The Wheel, Penicillin, the iPhone…and Now the Hutzler 571B Banana Slicer

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonWelcome to the online world of sarcasm-gone-wild. Surf here on Amazon to find the Hutzler 571B Banana Slicer: a totally unnecessary innovation in fruit-slicing technology.
At that site you’ll also find boatloads of user reviews.  Breathless reviews, glowing reviews, head-snappingly boneheaded reviews of this absolutely idiotic product brimming with snark, irony, and one-liners.
And all of those sarcastic reviews are making this lowly ‘convenience’ a best seller.  According to an article on Adweek.com, these absurdist, faux celebrations are driving sales way up. And Hutzler, the manufacturer, couldn’t be happier. In a recent tweet, @hutzlerco said “…Sales have certainly been up with these reviews and the additional exposure. We’ve been having so much fun with this!”  I bet they are. As an infomercial marketer with no face or dignity to lose, Hutzler Manufacturing Co. no doubt welcomes the no-cost notoriety that’s brought so much attention to their humble, banana-slicing tool.
When your biggest media outlet is earned, you quickly realize, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. And so attention, even dodgy, goofing-on-your-merch attention, is a form of kindness.
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

The Upside? Our New Work for Whole Foods Was Adweek’s Ad of the Day. The Downside? That’s Where AgencySpy Discovered It…

It really was a delightful surprise: Noreen O’Leary called and asked some keen questions about our new “Come Together” campaign for Whole Foods and the next day, Adweek featured it as their online “Ad of the Day.”  A rather lovely experience, all things considered.

And then we learned that AgencySpy wanted to post about it too.  AgencySpy can only be described as something akin to our industry’s intellectual brothel: a gathering place of both news and trolls. In this small industry, it helps you keep up with who has moved where and what new work you may have missed. But as an anonymous forum for invective, it can be a bruising, brutal place.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingSomehow, that wasn’t our experience yesterday. Oh sure, one commenter described our work as “nicely executed crap” but two others actually offered reasoned critiques around its strategy and singularity—not that I agreed with them, but still, their comments seemed more intended to debate than defame.

But my favorite was the writer who commented that “Whole foods sold me 9 month expired pasta sauce yesterday. WTF Olson?”

Wow. Indeed. WTF?

 

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

After This Reset, What's Ahead for Advertising?

Something happens during natural disasters–something oddly positive.  As the floodwaters rise or the fires spread, people reach out in cooperation, banding together as ad hoc communities with a common cause.  Long after the damage is over and property has been repaired, people remember those tense moments and how quickly they created a thrilling closeness, a powerful bond.

Oh.  That bump.

Oh. That bump.

I can only hope we’ll all feel a similar communal sense when the current storm of advertising changes finally passes and we once again achieve some semblance of equilibrium.  In the latest Adweek/Brandweek, Steve McClellan interviews a number of industry leaders for a feature that tries to identify just what that new normal might be like.

Among quotes from industry leaders like Google’s Eric Schmidt and WPP’s Marty Sorrell, Sue Mosely, Initiative’s worldwide director of research, noted that “Brand loyalty has been badly shaken.”  

Indeed.  And there’s growing concern that consumers who have traded down might not trade back up later.  Perhaps this new fiscal austerity will stay, benefitting discount or store brands at our clients’ expense.  As people in the brand-building business, this represents an alarming scenario.  So what can we do to protect the eroding value of our brands?

For decades, ‘trust’ has been one of the bedrock brand value, but we can no longer assume ‘trust’ alone will suffice.  In a more cost-competitive world, it can come off as a nebulous benefit.  Planners and creatives alike will need to take up the charge and uncover or create compelling new reasons for people to invest in our brands.  How can our brands help?  How can they make things better, easier or richer for people?  What else can they bring to the experience?

Finding ways to add value and keep consumers engaged with our brands will become the new marketing imperative.  And given the increasing parity within the marketplace, it will no doubt stay the imperative for a long time to come.

Could We Please Stop the Self-Loathing? Ads Work.

Picture 2This week’s cover headline on Advertising Age reads “Cannes swept by PR, integrated, internet winners” with the subhead “Tally suggests ad age is over–or, at least, it’s evolved to higher plain.”  Setting aside my issue with the subhead’s overuse of commas, this still reads like a textbook example of a classic journalistic mistake: burying your lead.

The headline should emphasize that advertising is “evolving to a higher plain,” instead of continuing to forward the whiny, helpless hand-wringing that’s become endemic to our industry (“it’s over–everything we’ve ever known is now wrong!”).  Yes, social networks are a critical platform that our industry needs to address.  Yes, the media landscape has changed radically.  And yes–most critically from my perspective–advertising alone is not enough anymore.

But here’s the thing: it never was.  For advertising to really work, it has always needed a great product or service, attractive design, and engaging street and retail programs.  But somehow, the simple fact that the advertising environment has become exponentially more complicated over this past decade has led some people–including apparently, the editors of Ad Age–to subjectively dismiss the foundation of our industry: generating creative messaging in paid media.  And that fries my bacon, that salts my shorts, that makes me pigbiting mad…

Because here’s a newsflash: advertising works.

Please read that sentence again.  Better still, let’s read it aloud together, shall we?  Advertising works.

Television?  Still works.  In fact, that audience is bigger than ever.  Radio?  Still works: we may court disaster by texting in our cars but all that commuting time is still filled by AM/FM radio.  And print?  It may be changing radically, but answer this question: would you rather have your name mentioned in the online version of the New York Times or the actual paper?

It’s time our industry corrects itself from this odd fever of self-loathing.  Because the facts don’t support all the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  In the June 22 issue of Adweek, Mark Dolliver wrote a story unfortunately relegated to a short item on the Adweek Media page.  In it, he cites an Adweek Media/Harris Poll recently fielded that concludes that yes, indeed, people are still swayed by ads.

Is advertising alone enough?  Of course not.

The real innovation our industry needs is the strategic melding of creative messages distributed through a coordination of both paid and earned media.

It’s not one.  It’s not the other.  It’s both.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A Huge Television (and Online and Mobile) Audience Is There For Your Ad, But You Still Gotta Earn It

We’re still watching.  Actually, we’re watching more than ever.  The three-screen audience for video content has never been larger or more active, that is, if you define ‘active’ as sitting still and watching other people do things.

...And Everyone's Watching

...And Everyone's Watching

For advertisers, that’s terrific news. But candidly, it’s even better news for traditional ad agencies that long specialized in television production. Because despite the flurry of new formats and technologies, the fundamental consumer desire to watch video thrives unabated in a platform agnostic manner.  Clients who ran to new media shops based on the strength of their technical prowess alone may want to reconsider; the viewers are there, but you can’t assume they’re an eager advertising audience.  It takes compelling content to earn an audience, and that starts with story.

Two recent posts on this subject actually make for an interesting compare and contrast. Last week, Chris Rohrs, the president of the Television Bureau of Advertising (find their rather hideous website here), posted a persuasive editorial in Adweek where he cited recent Nielsen       time spent data that registered the highest numbers in their nearly sixty-year history.  Nielsen suggests the average American household spends eight hours and twenty-one minutes in front of the TV every day, with the precious Teen demo logging nearly three and a half of those hours.

He went on to cite a March study from Ball State’s Center for Media Design, hailed as the “largest observational look at media usage ever conducted.”  Rohrs takes great delight in that study’s finding that ninety-nine percent of TV viewing in 2008 was done on a “traditional” TV with less than 5 percent of that viewing using DVR playback.  Web video from YouTube, Hulu and all other Web/cell phone media accounted for less than one percent of all viewership.

Obviously Mr. Rohrs has a bias to present but still, he uses these facts well to rebut the conventional bromide of so many new media advocates: “television is dead.”

Of course it isn’t Chris.  Say it with me, won’t you?  “Television is not dead, it’s just diversified.”

And that’s the point Gavin O’Malley made yesterday on MediaPost: viewership on all three screens has never been higher.  Special events added extra fuel to online viewership numbers as people watched the Inauguration and the Final Fours from their desktops.  Again citing Nielsen, US online video usage grew thirteen percent year-over-year while mobile jumped more than fifty percent.

The two mens’ numbers around DVR use seem to conflict but the undeniable truth is that we are watching more video than ever…which must have something to do with this great nation’s rampant obesity, but that’s another blogpost.

Call me self-interested but my takeaway from all of these findings is that agencies deeply schooled in television production can no longer be cast as behind the times.  The collective skill and experience all that commercial production engenders gives us a leg up over any putative content provider, particularly if we’ve moved aggressively into new media anyway.

Like so many things, the means don’t matter nearly as much as the ends.  Facile skills on specific platforms mean nothing if the content isn’t there.

Stories, drama, ideas always come first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A Creative’s Place Is Out of Home. And On Line. And Programming. And Publishing…

For the cover story of the current issue of Adweek, Janet Stillson interviewed a number of CMO’s regarding what they want most from their agency and media partners.  Anyone familiar with this type of article can guess the CMO’s broad stroke responses: a heightened call for that reliable industry workhorse, innovation, and complaints of how it seems scarce as hen’s teeth.

Frankly, that should come as no surprise, particularly given the actions taken by two CMO’s featured in the article, who were both specifically looking to spur innovation.

Laura Klauberg, VP of marketing at Unilever, told how for the 2009 upfront, she had MindShare brief their media partners on Unilever’s key branding initiatives, to clearly identify both their messages and desired consumers.  She believed this knowledge would spur better thinking, but thus far, she admits the results have been mixed.

Christine Kubisztal, media strategy manager for Walgreen’s, went the opposite way; she left her agency partners out of the game entirely and went directly to the media sellers.  Her thinking?  “It’s tougher when there’s a middleman.  I’m tired of trying to get them to go to media sellers and bring stuff forward.”

Creativity Has More Uses Than Duct Tape

Creativity Has More Uses Than Duct Tape

Interestingly—despite citing the need to have their agency partners step outside their comfort zone–neither CMO considered doing that themselves by involving their brand’s creative teams.  Instead, they approached programming or media sales organizations hoping to find big ideas, despite the fact that neither employs dedicated creative staff.  No wonder their results were ‘mixed’—how can you expect creative innovation from professionals who have honed their skills in other areas?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to bring in the people you charge with creating and extending your brand idea platform and have them collaborate with your media partners?  That way you’d start with both left brain and right brain talent and have a far greater likelihood of developing media innovation.  In fact, the more you consider the exponential changes affecting our industry, the more evident it becomes that everyone needs to ‘step outside the comfort zone.’

You want creativity?  Hire a creative.

You want creativity in any specific discipline?  Pair that creative with a specialized expert.

Creativity is not a skillset; it’s an approach to problem solving.  Yes, advertising creatives learn to develop thirty second television ads, but they could just as easily learn to imagine interesting cross promotions or engaging multi-media programs or even new media platforms altogether.

When I consider the gaming, social networking, syndicated videos and web development that we produce at Element 79, a very real truth emerges:

we are only a traditional agency to traditional clients.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Sadly, It's The Adweek News That Fits These Days…

This One Could Have Started with "B"       

This One Could Have Started with “B”

Ahh, Monday: the first workday of 2009. And the day the new Adweek arrives. Today’s edition features the lads from Crispin, coverboys again as Agency of the Year.  Frankly, I stand in awe of CPB has created such a fawning press mythos, but am actually more intrigued by Co-ECD Rob Reilly’s insightful if grammatically imperfect quote: “We ask ourselves, ‘Would the press write about it?’  We use that as a guide and it’s worked out pretty good for us.”  Great thinking that, and it probably explains a lot of the fawning…

Anyway, a cursory flip through the magazine revealed an underlying editorial theme, a steady drumbeat echoing the fear so prevalent in the market and our industry today.  

Page 4. The Year Ahead: this article sports the subhead “The advertising industry will feel the pain more than many in 2009.”  Page 5?   A Not-So-Banner Year For Digital Marketing warns that “As budgets tighten, media like display ads will come under scrutiny.”  Pages 6 and 7?  “Economic tumble will intensify the scrutiny of every client dollar spent” and Daunting New Year Looms for Networks.  Pages 8 and 9?  “I see budget cuts, and doing more with less” and “The simple truth is, agencies of all stripes stand to see their market position erode more severely than either advertisers or media companies.”  Next we get opinions on “Betting on the Uncertain” and Thriving in 2009–“…this fiercely challenging year.”

Okay, we get it.  Things are tough and getting tougher.  

Which simply means the best among us will be the ones who create the ‘man bites dog’ stories.  Good.  Let’s go.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79