As The Blackhawks Enter The Finals This Weekend, More Than The Stanley Cup Is On The Line

The Stanley Cup represents a massive achievement in hockey.  It comes only at the end of the most grueling and long playoff season in professional sports where a few missteps can eliminate even a hugely talented team.  Think about it–while we’re enjoying the sun this Memorial Day Weekend, that team will still be grinding it out in the manufactured chill of a hockey arena–that goes against nature…

But there’s one other goal waiting at the end of this series, should the Hawks prevail: endorsements.  Sure, they are all pros and huge competitors, so they probably do not allow themselves to think of that yet, but if they take home the cup, all sorts of companies, big and small, will be calling agents and managers, trying to wrangle appearances and endorsement deals.  For a sport as regularly ignored as professional hockey, this can be a wonderful thing for the athletes.

Proof?  Check out this vintage gem with the Golden Jet below:


Have a lovely Memorial Day Weekend and of course, Go Blackhawks!


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Numbers Without Context Mean Nothing

Did you know the size of the US Debt is closing in on thirteen trillion dollars?  And now that you know that, does that mean anything to you?  Probably not.  Numbers on such an astro-physical scale have a numbing sameness.

But the, when someone goes on to say that to pay the debt, all 308, 442, 403 Americans would each have to cough up $42, 128.81, well, then it starts to ring home just how in hock we are.

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis Ryan

THAT'S how big the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is...

Context is critical to understanding data.  Which is why I’m a sucker for a good info graphic.  Yesterday, I found a website that showed the size of the oil spill off Louisiana by projecting it over the geography of twelve major US cities.  For some reason, this site skipped Chicago but a link makes it simple to use Google Earth and create your own relative impact map over whatever geography you choose.

What no photo of oil-slicked water and no description of a broken pipe spilling can convey, this graphic can.  Powerfully and memorably.  Even with so vast an impact, the context is personal. And that makes all the difference.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Parenting, Mirroring, and Passing on Geeky Tendencies to Children

When I was a kid, the anti-smoking PSA “Like Father, Like Son” seemed to run constantly.  A Dad and his boy spend an easy Saturday together, painting the house, washing the car, skipping stones, and everything the man does, his little towhead tries to do as well, right up to the moment they sit down under a tree and he reaches for a smoke.

I don’t have a son, but we do have two girls.  And last night, as I watched them while their Mom went to book club, I sat on our bed, tweaking this blog.  My ten year old brought the family laptop in and sat down next to me.  She noodled a bit then asked if she could write a blog entry too.  About a year ago, she saw me doing this and asked to start her own.  So I found the page for her, helped her set up a post, then went back to work.  And so did she.

Like most kids, she’s not a particularly dedicated journalist, still her subject matter (chinchillas, Benihana onion volcanos) perfectly reflects the rangy interests of an elementary schooler.  Last night, she wrote an entry about school and her teacher, Ms. Feldman…

Dennis Ryan Chicago Advertising Element 79


Hmm…I better get going.  I gotta do some cancer research, work on improving crop yields in third world nations, and try to get my mile time under four and a half minutes…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The City of Chicago Is Going Blackhawks Crazy! More Proof Of TV’s Incredible Influence

It’s still fashionable in some circles to dance on television’s grave, despite that medium’s ongoing domination in daily reach and time spent.  All sorts of research companies and think tanks have banks of data about television’s ongoing relevance even in our web-driven world, but frankly, the most visceral example to me came as the Blackhawks swept San Jose to earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis Ryan

Somebody Buy This Defenseman A Milkshake!

Despite being one of the original six, the Hawks have the longest drought between championships in all the NHL.  The last time they made it to the Finals was 1992 when they ran into the juggernaut of Scotty Bowman’s Redwings.  This year, they have Scotty’s son Stanley in their own front office but more than that, they have the power of TV broadcasting spreading the excitement.  And that makes all the difference.

In 2007, owner Bill Wirtz finally ditched his longtime policy of not broadcasting Blackhawks home games.  He defended that policy by claiming that airing home games would cheat ticket-buying fans.  Of course, from his businessman’s perspective, Wirtz’s real concern was lower attendance at the gate; wouldn’t people just watch at home if they could?

The real longterm effect of that policy was that as cable expanded and television coverage grew ever more effective with the advent of HD, the Hawks lost a generation, or perhaps two, of potential fans. Perhaps they wouldn’t buy tickets every night, but more would buy, if they cared.

Now, building off some amazing Blackhawks’ play for the Canadien and US teams in the Olympics’ Gold Medal final, and a strong finish and to the regular season and increasing excitement through the playoffs, people are jumping on the Hawks bandwagon.  Despite ongoing challenges like unspellable names (“Toews” or “Byfuglien” anyone?), the familiarity made possible through TV’s incredible reach has rallied the city behind a franchise we’ve long ignored.

Admittedly, I’m one of those Johnny-come-lately’s that long-suffering, there-through-the-thin-years fans view with skepticism…or worse.  But think of it this way: I grew up outside of Philadelphia during the era of the infamous Broad Street Bullies.  And they could be coming to town this weekend.

But let’s all be perfectly clear: Chicago is four wins away from their first Stanley Cup since 1962, but that should never be described as ‘just’ four wins away.  Go Hawks!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The 9th Annual AICE Awards and A Big Thank You To All Our Editorial Partners

Last night, the AICE–the Association of Independent Creative Editors–held their 9th Annual Awards Show at the Field Museum.   Optimus Editor Craig Lewandowski took home the “Best of Chicago” award for a spot he cut for our client Cricket Wireless.  It’s a lovely brand spot, showing how the “Respect” theme pervades a modern city, with more and more people picking up the signal that Cricket and their no contract, fixed rate offering has become the best value in wireless.

It’s typical for advertising creatives to single out the work of a director: directors are at the center of any production, making a thousand and one decisions that impact the look and feel of the spot.  Directors serve as the final arbiter of what will appear before their lens and how.  Successful directors inevitably become brand names in the industry.

And yet in most cases, it’s the far less heralded editor that determines any production’s impact.  More spots have been lost in edit than in production.  Pacing, storytelling, tone: the editor sets it all, frame-by-frame with every cut, every fade, every shot selection.  And they do it with the further burden of direct collaboration with the agency–and often the client team.  Not only must they excel at their craft, they must master persuasion, diplomacy and tact to really drive their creative achievements.

All of which makes editing a singularly challenging job.  In my career, I’ve been very fortunate to work with some spectacularly gifted editors.  Last night, the AICE honored the relentlessly creative and affable Craig.  Today, I’d like to thank every one of his peers who works with us to make things better.

We all have our opinions, but in the end, we truly succeed when you have the final cut.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

When Good Intentions Lead To Bad Design

Look, I’ll cop to it right off the top: I think the International Olympic Committee is comprised of spoiled, pretentious ne’er-do-wells and hypocrites who posture about global harmony as they puts cities around the world through all sorts of demanding, self-indulgent histrionics as each vies to win the ‘honor’ of hosting an event that will inevitably bankrupt their civic coffers.  But hey, that’s just me…

The Olympic Spirit itself, as first outlined by that French dreamer Pierre de Coubertin, actually is a wonderful celebration of shared humanity and cooperative goodwill.  And it is that notion of ‘shared humanity’ that inevitably does find it’s way into the games, despite the hyper-commercialization and the partisan judging.

Starting with the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, Olympic host cities introduced mascots–critters emblematic of each locale with a hopefully global appeal.  To encourage universality, they are never human since we would inevitably assign them a race, and thus compromise their universality.  So we’ve met jaguars and dachsunds, beavers and bears, eagles and tigers.  All was fine, until the Atlanta Summer Games of 1996 introduced us to “Izzy”–an amorphous, computer generated…thing.  And we’ve been on a slippery downhill slope ever since.

