Do You Know This Guy?

Does "Judson Laipply" Ring A Bell?

Does 'Judson Laipply' Ring a Bell?

Are you sure?  Because chances are, you’ve spent six minutes or so staring at him sometime during the past three years…  Admittedly, you were kind of furtheraway from him and the lighting was bad but he was right there in the spotlight…

His name is Judson Laipply.  You can follow him @judsonlaipply  Does that help?

Okay, he’s a motivational speaker.  Which is probably more confusing than helpful; how can you willingly spent six minutes with a motivational speaker and not remember it?

He’s got a book, advertised here.  This site describes Judson (or ‘Jud’) as a “charismatic, insightful, and humorous personality…an Inspirational Comedian™”

This is how you know Judson Laipply, Inspirational Comedian™: he created and regularly performs “The Evolution of Dance” at the close of his live appearances.  In April of 2006, he posted a video of one of his performances on a video sharing site that was then barely one year old.  Today, that YouTube clip–in all it’s stationary camera, lo-fi non-glorious production value–stands as the most popular internet video of all time.  It’s been viewed 123,587,836 times on YouTube alone (as of 6:35 this morning) and factoring in postings on other web sharing sites, the total views are estimated to be greater than 150 million.  Further, given the nature of the clip, a high percentage of those views involved groups of people–parents showing their kids or coworkers showing groups of coworkers.

Jud’s been featured on all sorts of television shows and speaks regularly around the country, traveling from his home in Cleveland.  In fact, right now he’s on a cruise ship, plying Alaska’s inland waterway.  This clip’s runaway success has certainly boosted attendance at his speaking engagements and he’s certainly smiling in every last image you find of him.  As he should be–he’s motivational after all.

But what does it say when the highest achievement on YouTube video brings with it largely anonymous fame?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Challenge for Marketers Regarding Social Networks: Embracing the Narcissism

Back in the mid-70’s, I used to ride the bus to junior high with a kid called “Tiger” Jackson.  Actually, none of us called him “Tiger” but apparently someone in his family did and he liked the sound of that a whole lot better than “Bill Jr.”  Tiger was never particularly popular but he was always the first to have any comedy record–George Carlin, Steve Martin, The National Lampoon Troupe–and somehow, the mere act of owning and sharing that material lent him a consideration he wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise.

I hadn’t thought about Tiger in three decades but yesterday we had a long discussion about social networks with a client that is getting very active in that space and facing the challenges every corporation does as they make the foray into the less-charted world of earned media.  As we explained the “Hey Everybody!” nature of Facebook and the “Hey anybody!” nature of Twitter to a curious if bemused seventy-year old, the question of “But…why?” came up again and again.  “Why do people spend so much time on these networks?”  “Why do they stop what they’re doing to write about it?”  “Why do they think anyone would care?”

We try to answer these queries with intellectual theses about the need for connection in a socially-isolating world where people bowl alone…  We wax philosophical on how technology empowers a cognitive expansion of our collective Dunbar numbers…  But at it’s heart, this need to broadcast what we’re doing, what we think, or what we have found to an unseen audience that includes friends, nodding acquaintances and a considerable amount of total strangers, bears more than a trace of narcissism.  “Look at me!  Follow my links!  Enjoy this comedy brought to you…by me!

Picture 2I type this fully aware that this insight indicts me and my social network habits perhaps most of all.  I write this blog most weekdays, creating lessons on marketing for…well, for whomever stumbles across them.  But I want people to stumble across them so I send out links to these posts over Twitter and LinkedIn.  Every morning during my commute, I try to find some topical story to inspire a one-liner for my Facebook status update.  I tell myself that I do these things because I need firsthand knowledge of social networking or that writing about contemporary advertising forces me to develop an intellectual discipline during these rapidly-evolving times.  And all of that is true.

But that hardly explains why I check my blog stats everyday to see how many people read the post.  Or why I secretly thrill when a friend on Facebook ‘likes my status’ or someone re-tweets a link.  Or why so many people on twitter spend hours each day, forwarding links like a modern day Tiger Jackson.  All of that springs directly from narcissism; a narcissism every client wading into the waters of social networking with hopes of spreading their messages would be well advised to keep in the forefront of their minds.  As an advertiser in social media, your wants and needs will always fall a distant second to your audience, unless you find a way to align your needs with theirs.  If that seems unthinkable, just read the first few paragraphs of this MobileInsider post by Steve Smith.  As he winds up for his pitch against ill-considered mobile phone apps, he says this: “For the benefit of those consumer brands that weren’t listening the first few hundred times this has been said, consumers do not wake up in the morning thanking the lord they live in a country where they get to worship your brand and see life through its narrow self-serving lens. That only happens in the retro-fantasies of Don Draper and the households of top executives at many of these major brands.”  Ouch.

Adjusting to the foundational narcissism that fuels social networks not only presents a real challenge, but a direct juxtaposition to the necessary narcissism of every corporate marketer.  Which is why these are, and will continue to be, very interesting times…

Of course, if you feel differently, I welcome your comments.  Even if you think my thinking is way off-base, the narcissist in me will take comfort knowing you responded.  Bless you.

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On Commercials, Virals and the Legacy of Conditioned Expectations

Marketing leaders spend a great deal of time worrying about the changing media landscape these days, and an article on MediaPost by Gavin O’Malley this morning will only further their agita.  According to a Princeton Survey Research study, 90% of young adults use video-sharing sites.  Well, no kidding.  The only reason that figure is not 100% is that broadband has yet to penetrate the entire country.

One of the marketing leaders’ principal responses to these changes is their insistence on renaming television production as “content” production.  In their minds, “content” or “video assets” can be endlessly re-purposed with different edits of different lengths for different platforms beyond merely television.

That is good planning, even if it is nothing particularly new.  Candidly, framing a shoot as “content production” helps agencies sell something that every creative on a shoot always wants:  options and additional scenes.  Production experience will quickly teach you to get alternate takes, particularly alternate endings.  With so much of a commercial’s impact and engagement dependent on the actors’ performance, the cost of getting options on set is relatively low.  If you experiment a bit, the actor might deliver a different and better performance than you planned- -which explains roughly 75% of creatives’ bristling at dogmatic pre-testing.  An animatic is but the palest imitation of fully produced film with human performances.

Viral?  Or TV Commercial?

Viral? Or TV Commercial?

Consider the videos that have clogged your inbox over the years: Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”, the non-sanctioned VW “Terrorist”, and arguably the granddaddy of all internet virals: John West Salmon’s  “Bear”.  People forward clips like these to their friends and family because they’re entertaining, surprising and fun.  And yet, every one of these began as a television commercial, albeit an outstanding television commercial.  These may have also worked in a longer format, but thirty or sixty seconds often proves ideal for their impact.  And our attention spans.  Why?  Because we have spent decades absorbing commercial messages at these lengths; we have been conditioned to expect these clips in these concise formats.

All of which means that the changing media landscape will not suddenly render the way we have learned to tell efficiently-structured stories as meaningless.  We must still engage consumers with worthwhile messages presented in a rewarding fashion.  Technology will continue to change, but story endures.

So yes, the marketing landscape is evolving and will continue to evolve.  Change will continue to be a constant.  And so creativity must adapt to embrace and leverage new platforms but never at the cost of classic storytelling.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): There’s No Better Time to be Rad to the Power of Sick

Picture 1Guest Blogger: Ross Buchanan

The Lincolnesque Ross Buchanan has been writing and creative directing for over two decades in Minneapolis and Chicago at shops big and small, from traditional to design to digital.  At Campbell Mithun, Ogilvy, JWT, MC Brown, Bagby and his currently freelance gig at Tribal DDB, his thoughtful and comprehensive approach to problem solving and continuing self-education about every aspect of our constantly changing business lend his work a decidedly pointed relevance and impact.  Of course, this flexibility can also generate some internal cognitive dissonance, like when he simultaneously juggled work for one client serving the poor and another selling luxury timepieces.  Ross’ creativity extends far beyond copy to the carpentry and wiring required by his ongoing, six year restoration of the vintage prairie-style home he enjoys with his wife and two daughters.  In an industry of far-flung creative talents, Ross is particularly rangy.  And a damn fine fellow to boot.

Last Friday Dennis introduced you to “The Wicked Sick Project,” the brainchild of two creatives from George Patterson/Y&R in Australia.  Hopefully you carved out four minutes and change from your busy day to view this simple reminder that creativity does, indeed, work.  For those of you who missed this “Rad to the Power of Sick” effort, you have homework and can view your assignment here

Lost in the sheer entertainment of the piece is the motive for the exercise.  These two guys probably wouldn’t have made this video unless they felt like racehorses put in a pen.  They are emblematic of creatives everywhere who feel hamstrung by client constraints.  Sure, such constraints are an occupational hazard to anyone who works on the agency side of the business.  However, the current recession intensified these constraints as clients are now extremely reluctant to put a foot wrong.  In my freelance travels, I find more and more of my peers struggling to produce engaging work for increasingly safety-minded clients. 

