To Be Noteworthy and Valued…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingYesterday was a big day at Element 79.  The morning started with a chemistry meeting with a very-intriguing potential client, where we spent three and a half hours getting to know the people and some sense of their vast, complicated business.

In the afternoon, we had our annual Summer Meeting, which has become rather anachronous as each year, the date falls later and later.

As part of this meeting, it is my responsibility to discuss the agency focus and direction.  I have to confess that this year, I stole my inspiration from a church sermon.

Fr. Pat McGrath is one of those charming, eloquent Jesuit priests with a gift for public speaking.  He is also the President of my daughter’s high school.  A few weeks back, Maureen and I attended a parent’s mass where Fr. Pat spoke to the teens, addressing their anxieties as they decide the course of their futures.  His main point was that asking “What do you want to do?” was the wrong question; the real issue to answer is “Who do you want to be?”

I don’t know if that point inspired any teens, but it hit me like a lightning bolt.  During these hard days of recession, where fortunes, technology and expectations seem to change hourly, I have obsessed over what to do to help our agency.  But any answer to that question would inevitably have to change again and again.  And again.  The simple truth is no matter what you want to do, in a world of constant change, you’ll soon have to do something different to keep adapting.

On the other hand, no matter how agency actions may change, the notion of what an agency should be can remain constant.  And the answer to that question is simple: as an agency, I want Element 79 to be NOTEWORTHY and VALUED.

Importantly, I don’t want to just be “noticed”–that’s the province of the fashion-whipsawed, a goal for the Lindsay Lohans.  No, I want us to aspire to the lasting notion of ‘Noteworthy,’ where your actions and efforts must have intrinsic value and demonstrate worth.  To be Noteworthy is to be differentiated, which is critical.  Best of all, in a smaller, more entrepreneurial enterprise like ours, the actions of even one person can lead to Noteworthy results.

Similarly, earning the stature of “Valued” also differentiates an agency.  It even offers some measure of security as the concept of AOR grows increasingly meaningless.  New CMO’s arrive and play the role of change agents by making the easily noticed, obvious action of switching agencies.  Or a Unilever buys an Alberto Culver, and suddenly through no fault of their own, Mullen and Arnold’s win of that smaller client’s business mere months ago becomes uncertain.

The only measure of protection any agency has today is the regard of their clients.  If an agency is Valued, it is at least marginally insulated from the dictates of whim.  If an agency finds a way to promote their own wares with even half the intensity they bring to promoting their client’s, they can create a protective sense of value that links their work with financial gain.

Noteworthy and Valued: those are the two things I wish for Element 79 going forward.  Gonna get on that right away…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Bob Hoffman’s Mind-Opening List…

In the arcane, little-trafficked world of advertising-centric blogs, Bob Hoffman writes one of the best at AdContrarian.  As CEO of Hoffman/Lewis which operates in San Francisco and St. Louis, he has an informed, front row perspective on the attitudes and changes in the industry.

A few weeks back he posted this list.  I have nothing to add; it just seems to me that a well-annotated, surprising assembly of facts like this deserves wide dissemination.

Which probably won’t be served by posting it on another arcane, little-trafficked advertising-centric blog like this one.  Nevertheless, enjoy…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Some Simple Positive Impact from Design

It seems to me, the least you can do as you bump along through this world, is try to create some positivity and enthusiasm so that wherever you pass, you leave smiles in your wake.

This design for a child’s bike tire literally does that: playfully, effortlessly, continuously.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Titled ‘Spread Your Love’, this design comes from Hamed Kohan of Iran, and it earned him a place on the shortlist of design entries in a recent designboom competition.  If you’ve never heard of designboom, they are worth checking out regularly.  Basically, they are international design nerds with a deep, deep website that covers most every aspect of that art.

Every design, from the pragmatically functional to the most ludicrously fantastic, creates a language of its own.  Apple has long exploited this to differentiate and enhance their brand, to the point that their product and packaging design alone generate spirited and widespread discussion.

As marketers, we rarely get to impact design, and yet it is crucial to any brand’s voice…even the sweet, chuckling little girl’s laughter of this sweet bike tire brand.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


If You Noticed Increased Productivity Last Week, Here’s Why: Facebook Went Down

Back in February of 2007, a series of computer glitches spurred by heavy electronic trading volume sent the Dow plummeting 178 points in less than a minute.  Or at least, it looked that way.  The mess was straightened out over the next few days, but it left many jittery about how quickly things can go sideways on a platform designed for hyper-processing.

