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

Magically Ridiculous, and Available on Amazon

By this point, we’ve all noticed how Amazon has long expanded far beyond mere books, stealthily adding every conceivable product to its warehouse of offerings. If you don’t believe me, type “Lucky Charms Marshmallows Only” into their search bar and watch what comes back.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingThat’s right, you can buy a twenty pound bag of cereal marshmallows for $89.99 plus shipping.  Of course, they contract that particular item through the obsessive compulsive Montanans at cerealmarshmallows.com, so what they are really selling in this, and a huge percentage of their offerings, is convenience, trust and good user experience. That’s been their unique path to dominance in online retailing and it’s hard to fault them for it.

But no, I haven’t ordered a bag of this colorful dietary pornography for myself. There isn’t enough insulin in an Eli Lilly boxcar…

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

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I Know The Latest On US Durable-Goods Orders, Consumer Spending, and First Time Jobless Claims Yet Still Know Nothing

Picture 2Funny thing about this massive internet data engine we all plug into: I have access to more information than ever and still don’t really know anything.  At least regarding the US economy; I do know way too much about pop culture, beer and bourbon.

That’s the thing about data—it’s not actual knowledge, only its unrefined ore.  Before you can leverage a fact, you need to convert it into something actionable, something larger: an outcome or a conclusion.

The only reason I’m chasing this tangent on a Wednesday morning is that in rapid fire succession, three different data points popped up in my inbox this morning:

1.  U.S. consumer spending up in October

2.  U.S. durable-goods orders dip in October

3.  First-time U.S. jobless claims decline to 466,000; stock futures get lift from data

I’m not exactly sure how or why I started getting these Marketwatch headlines on my email.  I mean, I know why Land’s End and Amazon and Ebay clog my inbox every single morning with an endless supply of largely indistinguishable offers, but Marketwatch?  Where did that come from?

Still, it’s news, I scan it, and much like the level of intellectual engagement one gets from the Captivate elevator screen, I leave with a bite-sized intellectual nugget to idly chew for the rest of the day.

Data may be king in the new economy, but the true power still resides in knowledge.  Dag, I gotta get me some more of that…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

This just in: October new-home sales rise, paced by gains in southern states.  (man, this stuff never stops…)

Note To e-Marketers: You Can Automate Surprise Too

Mr. Roboto?  A Bit More Creativity Please

Mr. Roboto? A Bit More Creativity Please

Every weekday morning when I first switch on my computer, I’m reminded of every purchase I’ve ever made online.  Because every morning, among various other things, my email inbox contains something from West Elm (Christmas, 2007–a serving platter), something from Joseph A. Bank (Fall 2008, a black watch tux jacket on super closeout), and another bottle from Wine Legend with at least a 92 pt. ranking for less than $15 (Summer, 2008, a very accessible case of French Rose).  Later in the day, I’ll also hear from Overton’s (waterskis and towables), Brooks Brothers (17 1/2 x 38 dress shirts) and Amazon.

The pitches come with steady, reliable precision.  The time of day, the lead-in lines, the layout of the pitches themselves very rarely varies and certainly that’s because my name and contact information has been fed into some automated system that purports to know my buying habits and thus sends a steady stream of offers to me at an astonishingly low cost to the retailer.

Obviously, I could set the spam filters and make all of these go away.  And if I felt really motivated, I could contact the retailer and ask to be taken off their mailing list.  But much like the rain-forest clearing deluge of catalogs that clog our mailbox, its easier just to dump them into the trash or recycling bin and get on with the day.

And yet, one of the great delights of humanity and something that the best, most welcome sales pitches frequently tap into is the joy of surprise.   Our world’s can quickly become rote–a repeat cycle of wake, commute, work, commute, drink, dinner, whatever–and so anything that upends the ordinary stands out like a snowman on a black sand beach.

Could someone remind the automated marketers of that?  Could someone influence these engineers or accountants posing as creative salespeople that their pitches–while statistically profitable no doubt from a CPM perspective–could generate better returns if they added something good advertising pitches always include?

A little creativity would be nice.  Or at least a small surprise.  That’s all it would take for me to stop equating your brand with ‘crap to throw away every morning.’

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Clouds Don't Come Free: What Twitter Costs You and Why You Might Want to Rethink That Bargain

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of American jurists has been reducing our vivid national tongue into an indecipherable mind-numbing wall of impenetrable boilerplate.  Which is a form of job-protection I guess but otherwise adds precious little in the way of common clarity and understanding.

A Question Regarding The Cloud

A Question Regarding The Cloud

I’ve been thinking about that ever since the improbably-named Twitter co-founder Biz Stone sent out a change of policy email to all account holders last week.  Given that it was couched in dense legalese, neither me nor you nor the overwhelming majority of account holders bothered to hack their way through that thicket of legal mumbo-jumbo detailing something as seemingly innocuous as a policy change.  So we don’t really know what we agreed to.

But happily, out amidst the vast resources of curious active minds brought together on the web, a few smart people have.  I am particularly grateful for this wonderfully-clarifying analysis and editorial from Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age.  It’s well worth a read.

Dumenco points out how amidst all the details and ‘whereby’s’, Stone buries the small but not insignificant fact that Twitter reserves the right to all of the content you generate on their service.  That’s right: ALL the content.

Those one-liners you send out everyday?  They’re yours, but Twitter can put them into a joke book and not owe you a penny.  That news you saw happening and described from your unique POV?  Twitter can aggregate it and sell it to any of the major news wires.  That novel you’ve been tweeting?  Those lyrics you’ve been half-crowdsourcing?  That witty bon mot about a current event?  Twitter owns them as much as you do, and can profit on them or resell them or license them to whomever they darn well please.