If anything is to be learned from “The Wicked Sick Project” it is that any client who still has the financial wherewithal to advertise in any media should make the most of it, not the least.

“The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign for Dos Equis beer is a fine example of a brand doing the former, not the latter. My guess is the folks who create their advertising are a having a pretty good time, too.  How could they not with copy like, “He’s a lover, not a fighter.  But he’s also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas”?  One TV spot features a scene of our hero as he runs laughing through the woods clutching a red fox.  In the distance, hunters on horseback with their hounds are in hot pursuit.  Hilarious.  And memorable.  Meanwhile, the rest of the category is mired in a recitation of attributes and ingredients.  The big domestics are having a tug o’ war between “triple hops brewed” and “drinkability” they actually expect us to watch.  The result?  Dos Equis sales are up.  Way up.  Double-digits up. reported that, through mid-June, a period when imported beer sales dropped 11%, sales of Dos Equis rose more than 17%, moving the brand into eighth place among imports. “There’s never really been an import brand that’s been built so clearly through advertising,” said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights.  Hmmm, could it be that “Rad to the Power of Sick” levels of creativity work beyond tired BMX bikes?

Of course, some brands still insist on playing it safe.  But is safe really all that safe these days?  Slashing advertising spending erodes brand equity.  Not being interesting to people erodes brand equity.   And brand equity is often all the packaged good manufacturers like the Procters, Krafts and Quakers of the world have to offer.  They can farm out manufacturing, but they can’t farm out marketing their brands (although some have tried with those hideous “Brand Power” commercials).  In the end, much like the US healthcare conundrum, there is a big opportunity cost to doing nothing or doing something poorly: the brand can erode to the point of irrelevance.   Right now, the value of the brand is the only thing preventing a switch to private label. “Hey Kraft, see that red dot glowing on your forehead?  Private label holds the gun and has an extremely itchy trigger finger.” 

Since there is no longer true safety to be had, the safety-minded may as well go big or go home.  Toward that end, an old boss of mine used to remind his charges of what he called the Three S’s. “Simplify, surprise and sell,” he used to say, “Not ‘simplify, sedate and sell’ or ‘simplify suck and sell.’”

In other words, be Rad to the Power of Sick. 

By Ross Buchanan, Freelance CD/CW

BTW—that old boss was Dennis Ryan.

Exercises in Obviousness: Harris Interactive Determines Bad Online Advertising Frustrates People

The "O" Stands for "Obvious"     

The “O” Stands for “Obvious”

Last week, the online market research people at Harris Interactive released their latest findings in a pdf titled “LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll.”   In findings that will come as a surprise to no one who has ever spent more than ten seconds on the Yahoo! home page, consumers find many aspect of the burgeoning world of internet advertising frustrating.  They resent expanding banners, page takeovers, and video windows without the option to close or skip.  And now the Harris Interactive people have the quantitative results to prove it.

But this is far from news.  Bad is bad, whether it’s bad television, bad product design, or bad recipes for zucchini.  Advertising is no different: to really engage people, it must prove useful or interesting or surprising.  Generally speaking, people recoil at obnoxious behavior.  And uninvited page takeovers qualify as obnoxious behavior.  Too many advertisers believe silly stunts like sending bouncing balls careening from a small space out over the entire home page constitutes innovation, as if unaware that animation has been around since the late 19th century.

Pointlessly interrupting people is rude.  Wasting peoples’ time is rude.  If you are an uninvited drop-in stranger, I’m not gonna open my front door.  However, if you are an uninvited drop-in stranger lugging an inflatable castle and offering free bouncing for the kids, I might open up a bit.  Because that’s a lot of fun.  Marketing works the exact same way, on or off line.

Essentially, this poll confirms a hypothesis most people in marketing should already consider painfully obvious.  It takes great creative wherewithal to escape the bonds of mediocrity, but that’s the goal.  Every day. In every medium.  

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A Nice Reminder For A Friday: Creativity Sells

Picture 3By now, you may have seen this incredibly charming video.  Posted on YouTube back in April by ad agency George Patterson Y&R in Melbourne, it’s been making the rounds a lot of late.  Do yourself a favor: carve out four and a half minutes to enjoy “Wicked Sick BMX” and a powerful reminder that creativity builds brands and adds profits.  Enjoy, won’t you?

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Four Score And 140 Characters Ago…

I’m a big believer in social networking.  Because of that, I also have a healthy understanding of social NOTworking: those hours frittered away chasing random thoughts and digressions by people as addicted to Twitter as those poor sods standing outside to smoke when it’s -20º.

Which may explain my snarkiness as I surfed over to tweetcongress this morning.  Given some recent high-profile political goofs disseminated on twitter–Governor Schwarzenegger’s amateurish knife branding, Governor Palin’s ongoing…Governor Palin-ness–I assumed it would be a vast wasteland of semi-congealed thoughts and shameless political promotion.

And it is, largely.  Just like advertising is largely an uninspired medium of hackneyed insights and tired executions. But amidst the expected chaff, there are fascinating kernels of wheat.  It would be pretty much impossible to hone one’s position on health care down to 140 characters, and few try.  What does seem to work are cogent reactions to particular assertions on the key issues of the day.  Twitter is an of-the-moment, what’s-happening-now device, a play-by-play telestrator for the smart mobile device set.

This candor and intimacy can be bracingly refreshing.  Even comments by those I’d consider on the other side of some issues can provide thought provoking viewpoints that make me stop and reconsider.  The personal nature of tweeting on the pressing issues of the day carries a welcome unrehearsed tone that is deeply human.

And there lies it’s Achilles’ heel.  For any politician working in the bruising, bear-knuckled arena of national politics, Twitter’s ready searchabilty could quickly render such spontaneous in-the-moment thinking into a liability.  Because if there’s any way to turn those 140 characters against the candidate, the opposition will, with relentless ferocity.  And that’s a shame.

We like our politicians human, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s insatiable need for apologies notwithstanding.  But that humanity can quickly lead to vulnerability, which means press secretaries and legal counsels will inevitability step in with their sterilizing filters, crushing candor under their iron, wing tipped heels.

Still, one can always hope for a political embrace of brevity.  The single, greatest politician in American history proves that for the ages with 272 words in his brilliant Gettysburg Address.  The finest minds today would be hard-pressed to match Lincoln’s accomplishment  in searing concision.  It would be enough for me if lawmakers on both sides of the aisle would strive to match it in humanity.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Ongoing Search for Information, Inspiration and Good Ideas

In a time of such radical change in our marketing world, we all need to search out ideas on the best way to adapt and thrive.  Yesterday, the New York Festivals was in town for their award show and they presented a number of panels in the afternoon.  They had a tough time filling the room; the Chicago ad community rarely takes time from their busy workday to go out for lunch, let alone a panel that may or may not prove worthwhile.  That’s understandable but also unfortunate; now more than ever we can all benefit by sharing our experiences and insights.  Hopefully, that’s something we can change in the coming years.

Steffan Postaer, JT Andexler, Dave Hernandez, Diane Ruggie, Dennis Ryan, Alan Wolk

Steffan Postaer, JT Andexler, Dave Hernandez, Diane Ruggie, Dennis Ryan, Alan Wolk

After sitting on a panel titled “Is Craft Dead?” (Short answer?  No.  And neither is e-mail, Facebook or God, no matter how SEO-friendly those types of proclamations are.). After that, host Alan Wolk led a panel on Social Media–an area of deep interest to anyone paying attention to that emerging mass channel of opinion.  Of all the statements and suppositions presented, Escape Pod founder Vinny Warren made the most practical sense.  A veteran tweeter (follow him at @vinnywarren), he characterized the whole platform as ‘energy.’  It takes passion to regularly stop and send out some thoughts on your day and to Vinny, all those comments amount to ‘energy.’

In a world of immediacy where data and ideas spread like wildfire, the challenge of finding wheat in the dunning landfills of chaff can be exhausting.  Using Twitter as means of tapping into consumer-generated energy makes a ton of logical sense: like energy, Twitter flows continually, and thoughts that don’t stick disappear like so much wasted electricity on the national grid.  You either use it or lose it.  In most cases, losing it isn’t a particularly tragic thing, but if we can harness all that consumer wisely, we can access all sorts of information, inspiration and good ideas wrested from real world experience on our clients’ behalf.

