Yes, Creativity for Creativity’s Sake Can Generate Significant Agency Value

It was nearly five years ago. Mike Fetrow and I were struggling to bring better, more interesting creative work to Olson–the kind that keeps the incredible talent we’d recruited happy and productive.

Back then, Cory McLeod worked in Olson’s studio, creating web banners and microsites and generally bringing far more creativity to his projects than they deserved. A multi-lingual Canadian/Latvian immigrant, Cory had a rich life outside of work, creating public art and collaborating with his documentarian wife, Mara Pelecis (here is the trailer to Surviving the Peace: her emotionally-shattering, powerfully personal film about the effects of PTSD on America’s veterans).

During a trip back to Latvia, Cory struck up a friendship with Rabbi Menachem Barkan, who created the Riga Ghetto Museum to commemorate this overlooked chapter of history. And that’s how a midwestern agency in a city populated by Norwegian Lutherans ended up making a website for a Jewish pro-bono client halfway around the world. We worked on this project during down hours, nights, and weekends. Brilliant people jumped all in, much to the growing concern and outright displeasure of agency management and our militant project managers.

We were scolded for wasting time, since time is money in the agency business. Upper management and our VC owners pressured us to drop it, to do the bare minimum and move on, since they were trying to sell the agency and needed to optimize our margins and billable hours.

But we weren’t and we didn’t. Our only personal payment may have been pride and trees planted in Israel in each of our names, but the Olson agency garnered international attention, earning coverage in high profile outlets like Fast Company. Which proved very valuable to the agency sale process.

In today’s margin-stressed agency world, passion projects are often the first to go, but that’s inexcusably short-sighted. Done right, they serve as compelling ads for agencies, drawing in new audiences by showcasing creative capabilities without restraint.


I bring this old story up again because Cory’s back–this time with a magnificent VR Rockumentary about the Latvian band Perkons. It’s another Cory passion project, one that drove him to teach himself VR filmmaking. And it was only made possible through the continual support of Fallon.

Perkons had its US debut last night at the Walker Art Museum. For ten minutes, lucky people strapped on Oculus GOs and HTC Vive’s and lost themselves in a tale of Soviet repression, artistic expression, and the changing tides of history.

On the surface, Perkons is far from a project with obvious agency value. But ex-ECD Jeff Kling supported it (going so far as to provide the VO) and now Fallon has a tremendous, widely promotable example of VR storytelling that makes any agency envious. The project is beginning to gain press (some amazing outlets are already making sponsorship inquiries) in a way that will inevitably attract client interest.

Thanks to a creative thinker. With a dream about a forgotten Latvian band that changed the course of modern history. And an agency wise-enough to fund it.


Video: Evolving Beyond Selling

So yesterday, I was lucky enough to present for the West Michigan Content Strategy Meetup’s first-ever lunch and learn webinar.

Of course, being that it was ‘first ever’ and involved warring Apple and Google technology platforms, it was a bit of a car wreck; dropped signals, video blackouts, etc. But happily, like all things digital and video, you can fix it in post. So we did.

My thanks to my old friend Scott Smith and the charming and redoubtable Laura Bergells for making this a terrific experience, technical difficulties and all.


Virtual Reality: A Practical Application for Volvo

We had the opportunity to experience Oculus Rift technology in Dallas last week and the experience was pretty remarkable. The sense of total immersion, even in the obviously digital in-store environment we reviewed was stunningly complete. It was amazing how quickly the senses adapted to the new inputs and filled in the missing gaps.

Which may be why this story about Volvo’s use of low-cost, easily-acquired Google Cardboard as a platform to introduce pre-launch interest in their XC90 SUV caught our attention. The video synopsis below makes us yearn for an opportunity to see what having a larger budget and fully-immersive wrap around video would be like.

Building an virtual reality experience off little more than folded cardboard and a smartphone is a brilliant way to reach a broader audience. Our congratulations to the innovative minds at R/GA and the filmmaking skills of Framestore for collaborating to create a seamless world we would love to visit.

Beyond automotive, the commercial applications for tourism, cruiselines, themeparks and hotels seem immediately obvious. And we can’t wait for the first innovator to create a true, Google Cardboard feature movie. Wow. That will be fun.

Dennis & Mike

3-D Printing, Co-Creation, and a New Day for Automotive Design and Production

Detroit should be watching Project Redacted very closely.

Last year, Local Motors–makers of the Strati, the first 3-D printed car–launched a challenge to their co-creation community to imagine and design the next generation of 3-D printed cars. From the outset, they’ve worked to create a deliberately outsider feeling with videos like this one:

A few weeks ago, they announced the winner of the project. Designer Kevin Lo, a community member for four years, won with his design “Reload.” Now Local Motors plans to design, build, and sell his design as a Low Speed Electric Vehicle (LSEV) to debut in early 2016. Local-Motors-3D-printed-car-2-537x310

This is a total disruption of process, a total reinvention of supply chain, and a radical new way to build an audience long before a vehicle is even created.

It’s also a new frontier for both manufacturing and design with huge potential for large scale disruption. Hardcore traditionalist or not, you gotta admit, it looks pretty exciting.

This is yet another benefit smart organizations can realize when they build and encourage communities of rabid fans. Companies like Lego, Microsoft and Crayola have been leveraging their biggest advocates to advance their product development pipeline. Could you do the same?

Mike & Dennis

Technology Changes Advertising, But It Might Also Change Something (gasp!) Even Bigger

I come from a military family.  My Dad graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis and my older brother was ROTC at Penn State, eventually retiring as a Commander of a P-3 Squadron.  I am deeply grateful that America supports a strong military, given a world infested with Somali Pirates, insane tinhorn dictators, and fragile democracies. Still, the old question of “guns or butter?” always stuck in my mind, fostering my personal military industrial complex. How could reasonable people ever aggressively wage peace in a violent, selfish world?



Finally, we might have some real tools. Ammunition and weapons never provided a lasting answer, but perhaps technology can. Maybe the keys to more universal justice will prove to be literacy, laptops and broadband. Think about it: a literate populace can not be isolated from an ever-tighter global community.  A laptop allows anyone to express and share their unique thoughts, sounds and images. And broadband allows the one to instantly connect with the many all over the world. With literacy, laptops and broadband, the traditional barriers to communication fall away; genocide in Darfur can be brought to our desktops, starvation in North Korea can be felt in our homes, the world’s huddled masses can no longer be bottled up by the dictatorial few.  

“Mass amateurization” as the sociologically-insightful Clay Shirky calls it, threatens many aspects of our marketing business with devaluation and commoditization.  But if it also helps the oppressed, the abused or the marginalized gain their voices and have them magnified by the amplifying effect of a global social network, well, that mitigates my professional uncertainty somewhat.  I can live with that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Another Thing I Learned Yesterday From Omnicom

As part of Omnicom’s admirable ongoing commitment to education, I attended a short but wonderfully informative session, mostly focused on digital and emerging media.

They instructed us to approach digital as a language, not a technology or media platform.  This approach makes all sorts of intuitive sense.  Digital does work like a language: everybody talks, but very, very few make inspiring poetry.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79