Advertising Breakthrough at the Street Level

IMG00167A lot of marketers make a big deal about the need for street teams and live, experiential marketing.  And they budget for it.

But people actually on the street operate with far more limited budgets.  To them, breakthrough isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a must have.  The alternative is a long, cold, unprofitable day.

Element 79 planner Amie Dowker saw this guy yesterday downtown on the corner of State and Randolph, standing with a marker-scrawled message that cut through the clutter like a hot knife through butter.

He may be an amateur advertiser, but his instincts are dead nuts on, even if his spelling is dodgy.

Amie snapped the pic, gave him her lunch money, and walked away with a smile to start her morning.

That’s great advertising.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Accessible Emotion: Why Laughter Is An Advertising Mainstay

smiledogThe news from this year’s TV upfront market is that while the economy continues its drag on overall revenues, the one bright spot for primetime network sales has been half hour sitcoms.  According to an article in Advertising Age, the cost of a :30 in top shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives” dropped while comedies like “How I Met Your Mother” and even purported comedies like “The New Adventures of Old Christine” actually increased slightly.

For anyone who’s ever heard a client openly question the value of comedy in advertising, this is concrete evidence that people love to laugh.  Brands that make people laugh with relevant messages take the expressway into the heart of consumer opinion.  We all love to be entertained, to be surprised and delighted.

Even the greatest talents are hardpressed to move someone to tears in a scant thirty seconds, but getting a laugh is very doable in that timeframe.  Get one for the right reason and you can create value for the brand you advertise.

Heck, get one for the wrong reason and you might at least create the next Mentos, you fresh maker…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Note To e-Marketers: You Can Automate Surprise Too

Mr. Roboto?  A Bit More Creativity Please

Mr. Roboto? A Bit More Creativity Please

Every weekday morning when I first switch on my computer, I’m reminded of every purchase I’ve ever made online.  Because every morning, among various other things, my email inbox contains something from West Elm (Christmas, 2007–a serving platter), something from Joseph A. Bank (Fall 2008, a black watch tux jacket on super closeout), and another bottle from Wine Legend with at least a 92 pt. ranking for less than $15 (Summer, 2008, a very accessible case of French Rose).  Later in the day, I’ll also hear from Overton’s (waterskis and towables), Brooks Brothers (17 1/2 x 38 dress shirts) and Amazon.

The pitches come with steady, reliable precision.  The time of day, the lead-in lines, the layout of the pitches themselves very rarely varies and certainly that’s because my name and contact information has been fed into some automated system that purports to know my buying habits and thus sends a steady stream of offers to me at an astonishingly low cost to the retailer.

Obviously, I could set the spam filters and make all of these go away.  And if I felt really motivated, I could contact the retailer and ask to be taken off their mailing list.  But much like the rain-forest clearing deluge of catalogs that clog our mailbox, its easier just to dump them into the trash or recycling bin and get on with the day.

And yet, one of the great delights of humanity and something that the best, most welcome sales pitches frequently tap into is the joy of surprise.   Our world’s can quickly become rote–a repeat cycle of wake, commute, work, commute, drink, dinner, whatever–and so anything that upends the ordinary stands out like a snowman on a black sand beach.

Could someone remind the automated marketers of that?  Could someone influence these engineers or accountants posing as creative salespeople that their pitches–while statistically profitable no doubt from a CPM perspective–could generate better returns if they added something good advertising pitches always include?

A little creativity would be nice.  Or at least a small surprise.  That’s all it would take for me to stop equating your brand with ‘crap to throw away every morning.’

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PR Now Sidestepping Traditional Media Relationships To Pitch Consumers Directly

Advertising Age published an interesting item the other day on the rising trend among PR firms to take a pass on pitching traditional media outlets and go directly to consumers with their messages.

A cynic might contend that publishing and media layoffs have cut the ranks so deeply that there simply aren’t enough journalists to pitch anymore, but the reality is that the widespread availability and low cost of  earned media outlets make it easier than ever to get marketing content out.  The proliferation of highly-engaged niche audiences online makes finding the appropriate audience simple.  Add these modern media realities to the democratization of production and the PR industry faces a new reality with its go-to-market strategy.  Low cost HD cameras and simple desktop editing put the power of video storytelling in most anyone’s hands, the web provides a ready outlet, and so we upend one more vestige of the one-way marketing model as PR firms create YouTube channels, send bloggers content and distribute relevant video to online communities.

Which brings up yet another convergence-based issue: do marketers need separate entities to handle marketing and public relations?   Does paid media require one set of experts and earned another?  In the absolute, perhaps, but in the workaday world, that’s becoming less and less viable, both economically and strategically.  If your advertising agency develops a strategic idea platform for consumers and the web provides direct access to those consumers, why would you need to employ a separate agency to connect the two?  That responsibility should reside with your agency people who hopefully, are already far more skilled than the average bear at generating compelling video content.

The challenge is to help agencies understand that their primary responsibilities now include direct-to-consumer PR.  Opinion has a mass channel and our messages must be in it.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Facebook Fan Pages Make Perfect Sense When Your Brand Actually Has Fans

Picture 1According to an item in Mediapost, the NHL will unveil it’s new fan page on Facebook later this afternoon.  The screengrab of it looks beautiful; loaded with continually-updated content and highly interactive, it resembles nothing so much as their own website.  And that’s a very good thing.

The press release makes a big deal about virtual gifts like digital jerseys and the updates where you send a friend to ‘the penalty box’–Facebook specific actions that link directly to the NHL property, but that’s mostly windowdressing.  Sure, you can send a drink or a flower or a poke, but as Facebook has moved from a virtual novelty to a widely-accepted social networking platform supplanting even e-mail for a large majority of users, that kind of ‘let’s pretend’ capability seems wildly besides the point.

The reason for the NHL–or any brand–to take an active stance on Facebook is to be part of a community that spends an increasing amount of time there, encouraging sharing and forwarding easily-accessible content.  Better still, the reason the NHL should find success with a Facebook fan page is because that brand already has fans.  Professional sports are built on the notion of fandom and rabid engagement.  Unfortunately, fandom is not intuitive for a brand like say, Odor Eaters.  Once you’ve reminded a friend that his sneakers stink, how else are you going to meaningfully interact with that brand?  In the end, brands like these inevitably make a big deal out of the number of friends they acquire, whether or not those friends have any active, ongoing engagement with the brand.

And that’s the point where marketers need to re-imagine.  Or at least reassess.  Because ten to one, that’s the point where brands sacrifice strategy for cheap affordable tactics.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Memo to Twitter Users re: What The Bing Announcement Really Means–Prepare To See The Whale More Often


Microsoft’s announcement that they signed both Facebook and Twitter to bring real-time updates to their Bing search engine has many posters aflutter over the possibility that their one-liners could find a huge audience far beyond their own friend lists.  And the news that Bing will expand contracted URL’s to more clearly reflect Tweet content is both critical and technologically impressive.

But from that same perspective, the tech demands on Twitter’s API could cause its already wobbly stability to overload and crash even more frequently.  On the upside, Bing isn’t particularly huge yet and the market for social search remains an unknown, but any additional back-end service call volume on their database threatens a system that already delivers a breathtaking volume of data.

Interestingly, the deal is non-exclusive, which means the behemoth Google may be taking a wait-and-see policy before jumping into the fray.

If that happens, get ready for a Shamu-fest of whales.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Hey Mobile, Are We There Yet?

Anyone who’s paid even the most cursory attention these past few years has heard the rising chorus touting the mobile platform. And with good reason: cell phones enjoy both incredible ubiquity and total devotion. As of July, the US market had continued it’s remarkable growth to reach 57 million users. People with cell phone feel naked without them, using them dozens of times a day. All of which makes mobile an exciting new platform for marketers.

The only hitch is that despite the hype, the number of truly successful mobile platform programs remains relatively insignificant.

People use mobile either for information or connection, neither of which tolerate an interruptive message very well. This forces marketers to find new ways to position their messages in helpful, assistive ways–something that presents a novel creative challenge and uncertain metrics for ROI.

But the challenge of reinvention doesn’t just exist for marketers—it seems consumers have little interest in reinventing either. According to a thousand person study by Gomez Inc., a web application testing firm, mobile Web users are frustrated by the experience. Between slow load times, site crashes and awkward formatting, the smart phone web experience is already madding, even before it slows further to deliver marketing messages.

Still Working Out Web Optimization Issues...

Still Working Out Web Optimization Issues...

The real issue springs from the direct comparison between mobile web and broadband work and home connections. The load times are simply night and day. And then there’s the obvious but undeniable issue of radically diminished screen size. My cell screen is less than 6% the size of my laptop’s. As someone who has requited himself to the fact that as a phone, my iPhone makes a great iPod, reliability remains a major issue. Downtown Chicago doesn’t have consistent 3G coverage? You’ve got to be kidding. Thank goodness for Cricket‘s reliable, extensive and ever-expanding network of 3G towers…

It only gets worse for mobile advocates, since half of all users report that they will only wait six to ten seconds before giving up on a site.

The upshot of these negative experiences is that they actually hurt brand perceptions. Frustrate a user once and they are highly-unlikely to give you a second chance.

For those committed to mobile—and there are many in our business—the good news is that 80% claim they would access mobile web sites more often if the experience mirrored their PC for speed and reliability. And true believers will no doubt glom onto the fact that Gomez did not differentiate between regular cell phone and smartphone users—particularly given that another study byQuestus, AOL, and Universal McCann found 80% of smartphone users were satisfied with their mobile web experiences.

The limits of our present technology create conflict for users, but still, the mobile promise remains tantalizing out on the horizon. We’re just not there yet.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

WWHD? The Comic Virulence of the Hitler YouTube Meme

Knock-knock jokes…  Top Ten lists…  “That’s what she said”…  Over time, cultures build stockpiles of shared comic references.  Back when we all watched Saturday Night Live, everyone copped Dana Carvey’s “Isn’t that special?” complete with the Church Lady’s off-balance lip pursing.  More recently, Kanye West’s obnoxiousness led to a spate of  “Imma let you finish–” bits.  Sharing laughs around common reference points builds bonds between people, and simply makes the day pass more pleasantly…Picture 1

So it’s no surprise that this video popped up at the end of last week.  Mark Wegener, the man behind the consistently intelligent humor of ‘Local Paper’, passed along this latest version of Downfall, this time with Bruno Ganz’ Hitler screaming about the news media’s breathless over-coverage of the Balloon Boy hoax.

These days, you really are nowhere in the cultural landscape if you haven’t been referenced and had the piss taken out of you by ridiculous subtitles laid over this 2004 Oscar nominated film.  Type “Hitler Downfall” into YouTube’s search box and you’ll get 2,280 hits.  People have re-edited this clip to make Hitler rail on everything from Twitter’s server fail to Michael Bay’sTransformers to Tony Romo dumping Jessica Simpson.  It’s become such a common reference point it’s even gone meta, with Hitler losing it over his discovery of all the Hitler parodies.

It will take a far smarter person than me to explain our collective subconscious enjoyment of seeing history’s most notorious villain alternatively simper and explode over the banal topics of everyday life.  But the simpler truth is that the internet, originally designed to link brainiacs involved in military research and development, now serves a far more noble purpose: enabling distant people–often complete strangers–to satisfy our deeply human need for connection.  And laughter.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

After A Year, the Collective-Thinking is that Brands Are Opinions: Introducing

SmileBalloon_IMGThis blog began almost one year ago as a repository for thoughts and opinions related to the rapidly-changing world of marketing.  “Collective-Thinking” referred to the cloud nature of modern intelligence; how the thoughts and opinions surrounding our industry exist in an ever-growing, ever changing aggregation online.

The process of keeping pace with our changing industry in order to write about it forced a lot of growth and new thinking.  Perhaps the most fundamentally game-changing realization is how the time-honored notion of ‘brand truth’ no longer holds.  “Brand Truths” are vestiges of a time when advertising dollars could buy a one-way sales channel to consumers.  Because the messages flowed solely from the marketer, the advertising agency could determine and dictate what constituted ‘truth.’

Today, that model simply doesn’t exist.  Opinion enjoys a mass channel, personal recommendation drives the vast majority of sales, and the dawn of broadband and the widespread access to Web 2.0 has eradicated the old one-way channel.  Today, there are more outlets for feedback, more forums for discussion, more places for consumers to provide their perspectives on brands.

Today, Brands must find ways to thrive in a world of opinion no longer dominated by advertisers.  Brands must begin adopting a two-phase process of advertising and word of mouth, of building awareness and empowering advocates, of getting recognized and the getting recommended.  Agencies must work to develop and spread ‘sharable stories’ to influence the dialogue out in the world of opinion.

That will be the way forward for marketers.  At least, that’s my opinion.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Latest Web-Enabled Game: Worldwide-Hide-And-Seek

Most everyone does stupid stuff as a kid; you play games and try things with only the most minimal concern for personal safety (“Sure we were shooting each other with BB guns–but we were wearing shop goggles!”).  It’s the nature of kids–particularly boys–to chase a thrill, mindless of dangers or consequences.  It’s why my nephews wrestled on a sidewalk in their Sunday best outside a First Communion Ceremony…

The Jiffy Pop Has Landed...

The Jiffy Pop Has Landed...

But six year old Falcon Heene took this phenomenon to a whole ‘nother level yesterday…a level estimated between 8000′ and 8500’, according to Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden.

As the quickly-christened “Balloon Boy,” he owned CNN for five hours…

He earned a minute-by-minute blog on the NY Times…

#Balloon Boy was Twitter’s #2 trending topic  yesterday, and was number one when aggregating all Balloon Boy variants.

Balloon Boy re-routed all of Colorado’s Northbound air traffic for fifteen full minutes…

In the cold light of a new day, the Balloon Boy may turn out to be a hoax–and he clearly never left the ground–but it’s head-spinning how he managed to garner national and even global attention so quickly.  Apparently the formula of GRAVE RISK TO A CHILD + FOCUSED ATTENTION & INTENTIONS + HAPPY FEEL GOOD RESOLUTION = CULTURE STOPPING MOMENT.  Of course, much like how the passing of any obsession brings up vague embarrassment over one’s outsized collective enthusiasm once the moment passes, a lot of people are backpedaling today.  Some are downright angry and considering pursuing potential charges.

Still, the notion of apply this lesson to create breakthrough for a product naturally crosses any marketer’s mind.  Imagine the impact such an event would have in the marketplace–imagining how truly awesome it could be to span our brutally-fragmented media environment with one compelling story…  It would solve so many media allocation issues.

But then, even if we could determine the precise factors behind this fast-rising phenomenon, we might not want to apply them to brands– the backlash risk would simply be too great and too virulent.

We’re glad Falcon’s safe.  But clearly, he’s no Captain Sully Sullenberger.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79