Which is, you know, helpful.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  On behalf of all the panelists, here’s a quick thank you to Gayle Mendel for her hard work on bringing in this event.  We deeply appreciate your efforts.

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): Avoiding the Diplodocus Dilemma: Moving from Broadcast to Content Production

Picture 1Guest Blogger: Patrick Brennan

The ever-charming, eminently capable Patrick Brennan graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Communications major and began his career in production with a Madison cable access show featuring shelter animals. After moving to Chicago, he worked various freelance crew gigs (“Anyone need a second second AD?”), and slowly worked his way into advertising through the Leap Partnership, BBDO, and the DDB dub room.  He got his first staff job at JWT, then moved on to Leo Burnett and high profile work for McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, Nintendo and Samsung.  Element 79 eventually wrangled him in as a Senior Producer where he applies his high standards for film to both television and interactive work.  He likes to bike, cook, travel and lavish attention on his wife and bull terrier.  He would also like to sell his condo.

In the ad world, rarely will you see the gathering of more specialists, more experts in diverse fields, than you will at a broadcast commercial shoot. In order to create the perfect :30 world where every nuance is scrutinized (local cable TV ads notwithstanding), every element from the carpet to the cat is discussed ad nauseum among the client, the agency, the director, and experts in the fields of carpets and cats.

blueprints_main_levelDue to this level of specialization, the TV shoot is often where advertisers spend most of their creative production dollar (and given the budgets our industry has seen lately, I use the singular form of dollar intentionally). In order to gain efficiencies of scale and stretch the production budget, the TV shoot has increasingly become the locus of all efforts to acquire material for other media. Thus, the TV shoot has become the headwaters for the flow of creative content. It has become the norm rather than the exception for agencies to shoot a TV spot while also acquiring assets for digital, stills for print, and the inevitable “making of” video that rarely sees the light of day (not unlike the video’s editor).

Because production has become so integrated, the title “Broadcast Producer” is starting to go the way of the Diplodocus and ¾” tape. We now call ourselves “Content Producers” or “Creative Content Producers”. In some cases, our titles seem to cross over to other professions entirely, like “Content Architect” or “Creative Content Specialists” giving the impression that we bustle about the halls of ad agencies with stethoscopes and armloads of blueprints.

Hopefully, unlike the Diplodocus, the producer has evolved. The resourcefulness and creativity required to be a good producer can be applied outside the Broadcast realm. It’s not Aquaman fighting in space. There are new terms to learn, new shenanigans to call bullshit on, and auspiciously, new people to meet.

By Patrick Brennan, Senior Producer, Element 79  Visit him at

Yes, You Can Tweet a Novel! But Why?

A Portion of Scott Weaver's Huge Kinetic Toothpick Sculpture of San Francisco

A Portion of Scott Weaver's Huge Kinetic Toothpick Sculpture of San Francisco

A skillful artist can make amazing things out of toothpicks and glue.  Self-taught Wayne Kusy builds ships like the Titanic and Lusitania.  His twenty-five feet long model of the Queen Mary required 814,000 toothpicks and nineteen gallons of wood glue.  Patrick Acton’s representational work with matchsticks earned his sculpture gallery the title of “Iowa Tourism’s Attraction of the Year” in 2007 (check out his timely “Hogwarts” piece).  And UK artist David Mach uses the business end of matchsticks to create a uniquely colorful take on this art form.

Each of these artists pulls together small scraps to make a much larger united whole.  And apparently, that’s what San Francisco novelist Matt Stewart is doing as he publishes what he claims to be the first novel released 140 characters at a time through Twitter.

“The French Revolution” will require upwards of 3,700 tweets to get the entire book out, an effort that has earned him invaluable press for a writer struggling to get his work noticed.  But only the novelty of the action merits coverage; in the end, 3,700 tweets do not aggregate into one piece in the same powerful way that 814,000 toothpicks aggregate into a twenty-five foot sculpture.  There is no final product, nothing to hold, nothing to skim, nothing to quickly re-read to refresh your take on a character, at least, not without a great deal of cutting and pasting.

So the story here is not that publishers have discovered a new manner to distribute their work.  Instead, it is yet another example of Clay Shirky’s theme of amateur empowerment through reducing the traditional cost of distribution, with the web usurping the role of the printing press for little to no transactional cost to Mr. Stewart.

Remarkable?  Yes, rather.  Sustainable?  Not really.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79