Harris Bank, The Chicago Blackhawks and the Joys of Postseason Production

Saturday night, the Vancouver Canucks come down to Chicago to kick-off the Western Conference semi-finals at the United Center.  Last year, the Blackhawks took this same series in six.

The timing couldn’t be better for Harris Bank, which has been a long-standing supporter of both the Hawks and the Bulls.  A couple of months back, hopeful that they would be making just this kind of running for Lord Stanley’s cup, we produced two Blackhawks themed ads for Harris’ “We’re Here to Help” campaign.  The Blackhawks did their part by winning the Central Division crown—their first division title in seventeen years.

Spots like this are a joy to make–you have a local location shoot in the main branch, you have the civic pride angle,  and you have a chance to produce something particularly timely.  It wasn’t a big budget, but it didn’t have to be: the Blackhawks promised us two players and we’d work with whomever they sent over.  Projects like these present a simple, honest challenge; as Charlie Chaplin wrote in his autobiography, “All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.”  Replace ‘park’ with ‘bank lobby,’ ‘policeman’ with ‘teller’ and ‘pretty girl’ with ‘bruising two way defenceman’ and that pretty much summed up the challenge for art director Lih Min Yuan, writer John Barry and producer Ali Dolan.  Working with the incredibly capable teams over at Resolution Digital Studios, they shot during business hours, juggling the constraints necessitated by bank security and NHL players closing out their regular season schedule.

Here’s hoping everything work out as well for Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and company as it did for us.  Go Hawks!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Platform May Be Interesting, But The Idea Still Determines If You Care

So we just had the wonderful opportunity to announce that our client Cricket is now nationwide.  After starting as a regional cellular company ten years ago, they are  now in all fifty states.  Better still, they relentlessly focus on value, driving costs down to provide unlimited coverage for low flat rates.  To us, that’s treating people with respect.

Given the cutthroat competition and huge spend in the wireless category, the client asked us to try to create disruption with our outdoor announcing this news.  So we teamed up with the clever people at Monster Media and created interactive walls and mobile units that encouraged people to play a simple “Simon” like memory game to drive home the point that we are now in all fifty states.  Gaming seemed a natural fit given that 83% of the US population already plays games online.

The result is “Man vs. Map.”  It’s ‘Interactive Media,’ it’s ‘Experiential Marketing,’ it’s ‘Buzz Generating.’  And if you watch this clip from the local Denver news, it’s clear someone clued in their news readers with those buzzwords because they say them with an air of practiced archness.  When the local ten o’clock anchor all but puts air quotes around phrases like “non-traditional advertising,” perhaps it’s time we admit that our industry lingo has jumped the shark.

Because more than being emblematic of some emerging media platform, these screens are just fun.  “Man vs Map” is a simple game with a purpose that spurs engagement and gets people talking.  And texting.  And tweeting.

Which probably explains why we’re now looking to take it Online and Social.

Oh man, I just jumped the shark two more times…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

If There Isn’t A Market, Make One: Presenting the Entirely Unnecessary Carstache

Ridiculous car accessory?  Or must have it item of the season?  The Carstache™ falls into that special marketing hinterland occupied by Pet Rocks and pretty much the entire Ron Popeil inventory.  I would try to explain it, but instead, here’s the pitch straight off the Carstache™ website:

Carstache™ is the global leader in automotive facial hair, delivering the industry’s most luxurious in car mustaches.

We made Carstache™ purely because we think it’s funny and it makes people smile. No other reason. When people see a Carstache™ on the streets they laugh, wave, thumbs-up, fist pump, gun flex, wink wink, kiss kiss, you name it.

Some of you will rock Carstaches on a day to day basis, and for that you are awesome. For most, though, the Carstache™ is a sensational flare piece for events and special occasions like tailgates, birthdays, bachelor parties, Bar Mitzvah’s, Father’s Day, weddings, Halloween, Cinco-de-Mustache, etc… When you drive into a tailgate with a Carstache™ you get free beer, hot dogs, and high fives.

From the Hills of Hollywood to the Plains of Panama to the Alps of Awesometown, let it be known that the Carstache™ has arrived. Your car grille has been naked until now. It’s time to ‘stache up and feel the power!

Carstache™ car mustaches became available for retail purchase on April 12th, 2010. Carstache LLC is located in San Francisco, CA, and each Carstache™ is made right here in the USA.

Awesome is as awesome does…

~ Ethan at Carstache™

Well put.  Seriously.  You didn’t have to make it that interesting Ethan, but god bless you, you took the time and did.  May you sell boxcars of them.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

We Say “Networked” Only Because “Addicted” Sounds So Untoward

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis Ryan CCOIn his fascinating recent book The Tyranny of E-Mail, John Freeman describes e-mail as ‘our electronic fidget.’  Anyone with a smart phone will recognize the painful accuracy of his assessment.  You can find yourself glancing at your cell two or three times in the course of an average elevator ride.  Distraction has become our constant companion.

