On The Power of Positivity

I’ve got this friend Dave Butler.  Larger than life, his raw, unfettered enthusiasm makes Dave the guy you always want on your invite list.  He’s that rare type of cool guy who doesn’t hold back his excitement about anything; a night out, a party, a Steppenwolf play. As a result, he attracts people like a bug light and collects memories and experiences where so many others collect only regret.

I thought of Dave over the weekend when I read an item posted at Yahoo.  In a AP human interest piece, Ryan Nakashima cited the popularity of Yahoo’s celebrity-focused site OMG! and credited much of it’s popularity to it’s relentlessly positive tone.  For the past year in the crowded world of online gossip, OMG! has held sway as the leading aggregator of eyeballs.  That’s more visits than Entertainment Tonight or People’s sites, more than the brash emerging celeb news source TMZ, and far more than smarty-pants sites like the often-hilarious What Would Tyler Durden Do and the self-obsessed PerezHilton.com.  Moreover, it leads the competition in overall page views as well.Blog

Of course, OMG! benefits massively from direct links from the 500 million unique monthly visitors to Yahoo, just as the newer and similarly styled Wonderwall does from MSN.  But OMG! does something else I found fascinating: they consciously spin all their items with an upbeat, non-judgmental tone.  Sibyl Goldman, a Yahoo VP says “We just like to tell the happy view on what’s going on in the entertainment world.”  

As a rule, people prefer the ‘happy view’: we love optimism, sunshine and happy endings.  This is the foundation of decades of bubble gum music—those pop songs from our past that even provide a guilty pleasure to innumerable hipsters.

Being positive is a simple game plan for success, but one that’s extraordinarily difficult for creative people to execute consistently.  Few of us strive for a career creating cocktail chatter, we don’t want to develop light and fluffy tones free of personal viewpoints and judgment.  After all, our strongest creative influences take the exact opposite tack.  The brainy irony of Letterman, Stewart and Colbert, the bleak narratives of Cormac McCarthy and anti-glamour songwriting of Tom Waits, the visual sophistication of Scorsese: all conspicuously avoid easy, crowd pleasing actions. 

When instructed to create a positive tone in our ideas, our self-censor inevitably rears its ugly head, concerned that if we get too upbeat, we’ll abandoned intellectual heft and creative integrity.  In the end, determining where that line lies requires empathy.  And empathy doesn’t always come naturally.  We are not always in synch with the largest markets in America; we don’t always watch what they watch or read what they read. 

Further, as much as it pains me to admit, our messages are incidental to most peoples’ lives.  We try to earn attention amidst infinitely more important daily concerns like their health, their family and the White Sox score.   People rarely approach marketing messages and mediums seeking a challenge; they want something easy and fun, even if it’s information.  They welcome the respite of a bright and breezy tone.

So go ahead–post that snarky tweet, write that ironic Facebook status update, and share that obscure German stop-motion animation short with your friends.  But when you need to reach a broad market, strive to be positive.

OMG!  It works for them…

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On Twitter, Social Immediacy, and the Recurring Non-Death of Jeff Goldblum

We seem to have hit a rough patch for celebrity deaths this past week: Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and just yesterday, pitchman Billy Mays.  The demise of Michael Jackson in particular captured worldwide interest and led to all sorts of tributes and memorials, from BET to the cover of every major newspaper.

As is now the case with any breaking story with such magnitude of human interest, online usage spiked as people sought to learn what happened as it happened: for a short while, Twitter actually shut down and Google returned error messages for searches related to “Michael Jackson,” assuming that the volume of inquiries indicated some sort of automated attack on its servers.  For one hour last Thursday night, over one of every five tweets referenced Michael Jackson.

The interval between when TMZ announced his death and when more reputable outlets followed suit will provide fodder for journalists to debate for years; what caught my attention–courtesy of our ever aware planner Lance Hill–was the corresponding rumor that Jeff Goldblum had also died.  Oddly, Mr. Goldblum seems to be a more modern version of Abe Vigoda: rumors of his death first popped up ten years ago.  Picture 3If you check the chart at left, courtesy of the Twitter trend monitoring service  Twist, both Goldblum and Harrison Ford shared temporary obituaries late last week.  The ever-useful rumor-quashing site Snopes reports that these rumors originate via an automated prank; some ‘comedy’ websites encourage you to enter a celebrity’s name into a ‘fake news generator’ and then spread the story–similar rumors spreada few years ago about both Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks.  And apparently these fake story generators favor Hollywood deaths that involve the ‘victim’ falling off a mountain during a location shoot in New Zealand.  Go figure…

Social Media provide untold value–not only to enable us to connect more frequently in our time-starved culture, but also to provide a first person outlet for critical news as it breaks.  The recent coverage of the massive post-election protests on the streets of Iran would have been far less-comprehensive without the first-person details passed along via Twitter.  But as author and social media commentator Clay Shirky points out, having this vast distribution network accessible to everyone makes it all but impossible to define what constitutes a ‘journalist’ anymore.  Further, without being bound to the principles–and legal ramifications–of traditional journalism, false stories spread much further, much faster.  On the upside, ‘wiki’ principles hold true in these case as well; the majority of social media users want to know the truth and will quickly rise up to correct erroneous stories as they find them.

It takes a village indeed.  And online, that village is very, very large.  And loud.  And occasionally wrong.  But inevitably corrected.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79