We Live Amidst An Unprecedented Tsunami of Digital Information…Assuming You Consider Instagram Snaps of Pancakes “Information”

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingI saw an item on HuffPost last night that credited IBM for noting that humanity generates over 2.5 quintillion bytes of information every day.

If you’d like that spelled out, it’s 2,500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. Rather a lot…

All this information means that ninety percent of the world’s data has been generated in the past two years.

Which really means I can close this blog post by noting “wiggling cacti are indigenous shirkers” and it won’t make a lick of difference.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

PS: For four years in the 80’s, Steve Steigman’s iconic “Blown Away” poster for Maxell Tapes hung in my dorm room. If you’re interested, you can buy it, unbastardized, here.

Billy Idol Got It Right: With This, and Essentially Every Blog Post, I Am Dancing With Myself

Check out this infographic, swiped from those innovative wags over at mbaonline.com.  It simply serves up widely-available data about our daily web interactions, but viewed in the collective–with pretty pictures–it’s staggering.  Three years ago, I used to blow clients minds with the simple fact that everyday, people upload 9,200 hours of video to YouTube, a figure made more staggering since there are only 8,760 hours in a year.

Today, that number stands at 864,000 hours of video.  Or damn near 100 years worth of kitties and bad karaoke uploaded every day.  The ease of posting from your cell phone makes this inevitable.

On the upside, I guess I don’t have to sweat my punctuation and word choice so much: with two million blog posts launching every day, who’s gonna notice?

Anyway, enjoy.  Or get very scared.  Or, far more likely, go find some other distraction.  The net’s lousy with them…

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson, Minneapolis, Chicago

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


Powering Down…

People blog for all sorts of reasons; the discipline of daily writing, the joy of self expression, the fleeting sensation of relevance when a couple hundred people read a post. Over the past two years, I’ve blogged every weekday for all those reasons and one far more important: to keep up. Or perhaps more accurately, to catch up.

I’ve enjoyed a terrific career making advertising but three years ago, when my prior agency’s fortunes changed suddenly and radically, I looked up and realized the world had changed while I was busy making TV campaigns. I had largely ignored the biggest revolution in marketing: the pervasiveness of digital screens, the stunningly-swift adoption of social networks and the increasing presence of mobile marketing.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingI started blogging everyday to force myself to explore all these emerging platforms and immerse myself in the new reality. As Facebook continued to work it’s way every deeper into our lives, I started to recognize how social networks can provide savvy brands with crowdsourced PR. I was amazed how transparent and public people had become, sharing remarkable details of their personal lives. I learned about search and geo-tagging and the seamy creepiness behind unchecked online tracking. And I probably saw more than my fair share of virals and flashmobs and public self-destruction at the hand of Twitter.

I learned a lot, both by actively searching for subjects to discuss and happily, by reading comments posted and emailed from smart people offering their own points of view.  It’s been wonderful catching up.

But I gotta cut back. We’re doing lots of interesting things up here in Minneapolis, expanding the agency as we build and activate all sorts of brand communities for a wide range of clients. And I need to dedicate more time to that process.

So thanks for reading, thanks for your attention, thanks for your help. Going forward, I’ll post every now and then–habits can be tough to break–but my pace is definitely gonna slow.

Because advertising’s pace certainly isn’t.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Parenting, Mirroring, and Passing on Geeky Tendencies to Children

When I was a kid, the anti-smoking PSA “Like Father, Like Son” seemed to run constantly.  A Dad and his boy spend an easy Saturday together, painting the house, washing the car, skipping stones, and everything the man does, his little towhead tries to do as well, right up to the moment they sit down under a tree and he reaches for a smoke.

I don’t have a son, but we do have two girls.  And last night, as I watched them while their Mom went to book club, I sat on our bed, tweaking this blog.  My ten year old brought the family laptop in and sat down next to me.  She noodled a bit then asked if she could write a blog entry too.  About a year ago, she saw me doing this and asked to start her own.  So I found the page for her, helped her set up a post, then went back to work.  And so did she.

Like most kids, she’s not a particularly dedicated journalist, still her subject matter (chinchillas, Benihana onion volcanos) perfectly reflects the rangy interests of an elementary schooler.  Last night, she wrote an entry about school and her teacher, Ms. Feldman…

Dennis Ryan Chicago Advertising Element 79


Hmm…I better get going.  I gotta do some cancer research, work on improving crop yields in third world nations, and try to get my mile time under four and a half minutes…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Yes, Brands Are Opinions, Even the Element 79 Brand

In today’s socially-networked, immediate-impact world, brands suffer when negative opinions spread unchecked.  When those negative opinions are unfounded or severely exaggerated, the damage can be massive (ask any ex-Bear Stearns employee about that one).

Because in today’s socially-networked, immediate-impact world, opinion trumps reality.  As soon as it forms, opinion spreads through mass viral channels like Facebook, Twitter and blogs.  And because it is opinion, it doesn’t require fact-checking.

Last week, I got a wake up call that this truth applies to our Element 79 brand as well.  In the finals of a new business pitch, a CEO mentioned that he Googled Element 79 and wondered when we were gonna merge with DDB?

We’re not.  Never were.  But due to a newspaper column written by a speculatively-inclined columnist for the Chicago Sun Times over fifteen months ago, that rumor popped up in our prospect’s search engine.  Worse, when I shared this anecdote with a few friends at other shops in town, they admitted hearing the same thing.  When the rumor mill, or at least irrelevant suppositions, can influence the outcome of new business, you’ve got trouble.

We’ve spent two years reinventing and rebuilding our agency.  And slowly, we’ve been regrowing.  Today we have about 110 people busy working to help our clients thrive during these tight times.  We want Cricket to leverage their national coverage into a leadership position for value innovation in wireless.  We want Supercuts to show the value of their affordable haircare so that if and when the economy turns better, people realize they don’t have to pay more to look good.

We want Amway to help people supplement their incomes and Central DuPage Hospital to be the first choice for superior healthcare — especially as they bring Illinois’ first Proton Therapy Center online this Summer.  And we want Harris to keep helping people realize how much better the right bank can be.

We also want to do big things for the half-dozen new clients we’ve brought in these past five months.  We want LasikPlus to show glasses wearers that this simple procedure can radically improve their lives quickly and safely.  We can’t wait for the private equity firm GTCR to launch their revamped website and concise brand story in May.  And we take inordinate pride in winning three new brands–Wolf Chili, Alexia, and Banquet–from our friends at ConAgra.

There’s an old adage about physicians taking their own medicine.  And so we’re also going to be taking some steps to clean up our online hygiene.

It wasn’t good news to hear.  But like criticism from a smart coach, it will make us better.  And that’s the daily goal.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


PS:  Michael Gabriel and Gus Gavino made the video above for a recent pitch.  Though we didn’t prevail there, the energy of this piece is just delightful.  The track is “100,000 Thoughts” by Tap Tap.

Spammed-A-Lot: Imagining a Life Without Akismet

When I first started blogging a year ago, I noticed this little switch on WordPress that activated something called Akismet.  Apparently, this product shielded my comments section from Spam, and so I clicked it.

Picture 2Those Akismet people make a seriously great product: to date I’ve been shielded from upwards of twelve hundred comments, most of which look like the graphic at left.  Seriously, that’s what spammers typically post to my comments section.  Over and over again.

Now I’m not gonna pretend the promise of greater virility (and more satisfaction for her!) has no audience, particularly among middle aged men like myself…but why do they then make the leap to also assume I’m fat (Hoodia), depressed (Effexor, Lexapro, Paxil), hearburn-y (Nexium, Prilosec), and swimming in cholesterol (Lipitor)?  Seriously, this is how you think it’s best to introduce and promote yourself?  Sending me a slew of value judgments presented in a barrage of repetitious garbage?  And they you do it over and over with link after link in spam after spam?   This is the marketing equivalent of a busload of campers singing “100 Bottle of Beer on the Wall” but starting at say, 237,999.  That’s not marketing, it’s bombardment.

Please, for the love of all that is good and holy and beautiful in this world, never, ever, ever click on this kind of garbage.  Who we choose to reward with our discretionary spending reflects our values.

And I can’t think of anyone I know who isn’t better than this.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The Challenge for Marketers Regarding Social Networks: Embracing the Narcissism

Back in the mid-70’s, I used to ride the bus to junior high with a kid called “Tiger” Jackson.  Actually, none of us called him “Tiger” but apparently someone in his family did and he liked the sound of that a whole lot better than “Bill Jr.”  Tiger was never particularly popular but he was always the first to have any comedy record–George Carlin, Steve Martin, The National Lampoon Troupe–and somehow, the mere act of owning and sharing that material lent him a consideration he wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise.

I hadn’t thought about Tiger in three decades but yesterday we had a long discussion about social networks with a client that is getting very active in that space and facing the challenges every corporation does as they make the foray into the less-charted world of earned media.  As we explained the “Hey Everybody!” nature of Facebook and the “Hey anybody!” nature of Twitter to a curious if bemused seventy-year old, the question of “But…why?” came up again and again.  “Why do people spend so much time on these networks?”  “Why do they stop what they’re doing to write about it?”  “Why do they think anyone would care?”

We try to answer these queries with intellectual theses about the need for connection in a socially-isolating world where people bowl alone…  We wax philosophical on how technology empowers a cognitive expansion of our collective Dunbar numbers…  But at it’s heart, this need to broadcast what we’re doing, what we think, or what we have found to an unseen audience that includes friends, nodding acquaintances and a considerable amount of total strangers, bears more than a trace of narcissism.  “Look at me!  Follow my links!  Enjoy this comedy brought to you…by me!

Picture 2I type this fully aware that this insight indicts me and my social network habits perhaps most of all.  I write this blog most weekdays, creating lessons on marketing for…well, for whomever stumbles across them.  But I want people to stumble across them so I send out links to these posts over Twitter and LinkedIn.  Every morning during my commute, I try to find some topical story to inspire a one-liner for my Facebook status update.  I tell myself that I do these things because I need firsthand knowledge of social networking or that writing about contemporary advertising forces me to develop an intellectual discipline during these rapidly-evolving times.  And all of that is true.

But that hardly explains why I check my blog stats everyday to see how many people read the post.  Or why I secretly thrill when a friend on Facebook ‘likes my status’ or someone re-tweets a link.  Or why so many people on twitter spend hours each day, forwarding links like a modern day Tiger Jackson.  All of that springs directly from narcissism; a narcissism every client wading into the waters of social networking with hopes of spreading their messages would be well advised to keep in the forefront of their minds.  As an advertiser in social media, your wants and needs will always fall a distant second to your audience, unless you find a way to align your needs with theirs.  If that seems unthinkable, just read the first few paragraphs of this MobileInsider post by Steve Smith.  As he winds up for his pitch against ill-considered mobile phone apps, he says this: “For the benefit of those consumer brands that weren’t listening the first few hundred times this has been said, consumers do not wake up in the morning thanking the lord they live in a country where they get to worship your brand and see life through its narrow self-serving lens. That only happens in the retro-fantasies of Don Draper and the households of top executives at many of these major brands.”  Ouch.

Adjusting to the foundational narcissism that fuels social networks not only presents a real challenge, but a direct juxtaposition to the necessary narcissism of every corporate marketer.  Which is why these are, and will continue to be, very interesting times…

Of course, if you feel differently, I welcome your comments.  Even if you think my thinking is way off-base, the narcissist in me will take comfort knowing you responded.  Bless you.

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

Why I'm Re-Reading Robert McKee's "Story"

Yep, for the moment I’m setting aside Groundswell and Buyology for all 480 pages of Story, a ten year old, way too heavy hardcover that focuses mainly on the craft of screenwriting.  Why?

Today's Marketing Must-Read

Today's Marketing Must-Read

Because I no longer believe that campaigns measure up in our web 2.0, socially networked world.  Today, we broadcast our messages into an environment where we can control them perhaps seventy percent of the time.  Consumers drive the other thirty percent: blogging, posting reviews, tagging Flickr photos, making YouTube videos and simple word of mouth recommendations.  When we must cede control of the message nearly a third of the time, we need to rethink every assumption we hold regarding pushing out campaigns.

And that takes me back, not immediately to McKee’s 1997 hardcover, but rather some 17,000 years to the Paleolithic age in the South of France.  Admittedly, I wasn’t there, yet those prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux still possess an eerie power all these eons later.  Because those strangely-dynamic images of bulls and horses vividly engender the notion of story; a story told once, then again, then tens of thousands of times, evolving, changing and growing with each new storyteller.

The Magdalenian Age's Must Read

The Magdalenian Age's Must Read

And that takes me back to McKee.  As marketers, we must get really smart about the principles of storytelling. If we can shape compelling brand stories that motivate and engage our consumers, and at the same time specifically identify and highlight foundational aspects of those brand stories, then we will make it easier for our consumers to add their own experiences to our brand story foundation, personalizing the brand to themselves and evangelizing it to all of their friends.  And that sounds like a way forward: not thinking about campaigns, but obsessing over story.

Besides, “campaign” is such a warlike word.  “Story” is so much more inviting, so much more one-to-one, so much more fundamentally human and authentic.  

You know, like the best brands.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On Strunk and White…and Marty.

dsc_0191For the past twenty years, my wife’s brother-in-law Marty has steadfastly refused to use the word ‘party’ as a verb.  His diligence straddles that lonely border between nobility and futility, yet still, he holds to his standards.

I couldn’t help thinking of Marty tonight when I tripped across this Alexander Haig-esque bit of torturous new lexicon: ‘blogcation.’  In a small call out near the top of the page, the site’s author announced he was giving himself a ‘blogcation.’

Whoa.  I hardly tell anyone I’m blogging yet cause I’m not quite comfortable with that as a root word.

I’m a writer; I write.  ‘Blogging’?  Still trying to toss that off my tongue without tripping.

Which puts me a long, long way away from a blogcation anytime soon.  For better or for worse.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79