When Brands Collide: Puma Golf vs. Augusta

During this weeklong run-up to the Masters Tournament, the press generates stories to fuel fan interest around the storied Augusta National Golf Club (yes, by unspoken law you must describe that course as either ‘storied’ or ‘legendary’–‘unflinchingly white’ is not acceptable). Yesterday’s headline followed the classic chestnut ‘young rebel vs. creaky old establishment.’  No, Hootie Johnson was not involved, instead the teacup controversy centered around twenty-year old, 2010 PGA Rookie of the Year Rickie Fowler and his youthful proclivity for turning his cap around whenever he’s interviewed. That is a huge no-no because country clubbers get obsessive about things like ‘proper golf attire.’

That said, it’s totally accepted that today’s professional golfers range over the fairways like so many polyester NASCAR’s, unable to compete wearing anything that’s not noticeably embroidered with logos and catchphrases from their various sponsors. For Rickie, the face of Puma Golf, that means a wardrobe tinted with all the subtly of an Easter Egg basket. No one buys Puma anything for the brand’s sports credentials; the cat logo signifies a fashion brand and like most fashion, it aims at a younger market. And Puma loves their Bieber-esque young star, creating an ad around his much celebrated background in California motocross…

But it’s not an ad, not really, unless the cable networks are now selling fifty-three second long ad units. No, when it comes to advertising media spends, yesterday’s non-story was Puma’s big investment, covered and seen by more people than the video above which primarily resides on YouTube and their website.

PR and advertising–that’s the new convergence. Much like oversized ball caps in gumdrop colors are the new black.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, OLSON


Something Else Ad People Can Learn from PR

I’ve grown increasingly obsessed with the convergence of advertising and public relations, driven mostly by the realization that social media amounts to a powerful new crowd-sourced form of PR for brands to harness and utilize.  As Public Relations grows ever more powerful through social media and other forms of empowered and viral word of mouth, advertising agencies need to recognize it’s influence and integrate the discipline more fully in service of brands.

But we can take lessons from more than just what PR does for brands; we can learn from how PR sells itself.  In many ways, they far outpace this industry.  For too many years, ad agencies have operated under the assumption that our worth was self-evident, that our value was well-recognized and understood.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingUnfortunately, that’s not the case.  At least, not anymore. In a time of free media platforms, of unpaid brand ambassadors and most critically, radically empowered procurement departments, faith in the returns on advertising investments is no longer a given.  As a sales profession, we’ve done a lousy job of addressing this growing skepticism.  We’ve allowed the same people who could quickly enumerate the quality differences between a Mercedes and a Kia to apply uniform pricing to creative product which is every bit as variable.  And we’ve not compellingly refuted the growing notion that empowered consumers can handle advertising themselves, despite five years of high profile yet uniformly crappy Doritos ads in the Super Bowl.  For a sales based business, we’ve simply not sold ourselves well.

And yet PR agencies do that regularly through one of their most fundamental practices.  Every year–and often every quarter, they present a summary book or DVD that lists all the mentions their brands have earned, all the stories generated and media insertions to their clients.  These simple documents make their product tangible and real.

Ad agencies need to adopt this practice.  We are very good at listing what awards various projects may have won, but we’re far less facile at quantifying their market impact, at describing the ways they changed the conversation among consumers.

As skepticism around our industry rises, we need to tackle this issue head on.  We need to sell ourselves.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


A Working Definition of Social Media (noun, pl): 1. Crowdsourced Opinion. 2. Crowdsourced PR

There’s a wonderful old adage that says “Where there’s confusion, there’s money to be made.”  The rapidly evolving world of social media presents a bewildering environment for marketers; “should we be in social media?”  “What kind of conversations should I have?”  “Is it unseemly to tweet when you hold an MBA?”

Reasonable questions all…  Of course, given that adage, all sorts of new ventures have sprung up to fill the breech.  Some truly offer clients valuable advice and tactics, others simply spread further confusion.  And too many traditional agencies seem lost as well, torn between acquiring expertise  through buying smaller companies and burying their heads in the sand to avoid this expensive-topic that so far, seems to defy scalability of the sort the mass media (and yes, digital should now be considered a mass media)

So while this definition may be a little slow getting to the table, at this point, it’s been tested and proven in real world situations.  Considering social media as both crowdsourced opinion and crowdsourced PR provides focus for marketers, a focus that–even if there are other minor aspects of social media that may be relevant too–can help drive new initiatives.

As crowdsourced opinion, social media can help tighten insights and bring genuine relevance to the way we position brands to consumers.  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs are all searchable by clever planners who can farm them for opinions without the artifice of a focus groups’ two way mirror.