Chicago Advertising Element 79 Dennis RyanWhich leads to these two unfortunates; the London 2012 Summer Game Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville.  Despite their slapdash hideousness, a team of well-intentioned designers slaved over their creation, as witnessed by this post which explains the meaning behind their various design details (ex: they each have one eye, not to reference some homicidal, Cyclopean giant released from the pit of Tartarus, but rather to exemplify ‘focus.’  Seriously.).  It’s hard to imagine something could supplant the recent Tropicana misfire as so readily emblematic of god-awful design, but these truly do.  The creative team’s conscientious desire not to offend has led to these mystifying, unapproachable playthings that are inherently offensive; looking at them, you can’t help but feel there must be something you don’t get, some meaning behind their aggressive oddity.

Please.  Let’s give design back to the designers.  Let’s take off the committee handcuffs and look to be inspired.  Too many cooks ruin the soup.  And Wenlock.  And Mandeville.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Facebook Privacy Settings Confusing You? There’s an App for That.

Of course there is.  There’s an app for damn near everything.  So given the rising chorus of complaints over Facebook changing it’s privacy settings with the onset of Open Graph, it’s only natural that someone would step into the breech with a digital solution.

That someone is, a shareware app written by a JavaScript developer who takes his own online privacy seriously, hiding his name and only offering that his full-time gig is running Olark: a lightweight app for websites that provides online chat capabilities.  On Reclaim Privacy’s simple page, they publish their full privacy policy:

“Our privacy policy is not long:

  • we never see your Facebook data
  • we never share your personal information”

Impressive.  Anyway, once you drag the app to your browser menubar, you open Facebook’s privacy settings then run the program.  Using a simple Red-Yellow-Green warning system, it suggests where you might want to change your settings.  The whole process is remarkably easy.  And reassuring, even if the cow is already out of the barn, so to speak.

Facebook has been under withering scrutiny lately as people rebel against founder Mark Zuckerberg’s silly statement that ‘privacy is no longer a social norm.’  He’s right, but he’s a fool for announcing that.

But 400 million Facebook members who don’t understand that nothing is free in this world and that hosting the world’s largest social party runs up enormous costs are being equally foolish, or at least willfully ignorant.  Facebook’s only asset is data, data we all agreed to sign over when we signed up.  For an insightful assessment of Facebook’s privacy follies, read this article B.L. Ochman wrote for Advertising Age.

If marketers learn anything from Zuckerberg’s troubles, it should be the singular value heavy web users place on transparency.  Because that can be so easily abused.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Esperanto of Bad Ideas

Great ideas travel far and fast.  Unfortunately, so do awful ones.  Today, with the onset of Negative Media–consumer driven backlash empowered by Web 2.0–advertising ideas that fall into that unfortunate latter category are no longer even limited by geography.

Witness these two screen grabs from recent-ish ads for Enterprise Car Rental.  I’ve been frustrated with this advertiser for years, for the reason you see in the vidcaps.  Inevitably, their ad opens on a helpless woman who stands in a car repair shop beneath a large white sign with two foot high black letters that spell out “Repair Shop.”

Now I’ve liked cars for a long time, and bought my first one long before I could buy anything decent, so I have spent a decent amount of time with mechanics.  And in over three decades of driving, I’ve never seen a sign like that hanging from the rafters of a garage.  It is there solely because the advertiser considers us to be mouth-breathing morons, incapable of recognizing the location, despite the steaming engines and hydraulic lifts.  I bet this inanity first started as a super placed over a badly-drawn animatic frame the client sent into testing.  Then, when the piece received an acceptable action score, an overzealous brand manager insisted that the commercial match the animatic exactly, right down to the pasted-in super.  Like so many other offensively idiotic ideas, this foolishness has a stubborn staying power, kind of like “American Idol.”

So I thought I’d air my little grievance with this brand on the blog.  Remarkably, despite these hyper-documented times, I couldn’t find a video copy of any of the Enterprise spots on the web.  That might indicate that even the advertiser realizes their ads amount to little more than blights on the culture, but probably not.  However, in searching, I stumbled across this Enterprise ad from the United Kingdom.

As you can see, idiocy speaks an international language, albeit with localized spelling.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79