Television Commercials Aren’t Dead. They’ve Just Gone New Places. Amazing New Places…

Remember this spot for Cheerios? It first aired this past month and due solely to its casting of an interracial couple, incensed a disturbing number of bigot trolls, whose inflammatory comments forced General Mills to shut down comments on their YouTube page (but, admirably, not back down and pull the spot–way to be, General…).

It’s nothing more than a TV commercial. The same kind we’ve been watching for decades. The same kind certain pundits have deemed dead in today’s interactive age.

Television is far from dead. The numbers prove we watch more of it than ever. And as this spot demonstrates, no other medium has the breadth of reach or emotional impact of moving pictures and sound. No, while television may be many things, it is certainly not dead.

That said, television has definitely been transformed, mostly by the participatory web. A tiny but vocal smattering of racists attacked this sweet, simple story, using the coward’s cloak of online anonymity even as millions of people reacted normally, with emotions running the gamut from delight to benign neglect.

But those prejudicial attacks spurred another small but vocal group—Michael David Murphy and Alyson West from Atlanta, Georgia–who decided it was time to answer that ugliness with a showcase for love and family. They created a Tumblr  called “We Are The 15 Percent”: a reference to the 2008 census which noted that interracial couples make up 14.9% of all marriages in the United States. Michael and Alyson’s blog invites interracial couples and families to send in their photos as a counterpoint to this sort of idiotic bile. In just a few short weeks, they already have over 2500 submissions. And with national coverage from outlets like MSNBC, those numbers should continue to swell.

The photos are beautiful. The movement is affirming. The reach of television empowered by Web 2.0 is a marvelous thing to behold.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Doing Social Media 9-5 Means You’re Doing It Wrong

Back in the 80’s, I worked with a really smart research guy (this was waaaay pre-planning) named Jim Crimmins.  Jim biked to work not because he was green (this was waaaay pre-green) but because it made sense to him.  He was a soft spoken presenter of deeply-resonant ideas, one of which was the importance of aperture, which simply means finding the right place and time to maximize your message’s persuasiveness.

In those days, aperture referred to the right place and time for television, radio, print or outdoor (this was waaaay pre-internet…are you sensing a theme here?).  It was an important thought then, but today’s hyper-connected, social media/web 2.0 times magnify aperture’s importance ten fold.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, Olson, MinneapolisAccording to a recent statistical analysis by Buddy Media, a leading supplier of social marketing software for clients and agencies, 89% of retail brand posts launch between 8 AM and 7 PM Eastern Time.  That makes sense because those are the work hours of the corporate people writing the posts.

Except it doesn’t make sense, because that’s when subscribers and consumers receiving those posts are busiest.

According to the study, brands reach people more successfully when they launch their messages in more favorable apertures.  For the Facebook crowd, engagement with retail brands rises 20% on posts between 8 PM and 7 AM.

In fact, it’s not just time of day but day of the week that drives engagement.  Buddy Media’s data reveals Facebook user engagement varies over the course of a week, peaking on Wednesdays and Sundays.  In comparison, Friday is the worst day for consumer engagement.  Retailer fans engage most with posts outside of traditional workdays.

All of which means it might be time to rethink our posting schedules and perhaps even invest in publishing tools and software, which not surprisingly, Buddy Media offers.  You can download their statistical report and check their methodology here.  Self-interest notwithstanding, it’s a pretty compelling argument for adjusting when we try to engage consumers online.

Other quick highlights of the report?  Facebook engagement drops with the frequency of posts during the day–less than three seems ideal for generating Likes and comments.  And keep them short: lengthy posts kill engagement. Only 5% of retail brand Wall Posts are less than forty characters, but those receive 86% higher engagement.  And in a sucker punch to the hopes of every creative in marketing, posts containing “$ off” and “coupon” pull a 55% higher user engagement rate and simpler posts work better than more interesting and involved ones featuring links to video and photos.  Apparently when you are interrupting someone’s social experience, they are hopelessly self interested and simple-minded.

