A Call To Creatives From Every Discipline: Converge Now!

The ongoing debate over who should lead the next iteration of marketing creativity has grown exhaustingly tiresome.  Anyone who still spends their energy debating the relative merits of digital or traditional creativity is wasting precious time.  Today, the only true going-forward solution must be convergence.

The metrics-orientation and experience-centric mindset of digitally-trained creatives must mash up with the video-centric expertise of traditionally-trained creatives to create something wholly new to truly drive sales in today’s marketplace.  Right now, neither has the upper hand.  Neither can claim sole ownership or any real competitive advantage.  The only way forward is collaboration and cooperation as we forge something truly relevant for these instant access, highly-distracted times.

Matt Kaplan, the Chief Strategy Officer for VisibleGains, presents one of the most cogent arguments for this notion in this terrific article from MediaPost last week.  His post outlines a number of practical ways that our use of video must evolve to serve the realities of today’s fragmented messaging market and diverse target audiences.  Matt’s B2B discipline and sensitivity to the buyer-led world rings clearly through many of his points, yet his overall message speaks to a far broader audience of marketing creatives.

Simply put, video has been and will remain an incredible engagement medium.  But anyone who believes that begins and ends with broad awareness messaging platform of television commercials shortchanges the real opportunity presented by that medium today.  People respond viscerally to video–no surprise in a culture that far prefers the immediate sensation of a multi-sensory engagement over the intellectual reasoning of the written word.  More importantly, Google values video as a powerful driver of search rankings, so marketers that expand their use of video into more specialized communications benefit on exponential levels.

The Video As Sledgehammer Medium Party is Over

The Video As Sledgehammer Medium Party is Over

If we continue to treat video as a broad sledgehammer, we miss the many layered opportunities for deeper, more persuasive engagement.  Video can serve as a laser, targeted and tailored to engage various types of prospects along their path to commitment.  Tapping into the vast data engine of the web and developing more targeted messages against various personas, can lead to a use of video that is both more expansive and more specific.

To date, most digital companies have yet to escape their origins as an updated take on classic direct response marketing.  Similarly, the majority of traditional agencies still seem hamstrung as they cling to a dangerously singular faith in broad reach awareness-focused brand messaging.  Neither approach addresses the complete picture and leverages the new possibilities of modern media consumption.

But we can move to something new.  We can consider multiple targets for our video messages and expand our production shoots to gather content far more in tune with how and where buying decisions are made.  By expanding what we shoot and how we edit and repurpose it for a wider variety of uses and target opportunities, we can take video into new worlds of unprecedented persuasion based on deep consumer empathy and customized messaging.

This is where advertising’s future lies, in the converged middle, where laser-targeted video messages impact far more people far more effectively, despite the broad scatter of disaggregated and fragmented audiences.

Kaplan’s suggestions provide an initial, rudimentary roadmap.  If we expand our current concept of video-based advertising creativity to adopt new possibilities, the best of both disciplines can come together to create something entirely new.  And exciting.  And effective.

If we open up our minds to new ways to innovate the medium, reinventing both uses and expectations, we can soar far beyond the limits of partisanship over yesterday’s debates. It is a scary time in advertising these days, but change can also be a time of unprecedented growth.

Convergence is an imperative.  Expanded thinking is critical.  Today, if you’re not learning, you’re dying.  It really is as simple as that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A Black Friday Fun Fact (with a qualification)

Picture 1Now that the annual Black Friday 5am morning rush has passed and so many of us find ourselves cheek to jowl as we jockey for the fastest check out line or the least-awful mall parking spot, it may be time to ask just why it’s called “Black Friday.’

Starting my advertising career in the 80’s, I always heard it was an accounting term.  On this, the busiest shopping day of the year, most retailers moved from operating at a yearly loss (January through November) to earn their yearly profits during the Holiday season.  They would finally hit the black ink, thus “Black Friday.”  As definitions go, it was neat, tidy and just obscure enough.

Unfortunately, it’s also half-true.  Much like the Stephenie Mayer phenomenon convinced today’s teens that she invented the goth vampire genre, this Black Friday explanation obscures the original source of the name: the Philadelphia Police Department.  On the best of days, traffic clogs that city’s narrow, colonial-era streets but when you add all the cars coming in for Holiday shopping at the flagship John Wanamaker’s and the annual Army-Navy game at the old JFK Stadium, the streets become absolutely paralyzed.  And so, by 1965, Philadelphia’s finest had dubbed it Black Friday.

Now you know.  Happy shopping.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

But much like

Why Thanksgiving Matters…

Picture 1A lot of people want to speed headlong into the Christmas season.  Walgreens begins clearing space for lights and decorations the day after Halloween.  O’Hare Airport hung their ornaments midway through the month, despite the fact that Thanksgiving provides their heaviest travel weekend.  We often treat Thanksgiving like an anonymous town along a major road; speeding by on our way to someplace better…

But Thanksgiving does matter and means something.  It’s nice to remember the first settlers on this country, Myles Standish and the other illegal immigrants of the early seventeenth century.  But it’s better still to stop and think of our lives from a perspective of appreciation.  We don’t do that a lot–who has the time?  Still, giving thanks demonstrates some of the best of our humanity; a simultaneous nobility and vulnerability.

So today I give thanks for an ever-challenging job where I’m privileged to work beside fascinating people.  I give thanks for a family that’s loving, rewarding, and dependably hilarious.  And I give thanks for living in a country where–no matter how we may diminish it–still deems it worthwhile to stop everything once a year in order to celebrate and appreciate life.  That’s pretty awesome.

Happy Thanksgiving!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

I Know The Latest On US Durable-Goods Orders, Consumer Spending, and First Time Jobless Claims Yet Still Know Nothing

Picture 2Funny thing about this massive internet data engine we all plug into: I have access to more information than ever and still don’t really know anything.  At least regarding the US economy; I do know way too much about pop culture, beer and bourbon.

That’s the thing about data—it’s not actual knowledge, only its unrefined ore.  Before you can leverage a fact, you need to convert it into something actionable, something larger: an outcome or a conclusion.

The only reason I’m chasing this tangent on a Wednesday morning is that in rapid fire succession, three different data points popped up in my inbox this morning:

1.  U.S. consumer spending up in October

2.  U.S. durable-goods orders dip in October

3.  First-time U.S. jobless claims decline to 466,000; stock futures get lift from data

I’m not exactly sure how or why I started getting these Marketwatch headlines on my email.  I mean, I know why Land’s End and Amazon and Ebay clog my inbox every single morning with an endless supply of largely indistinguishable offers, but Marketwatch?  Where did that come from?

Still, it’s news, I scan it, and much like the level of intellectual engagement one gets from the Captivate elevator screen, I leave with a bite-sized intellectual nugget to idly chew for the rest of the day.

Data may be king in the new economy, but the true power still resides in knowledge.  Dag, I gotta get me some more of that…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

This just in: October new-home sales rise, paced by gains in southern states.  (man, this stuff never stops…)

On The Current Awkward Pubescence of Mobile Video

Last week, Steve Smith wrote a blog for Mobile Insider about the nascent emergence of mobile video that included this gem of a sentence:

“Like a teen, mobile video looks almost adult, until it opens its mouth. Then you realize it still has a long way to go and lots to figure out.”

Indeed.  Smith makes terrific points in his piece and raises some of the most critical issues that challenge widespread platform adoption.  Mobile advertising has made enormous strides as 3G coverage expands but the same challenge plagues this platform that once throttled desktop video: do the download demands merit the content?  With only the exception of that electro-springy noise that used to accompany our 14K baudrate modems, the video glitching as we download clips on our phone directly mirrors that experience from ten years ago.  We can safely assume that like the old desktop experience, these are the attributes of a platform in transition.  In a year or so, those delays will be increasingly rare.  Or non-existent.

But the true question remains–is the mobile content itself worth downloading?  And by extension, it it worth enduring interruptive commercial messages?  Smith takes advertisers to task for simply repurposing TV spots for mobile and his point is valid.  That said, the cost of video production, even lower end production, will keep this a common practice.  The solution here is to overshoot–to add alternative takes and content so that the basic strategic idea can be refreshed and customized for the mobile platform.  Right now, it must be anyway in certain situations, like if the camera moves too quickly and creates small screen strobing.  In fact, the biggest challenge of video production today is reconciling the divergent needs of low end platforms like mobile and high end HD.

The other true challenge for mobile video is determining where and when this interruptive placement will happen.  If someone wants to watch some clips and a mobile media buy forces them to watch (or worse, re-watch) short ads before each one, they will quickly lose interest in anything but the most compelling content.  And then whatever the equivalent of changing the channel is for mobile will become all too commonplace.

The future of mobile video certainly depends on technology to continue to optimize the platform.  But ultimately, it gets down to the same fundamental asset every other advertising platform relies on to truly work with the public–ideas and creativity.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Twitter Takes a Baby Step Away from Narcissism

Social networks run on narcissism.  To tweet or blog regularly requires someone to believe their thoughts or musings merit broadcasting.  And yes, I realize that statement damns me as well.  Sometimes the truth hurts…

Picture 5Last Thursday, Twitter made a simple change to their system that was so subtle, it was easily-missed.  After years of headlining their entry box with the lead-in question “What are you doing?” they changed it to the two-character saving “What’s happening?”  Co-founder Biz Stone (is there any more ironically-named new media personality than Twitter’s ‘Biz’?) explained this change by saying “The fundamentally open model of Twitter created a new kind of information network and it has long outgrown the concept of personal status updates.”

Well, yes and no there Biz.  I mean certainly, Twitter provides a remarkably-helpful outlet for citizen journalism during world-rocking events like the Iranian elections, but in the largely prosaic daily lives of most Twitter users, police state tactics and international news stories happen somewhere else.  The chances that our updates will indeed update others about events larger than say, our last airline meal, are exceedingly slim.  It can function as an ‘information network’ but the bulk of the messages remains personal status-centric.

But that reality aside, their intent is laudable and right.  The interactive web encourages conversation and feedback on an unprecedented scale.  People may use Web 2.0 technology to declare their love for Taylor Lautner or cry for the head of Charlie Weis, but even subtly steering the conversation towards more higher-minded aims is an act of admirable stewardship.

Or at least, good party hosting.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On Anonymity and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

The latest issue of  Wired magazine features an article by Evan Ratliff chronicling his efforts to vanish from society and avoid detection for a month while the magazine readers vie for a $5000 prize for locating him.  The story teaches all sorts of useful things like how cell phone batteries are trackable and how Greyhound is a last bastion of transportation that doesn’t require a photo ID.

mark-manginoI read the article with particular interest because of a note my friend Paul Meyer sent me yesterday on this very subject.  Paul’s a diehard Jayhawks fan, and their administration looks ready to step in and fire their football coach, Mark Mangino. Paul didn’t really say where he came down on the issue of the coach’s tenure, but he did point out something disturbing he noticed on a story on ESPN.com.  By the time he quit skimming it yesterday, the comments count had topped 1330, and almost every one of them made some sort of fat joke.  While Coach Mangino is a plus-sized individual who dwarfs even Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, the fact remains his job is in jeopardy not for his physical appearance but rather his won-loss record.  What no doubt started as a bit of snarky smack talk online quickly devolved into ugly personal attacks that can only be classified as vicious and mean.

In this kind of environment, when anonymity can spur otherwise decent people down to something as ugly as character assassination, how can we maintain any semblance of civility?  How can we expect those with an agenda to follow some sort of higher-minded Marquess of Queensberry rules and avoid the partisan mud-slinging inanity that has so polluted the aisles of Congress?  How can we protect brands from competitors with less ethical standards?

In the end, the answer will probably rely on even more technological advancement as a means to out those who abuse the best aspects of Web 2.0.  Anonymity has a legitimate role online, but so does accountability.  In a Wiki-ed world, let’s hope for a bit more wisdom from crowds.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

“Are You Integrated?” A One Question Quiz for Clients

If you want to know whether or not your brand marketing is truly integrated, ask your self one question: “Do you have more than one planning team?”

If you have discreet planners in multiple agencies, at best they are channel planners, not consumer planners.  And you are not truly integrated.

Frankly, if you have specialized creative teams, you’re probably not that integrated either.

Sadly, that also doesn’t make you very unique.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On The Critical Matters of Social Marketing, WOM, Digital Convergence…And Letting All of It Wait

The best thing about writing a daily weekday blog about the changing advertising business are all the new ideas you come across as you dig around for worthy topics.  And over the course of my twenty-five year career, there’s never been more remarkable things happening in the ad business.

But those can all wait for a moment.  They’ll have to.  Because today, the little redhead in the photo below, caught napping on my couch back at JWT Chicago, turns sixteen.  We’ve been helping her learn to drive and dealing with the high school things and by and large, feeling really pretty lucky that she’s turned out as sweet and compassionate and thoughtful as she has.


But bottom line, she’s sixteen today.  Man, that’s a headsnapper.  Caught up in the day-to-day of this business, you tend to forget the rest of the world doesn’t stop either.  Change is a constant indeed.

Happy Birthday Zoe.  As long as I have a couch at work, you’re welcome to crash.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Tombstones and Dead Magazine Titles

Because it’s the internet and the source of all things you need even if you didn’t realize it, I found myself looking at this site: a collection of the twenty-five funniest tombstones of all time.  And in that interesting collection of granite misfortune, I came across this particular gem:

Picture 2

Stone cold irony, that.  But it made me think of another article from Advertising Age that cited all of the magazine titles that had failed in the past year.  The list is kind of staggering, including such well-recognized titles as “Gourmet” “PC” and “Blender.”   Of course, everyone attributes this to behavioral shifts brought on by the internet era and they may well be right, though I still like the tangibility of paper magazines.  Doing the NY Sunday Times crossword just feels better with a pen.

Anyway, here are just some of those recently deceased magazines.  You might not miss them when you have your laptop, but on your next flight, all that could change when you have to shut down anything with an on/off switch.

Picture 3

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79