Blaming The Media Is So Passe: Blame the Immedia

Yesterday was one gut-wrenching day on Wall Street.  The market was whipsawed by a series of incredible sell-offs, all triggered by a futures traders’ sell order typo that read “16 billion” instead of “16 million.”  The Dow responded by dropping almost 1,000 points: the biggest trading day drop in history.  At one point in the afternoon, it dropped 600 points in seven minutes.

That’s the story that started to come together in the hours after the markets closed.  That’s what I learned from the online and on air media Thursday night.

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis RyanBut that wasn’t what I learned all day long from the Immedia.  No, the Immedia–all those instant market updates like Captivate in our elevators and the New York Times email newsflashes–just told me bad things were happening.  Then worse things were happening.  No ‘why,’ just ‘what.’  I felt incredibly anxious about the state of the markets.

But then I remembered I write for a living; I know nouns and verbs and adjectives–I don’t know anything about futures and puts and calls.  Still, I got to share the fear.  I got to feel all the anxiety about something I neither controlled nor fully understood.  Did I need to know these things?  Was my life enhanced?

We mistake all this immediate information for actual intelligence.  It’s not.  These are just data points–when the news first came across, no one knew about the typo, no one had the context of how automated computer trading was intensifying the sell offs.  But we immediately knew the knee-weakening fact that the ever-stable P&G was down 37% at one point.

Sadly, we no longer get news stories with context–we get quick facts, mere headlines, which rarely tell the whole story and frequently are plain wrong.  In early reports, the would-be Times Square Terrorist was some forty-ish white dude caughtchanging his shirt in an alleyway on a surveillance camera.  Tiger Woods crashed his car.  Balloon Boy was flying away…

All this Immedia isn’t good for us.  Our minds fill up on these nutritionally-dubious appetizers and we’re left feeling vaguely sick by the time the main course is served.  We lose the real story to the immediate sensation of reacting, instead of responding.

Yes, I do want to know the box scores immediately–they need no context.  But more complicated news?  That’s a different story.  And its more valuable when it comes contextualized in a story too.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

We Say “Networked” Only Because “Addicted” Sounds So Untoward

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis Ryan CCOIn his fascinating recent book The Tyranny of E-Mail, John Freeman describes e-mail as ‘our electronic fidget.’  Anyone with a smart phone will recognize the painful accuracy of his assessment.  You can find yourself glancing at your cell two or three times in the course of an average elevator ride.  Distraction has become our constant companion.

And now, a study just released by the University of Maryland’s International Center for Media & the Public Agenda concludes that college students are ‘incredibly addicted’ to media.  The study asked 200 students to give up all media for 24 hours.  That seemingly simple request required foregoing laptops and PC’s, the internet and Facebook, cell phones, texting and IM’s.  No TV, no radio, no newspapers.  Only direct, face-to-face conversations or something they’d probably never experienced in their semi-adult lives; quiet.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the students freaked.  In their post-deprival write-ups, they expressed an almost universal feeling of disconnectedness.  In other words, despite living amongst 35,000 students on the U of M campus, they felt alone.

Probing further, researcher and Ph.D. student Raymond McCaffrey, summed it up this way; “But most of all, they care about being cut off from that instantaneous flow of information that comes from all sides and does not seemed tied to any single device or application or news outlet.”

An SNL skit or the latest Wall Street numbers, a Taiwanese earthquake or the Blackhawks clinching, a friend’s Facebook status update or a groupon notice: it all comes through in an unbroken life stream that add interest and import and busy-ness to our daily lives.  It’s not simply news, it’s information of every stripe.  We’ve become omnivores to social media stimulation that is as addictive and habit-forming as any narcotic.

Speaking from personal experience, overcoming this one is gonna take a lot more than just twelve steps.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Even Online Video Consumption Bows To Dinner

Engagement matters more than ever in these hyper-connected, hyper-distracted times. As a connected culture, we want to know, we don’t want to miss, we can’t wait to forward the next sparkly, shiny, useful message thing that comes our way.  And yet a recent poll from Interpret regarding online video viewing patterns proves that even this always-on medium bows to the dominance of dinnertime.

Yes dinner, that lovely day-ending repast that delineates “on” from “off” and “work” from “play” stands out as the sole time of day when the consistent consumption of online video takes a break.  From 6pm-9pm, we set aside the keyboards and pick up forks and spoons.  As a human being, I find that deeply, deeply reassuring.

Come Back After Dinner

Come Back After Dinner

Because how many times have you ridden an elevator where everyone scanned their Blackberrys and iPhones, desperate to fill the silent, yawning moments between floors?  How often have you noticed people sitting outside on a beautiful Summer day, focused solely on their laptop?  On a recent vacation, my own family spent more than one hour together, each of us tied to a different computer.