And now, a study just released by the University of Maryland’s International Center for Media & the Public Agenda concludes that college students are ‘incredibly addicted’ to media.  The study asked 200 students to give up all media for 24 hours.  That seemingly simple request required foregoing laptops and PC’s, the internet and Facebook, cell phones, texting and IM’s.  No TV, no radio, no newspapers.  Only direct, face-to-face conversations or something they’d probably never experienced in their semi-adult lives; quiet.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the students freaked.  In their post-deprival write-ups, they expressed an almost universal feeling of disconnectedness.  In other words, despite living amongst 35,000 students on the U of M campus, they felt alone.

Probing further, researcher and Ph.D. student Raymond McCaffrey, summed it up this way; “But most of all, they care about being cut off from that instantaneous flow of information that comes from all sides and does not seemed tied to any single device or application or news outlet.”

An SNL skit or the latest Wall Street numbers, a Taiwanese earthquake or the Blackhawks clinching, a friend’s Facebook status update or a groupon notice: it all comes through in an unbroken life stream that add interest and import and busy-ness to our daily lives.  It’s not simply news, it’s information of every stripe.  We’ve become omnivores to social media stimulation that is as addictive and habit-forming as any narcotic.

Speaking from personal experience, overcoming this one is gonna take a lot more than just twelve steps.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Yes, Brands Are Opinions, Even the Element 79 Brand

In today’s socially-networked, immediate-impact world, brands suffer when negative opinions spread unchecked.  When those negative opinions are unfounded or severely exaggerated, the damage can be massive (ask any ex-Bear Stearns employee about that one).

Because in today’s socially-networked, immediate-impact world, opinion trumps reality.  As soon as it forms, opinion spreads through mass viral channels like Facebook, Twitter and blogs.  And because it is opinion, it doesn’t require fact-checking.

Last week, I got a wake up call that this truth applies to our Element 79 brand as well.  In the finals of a new business pitch, a CEO mentioned that he Googled Element 79 and wondered when we were gonna merge with DDB?

We’re not.  Never were.  But due to a newspaper column written by a speculatively-inclined columnist for the Chicago Sun Times over fifteen months ago, that rumor popped up in our prospect’s search engine.  Worse, when I shared this anecdote with a few friends at other shops in town, they admitted hearing the same thing.  When the rumor mill, or at least irrelevant suppositions, can influence the outcome of new business, you’ve got trouble.

We’ve spent two years reinventing and rebuilding our agency.  And slowly, we’ve been regrowing.  Today we have about 110 people busy working to help our clients thrive during these tight times.  We want Cricket to leverage their national coverage into a leadership position for value innovation in wireless.  We want Supercuts to show the value of their affordable haircare so that if and when the economy turns better, people realize they don’t have to pay more to look good.

We want Amway to help people supplement their incomes and Central DuPage Hospital to be the first choice for superior healthcare — especially as they bring Illinois’ first Proton Therapy Center online this Summer.  And we want Harris to keep helping people realize how much better the right bank can be.

We also want to do big things for the half-dozen new clients we’ve brought in these past five months.  We want LasikPlus to show glasses wearers that this simple procedure can radically improve their lives quickly and safely.  We can’t wait for the private equity firm GTCR to launch their revamped website and concise brand story in May.  And we take inordinate pride in winning three new brands–Wolf Chili, Alexia, and Banquet–from our friends at ConAgra.

There’s an old adage about physicians taking their own medicine.  And so we’re also going to be taking some steps to clean up our online hygiene.

It wasn’t good news to hear.  But like criticism from a smart coach, it will make us better.  And that’s the daily goal.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


PS:  Michael Gabriel and Gus Gavino made the video above for a recent pitch.  Though we didn’t prevail there, the energy of this piece is just delightful.  The track is “100,000 Thoughts” by Tap Tap.

I Usually Only Post Monday-Friday, But…

This spam message was just too innovative.  Basically, this one’s angle was to call-me-out, barroom style, for a battle of wits.  Here’s the message:

You have thought up such matchless answer?
Only dare once again to make it!
In my opinion you are not right. I can defend the position. Write to me in PM, we will talk.
You are mistaken. I suggest it to discuss. Write to me in PM, we will talk.
It is an excellent variant


It is an excellent variant indeed.  And I’m tempted to write stirka7.ruzakiryacsfvak@mail.ru in the PM at his suggest it to discuss.

Then again, I have plans tonight, so I probably won’t.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Pure Joy: Coke Installs a Happiness Machine

This is, quite simply, the best extension of a soft drink brand idea that I’ve seen in years.  It is simple.  It is surprising.  And if it doesn’t make you smile, I’d suggest you head down to the animal shelter and play with puppies for a while to ease the burden of a constricted heart.  Because this is ineffably winning.

