Our Christmas Gift Arrived Today

Everyday, I wake up, mildly amazed by my wife. She’s smart, funny and constantly fascinating and through some lovely circumstance, still married to me. But after all our years together, the gifts you truly value start to evolve. What matters changes.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonWhich is why I love this so much. This is our gift to each other this year; an oil painting of our family swimsuits drying on hooks outside our place in Wisconsin. The memories this image conjures in my head–the barefoot days, the happy hours out on the lake and evenings on the porch–make it redolent with joy. But the fact that one of our best friends for many years painted it specifically for us makes it particularly resonant.

I’ve known Marie Kirk Burke my entire professional career. A well-regarded voice over actress capable of becoming anything from a Keebler Elf to a devastating Barbara Walters, we worked together a lot when I was producing radio in Chicago. Later we became neighbors and Marie and her equally hysterical husband Kevin became fast friends for dinners and movies debated over Baker’s Square pies. Over the past ten years, Marie’s re-immersed herself in painting, and we’ve loved seeing her career bloom in showings and Chicago galleries (see more of her work here).

No, you can’t see all that in this painting. But we feel it, that great and mysterious gift of art. It’s like hanging a smile in your living room. And what a wonderful gift that is.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Doing Social Media 9-5 Means You’re Doing It Wrong

Back in the 80’s, I worked with a really smart research guy (this was waaaay pre-planning) named Jim Crimmins.  Jim biked to work not because he was green (this was waaaay pre-green) but because it made sense to him.  He was a soft spoken presenter of deeply-resonant ideas, one of which was the importance of aperture, which simply means finding the right place and time to maximize your message’s persuasiveness.

In those days, aperture referred to the right place and time for television, radio, print or outdoor (this was waaaay pre-internet…are you sensing a theme here?).  It was an important thought then, but today’s hyper-connected, social media/web 2.0 times magnify aperture’s importance ten fold.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, Olson, MinneapolisAccording to a recent statistical analysis by Buddy Media, a leading supplier of social marketing software for clients and agencies, 89% of retail brand posts launch between 8 AM and 7 PM Eastern Time.  That makes sense because those are the work hours of the corporate people writing the posts.

Except it doesn’t make sense, because that’s when subscribers and consumers receiving those posts are busiest.

According to the study, brands reach people more successfully when they launch their messages in more favorable apertures.  For the Facebook crowd, engagement with retail brands rises 20% on posts between 8 PM and 7 AM.

In fact, it’s not just time of day but day of the week that drives engagement.  Buddy Media’s data reveals Facebook user engagement varies over the course of a week, peaking on Wednesdays and Sundays.  In comparison, Friday is the worst day for consumer engagement.  Retailer fans engage most with posts outside of traditional workdays.

All of which means it might be time to rethink our posting schedules and perhaps even invest in publishing tools and software, which not surprisingly, Buddy Media offers.  You can download their statistical report and check their methodology here.  Self-interest notwithstanding, it’s a pretty compelling argument for adjusting when we try to engage consumers online.

Other quick highlights of the report?  Facebook engagement drops with the frequency of posts during the day–less than three seems ideal for generating Likes and comments.  And keep them short: lengthy posts kill engagement. Only 5% of retail brand Wall Posts are less than forty characters, but those receive 86% higher engagement.  And in a sucker punch to the hopes of every creative in marketing, posts containing “$ off” and “coupon” pull a 55% higher user engagement rate and simpler posts work better than more interesting and involved ones featuring links to video and photos.  Apparently when you are interrupting someone’s social experience, they are hopelessly self interested and simple-minded.

If I learned anything from Jim, it’s that aperture matters.  Which means this blog post is waaaaay too long.  Oh, and perhaps not surprisingly, Jim now teaches at Northwestern University.  Some folks can’t stop learning. And teaching.  For that, thank you Mr. Chips.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Could We Please Stop the Self-Loathing? Ads Work.

Picture 2This week’s cover headline on Advertising Age reads “Cannes swept by PR, integrated, internet winners” with the subhead “Tally suggests ad age is over–or, at least, it’s evolved to higher plain.”  Setting aside my issue with the subhead’s overuse of commas, this still reads like a textbook example of a classic journalistic mistake: burying your lead.

The headline should emphasize that advertising is “evolving to a higher plain,” instead of continuing to forward the whiny, helpless hand-wringing that’s become endemic to our industry (“it’s over–everything we’ve ever known is now wrong!”).  Yes, social networks are a critical platform that our industry needs to address.  Yes, the media landscape has changed radically.  And yes–most critically from my perspective–advertising alone is not enough anymore.

But here’s the thing: it never was.  For advertising to really work, it has always needed a great product or service, attractive design, and engaging street and retail programs.  But somehow, the simple fact that the advertising environment has become exponentially more complicated over this past decade has led some people–including apparently, the editors of Ad Age–to subjectively dismiss the foundation of our industry: generating creative messaging in paid media.  And that fries my bacon, that salts my shorts, that makes me pigbiting mad…

Because here’s a newsflash: advertising works.

Please read that sentence again.  Better still, let’s read it aloud together, shall we?  Advertising works.

Television?  Still works.  In fact, that audience is bigger than ever.  Radio?  Still works: we may court disaster by texting in our cars but all that commuting time is still filled by AM/FM radio.  And print?  It may be changing radically, but answer this question: would you rather have your name mentioned in the online version of the New York Times or the actual paper?