As crowdsourced PR, social media allows brands to directly reach out to opinion leaders and try to influence them.  Thinking about these platforms as a means to shape brand stories to bring them closer in line with their ideal positioning makes social media less of an unknown and far more measurable against a specific outcome.

Social media can be confusing.  But if you simplify it down, you can make it pragmatic and actionable.  Which is always a helpful, helpful thing.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The New Marketing Landscape of O.P.E.N. Media

In a culture where opinion has a mass channel and information spreads at unprecedented speeds, we need to rethink our notion of media mixes.  Today, a more holistic view could be O.P.E.N. media: Owned, Paid, Earned and unfortunately, Negative.

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis RyanFrom the very beginning, a few marketers and brands have realized the value of the media they Owned.  Wheaties drew attention by putting athletes on their box, Bazooka Joe used his comics, and Apple has long sold their brand through the style-setting impact of their clean, elegant industrial design and packaging.  More recently, Uniqlo has done it through their ever changing, always fascinating websites and Anthropologie through one of the oldest and simplest retail mediums: the store window.

Advertising agencies developed to create content and strategize placement for Paid Media.  We’d buy TV and radio time, take out space in magazines, newspapers and billboards, and invest in sponsorships and events.  It required making choices about where you should place your creative bets, but by and large, it worked.  And still does.

More recently, the world of Social Media introduced the notion of Earned Media.  Smart brands invest time in creating relationships with influential people in the online and offline world, and earn positive public relations as a result.  Or they create content and provide it to news shows and video outlets for others to share.  In the end, a brand must do something worthwhile or interesting to encourage people to share their story; they must earn it (On a side note, some like to parse out Shared Media: the pass alongs made possible through services like Reddit and Digg.  To me, this is hair splitting: Shared Media is simply a subset of Earned Media).

And yet, there is a fourth Media all marketers need to keep in mind today: Negative Media.  Brands have always had to deal with cranky customers, with complaints and disagreements over return policies or product efficacy.  But these days, consumers can turn to a mass channel of opinion to post their grievance and spread their displeasure.  In this modern world of Immedia, news, stories and cultural moments spread with unprecedented speed through online ecosystems.  And few things spread as quickly as bad news–United Breaks Guitars, anyone?  If a story is presented compellingly or if it captures the public imagination, brands can quickly find themselves in trouble due to a virulent outbreak of Negative Media.  Dominos had those yokels blowing their noses on their pizzas, Toyota had the Prius problem, and a long list of brands knows what happened when Tiger blew his cover.

Negative Media is a relatively new phenomenon.  With the individual empowerment of Web 2.0 and social networks, the ability to spread opinion far and wide has never been cheaper, faster or more effective.  That’s why keeping an ear on the online chatter about your brand means so much these days.  A good social media policy can mean the difference between being caught by a story or getting ahead of it.

Negative Media is just another argument for converging traditional marketing and public relations, particularly Social Media.  Coordinating these disciplines from the outset of brand marketing enhances the impact of the traditional efforts that get brands recognized even as it activates the advocates to drive brand recommendation.  And it can insure all of these investments by continually monitoring online dialogue for Negative Media.

It’s a 24/7 world.  Now we gotta be always O.P.E.N.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Getting Hit By A Skunk

Picture 5I let our dog out into the backyard last night and twenty minutes later, the unmistakable smell of skunk barged in through the windows and doors and seemingly the walls themselves.  If you’ve never smelled a skunk, it can only be described as a three dimensional odor of hammering disgust: intense, intolerable and inescapable.  The large-hearted among us may be inclined to excuse the skunk since its low status on the food chain bestows such a nauseating means of self-defense, but no one with even modest olfactory capabilities can–the stink is just too strong.  And so I spent three hours staining Jack’s bounteous ruff with tomato juice, trying to cut the stench from horrific to merely awful.  In the end, Jack still had to spend the night outside, his hangdog expression clearly communicating that this excretion offended even his adventurous nose.

When you get hit by a skunk, you have to act immediately to clean up and then…wait. There’s not a lot you can do other than try to address the issue as best you can and then…endure.  More than anything else, time diminishes the odor.

Dominos got hit by a skunk a few weeks back in the form of two bonehead employees with a video camera.  Their CEO went on YouTube reasonably quickly, showed his disgust and disdain, and then…waited.  And despite how those disgusting images sear into the synapses, time helps the image fade, particularly once you realize this was a rogue act of a skunk.  Our home state got hit by a skunk in the form of Rod “Pay to Play” Blagojevich.  Actually, Illinois has a history of living in a cloud of stench from skunks that go by the title of ‘governor’ or ‘senator.’  Someone like Michael Vick didn’t get hit by a skunk, he was the skunk for the Atlanta Falcons, and they too had to scramble to determine a response that would be strong enough, before stepping back and waiting it out.

