How Do You Sell Mass Media Without A Super Bowl?

It was fun last week, discussing and debating the Super Bowl ads. It felt particularly special since it’s so rare that we all share an experience. The digital/mobile takeover consigned such commonality to the past, now that we build networks conformed to our own perspectives.

When even our media gravitate toward the niches Chris Anderson famously dubbed ‘the long tail,‘ how can you attract people back to mass platforms like network television, the long tailed beast’s metaphorical body?

Like any marketing challenge, successful solutions require a brilliant strategy. Just over three years ago, some clever people promoting Denmark’s TV2 created video content that is as strategically brilliant as it is emotionally powerful …

Celebrating not what divides us but all that we share; this is a resonant insight brought to tone-perfect life through writing, casting, music, and edit. There’s such delightful surprise in the discovery of our collective commonality and the unexpected things we share.

Locked off so much of the time in our own corners, it’s helpful to be reminded of that. Helpful, and reassuring.

Four year old video content for Denmark's TV2 warmly demonstrates a strategy for attracting people back to mass media: the things we share.

Not That You Asked…

My favorite part of the Super Bowl is not the commercials; it’s talking about the commercials on Monday with WGN’s Bill and Wendy. They’re not in advertising; they’re simply students of culture with curious, interesting minds, which means I’m never fully prepared for what they might want to discuss. They are also amazingly supportive and helpful, particularly if your voice sounds like you spent the morning gargling molasses and working on your Harrison Ford mumble…


And because it’s not really kosher to comment without sharing your own perspective for critique, here are my four top ads from Super Bowl LIII. Sure I loved Amazon’s over-the-top, super Super Bowl-y ad about Alexa’s mythical failures. I was also heartened by Google’s showcasing of data on the three most translated phrases worldwide (spoiler alert: “I love you” is #1). And who didn’t choke up at the emotional resonance of Verizon’s “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here” ad honoring first responders? Still, you can only pick four in this totally arbitrary exercise I just dreamed up, so here goes:


I hate everything about Bud Light trying to conjure an issue out of corn syrup. As the category leader, these types of mean-spirited attack ads should be beneath them (did they learn nothing from the sweet Google Translate ad?). That said, the mash up ad with Game of Thrones was stupendous. It delivered what you rarely get in Super Bowl ads: genuine surprise. After an expectedly breezy dilly-dilly opening, the story makes a head snapping turn to the dark side that stopped me cold and was entirely brand appropriate for HBO.
And despite his gruesome death, I’m also certain the Bud Knight will be back in future ads with no explanation, kinda like Kenny in South Park.


This was pure fun; a playful, winning nod to the amazing personalities that have played the game over the years. How can anyone not love this? It sidestepped mountains of controversy surrounding the brand without appearing to be sidestepping controversy. Nicely done. And great to see Singletary again.


I haven’t read or watched “The Handmaiden’s Tale” but as an ad fan, recycling the Hal Riney-esque VO from the ad that got Ronald Reagan elected in 1980 was an inspired move. An amazingly simple, graceful idea…though admittedly, it probably spoke more to ad nerds than the general public.


Call me old fashioned, but I don’t believe the relentless attacks on the free press come from a place of selfless concern for the republic. Yes, both sides of the media aisle are complicit in exaggerating and framing facts to fit their frameworks; chasing clicks in a social media powered world does little to encourage centrist reporting. But the fact remains that Jamal Khashoggi was an American resident and father of three citizens yet we did nothing to hold the foreign powers who murdered him accountable. That’s weak. And wrong. And this spot does a tremendous job of speaking to a social issue in a manner relevant to the brand.

All in all, the general consensus seems to be that the crop of spots were disappointing, but I didn’t really find that anymore true this year than others. It’s nearly impossible to please all the people all the time, and this is the one few advertising platform where that’s still the job. It’s an unforgiving spotlight, and yet everyone in the ad game still wants to be there. That says something…


Superbowl Commercials, Viewer Disappointment, and the Widening Gulf Between Broadcast and Narrowcast

We stand smack in the thick of big-event live television viewing season; first the Golden Globes  and the NFL Championship games three weeks ago, then the Grammy’s last week, the Super Bowl yesterday and this Friday, the Winter Olympics start. The unique thing about all of these events is that people watch them live–they are widely considered DVR proof.Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Huge, engaged viewing audiences? That is great news for advertisers. But judging by last night’s commercials, creating spots for big, broadcast audiences really trips up advertisers and agencies.