If I learned anything from Jim, it’s that aperture matters.  Which means this blog post is waaaaay too long.  Oh, and perhaps not surprisingly, Jim now teaches at Northwestern University.  Some folks can’t stop learning. And teaching.  For that, thank you Mr. Chips.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

You Can Waste A Ton of Time In Sixty Seconds…

On Monday, MSNBC’s Technolog posted the graphic below which outlines exactly what happens out there on that World Wide Web every blessed minute of the day…on average of course.  Even a casual perusal can be kind of mind blowing: Google answers nearly 700,000 search queries, which is roughly the same number of status updates posted on Facebook each minute.  Over 168 million emails are sent, 20,000 new posts go up on Tumblr and over 13,000 hours of music stream over Pandora.  And beyond the limits of minutes, over 110 new pictures posted to Flickr every second!

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Of course, things really get crazy when you convert these minutes to full days.  Or god forbid, actual years.  Do the math on YouTube video uploads: if there are over twenty-five hours of video added every minute, that means there are over 1,500 hours each hour and a whopping 36,000 hours every day, which equates to well over four years worth of video. Every day.  Good luck keeping up with that.

Thanks to the ease of content generation, the explosion of social sharing and the basic premise of Web 2.0, content isn’t just King, it’s exponentially ubiquitous.  Or some other expression that means really, really freaking massive.

Damn internet, you scary big!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Know Anyone Looking To Start a Career In Advertising?

The difficulty of finding an advertising job serves as a good first test for an industry where rejection occurs daily. That’s why when parents of jobseekers call me, I ask them to have their child/nephew/friend’s amazingly creative daughter contact me directly. You have to really want to be in this business to build a career in it.

For young creatives, the typical path requires creating a portfolio. That used to mean assembling a book, but now it all happens online where any applicant with programming savvy can really wow non-digitally native people like myself.

Because that’s the job: creating interest in your ideas, your creativity, your own unique perspective and world view.

Yesterday, we launched our application for OLSON’s Summer O-tern program. We’re looking to hire three students interested in the creative side of marketing. In an inspired bit of thinking, our team of Matt Burgess and Bryan Michurski, led by Tom Fugleberg, created this unique application challenge…

Note, they created this piece using only a phone.

I love this idea. In the past few years, the widespread availability of broadcast-level technology has democratized production; smartphones with 1080p video literally put that production capability in all of our hands. And sharing through social media circles forms the foundation of modern connectivity and community building.

Of course, what you do with that capability is the real challenge. We plan to post the entries and offer constructive criticism about them. After all, if students take the time to create something for us, they deserve to get direct feedback on their work.

Learn more about the program by clicking here (recently, someone at ICF Next reached out, asking me to update this link. The Otern program is long dead: this now links to their employment opportunities. Good luck!) And if you happen to know any child/nephew/friend’s amazingly creative daughter who wants to explore a career in advertising, send the link to them.

I look forward to seeing where their imaginations can take us.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, OLSON


For Now At Least, The TSA Wishes Holiday Fliers “Happy Thanks-groping!”

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79It’s the news story you can’t avoid: since implementing their new pat-down procedures, the TSA has become a focal point for a fed-up public.  Critics rage about the intrusiveness of the procedure and how these aggressive new measures won’t stop determined terrorists so much as hassle law-abiding citizens.  Some believe the pat-down serves primarily to coerce people into using those new privacy-robbing full body scanners.

Judging from the volume of chatter on the internet, the TSA may have underestimated the public response.  As of yesterday, a Google search for “TSA Pat-down” returned 4,900,000 hits.  Everyone’s heard the shameful anecdote about the veteran flight attendant with the prosthetic breast.  And the chatter on talk radio only seems to be building.  Steadfast or not, this nascent agency doesn’t seem ready for the controversy, particularly in our Web 2.0 enabled world of today.

