The Launch of Bauer’s New Campaign: Another Reason Why I Moved To Minneapolis and Olson

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingOn Monday, Advertising Age wrote about our launch of Bauer’s first new brand campaign since 1996. Their angle was how we adjusted our creative in light of the NHL lockout, shifting the focus from our roster of A-list professional stars to our core brand community of young hockey players. It was a nice article. And it was really nice when and ESPN’s Darren Rovell also picked it up.

My own angle would be far different. I’ve launched many brand campaigns during my career, but as a TV storyteller, I’m thrilled to be part of a major brand campaign that launched digitally.  On Bauer’s website. And Facebook page. And it’s been exciting and validating to watch how it’s spreading in the Bauer brand community. #ownthemoment is getting a lot of play on Twitter, even beyond our ice hockey community.

At Olson, we talk about the importance of communities to brands; how their endorsements shortcut the traditional sales funnel, how word of mouth is a powerful new media platform and mostly, how activating a brand community can help shape and improve a brand’s bottom-line.

It’s no coincidence that over the past seven years, the Bauer brand community helped grow this tired old brand that once stood a distant third to become number one in every category: sticks, skates, pads, helmets (and honestly, can you even name three hockey brands?). That’s a tremendous accomplishment that wasn’t done through a huge spend but rather targeted community engagement, giving them relevant content and themes to share with their friends, all of which added credence to Bauer’s credibility as the true brand in hockey.

But what’s most exciting are our plans to later launch the TV portion of the advertising. We’ve already cut a nice :60 brand spot featuring amateurs and pros alike, but we won’t air that version first. Instead, we are running a contest where we invite our community to share personal video showing how they own the moment: in practice, in games, while traveling, wherever.  We are collecting and sharing their footage and the kicker is, we will edit some of this community-sourced footage into our broadcast debut spot.

In other words, our brand community will both shape our message, and then, further spread it as the winners notify their own networks about when to see them in a Bauer TV spot.

This is film doing more. This is TV with no dead ends. And this is exactly why I came to Olson: to learn, to grow, to reinvent. It’s really, really exciting.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

A Daddy/Daughter Dream, Shared and Amplified by an Online Community

Two years ago, Kathryn DiMaria asked her Father if she could build a Pontiac Fiero. She was twelve at the time. Now she’s fourteen, and doing just that.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonAfter spending $450 for an ’86, she and her Father started the long, laborious process of restoring it. But she’s not by herself in her Dad’s garage in Dearborn, Michigan because they are chronicling all of it on, a site ‘for the Fiero community, by the Fiero community.’

Over the past two years, this community has all but adopted Kathryn. They follow her posts, sending along advice, suggestions, even auto parts. The sheer volume of content and responses fills twenty-three pages. An undeniable tone of paternal pride runs through the entries (along with a somewhat dispiriting display of atrocious spelling)–encouraging, teaching and fiercely partisan. It is the web at its best–selfless, generous and yes, loving. These followers are people united only by shared interests and values. And they rally around this determined young woman.

Yes, there’s the other, limb-mangling underbelly of the web, where trolls spout venom from their dark caves of anonymity, preying upon insecurities and belittling girls. But witnessing the human penchant for mutual support demonstrated in such a straightforward manner restores one’s faith in humanity. CNN recently published a nice write up of the project and the response has been universally positive, even wistful.

After all, who among us doesn’t want their daughters to grow up capable, independent and strong?  Who doesn’t want them to be cherished and protected, cheered and uplifted?  Nurtured, honored and valued.

Every now and then, we get it so right. Every once in a while, we get to see that it truly can take a village. And we are all better for it.  You go Kathryn.  And Happy Friday.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Why The Entertainment Factor of Digital Marketing Matters More Than Ever

We all know the jibes that go back and forth among different camps in the marketing world… “Brand advertising is dead–experience drives brands today.” “TV is not dead, it’s still the single fastest mass awareness medium no matter what the Twitterverse believes.” “Digital may be measurable, but all that means is now coupons live online–whoopee.”

But like all sarcasm, each insult contains a grain of truth, even if it’s ridiculously exaggerated.

When it comes to digital efforts, you must start by realizing that anyone online is only ever two clicks away from sports, gossip. comedy, prOn–the endless parade of distraction that makes up the world wide web. You must be relentlessly self-interested, but the self in question here is their self not yours.  Or your brand’s.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingAnd worse, you also must realize that you’re vying for attention amidst a Niagara-esque deluge of digital information that anyone even remotely plugged in deals with these days.  Our computers, our phones, our iPads–every platform presents endlessly renewed tsunamis of information and distraction. Which makes even something as light as Facebook both a joy and a chore.

But that’s anecdotal research. Now some smart people, the kind who probably wear lab coats, have actually done studies on the subject. Not surprisingly, their results match how most of us feel: we can’t quite keep up.

Of the people polled by for their April Digital Lifestyle survey (download it here), almost half admitted to being connected to the web  “from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed.”  Oh man…  Worse, nearly three-quarters of them called their data stream “a roaring river”, “a flood”, or “a massive tidal wave.”

This access is literally changing human behavior. Over three quarters of us regularly respond to emails on nights and weekends, half of us never turn our cell phones off, and perhaps worst of all, 40% ignore family and friends with over 35% answering work emails while with our kids.

And technology will only increase that data stream.

So the real hard question to ask is this:  is your idea worthwhile enough so it can pull people away from their friends and kids without making them resent you?


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson



The Final Nail in the Coffin of Digital Separatism

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingMaybe it’s the economy or the beleaguered nature of marketing in general, but the aggressive proclamations about a purely online future have died down over the past six months.  Perhaps there’s finally recognition that television is not dying as an advertising medium; any platform that earns 158 hours of attention each month cannot be dismissed as passe.  Hardly…

But neither is broadcast the entire answer, particularly given the ever-escalating costs of that investment and ongoing channel fragmentation.  So traditionalists who’ve kept their head in the sand over our evolving media world need to wake up fast.  Especially after those numbers-nutty statisticians at Nielsen released new data last week showing a direct correlation between video exposure both on TV and online and a tremendous increase in message effectiveness.

Focusing on direct-to-consumer drug advertising, the study proves the efficacy of integration and cross exposure in dramatic fashion.  Despite sounding like the most wonky of buzzphrases, “cross-platform media synergies” stands as the single greatest way to impact media effectiveness, particularly given the way we consume information.  Nielsen believes  TV has unparalleled influence early in the decision cycle,driving consumer awareness and interest, and creating desire.  The Internet then provides engaged consumers with more in-depth information about product specifics, along with opportunities for couponing and even the actual purchase.

The real lesson here is the same one we learned in grade school, the same one espoused by all sorts of religions: play well with others.

Some day we’ll actually take that one to heart…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Eleven Years Ago, This Was Insight. It Still Is.

Every weekday, I try to write something relevant to advertising, branding, or simply modern life.  But today, I’m going to highlight someone else’s writing. Which is a nice way to say “I’m copying.”

I’m copying off one of the web’s original bloggers, Jason Kottke, who has written online since 1998 and currently handles the endlessly fascinating Simultaneously, I’m copying off of Douglas Adams, the English author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and a totally fascinating creative artist who died nine years ago this past week.

Dennis Ryan Chicago Advertising Element 79This piece posted on, quotes Adams from a 1999 interview entitled “How To Stop Worrying And Learn To Love the Internet.”  That’s before widespread broadband or WiFi or even Web 2.0.  Read this and understand the difference between commentary and insight: nearly a decade later, Adam’s vision remains accurate despite the quantum leaps in communication and technology and social networking…

“So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back — like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’ What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust — of course you can’t, it’s just people talking — but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV — a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.”

Rational skepticism can be a beautiful thing, can’t it?
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Yes, Brands Are Opinions, Even the Element 79 Brand

In today’s socially-networked, immediate-impact world, brands suffer when negative opinions spread unchecked.  When those negative opinions are unfounded or severely exaggerated, the damage can be massive (ask any ex-Bear Stearns employee about that one).

Because in today’s socially-networked, immediate-impact world, opinion trumps reality.  As soon as it forms, opinion spreads through mass viral channels like Facebook, Twitter and blogs.  And because it is opinion, it doesn’t require fact-checking.

Last week, I got a wake up call that this truth applies to our Element 79 brand as well.  In the finals of a new business pitch, a CEO mentioned that he Googled Element 79 and wondered when we were gonna merge with DDB?

