Technology in Service of Mankind: The Punishing Signal

Think of all of technology’s broken promises, starting with the last time you updated your operating system. It’s a discipline lousy with hyperbole, half-truths, and lies, lies, lies.

But every now and then, our best and brightest bring technology’s glimmering potential to bear in an effort to improve the collective quality of life.

This time, that group is the Mumbai Police Department …

Last week, the department posted this lovely video explainer to Twitter. It outlines their latest effort at fighting noise pollution, and quickly went viral.

By hooking up decibel meters to red lights, the police assessed honking noise in real time and then, through an admirably perverse algorithm, delayed green lights, resetting the countdown if the honking volume exceeded 85 decibels. In their words, the idea was “honk more, wait more.”

While admirable, this effort feels rather ironic coming from a country that acknowledges the free-for-all nature of their chaotic roadways with the admonition “Good brakes, good horn, good luck.”

Will this clever trial quell India’s addiction to honking?

Hard to tell, but in a country with 11 times the population density of the United States and no subway or mass transit system, the question really is ‘what can it hurt?’

Fingers crossed and holding my ears for you Mumbai…

In Mumbai, traffic is exceptionally loud thanks to the national proclivity for honking.

PS: Hat tip to Greg Popp who steered me to this story in the NYT. Good luck with your shoot in NZ, amigo.

Brands and “Authenticity”: When the Hackneyed Becomes Crucial

If you read a strategic brief at any point over the past five years, you read the word “authentic.” Whether yogurt, beer, or casual wear, brands fell over themselves in their rush to assert their ‘authenticity.’ Frankly, most protested too much and overuse diminished the word’s impact.

But this week, GoDaddy, the purveyor of web addresses that spent its early years lobbing embarrassingly sexist and sophomoric ads on the Super Bowl, did something genuinely authentic: they pulled their web-hosting services from the white supremacist site The Daily Stormer. It was a strong, very public move and truly embodied authenticity.

But that’s not how the story read Monday morning on Facebook…

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Social Media Outrage: The Case for Embedding Anthropology

In a noisy trend seemingly endemic to today’s social media, the outrage machine cranked up again, this time against haircare brand Shea Beauty. The trigger for online scorn and trending hashtags like #SheaMoisture Apology is this seemingly-innocuous ad:

Okay, pretty young models pouting about hating their hair–what’s the problem?

The problem is simple: Shea Moisture was built as an African American brand. This market became its first loyalists, helping the brand gain more attention and grow to where it now has a presence in mega-chains like Target.

But this ad features three white young women and one very light skinned bi-racial one. At least until the end tag where more women of color appear in small sections of a graphic collage. Reading the comments on YouTube, it’s clear that Shea Beauty loyalists took immediate notice, and deeply resented it.

When social firestorms happen, I can’t help wondering if I would have made the same mistake. Yes, any creative would know the company is black owned. And that the core audience is also African American. But since clients approve, and often dictate, casting decisions, the issue is probably less about a dumb, subjective creative call and more about a strategic brand desire to ‘expand the base.’ Shea Beauty and their agency no doubt had nothing but the best intentions from a marketing perspective, along with data highlighting a market expansion opportunity with blondes and redheads.

And that’s exactly why I favor anthropology over planning. Anthropologists focus on audiences, not brand metrics. They study the people you hope to reach: their values, their economies, their rituals and sacrifices. Anthropology focuses on what aligns and motivates people, which is crucial now that marketing is a two way dialogue.

Research and planning inevitably focus on the advertiser’s wants, but brands no longer control the conversation. Using anthropology to better understand your audience protects you from becoming the worst kind of person in any social situation: the one that only talks about themselves.

Actually, if they listen, Shea Beauty’s audience even gave them the answer to the issue. YouTube commenter Lorietha Causey said this about the cut:

“why in the commercial they have a woman that looks bi-racial and then the other women are white and then at the end they show a background of different shades of women. I feel the ending should’ve been the beginning with of them having a say on the product.”

That’s a solid re-edit idea. And if they’re smart, Shea Beauty will listen to their loyalists, get back into edit, and fix this now; which is another advantage of our iterative digital world.


A Critical Note on the Importance of Context

Things change quickly in our digital world. Last week, Twitter announced they were cutting 9% of their staff and shuttering Vine. Apparently people did not really want to actively connect with brands via six second videos on an ongoing basis.

Vine was fun. Back in its heyday, it provided a lovely form of distraction, particularly in the hands of people like Brock Davis. But any rational consideration of its context, of how and when people used the platform, would categorize Vine as something for downtime, for filling in-between moments when you simply wanted distraction.

That’s hardly an ideal platform for a sales message. And no; companies won’t provide free social media platforms if they can’t figure out how to monetize them. In every case, that requires funding from marketing dollars.

If they stopped to think about it, most advertisers would understand that people won’t find meaningful engagement with their brands in just six seconds (entertainment brands are one critical exception). A fascinating study released this Spring from Mondelez and Droga5 comparing commercial cuts of :15, :30, and 2:00 lengths found the :15 worked the least and was skipped the most.

My point isn’t to argue for longer film; it’s to emphasize the critical importance of context –in message, platform, and timing. Understanding Context, like understanding your Audience, is crucial.

Platforms may come and go—and increasingly quickly in this modern era—but the power of an amazing creative experience at the ideal time will resonate powerfully as long as there are sentient beings to feel them.



And The Best Picture Oscar Goes to Samsung

It’s certainly not without controversy, but Samsung’s integration into the Oscar broadcast, while flatfooted at times, did result in one brilliant piece of brand engagement:

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Yep, that’s over two and a half million retweets, a selfie record which is what Ellen Degeneres actively lobbied for during the broadcast. Which perfectly demonstrates the shareworthy power of celebrity. Particularly that unique brand of star power that US magazine has plied for years with their “Stars–They’re Just Like Us!” photo galleries (great expression on Kevin Spacey, by the way).

Of all the thousands of product placements surrounding this live global event, the simple act of snapping photos during a once-in-a-lifetime moment has never been leveraged like this. Obvious, perhaps, but brilliantly done.

Of course happening live and in the moment, it wasn’t perfect. As captured in this photo taken by YouTube celebrity Harry Clayton-Wright, not everyone made it into the frame. Sorry, Ms. Minnelli.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

But neither the photo’s limited frame size nor the potential of bot accounts inflating the retweet numbers constitute the real controversy for Samsung. That resides in this tweet Ellen posted before the broadcast started. It’s pretty much just a fan tweet from her personal account, a quick backstage snap with Channing Tatum.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

But check the bottom right note on that tweet. That’s not a Samsung Galaxy photo. D’oh!

Expect their PR team to be addressing this later today, pointing out how that photo is dismally under lit and demonstrates the iPhone’s tendency toward soft focus.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson 

Pent Up Rage Is Amazingly Shareworthy

No one feels sorry for JP Morgan Chase. Nor should they. They are all after all, the country’s biggest bank as measured by assets. But as Reuters reported yesterday, that brand’s most recent foray into social media was an unmitigated disaster. Want to see what pure outrage looks like? Type #askJPM into your Twitter feed. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingYou have to go down pretty far into the feed to find the original postings because in the intense echochamber that is the Twittersphere, dozens of people have been retweeting the story with unalloyed glee. But it’s worth the effort. Because there you will read some of the most bitter and brutal sarcasm ever leveled at a brand. On their turf. At their invitation.

JP Morgan’s mistake couldn’t seem more obvious in hindsight. Sure, within the investment banking community, they have been lauded and celebrated for the way they’ve driven value. But out among the unwashed, where the cost of those bankers’ bonuses are reflected in foreclosures and the impact of government fines looks laughable, the opinion is far different.

This episode perfectly illustrates the power of the biggest driver of shareworthy content: a strong POV. The more opinionated your content is, the more like-minded people will share it. When brand opinion is shaped and fueled by real world outrage, encouraging people to share their thoughts is tantamount to self immolation.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

FBomb: The Fundamentals for Shareworthy-ness Apply to Infographics Too

Want to make your video clip more viral? The basics of shareworthy-ness are simple.

  1. Give it a strong POV that lines up with a well-defined group or community’s values.
  2. Give it a strong element of surprise (as a corollary–if it involves a celebrity, make their appearance or actions the surprise).
  3. Make it super simple to forward on mobile.

Those principles don’t just apply to video. They apply to everything from photos to essays to games…and yes, infographics too.  Last August, MediaBistro’s AllTwitter blog reported that infographics shared on Twitter get 832% more retweets than articles or images. That’s rather staggering. (find their wonderfully easy-to-digest column here).

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

But to be shareworthy, your  infographic  still must be remarkable on its own. Which brings us to FBomb

The idea behind FBomb is simple: at this very moment, who exactly is dropping that expletive via Twitter? And where are they?

FBomb is realtime, it’s interactive, and it’s a fun little divergence courtesy of Canadian student and developer Martin Gingras. It’s a hill of fun that’s not meant to be posited as social commentary, yet a stunning amount of wet blanket comments in response to Martin’s creation all seem to take issue with his science. “This is only Twitter users, not the general population.” “It’s an English word so of course the US and UK seem disproportionately sweary.”

It’s not science, it’s a lark. And a hilariously entertaining, highly shareworthy one at that.  Happy Friday!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Agencies Don’t Make Clips Viral; Only The Public Does. And Jimmy Kimmel.

I really didn’t want to write about this. As the father of two daughters, my life would be rich and rewarding if I never had to type the word ‘twerking.’

But things happen, I guess.

Last week, all sorts of TV networks and online aggregators referenced a YouTube clip called “Worst Twerk Fail Ever-Girl Catches Fire!”. In no time, this 36-second clip of a twerking teenager apparently setting herself aflame in her living room went viral. It now has over eleven million views.

It also now has an extended version (posted below), which proves the incident was staged by talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, disturbingly attired in a matching pink t-shirt.

On his show, Kimmel presented a montage of TV outlets suckered by his prank, boasting “To the conspiracy theorists who thought the video was fake, you were right, it was fake…Thank you for helping us deceive the world and hopefully put an end to twerking forever.”

If only Jimmy, if only…

Kimmel has used the internet brilliantly ever since he took the reins as a late night host, but this particular episode is remarkably instructional. His team actually produced the clip a full month before Miley Cyrus’ publicity-generating exhibition on the VMA’s.

Interestingly however, they did not leverage any of the social media power of Kimmel’s show itself. They never distributed or promoted the clip on their Facebook page, Twitter feed or YouTube channel. Instead, they simply leveraged that popular, trending search term in their clip’s title. And made sure the accompanying video was short, to be both easily consumed and easily-shared.

Smart guy, that Jimmy. Let’s hope his dreams of eliminating trends from the national dialogue comes true.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

When Shareworthy Brand Content Isn’t Video

I clicked on a link a friend posted on Facebook and found this rather hilarious screed. Titled “Dear Guy Who Made My Burrito” it recounts the author’s experience after he apparently had the horrific misfortune of purchasing a grossly ill-constructed burrito. He went on (and on) at great humorous length, about the screaming incompetence of the burrito maker.Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

It reads with all the rich, wonderful bile of a Louis CK set piece.

And it’s an ad. After 639 words, it closes with this:

Did you like this post? I made something else I think you’ll like more. This has been a commercial.

This piece of sharable content is designed to get the right kind of people–people who like comedy and don’t fear an F-bomb or two–a card game called “Superfight” from the same twisted minds that brought us “Cards Against Humanity.”

This was originally posted on Medium–the wonderful writing site started by Ev Williams, one of the original creators of Blogger. Medium doesn’t publish click counts but given this post’s ubiquity across Facebook and Twitter, it seems to be reaching its audience. Given the way we share things socially (and those pesky F-bombs), it is almost guaranteed to reach only the right audience.  And in the off-chance it wanders past those parameters, he closes with this: “Also, it is meant to be a work of humor. If you take from this that a human being really got as angry about a burrito as the post suggests, please never introduce me to the human beings you know.” Brilliant.

So with a grand investment of exceptional wit, creative sweat and zero dollars, these entrepreneurs have launched their niche-targeted new product with shared content and crowd-sourced media targeting.

It’s a brave new world. And at times, pretty hysterical.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson