Industry-Sponsored Study Finds Digital Outdoor Boards Don’t Pose Traffic Hazard

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79Earlier this month, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America released a study they commissioned from Tantala Associates which concluded that digital billboards do not affect traffic safety.  The research spanned eight years and nearly 35,000 accidents in Reading, PA where over 230 million cars pass these billboards each year.

According to the report, “The overall conclusion of the study is that digital billboards in the greater Reading area have no statistically significant relationship with the occurrence of accidents.”

Had the conclusions been different, we might never have seen this research (or this press release) but as it stands, it corroborates similar studies in Cleveland, Rochester, and Albuquerque.  All of which bodes well for the industry given that digital billboards are brighter, easier to update, and more profitable since they can carry multiple messages from multiple advertisers.  And all sarcasm aside, I truly believe this shiny update of a classic format improves the quality of advertising without causing any traffic problems.  In fact, given how eye-catching these can be, they would actually make traffic safer…

–because when they’re looking at this cool billboard, drivers would have to stop texting.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


An Emerging Super Low Low Price Ad Platform: Online Comments

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingI was reading an interesting if rather obvious article on MediaPost about research which concluded that given a choice, a third of teens would “unfriend” their parents on Facebook (yeah, I feigned incredulous shock at that myself). Beyond just how prevalent this kind of high-interest/simple science posting has become on the web, I couldn’t help noticing a comment on the piece from Douglas Ferguson of the College of Charleston which read: “I guess this explains why Scoop is rumored to be the new Facebook” followed by this link.

Not having heard of Scoop and somewhat curious, I followed the link and read about this new online sharing platform that sounds like a point-by-point duplication of Facebook, albeit with lots of window-dressing talk about “mobile/social app”: a distinction which apparently is enough to earn it the mantel “The Next Facebook.”

Of course, in the comments section below this post, someone named “David Prentice” added another long-winded, marginally-relevant note: “One way to retain your privacy on Facebook is to CLOAK your messages which makes sure that Facebook can’t read them.  You still use Facebook as normal but protect your privacy, by CLOAKing those parts of your messages you want to keep private. Neither Facebook nor its advertising partners know what you’re writing about.  Pick a keyword, select the Facebook message you want to keep private, CLOAK it and send. Only people you’ve shared your keyword with can then read that message.”

The upper case-inclined Mr. Prentice goes on to list links to free downloads, online tools and demos, meaning he is either a relentlessly helpful advocate for this product–which is possible–or he’s got a vested interest.  My suspicions tend toward the latter.

Between these comments and the relentless flood of pornography and online pharmacy spam that Askimet constantly filters from this website, it’s clear lots of people use a simple process of Googling then comment posting to sell all sorts of goods and services.  It only costs time, and entrepeneurs are always willing to put in that investment.

But like anything else, just being there isn’t enough.  These comment pitches may be free, but to be effective at all, they need the right balance of content and context.

You know, like all good advertising.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The New Facebook Places Logo? None Too Subtle

Who doesn’t love a well-designed logo?  Really, when done well, logos are a wonderful exercise of concise creativity, of suggestion and clarity.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingA few years back, my brother retired as a Naval aviator and a few years later, joined Federal Express.  I always liked Federal Express–the legend of Fred Smith’s “C” from Yale when he first floated the idea, the hilarious television commercials from BBDO, and that bold, graphic blue and orange logo.  What I never noticed until my brother pointed it out, was the arrow hidden in the negative space between the “E” and the “X.”  What a lovely, subtle touch.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingFor much the same reason, I love the Big 10 logo that was introduced back in 1990 when Penn State joined the conference.  Of course, the Nittany Lions make the actual count eleven, but no one wanted to go around saying “Big Eleven” when “Big Ten” had so much history and sounded so much better…not to mention, it is so wonderfully metric.  As a solution, their clever logo designers hid the number “11” in the negative space.  Again, lovely and subtle.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

But really, the whole notion of subtlety went out the window when Facebook, the 900 pound gorilla of the internet, decided to get into the location app business with Facebook Places.  Facebook Places is one of those ‘innovations’ that people with no sense of privacy or boundaries think is pretty cool, much like the stalker/home burglar favorite app “Foursquare.”   Look, I admit I’m wildly out of synch on this one because candidly, once I leave work and my clients, I can relate to Superman’s notion of his Fortress of Solitude.  I only want to be with my wife and girls and dog and thus far, far away from work and responsibility.  So I never will activate Facebook Places-that’s just not my thing.  But it’s a very big thing for Facebook, simply because Facebook is itself a very big thing.  And so Facebook Places represents nothing short of a deathknell for Foursquare which, while leading the entire notion of geolocating and creating wonderfully engaging tags and recognition for it’s most dedicated players, simply lacks the sheer, subscription heft of a behemoth like Facebook.  Which is why I think it’s fascinating that, underneath the point of the pick-like ‘locator’ in the Facebook Places logo, a very distinct “4” lies visible on the map.

Coincidence?  Oh I don’t think so.  Something like this is too considered, too laden with import for something accidental to bubble to the surface.  That’s definitely no accident.

That’s an agenda.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


A Little Bit of Thursday Rah-Rah As You Create

Apparently, I’m a bit behind in getting to all the gems posted on the web’s 200,000,000 active blogs, so I missed this when a guy named Bre Pettis posted it back in March of 2009. It’s an energetic advocation to just do it, and while I can’t say I agree with it entirely–for instance, I’m a huge believer in iterative editing–it gets an awful lot right.  With no little sense of irony, Bre himself notes that he and his collaborator Kio Stark cranked out this list in twenty minutes, basically because that’s all the time they had.

Indeed, done IS the engine of more.  Here’s hoping you get lots done on this August Thursday.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Vampires = $7B Hollywood Business…Yet Testing Never Predicted That

The Hollywood Reporter posted an item today which claims that stories about the blood-sucking undead have grossed roughly seven billion dollars across all mediums over the past two years.  According to their projections, the numbers breakdown to roughly three billion for film, 1.6 billion for books, 1.2 billion for TV and DVD’s, 600 million for merchandising, and another 600 million under the catchall ‘other.’  Bela Lugosi would be so proud…

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79And yet for all the runaway success of Stephanie Meyer, HBO’s True Blood, and even Vampires Suck, no advertising testing methodology predicted the massive impact on the economy that these tales would create.  Neither ASI, LINK, nor any other putative resource alerted marketers to the potential of these storylines.

Defenders of these kinds of tools say that’s not their purpose–these methodologies can only predict the market success of stimulus placed before them, but to me, that’s the very flaw that makes brand management’s blind faith in these products so disheartening.  If I were going to make an annual investment of hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in testing research, I’d demand a better product.  I’d demand something truly useful instead of something that’s merely a high-priced means of minimizing my own career risks.  Qualitative testing can be a very helpful tool for determining generalities and guidelines for our advertising efforts, but as a predictive tool, it’s a complete and utter failure.  And quantitative testing is about as worthwhile as casting rune stones; it may make you feel better but it has precious little practical value.

The timeless advertising sage Bill Bernbach warned the industry against this kind of thing with his admonishment “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”  Persuasion demands originality, it thrives on surprise, and yes, the simple quality of an execution can radically enhance an idea, even a banal one.

And like a vampire, the thing about great persuasion is you never see the sucker coming.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


In A Culture Of Infinite Choice, Surprise Is A Distinct Asset

Walk through your grocery store and try to count the amount of cereals. Or soft drinks. Or soup flavors. Go to your shopping mall and you’ll find not just a Foot Locker, but a Lady Foot Locker as well. It’s next to the Relax the Back store.  We rarely think about the privileges and rewards of rampant capitalism but chief among them is choice. At times, all that choice can actually become paralyzing because for some, infinite options encourage ongoing perusal rather than selection.

All of this came roaring to mind when I tripped over the work of Trixie Delicious, a New Zealand vendor who posts her wares on Etsy.  Ms. Delicious creates a unique, distinctly post-modern kind of pop art, taking vintage china and tweaking it by over printing outrageous commentary atop the classic flowers and filigree. Her simple work thrives on the startling juxtaposition of the sweet and safe with the baldly profane. It startles. It surprises. It made me laugh outright at least twice.

