Admittedly, I Slept Through Black Friday's Opening Hours… Still Here Is This Year's Best Example Of Convergence…

Ahh, Delicious Convergence  

Ahh, Delicious Convergence

This year’s and every year’s…  Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, brussel sprouts, green beans with those dried onion thingies: all working together to create unified brand impact on behalf of Thanksgiving.  God Bless Them.  And all of us.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A True Thanksgiving Miracle From My Friend, Kira Bigwood

bluescarf2Kira and I work together and today, she sent out this story via a company wide e-mail.  It’s a lovely reminder for this and the upcoming Holiday season…

OK, so it’s not a miracle, it’s just a story.  But a true one.  It all started this morning…
I got up at 6:30 to get a headstart on housecleaning.  My whole family was flying in for the holiday, and they’d never seen my apartment and if you have a Mom, you know she checks everywhere looking for any scrap of filth you may have overlooked.
So about the time I vacuumed out the dryer lint trap, I realized “Crap!  I’m late for work.” Normally I wouldn’t be too hard on myself for this little mishap, but my first houseguests were due to meet me at the office in T minus forty-five minutes.  So I put down the vacuum and dashed off to catch the bus.
Fifteen minutes later I’m getting on the 147, feeling pretty proud of myself, when I realized I left my security card at home.  Normally I wouldn’t let this little mishap get me down. But this morning I needed it to let my sister and her husband in and out of the office…and more importantly the bathrooms.  Reluctantly I turned back to get my card.
By this time I was frustrated, cranky and hungry.  Even in the 40º wind, it got warm as I trotted the 1.3 miles back to my house. Off with my mittens, my scarf, and–wait…where was my scarf?  The one that I just bought two days ago?  The warm one that matches my new coat perfectly?  Then I spotted it, back across the four-lane road that took four minutes to cross, slumped on the sidewalk out of the path of hasty passersby.
It seemed out of harm’s way so I figured I’d grab it on my way back.  I knocked out the last two blocks to my place, grabbed my CTA card, petted my confused dog, then headed back out to retrieve my scarf and catch the bus, all before my sister arrived on the 33rd floor.
By that point, I was running, and scanning for my teal blue scarf, but it was nowhere to be found.  In the four minutes since I abandoned it, someone else had come along and claimed it.  Now I was downright mad. This morning wasn’t going as planned; I’d been robbed!
As I got in line at the bus stop, I saw a flash of blue out of the corner of my eye.  There, huddled under the bus shelter, was my scarf…with its new owner: an old, bent-over homeless man who admired its beauty as he tied it around his neck and settled in next to his bags.
For a split second I thought about saying something to him.  Couldn’t he see how his new treasure matched my bright mittens perfectly?  But just seeing his appreciation for my scarf–something so simple and mundane–told me he was getting much more from it than I ever could.
And it struck me as I sat down on the 147 at last, that this was a little reminder sent to me this Thanksgiving to stop sweating the small stuff and give thanks for all the wonderful stuff we have in our lives.  I hope you’ll do the same.
Happy Thanksgiving!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Hiring New Digital Talent vs. Retraining Traditional Counterparts or Why I Won't Be Working for AKQA Anytime Soon…

Arthur Golden, Massachusetts/Geisha, Japan     

Arthur Golden, Massachusetts/Geisha, Japan

Suzanne Vranica of the Wall Street Journal moderated a panel at ad:tech New York at the beginning of the month featuring Sean Finnegan, President of Starcom MediaVest, Richard Guest, Managing Director of Tribal DDB New York and Tom Bedecarre, CEO of AKQA.  The subject turned to recruiting digital talent.  Mr. Finnegan and Mr. Guest both weighed in on the side that integrating traditionally-trained agency people into their digital organizations can prove very valuable.  God bless them both…

But Mr. Bedecarre only believes in youth.  “Young people who are coming up in the industry are so naturally cross-platform savvy,” he said. “All this digital technology is human nature to young people. So I think we’ll have more luck training new people than retraining old people.”

Tom.  Tom, Tom, Tom…  I’m sure you’re a nice fella.  Maybe you contribute to the Sierra Club or take soup to shut-ins or perform some other noble service out of the goodness of your heart.  But that comment is just plain silly and short-sighted.  Creativity is creativity, and it’s best measured by the boundaries of the  imagination, not the technicalities of engineering and interfaces.

