Just When You’ve Written Off Balloon Sculpture…

No one really expects to be wowed by balloon sculpture, that hackneyed, low-brow artform of a thousand lousy birthday parties. After you pass the age of six, there’s not a lot of fascination left from watching some clown pull skinny latex tubes from his fanny pack and whip it into a poodle/silly hat/mom-safe pirate sword. It’s a tired genre.

And then you see something like this…

Larry Moss balloon sculpture

This is “Spinosaurus” by Larry Moss and as you can see, it is awesome.

Apparently, Larry never got the message that balloon sculpture was tired and silly. No, to Larry, an ex-New York street artist, colored latex balloons are a medium to push to new and amazing places. To Larry, folding air is an artform he calls “Airigami” and as he explains in this charming TED video, a way to bring together communities.

To the rest of us, Larry Moss and his pursuits are a reminder that everyday, every mundanity is another opportunity to create surprise and delight.

God love Larry Moss. May his life be long and free of destructive pricks.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

We Can Make Marketing Or We Can Create Delight

Man I love surprise in advertising. The voice of the Old Spice guy, the daily Google masthead cartoons, even National Donut Day (which is today, by the way–go get your free fried dough). But sadly, surprise is all too rare.  So much of our creative product defaults to the responsible and so lives in the unchallenging but easily ignored land of repeats and retreads.  Still, every touchpoint, every medium, every potential interaction with a brand presents an opportunity to delight.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingGod love the charmers at Segway of Ontario Tours.  They didn’t have to—no one else does—but they did. I don’t care if it makes me look like some wanky, futuristic Ichabod Crane, next time I’m up in East-Central Canada, I’m renting one of these from them.  They earned it.

Happy Friday!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Play It Forward, Chapter 3: The Key Reason the Old Spice Man Achieved Viral Dominance

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79By now, most everything that needs to be written has been written about Weiden + Kennedy’s groundbreaking viral video heavyweight “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” And unlike so many pop culture mayflies that swarm up and just as quickly disappear, this effort merits all those words and column inches.

But amidst all the celebration and analysis, I’ve never seen any article that calls out the reason why this ad and series, more so than any of the thousands of others trying to garner attention, fired the imagination of viewers. Beyond universal agreement around the genius of the creative idea, the production, the writing and Isaiah Mustafa’s note-perfect performance, no one’s mentioned the one thing that makes this–or any video–truly stand out…


In a media-saturated world, any video, any voice, any meme that surprises is remarkable.  And rare.  And so it stands out, head and shoulders above the rabble.

But the truly remarkable thing about the Old Spice work is that it doesn’t just surprise the audience once; every video functions as a continuous sequence of surprises.  It’s a surprise (“tickets to that thing you love”) then another surprise (“They’re diamonds!”) and then another and another and another (“I’m on a horse!”). Revealing a series of surprises makes it all the more amazing.  And forward-friendly.

The importance of surprise when engaging viewers is a simple concept to grasp. And a bear to actually accomplish. Try to keep that one on your To Do list…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Play It Forward, Chapter 1: Identifying Criteria for Success With Viral Video

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingWhat makes a video viral? What do the most viral clips have in common? And what lessons can we learn to insure our video work in this space is as forward-friendly as possible?

I want to spend this week exploring this topic and welcome any input you can share because fundamentally, those of us with deep experience in consumer video need to reset our expectations and objectives. As creative strategies migrate from focusing solely on the needs of broadcast network videos to the more specific demands of social network broadcasting, knowing what most encourages viewers to share and spread your video will be critical to brand success. Clearly, not all viral videos are marketing driven, but even those that aren’t can provide clues about the common denominators of viral success.

Why should this matter?  Why fret about something that while popular, still represents a proportionately small percentage of client marketing budgets?

Because the future of brand-building advertising–the classic television image spot creatives love to produce–will continue moving into this new space.  Creating engaging, entertaining, relevant video for brand advocates to adopt and forward audiences they select as relevant insures more impact for your message than a general broadcast airing. In a marketplace increasingly defined by affiliations, tribes or communities, marketers that create surprising, engaging video that speaks directly to those groups will find more return for their brand image investment.

Which means nothing less than a reinvestment in the kind of production that excites and pushes creative people.

The future of high-end video production will be vastly different, but it will also prove to be a hill of fun. We just must do our homework around strategies, techniques and lessons for building success in this new forum. Video storytelling skill is not platform dependent, it’s aptitude based. And it would be a massive waste to dismiss the skills and lessons so many of us acquired over the years, merely because we’re ‘television creatives.’

Vision is vision. And ideas either excite or they don’t. In every medium…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


A Friday Example of Awesome

This video exploded across the web over the past few weeks.  TItled “Epic Skateboard Video!” it captures something incredibly rare in the world of video.  But don’t take my word for it; go ahead and give it thirteen seconds…

(Whoops!  The poster pulled the video from YouTube this afternoon…not sure why.  You can still find the video HERE.)

It may be a trick, it may have the lasting heft of cotton candy–nevertheless, that’s nicely done.  The popularity of this one-take, ill-lit clip testifies to the power of shaking up expectations, to our human delight in surprise.  Surprise is an extraordinarily rare commodity, particularly these days as video content pours in at a crushing volume through all manner of devices.

