Don’t Like Instagram’s New Terms of Service? Wait Sixteen Hours.

Oh Mark Zuckerberg, when will you learn?

Instagram started this week by quietly making two major shifts in their terms of service. For one, they claimed ownership over every image their users post, enabling them to sell those images without compensation or notification, even as they simultaneously absolved themselves of any class action liability. Oh, and they offered no opt out.

This is lousy. Kind of heinous even. The fact that they tried to slip it through with a blog post that made no mention of these specific changes demonstrates a corporate oiliness we’ve grown to expect from Facebook-owned entities. Still, blatant chutzpah notwithstanding, you have to admire how quickly and cheaply they crowdsourced the world’s biggest stock photo library…

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonBut as should be expected in a medium that trades on information, the web noticed, word spread and within hours, a massive backlash mushroomed. Predictably, Instagram seemed to reverse course by mid-day Tuesday. This rhebus outlines the action; first the company announces, then the web revolts, then the company recants, claiming to be misunderstood with a PR spin absolutely no one believes.

We should be used to this kind of end around from any Facebook-owned entity. It’s not like this is new behavior from Mr. Z; it’s almost like he can’t stop himself from imperiously disrespecting the people who use his services. How many times has he tried to sneak through surreptitious changes to Facebook’s privacy policies?

But all’s better now, right? Actually, not so fast. First, their CEO simply claimed “it’s not our intention to sell your photos”–which is hardly legally binding. Instagram’s new terms of service remain–this is just damage control.

They also haven’t recanted the second shift in their terms of service; namely that “…we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.” In other words, that cool photo you see on your home page? That might actually be paid content, or what old people call ‘ads.’

The web runs on sponsored content, and we accept that. But on reputable sites, it’s identified, helping those sites maintain both credibility and an ethical balance with visitors. With this policy, Instagram is intentionally creating a gray area and you can almost hear them daring their users; “go on, see if you can tell what’s organic and what we’ve placed there.”

Hmmm…  I’m no dotcom billionaire, but it seems to me, the web community just proved they’re pretty good at that.

So long Instagram, it was a fun two years.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


PS: Thanks Devin Bousquet, for the awesome profile picture.

You Can Waste A Ton of Time In Sixty Seconds…

On Monday, MSNBC’s Technolog posted the graphic below which outlines exactly what happens out there on that World Wide Web every blessed minute of the day…on average of course.  Even a casual perusal can be kind of mind blowing: Google answers nearly 700,000 search queries, which is roughly the same number of status updates posted on Facebook each minute.  Over 168 million emails are sent, 20,000 new posts go up on Tumblr and over 13,000 hours of music stream over Pandora.  And beyond the limits of minutes, over 110 new pictures posted to Flickr every second!

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Of course, things really get crazy when you convert these minutes to full days.  Or god forbid, actual years.  Do the math on YouTube video uploads: if there are over twenty-five hours of video added every minute, that means there are over 1,500 hours each hour and a whopping 36,000 hours every day, which equates to well over four years worth of video. Every day.  Good luck keeping up with that.

Thanks to the ease of content generation, the explosion of social sharing and the basic premise of Web 2.0, content isn’t just King, it’s exponentially ubiquitous.  Or some other expression that means really, really freaking massive.

Damn internet, you scary big!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Rethinking Video from Broadcast Networks to Social Networks

As an industry, we have blathered about “Content” for so long that today, when it makes broad, immediately-obvious sense for mainstream advertisers to leverage it, many clients discount it’s mass relevance.  Shame on us.  With the massive changes brought by Facebook and other social networks, our audience now expects content to find them.  And not just content–good, relevant, engaging content.  After all, it’s been pre-vetted by their own trusted peers.

Element 79, Chicago Advertising, Dennis RyanAll of us view friend-forwarded videos everyday and yet the the perception of online video as somehow exotic persists.  We’ve allowed it to become the purview of highly-specialized marketing firms and that’s incredibly stupid.  Despite being oft-dismissed as no longer relevant, no other marketing organization has more experience creating emotionally-compelling, strategically-relevant video for clients than a ‘traditional agency’ that has perfected video-storytelling over decades.  Studies prove that viewers invest three times more time watching brand videos when they are shared by consumers.  With that kind of deep engagement, it’s no longer about using the web because it’s a cheap video medium–it’s leveraging the web because it’s a more powerful video medium.

Creating video content for social networks is not hard.  It’s not exotic.  It simply requires we adjust the messages we’ve long created to suit the medium.  We need to make ‘sharing’ the video strategy.

And whether we want to call that ‘content’ or ‘online video’ or ‘shareable stories’–the final measure of success here boils down to whether our video storytelling engages or not.  The traditional elements of story, production value, and visual editing most determine success or failure with online video.

Like it or not, those are traditional skills.

And if we want to reassert our value to our clients, it’s time ‘traditional agencies’ get back to another traditional skill–salesmanship.  Of ourselves.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The Challenge of Content: Captivate Network, Exhibit A

Dennis Ryan Element 79 Chicago Advertising

This morning, March 25th and day nine of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, I noticed this on the Captivate screen in the office elevators.  Let’s see: Villanova went down to St. Mary’s and Northern Iowa shocked Kansas five days ago.  In fairness, Duke is still in it and faces a compromised Purdue so indeed, they are ‘medium risk.’  But the sure thing and the longshot are both out.

Bad content.  Dated content.  Irrelevant content.  These will increasingly challenge emerging platforms that replace editors with AI and bots.  For most of these outlets, automation is the only financially-viable answer; smaller, fragmented audiences can’t warrant an investment in human talent to collate and curate content.

The issue then, boils down to sustainability.  Putting out a good product–something pointed and interesting and revealing–can be a Herculean task.  Today’s media consumes content with an unprecedented voraciousness.  But how long will these ‘always on’ times last, these days where immediacy and controversy seems to count more than knowledge and assessment?  For some platforms, they are sustainable.  If you want gossip and funny photos and Fails, the supply is steady and inexhaustible.

But if you want real information–actionable insight and considered viewpoints–your outlets seem to shrink daily.

Not sure that amounts to actual progress…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

You Are So One-Track: Kids Squeeze 10.75 Hours of Media into 7.5 Hours Every Day

In a feast of content consumption with Houdini-like overtones, today’s multitasking youth find a way to overclock their daily intake of various media at a rate of 143%.  These numbers come from a study of media’s effects on America’s youth released last week by The Kaiser Family Foundation.  Over the past five years, daily media consumption by eight to eighteen year olds rose by an hour and seventeen minutes to seven hours and thirty-eight minutes: roughly the length of a typical workday.  Of course, childrens’ media consumption does not take weekends and Holidays off.

The sheer volume of watched, heard, read and gamed material is staggering.  Even if it is all intellectually vapid, the scale of consumption boggles slower minds like mine.  In fact, it’s arguably far worse if most of that content is intellect-free: the mental hard drive is decidedly finite and clogging it up with tripe like the names of every Autobot or the Jonas Brothers’ astrological signs seems unconscionably wasteful.

Consumption of almost every type of media is up over the ten years of the study, with the glaring exception of magazines and newspapers.  But before you let that bum you out too much regarding our nation’s future, the time spent reading books has actually increased over the past ten years.  Granted, it’s only twenty-five minutes a day, or less than ten percent the amount of time devoted to television, but it’s still reading.  And candidly, in a footrace between The Last of the Mohicans and GTA San Andreas, bet on the glock-wielding digital homies to win everytime.

The one definite upside of this information?  If your kid ever tries to weasel out of chores with an “I’m too busy” excuse, the facts are on your side.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Wow! Facebook Had the Best-est Christmas EVER!

According to an article in the New York Post, Facebook got it’s first ever #1 Web Site ranking on both December 24th and 25th.  With 7.81% of all US web traffic Christmas Day, Facebook even trumped the almighty Google–a rather mindblowing thought.

Facebook traffic has always spiked around the Holidays but now that the social network’s audience doubled during the course of 2009 to over 350 million users, it finally has the heft to displace even search.

If you’re still wondering how Facebook is ever going to make money, just review those Facebook facts again–conveniently posted for your perusal at :

  • Over 350 million active users, half logging on every day for fifty five minutes.
  • Over 2.5 billion photos uploaded to the site each month
  • Over 3.5 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) shared each week
  • Two-thirds of comScore’s U.S. Top 100 websites and half of comScore’s Global Top 100 websites have implemented Facebook Connect
  • More than 65 million active users currently access Facebook through mobile devices, and they are almost 50% more active than non-mobile users

The key to Facebook’s future profits lies in data-mining.  Because frankly, they are sitting on unimaginable volumes of it.  And if their ferocious ongoing litigation with any third party that dares to access individual accounts and potentially scrape some of that data, they clearly intend to keep it all to themselves.

That’s not particularly social; it’s just business.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On Commercials, Virals and the Legacy of Conditioned Expectations

Marketing leaders spend a great deal of time worrying about the changing media landscape these days, and an article on MediaPost by Gavin O’Malley this morning will only further their agita.  According to a Princeton Survey Research study, 90% of young adults use video-sharing sites.  Well, no kidding.  The only reason that figure is not 100% is that broadband has yet to penetrate the entire country.

One of the marketing leaders’ principal responses to these changes is their insistence on renaming television production as “content” production.  In their minds, “content” or “video assets” can be endlessly re-purposed with different edits of different lengths for different platforms beyond merely television.

That is good planning, even if it is nothing particularly new.  Candidly, framing a shoot as “content production” helps agencies sell something that every creative on a shoot always wants:  options and additional scenes.  Production experience will quickly teach you to get alternate takes, particularly alternate endings.  With so much of a commercial’s impact and engagement dependent on the actors’ performance, the cost of getting options on set is relatively low.  If you experiment a bit, the actor might deliver a different and better performance than you planned- -which explains roughly 75% of creatives’ bristling at dogmatic pre-testing.  An animatic is but the palest imitation of fully produced film with human performances.

Viral?  Or TV Commercial?

Viral? Or TV Commercial?

Consider the videos that have clogged your inbox over the years: Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”, the non-sanctioned VW “Terrorist”, and arguably the granddaddy of all internet virals: John West Salmon’s  “Bear”.  People forward clips like these to their friends and family because they’re entertaining, surprising and fun.  And yet, every one of these began as a television commercial, albeit an outstanding television commercial.  These may have also worked in a longer format, but thirty or sixty seconds often proves ideal for their impact.  And our attention spans.  Why?  Because we have spent decades absorbing commercial messages at these lengths; we have been conditioned to expect these clips in these concise formats.

All of which means that the changing media landscape will not suddenly render the way we have learned to tell efficiently-structured stories as meaningless.  We must still engage consumers with worthwhile messages presented in a rewarding fashion.  Technology will continue to change, but story endures.

So yes, the marketing landscape is evolving and will continue to evolve.  Change will continue to be a constant.  And so creativity must adapt to embrace and leverage new platforms but never at the cost of classic storytelling.

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

Free Will vs. Determinism: An Unexpected Lesson Regarding Digital and Traditional Creatives

Today felt markedly different at the agency.  We have something of a hot streak going lately, selling big ideas and innovative programs, particularly to clients that once resisted them.  For the first time in quite a while, the department is stretched very, very thin with people juggling assignments and deadlines.  A large portion of our creatives will work this weekend to keep up with the demand.  Better still, this work encompasses gaming, rich media banners, television, content, events, social media, radio, wild postings, couponing and probably another half dozen platforms that escape me now. 

"Unknown Caller" U2  No Line On the Horizon

"Unknown Caller" U2, No Line On the Horizon

But even as this sudden burst of reinvention elated me, it made me wonder: what changed?  What spurred this flurry of creative innovation?

And then it hit me: since losing the Pepsi brands, almost everyone that joined Element 79 when we bought a small digital company named Tractiv has left.  And that’s made all the difference.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t say this because those people were awful—–hardly.  To this day, I miss some of them terribly.  But that failed experience proved that buying digital specialists and expecting them to drive integration works about as well as hiring a surgical team and expecting them to run a wellness program. Much like surgeons love operating, digital specialists love doing digital work.  They couldn’t drive integration because they weren’t motivated by integration.  So they kept a separate name, separate e-mails and a separate unit within the agency.  In hindsight, the signs were obvious: just buying a digital company didn’t work for us.  I doubt it works for other agencies either.

That said, some of our best creatives today do boast strong digital backgrounds, even deep expertise.  And one extremely valuable team leader even remains from that original acquisition.  But none of these creatives are merely digital people.  They all think in convergence and so they represent the next evolution; not determined by their background, but rather inspired by it to become something totally new.

Platform agnostic, these converged creatives mingle and work easily with their traditionally-trained creative counterparts, encouraging them to evolve as well.  Because just as hewing to digital work limits a creative, clinging to traditional media stunts creative growth just as severely.  But by focusing on ideas not platforms, each expands the other’s imagination and occasionally invents entirely new combinations.  To me, that represents the bleeding edge of creativity—forging new, never before tried ideas through the clever melding of various disciplines.

No, digital creatives are not the future.

And traditional creatives certainly aren’t the future.

Converged creatives represent the future of advertising.  Creatives who use their free will to choose a new path for a changing industry.

And I am lucky to work with more and more of them every day.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

CONTEXT: Advertising’s Next Creative Frontier

TV commercials, print ads, posters, radio spots, banners, rich media, long form: most creatives can generate competent content once they develop a feel for the format.  The challenge of content boils down to narrative or stylistic innovation and surprise.

The Right Message At The Right Time

The Right Message At The Right Time

But content won’t be the biggest challenge for creatives over the next few years; context will.  Advances in data farming and technology-empowered customization will challenge creative imaginations to anticipate and empathize, to visualize and speculate around consumer engagement occasions like never before.  Soon, it will no longer be enough to dream up a surprising idea; we will have to go further and determine how to customize that idea based on variables like target age and gender, time of day and social setting, even changes in weather, news and collective mood.

To truly exploit context demands a more fully immersive imagination: a skill previously unasked of advertising creatives, yet one that will increasingly drive the differentiation and success of marketing platforms.  Messages that reference, or at least acknowledge, the world surrounding them will find more receptive audiences.

Context has long been the promise of mobile marketing.  For the past few years, we’ve been promised the revolution of using GPS location to activate messages regarding local offerings and attractions.  It also promises to improve search as algorithms grow more sophisticated at filtering meaning based on user data.  And it promises to reinvent usage of the humble coupon, creating ever more relevant offers based on demographics and location…and perhaps even astrological signs.

Historically, traditional agency creatives have ceded the entire contextual domain to direct marketers.  But as technology continues to improve and refine user data, innovative thinkers will dream up ways to use this information to exponentially improve the relevance, engagement and impact of their ideas.

Because the most powerful messages are deeply personal.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79