The Universal Power of Surprise, Exhibit B: Imaginative Baby Snapshots

It’s hard to take a good snapshot of an infant.  They can barely hold their heads up and have a continual tendency to nod off, which inevitably squishes up their faces and spoils the picture.  If you want a good picture of a baby, you usually have to wait a while.  Like say, six months…

Which makes Adele Enersen’s photos all the more remarkable.  During her maternity leave in Helsinki, Adele created a project called “Mila’s Daydreams” which deftly and imaginatively addressed her newborn daughter’s limited range of expression.  These are some of her delightfully-inspired photographic images from that project, and you can find many more at her blogspot page.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Do babies dream?  Can they imagine colors and textures and whole new worlds when this one is still so new and unknown?  The real answer is probably dry and uninteresting; I far prefer Adele’s where paperplates become space helmets and blankets can be anything from elephants to skylines to surfing waves.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The Rise of this Misinformation Age

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Yes, This is a Facebook Group

I blame Y2K.

Or more specifically, the hysteria that built up over the moment the clocks would hit the first second of the year 2000.  At that point, every computer and microchip would…well, they would do something.  Something awful, something bad, something awful…bad. Pundits preached caution. Web firms sold protective software and patches.  Corporations and governments prepared for the worst…

Then nothing happened.

Real life flew in the face of every exalted expert, every network news designated authority, everyone we entrusted with our faith in the worst.  In the end, Y2K was a non-event.

Unfortunately, these types of non events seem to be on an upswing of late, spurred on by our voracious 24/7 appetite for news.  Just last week, the clean up effort in the Gulf was suspended due to the looming onset of Hurricane Bonnie; oil rigs were abandoned, crews evacuated.  But by the end of the week, Bonnie weakened considerably as it passed over Florida and by Saturday, the National Hurricane Center characterized it as ‘dissipated.’  Still, the dire predictions alone resulted in a 27% drop in Gulf crude-oil production and 10% in natural gas.

More amazingly, the New York Times reported yesterday that the oil slick itself appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected.  Apparently 80º seawater that bakes at 100º at the surface may have evaporated as much as 40% of the gushing light crude.  Combined with microbacterial degradation and the effects of all that chemical dispersant, the slick has largely disappeared.  That’s not to say we’re out of the woods and everything is snips and snails and puppy dog tails, but it bears remembering that less than two months ago on June 2, this same august organization reported that a nuclear option was being considered to stem the seemingly unstoppable flow.

People make mistakes.  Even experts can get it wrong.  And given the choice between measured rationality and fever-pitch hysteria, news outlets will always pick the latter.  After all, they’re in the business of selling newspapers and aggregating viewers.  Just think back to that Summer when killer pit bulls threatened every man, woman and child in America with their evil, pipe-snapping jaws, and ask yourself what happened? Suddenly those stories stopped.  Did the dogs suddenly stop biting people or was the threat exaggerated in the first place?

Our throughly wired, always on world now lurches from crisis to crisis, and our collective stomach linings grow progressively thinner with worry.  Almost all of us battle some sort of low-level anxiety regarding all these uncontrollable yet broadly publicized threats to our well being.  For weeks, I got two or three updates a day on the performance of the stock market until I finally realized how to opt out of these updates–they were making me nervous and I know next to nothing about financial markets.  Tom Petty got it right with his song “Crawling Back To You”: “MOST OF THE THINGS I WORRY ABOUT/NEVER HAPPEN ANYWAY.”

We live in an unparalleled information age.  And by the same measure, an unparalleled misinformation age.  And so the real advantage lies not with whomever can accumulate the most information, but whomever can curate the best information.

That’s a key skill for these dizzying times.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Mass Participation and the Propagation of Memes

As recently as twenty years ago, pop culture ideas used to last a few years: parachute pants, pet potbellied pigs, the Super Bowl Shuffle…  Over time, as communication platforms began to supersede regionality and even nationality, those lifespans began to shrink: think William Hung, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Dancing Babies…

Today, pop culture ideas have the lifespan of mayflies.  As fast as something interesting appears, it gets shared, modified, name-checked by celebrities, then tossed aside like an empty soda can.  These accelerated life cycles spring directly from the internet and how it simplifies the act of forwarding.  Just this morning, a friend of mine in Italy posted this remarkable two minute video to his Facebook page and I’ve already retweeted it from Element 79’s Twitter account.  Simply because it’s awesome.  Best as I can tell, it’s a two minute viral piece for Levi’s but that doesn’t matter–again, because it’s awesome.

Clay Shirky cites this incredible ease of sharing as the driving force behind our ability to organize without organizations.  People in one region can share local news with the whole world simply by pressing a computer key.  And so we now enjoy an endless series of unrelated comic memes like Double Rainbows and Trololo Man and Kia HamstersDennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

All of this is an incredibly long set up for a silly but highly-enjoyable website I tripped over this past weekend called “Motivated Photos.”  The entire site is dedicated to viewer submitted riffs on the classic “Successories” style of motivational poster: those pedantic images framed in black with atop two-sized serif font headlines set in white capital letters.  Except this site is less focused on inspirational platitudes and more inclined to smartassery like this, or this, or this.

Sure, the site features way too much political stuff and many of the posts are exceedingly puerile, but that’s what you get with user-generated content: 70% dreck, 20% good, 10%great.  You have to skim for the cream, but it’s definitely there.  And definitely funny.

Happy Tuesday.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The Final Nail in the Coffin of Digital Separatism

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingMaybe it’s the economy or the beleaguered nature of marketing in general, but the aggressive proclamations about a purely online future have died down over the past six months.  Perhaps there’s finally recognition that television is not dying as an advertising medium; any platform that earns 158 hours of attention each month cannot be dismissed as passe.  Hardly…

But neither is broadcast the entire answer, particularly given the ever-escalating costs of that investment and ongoing channel fragmentation.  So traditionalists who’ve kept their head in the sand over our evolving media world need to wake up fast.  Especially after those numbers-nutty statisticians at Nielsen released new data last week showing a direct correlation between video exposure both on TV and online and a tremendous increase in message effectiveness.

Focusing on direct-to-consumer drug advertising, the study proves the efficacy of integration and cross exposure in dramatic fashion.  Despite sounding like the most wonky of buzzphrases, “cross-platform media synergies” stands as the single greatest way to impact media effectiveness, particularly given the way we consume information.  Nielsen believes  TV has unparalleled influence early in the decision cycle,driving consumer awareness and interest, and creating desire.  The Internet then provides engaged consumers with more in-depth information about product specifics, along with opportunities for couponing and even the actual purchase.

The real lesson here is the same one we learned in grade school, the same one espoused by all sorts of religions: play well with others.

Some day we’ll actually take that one to heart…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Were Your Parents Ever Awesome?

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingOf course they were.  Dad wasn’t always the guy who came home at six and plopped down on the La-Z-Boy, reading the paper until dinner was ready…  And your Mom didn’t grow up dreaming she’d be a scold, reminding you to wear a sweater or pull on your galoshes or turn down the music…

Time is the most relentless force in the universe; all things in nature bow before its inexorable path.  Including us.  And our parents.

Which is why on this Friday, just for a moment, I encourage you to go to this charming site.  Go and remind yourself that if you were lucky enough to have one or two adults raise you, they didn’t start out as parents.  They were just young men and women with their own youthful energy, youthful dreams, and of course, ill-considered youthful fashion missteps.

It’s easy to dismiss whimsical sites like this (or this) as ironic smart assery.  And yet they serve to remind us of what we share between generations, what we hold dear inside our ever-young memories, even as the photos offer a chance to grin at the folly of youth in 1982.  And 1975.  And 1968.  They facilitate connection.

We never can know our parents as equals, and that distance probably helps them shape us into better human beings.  But every now and then, it’s fun to see what they looked like when they were kids and imagine what they held dear, back before we knew them and more critically, back before they knew us.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Swing and a Miss: The Fascinating World of Failed Breakfast Cereals

Somewhere, sometime, some brand manager saw some idea–something that from our distant objective viewpoint stands as an obviously lousy concept–and thought: “this is gonna be big.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingAt least, you hope someone did.  Otherwise, there’s absolutely no explanation for General Mills’ Sir Grapefellow, Ralston Urkel-o’s, or Sugar-Frosted KISS Krunch.

Web Urbanist has a hilarious post that showcases dozens of these odd cereal ideas.  Given that grocery store cereal aisles contain more brands and varieties than any other, it stands to reason they would have some misses over the years.  But wow, some of those duds have been spectacular.

Packaged goods rely on product innovation and line extensions to drive new growth, but sometimes those extensions are a bridge too far.  I’ve worked on meat and cheese toaster pastries for Oscar Mayer (“It’s like a a bologna Pop Tart™!”), peddled an alkaline battery marketed specifically for Walkmans (distinguished only by it’s label which, unfortunately, no one sees once you insert them in the device) and like everyone else selling beer in the early 90’s, developed work for every permutation of dry/draft/ice imaginable.

Business thrives on new ideas.  Posts like these that showcase the wreckage of brand failures left smoking and charred along the superhighway of American commerce serve as powerful reminders that business really thrives on great ideas.

Speaking of which, one kids’ cereal idea I presented that horrified my General Mills client but I know would fly off the shelves was “Dinosaur Toes™”–puffy cereal tubes stuffed with gooey fruit centers.  If anyone has access to large scale manufacturing and distributing, drop me a line and let’s talk


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Creativity: It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

The only quote about advertising I’ve ever committed to memory that wasn’t uttered by Bill Bernbach is this wonderful thought from the late Jay Chiat: “Creative is not a department.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Creativity in the Wild: A Bowerbird Nest

Creativity should never be the sole provence of one group.  Some of us were lucky enough to grow up with teachers and parents telling us we are creative.  That simple encouragement can open a child’s imagination.  At the same time, not hearing that, or worse, being told you definitely are not creative, inevitably leads to restriction, to setting governors on expectations, even for ourselves.  That’s no way to live.

Creativity is the fun part of life.  It’s the chocolate sprinkles, the fresh daisies in a canning jar, the grin-inducing scribbles in the margins of daily life.

And if you believe Harvard Ph.D.’s, it’s also a necessary skill for thriving in our modern times.  This Huffington Post article by Shelley Carson outlines her overview on the many ways she thinks creativity has become more crucial to all of us.  In many ways, her thesis echoes Daniel Pink’s from his wonderful book “A Whole New Mind.”

Business people should need no more evidence than today’s Apple’s earnings report.  Driven by the phenomenal success of their new iPad, they were able to report their most successful financial quarter in the company’s history.  And what is the iPad?  It’s a tablet computer, but those already existed.  It doesn’t have any USB ports or a camera and it famously doesn’t support Flash.  But it is beautiful.  In the words of the toy industry, “it has exceptional play value.”  In other words, in a world of electronic devices, the iPad takes a far more creative approach to function.  And they’ve been rewarded handsomely.

The best part about increasing our emphasis on creativity is that it just makes life more interesting.  And frankly, that’s a worthy goal for any human being.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


In A World of Empowered Word of Mouth, Customer Service Is Crucial

It just makes sense.  As DDB CEO Chuck Brymer put it in his book “SWARM”: “These days, if you have a bad experience at a Burger King, 147 FaceBook friends know about it in five minutes.”  Our ubiquitous social networks allow us, and even encourage us, to share our positive and negative experiences.  Of course, being humans, we’re less inclined to share satisfaction and far more inclined to share outrage.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingNow, as is our wont in this industry, someone has gone out and empirically proven this obvious truth.   American Express just released their Global Customer Service Barometer which claims that 91% of Americans consider the level of customer service important when choosing a company to patronize.  Further, they will spend an average of 9% more on companies they believe provide exceptional service.

The bad news is that 28% say that companies pay less attention to good service these days.  And the way people determine how customer friendly a company is?

  1. Personal experience (98%)
  2. Company’s reputation or brand (92%)
  3. Recommendations from friends and family (88%)

Those are classic word of mouth drivers.  Most brands consider this discipline when they’re thinking 360º marketing, but the truth is, no brand can actually afford all 360º.  We’d serve our brands well by moving WOM up to degree #2.

Or risk customers giving us the third degree.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


A Devastatingly Accurate Graphic Representation of Retweeting on Twitter

It takes a few months of playing around on Twitter to get a handle on all the hashtags, the follow Fridays and other arcania of the platform.  Candidly, I’m still largely ignorant of its master level details.

But I stumbled upon this visual depiction of retweeting that somehow manages to both inform and pass judgment.  Like all great design, it is both simple and elegant.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Graphic by HmnCntpd


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

follow us on Twitter: @element79