Still, when you find it, it’s magic.  Like this raw little gem.  Happy Friday.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


In A Culture Of Infinite Choice, Surprise Is A Distinct Asset

Walk through your grocery store and try to count the amount of cereals. Or soft drinks. Or soup flavors. Go to your shopping mall and you’ll find not just a Foot Locker, but a Lady Foot Locker as well. It’s next to the Relax the Back store.  We rarely think about the privileges and rewards of rampant capitalism but chief among them is choice. At times, all that choice can actually become paralyzing because for some, infinite options encourage ongoing perusal rather than selection.

All of this came roaring to mind when I tripped over the work of Trixie Delicious, a New Zealand vendor who posts her wares on Etsy.  Ms. Delicious creates a unique, distinctly post-modern kind of pop art, taking vintage china and tweaking it by over printing outrageous commentary atop the classic flowers and filigree. Her simple work thrives on the startling juxtaposition of the sweet and safe with the baldly profane. It startles. It surprises. It made me laugh outright at least twice.

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

We live in an age of mash-ups. Music, art, movies, fashion–with the sheer volume of archived creativity, a huge amount of new ideas comes from combining dissonant visions in outrageous ways.  Thirty years ago, we would have lacked the common cultural references to get the irony, but now that Google averages over two billion searches every day, knowledge is cheaper than ever.

And so, due to its increasing rarity and transience, surprise has become far more valuable.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


A Change In Perspective

So many remarkable ideas incorporate an element of surprise; they combine things in a fresh way, they invent a new use for something familiar, they make us rethink our most basic assumptions.

All of which is very good because we take so many things for granted.  Right now, we are all on this Earth rock, hurtling through space at upwards of 66,000 miles per hour–you stop and think about that for too long and you’ll start looking for seat belts on the La-Z-Boy.  You simply must accept some things at face value because there’s not a whole lot you can do about them anyway.  I remember spending a couple of sleepless nights in the fourth grade after learning the heart was an involuntary muscle, and because it kept flexing, we could enjoy the miracle of life.  For the next forty-eight hours, I couldn’t help worrying “but what if it stops?”

Yesterday’s casual web surfing taught me how to do a great trick with a dollar bill that I can’t wait to get home and show to my ten year old, a collection of the ten best low-altitude fly bys by military aircraft, and an absolutely stunning set of the best forty examples of high-speed photography.  The way this photography technique literally stops time and provides a glimpse of a world our naked eyes could never process is nothing short of miraculous.  Water balloons pop, bullets pierce and water splashes, active moments in time literally stand still with heart-stopping visual clarity.

So take two minutes, follow this link, and enjoy the world we know in a way we never get to experience it.

Who knew?  Then again, that’s pretty much the point.

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

Why Exactly Did Jingles Die?

There was a time in advertising when everything was sung.  When little ditties sold everything from Miller Time (“beer after beer”) to Marvel the Mustang (“he’s almost for real!”).  Today, aside from licensed tracks from known artists, no one sings a story anymore.  And I can’t help wondering if maybe we’ve walked away from a very powerful source of emotion.

Last Week, No One Knew Susan Bayer.  But This Week...

Last Week, No One Knew Susan Boyle. But This Week...

By now, a huge part of the world knows about Susan Boyle, an unemployed forty-seven year old woman living outside London. This clip, posted only six days ago on YouTube, has already racked up nearly twenty million views–it jumped nearly three million overnight.

Chances are, you’ve seen this.  But even if you haven’t, you know the drill: a highly-unlikely nobody appears on a popular TV program to a chilly reception from Simon Cowell’s panel of snide taste meisters and then, unleashing a voice that channels the glory of angels, proceeds to stun the judges, win the audience and knock the smirk off Simon’s well-moisturized face.  You know this drill because Susan’s story repeats, nearly beat for beat, the story of Paul Potts, the unassuming mobile phone salesman from South Wales who dreamed of singing opera professionally (and apparently, now does).

Ty Pennington does this same kind of thing yet for some reason I resent his stories.  Week after week, he tells yet another deserving family “you give so much to this community, this community wants to give something back to you” and later bellows “move that bus!” into a megaphone so the givers can finally see the cornucopia of product placements Extreme Home Makeover has whipped up that week.  I always feel manipulated and cheap, regretting any sentiment these stories generate for being so cheaply summoned.

But Susan’s story–and of course Paul’s–feels different.  Both live in that artistic realm of music, a humanity that serves no practical purpose and yet stirs the soul and calls up emotion like little else in our world.  When this many people around the world find themselves powerfully moved by nothing more than the simple act of someone opening their mouth to sing, it might be time to reconsider our reticence about commercial jingles.  Because genuine emotion is a powerful, powerful thing.

And yet, take another look at that photo…  Consider Susan’s honest, unglamorous face…  Maybe what moves so many of us about this clip is not simply her gorgeous voice, but the surprise that someone as unassuming, as unpolished as herself, can create such raw, palpable beauty.

That’s the real ticket.  In a pinch, I’ll always put my money on surprise.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  Today, viral fame can build with an almost terrifying ferocity: an addendum.