Today, everyone has a phone in their hand that records photos and videos.  So now we can all witness a TSA Agent strip-searching a young boy at Salt Lake City…

Today, everyone has a Twitter or Facebook account where they can post their personal experiences.  So now TV producers and magazine editors can quickly find human interest stories on the topic.

Today, anyone can start a free Tumblr blog, so now ordinary people can form national ad hoc repositories to express either their outrage or amusement over their TSA experiences.

The reality is that today, it’s no longer possible for any government agency to totally control any story, whether it’s a student uprising in Iran or Venezuela or a citizen protest here in America.  The tools of dissent are too widely available and wired into a viral, international network.

So will this rising hue and cry, magnified by the heavy Holiday air travel season, impact or even alter government policy?  From a specifics standpoint, it’s too early to tell.

But speaking generally, it already has.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The Omnipresent Scourge of Creative Ennui

Maybe it’s the recession.  Maybe it’s the rampant fear among client organizations. But something has far too many agency creatives feeling listless, lifeless and dull.

I blame the internet.  Specifically: Web 2.0.

And no, that’s not because digital is such a confusing and specialized marketing platform: it’s not. The only people still clinging to that fairytale are the ever dwindling ranks of digital separatists.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79. Chicago AdvertisingNo, I blame the internet and the explosion of ideas it presents every minute of every day.  We are literally awash in new thoughts from all types of people in all sorts of places.  Today, when any kid with a cell phone camera can step up and jack a long ball over the Green Monster of cultural awareness, it’s pretty apparent that we agency types no longer have the stage to ourselves.

And speaking selfishly, that is a bummer.  We no longer enjoy the privilege of seeing our work presented in a tightly-controlled national public forum. There was a time not long ago when even a fifteen second spot for a toilet cleaner afforded you access to the rarified world of broadcasting, a chance for your thinking to be seen by tens–even hundreds–of millions of people.  The cost of production and the relative scarcity of media outlets afforded advertising an enviable third tier status in pop culture, behind movies and television.  It was a business, but it was also a creative enterprise friends and neighbors found mysterious and fascinating.

But now, when people upload 9,200 hours of original content to YouTube every single day (that’s well over a year’s worth every twenty-four hours)…when Facebook status updates can earn a sitcom option…and when comedians reference the Double Rainbow Guy instead of the Mentos fresh maker…broadcast advertising no longer enjoys any sort of exclusivity on idea presentation.  Everyone knows someone who’s a YouTube star, a kid who got his Tweet re-tweeted hundreds of times, or a blogger who earned a book deal.  Ideas are everywhere.

Today, unlike any other time in marketing history, attention can’t be bought: it must be earned.  And that can be a bitter pill to swallow…

But like all medicine, it’s best to just swallow hard and take it, so we can all move on to the clear water on the other side of this temporary lull.  Because if we’re fortunate to have a job in a creative department, that means someone thinks it’s still worthwhile to pay us for dreaming things up.  We still enjoy a job where we are employed not for the strength of our backs but the fertility of our minds.  And even if it’s tougher than it used to be, that’s still a really sweet deal.

Besides, in this economy, no one wants to hear it.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Misconceptions, Half-Truths, and Lies, Lies, Lies

The internet is a rich source of unverified speculation, baseless rumors and agenda-serving fabrication: no surprise there.  Ever since the widespread of adoption of Web 2.0, commentary, blogs and microblogs reconfigured the web into a vast wiki: user-sourced and generated, largely on the honor system.  That’s rarely a good thing (BP’s offshore safety standards anyone?), particularly to anyone accustomed to accepting information at face value–which is also rarely a good thing.

