Newsweek Ends Printing. And What Was A Battle of Resources Is Now A Battle of Pure Imagination.

“We are announcing this morning an important development at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Newsweek will transition to an all-digital format in early 2013. As part of this transition, the last print edition in the United States will be our Dec. 31 issue.”  

Tina Brown, Editor-In-Chief, The Daily Beast & Newsweek

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonI like Newsweek. But the last time I read it was the last time I was at my dentist’s office. And that pretty much sums up their problems right there.

My changing media habits–my daily use of and Yahoo! and The Daily Beast, along with more embarrassing habits like The Superficial and Agency Spy–mirror the media disruption that spelled the end for newsweeklies in general. Newsweek’s circulation dropped fifty one percent in five years. U.S. News and World Report has already gone under. In 2013, only Time will remain in print (note: all titles have digital versions).

The problem is, paper and journalists are expensive. Magazine economics are nigh impossible to manage. Tina Brown says it costs $42 million to print and distribute Newsweek, which aligns dangerously with their $40 million in annual losses. Worse, the magazine’s circulation peaked in 1991 at 3.3 million but fell to 1.5 million by June of 2012.

The explosive tablet adoption has hastened print’s demise. Tablets provide a superb platform for fast, award-winning journalism and by year’s end, they will exceed 70 million users in the US alone, up from 13 million just two years ago.

All of which spells the end of the era. Appearing in print once afforded people a shot at immortality, a chance to live on as a fading but tangible byline clipped to a wall. But today, that feels rather quaint. Google’s total index of web pages equals 23,633,010,000.  Who will notice you there? Unless of course you are porn, memes or cat videos. People who surf rarely choose what they should see; instead, they choose what would be fun to see.

Which puts a lot of pressure on anyone who needs to drive traffic. You have to earn it each and every moment as the notion of a retained subscription audience grows increasingly quaint. Today, the playing field between professional and amateur has been levelled. All that matters is providing popular content and driving traffic–how do you do that in this lolscat era?

That is the battle of the new year. Sad as that may be.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Well That Was The Perfect Internet Story…

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonAs humanity awoke this morning to find itself still standing despite all the yap for the past year and a half, a bit more sobriety entered the collective water cooler conversation. The Mayan Apocalypse was essentially the perfect internet story; hugely dramatic and just plausible enough given its grounding in a little understood but widely recognized ancient culture. It didn’t require intelligence to discuss; just a facile glibness or quick punchline. And while it centered on Doomsday, it wasn’t nearly as scary as the far more uncertain society that fills our newsfeeds and can break our hearts ten new ways each and every day. And so despite the spate of debunking articles that have circulated for months, we willfully kept it alive, enjoying its a frisky, puppy-like distraction.

Frivolities like this pass for journalism these days. Television was once considered the most voracious maw for content consumption but it is nothing compared to the infinite pages and constant, mind-spinningly fast turning of the web (Google just returned about 309,000,000 results in 0.17 seconds for “Mayan Apocalypse”). Meme sharing, sex scandals, horrific acts of violence; all of this is fodder for the fast turn and quick commentary and so extremely useful for filling web pages. And if the focus on speed and sensation sometimes leads to linking the wrong person’s Facebook page photo to the name of the most vicious killer in recent memory, well, whoops. We’ll be moving on in a fifteen hours or so.

Come to think about it, I’m going to miss this Mayan calendar distraction. So many of our other stories seem so small and dull in comparison.

Happy Friday, glad we’re still talking.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


Our Christmas Gift Arrived Today

Everyday, I wake up, mildly amazed by my wife. She’s smart, funny and constantly fascinating and through some lovely circumstance, still married to me. But after all our years together, the gifts you truly value start to evolve. What matters changes.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonWhich is why I love this so much. This is our gift to each other this year; an oil painting of our family swimsuits drying on hooks outside our place in Wisconsin. The memories this image conjures in my head–the barefoot days, the happy hours out on the lake and evenings on the porch–make it redolent with joy. But the fact that one of our best friends for many years painted it specifically for us makes it particularly resonant.

I’ve known Marie Kirk Burke my entire professional career. A well-regarded voice over actress capable of becoming anything from a Keebler Elf to a devastating Barbara Walters, we worked together a lot when I was producing radio in Chicago. Later we became neighbors and Marie and her equally hysterical husband Kevin became fast friends for dinners and movies debated over Baker’s Square pies. Over the past ten years, Marie’s re-immersed herself in painting, and we’ve loved seeing her career bloom in showings and Chicago galleries (see more of her work here).

No, you can’t see all that in this painting. But we feel it, that great and mysterious gift of art. It’s like hanging a smile in your living room. And what a wonderful gift that is.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Don’t Like Instagram’s New Terms of Service? Wait Sixteen Hours.

Oh Mark Zuckerberg, when will you learn?

Instagram started this week by quietly making two major shifts in their terms of service. For one, they claimed ownership over every image their users post, enabling them to sell those images without compensation or notification, even as they simultaneously absolved themselves of any class action liability. Oh, and they offered no opt out.

This is lousy. Kind of heinous even. The fact that they tried to slip it through with a blog post that made no mention of these specific changes demonstrates a corporate oiliness we’ve grown to expect from Facebook-owned entities. Still, blatant chutzpah notwithstanding, you have to admire how quickly and cheaply they crowdsourced the world’s biggest stock photo library…

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonBut as should be expected in a medium that trades on information, the web noticed, word spread and within hours, a massive backlash mushroomed. Predictably, Instagram seemed to reverse course by mid-day Tuesday. This rhebus outlines the action; first the company announces, then the web revolts, then the company recants, claiming to be misunderstood with a PR spin absolutely no one believes.

We should be used to this kind of end around from any Facebook-owned entity. It’s not like this is new behavior from Mr. Z; it’s almost like he can’t stop himself from imperiously disrespecting the people who use his services. How many times has he tried to sneak through surreptitious changes to Facebook’s privacy policies?

But all’s better now, right? Actually, not so fast. First, their CEO simply claimed “it’s not our intention to sell your photos”–which is hardly legally binding. Instagram’s new terms of service remain–this is just damage control.

They also haven’t recanted the second shift in their terms of service; namely that “…we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.” In other words, that cool photo you see on your home page? That might actually be paid content, or what old people call ‘ads.’

The web runs on sponsored content, and we accept that. But on reputable sites, it’s identified, helping those sites maintain both credibility and an ethical balance with visitors. With this policy, Instagram is intentionally creating a gray area and you can almost hear them daring their users; “go on, see if you can tell what’s organic and what we’ve placed there.”

Hmmm…  I’m no dotcom billionaire, but it seems to me, the web community just proved they’re pretty good at that.

So long Instagram, it was a fun two years.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


PS: Thanks Devin Bousquet, for the awesome profile picture.

Wonderful…In Any Language

I’ve grown so tired of these kinds of stunts. “Hey, it’s a Flash Mob! Hey, we took over this train station, surprising the tired commuters with our lightly branded delights! See all the passers by, staring in slack-jawed amazement at our insouciance!”

It’s become the standard formula for viral: do something big and public and film all of it with unobtrusive GoPros. Then edit your clip together and send it out on social media where you try to encourage posting and sharing. As a tactic, it is horribly tired and creaky, despite being only a few years old.

And yet…  Kids? Santa? Joy?

Confound you, Oi Telecommunications. Just like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” this gets me every time. Click on the “cc” button in the bottom bar to turn on the English translation. Merry Merry.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Now Advertising Is REALLY In Trouble: Our Job Description Tops The List of Tired Buzzwords

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonEarlier this month, a posting on Business News Daily listed ten words that are horribly overused by American professionals on their LinkedIn profiles.

“Creative” led the list as the most tired buzzword for the second straight year. Apparently, the talent pool is awash in highly creative individuals.

Oh sure “effective” and “motivated” were also up there, along with “Innovative”, “Responsible” and “Problem solving” but none of those are the title of entire departments within ad agencies and marketing firms.

But “Creative” is. And apparently isn’t.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Sometimes The Web Throws The Voice of the Consumer

I love Frito Lay.  I’ve worked on their businesses at three out of my four agency career. And dag, nothing beats those Natural style Chee•Tos. But snacks are about mass appeal, about celebrating the common denominator of snacking and making everyone happy when you open a bag. Which is why the comments section of a recent item on the Huffington Post are so perfectly emblematic of dubious internet inputs.Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonThe article discusses what admittedly, seems like an unholy half-breed: a Lay’s line extension in China featuring Pepsi-flavored Chicken seasoning. Yep, the lip-smacking taste of delicious cola and chicken, together at last in a snack chip.I don’t pretend to understand the prevailing palate in China, but I do know Frito Lay does their homework. That’s how I sampled ham flavored Ruffles in Spain and recoiled at smelling a bag of seaweed flavored Lays from Japan. So Pepsi-Chicken must represent some sort of Chinese market localization opportunity.  Still, in the pantheon of aggressively outré snack flavors, Pepsi-Chicken stands as a medal contender.

The truly fascinating part of this post was how many people weighed in purporting to love  exotic snack flavors: prawn, chicken and dressing, beef and horseradish, even SPAM. These comments represent the long tail of the net; the fringe that, given a voice and a platform, make their opinions known. Loudly. And while it makes for interesting reading, it doesn’t come close to accurately reflecting the broad tastes of a market, the widespread appeal required to build $100MM line extensions. Much like hipster ad people who scoff at boring Middle America with its profusion of Olive Gardens, niche opinions can seem mainstream on the web, mostly because more middle of the road people aren’t as quick (or as motivated) to share their opinion.When marketers follow these blind alleys, the world enjoys products like Canfield’s Diet Fudge. But usually only once or twice before the novelty wears off and it’s back to Pepsi.

The web and social media are great sources for cultural sentiment. But you must always get a second opinion.

Or you’ll get Pepsi Clear…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Listening To Another Agency’s Stories

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonAs part of the Minnesota Ad Fed‘s speaker series, Peterson Milla Hooks president Tom Nowak spoke about “Life Beyond the Bullseye.” Up until May of 2011 and their rather public replacement on the Target business, they were essentially a one client shop.  And at only fifty people, they punched far above their weight. The way PMH helped that brand evolve is nothing short of remarkable and seeing the work again this morning was a hill of fun.

Two things Tom said really stuck with me.  First, he talked about how losing Target forced them to define their agency and really assess where they excel. That led to their unspoken but undeniable philosophy toward the work: ‘EMOTION TRUMPS INTELLECT.’ They never want to leave people with just an intellectual thought but rather leave them with a feeling for a brand. That feels so true. Back in Chicago, a saying on the glass of my office read “Emotion is more powerful than Logic. No one ever went to war over logic.” Given how well our philosophies align, Tom clearly must be some kind of genius…

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonThe second thing he mentioned was that the white English Bull terrier with the strangely circled eye was “not planned, it just kinda happened on a shoot.” At the moment, a lot of people might have just considered it a $1500 overage that annoyed the client. But ultimately, Bullseye became a  charming visual brand asset for Target, and all that grumbling over the upcharge faded into the small arcania of history as Target seized this gem which they are still running with years later.

Science can be good.  Art can be amazing.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson