It's Super Bowl™ Weekend. And Yes, I'm Using That Term Without Permission.

Aaron Draplin's Broad-Shouldered Super Bowl Logo Redesign

Aaron Draplin's Broad-Shouldered Super Bowl Logo Redesign Idea

As the national conversation builds to a fever pitch over this Sunday’s championship NFL game, maybe you’ve noticed this little oddity in radio and television commercials: the stilted, decidedly-awkward manner in which advertisers must refer–or more precisely NOT refer–to the Super Bowl as “the Super Bowl.”  Because unless you are all paid up as an officially-licensed affiliate, you can not utter those two words in any commercial capacity. That’s why so many radio ads refer to this weekend’s contest as “the Big game.”  Get a TV for “the Big Game,” order in some pizzas for “the Big Game,”  drink yourself into a puddle during “the Big Game.”

I guess it makes sense.  And I guess I understand.  The NFL trademarked the phrase, but given how the general public’s television viewership built this league and our tax dollars underwrote their stadiums, this kind of verbal parsing seems a bit precious.  

At this point, those two words should be public domain.  This Sunday is all but a national Holiday (and would be if the NFL played more games on Mondays).  “Super Bowl” has entered the native lexicon–legislating this phrase into private property doesn’t make sense.  If someone mentions the Super Bowl as an ideal occasion to enjoy some product, that seems like free publicity.

And goodness knows this event could use a bit of hype…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Actually, There Are One Hundred and Fifty Million Reasons Why Facebook Matters

My friend Stephen Riley sent me a link to a post on Adam Singer’s remarkable blog “The Future Buzz.”  This particular post listed a remarkable string of numbers quantifying the impact and pervasiveness of some of the biggest social networks.  A few posts back, I posted about whether or not we may someday look back with a bit of nostalgic horror at how this particular community captured our collective fancy in much the same way the Members Only satin jackets seemed to rule the 80’s.

Frankly, that may still be true.  But right now, Facebook deserves the attention. Consider these numbers:

150,000,000 – number of active Facebook users

170 – number of countries/territories using Facebook

35 – number of different languages used on Facebook

2,600,000,000 – total number of minutes global users spend on Facebook daily

100 – average number of friends per user

700,000,000 – number of photos added to Facebook monthly

52,000 – number of Facebook applications currently available

140 – number of new applications added per day

Nascar Nation?  It's Hardly a Principality...

Nascar Nation? It's Hardly a Principality...

About six years ago, I began following Nascar because a few clients and the sheer number of racefans demanded I do.  I did it gladly and felt more informed as I cheered Jimmie Johnson and Team 48 to three Championships.  

Interestingly, the total purported number of fans that comprise the Nascar Nation equals about seventy-five million.  

That’s only half the number of Facebook’s active community.  One half.

What’s another name for something twice as big as a nation?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Things I Learned In The Elevator Today…

Don't Talk, Read...

Don't Talk, Read...

Our office building elevators feature small TV screens run by the Captivate Network: an outfit dedicated to delivering ad messages on, well, small TV screens on office building elevators.  Among useful things like Donny Osmond’s birthday and the Blackhawks standing in the NHL Western Conference, Captivate delivers various news and human interest items rendered into pithy headlines.

This morning, I learned that U.S. Consumer Confidence Hit A Record Low.  Oh boy.  Then later this afternoon, I learned that after the stock market bottomed out in 1932, it rebounded 92% in less than two months.  This was meant to encourage investors to keep vigilant so they don’t miss the bounce of recovery.  I didn’t know these facts before reading them, but neither hit me as particularly remarkable.  They were just facts, data.

I realize ours is the information age.  We average nearly 12,000 Google searches per second, so clearly we have access to unprecedented amounts of information.  But are we truly smarter?  We seem to know a lot about effect, but it takes far more incisive thinking to understand cause.  With this much information spilling over the dam into our personal consciousness’, can we honestly expect to be capable of rendering it all into useful data?  

Agencies must deal with this everyday.  According to Netcraft, as of November 2008, over 185,ooo,ooo websites crowded the world wide web.  Today on WordPress alone, 44 million words were added to the blogosphere.  And it is our job to navigate through this digital thicket in pursuit of insights and actions.

The real value is not all this data, all this chatter, all this raw thinking.  The real value is converting it into actionable information.  The agencies of the future will be the ones that do this not most intelligently, but most pragmatically.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Who Really Likes Lines Anyway?

This just in from Ketchum’s Center for Media Research: their third annual U.S. Media Myths & Realities survey points toward a wholesale melding of media.  Specifically, content once owned by a specific medium now migrates to nearly all platforms, creating a participatory and fragmented media landscape.

Not Sure This Research Required a Doctorate...

Not Sure This Research Required a Doctorate...

If you’ve been on the net, well, ever, you will be excused for greeting this news with a resounding “duh.”  After all, we experience this every day.  The survey further states that consumers frequently lend more credence to the experiences of their online peers than advertiser’s product descriptions.  In our participatory media landscape, the audience has the same influence, if not more, as advertisers.

Again, the word for all of this is ‘convergence.’  Pushing one-way, self-centered soliloquies at your consumers no longer works, even if we convinced ourselves they ever did.  We must incorporate interaction into every message and we need to do it meaningfully.  Or at least charmingly.

As agencies and clients begrudgingly begin accepting the emerging reality that neither push nor pull marketing models are enough on their own, the move to perpetual motion becomes an inevitability.  And the ramifications of that reach pretty wide.  Old agency ‘set it and forget it’ attitudes will need to be excised with a flamethrower and we will need to demand credit for the considerable web capabilities many of us already have.  Moreover, traditional PR disciplines like message shaping, influence management and word of mouth must move up in the marketing heirarchy and agencies will be well-advised to value and onboard these disciplines.

At long last, new consumer behavior and communications realities have exposed the intrinsic prejudice of labelling marketing disciplines as either ‘above the line’ or ‘below the line.’  Because to consumers, there is no line.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

From Passive to Active: An Industry Imperative Straight Out Of The Poisonwood Bible

Passive voice robs writing of vitality, sapping ideas of their strength and grasp on reader attention.  Writers should strive to excise Passive Voice, replacing it with more muscular, more engaging, more descriptive Active Voice.

I’ve banged that grammatical drum for two decades, to the point of self-parody.  But increasingly, I see this passive vs. active debate transmogrifying from mere copywriting to encompass every aspect of advertising.  As an industry–and particularly as practitioners from the traditional agency world–we need to replace passive thinking with active thinking.  As the world of communications and consumer behavior changes, we must change too.  That requires a new active mindset that questions assumptions and encourages innovation.

Too many creatives still value edgy executions over edgy platform mixes.  Your TV spot may look incredibly cool, but if you haven’t introduced it in some new manner or added content and extended the experience to new and hopefully interactive platforms, what did you really accomplish?  Maybe slightly bigger ripples on the lake, but even those disappear pretty quickly–it’s a busy lake with a lot of different traffic.

Experience applied passively is no more than habit; experience applied actively truly breaks new ground.  All that wonderful video storytelling experience many traditional TV creatives possess remains vital, useful and differentiating when they apply it actively, pushing the delivery experience as well.

This Is Not A Book On Advertising.  At Least, Not Intentionally.

This Is Not A Book On Advertising. At Least, Not Intentionally.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s richly-imagined novel The Poisonwood Bible, the mother character looks back at her horrific experiences in the early-60’s Congo and how much of her family’s loss sprung directly from the intransigence of her husband.  Pushed to her breaking point, she simply walks away from their pathetic mission outpost, and her preacher husband…  “I moved, and he stood still.  But his kind will always lose in the end.  I know this, and now I know why.  Whether it’s wife or nation they occupy, their mistake is the same: they stand still and their stake moves underneath them.”  You got that right Barbara, whether wife, nation…or agency: rote behavior leads to failure.

Advertising agencies face increasing challenges regarding compensation, resource management, and results delivery.  Passive reliance on the old ways will doom us to failure.  Active innovation and opportunity generation deliver the possibility of new revenue streams, new markets, and new category benefits.  And unlike our brethren in the financial world, ours will probably remain a free market, without government intervention, stimulus packages or bailouts.  The agency  organizations most open to active thinking will thrive.  The passive ones will provide the lions share of lost industry jobs.  Time to start thinking.  Hard.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

That Glinda the Good Witch–She Knew Her Stuff

One Good Witch...  

One Good Witch…

Kids today…  This week, I was privileged to drop in on Marquette’s campus in Milwaukee and speak to Jean Grow’s advertising class.  Jean is an ex-agency type who now holds a PhD.  Last Summer, she invited me to speak on a panel about Women In Advertising.  Suffice it to say, she is a whip smart person with an admirable sense of irony–her students can’t know how lucky they are.  Anyway, these types of speaking opportunities are always deeply energizing: not every audience I address hangs on my every word with such keen attention.

I was asked to present for the first hour and so I gave a stump speech on convergence that I’ve been giving to clients a lot lately.  It highlights changing media habits and how they upend time-honored habits of traditional marketers.  Of course, to plugged-in, college-age, digital natives, the material probably seemed less remarkable, but they were unfailingly polite and indulged me very generously.  God bless the Jesuits…

More interestingly, the second hour centered on their class assignment: stopping binge drinking.  I heard a few interesting ideas and the students had a number of reasonable questions, but their overall attitude seemed to be that this was a Sisyphean task–no way could they reach their friends and colleagues at the heart of the issue.  They asked me for advice, nearly pleading for the hint, the secret that would let them complete this task successfully.

And suddenly, I was deeply appreciative that I led Budweiser in my thirties.  The simple truth is that they know best how to reach each other.  Only they know which method–scare (no), informative (no), humiliation (maybe)–might work on their audience.  Because who could know more about their audience than they do?  They know what they watch, where they congregate, what feels authentic and what feels fake.  The tricky part is trusting that their own knowledge is valid.

Which is where Glinda comes into the equation.  As she said to Dorothy right before they the heel-snapping that winds up The Wizard of Oz: “You always had the power…”  Indeed.  When we live among so many other influences, trusting that little voice in your head can seem pretty intimidating.  That’s too bad–I envy the insights they hardly recognize.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Song Remains The Same

videoinsider_gldAs someone all too easily dismissed as an old “TV guy,” it’s amusing to watch how my digital brethren get all dreamy and wide-eyed as they discuss the infinite possibilities of “Online Video.”  A recent post on Video Insider suggesting a number of ways corporate America can use a ‘video-centric web’ caught my eye because it seemed to suggest radical new possibilities for the medium.  But a quick read revealed it merely amounted to a suggested laundry list of video that most corporations already produce.  The only magic is now they can be posted on the web!  Huh…

I don’t mean to be snarky, but this seems less like break-through innovation and more like simple re-purposing.  Which is a fine pursuit; but let’s not pretend that it is particularly groundbreaking.  Nor worthy of specialized jargon and lexicon.

Given that the world collectively uploads 9200 hours of video to YouTube every single day (for reference, one year = 8760 hours), the mere existence of video on the web is hardly news.  The prerequisites remain unchanged: if you want me to care, it has to be remarkable.  You know, like this.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Facebook: Members Only Jacket of the Early 21st Century?

Someone Dial Up The Fixx    

Someone Dial Up The Fixx

A friend of mine makes a very convincing case for why we may look back on the whole Facebook phenom as something on the order of  the early 21st century’s Members Only jacket.  At this moment, we are all caught up in the novelty—the constant status updates, the endless movie, music and cultural trivia quizzes, even the emerging etiquette debates around friending that drive daily life around Facebook. But one thing most adults agree upon is that it is a massive time suck.

And that ultimately, may be what causes this white hot trend to cool somewhat: at a certain point, the benefits of all this new light connectedness may no longer outweigh the investment it requires.  Or more probably, in a world with seemingly infinite opportunities for distraction, this particular one may lose it’s novelty.  My friend makes a reasonable point.

But one need Facebook seems uniquely suited to fulfill became extremely obvious yesterday.  The number of continual updates and comments surrounding the Inauguration was stunning.  Dozens of people around our agency left their pages up all morning, commenting and building and sharing on each new thought someone posted regarding this historical event.  People wanted to participate and Facebook provided an outlet for all that emotion, all that desire, all those hopes and dreams and wishes.

So even if Facebook does prove to be the Members Only jacket of the current moment, a number of us will probably drag it out again sometime down the road…like when we walk on Mars.  Or learn that someone we don’t really know did something that stirs our better selves and highest hopes for our species; you know, like landing an Airbus on the Hudson.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Hope Is Not A Business Plan

How many times have you heard or read that?  In an idea-based industry, some on the business side exert this flat-footed bromide with unhelpful zeal, sure of the immutability of this truth.

And you know what?  It is true, perhaps even immutably.

Yet ironically, while it may not be a plan, hope can certainly be a business asset.  The promise of something better ahead fuels cosmetics, fashion, food, luxury and any number of other categories’ marketing.  obama-hopeWhether conscious or not, we buy certain things to increase our sex appeal, to project a seemlier aesthetic, or even to demonstrate that we are part of a smarter set.  Hope builds brands.  We just inaugurated a President who made hope one of his fundamental platform promises.  Love him, hate him, or plead disinterest all around; among everything else Obama’s election represents, his campaign proved once more that hope can be a genuine motivator to civic engagement.  And thus a good asset for the business of government.

Of course, the challenge of building a business on hope lies in actually delivering results, whether you’re selling a wrinkle cream or a new direction for foreign policy.  We will have to wait and see about that.  And like every consumer of this type of message, we will be hoping for the best.

 

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79