A President’s Day Question: When Did We Lose Our Collective Mojo?

BlogSo we drove nearly six hundred miles, crossing hours of featureless South Dakota prairie (despite the presence of  the Corn Palace, it is God’s pool table, topographically-speaking) to visit the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. And man was it worth it.

The sensory deprivation behind the wheel? Not so much. But the otherworldly Badlands and then, the majesty of the Black HIlls and Mount Rushmore were simply breathtaking. We saw deer and antelope play, passed a bobcat and drove through a herd of bison, but none of it compared to the first glimpse across a mountain valley of the presidential heads carved into Mt. Rushmore.

Who decides to do that? Who wakes up and thinks “let’s carve a mountain”? How do they simply jump in without practicing on lesser hills first? Again and again, as you read the inscriptions and explanatory signage, you read how this pre WWII era was a time of great national confidence, almost cockiness.

Political-correctness be damned; I miss that. As legendary Chicago architect and visionary Daniel Burnham put it so perfectly, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…  Make big plans…aim high in hope and work.”

It’s sad to see our national vision has shrunk to the level of an ROI on a banner ad.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

The Shadow of Digital’s Tactic-Heavy Origins Still Looms Large

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonYesterday, I served as a judge for the Effies. It’s an interesting awards show, one favored by many clients for it’s focus on outcomes and rewarding the combination of smart strategy and effective work to build businesses.

While I am honor-bound not to discuss specifics about the work we reviewed, our afternoon category proved as contentious as it was fascinating: Brand Experience.

The Brand Experience label applies to an admittedly broad swath of work, none of which can have traditional media like TV, radio or print central to their efforts. Instead, “It is to showcase how you can create a brand experience beyond traditional advertising.” And so we judged viral films and digital events and social media programs.

After reviewing five or six finalists and then discussing our impressions of them, it became painfully clear that the much-desired metrics on this medium are far from established.

Is it Facebook likes? Does anyone even care about those, or any other engagement scores? Is it sales, and can you isolate one experience from the rest of a marketing plan and calculate its impact?

Listening to the various judges debate, I wondered if this emerging category even has a place in something as Key Performance Index-focused as the Effies. And I couldn’t help but notice that the tactic heavy bulk of so much digital marketing creates an intrinsic bias against anything less linear than simple cause and effect. From the debates I heard, any digital brand experience that’s not entirely outcome based becomes almost indefensible as a media investment. Which is strange since brands flourished on softer,opinion-enhancing TV brand advertising for decades.

Does this mean there’s no room for suggestion in digital marketing? No place online for simple inspiration? As mature as digital advertising has finally become to most advertisers, its sad to realize that many cannot see beyond the most cudgel-like focus on raw metrics. And lacking those, cannot see the value of true brand experiences simply for experience sake.

Of course logic has its place. Metrics provide valuable feedback in a world driven by ROI. And yet I can’t help thinking the biggest decisions we make as human beings—who to marry, where to live, whether or not to go to war—are driven by emotion, not reason.

No matter how trackable we like to believe the digital medium is, digital advertisers cannot afford to ignore that.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Brand Managers Make Decisions Brand Champions Never Would

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonThey must not love the product. Seriously. They probably fancy light beers or white wine and rarely venture into the world of brown spirits aside from the occasional company mandated outing with retailers. Because there’s simply no other explanation for the boneheaded decision of the Makers Mark brand team to water down their bourbon to meet a growing worldwide demand.

They could raise the price. Or better still, they could create an export brand, since this foolishness was precipitated by a rising international demand, particularly in India.

Yes like many bourbons, this one is aged in somewhat concentrated form and so it’s standard procedure to add water at the end to bring it to the appropriate proof–in Makers’ case, that’s 45% alc./volume. After this tinkering, that will drop to 43%.

Which might not mean much to non-drinkers. But it smacks of cavalier disregard for the traditions and heritage that resonate with those of us who love bourbon. I’m sure those brand managers hired a consulting firm to produce a spread sheet of risk analysis which proves that this is indeed, a prudent course of action. But they’d be wiser to empathize or even consult with their legions of fans that made them so big.  I bet more than a few may be considering a new number for Makers Mark altogether: 86.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Something to Depress You, Then Something To Lift You Back Up

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonWe are heading into the weekend after all, so a downer note seems irresponsible. Yet there’s no good way to spin this news, aside from the ever entertainable possibility that GoDaddy is lying. Given their marketing stance these past few years, they can’t be considered above that.

The horrible news is, their shock value spot from the Super Bowl with the nauseating sound actually worked. According to their flacks, GoDaddy posted more new customers and new sales on post-Super Bowl Monday than they have in history.  Hosting sales jumped 45 percent, domains 40 percent, and new mobile customers rose by 35 percent.

Dammit, that’s depressing. If there were justice in the way Super Bowl ads performed, that little Clydesdale foal would send Bud sales surging alongside Ram Trucks and that new thirty thousand dollar Mercedes, while Bud’s new Black Crown would disappear faster than it inevitably will on its own. It’s horrible to see society reward stupidity, vapidity and worse. But it happens. Advertising works. Even badvertising does.

On a far, far happier note, click on this link. And be reminded of humanity’s ever-renewing reason for optimism. A baby laughing at her popcorn-eating dog with this much husky throated joy is transformative. I expect somebody to rip it off by next year’s broadcast.

Happy Baby, Happy Friday, Happy Weekend.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Superbowl Ads and Racism, Real and Imagined

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingThis morning, I was interviewed on K-Twin FM, which is ever so conveniently located right downstairs from the Olson office. It was a hill of fun and its always interesting to watch people make news and programming–all the editing on the fly, the hand signals to speed up, slow down or cut to the next story…

The topic was Super Bowl ads, most of which anyone with a high-speed internet connection has already seen. Specifically, show host Cane Peterson was interested in the controversy swirling around two ads, one for Coca Cola and the other for VW, both of which are getting called out for racism on social media.

Like many social media firestorms, this one will burn hot and furious…and pass quickly. Because the Arabian character in “Chase” is not a racist portrayal, it’s a movie reference. Much like the ensuing film references to cowboys, Mad Max and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the opening character pulling a camel is clearly based on Omar Sharif’s role in Lawrence of Arabia.Dennis Ryan, Advertising, Olson

Still, the radio hosts wondered, not without reason, whether these controversies were intentionally ginned up by the advertisers to gain more attention. While Mercedes clearly did that with their juvenile Kate Upton ad, no advertiser wants to trump up a controversy around racism.

That’s simply not funny.

That said, a Jimmy Cliff voiceover placed seamlessly atop a blond and bland Minnesota business guy?  I laughed. So the question is, does that makes me an insensitive jerk or the main reason for Judd Apatow’s meteoric career?


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson