A Commentary on American Culture

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonI stumbled across this image last week. And no doubt, the uncredited artist who created it intended some sort of commentary on America’s consumer culture. And I agree, although probably not in the way the artist intended.

Yes, we live in a country awash in pitches for everything from Shamrock Shakes to Shamwows to Dollar Shave Club. And for that, I’m extremely thankful.

God Bless the USA. Happy Fourth!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


Hurry–There’s Still Time To Buy Ping Pong Balls Before The Fourth

Here’s a little video inspiration for your Independence Day celebrations … courtesy of some observant pyromaniacs in Germany apparently.

That’s right–you saw it here first: ping pong balls are flammable as hell. And if one is good, then clearly, one thousand are just that much more exponentially good-er. So if you can’t get to a fireworks tent, at least find a sporting goods store.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Television Commercials Aren’t Dead. They’ve Just Gone New Places. Amazing New Places…

Remember this spot for Cheerios? It first aired this past month and due solely to its casting of an interracial couple, incensed a disturbing number of bigot trolls, whose inflammatory comments forced General Mills to shut down comments on their YouTube page (but, admirably, not back down and pull the spot–way to be, General…).

It’s nothing more than a TV commercial. The same kind we’ve been watching for decades. The same kind certain pundits have deemed dead in today’s interactive age.

Television is far from dead. The numbers prove we watch more of it than ever. And as this spot demonstrates, no other medium has the breadth of reach or emotional impact of moving pictures and sound. No, while television may be many things, it is certainly not dead.

That said, television has definitely been transformed, mostly by the participatory web. A tiny but vocal smattering of racists attacked this sweet, simple story, using the coward’s cloak of online anonymity even as millions of people reacted normally, with emotions running the gamut from delight to benign neglect.

But those prejudicial attacks spurred another small but vocal group—Michael David Murphy and Alyson West from Atlanta, Georgia–who decided it was time to answer that ugliness with a showcase for love and family. They created a Tumblr  called “We Are The 15 Percent”: a reference to the 2008 census which noted that interracial couples make up 14.9% of all marriages in the United States. Michael and Alyson’s blog invites interracial couples and families to send in their photos as a counterpoint to this sort of idiotic bile. In just a few short weeks, they already have over 2500 submissions. And with national coverage from outlets like MSNBC, those numbers should continue to swell.

The photos are beautiful. The movement is affirming. The reach of television empowered by Web 2.0 is a marvelous thing to behold.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

The Automation Touch

A lot of people understand the brand building value of the human touch; how refreshing it is to talk to a real person, how nice it is when a service employee goes above and beyond to help you with your situation, how human it feels to be addressed by your first name.

But hiring people is expensive. People can’t consistently work twenty four hour days. They require things like clean restrooms and medical plans. And so management searches out automated solutions to drive costs down. And we lose the human touch.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Unfortunately, few people talk about the Automation Touch. The Automation Touch can be hamfistedly clunky. In trying to be personal, it can come off as transparently cloying. And sometimes, the Automation Touch can be just as costly. That’s probably what the management at this erstwhile-global outfit are feeling about now…

Happy Friday.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Google’s Own Search Results: Book Smart ≠ Job Smart

This morning, my LinkedIn feed presented a condensed version of an interview with Google’s Laszlo Bock, their SVP of People Operations.  Among other topics like  big data and predictability, Laszlo dropped this little mind bomb:

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all…Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore… We found that they don’t predict anything. What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.”

He goes on to talk about the artificial academic environment:

“One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer. You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.”

Boy is that the truth–the most valuable people in any advertising agency are those who love figuring things out when there are no obvious answers. And anymore, there are no obvious answers though some like to pretend there are, mostly to hold on to their hard earned profit structures.

Life isn’t true or false, it’s multiple choice. Actually, it’s nearly infinite choice. And in this modern era, when those choices have expanded exponentially and more critically, when the exponential multitude of those choices is more palpable than ever, we can become paralyzed, or at least insecure. The annoying but accurate acronym FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a very real, social media-fueled phenomenon that most of us have felt at least a twinge of at one time or another.

But that is the world we live in. Which despite the skyrocketing cost of college tuition, is one reason why a soft, unsaleable liberal arts education may be the best gift to young minds. It won’t promise answers, but it should help teach you to think. And that’s a start.

You can find Adam Bryant’s full Interview here.

 By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Um, Men’s Wearhouse? You Just Fired Your Only Asset

Not being one to wear tone on tone ties or burgundy shirts with black suits, I don’t spend a lot of time in Men’s Wearhouse. But I had a last minute need out of town once and was pretty impressed by their service. That said, yesterday’s news that they fired their founder and spokesman George Zimmer is astounding.

Apparently, despite a recent company announcement that profits were up an incredible 23%, the board recognized George’s audacious continuation to age. And at sixty four years old, their infinite wisdom deemed him irrelevant in their pursuit of young Millennials. One pundit claimed “An old guy with a gray beard may not provide credibility to the product in the eyes of a 22 or 24 year old.”Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Indeed. That could never work to drive a brand to relevance and interest, right Dos Equis?

On the upside, this could be an opportunity to energize the brand with aggressive and compelling new advertising… It could be a time to create new relevance with a new voice and look… This could unshackle the brand and allows it to soar to new, unimagined heights for men’s retail…

So why does it feel so inevitable that we’ll soon be seeing some pretty forgettable men’s fashion advertising?

Goodbye George, it was nice knowing you. Say, would you be open to voiceover work?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


“Rectal Hyperthermia”? What Are You Trying To Tell Me, Facebook?

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, Olson

About a month ago, a survey fielded by those nonstop pollsters at YouGov, revealed that in the past twelve months, usage of Facebook by Britain’s online audience has dropped a full 9%. Advertisers play a considerable role in that, with a full 23% citing ‘fed up with social marketing promotions’ as their reason for cutting back. The social network peaked in the UK with 30 million visitors in October 2012, dropping to 27 million this past March. Those have to be worrisome numbers, even to the notoriously cavalier Mark Zuckerberg…

This morning, I had one of those ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ moments of my own, courtesy of Facebook and their “Sponsored” posts. To the left, you’ll see a remarkable product that apparently middle-aged men really need for this constipation and ‘hemroids’ (sic): the Rectal Hyperthermia. Despite its stated aim of ‘enhanced natural healing’ for those suffering from problems with their back end, this is a truly terrifying product. Oh sure, they claim it also provides “pain relief in the back, shoulder, knees and other joints and muscles.  It also provides fast relief from stomach ache, menstrual cramps (usually in less than an hour almost always), tooth pain and migraine” but you don’t name a product “Rectal Hyperthermia” then expect to use it to treat knee pain.

Clearly, this must some bogus, offshore snake oil scam (Notice the syntax of the parenthetical above where they claim both to ‘usually’ and ‘almost always’ treat cramps in less than an hour? That’s classic ‘English-as-a-second-language’ writing.). And yet Facebook considered this advertiser worthy of highlighting in my wall with their increasingly omnipresent Sponsored Posts, clearly believing I represent the perfect demographic for this portable, carbon fiber far-infrared technology. And all for just $350.

I think the Brits are on to something…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

They Can’t Be Loving This…

I like art. I don’t pretend to always understand it, but it’s fun to experience something that changes the way you view the world…or even think of it.

And then there’s these guys: British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman who are staging their first show in Hong Kong with their hyper detailed sculptural piece de resistance “The Sum of all Evil.”

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

I wasn’t familiar with their previous work but apparently “Hell” is a big theme with them. This is only the latest in a series of massive dioramas they have painstakingly created: a vision of violence, war, the holocaust and–eye-catchingly–Ronald McDonald. Find more happy, feel-good imagery at the gallery’s website here.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

I’m sure this is a metaphor about mass consumerism; all that death and destruction staged with tiny Nazi, skeleton and corpse models. If you look closely, you can even see the Hamburglar amidst all the crucified Ronalds and mass graves. Everyone needs a hobby, but man, this is nothing so much as a testament to the power of caffeine and keenly-focused rage. Personally, I have a hard time summoning such anger over a Filet-o-Fish, but then, I’m not an artist. I’m in advertising. Which I guess makes me a target of the Chapman brothers.

The irony of course is that these YBA’s–Young British Artists–were discovered seven years ago by none other than Charles Saatchi. Yes, of this Saatchi.  Lovely job there Chuck. Nice work.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

As A Diabetic, Can’t I Sue Someone Over This?

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonSo apparently, anyone lucky enough to have attended the San Diego County Fair this past weekend experienced the latest breakthrough from the food development team at Krispy Kreme. At least I think they are food scientists: from the look of their latest creation, they well may be pulmonary assassins on some corporate mission to eradicate non-clogged auricles and ventricles.

Whatever their mission, they introduced a deep-fried beef ball at the Chicken Charlie’s food stand this past Saturday. Their innovation amounted to a glazed donut bun filled with Sloppy Joe meat and cheddar cheese. You read that right. And yes, I can hear you occluding just reading that past sentence.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, Olson

And yet, this is a classic case of ‘give the people what they want.’ Last year, Chicken Charlie’s served up fried cereal.  This year, in addition to this Krispy Kreme abomination, they also have a bacon-wrapped pickle and fried Kool-Aid, along with more prosaic fair fare like fried avocados and fried Klondike bars. It’s almost as if they heard the American public yell a collective ‘Uncle!’ before they entered the fairgrounds, surrendering all dignity, self-respect, and standards of decency before the altar of kill devil culinary consumerism. This is reminiscent of nothing so much as dining on a bet.

A few years ago, our society deemed it just to ban Captain Crunch from kid advertising due to it’s thin nutritive value. And yet a seamy, Summertime underbelly of America welcomes this kind of sensationalistic disregard for dietetic decency as totally acceptable. Pardon me if I seemed confused…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson