Welcome To The World Wide Complaint Desk

Despite what some spittle-lipped sharpsters might try to sell you, social media’s rapid behavior-changing adoption is still far from settled enough for anyone to analyze and measure.  The marketing industry still bobs chest deep in the churning waves, making assessment difficult at best.  The one incontrovertible truth is that in remarkably short order, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have powerfully reset both who we communicate with and how, leaving brands scrambling to determine just what to make of it and how to adjust.Picture 2

Today’s consumers enjoy a radical new level of access and empowerment; marketers enjoy a unprecedented access and insights.  And everyone involved must now balance the benefits of another powerful new platform even as we assess the drawbacks and limitations.

All of which makes Catharine Taylor’s latest post on Social Media Insider a great jumping off point for timely client discussions.  Under the provocative heading “Is Social Media Turning Us Into Whiner Nation,” Catharine raises the issue of determining the relative quality of social media input.  Sometimes this dialogue can inform and reshape productively, but many times, they amount to so much hyper-empowered bitching.

On one level, companies can consider all of this new social input the equivalent of having a world wide complaint desk that’s always open–a vastly enhanced, far more powerful version of the old one-employee department that existed solely to provide disgruntled shoppers an outlet for their frustrations.  And to a point, that’s reasonably accurate (consider Motrin, and just recently, Amp).  Social media provides a mass channel for opinion, and it can be skewed heavily by special interests or a vocal minority.  Worse, the most destructive of those opinions often spring from people far outside a brand’s core target, rendering them less relevant but still potentially damaging.  Should brands respond then or should they abide, enduring a temporary tempest before the shouters move on to the inevitable next offense, another issue of another new day?

These are questions brands and their advocates must address.  Like it or not, advertisers are well served to monitor these inputs, and make adjustments if necessary.  But to do that, we must all get more skilled at assessing those tweets and blogs–their relevance, resonance and virulence.  And we must also get better at assessing positive feedback; it’s far too simple to slip into easy acquiescence after hearing one or two glowing reviews.  Positive sources can be just as suspect as negative ones.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this new reset in the advertiser-consumer relationship–from a one-sided platform driven by wealthy brands to a two-way dialogue powered by basically anyone with broadband–is how hard it is for marketers to reconcile the fact that consumers now have a voice.  And speak up.  Pretty loudly sometimes.

We always thought that was our job.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Twitter Social Mobile Crash

The notion of a Twitter Social Mobile Crash is not a metaphor.  I don’t mean to imply Twitter no longer dominates as the pre-eminent social media on the mobile platform–they certainly do.  In fact, according to a Crowd Science survey, 41% of Twitter users contact friends via social media rather than by phone.  And 11% of Twitter users admitted to tweeting while driving during the previous thirty days.  And that is probably a lowball number.478966.1-lg

Unfortunately, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a different study back in July that showed texting while driving makes you twenty-three times more likely to crash.

Do that math: twenty-three freaking times more likely to crash…

We gotta put these things down, hard as that may be.  And I’ll admit, I’m guilty.  I’ve done it.  I’ve texted and tweeted while steering with my knees.  But by any rational measure, that’s idiotic behavior.  Adding another comment on Amp Energy Drink’s boneheaded iPhone app doesn’t quite seem worth creasing a quarter panel of sheet metal…or worse.

So while the inevitable Twitter Social Mobile Crashes have already come and will keep coming, I’ll make you a deal: I won’t tweet behind the wheel if you won’t.  That way, we won’t have to meet on the shattered glass of an accident scene or the grim lighting in the emergency room; we can meet the way the web intended–virtually, with goofy assumed names and offbeat links.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Web Won't Wait: Why Teaser Campaigns Online Create More Annoyance Than Anticipation

Picture 1

The Original E-mail from Dyson US

Monday morning, I received an email from Dyson US entitled “What has Dyson invented now?”  I usually delete sales messages right away but having owned three Dyson vacuums over the years and spent some time poking around the website that celebrates his charmingly curious mind, I opened it up.

The headline inside read “We did away with bags.  Now we’ve got rid of ___ in ____.” The copy went on to stress the familiar Dyson themes of re-imagining old technology, ultimately ending in a link to learn more.  So I clicked that.

The link led to a slightly-overlong video of people staring, mouth agape, at some remarkable object just below camera.  They couldn’t identify it but loved the object’s look.  Clearly, it resembled nothing they’d ever seen.  By the time I finished the video, Dyson had engaged me for three and a half minutes.  But then they dropped the meat in the dirt…

They simply supered “October 2009″ and ended the video.  After investing all that time they gave me nothing, not even a glimpse of the unidentified object to pique my curiosity about what it might be.  Frustrated, I combed the rest of their website but found nothing.

Suddenly, I kinda hated James Dyson.  I hated his plastic contraptions, his British accent which I had long found intellectually appealing now rang twee, and the blueprints of other objects just looked like so much self indulgence.

The man had wasted my time.  And I deeply, deeply resented it.  Advocates tout the advantages of digital technology largely along the lines of engagement, user experience and information.  Web users have come to expect that anything they need to know is just a few clicks away, and often more comprehensive than they need.  But this tactic, which began with a simple, well-written email, dishonored those expectations.  It treated this medium like TV, where I might see a teaser ad on “Family Guy” one week then see the corresponding explanatory ad the next week, since I watch that show regularly.

But there are no appointments with the web.  It is always on, always available, and always presents an entirely fresh experience with little sense of prior history and absolutely no narrative arc.  What had started as an awesome advertising launch tactic ultimately backfired, alienating an engaged user.

Happily, there’s something else unique to the web: you can adjust and edit your content in real time.  So this morning, when I sat down to write about this madding experience, I clicked the link again and landed on a whole new page.  Perhaps they received complaints, perhaps they noticed people left the site pretty quickly, or perhaps they embedded cookies so that anytime someone revisited the site they would receive an answer; whatever they did, they corrected the problem.  And I was engaged once more.

His new item truly looks wildly original.  Suddenly, I like James Dyson again.  Good design and good will amongst men: both good things in this world.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

International Symbol or Visual Puzzle at the Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

I missed two blog entries last week due to an annual golf trip to Ireland.  This year, we went to the West, in County Clare and the Galway area.  After playing a gorgeous round at Lahinch and before an unbelievable plate of stew at Gus O’Connor’s pub in Doolin, we stopped briefly at the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher.  Standing on O’Brien’s tower gives you a 700 foot vantage point on Galway Bay with the Aran Islands barely visible out in the Atlantic.  It’s a spectacular spot and thanks to both our tour guide Tim and Wikipedia, I learned that it served as a backdrop for The Princess Bride, the latest entry in the endless line of Harry Potter movies, and even the hazy cover art for U2′s recent album, No Line on the Horizon.

CliffFall

Sign #1

Along the walk up, the tourist bureau posted a series of warning signs.  It may be true that much like Scotland, Ireland and the United States are two cultures separated by a common language, but really, a few words may have been in order to help clarify the meaning of these imaginative, if over-reaching symbols.

They started simply enough with Sign #1: a triangular-shaped warning that sprinting along the edge may cause both damage to the cliffs and an ungainly posture.  Indeed, this simple visual messaging would easily translate for visitors from most any culture around the world.

Sign #2

Sign #2

Sign #2 however, began the descent into indecipherability.  It could mean ‘please don’t kick the oversized black piano keys’ or perhaps ‘no hurdling gravestones.’  Maybe it means that ‘climbing shipping boxes of framed paintings requires two hands’ or perhaps even something as prosaic as ‘no dancing too close to obstructions of any sort,’ but that seems unlikely given the Irish proclivity for enthusiastic if ungainly dancing.  No, Sign #2 remained something of a mystery to our group, but whatever it warned of, apparently we were able to walk away unscathed and apparently, without egregious violation.

Sign #3

Sign #3

Sign #3 though totally lost it with the implied intent.  ‘No hovering at altitudes higher than the local birds’?  ‘No walking on flaming coals while littering candy wrappers’?  ‘Beware of fire gulls’?  The possibilities for misinterpretation seem limitless and would require someone with expertise in a made up academic discipline like “Symbology”–that’s right, I’m talking to you Robert Langdon and you too Dan Brown–to interpret the meaning of the graphic artist here.

Then again, take another look at the top picture.  See all the non-cushioning layers of shale and sandstone that might provide only a harsh and temporary break in any unfortunate fall over the nearly vertical cliff face that ultimately ends in the frigid crashing sea hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet below?  Taking that perspective, it seems Nature already provides all the warning labels one might need to keep all but the most determined visitor from tumbling off.  That’s keeping it simple…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

86 Gourmet

Picture 1Conde Nast’s announcement that they were shuttering Gourmet magazine after nearly seven decades of glossy publication came as a shock to many.  I can’t pretend that I am so accomplished or interested a cook that it affects me directly any more than the simultaneous news that two of their two Bride titles—Modern and Elegant—were closing as well (I’m not sure that they put out a Hillbilly Bride but if so, that survived).  Still, one aspect of this announcement has a distinctly contemporary spin…

Conde Nast plans to continue the Gourmet brand.  While declining ad sales doomed the magazine, Gourmet-branded cookbooks will continue to appear in the market.  A new Gourmet TV show debuts on PBS on October 21.  And in a bit of grim irony, Gourmet recipes will even remain on Epicurious.com, the very type of free recipe site that hastened it’s editorial demise.

So while sister publication Bon Appetit will probably fulfill the balances for Gourmet’s subscribers, the name itself will not disappear from popular—or at least foodie—culture.  That is a very smart decision—brands are powerful things: difficult and expensive to build, but resilient and enduring in the public mind.  That’s why a savvy holding company has been able to leverage the Pabst Blue Ribbon brand through contract brewing.  It’s why a similar strategy revived Indian Motorcycles.  And its why the Gourmet brand does have a future—just not in the format where it was built.

The world changes.  Brands that adapt to that reality can create a sustainable future, even if it’s one that their brand stewards never imagined.  Or candidly, particularly wanted.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Advertising Industry Lighthouse: Enthusiasm

As part of a new business pitch this morning, we’ve been reviewing the Lighthouse philosophy of challenger brands as espoused by Adam Morgan and the big brains at “Eat Big Fish.”  At the most simplistic level, a Lighthouse Identity helps a brand define what it stands for, both out in the marketplace and inside the company hallways.eatbigfish_logo

It’s a well-reasoned, very pragmatic approach to positioning and shaping brand considerations and perceptions.  And last night, over omelettes and coffee at a roadside Perkins, it got a few of us thinking about what we would consider our own agency identity, what one thing galvanizes us and represents the best of this advertising business.  We quickly arrived at one thing: enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm for the process, but far more importantly, enthusiasm for our product: ideas.  In the marketing business, ROI really boils down to Return on Ideas.  Ideas create perceptions, differentiation, empathy and engagement.  Ideas separate and celebrate.  Ideas are our ultimate product.

And anyone who touches them, influences them or sells them does that better when alight with the energy and group-lifting zeal of enthusiasm.  YEAH!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

This Monday Night's Football: Are You Ready For Some Backstory?

Since it’s debut in 1970 on ABC, Monday Night Football has been a storied franchise. With nearly forty years of TV ratings success, that would be inevitable.  Week after week, the nation tunes in to watch the NFL in it’s most deluxe packaging–extra cameras, ever more innovative graphics, and a palpably higher level of excitement that only a two team national telecast spotlight can provide.

scaled_jpg.phpTonight, the Green Bay Packers visit the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.  But that’s not the story. The story is Brett Favre vs. the Green Bay Packers.  People want to watch the perennial-retiree face the team he lead for sixteen seasons and by extension, the state that welcomed him deep into their hearts.  Green Bay and Favre were a storybook relationship that ended with feelings of betrayal and recrimination.  And it’s an awkward situation made worse because Favre ended up with Minnesota; these are two northern states with a deep-seated professional antitpathy.  Tonight’s game has so much interest, officials pushed back the Tigers-Twins one game baseball playoff game at the Metrodome til Tuesday.

I like the NFL, but I’m much more of a Saturday football fan.  Still, like every other person on the planet, I can’t resist a good story.  And tonight’s game features a terrific one, one that I’ll still care about even after every analyst and promo spot hammers it into overkill.  Stories matter, and the NFL brand seems to have an intuitive sense of that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

In Any Pitch, The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

16dayPalmcardToday is decision day, when the International Olympic Committee announces their choice of city to host the 2016 Olympic Games.  Because of this, great numbers of Chicagoans now know firsthand what it’s like to be in a new business pitch.

Because that’s what this is, on a global scale.  And it’s certainly been a long slog getting here…  Committees formed, strategies outlined, creative developed–by most any measure it’s been a Herculean task to marshall the civic resources and execute the proposed plan.  And yet, dealing with the challenges and problems is rarely the big difficulty in a pitch–the waiting is the hardest part.

Solving problems is our daily work, much like it’s Daley’s job for this City that Works.  Pulling everything together is mostly a larger, less certain version of the tasks we handle every workday.  But now, at this point, there is nothing more to be done.  There are no more points to make, no more influence to wield, no more remarkable surprises to unveil (“Presto!  It’s Oprah!”).  There is only the backroom handicapping (“Sure Rio’s right, the games have never been in South America…then again, Rio police average more than three killings a day under the heading of resisting arrest!”) and the nail-biting wait for the decision, for the messenger to emerge from behind the closed doors, for the white smoke to issue from the Vatican chimney…

An estimated thirty-thousand people will be gathering in Daley Plaza today, starting around 9 AM.  The announcement itself is planned for 11:30 (CST).  If you want more details, check out www.chicago2016.org

A lot of us from Element 79 will be down there in that anxious throng, wearing orange t-shirts with our fingers crossed.  The announcement could make for wild elation or a huge bummer.

Which is only fitting because in the long run, much like a new business win, it will work out to be some balance of both anyway.  Go Chicago!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

UPDATE:  BUMMER

Congrats Rio...I guess.

Congrats Rio...I guess.


On Memes, Payback, and Illogical Conclusions

The rise of the internet meme has been a largely amusing thing: keyboard cat, Hitler ranting on issues of the moment, and of course, Kanye.  Kanye, Kanye, Kanye/Hitler… But like anything that soars in popularity and finds a way to touch the masses, it can be turned and used…less positively.

Watch this video of Gilbert Gottfried roasting his friend Bob Saget in 2008…  It is only a minute–just watch it, I’ll wait…

Admittedly, that’s a harsh joke.  But it’s ragging between comedians–one of whom does a decidedly-filthy version of The Aristocrats joke–and it’s on a platform that’s intended to be outrageous.  Remarkably. this is the explanation used to explain what inspired one man’s response to something he believed to be outrageous–talk radio, specifically the Glenn Beck show.  This guy’s response? glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com

Teach Your Children Well

Teach Your Children Well

The site positions itself as a sort of social experiment, cataloguing and measuring the responses it generates.  And the author defends his intentions by claiming to be mirroring the same kind of willful, agenda-serving truth-bending that Mr. Beck regularly employs.  Further, he cites how the word ‘parody’ appears again and again throughout the homepage.  Yet the basic provocation remains, a snarky, one-sided smear along the lines of that classic unanswerable yes or no question: ‘do you still beat your wife?’

It will be up to the courts to decide whether an offensive domain name constitutes defamation, but the sad truth remains; we’ve become a society riven by shouting, by insults, by loud voices amplifying narrow perspectives. I’m not a fan of political commentary performed by anyone aside from maybe Letterman and Stewart–the opinions are too shrill, too strident, too focused on convenient framings of blame.

If this is how we disagree, maybe we all need to go back to school.  Or at least Sunday School.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79