We’re not.  Never were.  But due to a newspaper column written by a speculatively-inclined columnist for the Chicago Sun Times over fifteen months ago, that rumor popped up in our prospect’s search engine.  Worse, when I shared this anecdote with a few friends at other shops in town, they admitted hearing the same thing.  When the rumor mill, or at least irrelevant suppositions, can influence the outcome of new business, you’ve got trouble.

We’ve spent two years reinventing and rebuilding our agency.  And slowly, we’ve been regrowing.  Today we have about 110 people busy working to help our clients thrive during these tight times.  We want Cricket to leverage their national coverage into a leadership position for value innovation in wireless.  We want Supercuts to show the value of their affordable haircare so that if and when the economy turns better, people realize they don’t have to pay more to look good.

We want Amway to help people supplement their incomes and Central DuPage Hospital to be the first choice for superior healthcare — especially as they bring Illinois’ first Proton Therapy Center online this Summer.  And we want Harris to keep helping people realize how much better the right bank can be.

We also want to do big things for the half-dozen new clients we’ve brought in these past five months.  We want LasikPlus to show glasses wearers that this simple procedure can radically improve their lives quickly and safely.  We can’t wait for the private equity firm GTCR to launch their revamped website and concise brand story in May.  And we take inordinate pride in winning three new brands–Wolf Chili, Alexia, and Banquet–from our friends at ConAgra.

There’s an old adage about physicians taking their own medicine.  And so we’re also going to be taking some steps to clean up our online hygiene.

It wasn’t good news to hear.  But like criticism from a smart coach, it will make us better.  And that’s the daily goal.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


PS:  Michael Gabriel and Gus Gavino made the video above for a recent pitch.  Though we didn’t prevail there, the energy of this piece is just delightful.  The track is “100,000 Thoughts” by Tap Tap.

Without Commercials, The Super Bowl Isn’t

A group of us flew down here to New Zealand for a large commercial shoot.  The weather’s nice, the country’s beautiful and the production team is very buttoned up.  Which is why we had the afternoon of Super Bowl Monday free to catch the Big Game™ at a local pub (Four Nations, Auckland, NZ).  Watching the game on a sunny afternoon certainly changed the experience but not half as much as watching it on an ESPN Live feed where the network fills the commercial breaks exclusively with ESPN promos.

That’s right: no Budweiser ads.  No Dockers, no Snickers, no Coke–just promos for rugby and soccer matches.  When the commercials came on, the crowd just headed for the rest rooms or the bar for another pint of Kilkenny’s (lovely stuff, that).

Without commercials, the Super Bowl is decidedly less Super.  It’s not nearly as engaging.  When it ended, people talked about the game for a while before quickly moving on.  There were no debates about which spot was best, what was a dumb investment, and who got hosed by unfortunate placement.  I’ll probably catch up later by watching them online but it’s not nearly the same as hearing a crowded bar erupt at a good joke or loudly pan a weak execution.

DVR technology allows people to skip past commercials and data shows many do–but they frequently rewind if they see something interesting.  And the Super Bowl majors in commercials that at least attempt to be something interesting.  Just this past Friday, a page one poll on USA Today claimed that 51% of viewers enjoy the commercials most about watching the Super Bowl on TV.  I’d have to agree.

Chalk a big W in the score column for traditional media.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  Do yourself a favor and read Ross Buchanan’s comment to this post.  Frankly, I wish I’d written it.

Babies: The Proven, Can’t-Miss Video Stars

On video, few things bring as much joy to the casual viewer as a baby.  Check out this little giggling guy.  And this guy Charlie.  And this little ham too.  If you’re not grinning now, check your pulse.  We love our babies.  Show the world a baby bouncing to Beyonce and that’s gold Jerry, gold!

I’ve been thinking about babies for two reasons: first my friend Rick and his wife Diana welcomed their second son Luca into the world over Thanksgiving, and next a group of roller-skating, hip hopping babies just scored huge for Evian.  The Guinness World Record people just named “Rollerbabies” the most-viewed online ad of all time.  It’s been watched more than 45 million times already and this new recognition will only add to that tally.

evian-roller-babyAs cute as these babies are, they didn’t go viral all by themselves.  Evian leveraged YouTube home page ads in the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and the United States to promote the spot.  They also credit its massive popularity with positive brand impact.  Specifically, Nielsen and YouTube research indicates Internet users in France experienced increased brand awareness and purchase consideration after viewing the ad.

For a metrics obsessed client, that may not be nearly enough hard data to confirm their believe in the ad’s effectiveness.  Or the general worth of pursuing viral fame in general.  But in this medium, and with this market of widespread casual viewers, the Rollerbabies made quite a splash.  In a world where brands are opinions, their runaway popularity means they generated a great deal of positive talk, and that influences opinion.

At a certain point, everyone has to embrace the uncertainty of John Wanamaker’s classic maxim: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted: the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

One way to tilt the odds in your favor is to include a funny baby.  Or ten.  And putting them on roller skates seems to help too.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

As General Web Sophistication Grows, The Effectiveness of Simplistic Tactics Withers

As Louis CK says rather brilliantly, “Everything is amazing and no one’s happy.” The ready availability of technology inevitably inures people to its intrinsic wonder and possibilities through nothing more than repeated use.  As we navigate through the wild, shapeless zettabytes of information and arcania on the web, we form habits, creating our own narrow, predictable Habitrails™ around our interests and viewpoints.  We close our doors of perception lest we grow overwhelmed.

Picture 2Which may explain these recently released findings from comScore and Starcom updating their ongoing research around click-through rates for online ads.  Two findings leap out from this data.  First, a mere 16% of all web users account for nearly all online ad clicks, with 85% of clicks coming from 8% of users the study rather unimaginatively categorizes as ‘heavy clickers.’  And secondly, in less than two years between July ’07 and March ’09, the total share of all internet users who click online ads shrunk in half, from 32% to 16%.

Of course, media and marketing salespeople will respond to these findings by redoubling their protests that click through is an anemic measure for ad effectiveness.  And indeed, another comScore research shows online display ads generate meaningful lift in both online and offline sales whether they click the ad or not.

All of which kind of misses the really obvious lesson here: there simply can be no standing still on ‘proven’ assumptions about online audiences.  It’s a movable feast and the more effective and advanced technology becomes, the more the time-honored values of surprise, delight and intrigue will rise to the fore of this media platforms requirements to be truly effective.  Creativity always has been the differentiator between the average and the exceptional.  Even the wonkiest data wonks will soon have to admit tonnage and new message environments alone will not move the needle.

You always have to have something worth saying.  Or at least a clever way to say it.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Skewing Online Data: Why Marketers Should Think “Convergence” Not “Transference”

Studies show that if a brand wants to drive significant online impressions, they should advertise on TV.  Similarly, if a TV ad aspires to live longer than thirty seconds, it should continue the experience online.  Cross platform convergence makes today’s advertising media world far more complicated but also far more engaging,  The trick boils down to innovative, creative and effective platform coordination.

Unfortunately, in a tough economy with escalating TV media costs, many advertisers look to the web as simply a cheaper medium.  They don’t really understand the metrics but the siren call of lowcost of entry makes far too many forget any sense of basic strategic responsibility and ROI discipline.

Hopefully, that shortsightedness will change if enough marketers read about this study from Mpire, an online ad optimization company in Seattle.  MPire developed a new technology called AdXpose which recently determined that 95% of clicks and 50% of online ad impressions were fraudulent.

AdXpose: “95% of Clicks, Half of Online Ad Impressions are Fraudulent

If these numbers don’t knock you back, re-read that sentence again.  This fraud is nothing short of Madoff-esque.  For a medium with as much data-mining and measurability as the web, this kind of blatant gaming of the system threatens to destroy it’s incredible promise.  And if that seems like too big an exaggeration, like something confined to the small space bargain bins of discount web banners, watch the click counts on YouTube for the Super Bowl ads this coming February.  Some will legitimately spike as people relive or catch up on this cultural event.  But others, quite obviously, will be blatantly played.  It’s been happening the past few years by some of the biggest names: names that don’t have the track record of performance of say a Budweiser.  With this big a high-profile gamble, a little off-shore insurance can protect your career and so clicks skyrocket for spots that hardly bear watching once.  In some cases, this can even happen without the clients’ knowledge; insurance works for production companies and young directors as well.

Television skeptics have enjoyed quite a run these past few years, particularly over dated and dubious metrics like Nielsen.  Given these findings however, perhaps skepticism deserves its day.  And equal time.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79