I have two words for you: “Arthur Golden.”  Remember him?  At the ripe old age of 40, this Jewish father of two from Massachusetts wrote Memoirs of a Geisha: a first-person account of a woman’s journey from a rural fishing village in depressed pre-WWII Japan into the elaborately ritualistic life of a geisha in Gion.  How’d he do something like that Tommy?  How could a white guy from America create such a compellingly vivid and believable account of someone from such a vastly alien culture?

I bet it’s because Arthur is curious, creative and driven.

Those character traits could probably make Arthur a good digital creative too.  And he’s waaaay over thirty.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

In A Time Of Convergence, No One Wants To Be The Omega Man

Charlton Heston, Pre-NRA

Charlton Heston, 1971. Pre-NRA, Pre-Damned, Dirty Irrelevance.

At first blush, today’s post by Kendall Allen continues the faddish piling on of advertising agencies as out of touch and increasingly irrelevant.  But her piece contains more than a fair share of truth.  And ultimately, Kendall makes hopeful, positive statements about convergence and it’s availability to anyone tireless enough to “evolve during complicated times.”  

She makes a number of valid points concerning both how marketers from all disciplines can benefit from cooperation and the entrenched barriers to it.  More than anything, her characterization of the entitled attitude at ad agencies reflects the accumulated hubris returning like a tide toward traditional agency people who have long expected online and direct partners to follow our lead.  Because as we all know–or should know–traditional agencies can no longer assume that they drive the bus.  As marketing tactics grow increasingly driven by pull, engagement and experience, that attitude represents a dangerous assumption and a direct roadblock to true integration.  Ultimately, Kendall’s post is a call toward collaboration, across channels and platforms, all in service of cooperating to find solutions.

To be fair, she hardly takes any real sideswipes.  So maybe it’s not her.  Maybe it’s me.  Maybe as a longtime leader at a traditional agency, I’m a touch over sensitive on this topic.  After all, I’m looking to evolve, and most (but not all) of my traditional agency is actively trying to grow as well.  

But sometimes, the world changes and ‘experience’ becomes another name for ‘habit.’  The business evolves and you gotta figure out where exactly that cheese went.  Hmm…

And maybe, just maybe, all of us traditional agencies owe an overdue ‘mea culpa’ to our friends in the disciplines rising to the fore in today’s marketing world.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Motrin Debacle: It's Less About Twitter Power, More About A Bad Idea

So a couple of creatives thought they would create a knowing, lightly-sarcastic bit about a stress of mommy-hood and things went horribly, desperately wrong in their creative execution.  Is it funny?  Almost, just not quite funny enough.  If it were hilarious, Mom’s less prone to righteous indignance might have weighed in and leavened out the response.  But it wasn’t, they didn’t, and now all of us must read post after post discussing how the microbloggers at Twitter brought the big heartless  pharma company to its knees.  And how consumers quickly replied by generating video content. And how the overly corporate tone of McNeil Consumer Healthcare Companies’ eventual response missed a chance at connection.  And on and on and on…

By Law I Must Reference This Incident Today

By Law I Must Reference This Incident Today

All of which misses the point entirely.  The blogosphere responses only address the symptoms; the actual sickness lies with the ill-considered idea that started everything.  I loved that “Reservoir Dogs” animated typography on YouTube too but that doesn’t mean swiping it and applying it injudiciously makes any sense.  Marketing begins and ends with ideas, but those ideas need to be clever, strategic, and relevant to the target.  On those points, this one missed.  Big.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

It’s Not Either Digital or Traditional, It’s Not Either Push or Pull: The Model Must Be Perpetual Motion.


Push?  Pull?  Or something far, far better?

Push? Pull? Or something far, far better?

In the ongoing tussle that characterizes far too many competing agency interactions, separatists on both sides make blanket statements asserting the superiority of traditional reach or digital engagement or whatever approach favors their current business model.

And everyone loses, the brands first among them.

In a converged world, marketed brands require both.  The balance may change from brand to brand due to factors like where they stand in their product lifecycle or their specific consumer demographic, but all require a carefully orchestrated pull and push.   Since ‘push/pull’ reminds me of that goofy llama from the Dr. Doolittle movie, let’s refer to the converged marketing approach as the Perpetual Motion model.  In other words, our work must flow back and forth in an endlessly interactive cycle.  You announce then you engage, or you attract then you inform; you set a lofty brand goal and then take small daily steps to bring your market along to that better, better place.

In a dynamic world, brands take on their own lives.  And as anyone who has ever cared for a child or a pet knows, living things demand perpetual motion to keep them growing healthy and safe.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Five Things I Learned Speaking In Madison Today

The Madison Advertising Federation

The Madison Advertising Federation


I drove the 143 miles to Madison today through light flurries (!) to speak at a luncheon put on by the Madison Advertising Federation.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I discussed convergence and Element 79’s experiences as we, like every other marketing entity in America, struggle to master these emerging mediums.  Preparing the speech proved rather reassuring: considering how the market tags us as a TV shop, we have a number of highly successful viral and social networking programs to highlight–always a good reminder.  Yes, despite what the creative head of Akqa might contend in public panels, traditionally trained creatives can create powerful integrated programs so long as they insure their idea includes meaningful and relevant interactivity.  Do that, and you don’t have to apologize to anyone about your background.  Hell, in three years, those of us fortunate enough to still be working in this industry will look back at these times and think how quaint it was back when we made such a distinction between offline and online marketing: those are simply media, our true business is ideas.

But that’s what I walked in knowing.  I walked out knowing a number of new things, particularly after fielding questions at lunch and a subsequent breakout session…

1.  I like people from Wisconsin.  Who doesn’t like people who are honest, direct, and polite?

2.  I only spoke about video-based virals.  One woman questioned whether viral existed–or could exist–in other media as well.  When you think about it, chain letters, certain health tips and pop culture jokes could qualify as viral as well.  This is probably a better question for Paul Rand and his word-of-mouth experts at Zocalo Group (

3.  Everyone worries about shrinking ad budgets.  And reallocation of dollars away from their specialty.

4.  A lot of people work in business-to-business advertising and wonder how viral and digital can help their clients.  Given the specificity of the target, viral and social network solutions could be particularly powerful.  I referenced the classic story about Google (this excerpt taken from Inc.:  “The quintessential employer brand is Google. In 2004, the company posted obscure math problems on billboards in several major cities. Any enterprising math geek who could solve the equation was directed to Google’s hiring website. The billboards drew a lot of press attention as well as thousands of resumés.”  Speaking so selectively identifies individuals as members of a Godin-like tribe, and everyone likes to be on the inside.  Additionally, to establish themselves as a leader, doctors or lawyers could start blogging.

5.   Everyone, from agency types to designers to specialty in-house creatives, misses having media partners right down the hall.  Holding companies may have aggregate buying power, but they inadvertently destroyed knowledge centers.  Pity that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Curiosity: The Common Trait of Uncommon Minds

Compelling Seafaring Non-Fiction  



Compelling Seafaring Non-Fiction

A few years back, Gary Kinder wrote a terrific, non-fiction page turner called Ship of Gold.  The book centers on a free-thinking scientist named Tommy Thompson who took a decidedly unorthodox view of what’s possible and impossible; he believed people have a tendency to label things ‘impossible’ not because they couldn’t be done, but because no one has yet done them.  To Thompson’s ever-curious scientific mind, most challenges amount to overcoming a series of nonexistent barriers.

This mindset drove his daring and innovative deep sea salvage of the “Central America”: a side wheel steamer returning six hundred people and an estimated three and a half tons of gold from California in September, 1857 when it went down in a hurricane, two hundred miles off the Carolina coast.  The story of Thompson’s obsessive quest to first locate the ship’s remains in 8000 feet of water and then recover the treasure at those crushing depths amidst the powerful Gulf Stream makes for a compelling read.

But Tommy Thompson isn’t driving this post.  Actually the Captain of the “Central America,” William Herndon, demonstrated extraordinary heroism goping down with that ship after fighting through three horrific and relentlessly-violent days.  His valor earned this inscription on a memorial at the US Naval Academy: “Forgetful of self, mindful of others, his life was beautiful to the last; and in his death added a new glory to the annals of the sea.”  Now a few years before his awful final moments, Captain Herndon trekked from Lima, Peru to Para, Brazil under orders to explore the Valley of the Amazon, from its headwaters high in the Andes down to the Pacific.  His account of that yearlong expedition so far exceeded the Department of Defense’s expectations, they published it and all of it’s compelling, firsthand accounts of adventure and invaluable scientific discovery and documentation.