As John Barry wrote when he forwarded this link to me yesterday, “Isn’t this amazing?  You install it in one school and millions of people become aware of it.”

We live in wondrous times…  Happy Friday.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Awkward? Yes, But If It Makes Even One Person Feel More Positively About Element 79, So Be It

It’s an odd thing, looking at yourself on video.  Odd and awkward.  I look at myself in this clip and can only think that if I had arthritis, I wouldn’t be able to talk.

This video just went up on the New York Festivals website today.  I was extremely flattered to be interviewed some months back, along with the redoubtably awesome Todd Crisman. Interactive Group Creative Director.  The two of us spent an hour talking to Gayle Seminara-Mandel, the Director of Media Relations for the New York Festivals and from that, they produced this piece.

If you do watch, you’ll see lots of hand gestures and hear lots of opinions on advertising from me, but far more importantly, you’ll experience a taste of the magic that is Todd Crisman.  Todd is one of the reasons why showing up to work each day and actually getting paid to sell things on behalf of our clients feels like such a privilege.  And he’s one of about a hundred people at Element 79 who make me feel that way.

Sure, it’s fun to grouse that this ad agency sucks or that one is full of hacks, but I imagine most people in the advertising business feel the same way about the people in their shop.  The work can be very challenging–pleasing people always is–but in the end, the people in the trenches beside you as you try to get  that work done make it uniquely rewarding.

Personally, I’m fond of and grateful for the people at Element 79.  I hope you feel as fortunate with the people at your place.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  Herkimer IS a very good fromage.  You can quote me on that.

Even If They’re Right, They’re Wrong. And Hurting Themselves.

I wrote about the wildly-popular Hitler YouTube meme last October.  The joke is simple: you simply add subtitles over Hitler’s rant in the powerful film Downfall to address whatever current event you choose; the more jarringly banal, the better.  For the past few years, it has been lovely, lovely fun to see Bruno Ganz’ compelling performance repurposed to address everything from NFL games to the Twilight films.

But not anymore.

According to all sorts of internet sources, from TechCrunch to MoviefoneConstantin Film–the German Studio behind the 2004 Academy Award nominated movie–decided to take action against these parodies, claiming copyright infringement.  They argue that the footage is their content, therefore they have the right to block it’s posting, even in these altered forms.

Speaking from direct, personal experience, this is a foolishly shortsighted decision.  The film was released in German, it’s six years old, it has no Hollywood stars and did very little American box office.  And yet thanks to this meme, tens of millions of viewers have experienced Ganz’ hypnotic performance and the note-perfect tension of the large actor ensemble, thus keeping the movie alive.  How many people saw a clip or two and added Downfall to their Netflix cue?  How many people picked up a copy at Blockbuster?

Or better still, how many people actually went out and bought the DVD like I did?

This meme is the best audience-expanding marketing tactic the filmmakers could have hope for.  Simply put, it sells copies and drives rentals.  Constantin Film’s oddly-delayed but still knee jerk reaction shows a tin ear to the circumstances of the perceived infringment (advocates contend the clips are actually protected as works of parody).  Director Oliver Hirschbiegel agrees, referring to the phenomenon in interviews by saying he “couldn’t get a better compliment as a director.”

This fracas perfectly illustrates content-providers’ struggle with the evolving nature of control in a marketplace, or at least a social space, controlled by consumers.  Used to the total control afforded by one-way communication, adapting to the vagaries and inconsistency of two-way forums proves truly challenging, to both brand managers and their legal counsel alike.  They all wrestle with this one basic issue: “How much control do you allow?”

Or more to the point, “How much control will you accept?”

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Imagination, Recycling, and Sustainability: Brian Marshall’s Adoptabots

Dennis Ryan, Element 79 Chicago AdvertisingIf we were to be truly honest, most of us would admit that recycling is crushingly boring.  Well-intentioned?  Sure, but the process can be so overweening.

And yet every now and then, someone comes along with a take on recycling that is actually more like reinvention.  Brian Marshall is one of those someones.  Brian creates ‘bots’–little anthropomorphic sculptures fashioned from the effluvium of modern living: cast off Polaroids, old appliance knobs, oil cans and other post-industrial waste.  He imbues each of his smile-inducing creations with a surplus of personality that will make you look at bent forks and mismatched gears in a totally new way.

That’s the greatest gift of a rich imagination: the ability to see in new ways, to offer new insights, to expand expectations into new and intriguing places.  That can lead to something as life-changing as a medical breakthrough, or something as simple as a desktop trinket that makes you smile every time you look at it.  The raw power of imagination can do so much with so little.  And that’s perhaps the most sustainable notion of all.

Visit Brian’s Flickr photo stream here or review his latest wares at his etsy site here.

One man’s trash truly can be another man’s treasure.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79