Digital Esperanto: The Internet As International Common Ground

Element 79, Chicago Advertising, Dennis RyanIn the Book of Genesis, the ancients built the Tower of Babel in Babylon to a great height with the intent of touching the heavens and asserting the glory of man. This act offended God, who smacked the edifice down and scattered the people across the globe, creating a profusion of languages to further separate the people and insure they didn’t get uppity like that again.

Whether you take this story as fact or allegory, our division as a race stems from fundamentals like language, which inevitably rolls into culture and tradition and all the rest.  Go to dinner in Lisbon and try telling your waiter to hold the anchovies and put the dressing on the side and you’ll see just how fundamental a stumbling block language is.

I couldn’t help thinking about this as I scanned Fleishman-Hillard and Harris Interactive’s new Digital Influence Index white paper.  With a focus on helping clients drive sales, they demonstrate that of all the media channels that drive consumer decisions, the Internet is far and away the most influential.  Further, they contend that marketers are not fully capitalizing on that influence.  Places like China, Germany, Japan and the UK even placed information found on the Internet above recommendations from friends and family.

Companies like to trot out research like this to sell the promise of new media and dance on the grave of radio, magazines and television, but that erroneously assumes that people view the internet as a sales medium in the same way they do television or print.  They don’t.  Commercial messages are readily identifiable by even the least sophisticated viewer in traditional media, with the notable exception of gray areas like branded content and sponsored placements.

By contrast, advertising messages on the web live predominantly in that gray area, as blogger advocacy, paid editorial and search results.  Of course there are the ubiquitous banners but no one would identify those as a source of information.  If advertisers follow Fleishman-Hillard’s advocated position, they will quickly devalue the conventional perception of the internet as an information source and cheapen it to just another ad platform.

As an industry, we need to take something of a preservationist approach to our efforts here.  Even as we seek to use the medium, we need to tread lightly to preserve this information and entertainment centric ecosystem. We must operate differently here than we do in traditional media, serving up our messages in a way that respects the unique perspective people bring to the platform.

Because if we do this right…  If we can drive widespread internet access to a worldwide information source, we might do something even more than sell more life insurance or offer a wider variety of pornographic video clips.  We might create a universal platform for far flung cultures to experience shared humanity.  We might create a technology that erases the separation of language and encourages the exchange of ideas, opinions and experience.  With any luck, we might erase the dehumanizing distance that allows one group to demean another with epithets, or a tinhorn warlord to convince a young woman to strap on an explosive suicide vest…

THAT would be freaking great.  Oh, and selling stuff would be awesome too.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Without Commercials, The Super Bowl Isn’t

A group of us flew down here to New Zealand for a large commercial shoot.  The weather’s nice, the country’s beautiful and the production team is very buttoned up.  Which is why we had the afternoon of Super Bowl Monday free to catch the Big Game™ at a local pub (Four Nations, Auckland, NZ).  Watching the game on a sunny afternoon certainly changed the experience but not half as much as watching it on an ESPN Live feed where the network fills the commercial breaks exclusively with ESPN promos.

That’s right: no Budweiser ads.  No Dockers, no Snickers, no Coke–just promos for rugby and soccer matches.  When the commercials came on, the crowd just headed for the rest rooms or the bar for another pint of Kilkenny’s (lovely stuff, that).

Without commercials, the Super Bowl is decidedly less Super.  It’s not nearly as engaging.  When it ended, people talked about the game for a while before quickly moving on.  There were no debates about which spot was best, what was a dumb investment, and who got hosed by unfortunate placement.  I’ll probably catch up later by watching them online but it’s not nearly the same as hearing a crowded bar erupt at a good joke or loudly pan a weak execution.

DVR technology allows people to skip past commercials and data shows many do–but they frequently rewind if they see something interesting.  And the Super Bowl majors in commercials that at least attempt to be something interesting.  Just this past Friday, a page one poll on USA Today claimed that 51% of viewers enjoy the commercials most about watching the Super Bowl on TV.  I’d have to agree.

Chalk a big W in the score column for traditional media.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  Do yourself a favor and read Ross Buchanan’s comment to this post.  Frankly, I wish I’d written it.

PR Now Sidestepping Traditional Media Relationships To Pitch Consumers Directly

Advertising Age published an interesting item the other day on the rising trend among PR firms to take a pass on pitching traditional media outlets and go directly to consumers with their messages.

A cynic might contend that publishing and media layoffs have cut the ranks so deeply that there simply aren’t enough journalists to pitch anymore, but the reality is that the widespread availability and low cost of  earned media outlets make it easier than ever to get marketing content out.  The proliferation of highly-engaged niche audiences online makes finding the appropriate audience simple.  Add these modern media realities to the democratization of production and the PR industry faces a new reality with its go-to-market strategy.  Low cost HD cameras and simple desktop editing put the power of video storytelling in most anyone’s hands, the web provides a ready outlet, and so we upend one more vestige of the one-way marketing model as PR firms create YouTube channels, send bloggers content and distribute relevant video to online communities.

Which brings up yet another convergence-based issue: do marketers need separate entities to handle marketing and public relations?   Does paid media require one set of experts and earned another?  In the absolute, perhaps, but in the workaday world, that’s becoming less and less viable, both economically and strategically.  If your advertising agency develops a strategic idea platform for consumers and the web provides direct access to those consumers, why would you need to employ a separate agency to connect the two?  That responsibility should reside with your agency people who hopefully, are already far more skilled than the average bear at generating compelling video content.

The challenge is to help agencies understand that their primary responsibilities now include direct-to-consumer PR.  Opinion has a mass channel and our messages must be in it.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

I Don’t Have All The Answers. But The Internet Connects Me To Smart People That Might…

People like Ad Age’s Randall Rothenberg certainly provide good, informed opinion and perspective around this whole marketing convergence thing.  Today, he posted a long, incredibly thoughtful, and refreshingly blunt assessment on Interactive Advertising Creativity.  Or rather, the horrific dearth of it.

...But Not Daniel Pink's

...But Not Daniel Pink's

Randall cites a number of valid reasons for this medium’s anemic achievements as a creative medium, starting with the direct marketing culture bred into its DNA.  From the outset, the web has been a metrics maven’s dream, easily measured and quantified. On one hand, we should take comfort that the industry avoided making up putative measures of creativity and imagination like so many over-reaching testing methodologies in the traditional ad world.  But still, the accepted practice has been an over-reliance on the logical, the rational and scientific, as opposed to the magical, the thrilling and inspired.

The industry’s finest mind, Bill Bernbach, nailed it years ago when he wrote:  “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”  Amen sir, amen. It’s too bad the logic-bound left brainers insist on grafting intellect into every sell, when the most fundamental decisions of humanity belie this conceit.  I did not marry my wife for measurable reasons like her IQ or her time in the mile–I fell in love and changed the course of my life based on the emotional imperative of passion.  Lucky thing too.  We go to war, we choose religions, we get surgery for dying pets for entirely emotional reasons: how can a logical mind dismiss emotion’s impact on buying decisions?

Anyway, I’m getting off topic.  Do yourself a favor and read Randall’s blog.  It’s smart.  And timely.  And a clarion call for a resurgence of creativity in online.

You know, the kind that would come if traditional agency creatives focused their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

Or rather, the kind that WILL come WHEN traditional agency creatives focus their attention on exploiting the emotional possibilities of this medium.

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