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

We live in an age of mash-ups. Music, art, movies, fashion–with the sheer volume of archived creativity, a huge amount of new ideas comes from combining dissonant visions in outrageous ways.  Thirty years ago, we would have lacked the common cultural references to get the irony, but now that Google averages over two billion searches every day, knowledge is cheaper than ever.

And so, due to its increasing rarity and transience, surprise has become far more valuable.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


This Is My Ten Year Old’s Favorite Rockstar…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising–yet she couldn’t pick him out of a line-up.

His name is Parry Gripp and he’s one month away from turning forty three. He had some middling success with a West Coast punk pop band called Nerf Herder.  And he uploads a new song every week to his website and YouTube channel, most of which are inspired by internet memes.

For the past two decades, Parry’s plied his affably daft, post-modern vein of wit and whimsy, long on pop culture arcania and catchy hooks.  Now, with his increasing web success, his unique brand of absurdist bubble gum pop has spread like wildfire via word of mouth amongst the elementary school set.

And so after any day spent with her friends, my daughter comes home and surfs over to YouTube to check out their recommendations.  Lately, the vast majority of those have been Parry’s intentionally amateurish re-edits of popular video clip subjects like his masterful toe-tapper about cats flushing toilets, his madcap take on a chimpanzee riding a Segway, or his melancholy meditation on kids taking soccer balls to the face .  Every one of his good-natured videos features infectious singalong hooks, and so the kids spread his work faster than chicken pox.

Since he began uploading back in August of 2006, Parry has earned 40,675,647 upload views. His ditties can be downloaded as ringtones or on iTunes and Amazon.  And he invites everyone to join his list of nearly 72,000 YouTube channel subscribers.

About ten years ago when we started Element 79, a group of us developed an almost unhealthy obsession with this bit of Flash animated nonsense: “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” by the Buckwheat Boyz.  It was very silly, very catchy, and very 2002.

But this past Sunday morning, I heard at least two different Parry Gripp tunes, both of which could make viably silly musical updates for 2010.  First, is “Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom”–which celebrates adorable pets eating, and second is my daughter’s current favorite, “Fuzzy Fuzzy Cute Cute” which is almost Japanese in it’s manic, irrational celebration of all things adorable.

I’m sure you have better things to do today than to click on either of those links.  But if you like to smile, or simply wish Monday could feel more like Thursday, you might want to click away and spend three or four minutes tapping your toe to pure, grin-inducing, melodic bliss.

After all, there’s still a ten year old inside most of us.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


You’re Doing It Wrong: Botching the Beautiful Potential of Digital Marketing

The promise of online marketing–all that immediate access to the pertinent information you want, served up within a context of relevant content, targeting to dayparts and geographies–even climate conditions or news events–all that promise still exists.

Unfortunately, it exists in the same reality as miracle diet pills: a wonderful idea we have yet to realize.  Which may explain the dismal findings of a Zussi Research survey prepared for this weekend’s ad:tech London, a series dedicated to next generation digital marketing.  The key finding was that consumers consider most online ads ‘annoying’ and ‘ill-constructed.’  In comparison, they found traditional advertising more informative, entertaining and necessary.  Nearly 70 percent believed traditional advertising was relevant, compared with 45 percent for online.  Worse, among 25-34 year olds, that gap widens to 81 percent for traditional versus 53 percent for online.  And perhaps worst of all, annoyance over advertising on the web is twice as high online as offline; consumers say that digital ads represent a bigger unwanted distraction for them.

Whoops.  That wasn’t how it was supposed to go.Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79And yet it makes perfect sense.  Consumers don’t get caught up in platforms and communication methodologies: all that matters is relevance and engagement.  You can deliver that on a matchbook cover if you have the right idea.

The real reason behind this eye-opening reset of assumptions lies in execution.  Or more specifically, over-execution.  ComScore says the web was littered with a little over a trillion banner ads last year.  A trillion!  That’s 1,000,000,000,000: a Federal Government sized number.  You couldn’t count to that in a year.  And Facebook alone places more than 50 billion of those banners…each month.

Which means advertisers are foolishly substituting tonnage for quality.  Even the most ideal digital context can’t salvage a lame idea, not in a world where our greatest surplus is distraction.  And when advertisers resort to pop-ups, pop unders and other annoying tricks, they’re just driving away their potential market.

The promise of online marketing is still very, very real.  The affordability, the targeting, the possibilities for deeper, more meaningful engagement have been brilliantly tapped by a few, but the majority lags far behind.

Either because they don’t have a clue or a particularly worthwhile idea.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Can’t Wait Communications and The Dangers of Distracted Driving

A week ago, if you had ever heard of Hollywood plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Ryan, it was because last November, he spent a long ten hours surgically enhancing reality TV celebrity Heidi Montag’s body to cartoonishly pneumatic proportions.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingToday, the fifty year old man is known as the guy who accidentally killed himself by driving his Jeep off a cliff while tweeting about his border collie.  That would be a tragic, inane end to any life but given the rising furor over distracted driving and people’s general uneasiness with the phenomenal rise of texting, Dr. Ryan has become a sort of posthumous posterboy for caution.

Eerily, this accident happened the same day that Mashable posted this fascinating infographic on the topic of text messaging.  Click that link and check out some of their statistics about this technology which barely existed as recently as ten years ago.  Among other eye-opening facts, it contends that the Philippines led the world in text messaging with an average of 600 messages per mobile subscriber for month in 2009.  More stunningly, the total number of SMS messages sent annually worldwide last year hovered around five trillion.  That’s 5,000,000,000,000.  To put that in layman’s terms, that’s a crapload.

We live in a time of continual distractions and constant upgrades.  What this means for long term social repercussions isn’t yet fully understood.  We’re gonna have to get an app for that.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Young at Heart is Nice, But Marketers Must Stay Young at Mind

Ever hear of Beloit College?  It’s a small liberal arts college with roughly 1400 undergrads just North of the Illinois/Wisconsin border above Rockford.  Among other notable facts, it’s the oldest continuously operated college in Wisconsin, counts among its alumni the jewelry designer Robert Lee Morris and Gunsmoke’s James Arness, and for the past thirteen years, it has released an annual Mindset List: a compilation of the realities shaping the lives of incoming freshmen.

If you consider the notion of a Generation Gap to be overblown, it might be worth reviewing some of the latest findings of what has “always” or “never” been true for this year’s batch of eighteen year olds.  Your awareness reset will start by realizing that this generation, born mostly in 1992, thinks of Clint Eastwood as a director of sensitive films more than Dirty Harry Callaghan.  They’ve also always been hip to the dangers of second hand smoke, and expected toothpaste tubes to stand on their caps.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingAmong things they never experienced?  Corded phones. Cursive handwriting. Czechoslovakia.  On the upside, they’ve never worried about a Russian military strike on the United States.  On the downside for those slow to embrace the digital world, they consider e-mail to be way too slow.  Not that they know that by checking their watches–they rarely bother with those since their cellphones display the time.

All of which drives home, with the clarity of that steel-driving man John Henry (a reference they will not get), that culture never stops.  Societies never tread water, never stay put, never pause in a state of suspended animation.  Like a shark, our world moves forward 24/7/365, constantly changing and evolving as Madonna bows to Brittany who cedes to Lady Gaga who will inevitably cave to a player to be named later.  Sure, we all subscribe to ‘our time’–those halcyon 18-21 college years–as a sort of cultural roadmark.  I believe my personal experience is somehow more relevant, more transcendent, due to my first person perspective. But then I remember things like this and this and this, and that POV crumbles.

It’s not easy to stay current.  As we get more jaded by the marketing forces that create today’s pop sensations or the general cheesiness of what constitutes modern culture, it’s easy to dismiss the current and the vogue.  And to fall into unquestioning old habits and routines.

But in a business that eats its young, that’s incredibly dangerous.  We can’t afford to write off what’s current, even if it is only a rehash of what’s come before.  We do that, and we risk losing relevance.

So…who wants to listen to the latest Katy Perry single?


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79