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


The Modern Cost of a Really Bad Day

Yesterday, the rigging for Madonna’s new concert tour collapsed during construction in Marseilles, killing two workers.  By any measure, that’s a tragedy.  However, given Madonna’s lightning rod persona, that horrific accident has become an excuse to deem her solely responsible by bloggers and commenters who intensely dislike her.

This is an ugly downside of our intensely interconnected modern world.  Opinion has a mass channel, and that can work against you with sudden and feverish intensity.  On a far less tragic scale, that’s what happened yesterday to Andy Azula of the Martin Agency.

Andy had a really bad day back on June 18th as he tried to fly with his family from Richmond to Atlanta.  And it truly was really, really bad: forced to wait all day at the airport with seven year old twins, their luggage held hostage on a broken plane so they couldn’t leave or change flights, making him ultimately miss both a paid speaking gig and a family gathering with the grandparents.  It sounded awful.  And quite rightly, Andy wrote a letter to Delta angrily recounting his miseries.

ups-china-to-us1But things turned really awful when he posted that letter to his personal blog (he’s since taken it down).   In short order, people noticed it and passed it along, eventually to a gossipy insider advertising site with a reputation for fanning the flames of outrage amongst the marketing set.  Suddenly, everyone had an opportunity to assess Andy’s complaints and again, those inclined to negativity had a field day, excoriating him for among other things, trying to get the airline’s attention by identifying himself as ‘the UPS whiteboard actor.’  Twice.

It was not Andy’s finest hour.  Our most frustrated moments rarely are.  And yet, his industry reputation is pretty good; by all accounts, Andy’s long been considered a pretty good guy.  Given the legendary Mike Hughes’ low tolerance for jerks, he wouldn’t have his position if that weren’t the case.  But Andy had a bad day.  And in a fit of pique, made a couple of bad decisions.  I’m sure he is currently amazed at just how many people there are in this world and how closely they read his words.

Conventional wisdom says to wait ten minutes and breathe deeply before sending an inflammatory e-mail.  We should probably change ‘minutes’ to ‘months’ when it comes to posting anything similar on the web (those drinking photos on Facebook, that outraged review on Amazon, etc.).

If you wouldn’t want your Mom or boss to see it, don’t post it.  Because they will.  And so will everyone else.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The First Question for Advertisers Considering Social Media: Is Your Company Agoraphobic?

Imagine this: you are at a cocktail party: chatting, mingling, nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly, a total stranger walks up and throws their Appletini in your face.  What do you do? Throw your drink in their face? Arch an eyebrow and toss off a withering bon mot? Or do you walk away, consult your lawyers, then return days later with a scripted response?

In The 24/7 Social Media Cocktail Party, You Will Meet Some Boors.

At The 24/7 Social Media Cocktail Party, You Will Meet Some Boors.

This is not an idle exercise; it’s actually a reasonable gauge of any organization’s comfort with the all-access world of social media.  Recently, a planner friend of mine told me how–metaphorically speaking–this very thing happened to McDonald’s after they posted a spot on a social networking site. Within the first few comments, PETA activists showed up and launched a coordinated assault against the ad, the restaurant, and most every aspect of the McDonald’s business. The client was horrified and wanted to immediately pull the posting; a corporate reaction that is totally natural and understandable.

But in this environment, it’s also totally wrong.  This medium is ‘social’–even if you are there as a corporation, the group expects you to behave like a human being.  You can’t suddenly lawyer up and start speaking in that robotic, Teflon language of corporate PR; this simply isn’t the venue.  Transparency is critical.  Imperfection is okay.  Immediacy is everything.

People go to social media to talk, so anything that happens, generates discussion and debate. Returning to the cocktail party metaphor, how would other guests view that unprompted assault?  They probably wouldn’t like it anymore than if someone launched into a strident political diatribe over crab cakes; it’s uncalled for and entirely inappropriate. Yes, the insult remains, the offense still happened and you will definitely need to get your tie dry cleaned, but in the end, the other guests will see that you were wronged, not wrong, and so based on your response, many otherwise neutral bystanders will now actually support you.

Negative opinions like these have always been out there, we just never saw them. They were never widely published.  We never had web-scrubbing programs that could uncover them and bring them to our attention. Now that we do, the real challenge is determining the importance of any particular negative comment.  Is that thought viral?  Or is it simply the rantings of a crank?  We need to know the difference.  If we respond to every potential threat, we will exhaust ourselves in the effort and waste untold resources on this fool’s errand.

At Element 79, we advise clients considering social media efforts to take a brutally honest look at their own corporate culture and assess how comfortable they are with public exposure.  A few take to it naturally, putting themselves out there in a highly-human manner, but many more recoil.  They worry about liability and the need to protect proprietary assets.  In the new world of social media, these clients are agoraphobic, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Emily Dickinson, arguably America’s greatest poet, was a noted eccentric who could not stand the thought of public spaces, and she did pretty well for herself. The same applies to client organizations; when you’ve made literally hundreds of millions of dollars over the years behaving one way, you need some strong fiscal arguments to change those ways. As of yet, there are no guarantees that entering social media will pay off for every organization. In fact you could create a rather compelling argument that to date, it has paid off for very few, and may never pay off for some.  Every medium is not appropriate for every organization–that truth endures.  The key demand today is for organizations to truly know themselves.

Which, interestingly, applies to people as well.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Who Wants To Play?   




Who Wants To Play?

About a week ago, Bob Merlotti–unrepentant funnyman and founder of the innovative advertising organization Skeleton Crew–posted yet another one of his casually hysterical status updates on Facebook.  It read simply “Bob Merlotti wears the scarf of indignity.”  Now I don’t know what life event prompted this thought–if any.  And aside from the fact that as a huffy sort of adjective, ‘indignity’ falls into that wonderful linguistic subset of intrinsically funny words, little distinguished this specific update from dozens of his other witty posts.  And yet it clearly struck a chord.  Within minutes, four people had chimed in, offering absurdist sartorial builds on his initial bit, ranging from ‘the english derby of righteousness’ to ‘fez of futility’ and ‘bathing suit of exasperation.’  By days end, that simple post generated sixteen replies.

In the massive numbers of the internet, sixteen replies equals the approximate register of a single leaf falling in a thousand acre forest, but for those of us who jumped in (and you bet, I jumped in too), the experience was like a taking a few turns on a swingset–simple, silly and undeniably fun.

What was it about this particular post that made it such an irresistible invitation to play?  Why did such a relatively high number choose to add to this particular thread?

In his highly accessible and brilliantly informed book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky details how today’s widespread communication tools radically reduce the cost of participation, fueling social upheaval around how quickly and powerfully groups form and act today.  Whether a group forms to disseminate information, drive political change, or crowdsource large scale projects, reducing the cost of participation increases the likelihood of success exponentially.  In a time of more change and fewer absolutes for both the marketing industry and society as a whole, Shirky’s informed analysis helps provide a framework for adapting to this new reality and the financial repercussions it creates.

Getting back to Bob’s post, his clean, easily-imitated gag structure clearly lowers the cost of participation.  With Facebook, that cost refers not to time or money, but rather fear of extremely public failure.  Anything you post on Facebook instantly pops up on the newsfeed of hundreds and even thousands of others to see and judge, intimidating many from jumping in.  But in this instance, Bob provided an initial gag structure that was both delightfully clever and easily replicated, requiring only a silly, alliterative clothing/emotion combination.  Once you free associated say, ‘hot pants’ with ‘hussiness,’ you could play too.  And so ten people did almost immediately.

Unlike a very special episode of ‘Family Ties,’ we didn’t all learn something.  Still, it was a day-brightnening experience and an intimate lesson in community building–if you make something easy and fun, all sorts of people will want to play with you.  Thanks for that Bob.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79