to make branded content shareworthy is through specificity–engaging a select interest group with their own special language, symbols and values. Where broadcast television pitches brands to the largest possible audience, successful brand content intentionally seeks out smaller, more defined groups that are more likely to self-select, share and act. In this way, great content works like a heat-seeking missile, earning forwards only among a brand’s most relevant and valuable audience.

So how do you make shareworthy content for a subject with a very broad target? In DirecTV’s case, you make a three minute commercial with rapping white guys. Celebrity white guys. The family Manning…

Rapping white guys has become a genre onto itself; it’s been done well and done painfully. But it’s now a comedy vein that’s been over-mined . As great as Peyton Manning’s comic timing is–and I honestly believe it is great–even he can’t lift this one from humorous to hilarious. Certainly this clip is well written. It has some lovely moments and the wigs are funny–although Archie’s seems oddly reminiscent of Brian Jones. Yet in the final tally, it doesn’t really make the shareworthy bar for any reason other than the Manning family’s football celebrity. Moreover, it features classic broadcast product copy at both the beginning and the end–actions that would alienate an online audience were it not for the general likability of its stars and topic.

Given the NFL’s enormous influence and the success of viral seeding, this clip has and will get plenty of views. With pre-season anticipation and excitement this high, anything solid that fills our demand for football will do the trick.

This piece is definitely solid, if not overly original. Then again, this is brand content as broadcast. So in this instance, that’s probably enough.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

On Longer Form Brand Content: Corning’s “A Day Made of Glass” Virals

This industry has come so far so fast… There was a time when agencies were hired to make corporate videos–thankless yet important rah-rah efforts to be played at conventions and sales meetings. But with broadband, those videos gained a new distribution platform and the potential for remarkable brand content exploded.

Two years ago, Corning and their agency Doremus took advantage of that when they invested real imagination and considerable production dollars in a five and a half minute piece called “A Day Made of Glass.” Their premise was simple; what could the world look like if pretty much everything were made of touch screens featuring their proprietary Gorilla Glass?

Check view count  on that page: over twenty two million. Without slapstick. Or celebrity. Or exploding squirrels. This calm, hypnotic vision of a future world earned extensive media coverage from key outlets like WiredGizmodo, and the Huffington Post when it was released. In it’s first month, it registered 7.4 million views.

Since then, Corning released a follow up, the none-too-imaginatively-named “A Day Made of Glass 2.”  At 3.7 million hits, it hasn’t had the impact of the first piece, but those are still respectable numbers, particularly for a piece built around photovoltaic glass. Arguably, those watching this piece are more engaged, having seen the first and choosing to watch and learn more.

So far, there’s been no “A Day Made of Glass 3” in 2013, but with 109 videos posted to their corporate YouTube pages, Corning is committed to this platform. Any manufacturer can flood the market with cheap, low cost videos. It’s reassuring to see one committed to the power of ideas to spark imaginations and build brand affinity.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

PS:  These would make such a great co-branding opportunity for Windex.

With Over 100 Hours of Video Uploaded Every Minute, It’s Easy To Get Lost On YouTube

Think about it: by the time you finish reading this blog entry, more than a week’s worth of fresh video will have been uploaded to YouTube. We upload more content in sixty days than the three major U.S. Networks generated in the last sixty years. Over a billion people visit the world’s biggest website every month. Yet amidst all this enormity, views of brand-created content have grown 73%, year on year.

So you want to create a clip for your client and post it on YouTube? That’s adorable, good luck with that.

Oh it is definitely being done. A recent report from Pixability, a YouTube-certified ad agency, outlines a number of key findings regarding marketing on the site. Obviously, they are biased toward their own platform, but still their study of the world’s Top 100 Global brands and their 1378 verified channels uncovered some key findings (by the way, only one of those top 100 brands does NOT have a YouTube channel).

First off, while videos have an indefinite shelf life, they garner 40% of their total views in the first three weeks and the next 30% before the first three months. And yet, because so many videos are not promoted, more than half of these videos earn less than 1000 views. That’s a lot of wasted effort.

To avoid disappearing in those exabytes of data, Pixability recommends these best practices:

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonMake a lot of content: The most popular brands post almost 80 videos each month; 50% more videos per channel than the least successful ones.

Use social media. If you want views, link your content to Facebook and Twitter. Social media drives sharing. It never hurts to link your YouTube channel to traditional offline media either.

Vary video length: Post short ones to attract customers, longer ones to close those most interested. Basically, Pixability suggests creating a full sales funnel on your brand channel.

Optimize your content: YouTube is the second largest search engine so brands should utilize SEO, adapting for some specific YouTube channel architecture. One biggie is that Google prioritizes Web pages with YouTube video embeds. Another is to embed content with metadata, titles, descriptions and yes, brand logos, since clips can migrate so far off the YouTube platform.

Of course, I take issue with their data-geek bromide not to get caught in what they term ‘the overproduction trap.’ They claim lesser quality video works well too, but to my mind, they’re just trying to keep brands with no taste from feeling bad about themselves.

That’s ridiculous. You have a billion people coming to your door every month–put on a nice shirt and polish your shoes. You don’t live in a barn.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

One Approach to Viral Success? Models in Lingerie. New Work for Agent Provocateur.