To most of us, the use of this service and the simple fact that we’re not likely to toss off too many intellectual pearls within 140 characters makes this a fair trade.  And given the sheer dunning weight of meaningless prattle on the service, that is not necessarily a reckless position.  It’s a stretch to consider “Man I need coffee” as Intellectual Property, let alone IP worth protecting.

Still, Twitter’s value lies in aggregation.  In aggregation of opinion, in aggregation of highly-defined target markets and perhaps soon, in aggregation of bite-sized content around themes or lifestyles or specific events.  Would anyone ever want to order a copy of The Twitter Guide To Exceptional Birthday Wishes from Amazon?

If it would come out and you did buy it, you might even find your ideas in it.  Whether you’d be credited, well, there are no guarantees about that…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

“Social” Comes First, “Media” Comes A Distant Second—If At All

A lot of clients have their knickers in a twist over the profound changes brought on by the rapid adoption of Social Media like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, et al.  They want to know how to leverage these new media: what it takes to make a fan page or develop lots of followers by tweeting.

Courtesy of http://kyanmedia.com/about

Courtesy of http://kyanmedia.com/about

Unfortunately, the only people who consider these networks “media” are marketers— that woman in your book club who just friended you certainly doesn’t think that way.  To most users, these platforms simply provide a convenient way to maintain personal relationships in our increasingly time-starved lives.

Recently, the clipboard set at Yankelovich has been making the rounds with a presentation on Millenials and Social Media that echoes this perspective.  Their research suggests social networks present a unique forum for personal engagement that is very hard for brands to penetrate effectively.  Despite their surging popularity, Yankelovich contends that the social media provide lousy environments to sell people on brands.

For the most part, I agree with those findings.  Most brands do not offer anything particularly unique or compelling to consumers; few boast the passion-stirring qualities of a true badge.  But some do.  Two million fans signed on to follow Adidas Originals on Facebook.  Nike+ created their own network of runners and as of last January, they logged over 200 MILLION miles.  Tony Hsieh, the hyper-connected CEO of Zappos has 821,000 dedicated Twitter followers, an impressive number but still far behind celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal (1.35 million), President Obama (1.5 million),  and the shameless Ashton Kutcher (2.3 million).

Notice that none of those examples could even remotely be termed a ‘parity product’—each is unique and singularly devoted to something (a team, a lifestyle, policy) that millions of people can share.  The same can probably not be said for something more prosaic, like say the Swiffer.

Moreover, each of these successful social media brands deliver something unique to people: advice, insider perspective, first looks.  That is unique content people care deeply about, and passion has always created and defined social groups.  If your brand legitimately demonstrates and champions some passion that excites a group of people in your market, you stand a good chance to earn positive returns on social media investments.

But if your brand does not, you can and should still leverage social media, but instead of trying to talk and lead, watch and listen.  Twitter makes it easy to aggregate what people say about your brand and Facebook users are notoriously public with their opinions.  Flickr posts feature tags and comments and combing through Amazon customer reviews provides refreshingly unvarnished consumer opinions.  The Social Media provide a constant real time focus group for any savvy brand.

So, should every client be in Social Media?  Definitely. 

Should every client be there with Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts?  Not so much.

Because this forum is far more “Social” than “Media.”  Here, you don’t buy followers or purchase a captive audience.  You can’t demand attention; you have to earn interaction.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Opinion’s Omnipresence Renders Traditional Conceits Like "Brand Truth" and "Consumer Truth" Irrelevant

The HSBC 'Points of View' Campaign

The HSBC ‘Points of View’ Campaign

For the past four years, HSBC has run a provocative poster campaign from JWT.  Using a brilliant media buy in high traffic airport jetways, the ads highlight paradoxical points-of-view.  Simple graphics and headlines illustrate the insight that people from different regions, backgrounds or cultures often view the same phenomena in vastly different ways.

More than anything, this campaign demonstrates the fungible nature of opinion; something that’s become all the more relevant with the massive informational and behavioral changes brought on by the pervasive, worldwide adoption of the participatory Web 2.0.  By most any measure, opinion’s recently emerged mass distribution channel makes it far more impactful than TV, print, and radio combined.  We may not think of it as a traditional medium per se, but we ignore it at our peril.  As word-of-mouth experts are fond of saying, as much as 92% of all purchase decisions are driven by recommendation, which is nothing more than vocalized opinion.  More importantly, opinions have never been easier to come by; out culture is literally awash in them.

Google “review of Pixar’s Up” and you get 3.6 million entries in .33 seconds…  Every product on Amazon features buyers’ ratings and other key retailers like iTunes, NetFlix and eBay encourage prominent feedback opportunities.  The crushing volume of blogs and soon the exponentially larger world of Tweets can be simply searched.  We even edit our own networks to match our personal opinions, watching Fox News, listening to Air America, or subscribing to magazines and blogs because they reflect our personal politics.  Opinion is literally everywhere and louder than it has ever been.

All of which threatens the relevance and usefulness of those long-held marketing saws ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth.’  What is ‘truth’ in a wold where opinion holds such dominance?  And whose truth?  Can there truly be a universal product or consumer truth?

Instead of the classic Venn diagram that guided years of integrated marketing by highlighting the intersection of ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth’ we now have one vastly larger, much less uniformly shaped universe of consumer opinion, with all of it’s variants, anomalies and conflict.  Brands are opinions–and so our agency job today is to determine not something as debatable as brand truth, but rather the Brand Authenticity (and yes, Authenticities) within all of that opinion and then help meld and coalesce them into a universally-accepted Brand Authenticity.

Do that, and you bring powerful alignment to the often warring worlds of paid and earned media.

At least, that’s my opinion…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79