The Right Place, The Right Time

Those are two legs of life’s Tri-fecta: the right place and the right time.  The third would be the right opportunity.  Bring all three of those together and everything suddenly crackles with adrenaline and excitement.

But like any game of chance, only hitting two doesn’t really do anything.  It’s kinda like matching four numbers on a Bingo card; so you got ‘ingo’–big deal.

I didn’t wake up thinking about Life’s Daily Place-Time-Opportunity Triple Crown, but when I fired up Yahoo! Sports, I saw this photo…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Mark Pain, a UK photographer for the Sunday edition of The Mail, captured this incredible perspective on a muffed chip shot from Tiger Woods.

The perspective of this photograph is remarkable.  A step to the left and Mark misses the shot.  A split second earlier and he misses the shot.  Another golfer, and his shot is merely interesting.

But oh the wonder of the right place, the right time and the right opportunity…

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element  79

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PS:  Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingDid you notice this fella enjoying a cigar in the background?  You will find his photo under the dictionary definition of ‘insouciance.’

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Tiger Woods Makes No Small Plans: Augusta 2010

Dennis Ryan Element 79 Chicago AdvertisingSince 1995, Tiger Woods has competed in the Masters. Normally, this isn’t news. However, for publicly humiliated and shamed Tiger Woods–he of the recorded phone messages, erratic driveway exits and high-profile sponsor exodus–choosing the Masters for his return to active playing is huge news.

It’s also dead nuts right for his career and future.

Tiger’s not a gifted speaker; many of us viewed his press conference as a car wreck.  He comes across as arrogant; earning hundreds of millions dollars in your thirties can do that to you. And unless he has a stick in his hand, he’s not a particularly compelling personality.

But he is a virtuoso at the game of golf.  No one else even comes close, as recent PGA ratings can attest.  So no matter what the result, re-entering the public eye via his greatest strength beats any ongoing litany of apologies. denials or ridiculous claims of addiction.  This is exactly what Tiger needs to do now.  It is nothing short of ripping the bandages off the wound under the golf world’s most glaring spotlight, but it is also the smartest way to begin the long process of rebuilding his brand.

One corporate entity must be over the moon at this announcement; ComCast recently announced that the 2010 Masters will be the first major sporting event ever broadcast in 3-D. Tiger’s return will bring one new dimension to the game, even as Comcast brings another, all but guaranteeing massive television ratings.

At the same time, another entity must be furious; the three hundred notoriously uptight members of Augusta National will be loathe to host the media circus that will descend on the course they have carefully brand managed to legendary, even reverential status on the PGA Tour.

Somewhere Hootie Johnson must be rolling over in his grave, but then, much like Abe Vigoda, he’s not actually dead yet.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


On Web 2.0 And the Rise of Sociopathic Media

Social Media!  Social Media!  We’re building bridges through Social Media!

Except when we aren’t.  Except those times when it’s two-way dialogue becomes a brutal dog-fighting pit of character assaults by anonymous assailants in a digital lynch mob.  Don’t get me wrong–I love Web 2.0, even if I am still trying to find a way to make a fair margin on these new platforms.  But the ugly underbelly of Social Media is how it allows us to spread and share our basest ugliest selves.  Love may be the most powerful force on earth, but hate is a lot easier to summon.

The Mob's Digital Now, Atticus Finch

Decades ago, I met an AE at my first agency.  She was nice, funny, and ended up marrying another really fun AE and moving to Boston.  Occasionally I’d hear about them through old colleagues but as these things go, I didn’t really keep in touch.

Until the other day when her name leapt out at me off a gossipy ad business website.  She’s now a client and in a bit of regretably bad judgement, she did something pretty stupid.  And this blog called her out on it.  Within twenty-four hours, the post had been repeatedly forwarded through Twitter and nearly one hundred people had posted comments.  Their tone was uniformly vitriolic.  Under such charming aliases as “PhuhQ” and “Client Hater,” they piled on the invective, unshackled by civility or decency by the cloak of anonymity.

I’ve had anonymous posters call me out by name and take cheapshots and it stings.  But having hundreds, even thousands of people in your business alerted to your big mistake and then pile on with assessments of everything from your intellect to your sexual activity is a harrowing experience.  Are these people in your office?  On your bus?  And how did they get your email and home phone number?  It well may blow over in a week, but when it strikes, it’s a short trip from the center of this maelstrom to outright paranoia.

Look, I’ve laughed at other’s misfortune, repeatedly.  I mocked the contestant from South Carolina’s ridiculous answer in the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant.  I listened to Alec Baldwin rail at his daughter and Christian Bale rant at his DP.  And I followed every salacious detail in the implosion of the Tiger Woods machine.

More to the point, I’ve done plenty of boneheaded things in my life and career; I’ve made indefensible mistakes and watched as well-intended actions turned horribly, desperately wrong.  Happily, those events happened in relative privacy.  I could find someone and apologize or try to explain myself to a small group and move on.  But now the web connects offended parties far and wide, most of whom are uninterested in hearing another side because it clutters up the story we like, the version that allowed us to justify some indignance.  Between the proliferation of cell phone cameras, voicemail, email hacking and even widely disseminated 911 calls, we must all accept that we now live very public lives: perhaps not at the level of Nancy Pelosi or Conan O’Brien, but far more than we typically assume.

So today, I’m giving thanks for every opportunity I’ve ever been given to err anonymously.  Whoa…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

Accenture’s Blunt Sunday Announcement: Go On, But Be…Something Else

Tiger announced his indefinite hiatus from golf last Friday.  Almost concurrently, Gillette came out with their adroit if still obvious spin on the situation by announcing this change to their advertising: “We will support his desire for privacy by limiting his role in our marketing programs.”  Wow, it’s so gracious and selfless of them to help Tiger keep a low profile…

The ongoing fallout from the one-car accident with the multi-mistress pile up has made the Tiger Sponsorship Deathwatch the center of casual debate in marketing circles.  Anytime an endorser’s name and the word ‘crisis’ appear together, things get uncomfortable in client headquarters.  Yesterday, Accenture, who more than anyone else built their marketing program around Tiger’s stature, finally weighed in.

“…given the circumstances of the last two weeks, after careful consideration and analysis, the company has determined that he is no longer the right representative for its advertising.”

Adevertising as Cultural Irony

Advertising as Cultural Irony

Oh man, that puts a lasting crimp in Tiger’s image rehabilitation plans.  Up until that moment, Tiger’s agent Mark Steinberg, a man infamous for maintaining positive spin as a necessary trade-off for access, had been very successful at convincing Tiger’s sponsors to maintain discretion or only put out blather about ‘supporting him.’  That’s clearly over now.

What’s far less clear is Tiger’s future.  Early on, this seemed less a crisis and more a situation.  But as the numbers and details continued to spiral into a firestorm of the prurient and salacious, the hopes of quickly offering some contrition and popping back into public favor disappeared.  Last year his endorsement’s earned him an estimated $110 million; it’s safe to say he will never see numbers like that again.  Ever.

But beyond the cost to himself, the real concern to sports marketers must be the corresponding impact on the PGA.  When Tiger left the tour last year for knee surgery, the ratings dropped averaged 50%.  That’s a seriously frightening reality for hundreds of people and corporations hitched to that wagon.  Moreover, it could signal a frightening ebb to what had been ten years of growing interest in this longtime niche sport by the general public.

Tiger may be the one who drove off the road, but it’s the PGA that’s truly in the rough.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Tiger Woods’ Problems Do All Kinds of Good for Yahoo!

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz has a well-earned reputation for being atypically blunt as a corporate leader.  Yesterday, she spoke at a UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, where she addressed the topic of recent site traffic surges and how that will help her company reach their quarterly revenue targets.

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“God bless Tiger.  This week we got a huge uplift…Better than Michael Jackson dying.  Kind of hard to put an ad up next to a funeral.”

Now she said this because apparently, the golfer’s had some sort of trouble at home…

Better still for Yahoo! the Tiger stories around these revelations extend far beyond the sports page to include front page news, media and gossip.  When it comes to analyzing embarrassing, salacious details of one of the world’s highest profile celebrities, we can’t get enough.  And so we all watch the legacy of the world’s greatest golfer crumble down to the level of say, Jon Gosselin.

The news business has long leveraged our appetite for mucking about in humanity’s seamier topics while keeping our own hands clean.  Fox News’ famous “If it bleeds, it leads” philosophy behind it’s early nightly newscasts still sounds horrifyingly sordid some twenty years later.

We may be in the world of new media, but the song remains the same.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): The Next Great Athlete Endorser…Stewart Cink?

ChaseGuest Blogger: Michael Chase

Michael Chase is an account director at Element 79 and a man with both a deep track record with sports brands and an enviable short game.  He came to Element 79 to work on Gatorade and help develop Element 79 Sports with projects for clients such as Discover, US Soccer, the Wade’s World Foundation, and Chicago 2016.  Before returning to Chicago, Michael spent six years in Portland: two working on Nike Golf (and his short game) and four at Weiden and Kennedy where he first began working on Nike (and his short game).  He began his career with sports projects for Coors and Midas at Foote Cone and Belding after graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder (where the mile-high altitude helped his drives).  Later this afternoon, Element 79 will be relying on Michael’s total game at the AAAA golf outing in Harborside.  Long and strong Michael, long and strong…

Throughout my career, I have had the distinct fortune and pleasure of working with a number of wonderful companies and brands with their sports-related advertising and marketing initiatives. While I have a great deal of passion and energy for the business of sports, I am also a fan.  Okay, not just a fan, but a fanatic

Growing up, if I wasn’t playing baseball, football, soccer, basketball tennis or golf, I was watching it.  Some of my favorites in no particular order were John Elway, John McEnroe, Jack Nicklaus, Pele, Nolan Ryan and of course, MJ.  And like the rest of my friends, I bought what these athletes used, wore, and endorsed. 

I loved watching athletes in advertising.  From Mean Joe Green and Coke to the cast of characters for Miller Lite’s Taste Great/Less Filling campaign, from Nike’s “Bo Knows”  to  Gatorade’s MJ taking on himself, the great ads came from brands with clearly-defined understanding of their roles.  The best brands tapped into insights that resonated with sports fans and took the time and energy to find exactly the right athlete to deliver their message.  I cannot stress that last point enough. 

It has become more and more challenging for brands to find the right athlete.  For years, Element 79 Sports helped brands do just that.  But with our seemingly unlimited media access to our sports hero’s lives, we know too much about today’s athletes and recognize they are not the bulletproof, do-no-wrong heroes they once were.  Worse, with so many sports vying for our attention and so many new media outlets splintering our focus, some of the old luster is gone.  Combine all this with a down economic climate where limited dollars exist to sign athlete endorsers and showcase them through marketing and it’s obvious the old rules have changed.  Those rules may even be gone completely and it is time brands recognize this.

Gone are the days of scouring the Q scores to find the best athlete for the job.  Today, brands need to consider a multitude of criteria to make this crucial decision.  Excelling at their sport and demonstrating an interesting personality is simply not as important as it once was.  One of the most important emerging criteria to consider is whether the athlete is doing a good job of marketing themselves.  Do they have their own website?  Is it any good?  Are they active in social networking?  And if so, as this recent SI article about Twitter and professional sports asks, are they being followed?

Some of the most popular athletes in the world of Twitter may not be among their league’s leaders in stats, but definitely make the most entertaining use of less than 140 characters.  This list of the Top 10 Twitter athletes tells an interesting story; while it contains some of the biggest names in sports (Shaq, Lance, and Serena), you might be surprised by some of the others (skateboarders Ryan Sheckler and Tony Hawk? Nick Swisher? Kareem?).  A new site called Athlete Tweets aggregates thousands upon thousands of tweets from hundreds of athletes from all different sports creating a sort of Twitter sports network.

522,894 Followers Is Waaay Above Par

522,894 Followers Is Waaay Above Par

PGA fans may know Stewart Cink but he is hardly a household name in sports.  Still, Stewart has nearly 523,000 followers.   He provides rich, personal details of his golf life through nearly 1,000 tweets and his Twitter bio, right down to which brand of shafts he uses in his clubs.  Fans comment on the courses he plays and his club selection–they definitely notice.

The brands who recognize this new playing field, the ones who embrace it and use it to create even deeper relationships with athletes through it will win. Social networking will radically restructure who is chosen to endorse brands, how they endorse brands and how those endorsement deals will be structured.  Brands can use sports to reach their consumers in more relevant and efficient ways than ever before.  And the ones that do will win.

Last year Buick made the tough decision to end their long relationship with Tiger Woods because they could no longer afford him.  Maybe they should call Stewart Cink.  Actually, they should tweet him.

by Michael Chase, Element 79

Regarding Convergence, Award Shows and Advertising Advertising Agencies

Advertising awards work an awful lot like brand reputation ads for agencies. In the best case, they draw attention to creative accomplishments, reinforcing and creating regard for an agency’s product.  At worst, they fail to engage any sort of relevant target market and merely serve as an expensive exercise in self-congratulation.  Of course, most fall somewhere in the muddled middle, much like most brand reputation advertising on television, garnering some attention but not nearly as much among the right kind of people as an agency might hope.

Apparently, E79 Got Authorization from the One Show

Apparently, E79 Got Authorization from the One Show

Over the past three weeks, Element 79 has enjoyed a very nice run among the major shows, winning an Interactive Silver Pencil from the One Show for our Tostitos web work, a Silver Addy for a Tiger Woods’ online game we developed for his Gatorade line, and a series of Silvers and Bronze awards at the New York Festivals as well, all for our digital work.  

To us, this is a validation of sorts.  Awards from more discriminating shows like these help drive home how we have worked digital convergence here at Element 79, moving beyond our reputation for television creative to demonstrate integrated creative thinking and execution across multiple platforms.  We are very proud of that.

But the truth is, awards shows alone make for a woefully incomplete media buy when you want to influence hearts and minds within the industry. Advertising our agency demands a much more coordinated effort emphasizing digital and word of mouth.  We need the right people to understand who we are and what we can do, and those people probably do not subscribe to awards show mailing lists.  They do however, trust their friends’ opinions, notice interesting work as they surf the web or cable and read trade stories about new business wins.  Those are channels we must work if we want to avoid becoming the proverbial cobbler who shoes the village yet lets his own children run barefoot.  In a world as fragmented and distracted as ours, no advertiser can rely on any one specific medium to carry their message and incite interaction among their most valuable customers, not even ad agencies.

Not even ad agencies with a gleaming new shelfload of shiny new objects.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79