Make no mistake–as thrilling as it is to know your work will be seen by hundreds of millions of people, the downside is all those eyeballs and all that money create outsized pressure. And so you get tripe like the annual slapstick of the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl crowdsourcing… The universally acceptable ‘salute the troops’ platitudes… And puppies–lots and lots of puppies.

The hard reality is that communication has evolved since Apple’s “1984” ushered in the modern era of Super Bowl commercial spectacle. We tweet and post and text while we watch, breaking down a massive single audience into a collective of nearly infinite subgroups, each with their own values and language and points of view. Freed from the dominance of three networks and a primetime schedule, our daily media consumption happens in the narrowcasts we choose: the news with the political spin we favor, the blogs that speak to our personal interests, the entertainment feeds that match our senses of humor. Oh and whatever we deem worth collecting on our DVR’s.

Given this context, the challenge of sweeping up a massively diverse audience with a single, surprising idea is extremely daunting. And increasingly unlikely.

If you are too subtle, like Chevy’s incredibly quiet ‘World Cancer Day’ spot was, people don’t even notice.

If you come too late in a bad game, like Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” did in fourth quarter garbage time, you get ignored (of course, thanks to pre-release, it had already earned over 36 million views before kickoff).

And if you, like an embarrassing handful of advertisers, decide to promote a ‘banned’ version of your work online, you’re condemned to failure; in a platform as awash with readily available pornography as the internet, the idea of seeking out ‘racy’ ad content is more than a little dopey.

The state of modern communication demands re-thinking beyond “spend big and pray.” At the very least, it requires a remarkable idea (Radio Shack outing itself, T-Mobile with a truly groundbreaking offer, the post-game ad for esurance with its big giveaway and hashtag activation).

Either that or advertisers have to enlist the single creative resource that has consistently delivered wildly-popular, broad appeal creative…

Pixar. Those people are crazy good at broad populism.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Something to Depress You, Then Something To Lift You Back Up

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonWe are heading into the weekend after all, so a downer note seems irresponsible. Yet there’s no good way to spin this news, aside from the ever entertainable possibility that GoDaddy is lying. Given their marketing stance these past few years, they can’t be considered above that.

The horrible news is, their shock value spot from the Super Bowl with the nauseating sound actually worked. According to their flacks, GoDaddy posted more new customers and new sales on post-Super Bowl Monday than they have in history.  Hosting sales jumped 45 percent, domains 40 percent, and new mobile customers rose by 35 percent.

Dammit, that’s depressing. If there were justice in the way Super Bowl ads performed, that little Clydesdale foal would send Bud sales surging alongside Ram Trucks and that new thirty thousand dollar Mercedes, while Bud’s new Black Crown would disappear faster than it inevitably will on its own. It’s horrible to see society reward stupidity, vapidity and worse. But it happens. Advertising works. Even badvertising does.

On a far, far happier note, click on this link. And be reminded of humanity’s ever-renewing reason for optimism. A baby laughing at her popcorn-eating dog with this much husky throated joy is transformative. I expect somebody to rip it off by next year’s broadcast.

Happy Baby, Happy Friday, Happy Weekend.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Yet Another Superbowl Ad Post-Mortem

Fanhouse has their aggregation of the 2011 Superbowl ads, quarter by quarter, brought to us by Kia.

The faith-in-humanity-reducing USA Today Ad Meter declared its increasingly-suspect winners as chosen by a 282 person sampling of Californians and Virginians. weighed in with their AdZone rankings, brought to us by Geico, and apparently they have a somewhat less shot-to-the-groin-friendly demographic.

On Sunday night, Fox presented Superbowl XLV to an audience estimated at over 110 million people, making it the single most-watched event in TV history.  Which helps explain both the $100,000/second pricetag for spots during the broadcast and the Monday morning creative directing by seemingly everyone.  Judging Superbowl ads has become our wintry national pastime.

One theme that came up just slightly less often than the reliable chestnut “the work just wasn’t as good this year” was the assertion that VW’s charming Star Wars-themed Passat ad “The Force” cheated. A number of blogs and commenters took issue with their decision to release that Superbowl Ad to YouTube last Wednesday, a full four days before the game itself.  The consensus seems to be that by racking up over fourteen million views before gametime, the ad somehow disqualified itself as a bona fide Superbowl ad.

Excuse me?