So the fact that online video must wait for mealtime?  That’s fine with me, just fine indeed.  LOL cats and Colbert clips can wait a half hour.  Despite being woefully underrated, analog conversation is still a skill worth developing.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Context: The Next Frontier For Advertising

Forget ROI, forget GRP’s. forget unique selling benefits (please!): in the very near future, as advertising and marketing continues its accelerated evolvution in our fragmented, parity world, the discriminating value most critical to brands and brand messages will be context.  And it will directly influence the creative idea.

Context Matters.  It ALWAYS matters.

Context Matters. It ALWAYS matters.

Last year, advertisers posted 3.6 trillion banner ads on the web; that’s 36 followed by eleven zeroes–an unimaginably astronomical number. This exercise in sheer, dunning message tonnage flies in the face of any sort of strategic placement; it represents the ultimate blunt object approach.  But the promise of Web 3.0 and a more discerning, more discriminating web intelligence will only heighten marketers’ ability to target demographics, occasions, moods, and mindframes.  Instead of the time-honored methods of mass impressions, we will be able to focus more tightly and take advantage of the emerging media strategy of ‘overwhelming the niche.’  After all, while few can afford to scream their message indiscriminately to the fragmented masses, most will invest in vehicles that reach their ideal consumer at the ideal time.  They will even be willing to overinvest in those occasions.  This has been the promise that’s fueled mobile marketing for years now despite still sketchy returns.

Context will provide marketers with that edge.  In a world awash in Brandfill, context elevates individual brands in consumers’ minds, providing the ultimate value of engaging relevance.  As we become ever more adept at converting data into information, we become ever more astute at creating context and driving sales.  And yes, even in this data driven approach, inspirational creativity still matters.  What separates the merely effective from the truly exceptional is creativity and its unique ability to inspire and move people.  Ideas will continue to matter; the difference will be the context will influence the creative, making the voice and message far more selective and specific.  And that could be a hill of fun.

If you can put your brand where it’s needed, wanted, valued, or discussed…  If your brand messages prove useful, understanding, appreciated or simpatico…  Simply put, if your brand messages are welcomed into consumers’ lives because their timing is impeccable, you will build an Olympian brand loved passionately by your consumers.

And maybe make advertising something people hate a bit less.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

How Exactly Do You Sell A Book These Days?

Also Available In MP3 and Kindle   

Also Available In MP3 and Kindle

Books demand a considerable amount of time and attention; so how do you go about trying to sell them?  Traditionally, publishers send authors on book tours to generate word of mouth interest, which can be very effective.  Then again, the life of letters hardly prepares someone for a guest shot on Oprah.  Something as fundamental as book cover design certainly encourages potential readers to pick one up and consider it further.  And in the case of industry heavy-hitters like James Patterson, publishers occasionally turn to television ads, usually with unfortunate results.

But in the past month, I’ve come across two deeply-engaging websites that do an incredibly effective job of selling books.  Photographer Andrew Zuckerman has a new celebrity-interview powered book out entitled Wisdom and a tremendous multi-media site to promote it.  Photographer Phillip Toledano created a slightly less-sophisticated but deeply moving site chronicling the final days of his ninety-three year old father, a documentary project which will eventually become a book.  

Both authors are younger (thirty one and forty one, respectively), both are photographers, and both provide generous amounts of their work free to the public in this context.  The online medium fits their work incredibly well, though the challenge still remains to publicize the link and drive traffic to the site.  In both cases, I followed forwarded links, an admittedly far less precise media tool but one that carries considerable weight as recommendation.

Then again, if this is the alternative, less precise is just fine…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

If You Point Your Finger In The Blogosphere, Does Anyone Notice?

Web-based news media attract many users through the ability to choose the topics that interest you, and the political perspective of those feeds.  All of which means you get your online news just the way you like it, without any opposing viewpoints or tedious articles on boring subjects.

Of course, now that changing consumption habits compel every major newspaper to simultaneously publish their articles online, traditional editors find themselves in a position similar to traditional ad agencies: proving their mettle in new media while arguing for the viability of their traditional product, in this case–newsprint.

Yesterday, as part of a series on the future of journalism, Charlie Rose interviewed a panel including Robert Thomson, Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal.  He set online advocates’ tongues wagging by opining that , “Google devalues everything it touches. Google is great for Google but it’s terrible for content providers.”  Mr. Thomson’s issue stems from his contention that Google doesn’t consider the quality of the content around the ads it places, being far more concerned with quantity than quality.

One for you, Three for me

One for you, Three for me

Almost immediately, a hue and cry lit up the blogosphere as the acolytes of new media assembled like torch-wielding villagers, looking to burn Mr. Thomson’s effigy.  Their comments expressed histrionic outrage against this guardian of the past, featuring words like “dead trees,” “buggy whips,” and “30% margins.”  One respondent considered his attitude to be so quaint, he wondered “do you have a cat?”

Actually, that’s kind of funny, but still, this partisan posturing must stop if we are to move the medium forward.  Randall Rothenberg set a great example just days ago, calling for the better creativity this sector has long lacked, forfeiting it to pure technology.  Both sides have to stop taking their cues from the idiots of congress, stop pointing fingers across the aisle in kneejerk fashion, and begin looking for ways to connect and cooperate.  As I watch agencies like Tribal DDB staff up with traditional creatives, I can’t help but wonder which digital agency will be the first to earn heavy PR for the ‘man bites dog’ story they would exemplify if they were to acquire a traditional agency.  And you know it will happen.  Because that’s what’s called for with the needs today’s clients want filled: full spectrum, platform agnostic creativity that drives business and builds loyalty.  Cooperation is the key to convergence; working together, positively, for the greater good of our clients.  That’s a far cry from fingerpointing.

Besides, whenever you do that, you always get three more fingers, pointing back at you.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

In A Just World, Creatives Seeking Ad Jobs Would Find Them…In Media

A Too Common Writing Assignment...      

An All-Too-Common Writing Assignment

Confidence means jobs.  Unfortunately, consumer confidence, client confidence, market confidence: all languish at crushing depths compared to a mere year ago…

Lack of work means more than losing some fat in the agency system: today’s historically bad numbers cut to the bone, costing talented thinkers and rich imaginations their paychecks and health plans and office comraderie.  The number of paying creative jobs don’t support paying the same number of creatives.

Still, one area of advertising desperately needs these creative minds in a way they never did: media.  Social networks and the ongoing new media revolution put media professionals at a horrific disadvantage.  Decades of metrics and planning no longer apply to a world of three screens–TV, Internet and Mobile.  Worse, robust new platforms like Facebook call for formats of advertising yet to be invented.  I believe the creative platforms that will be most prevalent five years from now have yet to be invented. Seriously.  

With the vast data engines of the internet and digital TV pumping out actionable information about audiences with unprecedented accuracy, our industry needs creative thinkers generating ingenious responses to these opportunities.  Hyper- customization, day-part targeting, contextual messaging and couponing: all of these will be commonplace tomorrow, despite being largely impossible today.  The media discipline has never faced a greater need for innovation and ideas.

In his delightfully-imagined book The Happy Soul Industry, Euro RSCG Chicago’s Steffan Postaer tosses his angelic protagonist into a modern hotelroom, where he turns on the TV news: “Finally and mercifully, the piece ended.  But then came the commercials.  And in their own way, David found them more obscene.  Not because of what they were about–banks and cars and video games–but because of how blindly they went about their business.  Like the reporters, the spots traipsed across the screen utterly unaware of their context…”

Great insight from Steffan.  But we will soon see the final days of commercials that are ‘utterly unaware of their context.’  The sad comScore fact that US Internet users saw 4.5 trillion display ads last year will soon become an archaic indictment of lazy media.  Context will change everything.  Context and that convergence thing.  Convergence between disparate marketing entities far beyond mere online and offline.

I’m talking the convergence of creative and media.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Feeding the Meter

Will we ever learn that experience does not reliably inform expectation?  Doubtful.   And so year after year, we flock to the Super Bowl telecast, abuzz with the promise of hilarious, remarkable, breathtaking advertising that rivals the game for pure entertainment value.

The Root of All Banal

The Root of All Banal

And then ten hours later, we stumble away, bleary-eyed and frustrated, like high schoolers the day after a lackluster prom, chagrined at how the reality failed to measure up to the dream.  Nonetheless, we will be back next year when we will be shocked to learn that the price of a :30 went up by two hundred thousand dollars.  Again.

That has been the Super Bowl story for the past twelve seasons.  Each year’s ads seem weaker than the last; the ideas more hamfisted, the extraordinary production less inspired.  

Part of the issue is the over-hyped platform; our insider knowledge perverts how we experience the broadcast.  When the sports pages read like the business section and we know every player’s salary, we can’t help but judge their performance through the lens of whether they’re ‘worth ten million a year.’  It changes how we watch the game.

It’s the same with Super Bowl ads.  Everyone knows thirty seconds go for three million, so it’s hard to watch any ad without questioning whether every second was really worth one hundred thousand dollars.  And yet, that misses the point.  The cost doesn’t relate to the creativity; it’s solely because so many of us are watching.  At the same time.  In today’s media world, that is incredibly unusual.  And valuable.  

Of course you want to shine in this most public of forums.  That pressure leads to the worst kind of creative sausage making: too many CMO’s sweat their investment and look for surefire ways to top the USA Today Ad-Meter.  They gin up their own version of the ‘rules’ for winning this contest: use animals, use non-verbal physical comedy, use celebrities.  And so same-ness becomes systemic.

