Inundata: We Have Infinite, Immediate Information, So Why Don’t I Feel Smarter?

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonYep, “inundata.” I just made that word up; coined it without consulting Merriam or Webster, Funk or Wagnalls, Strunk or White. I didn’t invent it because the world needed a new noun, but because I needed some way to describe the intellectual slippage I feel daily, trying to keep up with the crushing flow of breaking news and fresh research and relevant posts–the whole Force Five intensity of the mobile information superhighway that’s never far from hand.

But the critical distinction is that what we live with today is a blitzkrieg of data, not actual knowledge.

I don’t believe we are smarter, I think we’re more distracted.

I don’t think we multi-task, I think we do more things with less commitment.

And I truly don’t believe any of us are wiser despite today’s omnipresence of information. We have always been able to find or conjure data to support whatever belief we hold. It may not stand up to the rigors of the scientific method, but it doesn’t need to; we’re not scientists. At least, most of us aren’t.

Which is why we should all take time to stop and make art. We should all try things, create things and play. Because in the end, creativity is the human data that defines ourselves.

Oh, and it’s also why every brand needs a really well thought out search strategy.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Creativity In Everyday Situations, Redux

At the end of last month, I posted a photo of the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis where someone took the time to add a little zip to the otherwise purely functional movie announcement for Jane Eyre on their marquis.
Apparently, he or she can’t help themselves.  My friend, the towering writer Ross Buchanan, visited his old stomping grounds in the Twin Cities this weekend for a bar mitzvah.  On the way back to the hotel from the synagogue, he snapped the shot posted below, announcing the screening of Kill The Irishman.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OLSON


Ross also suggested we might want to hire that guy/girl.

Good point.  And again, well done, movie marquis letter arranger, well done…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, OLSON



Determining The Value of Creative Ideation and Execution

I am not a wine guy.  I like it, I will rarely turn down a glass after 5 pm, but still, it’s not my thing; I don’t have nearly a sensitive enough palate to tell the difference between ‘oaky’ and ‘buttery.’

So I’m hard-pressed to blame clients for not recognizing a good ad from a bad one.  Or more commonly, a good ad from a slightly better one.Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

The difference comes down to taste and an appreciation for craft and aesthetics, neither of which is measurable.  And so creatives inevitably grumble about things like clients picking the wrong board or insisting on the lame cast or ruining the spot in edit.

But those who insist on using measurability as their guide may suddenly find themselves in an uncomfortable position.  According to an extensively-researched study released Monday from comScore ARS, “sound strategy and strong creative elements” have a measurable impact on ad effectiveness for TV and digital.  In fact, they conclude that “…creative quality drives more than half of the sales changes for brands analyzed, four times higher than the impact of the specific media plan involved.

In other words, the power of the idea makes the biggest impact on advertising efficacy.

I’ve long believed bigger clients should hire a Chief Creative Officer in addition to a Chief Marketing Officer to both improve the quality of the work and drive better cross-discipline integration.  CMO’s have business backgrounds–they aren’t trained to discern the subtle creative differences that separate good from great ideas.  The work at our client ConAgra has noticeably improved over the few short years since they instituted a Center of Excellence and hired agency creatives to shepherd the creative development process.

And yet the challenge for selling great work remains, and probably always will; in the planning stage, an idea’s greatness lies in the eye of the beholder that will be paying for it.  And just as you’ll never meet a single person who doesn’t think they have a sense of humor no matter how painfully dry they might be, you won’t meet anyone who doesn’t have a personal opinion regarding advertising, no matter how unsophisticated that might be.

Another reason you should never be bored in this job…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


So Who’s GaGa Now?

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 9I’m not a Lady GaGa fan. In general, I don’t follow royalty and the few times I have heard her music have been quite by accident. And yet, there she was when I flipped on my laptop this morning, in a featured link of the Yahoo! homepage, something about how once again, she managed to cause a stir during her entrance at the VMA’s.

Frankly, you have to hand it to her: she’s really, really good at this. Time and time again, she makes a splash in the press and on the web with what she wears.  Occasionally, that’s for brazen undressing but far more often, it’s for outlandish fashions, attention-getting masks and dresses and get ups of the kind one rarely sees outside a Mummers Parade

Admittedly, we live in times when new technology and access is forcing redefinition in the news industry (“Are bloggers journalists?” “Is gossip/opinion/reaction news?” “Do sources matter?”), and yet somehow, this woman has thrived through that journalistic uncertainty, demanding and receiving consistent attention–the kind of attention that translates into album and ticket sales.

Not because she’s drop dead gorgeous.

Not because she’s deeply-funded.

Simply because she uses creativity to make herself interesting.  Particularly during awards shows when dozens of camera crews are looking for anything noteworthy.

A lot of brands could take a lesson there.  It’s amazing what a stir creative new packaging can cause…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Creativity: It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

The only quote about advertising I’ve ever committed to memory that wasn’t uttered by Bill Bernbach is this wonderful thought from the late Jay Chiat: “Creative is not a department.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Creativity in the Wild: A Bowerbird Nest

Creativity should never be the sole provence of one group.  Some of us were lucky enough to grow up with teachers and parents telling us we are creative.  That simple encouragement can open a child’s imagination.  At the same time, not hearing that, or worse, being told you definitely are not creative, inevitably leads to restriction, to setting governors on expectations, even for ourselves.  That’s no way to live.

Creativity is the fun part of life.  It’s the chocolate sprinkles, the fresh daisies in a canning jar, the grin-inducing scribbles in the margins of daily life.

And if you believe Harvard Ph.D.’s, it’s also a necessary skill for thriving in our modern times.  This Huffington Post article by Shelley Carson outlines her overview on the many ways she thinks creativity has become more crucial to all of us.  In many ways, her thesis echoes Daniel Pink’s from his wonderful book “A Whole New Mind.”

Business people should need no more evidence than today’s Apple’s earnings report.  Driven by the phenomenal success of their new iPad, they were able to report their most successful financial quarter in the company’s history.  And what is the iPad?  It’s a tablet computer, but those already existed.  It doesn’t have any USB ports or a camera and it famously doesn’t support Flash.  But it is beautiful.  In the words of the toy industry, “it has exceptional play value.”  In other words, in a world of electronic devices, the iPad takes a far more creative approach to function.  And they’ve been rewarded handsomely.

The best part about increasing our emphasis on creativity is that it just makes life more interesting.  And frankly, that’s a worthy goal for any human being.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Without Creativity, Even Writers Can Be Replaced

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis RyanA fascinating article in the May 9th issue of Bloomberg Businessweek asks the question: “Are Sportswriters Really Necessary?”  This provocation leads a story about a new type of software that converts sports statistics into actual prose articles.  An outfit called Narrative Science just North of our city in Evanston now sells this program which produces “Machine Generated Content” that requires neither a human writer nor editor.

We’ve seen these kinds of stories before, but then we always watched as the ‘miracle car that parks itself’ does that through an excruciatingly slow series of twenty-point turns.  The reality of these kinds of grand promises is always impractical…or so I thought until I took the quiz below.  Can you tell which of these three sports items was written by a computer?

A.  The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.

B.  Michigan held off Iowa for a 7-5 win on Saturday.  The Hawkeyes (16-21) were unable to overcome a four-run sixth inning deficit. The Hawkeyes clawed back in the eighth inning, putting up one run.

C.  The Iowa baseball team dropped the finale of a three-game series, 7-5, to Michigan Saturday afternoon.  Despite the loss, Iowa won the series, having picked up two wins in the twinbill at Ray Fisher Stadium Friday.

The correct answer is ‘B” and don’t lie to yourself and say that was obvious because it’s not.  Since this software converts boxscores into articles in less than three seconds at a cost that’s far more affordable than a human being requiring benefits and vacation time, you can bet you’ll be reading a lot more content like this in the future.  Perhaps you already have; the Big Ten Network and Fox Cable are already clients.

No, Narrative Science software can’t interview Paul Konerko about his early season homerun tear, but it can handle a lot of boilerplate writing functions.  When the objective is as simple as clean, communicative prose, that can be programmed.  Today, it’s converting boxscores, tomorrow it could be writing SEO friendly web content for major corporations.  As Daniel Pink opined in his wonderful book A Whole New Mind, automation will replace everything that can be learned by computers.

Happily, creativity, inspiration and the evergreen delight of surprise can’t.  Those only come through sidestepping expectations and convention, delivering unexpected inspiration.  That’s something we all better really start emphasizing in our writing.  Because that’s all that keeps us from being replaceable.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


PS:  For anyone who may be concerned, no–I didn’t start reading business publications.  My friend and colleague Toby Smalley passed along the article; he’s the smart one.

As General Web Sophistication Grows, The Effectiveness of Simplistic Tactics Withers

As Louis CK says rather brilliantly, “Everything is amazing and no one’s happy.” The ready availability of technology inevitably inures people to its intrinsic wonder and possibilities through nothing more than repeated use.  As we navigate through the wild, shapeless zettabytes of information and arcania on the web, we form habits, creating our own narrow, predictable Habitrails™ around our interests and viewpoints.  We close our doors of perception lest we grow overwhelmed.

Picture 2Which may explain these recently released findings from comScore and Starcom updating their ongoing research around click-through rates for online ads.  Two findings leap out from this data.  First, a mere 16% of all web users account for nearly all online ad clicks, with 85% of clicks coming from 8% of users the study rather unimaginatively categorizes as ‘heavy clickers.’  And secondly, in less than two years between July ’07 and March ’09, the total share of all internet users who click online ads shrunk in half, from 32% to 16%.

Of course, media and marketing salespeople will respond to these findings by redoubling their protests that click through is an anemic measure for ad effectiveness.  And indeed, another comScore research shows online display ads generate meaningful lift in both online and offline sales whether they click the ad or not.

All of which kind of misses the really obvious lesson here: there simply can be no standing still on ‘proven’ assumptions about online audiences.  It’s a movable feast and the more effective and advanced technology becomes, the more the time-honored values of surprise, delight and intrigue will rise to the fore of this media platforms requirements to be truly effective.  Creativity always has been the differentiator between the average and the exceptional.  Even the wonkiest data wonks will soon have to admit tonnage and new message environments alone will not move the needle.

You always have to have something worth saying.  Or at least a clever way to say it.

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

Exercises in Obviousness: Harris Interactive Determines Bad Online Advertising Frustrates People

The "O" Stands for "Obvious"     

The “O” Stands for “Obvious”

Last week, the online market research people at Harris Interactive released their latest findings in a pdf titled “LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll.”   In findings that will come as a surprise to no one who has ever spent more than ten seconds on the Yahoo! home page, consumers find many aspect of the burgeoning world of internet advertising frustrating.  They resent expanding banners, page takeovers, and video windows without the option to close or skip.  And now the Harris Interactive people have the quantitative results to prove it.

But this is far from news.  Bad is bad, whether it’s bad television, bad product design, or bad recipes for zucchini.  Advertising is no different: to really engage people, it must prove useful or interesting or surprising.  Generally speaking, people recoil at obnoxious behavior.  And uninvited page takeovers qualify as obnoxious behavior.  Too many advertisers believe silly stunts like sending bouncing balls careening from a small space out over the entire home page constitutes innovation, as if unaware that animation has been around since the late 19th century.

Pointlessly interrupting people is rude.  Wasting peoples’ time is rude.  If you are an uninvited drop-in stranger, I’m not gonna open my front door.  However, if you are an uninvited drop-in stranger lugging an inflatable castle and offering free bouncing for the kids, I might open up a bit.  Because that’s a lot of fun.  Marketing works the exact same way, on or off line.

Essentially, this poll confirms a hypothesis most people in marketing should already consider painfully obvious.  It takes great creative wherewithal to escape the bonds of mediocrity, but that’s the goal.  Every day. In every medium.  

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79