It’s time our industry corrects itself from this odd fever of self-loathing.  Because the facts don’t support all the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  In the June 22 issue of Adweek, Mark Dolliver wrote a story unfortunately relegated to a short item on the Adweek Media page.  In it, he cites an Adweek Media/Harris Poll recently fielded that concludes that yes, indeed, people are still swayed by ads.

Is advertising alone enough?  Of course not.

The real innovation our industry needs is the strategic melding of creative messages distributed through a coordination of both paid and earned media.

It’s not one.  It’s not the other.  It’s both.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Please Someone, Anyone: For the Love of All That is Good and Decent, Pay Attention To Radio

In the past five days, I’ve driven about 1,300 miles: down to Indianapolis, over to Columbus, back to Chicago then a round trip to Grand Rapids.  It was a vast wasteland.

picture-4No, not Indiana or Ohio or Michigan–I’m talking about FM radio and specifically, the endless and indistinguishable :60’s that clog it.  The work I heard was so uniformly uninspired and instantly forgettable, you got the sense that the creatives responsible considered it with as little regard as the eventual listening audience.  How sad.

About ten years ago, I judged a radio awards show in Chicago.  The inimitable Mike Sheehan and I were charged with reviewing work from the financial services sector. After enduring a dozen or so monologues touting leveraged risk debenture asset funds, our ears were glazing over.  But then, something magical happened: a spot came on that sparkled with an idea.  It had a strong premise and it proffered highly personal musings about the future with delightfully engaging language and a rich tapestry of sounds.  It was so remarkably fresh…up until it too took a hard turn into the flat, soul-crushing boilerplate of leveraged risk debenture asset fund talk.  At that point, Mike shook his head and said “They had it going good, then they went and dropped the meat in the dirt.”

Mike’s expression is good radio writing; pointed, colorful and memorable.  Yet this kind of individuality rarely exists on air and that’s a damned shame.  Think of how few accents you hear on the radio, or the paucity of regional expressions and offbeat verbal deliveries.  It’s so bad that when a brilliant radio ad comes along, you can’t miss it.  Consider the spectacular “The Most Interesting Man in the World” ads for Dos Equis: between the antsy-Phillip-Glass-resolving-into-a-Zihuatanejo-boat-party music bed, the ludicrous thunderclap and of course, the pants-wettingly funny writing, you simply can’t ignore these ads.  The announcer’s latest deadpan line “If he disagrees with you, it is because you are wrong” is so pitch perfect, it made me flat out jealous.  Similarly, consider all the comedy that Bud Light’s mined from their “Real Men of Genius” work.  That work’s been remarkable for years.

Actually, it may surprise some but I do like one financial services radio campaign very much.  From the moment I first heard it, the Lenox Financial work made me pay attention.  Founder Jon Shibley talks turkey with his Georgia accent, crowing about eliminating closing costs for mortgages.  And he does this with a zealot’s passion, signing off with something no other mortgage company would dream of saying: “It’s the Biggest No-Brainer in the History of Earth.”  Wow.  That’s writing.  I mean, a lesser person might say “Biggest No-Brainer In History” but adding the entire planet as a qualifier?  Brilliant.

Radio should be joy for creatives; it’s cheap enough that you can rework and revise it until your spot sings, plus you can get more intimately involved with the production process than with any other medium.  Not to mention that at any one time, a major portion of your audience will be driving I-65, hoping you’ll be interesting.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Free Will vs. Determinism: An Unexpected Lesson Regarding Digital and Traditional Creatives

Today felt markedly different at the agency.  We have something of a hot streak going lately, selling big ideas and innovative programs, particularly to clients that once resisted them.  For the first time in quite a while, the department is stretched very, very thin with people juggling assignments and deadlines.  A large portion of our creatives will work this weekend to keep up with the demand.  Better still, this work encompasses gaming, rich media banners, television, content, events, social media, radio, wild postings, couponing and probably another half dozen platforms that escape me now. 

"Unknown Caller" U2  No Line On the Horizon

"Unknown Caller" U2, No Line On the Horizon

But even as this sudden burst of reinvention elated me, it made me wonder: what changed?  What spurred this flurry of creative innovation?

And then it hit me: since losing the Pepsi brands, almost everyone that joined Element 79 when we bought a small digital company named Tractiv has left.  And that’s made all the difference.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t say this because those people were awful—–hardly.  To this day, I miss some of them terribly.  But that failed experience proved that buying digital specialists and expecting them to drive integration works about as well as hiring a surgical team and expecting them to run a wellness program. Much like surgeons love operating, digital specialists love doing digital work.  They couldn’t drive integration because they weren’t motivated by integration.  So they kept a separate name, separate e-mails and a separate unit within the agency.  In hindsight, the signs were obvious: just buying a digital company didn’t work for us.  I doubt it works for other agencies either.

That said, some of our best creatives today do boast strong digital backgrounds, even deep expertise.  And one extremely valuable team leader even remains from that original acquisition.  But none of these creatives are merely digital people.  They all think in convergence and so they represent the next evolution; not determined by their background, but rather inspired by it to become something totally new.

Platform agnostic, these converged creatives mingle and work easily with their traditionally-trained creative counterparts, encouraging them to evolve as well.  Because just as hewing to digital work limits a creative, clinging to traditional media stunts creative growth just as severely.  But by focusing on ideas not platforms, each expands the other’s imagination and occasionally invents entirely new combinations.  To me, that represents the bleeding edge of creativity—forging new, never before tried ideas through the clever melding of various disciplines.

No, digital creatives are not the future.

And traditional creatives certainly aren’t the future.

Converged creatives represent the future of advertising.  Creatives who use their free will to choose a new path for a changing industry.

And I am lucky to work with more and more of them every day.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79