Last Thursday, Facebook’s engineers must have felt the same way as a series of automated systems designed to fix software problems combined to make things worse, creating a paralyzing feedback loop and ultimately forcing them to take the entire site offline temporarily.  That outage lasted for about 2½ hours for millions of Facebook’s half-billion users.  And it built on anxieties created by another unrelated outage one day earlier.Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

What was amazing is how long those two and a half hours apparently felt to the hundreds of thousands of social networkers tweeting their displeasure.

What was probably even more amazing was how many of those were tweeting about it from work.  Which begs the question: “Do social networks serve a role at the workplace?”

From my perspective, I’d say yes, but it’s a highly-qualified yes.  As someone in marketing, you have to be well-acquainted with it.  Facebook is the only new social platform that’s truly marketing-friendly and it’s pervasiveness can’t be underestimated.  That said, it’s also an incredible timesuck, absorbing minutes and hours through small talk and distraction.  And yes, I’ve wasted plenty of time on it that I will never get back.  It’s also hard to concentrate deeply if at any moment, some old high school friend might pop in with a link to giggling puppies and barking babies…

I don’t advocate that companies create firewalls or unilaterally ban Facebook, but like so many things in modern life, the real solution must begin at the individual level.  If missing it for those two and half hours made you crazy, perhaps you it’s time to be honest with yourself and put the bottle down.  Like alcohol, nicotine, or any other addictive substance, you gotta know when to say when.

Most times, work isn’t when.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The Omnipresent Scourge of Creative Ennui

Maybe it’s the recession.  Maybe it’s the rampant fear among client organizations. But something has far too many agency creatives feeling listless, lifeless and dull.

I blame the internet.  Specifically: Web 2.0.

And no, that’s not because digital is such a confusing and specialized marketing platform: it’s not. The only people still clinging to that fairytale are the ever dwindling ranks of digital separatists.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79. Chicago AdvertisingNo, I blame the internet and the explosion of ideas it presents every minute of every day.  We are literally awash in new thoughts from all types of people in all sorts of places.  Today, when any kid with a cell phone camera can step up and jack a long ball over the Green Monster of cultural awareness, it’s pretty apparent that we agency types no longer have the stage to ourselves.

And speaking selfishly, that is a bummer.  We no longer enjoy the privilege of seeing our work presented in a tightly-controlled national public forum. There was a time not long ago when even a fifteen second spot for a toilet cleaner afforded you access to the rarified world of broadcasting, a chance for your thinking to be seen by tens–even hundreds–of millions of people.  The cost of production and the relative scarcity of media outlets afforded advertising an enviable third tier status in pop culture, behind movies and television.  It was a business, but it was also a creative enterprise friends and neighbors found mysterious and fascinating.

But now, when people upload 9,200 hours of original content to YouTube every single day (that’s well over a year’s worth every twenty-four hours)…when Facebook status updates can earn a sitcom option…and when comedians reference the Double Rainbow Guy instead of the Mentos fresh maker…broadcast advertising no longer enjoys any sort of exclusivity on idea presentation.  Everyone knows someone who’s a YouTube star, a kid who got his Tweet re-tweeted hundreds of times, or a blogger who earned a book deal.  Ideas are everywhere.

Today, unlike any other time in marketing history, attention can’t be bought: it must be earned.  And that can be a bitter pill to swallow…

But like all medicine, it’s best to just swallow hard and take it, so we can all move on to the clear water on the other side of this temporary lull.  Because if we’re fortunate to have a job in a creative department, that means someone thinks it’s still worthwhile to pay us for dreaming things up.  We still enjoy a job where we are employed not for the strength of our backs but the fertility of our minds.  And even if it’s tougher than it used to be, that’s still a really sweet deal.

Besides, in this economy, no one wants to hear it.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A Facebook Phone: Because Apparently You Can Provide Status Updates Through Conversation

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingIf TechCrunch has it right—and historically, they usually do—Facebook will be following Google’s lead and creating their own operating system for what will become a branded cell phone. The story suggests that by building a proprietary operating system, a Facebook phone will be able to deeply integrate users’ contacts list while maintaining total control over all that proprietary data.

Odd as it first sounds, this idea makes good sense, particularly as we move more of our computing to mobile web apps via smartphones and tablets.  A phone would provide Facebook with an entry on par with Apple and Google, and not surprisingly, they have issued a denial.  Still, the story sounds compelling; TechCrunch actually names two employees they say are leading the project.

Further, CNet claims confirmation that Facebook has reached out to hardware manufacturers and carriers. So next year, we might all be able to reach out and…poke someone.

That still sounds wrong.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


It’s Only Tuesday, But There’s Always Time For More Awesome

As a band, OK Go has a distinctive pop sound.  But beyond their music, art–and specifically dance–has ignited the remarkable success of the band.  Admittedly, their signature choreography would never bring sexy back, but that’s not their point.  Their point is artfulness, surprise and visual invention.

From their gawky synchronized moves shot in a backyard for “A Million Ways” through the megahit breakthrough of their elaborate treadmill work on “Here It Goes Again” to last Winter’s effort in the Indiana Woods with the University of Notre Dame Marching Band for “This Too Shall Pass” (also released in Rube Goldberg style), OK Go has leveraged video and viral to dance their way–awkwardly, delightfully, relentlessly–into pop culture consciousness and multi-platinum success.  Seriously: they racked up 52.4 million YouTube views on “Here It Goes Again”.

Which brings us to “White Knuckles”–their latest, posted below…

God bless these guys for leveraging art into accessibility, through the joyful inventiveness of simple dance and the enduring magic of play.  And for doing it for all the right reasons; as lead singer Damian Kulash said in 2008, the band didn’t produce the YouTube videos with any overt marketing plan: “In neither case did we think, ‘A-ha, this will get people to buy our records.’ It has always been our position that the reason you wind up in a rock band is you want to make stuff. You want to do creative things for a living.”

Indeed we do want to make stuff.  And in the ad world, we are privileged to do creative things for a living.  And on those rare occasions when we can do them for the purest reasons, those creative things become transcendent.

Now if we can only work in more dogs…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Just Because 15 Is Half of 30, Doesn’t Mean a :15 TV Spot Is Half As Effective as a :30 TV

(The inmates are playing cards and betting with cigarettes)Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Martini: (rips a cigarette in half) I bet a nickel.

McMurphy: Dime’s the limit, Martini.

Martini: I bet a dime. (Puts the two halves onto the table)

McMurphy:This is not a dime, Martini. This is a dime. (shows a whole cigarette) If you break it in half, you don’t get two nickels, you get shit. Try and smoke it. You understand?

Martini: Yes.

McMurphy: You don’t understand.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Golden from the novel by Ken Kesey

Last week, Advertising Age editor at large Jack Neff wrote a telling article where he analyzed the results of over-the-counter drug advertising’s move to 15-second television spots.  Over the past few years, that category boosted it’s investment in :15’s from one fourth of the media mix to two-thirds.  And yet, during that time, their market share eroded to private label faster than other packaged-goods categories.  From 2009 to now, Symphony IRI shows private label sales volume rose 1.9 share points compared to .9 point gains for general packaged-goods.

I’ve long believed :15’s are the crack cocaine of media buys, giving numbers-obsessed brand managers the false belief that they are ‘extending’ their media buy when all they’re really doing is diluting it.  The irony really gets heavy when you consider Ameritest–the copy-testing firm that’s broken many creative dreams through the years–actually backs this up, finding a marked decrease in ad effectiveness for 15’s vs. 30’s.  In fact, Ameritest CEO Charles Young came right out and said it: “It’s an awfully short form for creatives to work with. If it devolves into simply reminder advertising, you’re not building brands. You need to bring emotion and news value to those brands.”

Fifteens have always been with us, but the recent recession really spurred this move to short form, which now accounts for around 30% of conventional TV ads from national advertisers.  And it goes way beyond pharma.  Fast food is another category strung out on this platform that’s the media equivalent of adding fillers to burgers.

Yes, it’s cheaper to add more water and make your Kool Aid go further, but it doesn’t taste as good.  I’m no mathematician, but if you pay half price for something that only works 35% as well, you’re losing money.  Could someone please explain that to procurement?


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


A Friday Example of Awesome

This video exploded across the web over the past few weeks.  TItled “Epic Skateboard Video!” it captures something incredibly rare in the world of video.  But don’t take my word for it; go ahead and give it thirteen seconds…

(Whoops!  The poster pulled the video from YouTube this afternoon…not sure why.  You can still find the video HERE.)

It may be a trick, it may have the lasting heft of cotton candy–nevertheless, that’s nicely done.  The popularity of this one-take, ill-lit clip testifies to the power of shaking up expectations, to our human delight in surprise.  Surprise is an extraordinarily rare commodity, particularly these days as video content pours in at a crushing volume through all manner of devices.

Still, when you find it, it’s magic.  Like this raw little gem.  Happy Friday.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79