It’s really not fair. Most of us toil away in the trenches of marketing, working to dream up viral ideas for single coat wall paints or high-fiber snacks. We try to capture peoples’ attention and inspire them to pass along our content. Sometimes, given our subject matter, that can be a pitched battle…

Penelope Cruz however, starts off with all sorts of advantages. There’s her fame, of course. And her layup of an assignment; selling her sister Monica’s lingerie line. Oh, and her sister apparently knows lots of models who are comfortable sprawling, lounging, and performing low-impact gymnastics in foundation garments. And she can talk her husband Javier Bardem into making a cameo too.

This is as cheesy as your average Cinemax After Hours presentation; lots of suggestion, lots of skin, not a lot of concept. The “magic Ray Bans” seem like a gimmick from a Scott Baio film and the rest of it feels like really bad Euro trash, but maybe that’s just the soundtrack. Little happens during it’s meandering six minute plus duration, although to be fair, over 20% of it’s running time is dedicated to credits. It’s critical we know the names of all the assistant hair stylists and the financial officer for this production effort.

In the end, as lazy as this piece feels, it probably constitutes a smart investment on Agent Provocateur’s part. The celebrity participation and prurient subject matter guarantee it will be picked up and talked about by all sorts of media outlets and bloggers, whether or not the content really merits it.

Which I guess makes me part of the problem.
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Viewer Abandonment and the Steven Spielberg Approach

Everyone remembers the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, culminating with Indy’s footrace against a giant rolling boulder…but fewer people remember this: the opening to Spielberg’s rather forgettable romantic comedy Always. Still, it’s interesting to note how he attempts the same feat with both openings: to grab viewer attention right away with a big or surprising scene. In Raiders, it both thrilled audiences and defined the hero’s character. Here, well, it just looked kinda cool.

Sure, this scene goes on for almost a minute, but the movie lasts over two hours. Proportionally, that equals barely a second of a two minute video. It’s the direct equivalent of starting out with an amazing first image, a startling situation, or a surprising twist of casting. And it’s well worth emulating. Filmed Brand Content either plays in forced viewing media like pre-roll where conditioned viewers understand they have five to fifteen seconds to wait or in pure earned media where viewers owe you nothing. Either way, you have no time for backstory or slow set-ups. Certainly not when you are battling the omnipresent FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that is so endemic to the web. Every non-rewarding moment allows viewers to suspect there’s probably something better a click or two away.

And they’re usually right.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Camp Gyno: What’s Your Verdict?

I’m married with two daughters. And while I do miss my dog Jack, it’s not because he was male but because he was a great dog. So when Facebook lit up with all my ad friends talking about how awesome this particular bit of content was–how it made Dollar Shave Club‘s comedy seem trite–I had to watch. So I did.


I can’t help thinking this piece speaks way more to the agency that produced it than its intended target audience. I mean, I watched it multiple times and it took reading about this on other blogs to realize that they were selling actual tampon care packages. With no product shot, I just figured parents were making up little boxes brightened with candy themselves. You know, the way they’ve done for campers since, oh, the dawn of sleepaway camps.

Look, I could be wrong. I could be waaaay wrong. And it has proven undeniably watchable with nearly 4.8 million views on You Tube during its first  week. But I just don’t know who this film is supposed to speak to. Anxious young girls who might enjoy a helpful care package of feminine hygiene buoyed by candy? Their parents–or more specifically their moms, who might actually relate to this narrative with a mixture of nostalgia and knowingness? Or agency creatives who think it’s sassy (and potential award show bait) to have a pubescent actress enunciate the word ‘vagina’ with such emphasis?

Like I said, I could be wrong and this could be hugely effective–I don’t know. So please take this poll and let me know what you think. I’d really like to know if you find this shareworthy.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

The Dawn of Shareworthy Content: A Fisherman Kicks A Bear In The Nuts

Back in 2001, broadband internet was just beginning to gain a foothold in America. One day that Summer, small movies files of a canned salmon ad from a brand no one had every heard of suddenly filled U.S. e-mail inboxes.  Burnett London created what appeared to be a nature documentary of bears working a salmon run who were jarringly interrupted by a feisty fisherman intent on taking their best fish.  The spot quickly devolved into a slapbattle between man and beast before ending on the sell for John West Salmon.

I remember getting this seven times in one day, but it wasn’t just passed around within the ad community. All kinds of people saw and shared this TV commercial. Once this video file hit your mailbox, it was only natural to send it on to your friends.

Which is how it became arguably the first viral video in history. Fueled by a great idea and the widening availability of broadband, “Bear” tickled a nation’s funny bone and arrived in a form that was easy to forward.

This breakthrough unleashed the flood, as soon thousands of video clips of ads, film scenes, TV skits and home movies began clogging in-boxes and frustrating server-protective IT people in America’s corporations. Seemingly overnight, production houses and agencies dedicated to viral video creation formed to take advantage of this new, and still not fully understood, video distribution channel. And “Content” became an advertising buzzword. It was all so new and promising. Over a decade later it still is, albeit with far higher resolution.

But it all started with a simple :30 television spot, albeit one that was supremely shareworthy.

You know, ’cause did you see that fisherman kick the bear in the nuts?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson