Anyone Wanna Talk about the iPad? Anyone?

If you watched the news during the late 80’s, perhaps you too wondered “Just when did pitbulls stop biting people?”  We seemed to go through a couple of months there when pitbulls were biting everything: tearing through titanium, ripping children out of nurseries and basically behaving like canine Nazis.

Then, as quickly as the stories started, they stopped and we went on to other lasting things like acid washed jeans and Yahoo Serious.  The ugly truth was this ‘story’ was part of a coordinated PR effort to draw more attention to the American Humane Society.  Unfortunately, it resulted in character assassination for a notably courageous. loyal and yes, loving breed.

But that’s the nature of PR and trends: they burn hot and furious, then die to be replaced by a new flame.  And maybe that explains why it seems like no one is talking about the iPad anymore.  Two or three weeks ago, you couldn’t get away from the thing; every blog, news story, and tweet breathlessly reported some new aspect of this technology that was going to change the way we did, well, everything.

Eventually, cooler heads considered it and asked “1 GB of memory?”  “No camera?”  More damningly, despite Steve Jobs’ bluster about how “Flash sucks,” essentially all web video uses Flash, so without that capability, the iPad will be severely hampered as a web surfing tool.

Yes, someday it will create a viable new category between laptop and smart phone.  Maybe even a version or two from now.  But more likely, much like the Newton eventually begat the iPhone, the iPad will inevitably beget something people actually want for more than two weeks.

You know, something that becomes a brand, not just a Google trend.

In a world where opinion enjoys a mass channel, brands need word of mouth that’s not just positive, but sustainable.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Could We Declare a Ban on Lexeme Proliferation?

Between easily-excitable news organizations and attention-getting stunts on social networks, a raft of new word-forms spontaneously generates everyday.  This was my last straw:

It’s snowing in Chicago right now.  It snows a good deal in Chicago.  And yet, we’ve gone centuries without striving for ‘snowphistication.’

Please; if it’s not in the OED, and you’re not making a joke, think twice about creating a Frankenstein word.  We have over 800,000 perfectly good words to choose from already.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Timing Is Everything: From Dashing to Exceeding Expectations

We have this lovely little ad hoc thing at the agency called, unimaginatively enough, Breakfast Club, where every Friday morning, four or five people at the office provide some breakfast for the rest of us.  Over the months and years, the Breakfast Club has become a nice way to end the week by sharing a cup of coffee and maybe a homemade scone or a bit of egg casserole.

Last Friday, the scheduled Breakfast Club hosts did the unprecedented and waved off at the last minute due to an unfortunate confluence of client travel and personal illness.  There was disappointment–not getting your danish can do that to you.  One note on Facebook conjectured Breakfast Club had been given up for Lent.  Hardly.

First thing Monday morning, a Spartan offering of donut holes and coffee sat on a break room table, an intentionally underwhelming display meant to be, as a tweet from @jennylui read, “Just a little something to whet ur whistle before we blow ur mind. At 4 pm.”

By mid-afternoon, the rhetoric had escalated.  Tweets and emails promised “the single greatest breakfast club ever.”  That was all–no explanation, no hint of their plans.

Four o’clock arrived and a far larger crowd than usual gathered at our main meeting room to find an amazing troika: a proper English breakfast, vodka drinks, and the DePaul Mens a Cappella group, DMaC.  For the next hour or so, these college undergrads worked their way through a varied catalogue, from Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” to a surprisingly moving rendition of Toto’s “Africa.”  Pure, multi-octave voices, loose but conscious choreography and an undercurrent of collegiate wit created a deeply engaging performance that lived up to its billing.  And provided an unprecedented backdrop to eggs, beans and crumpets.

From dashing expectations to wildly exceeding them–if you can ever get a shot at redemption and nail it, the effect is twice as impactful.  Well done Ron D’Innocenzo, Jenny Lui, Mike D’Amico and Josh Witherspoon: John Hughes himself would have been proud.

And whoever has Breakfast Club this week is so hosed…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


It Might Not Make Sense to You, But The Virtual Marketplace Makes Serious Cents

I don’t play Farmville on Facebook.  I’ve never bought into the Second Life phenomenon or spent any time in World of Warcraft.  And I don’t remotely understand why you would pay to ‘send someone a drink’ on a social network, spending real world cash on a make-believe margarita…

But even though I don’t, millions of people do.  According to Inside Network, the virtual goods market in the U.S. may hit $1.6 billion this year, an estimate that’s a full 160% increase from last year.  Worldwide, that figure could be as high as $10 billion, most of it powered by the confluence of gaming and social networks.  If you need any more evidence that its a new world for commerce, tell that number to Detroit.

Social Network, check.  Busty Cyborg Babe, Check.

Virtual Gaming? Check. Busty Cyborg Babe? Check.

I learned all of this through this Yahoo blurb from Forbes.com, which describes how an Australian grad student paid $26,500 for a virtual island within the virtual world Entropia.  That sum puts him atop the Guinness Book for the most valuable virtual object in the world.  It also put him squarely atop my personal dork-o-meter…

–until I read on and learned that he in turn, taxes virtual hunters who use his virtual island game preserve for real world money that currently equals about $100,000 a year.  Suddenly, he looked like a cagey new economy speculator.

Like so many other aspects of modern commerce, what I think doesn’t matter nearly as much as what the market will bear.  So while it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to spend a few bucks on a piece of make believe armor or a guernsey cow, to the millions who take part in these onlne communities, spending a few hundred bucks to buy a ticket, park your car and freeze your butt off at a Bears game probably makes even less sense.  All things considered, I’d have to admit they’re right.

These micro-economies are simply updates on old favorites like dropping a few quarters in a jukebox or sending someone a postcard.  Individually, they’re frivolous fun.

But collectively, they can wield serious economic clout.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

So WordPress Was Down Yesterday…

Not that I noticed.  And yet, the outage apparently affected 10.2 million blogs, depriving them of an estimated 5.5 million pageviews, give or take. WordPress notified me about it later, linking through to this very concise and forthright explanation on their own blog.  Long story short, the disruption came  “when an unscheduled change to a core router by one of our datacenter providers…broke the site.  It also broke all the mechanisms for failover between our locations in San Antonio and Chicago…

Admittedly, I’m not a tech geek, so I read that twice.  I don’t know a core router from a flux capacitator and I had no idea you even needed mechanisms for failover, let alone which aisle at RadioShack you’d find them in.

As a culture, we are growing increasingly web dependent.  Like so many everyday objects in our modern world–cell phones, televisions, fuel injection engines–the technology that drives them may as well be elfen magic.  The language of silicone chips and circuit boards remains largely curious and hidden to the ordinary eye.  When confronted with any tool more complicated than a hammer, I am powerless in any role aside from user, and that’s a decidedly disadvantageous position to hold.

Which is why this Spring, I’m planting a garden.  Everyone needs something to fall back on…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Best Way To Scale Social Media? Use TV. And Vice Versa.

One of the biggest complaints about Social Media is how difficult it is to scale.  Sure, your Twitter feed may have a thousand followers, but aren’t those people likely to already be in your brand’s camp?  And what exactly do you do with them, besides, you know, be social about your brand and stuff?  It’s way too micro, too one-to-one.  It’s simply not scalable unless you happen to be that allegorical advertiser with a million monkeys typing on a million socially-networked Dell computers…

No, what’s scalable is aggregating a big, whomping audience around one cool, memorable thirty second TV spot.  Television is scalable–that’s long proven.

Unfortunately, those big, whomping audiences are increasingly rare in today’s hyper-proliferated media world.  People simply don’t gather in one place anymore.  But they’re doing that right now.  And they did it last Sunday.  The Winter Olympics and the recent Super Bowl have drawn huge television audiences.  One reason for this resurgence in the most traditional of mediums?  Social media.

In an article for Advertising Age, John Rash posits that one of the reasons why the Vancouver Olympics are drawing an audience that’s 25% larger than four years ago in Turin could be the effect of tweets and Facebook updates.  The “I got it first” nature of so many social network messages, particularly when they concern an event or a personality, can actually drive larger audiences to the television.  Given a reminder, lots of us would like to catch a glimpse of Lindsey Vonn’s downhill gold or Shaun White’s latest halfpipe innovation, thus re-aggregating an audience around specific events.  And it is better watching it on television, particularly if you have one of those HD big screens that had such huge price drops last Holiday season.

Events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics get everyone talking, but most advertisers don’t need everyone; they just need large like-minded groups.  Integrating and encouraging messages on social media that drive traffic to television events large or small can clearly serve that purpose.

Media scalability is still very much possible.  Chances are, you’ve been experiencing it personally these past few weeks.  It’s not about any one medium; it’s about integrating multiple mediums.

Want to aggregate an audience?  Aggregate your media messages.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Freakin’ Sweet: The 80’s Metal/Pop Mash Up of ROCK SUGAR

Back in the 80’s, I loved a single from rockabilly band Elvis Hitler titled “Green Haze.”  Basically that Detroit quartet sung the “Green Acres” theme song to a heavy metal rendition of “Purple Haze.”  Incredibly, the words scanned to the tune with spooky precision (hear that gem here).

I didn’t know it then, but that was my first introduction to the concept of the mash-up: a blend of two or more songs to create something simultaneously familiar and new.  Google “Music Mashups” and you will get almost a million and  a half hits outlining all sorts of DJ mixes and underground bootlegs.  The titles of the mixes usually clue you in to their content.  “Boulevard of Broken Songs” mixes Green Day, Oasis and Travis.  “Rapture Riders” blends Blondie and the Doors.  This genre is a direct byproducts of our digital age, as DJ’s use Sound Forge and other programs to create their own unique mixes and beats.

Which brings me, however circuitously, to Rock Sugar. Rock Sugar is a wonderfully hilarious fake band that combines the hair metal excess with the pop treacle of the artistically-barren 1980’s music scene.  The band’s website offers an involved backstory explaining how they came to develop their singular musical style.  Check out their video for “Don’t Stop the Sandman” which cross polinates Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”  Unlike DJ mixes, this hair metal band actually performs the music with all the overweening posturing of Poison in their heyday, and the result is nothing short of deliriously catchy and stupid.

So today, on a Hump Day that also signals the beginning of the Lenten season of abstinence for Catholics, take a minute to experience this wholly disposable exercise in musical silliness.  If you’re so inclined, download the album and pump your fist to instant classics like “Shook Me Like A Prayer” and “I Love Sugar On Me.”

It’s post modern, tech empowered, head banging musical lunacy.  And pretty freakin’ sweet to boot.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


You Might Not Understand Word Of Mouth Advertising, But Chances Are You Practice It

I’m a huge believer in word of mouth advertising.  The power of recommendation to close a sale makes the kind of intuitive sense that renders quantitative analysis expensively redundant.

Particularly when you read a story like the one printed in Section D of yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle.  It outlines how Facebook now directs more online users to content than Google does.  What they refer to as “friend-casting” information makes Facebook a huge force in directing the flow of web traffic, particularly to major portals like MSN and Yahoo.

This simply proves that when we make small talk on social media, we like to share what we’ve recently seen, read or heard (“The “My Sharona” guy from the Knack just died! http://nyti.ms/cuVwxD”).  And since we’re talking to friends who know our interests, we’re likely to click on those links (“Oh my gosh–I didn’t know his brother was Dr. Kervorkian’s lawyer!”).

This constant digital connectivity has created a modern world of easy, fast and omnipresent recommendation.  With a few clicks, we can get an opinion about that movie we’re considering, a review of that book we heard of, a friend’s experience at that hot new restaurant.

Facebook, as an increasingly frequent touchpoint of our every day, provides a very convenient marketplace to trade those thoughts and opinions.  All of which leads some pundits to predict that social media will become the internet’s next search engine.  Maybe, but I think social platforms operate slightly differently, as a conversational dialogue.

Google informs you about what you find interesting.

But Facebook informs you about what your friends find intersting.

That’s social.  And it drives an increasing amount of choices these days.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

With Thanks To Mr. Lincoln This Presidents’ Day

While hysterical anti-government types love to scream about the supposed sins of our sixteenth president (“He suspended habeus corpus!” “He tried to assassinate Jeff Davis!”  “He looked really tall in hats!”), I have no patience for that.  It is an admittedly dangerous business lionizing politicians or athletes or actors or pretty much any human being, but in my book, President Lincoln’s about as close to a true hero as people come.

Think about all he did and the horrific circumstances surrounding those triumphs.  No, most of us will never be in a position to establish the first paper currency, charter the first transcontinental railroad, proclaim emancipation or anything like that, but still: put yourself in his shoes and realize what that tall skinny farmer’s son accomplished through one of the darkest, most hate-filled periods of American history…

Ever bummed out by a setback? Lincoln lost not one but two separate runs for Senate.  When he finally earned the Presidency, he did so with only 39.8% of the popular vote and no support from a single Southern state.  In fact, they started seceding immediately after the election.

Ever have tough times at work? Abe’s workplace was at war…with itself.  That’s like an agency where the account people and the creatives argue with guns, knives and bombs.  This trouble isn’t happening between you and your competitors, it’s happening internally, right here at home.  What B-school degree prepares you for that?

Ever have to work with someone who publicly smacked you? Fighting to preserve the Union was heinous enough–but forgiving to preserve it was the true test of character.  When hostilities finally ended with the Surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln freed all 18,000 rebels who were arrested, save for one who was exiled. He openly and repeatedly encouraged Southerners to lay down their arms and join in the reunion.  Fighting can come easily, but forgiving is truly tough.

If you can make the time for it, read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.” It’s not exactly a beach read, but it is a deeply insightful and exhaustingly comprehensive glimpse of an extraordinary person struggling and succeeding mightily through extraordinary times.

Actually, that last part isn’t really true–if popular assessment is the measure, Lincoln didn’t achieve mightily in his lifetime.  But eventually he did.  So much so that 100 years after Congress declared Washington’s Birthday a Federal Holiday, a push from a group of American business spurred it to evolve into “President’s Day” specifically so it would include President Lincoln.

The business group behind this?  Advertisers.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79