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingMarketing isn’t professional boxing.  There are no Marquess of Queensberry Rules insuring a level field of play.  We don’t want level playing fields. Our job is and has always been, to bend the rules, to do the unexpected, to earn favor and attention by innovating with our creative, strategic and media ideas.  In a socially-driven culture, building up a big head of steam for your contender isn’t cheating, it’s really, really smart.  Despite being hacktastic, Doritos’ “Crash the Superbowl” grows more successful every year in terms of entries and pre-game voting, to the point where Pepsi Max joined that crotch-whacking fray this year.

Aside from integrity and decency, there are no rules. Today, the biggest rewards await any brand clever enough to innovate how they weave together personal and broadcast networks in new and surprising ways.

Amidst a surplus of clutter and a deficit of attention, gaming the system is today’s ad game.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The Best Way To Scale Social Media? Use TV. And Vice Versa.

One of the biggest complaints about Social Media is how difficult it is to scale.  Sure, your Twitter feed may have a thousand followers, but aren’t those people likely to already be in your brand’s camp?  And what exactly do you do with them, besides, you know, be social about your brand and stuff?  It’s way too micro, too one-to-one.  It’s simply not scalable unless you happen to be that allegorical advertiser with a million monkeys typing on a million socially-networked Dell computers…

No, what’s scalable is aggregating a big, whomping audience around one cool, memorable thirty second TV spot.  Television is scalable–that’s long proven.

Unfortunately, those big, whomping audiences are increasingly rare in today’s hyper-proliferated media world.  People simply don’t gather in one place anymore.  But they’re doing that right now.  And they did it last Sunday.  The Winter Olympics and the recent Super Bowl have drawn huge television audiences.  One reason for this resurgence in the most traditional of mediums?  Social media.

In an article for Advertising Age, John Rash posits that one of the reasons why the Vancouver Olympics are drawing an audience that’s 25% larger than four years ago in Turin could be the effect of tweets and Facebook updates.  The “I got it first” nature of so many social network messages, particularly when they concern an event or a personality, can actually drive larger audiences to the television.  Given a reminder, lots of us would like to catch a glimpse of Lindsey Vonn’s downhill gold or Shaun White’s latest halfpipe innovation, thus re-aggregating an audience around specific events.  And it is better watching it on television, particularly if you have one of those HD big screens that had such huge price drops last Holiday season.

Events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics get everyone talking, but most advertisers don’t need everyone; they just need large like-minded groups.  Integrating and encouraging messages on social media that drive traffic to television events large or small can clearly serve that purpose.

Media scalability is still very much possible.  Chances are, you’ve been experiencing it personally these past few weeks.  It’s not about any one medium; it’s about integrating multiple mediums.

Want to aggregate an audience?  Aggregate your media messages.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

So Apparently There’s This CGI Film In Theaters. And It’s Rather Popular.

Fact: Avatar’s first weekend worldwide box office was $242.5 million.

Fact: Avatar grossed $1.3 billion worldwide in less than a month.

Prevalent Speculation: Including marketing, the project represented a nearly $450 million bet.

Tactic: In this week’s Advertising Age, a cover story discusses the way 20th Century Fox marketed the movie: traditionally, with a $150 million ad spend, and big promotional partners.

Conclusion:  Don’t dismiss mass marketing yet.

Krakow, Poland

Yes, we live in radically altered times.  Opinion enjoys new mass channels as consumers actively dis-integrate old mass channels.  And yet, given a good story that piques our interest, raises some classic themes, and gets everyone talking, a compelling mass market message can still drive outrageous success.  It’s just now, when that advertising gets the whole world talking, individuals have places to further the discussion: Twitter, e-mail, even self-important blogs like this one.  When a story captures peoples’ imaginations, they pick up and pass it along for you, expanding the coverage and radically extending the media buy.  Today, if you generate good word of mouth, you get something mass marketing can rarely buy: sustainability.

People who’ve seen the movie, rave about it.  And that drives more sales, as positive word of mouth sways people who were considering seeing it, particularly in the pricier IMAX 3-D.

So Avatar’s wildly successful initial weekend box office results were not driven by social: there was no official Twitter account to follow.  And there was no viral digital experience (those lost favor when the Snakes on a Plane hysteria failed to drive audiences to theaters).

