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

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

Government Ads: Lotteries? Yes. Tourism? Okay. PSA’s? No.

Creating advertising is tough; criticizing it is easy.  And yet sometimes, decency demands you point a finger when the whole damned deal goes horribly, desperately wrong.  In most cases, this results from a well-intended, inexperienced client mistakenly believing that the general public wants and needs to know every last factoid about the product they wish to sell.  However, when the client is the government, the foolishness hits an entirely new level of dumb.

This sad reality hit me no less than three times as I watched college football game this weekend.  Even though my beloved Irish showed marked improvement on defense, this ad–and the fact that it had a ridiculously repetitive media buy–truly soured my Saturday.

This exercise in wasteful government spending comes courtesy of the Illinois Department of Transportation and it’s even less welcome than the traffic cones and lane closures on I-290.  It looks cheap because it is cheap–from the cliched concept right through the Jr. High School Drama Club performances, the entire effort is guaranteed to send right-thinking Land of Lincoln-ites straight to their liquor cabinet with the sole intent of washing the horror from their synapses.  Jack Daniels!  Jim Beam!  Make the horror stop!!

The meager production budget is particularly inexcusable given this spot’s enviable media buy.  Cleaving off even another two percent of that media to fund a legitimate Illinois production company and actual SAG actors would have made a world of difference even on such a ham-fistedly bad concept, but apparently, we’re not paying off the right people.

Technology like hi-def camera phones and iMovie have democratized the production process, making it available to the masses.  But it’s like Jerry Seinfeld’s classic commentary on the comedy explosion of the 80’s: “Before the comedy thing blew up, there were like 200 comics and eight really good ones.  Now there are 2000 comics…and eight really good ones.”

You want a really good one?  You’ll probably have to pay for it.  If not in cash, then at least in time or freedom.

And believe me, given the alternative, it will be well worth it.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Happy New Decade! Here’s One Prediction for Advertising in The Teens…

Not a list or a look back of any kind; just one prediction regarding all this industry convergence and confusion about how the advertising business we knew will evolve in the decade ahead…

#1.  The Days of Strategy Are Over.

The Age of Stories Is Upon Us.


That’s not a quote from The Lord of the Rings; that’s a truth that’s become increasingly obvious as we’ve dealt with seismic changes within both our industry and the culture as a whole.  We live in times when great masses of people can organize without organizations (good point Clay Shirky).  We live in times when recommendation drives sales more than any other factor (good business plan Zocalo Group).  We live in times when the way people can experience a brand–has never been more diverse (good luck with integration there, Bub).

Today’s reality renders the notion of a centralized advertising ‘strategy’ quaint.  The conceit that any advertiser controls their message is both dated and dangerous.  Strategies assume centralized authority which no longer exists in an empowered-public forum.  Strategies come from people with a vested interest, but these days, those people are only a part of the in-market dialogue.  Today, consumers have loud voices: socially-networked, extraordinarily powerful and digitally-amplified via Web 2.0 voices.  And their voices will be heard

All of which means that if we want to learn, we will have to unlearn–it’s not about just what we advocate, it’s about what consumers accept.  To lead we will also have to listen–not just to clients but to consumers whose voices are stronger than ever.

We will have to put aside the older ways and accept that to move forward, we will have to embrace one of the most primal and fundamental assets of our humanity: storytelling.  We will not only need to tell stories on our brands’ behalf in the future, we also must shape those stories, enhance those stories, make them more pertinent, more relevant, and more impactful to the people we want to buy our brands.  Sparking stories, guiding stories, monitoring and brightening stories–that will define the advertising business in the coming decade.

And so that will become our daily work.  Identifying the story.  Shaping the story.  Refining the story.  And most of all, spreading the story in a way that others pick up our narrative and spread it themselves.

We are no longer in the advertising business.  We are now in the oldest profession known to man: no, not that–the storytelling business. And it just may be the most antediluvian business at work today–telling stories for the entertainment and edification of others.  But at least it’s honest work.

Come to think of it, the years ahead should be a really good time.  A Happy Decade Ahead to All!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Perception vs. Reality…Who Ya Got?

Perception v Reality: A Fightcard Perennial            

Perception v Reality: A Fightcard Perennial

In the marketing business, the smart money always lays down for perception.  And in today’s converging marketing business, that creates a classic brand challenge for traditional agencies: how do you enhance perception for your own company’s brand?

Last week during a TV shoot, a client announced that he had hired a ‘viral’ agency.  In his mind, they offered what we couldn’t because they specialize in viral–that’s all they do.  Further, they’re young and we’re old.

Really?  Huh…

Never mind that this viral agency’s calling card remains a nearly five year old effort that made a naughty but modest splash compared to our traditional agency’s “Ballgirl” effort that grew into the biggest viral hit of last Summer.  And really never mind that any marketer paying attention has already moved past the rather simplistic ‘views = viral’ mindset to require added dimensions and brand engagements for a deeper consumer experience beyond mere view counts.

No, in cases like these, facts don’t matter: perception does.  As it always does. Perception–even misperception–is reality.

On our already crowded agency ‘to do’ list, clearing those up just shot to the top.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Birthplace of Bad Work

real1My agency joined a number of our fellow agencies in a pro bono effort to help a big civic undertaking.  The clients were very well intentioned: they have a worthy endeavor, a LOT of material and a LOT of ideas.  What they lacked was focus.  And time.  And a budget.  

So there we sat, hopeful believers representing eight or so local agencies, listening as the putative briefing session for what could be a dream assignment slowly revealed itself as another unrealized opportunity redolent with layers, politics, and inconsistency.  Almost as one, every creative in that room lost their initial zeal.  It reminded me of that old business adage: “Hope is not a business plan.”  Sadly, these days, in both the charity and for-profit worlds, too many business leaders seem to forget that things like focus, discipline, and proper funding–if not financially then at least in terms of timing–are essential to success.  A blank canvas may appeal to an artist, but when your art involves driving action and results, a blank canvas proves useless at best.  All in all, it was a rather dispiriting experience.

But the worst part is, we will all probably try anyway.  Dreaming is what we do.  Even if our dreams sometimes become nightmares.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Beauty of Crisp, Smart Ball Movement

basketballhoopstockphotosmallTwo nights a week, a group of guys way past their prime play full court at the local Catholic elementary school gym.  Crowding the lane, slamming in the paint, occasionally committing acts of unlikely grace: it’s basically my version of Fight Club. And yet, two or three times tonight, we found an unusual synch with our offensive passing.   Great ball movement makes any team worth watching; it multiplies possibilities and sets up surprising scoring opportunities.  And it made me, however briefly and inopportunely, reconsider my obsession with push and pull marketing models.  Back and forth, over, around, through, across and back and forth again: the constant movement fascinated and engaged all of us, just the way you hope a symphony of multi-platform communications work for a brand.

Of course, I will still stand by the notion of a Perpetual Motion Experience instead of revising it to the Triangle Offense or something similarly basketball-centric.  Sports analogies don’t translate to every audience, and besides, when it comes to advertising sports analogies, no one can match the halcyon achievement of Bob Merlotti’s guest editorial in the October 22 issue of Adweek.  Genius.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

How Long Will It Remain The Wild, Wild Web?

the Viral Hit of Summer '08

In what turned out to be our swansong on Gatorade, our agency created the biggest viral hit of the Summer with “Ballgirl.”  An Ad Age writer called to talk about it today and like most industry journalists covering viral, he steered the questions towards the issue of transparency.  Sure, not identifying “Ballgirl” as a Gatorade ad was benign, but is there a line not to cross with such ‘stealth’ videos?  Must you always announce yourself when creating web videos for clients?  How about working the comments and message boards–if you do that without disclosure are you within ethical boundaries?

All interesting questions but to me, they are all off point.  The fundamental issue boils down to governance: as of now, TV has it and the web doesn’t.  Clients can act in whatever way they choose on the web, unlike television where the FCC sets standards, enforces censorship and demands all claims be thoroughly substantiated (though somehow Enzyte and it’s execrable spokesperson ‘Smilin’ Bob’ got past them for a year or so).  The web is not paid media like television nor is it burdened with television’s standards, which must make network executives more than a little peevish.

Which is why I think we all better enjoy this unbridled freedom now because like it or not, legislation will be coming to the web.  This past February, the European Union enacted legislation that levies heavy fines on any advertiser that creates content for the web without identifying themselves.  With this much money involved in the fight over ever-shrinking media spends, its only a matter of time before the US follows suit.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79