Forget Sustainability; The Future Of Everything–Even Advertising–Depends On Fast Adapting

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingIn this month’s issued of Wired, Andrew Zolli presents a very compelling case for emphasizing resilience instead of sustainability. He views sustainability as impractical given that stasis is totally counter to the natural order. By contrast, emphasizing resilience helps people deal with disruption and volatility. For instance, instead of building a seawall in a Quixotic attempt to staunch the surge of the next monster hurricane, Zolli suggests developing infrastructure that is lighter weight, more portable and redundant cutting down response times and helping the system self repair. Given our Congress’ shameful impotence on providing relief for Hurricane Sandy victims, that makes a lot of sense.

Resilience also makes sense for advertising.  Back in the early 90’s, everyone in Chicago talked about how Ted Bell “…had a standing army of 500 creatives at Y&R.” This legend was spoken in hushed tones, a paean to omnipotent firepower.

Which seems quaint now. Successful creative brand stewardship comes down to casting, not staffing; clients need the right minds, not simply a lot of them. Too many inputs overwhelm the system and slow things down–it’s all about faster, leaner, responsiveness.

Successful advertising really is all about resilience.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


And in advertising, no one can deny these are volatile, disruptive times. Zolli’s

On Anonymity and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

The latest issue of  Wired magazine features an article by Evan Ratliff chronicling his efforts to vanish from society and avoid detection for a month while the magazine readers vie for a $5000 prize for locating him.  The story teaches all sorts of useful things like how cell phone batteries are trackable and how Greyhound is a last bastion of transportation that doesn’t require a photo ID.

mark-manginoI read the article with particular interest because of a note my friend Paul Meyer sent me yesterday on this very subject.  Paul’s a diehard Jayhawks fan, and their administration looks ready to step in and fire their football coach, Mark Mangino. Paul didn’t really say where he came down on the issue of the coach’s tenure, but he did point out something disturbing he noticed on a story on  By the time he quit skimming it yesterday, the comments count had topped 1330, and almost every one of them made some sort of fat joke.  While Coach Mangino is a plus-sized individual who dwarfs even Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, the fact remains his job is in jeopardy not for his physical appearance but rather his won-loss record.  What no doubt started as a bit of snarky smack talk online quickly devolved into ugly personal attacks that can only be classified as vicious and mean.

In this kind of environment, when anonymity can spur otherwise decent people down to something as ugly as character assassination, how can we maintain any semblance of civility?  How can we expect those with an agenda to follow some sort of higher-minded Marquess of Queensberry rules and avoid the partisan mud-slinging inanity that has so polluted the aisles of Congress?  How can we protect brands from competitors with less ethical standards?

In the end, the answer will probably rely on even more technological advancement as a means to out those who abuse the best aspects of Web 2.0.  Anonymity has a legitimate role online, but so does accountability.  In a Wiki-ed world, let’s hope for a bit more wisdom from crowds.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A New Local Network:

The people over at Tribune Media just debuted  a new blog network launched two weeks ago after three months in beta as  Aggregating seventy+ blogs that loosely share a Chicago-centric theme, this site aims to attract young, digitally-savvy readers uninterested in their daily paper and fill the widening hole in the Tribune’s demographic mix.

All News (and opinion and jokes and gossip) Is Local

All News (and opinion and jokes and gossip) Is Local

I wish them well, though I’m clearly not in their demographic.  I subscribe to the Trib and until someone comes up with an elegantly-interactive digital crossword, I’ll stay analog.  Moreover, I like the illusion that my news at least postures as objective; the injection of obvious left or right bias in every item both exhausts and depresses me.

ChicagoNow appeals to its nascent audience with a pretty wide variety of News and Opinion, Life and Style, Arts and Entertainment, and Sports blogs–category headings seemingly taken right off their print mastheads.  A quick skim of their content reveals a largely newspaper-like tone, albeit with the amped up personality and opinions of the individual bloggers.  For me, the reading experience was not unlike an evening of Chicago Improv: a few remarkable moments separated by a lot of meandering development.  Then again, the analog version contains a lot of material I skim or ignore as well.

The word ‘community’ appears repeatedly throughout the site’s background pages; something that will prove simultaneously crucial as they pitch potential advertisers and challenging as their biggest potential stumbling block.  The best online communities build organically (for perspective, check out this month’s Wired magazine’s article on Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist).  As Clay Shirky writes, Web 2.0 means we no longer need organizations to organize.  Moreover, the user experience needs to come first and foremost and on that count, ChicagoNow seems to be doing it right.  You don’t need to register to access the content, but it does unlock other features like comments.  The ill-fated, arrived too early, saddled-by-regulatory redtape ultimately collapsed due to those onerous restraints as the hassles to the user outweighed the benefits of the content.

Will ChicagoNow take off and ultimately fill the expanding gap in the Tribune’s audience with new, revenue-generating readers?  It’s too early to say, but as a fan of newspapers, I hope it does.  And if nothing else, good on them for trying.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Opinions Create The True Future Value of Facebook

I recently had my consciousness raised regarding Facebook.  On this blog some months back, I wrote a surprisingly popular post wondering whether this social network would become the Members Only jacket of the early 21st Century.  Once the novelty wore off, would the investment of time required outweigh the benefits of all this easy connectedness?  In hindsight, the ‘Members Only’ tag could be what drew readers, but I’m a bit sketchy on my SEO knowledge to really determine that.

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Turn To Page 96

Writing in the July issue of Wired magazine, Fred Vogelstein outlines how this aggressively market-capped, yet-to-make-a-profit social network aims to create value, and it requires insuring the benefits of this easy connection platform always outweigh the time investment. As it stands, over 20% of all internet users are on Facebook, spending an average of twenty minutes a day there.  Mark Zuckerberg and company aim to further embed Facebook as the center of all online activity.  

Why?  Because everything we do there is trackable.  And owned solely by Facebook. Every connection we make, every opinion we express, every last ‘Which type of canned vegetable are you?’ quiz we take and share produces data which they alone own.  None of it will ever show up in other web browsing search engines.  And since Facebook is the one place online where people regularly use their real names to share real thoughts with real friends about real topics, that data has remarkably robust human context.  By comparison, Google’s data is largely limited to search history.

The ramifications of monetizing all this contextual data could be staggering financially.  If this type of deeply human Facebook information informed even a tiny percentage of the incomprehensible 3.6 trillion banner ads placed in 2008, they would stand to make…well, technically speaking it would amount to tanker ships of cash (I know even less about finance than I do about SEO).

We live in a world where opinion has a mass channel greater than TV, radio and print combined.  We work in a world where brands truly are opinions, and thus bound to the vagaries of fluctuating public consideration. For Facebook to have exclusive access to untold hours of that opinion provides them with a competitive advantage that borders on the scary.

I doubt Google, Bing, Dogpile, IceRocket, Collecta and dozens of other search engines will be friending them anytime soon…

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79