When brands are opinions and opinions enjoy the mass distribution channels of social networks, the once separate worlds of advertising and public relations. must converge.  And nothing makes that more obvious than those unfortunate moments when you’re sprayed by a skunk.

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

Last Month, All Pig Farmers Worried About Was Pork Belly Prices…

What a difference a Phase 5 pandemic makes.  The drums of global hysteria grow ever more deafening as every news outlet screams the new name for horror: “Swine Flu.”

Keep A Sharp Lookout For This

Keep A Sharp Lookout For This

Swine Flu compelled Egypt to order the immediate slaughter of every pig in the country, Great Britain to order thirty-two million masks and the Chicago Public School System to temporarily shutter a few Elementary Schools.  Around the globe, new legislation, international travel bans and public service announcements drive home the deadly threat, even in countries with no current cases. 

None of this is good for pig farmers, particularly since their product has precious little to do with the outbreak.  While this flu virus did originate in pigs, every flu virus originates in birds, pigs or humans–that’s how they evolve.  The trouble is that  influenza mutates incredibly quickly in any carrier, which is why flu vaccines must constantly change unlike say, the vaccine for polio.  According to flu experts at the World Health Organization, this virus is neither food borne nor related to pork consumption.  It spreads solely through human-to-human contact; no one has contracted swine flu through eating, handling or even kissing a pig.

Regardless, the popular misperception persists and because brands are opinions, the Other White Meat brand now lies seriously compromised and decidedly devalued.  Of course, they have close company in the Mexican Tourism Board, which was already battling a dangerous drug violence concern.

Can a brand survive this type of reputation-riddling tsunami?  Not without a serious and aggressive investment in messaging.  Advertising can help the Pig Farmers, but a PR offensive would prove more immediately effective.  And they did accomplish at least a small first victory yesterday, convincing the World Health Organization to stop referring to it as “Swine Flu” and instead use the less memorable but more accurate “H1N1 Influenza A.”  Whether the Pig Farmers take action or not–and their website’s landing page so far ignores this issue entirely–having a clearly-defined task like correcting a mistaken perception puts pork is in a far better position than the multi-front battle facing Mexican Tourism.  Aye carrumba…

Of course, on the bright side, this story is spurring disinfectant soap sales by the boxcar.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Brands Are Opinions

I’ve read and heard hundreds of definitions of brands over the years and while many of them are compelling in one way or another, most of them get bogged down in intellectualism.  To me, the definition is simple: brands are opinions.  

Of course, thinking of your brand as a collective opinion of your market reveals the classic notion of brand management as a rather hollow conceit.  Today’s socially-networked, highly-viral world enables the exchange of opinions with unprecedented reach and speed, thus the idea of ‘management’ overpromises; a more precise word would be ‘advocacy.’

How You Feel About a Brand = The Brand

How You Feel About a Brand = The Brand

Further, the Web 2.0 revolution means we no longer control every brand conversation.  To be truly effective today, we must move beyond the static concept of reporting structure management to a more nimble, balls-of-your-feet stance. Protecting and advancing consumers’ often quicksilver opinions demands we stay highly aware, consistently focused, and quickly responsive.

When I first started this blog, the convergence of digital and traditional advertising seemed critical to this changing industry.  Yet despite all the jawing and posturing, that is currently well underway; digital agencies are hiring traditional agency people and digital people are increasingly mainstreamed within traditional agencies.

Nevertheless, convergence remains the central issue, but it is increasingly the convergence of advertising and public relations.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Brands Do Not Exist On Shelves…

–nor in parking lots or street addresses or user experiences.   Brands have no tangible existence because they live solely in the hearts and minds of people, and nowhere else. Brands reside in the realm of opinion.  At least, IMHO. 

Funny, I Never Saw The Ronald Brand That Way...

Funny, I Never Saw The Ronald Brand This Way Myself...

Oh sure, things like advertising messages and product design and word-of-mouth all affect brands, but only so far as they impact hearts and minds.  And opinions.

By now, most of us recognize that opinions about brands can change very quickly, thanks to our socially-networked society.  On the upside, there’s the previously mentioned Susan Doyle who leapt from unknown Scottish spinster to international sensation almost overnight. But at the other end of the spectrum, there’s the disgusting and totally unfair incident that arose around an unwitting North Carolina Domino’s Pizza store.   To their credit, Domino’s Corporate did a good job in their attempt to address this issue in a timely manner, eyelines notwithstanding. But even the best-trained, most experienced brand managers don’t wake up anticipating they will be handling these types of quickly-fanned crises–there’s simply no precedent for this type of issue.

In a quicksilver media world like ours, we need to rethink the old silos that separate advertising and PR.  Because by now it should be abundantly clear that the business of creating and reinforcing consumer opinion never sleeps.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79