Still, two ads managed to catch my attention through their singular voices.  Alec Baldwin’s paean endorsing television’s brain-rotting qualities ran blissfully counter-trend, a sort of anti-Newton Minnow, ending with the most subversive tagline of the year: “Hulu: An Evil Plot to Destroy the World.  Enjoy.”  I also loved the simplicity of this hugely under-rated Hyundai ad, if only for the brilliance of it’s concise close: “Win one award and suddenly everyone gets your name right.  It’s  ‘Hyundai.’  Like ‘Sunday.'”  Very fresh, though it tanked in the polls.

Oh, and Danica Patrick?  Fire your agent.  You look classless.  You know, like that thug James Harrison.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Five Things I Learned Speaking In Madison Today

The Madison Advertising Federation

The Madison Advertising Federation


I drove the 143 miles to Madison today through light flurries (!) to speak at a luncheon put on by the Madison Advertising Federation.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I discussed convergence and Element 79’s experiences as we, like every other marketing entity in America, struggle to master these emerging mediums.  Preparing the speech proved rather reassuring: considering how the market tags us as a TV shop, we have a number of highly successful viral and social networking programs to highlight–always a good reminder.  Yes, despite what the creative head of Akqa might contend in public panels, traditionally trained creatives can create powerful integrated programs so long as they insure their idea includes meaningful and relevant interactivity.  Do that, and you don’t have to apologize to anyone about your background.  Hell, in three years, those of us fortunate enough to still be working in this industry will look back at these times and think how quaint it was back when we made such a distinction between offline and online marketing: those are simply media, our true business is ideas.

But that’s what I walked in knowing.  I walked out knowing a number of new things, particularly after fielding questions at lunch and a subsequent breakout session…

1.  I like people from Wisconsin.  Who doesn’t like people who are honest, direct, and polite?

2.  I only spoke about video-based virals.  One woman questioned whether viral existed–or could exist–in other media as well.  When you think about it, chain letters, certain health tips and pop culture jokes could qualify as viral as well.  This is probably a better question for Paul Rand and his word-of-mouth experts at Zocalo Group (

3.  Everyone worries about shrinking ad budgets.  And reallocation of dollars away from their specialty.

4.  A lot of people work in business-to-business advertising and wonder how viral and digital can help their clients.  Given the specificity of the target, viral and social network solutions could be particularly powerful.  I referenced the classic story about Google (this excerpt taken from Inc.:  “The quintessential employer brand is Google. In 2004, the company posted obscure math problems on billboards in several major cities. Any enterprising math geek who could solve the equation was directed to Google’s hiring website. The billboards drew a lot of press attention as well as thousands of resumés.”  Speaking so selectively identifies individuals as members of a Godin-like tribe, and everyone likes to be on the inside.  Additionally, to establish themselves as a leader, doctors or lawyers could start blogging.

5.   Everyone, from agency types to designers to specialty in-house creatives, misses having media partners right down the hall.  Holding companies may have aggregate buying power, but they inadvertently destroyed knowledge centers.  Pity that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Two Newly-Emerging Dirty Words: “Paid Media.”


A recent blog by Catalyst:SF planner Cory Treffiletti on onlineSPIN (you may have to join Media Post) raised some interesting points regarding a little-discussed aspect of the digital revolution; the proliferation of platforms offering free –or very low cost — engagement opportunities.  He challenges: “why do advertisers assume spending money is the best way to sell?”  It’s a timely and provocative thought.

 As one can always safely expect from a new media blog, he stretches the point a bit to cudgel traditional agencies (no Cory, agencies are not compensated to spend money: commissions have been gone for well over a decade), but still his rejection of solutions that assume spending money is extremely smart.  Denying that assumption forces innovation, including something he calls ‘engage and activate.’

Like most things touted as a new paradigm only made possible through digital platforms, the notion of finding solutions without big media investments actually way predates the web…and TV for that matter.  The smartest marketers have worked this way since the beginning of time.

Talk value didn’t start with DDB’s first Superbowl ad for Bud Light; PT Barnum built a fortune on it by the mid-nineteenth century.  Conversational media began long before MySpace; the Friedman sisters traded in it since the 50’s by printing reader responses as part of their syndicated columns.  And what were those Bobby Sherman 45’s stamped into the sides of Honey Comb cereal boxes but early, analogue apps?

The only difference today is the speed and depth of the interactive reach: opportunity has always been—and always will be–available to clients and marketers who view the established way of doing things as merely comfortable habit and challenge themselves to think in new ways.  As the economic crunch hammers our industry, that better mean all of us.

After all, convergence isn’t an event; it’s a mindset.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79