Just a lot of TV–including long format buys and major sponsor support–and some really strong PR.  Clearly, Avatar is a mass brand.  And it advertises that way.  Pepsi meanwhile, has loudly announced its decision to shun the Super Bowl.  Hmm…

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

Your Dentist and Neighbor Sent You Invites To Be Their Friend…

Reviewing the last few posts, apparently it’s Social Media week here at Collective-Thinking.  And that makes sense.  Disintegrating audiences in old media threw our industry into a tizzy; re-aggregated audiences in new media like social networks could provide a fresh playground for innovative marketing ideas and programs.

Eric Heneghan–digital smartguy, curious cat, and CEO of Elevation–tapped me into some amazing statistics about Facebook via, well, Facebook.  iStrategyLabs culled that social network’s demographic data for the past few years and just published these mind-blowing findings in their latest report

1)  The 35-54 year old demo is growing fastest, with a 276.4% growth rate in the last half year.

2)  The 55+ demo is not far behind with a 194.3% growth rate.

3)  The largest demographic concentration remains the 18-24 college crowd at 40.8%, but that’s down from 53.8% just six months ago.

4)  The 25-34 year population on Facebook now doubles every six months.

It's Getting Crowded In Here

It's Getting Crowded In Here

In other words, what we considered a youth market now features an emerging concentration of parents and professionals (this isn’t a problem: Facebook provides age filters on their ad targeting).

iStrategyLabs goes on to point out that anyone advertising alcohol can now reach an age-screened audience of nearly 28 million people: nearly two thirds of Facebook users.  The trick for the Budweisers and the Beams will be converting this targeting into engaging creative marketing programs that this captive but highly-particular community will embrace.  Creatives can’t simply pattern their work on a set precedent here.  Unlike the Super Bowl, we can’t look back at years of big ads to determine how we are going to enter the program with our work.

Considering how tired and uninspired so much of that work seemed last weekend, that could be a good thing.  This is a time when creatives can get really creative, reinventing platforms and experiences and messages in a medium where no one has outlined the rules yet.  Inevitably, someone will step up and earn recognition as the Lewis and Clark of this wild, unexplored territory.

That sounds like fun.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Feeding the Meter

Will we ever learn that experience does not reliably inform expectation?  Doubtful.   And so year after year, we flock to the Super Bowl telecast, abuzz with the promise of hilarious, remarkable, breathtaking advertising that rivals the game for pure entertainment value.

The Root of All Banal

The Root of All Banal

And then ten hours later, we stumble away, bleary-eyed and frustrated, like high schoolers the day after a lackluster prom, chagrined at how the reality failed to measure up to the dream.  Nonetheless, we will be back next year when we will be shocked to learn that the price of a :30 went up by two hundred thousand dollars.  Again.

That has been the Super Bowl story for the past twelve seasons.  Each year’s ads seem weaker than the last; the ideas more hamfisted, the extraordinary production less inspired.

Part of the issue is the over-hyped platform; our insider knowledge perverts how we experience the broadcast.  When the sports pages read like the business section and we know every player’s salary, we can’t help but judge their performance through the lens of whether they’re ‘worth ten million a year.’  It changes how we watch the game.

It’s the same with Super Bowl ads.  Everyone knows thirty seconds go for three million, so it’s hard to watch any ad without questioning whether every second was really worth one hundred thousand dollars.  And yet, that misses the point.  The cost doesn’t relate to the creativity; it’s solely because so many of us are watching.  At the same time.  In today’s media world, that is incredibly unusual.  And valuable.

Of course you want to shine in this most public of forums.  That pressure leads to the worst kind of creative sausage making: too many CMO’s sweat their investment and look for surefire ways to top the USA Today Ad-Meter.  They gin up their own version of the ‘rules’ for winning this contest: use animals, use non-verbal physical comedy, use celebrities.  And so same-ness becomes systemic.

Still, two ads managed to catch my attention through their singular voices.  Alec Baldwin’s paean endorsing television’s brain-rotting qualities ran blissfully counter-trend, a sort of anti-Newton Minnow, ending with the most subversive tagline of the year: “Hulu: An Evil Plot to Destroy the World.  Enjoy.”  I also loved the simplicity of this hugely under-rated Hyundai ad, if only for the brilliance of its concise close: “Win one award and suddenly everyone gets your name right.  It’s  ‘Hyundai.’  Like ‘Sunday.'”  Very fresh, though it tanked in the polls.

Oh, and Danica Patrick?  Fire your agent.  You look classless.  You know, like that thug James Harrison.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79