This is where comes in.  If you haven’t already bookmarked this site, do it now.  It began about fifteen years ago as ‘The Urban Legend Reference Pages’–a site developed by Barbara and David Mikkelson dedicated to dispelling myths and providing real information on all sorts of topics.  As the web grew, so did the demand for their curious and obsessive fact-finding.  Today, readers submit all sorts of conjecture: about Nigerian inheritances, the war records of Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers, the new Pepsi can that eliminates ‘under God’ from our National Anthem…

The only real reason I mention snopes is that I got an email this morning about the many uses of WD-40.  This particular message closes by claiming that remarkable product’s main ingredient is fish oil.  All in all, it was rather mindblowing.

After a quick check on Snopes, I was it was also not entirely true.  What is true, is that this remarkable petroleum-based spray lubricant can serve a mind-blowing amount of uses.  Those that have been confirmed as fact are:

  1. Protects silver from tarnishing.Element 79, Chicago Advertising, Dennis Ryan
  2. Removes road tar and grime from cars.
  3. Loosens stubborn zippers..
  4. Untangles jewelry chains..
  5. Keeps ceramic/terra cotta garden pots from oxidizing.
  6. Keeps scissors working smoothly.
  7. Lubricates noisy door hinges on vehicles and doors in homes.
  8. Lubricates gear shift and mower deck lever for ease of handling on riding mowers.
  9. Rids kids rocking chairs and swings of squeaky noises.
  10. Lubricates tracks in sticking home windows and makes them easier to open.
  11. Spraying an umbrella stem makes it easier to open and close.
  12. Restores and cleans roof racks on vehicles.
  13. Lubricates and stops squeaks in electric fans.
  14. Lubricates wheel sprockets on tricycles, wagons, and bicycles for easy handling.
  15. Keeps rust from forming on saws, saw blades, and other tools.
  16. Lubricates prosthetic limbs.
  17. Keeps pigeons off the balcony (they hate the smell)
  18. Removes all traces of duct tape.
  19. If you spray WD-40 on the distributor cap, it displaces moisture allowing cars to start.
  20. It removes blackscuff marks from t he kitchen floor!  UseWD-40 for those nasty tar and scuff marks on flooring.  It doesn’t seem to harm the finish and you won’t have to scrub nearly as hard to get them off.  Just remember to open some windows if you have a lot of marks.
  21. Bug guts will eat away the finish on your car if not removed quickly! Use WD-40!

By the way, the email list was twice as long, but these are the only ones verified.  You’re welcome.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The Esperanto of Bad Ideas

Great ideas travel far and fast.  Unfortunately, so do awful ones.  Today, with the onset of Negative Media–consumer driven backlash empowered by Web 2.0–advertising ideas that fall into that unfortunate latter category are no longer even limited by geography.

Witness these two screen grabs from recent-ish ads for Enterprise Car Rental.  I’ve been frustrated with this advertiser for years, for the reason you see in the vidcaps.  Inevitably, their ad opens on a helpless woman who stands in a car repair shop beneath a large white sign with two foot high black letters that spell out “Repair Shop.”

Now I’ve liked cars for a long time, and bought my first one long before I could buy anything decent, so I have spent a decent amount of time with mechanics.  And in over three decades of driving, I’ve never seen a sign like that hanging from the rafters of a garage.  It is there solely because the advertiser considers us to be mouth-breathing morons, incapable of recognizing the location, despite the steaming engines and hydraulic lifts.  I bet this inanity first started as a super placed over a badly-drawn animatic frame the client sent into testing.  Then, when the piece received an acceptable action score, an overzealous brand manager insisted that the commercial match the animatic exactly, right down to the pasted-in super.  Like so many other offensively idiotic ideas, this foolishness has a stubborn staying power, kind of like “American Idol.”

So I thought I’d air my little grievance with this brand on the blog.  Remarkably, despite these hyper-documented times, I couldn’t find a video copy of any of the Enterprise spots on the web.  That might indicate that even the advertiser realizes their ads amount to little more than blights on the culture, but probably not.  However, in searching, I stumbled across this Enterprise ad from the United Kingdom.

As you can see, idiocy speaks an international language, albeit with localized spelling.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Eleven Years Ago, This Was Insight. It Still Is.

Every weekday, I try to write something relevant to advertising, branding, or simply modern life.  But today, I’m going to highlight someone else’s writing. Which is a nice way to say “I’m copying.”

I’m copying off one of the web’s original bloggers, Jason Kottke, who has written online since 1998 and currently handles the endlessly fascinating Simultaneously, I’m copying off of Douglas Adams, the English author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and a totally fascinating creative artist who died nine years ago this past week.

Dennis Ryan Chicago Advertising Element 79This piece posted on, quotes Adams from a 1999 interview entitled “How To Stop Worrying And Learn To Love the Internet.”  That’s before widespread broadband or WiFi or even Web 2.0.  Read this and understand the difference between commentary and insight: nearly a decade later, Adam’s vision remains accurate despite the quantum leaps in communication and technology and social networking…

“So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back — like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’ What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust — of course you can’t, it’s just people talking — but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV — a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.”

Rational skepticism can be a beautiful thing, can’t it?
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The New Marketing Landscape of O.P.E.N. Media

In a culture where opinion has a mass channel and information spreads at unprecedented speeds, we need to rethink our notion of media mixes.  Today, a more holistic view could be O.P.E.N. media: Owned, Paid, Earned and unfortunately, Negative.

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis RyanFrom the very beginning, a few marketers and brands have realized the value of the media they Owned.  Wheaties drew attention by putting athletes on their box, Bazooka Joe used his comics, and Apple has long sold their brand through the style-setting impact of their clean, elegant industrial design and packaging.  More recently, Uniqlo has done it through their ever changing, always fascinating websites and Anthropologie through one of the oldest and simplest retail mediums: the store window.

Advertising agencies developed to create content and strategize placement for Paid Media.  We’d buy TV and radio time, take out space in magazines, newspapers and billboards, and invest in sponsorships and events.  It required making choices about where you should place your creative bets, but by and large, it worked.  And still does.

More recently, the world of Social Media introduced the notion of Earned Media.  Smart brands invest time in creating relationships with influential people in the online and offline world, and earn positive public relations as a result.  Or they create content and provide it to news shows and video outlets for others to share.  In the end, a brand must do something worthwhile or interesting to encourage people to share their story; they must earn it (On a side note, some like to parse out Shared Media: the pass alongs made possible through services like Reddit and Digg.  To me, this is hair splitting: Shared Media is simply a subset of Earned Media).

And yet, there is a fourth Media all marketers need to keep in mind today: Negative Media.  Brands have always had to deal with cranky customers, with complaints and disagreements over return policies or product efficacy.  But these days, consumers can turn to a mass channel of opinion to post their grievance and spread their displeasure.  In this modern world of Immedia, news, stories and cultural moments spread with unprecedented speed through online ecosystems.  And few things spread as quickly as bad news–United Breaks Guitars, anyone?  If a story is presented compellingly or if it captures the public imagination, brands can quickly find themselves in trouble due to a virulent outbreak of Negative Media.  Dominos had those yokels blowing their noses on their pizzas, Toyota had the Prius problem, and a long list of brands knows what happened when Tiger blew his cover.

Negative Media is a relatively new phenomenon.  With the individual empowerment of Web 2.0 and social networks, the ability to spread opinion far and wide has never been cheaper, faster or more effective.  That’s why keeping an ear on the online chatter about your brand means so much these days.  A good social media policy can mean the difference between being caught by a story or getting ahead of it.

Negative Media is just another argument for converging traditional marketing and public relations, particularly Social Media.  Coordinating these disciplines from the outset of brand marketing enhances the impact of the traditional efforts that get brands recognized even as it activates the advocates to drive brand recommendation.  And it can insure all of these investments by continually monitoring online dialogue for Negative Media.

It’s a 24/7 world.  Now we gotta be always O.P.E.N.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79