But actually, Captain Herndon isn’t driving this post either.  The ultimate point is that Herndon’s book, Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, rendered this exotic land so vividly that it inspired a young man in Keokuk, Iowa to quit his job at a printshop, and travel from Cincinnati down the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans.  His head filled with dreams of Amazonian adventure, he hoped to catch a ship in New Orleans bound for Para, Brazil and make Herndon’s journey in reverse.

But no ships sailed to Para.  In fact, none ever had.  And so Samuel Clemens was stranded in New Orleans, his maritime adventures limited to the Mississippi, where over and over, he heard the boat men sounding “Mark Twain.”

A compulsive curiosity drove him to go out and experience more than Iowa offered.  And those adventures, while far different than the exploits he’d imagined, would provide the inspiration for classics like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Truth be told, Mark Twain didn’t drive this post either.  The common defining character linking all these diverse men is an undeniable curiosity.  Curiosity is powerful stuff.  And it makes all of us better.

Or at least gives us better stories.  And advertising always needs better stories.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

What ASI, LINK and other Quantitative Tests Have In Common With Inflatable Love Dolls… …

–they are all lousy reflections of real life experiences.

Baal Probably Lived for A.I. Scores

Baal Probably Lived for A.I. Scores

Look, I understand the need for testing.  I’ll even admit that some of my work has improved through qualitative.  But in nearly twenty-five years, I’ve never seen any piece of work escape the soul-crushing process of quantitative testing without compromising everything that made it remarkable in the first place.  Worse, this kind of testing ignores the undeniable fact that people lie.  Not intentionally or maliciously, but when asked to reveal ourselves to another, exaggeration and overstatement rule the day.  Just read any personal ad…

There may once have been a time when a product could actually have a unique selling proposition without three identical alternatives lined up beside it on the Walgreen’s shelf.  But that was long before brand extensions, personal computers, and eBay.

Still, too many otherwise smart advertisers continue to worship these false gods.  Some corporate cultures even dole out media dollars based on AI scores.  And so whether to earn a larger investment dollar or to simply cover the brand manager’s butt, marketers plow ridiculous resources into long processes where the only sure thing is that the advertising they develop and test will absolutely not result in sales.

Imagine if those same advertisers took the money they spend on animatics and instead made two or three spots and placed them in rich media banners.  They could then run them on-line in test markets and know immediately which one performed the best.  On the fly, they could adjust the creative, tweaking the art and copy to see if it made any difference in conversion.  By running this kind of real world test, you remove the all too human penchant for exaggeration and overstatement and instead, see how people actually respond in real life when there are no two way mirrors or bowls filled with M&M’s.  Better still, even ads that don’t perform as well, will still drive some sales for you.  It’s an indesputable win-win.

So why don’t more advertisers innovate their testing?  Probably because it’s hard to tell the difference between a benchmark and a bad habit.  And that’s a darned shame.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Have You Hugged Your Media Partner Today?

Who Doesn't Love a Hug?

Who Doesn't Love A Hug?

God I miss media people.  And not just because you could always rely on them to pass along some sweet swag like Fox News coffee mugs or Cat Fancy umbrellas…

No, I miss media people because just when we needed them most, holding companies aggregated them away from us.  Just when the off and online worlds exploded into an infinite array of channels and outlets, the lifeguards left the new media pool.

We use the net everyday, but that doesn’t mean we know the net.  It doesn’t mean we know which sites work together and what initiatives cross platforms and link audiences and messages in seamless new ways.

Which presents a huge problem, or at least an enormous opportunity lost.

Admittedly, the intentions behind aggregating media people seemed good, if you don’t count those ‘efficiencies’ that removed a painful number of jobs back in the 90’s.  Holding companies connected clients with media megaliths swinging very heavy bats and wielding enormous influence over the mass media and everyone was really happy for a while.

Too bad the damned micro-media picked that very moment to enter the scene.

What a bummer that we could provide clients tremendous value in broadcasting, but wielded no influence over—and precious little knowledge about—narrowcasting.

Because that’s where connection planning suggests we go.  That’s where the deeper, two way interactions lie and where ideas that connect people to brands truly thrive.

So maybe its time to take a media person to lunch.  Given the cutbacks in the industry, it would probably be a very welcome gesture.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79