Hostess May Become Bimbo To Save Twinkies, Ho Hos and Ding Dongs

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonIt sounds like a synopsis of a Nintendo game. Seriously, this stuff writes itself.

It’s also not particularly true. Stories like these are one of the less-productive outcomes of ‘citizen journalism’. Thanks to always on social networks, sensational notions spread very quickly based on nothing more than how talk-worthy and readily sharable they are.

If you heard this rumor, you understand why every major marketer should be cultivating their brand community. Opinion and recommendation is a whole new media platform.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


A Working Definition of Social Media (noun, pl): 1. Crowdsourced Opinion. 2. Crowdsourced PR

There’s a wonderful old adage that says “Where there’s confusion, there’s money to be made.”  The rapidly evolving world of social media presents a bewildering environment for marketers; “should we be in social media?”  “What kind of conversations should I have?”  “Is it unseemly to tweet when you hold an MBA?”

Reasonable questions all…  Of course, given that adage, all sorts of new ventures have sprung up to fill the breech.  Some truly offer clients valuable advice and tactics, others simply spread further confusion.  And too many traditional agencies seem lost as well, torn between acquiring expertise  through buying smaller companies and burying their heads in the sand to avoid this expensive-topic that so far, seems to defy scalability of the sort the mass media (and yes, digital should now be considered a mass media)

So while this definition may be a little slow getting to the table, at this point, it’s been tested and proven in real world situations.  Considering social media as both crowdsourced opinion and crowdsourced PR provides focus for marketers, a focus that–even if there are other minor aspects of social media that may be relevant too–can help drive new initiatives.

As crowdsourced opinion, social media can help tighten insights and bring genuine relevance to the way we position brands to consumers.  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs are all searchable by clever planners who can farm them for opinions without the artifice of a focus groups’ two way mirror.

As crowdsourced PR, social media allows brands to directly reach out to opinion leaders and try to influence them.  Thinking about these platforms as a means to shape brand stories to bring them closer in line with their ideal positioning makes social media less of an unknown and far more measurable against a specific outcome.

Social media can be confusing.  But if you simplify it down, you can make it pragmatic and actionable.  Which is always a helpful, helpful thing.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


The Ongoing Search for Information, Inspiration and Good Ideas

In a time of such radical change in our marketing world, we all need to search out ideas on the best way to adapt and thrive.  Yesterday, the New York Festivals was in town for their award show and they presented a number of panels in the afternoon.  They had a tough time filling the room; the Chicago ad community rarely takes time from their busy workday to go out for lunch, let alone a panel that may or may not prove worthwhile.  That’s understandable but also unfortunate; now more than ever we can all benefit by sharing our experiences and insights.  Hopefully, that’s something we can change in the coming years.

Steffan Postaer, JT Andexler, Dave Hernandez, Diane Ruggie, Dennis Ryan, Alan Wolk

Steffan Postaer, JT Andexler, Dave Hernandez, Diane Ruggie, Dennis Ryan, Alan Wolk

After sitting on a panel titled “Is Craft Dead?” (Short answer?  No.  And neither is e-mail, Facebook or God, no matter how SEO-friendly those types of proclamations are.). After that, host Alan Wolk led a panel on Social Media–an area of deep interest to anyone paying attention to that emerging mass channel of opinion.  Of all the statements and suppositions presented, Escape Pod founder Vinny Warren made the most practical sense.  A veteran tweeter (follow him at @vinnywarren), he characterized the whole platform as ‘energy.’  It takes passion to regularly stop and send out some thoughts on your day and to Vinny, all those comments amount to ‘energy.’

In a world of immediacy where data and ideas spread like wildfire, the challenge of finding wheat in the dunning landfills of chaff can be exhausting.  Using Twitter as means of tapping into consumer-generated energy makes a ton of logical sense: like energy, Twitter flows continually, and thoughts that don’t stick disappear like so much wasted electricity on the national grid.  You either use it or lose it.  In most cases, losing it isn’t a particularly tragic thing, but if we can harness all that consumer wisely, we can access all sorts of information, inspiration and good ideas wrested from real world experience on our clients’ behalf.

Which is, you know, helpful.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  On behalf of all the panelists, here’s a quick thank you to Gayle Mendel for her hard work on bringing in this event.  We deeply appreciate your efforts.

The Modern Cost of a Really Bad Day

Yesterday, the rigging for Madonna’s new concert tour collapsed during construction in Marseilles, killing two workers.  By any measure, that’s a tragedy.  However, given Madonna’s lightning rod persona, that horrific accident has become an excuse to deem her solely responsible by bloggers and commenters who intensely dislike her.

This is an ugly downside of our intensely interconnected modern world.  Opinion has a mass channel, and that can work against you with sudden and feverish intensity.  On a far less tragic scale, that’s what happened yesterday to Andy Azula of the Martin Agency.

Andy had a really bad day back on June 18th as he tried to fly with his family from Richmond to Atlanta.  And it truly was really, really bad: forced to wait all day at the airport with seven year old twins, their luggage held hostage on a broken plane so they couldn’t leave or change flights, making him ultimately miss both a paid speaking gig and a family gathering with the grandparents.  It sounded awful.  And quite rightly, Andy wrote a letter to Delta angrily recounting his miseries.

ups-china-to-us1But things turned really awful when he posted that letter to his personal blog (he’s since taken it down).   In short order, people noticed it and passed it along, eventually to a gossipy insider advertising site with a reputation for fanning the flames of outrage amongst the marketing set.  Suddenly, everyone had an opportunity to assess Andy’s complaints and again, those inclined to negativity had a field day, excoriating him for among other things, trying to get the airline’s attention by identifying himself as ‘the UPS whiteboard actor.’  Twice.

It was not Andy’s finest hour.  Our most frustrated moments rarely are.  And yet, his industry reputation is pretty good; by all accounts, Andy’s long been considered a pretty good guy.  Given the legendary Mike Hughes’ low tolerance for jerks, he wouldn’t have his position if that weren’t the case.  But Andy had a bad day.  And in a fit of pique, made a couple of bad decisions.  I’m sure he is currently amazed at just how many people there are in this world and how closely they read his words.

Conventional wisdom says to wait ten minutes and breathe deeply before sending an inflammatory e-mail.  We should probably change ‘minutes’ to ‘months’ when it comes to posting anything similar on the web (those drinking photos on Facebook, that outraged review on Amazon, etc.).

If you wouldn’t want your Mom or boss to see it, don’t post it.  Because they will.  And so will everyone else.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On Engagement and the Search For Meaningful Metrics

Last week, Gene Liebel, a managing partner at Huge, wrote a terrific piece for Mediaweek that took a skeptic’s view of engagement as the ‘metric du jour’ for success in digital projects.  As someone who has a turnkey presentation titled “Engagement is the New Black,” I read Gene’s article with a decidedly vested interest.  What was most interesting is that he doesn’t discount the importance of engagement; he simply doesn’t believe it is an accurate indicator of the ultimate metric of in-market success.  He considers engagement more of a ‘side effect’ and offers very strong cautionary arguments for anyone who would make it the end goal.

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Possibly the strongest point he makes–and one that’s not surprising coming from a User Experience expert–is how optimizing an e-commerce web site to make finding products easier will actually reduce page views and time on site, both of which are key measures of engagement.  At the same time, that type of optimization will increase a site’s conversion rate dramatically as visitors find what they need more quickly.  So even though engagement falls, sales increase–a powerful argument against making engagement your end goal.  Liebel contends consumers rarely invest time ‘engaging’ with brands anyway; when consumers visit sites, they have specific, practical needs–whether that’s information or purchasing.  Staying on a site longer does not necessarily correlate to deeper engagement–it could just indicate that consumers must dig deeper to accomplish what they want–a strong negative.

What he’s really arguing for–just like so many other leaders in the field today–is a better measure of value.  In a difficult economy that continues to squeeze marketing budgets, we need to arm our client partners first with programs that work and then with solid proof that those programs work.  As data points continue to improve (Google claims 85% of all media will be trackable by 2012), we will need new measures of our programs’ in-market effects.  More importantly, we will need multi-dimensional measures; today’s socially-networked world of mass-channel opinion requires a new measure of the combined impact of both paid and earned media, and how that drives sales.

Sales may be the ultimate metric for brands, but accountability remains the ultimate metric for agencies.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Technology Provides A Mass Channel for Opinion. And Delight As Well

As sophisticated marketers, we rarely give enough shrift to the notion of delight, perhaps because its such a dowager aunt of a word.  But people have a deeply-ingrained appetite for delight.  And as much as technology has progressed the art of communication (and perhaps more negatively, social distraction), it has powerfully advanced the widespread possibilities of delight.

To that end, here are three videos that have been spreading all over the internet of late, each one delivering a different take on delight.  


#1: Sour's Music Video

#1: Sour's Music Video

The first is a charming music video from Japanese group Sour called  ‘Hibi no Neiro’ (Tone of Everyday) from their first mini album ‘Water Flavor EP’.  Artistically, its a technologically-powered tour de force with an overlay of innovative fan engagement.  To make this, the globally-disparate members of the band engaged members of their worldwide fan base, bringing everyone together to perform in their video by using webcams on their Mac laptops to create a fiendishly clever update on the old ‘stadium crowd flashcards.’

#2: July 4th Candy Fireworks

#2: July 4th Candy Fireworks


The second is an example of simple stop-motion animation that uses pieces of candy to create a fireworks show.  Executionally, it’s nothing new but because it’s done so well with the added overlay of timeliness, the effect is magic.  


Finally a cautionary tale for corporations in this era of desktop creativity and social media.  Perfectly demonstrating Clay Shirky’s principle of organizing without organizations, the band Sons of Maxwell witnessed United Airlines baggage teams manhandling their guitar cases at O’Hare.  

#2: Sons of Maxwell Video

#3: Sons of Maxwell Video

By the time Dave Carroll collected his beautiful Taylor, it’s neck was broken, requiring $1100 in repairs.  After spending a futile year chasing compensation, the band produced a video for a simple A-E-G country ditty title “United Breaks Guitars.”  After a huge burst of internet response, United settled the grievance and the band earned the biggest hit of their careers.


Opinion has a mass channel.  Thankfully, so does delight.  Happy Friday.

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

A Simple Distillation of Advertising's Modern Challenge: Opinion Now Has A Channel for Mass Distribution

bizweekTechnology strategist Jonathan Yarmis wrote a very insightful article about Facebook for Business Week where he concisely defines the challenge modern agencies face in today’s socially networked world.  He boils the issue down to credibility: advertising is no longer a trusted channel, but peer opinion is.  And with the extensive adoption of social networks, peer opinions spreads exponentially further and faster.

While none of this is earth-shattering news to anyone who’s paid even the slightest attention, it is a terrifically focused distillation of the problem.  This is incredibly valuable if you too believe in Charles Kettering’s adage a problem well stated is a problem half solved.

It also demonstrates the need for the Brand Missions we advocate at Element 79; when opinion enjoys mass channels that are often better targeted than mass commercial messages, savvy marketers need to create ideas that can travel.  Advertising may not be as trusted as it once was, but it has lost none of its capacity to generate interest or capture consumer imaginations.  When it inspires and engages, consumers respond and it influences opinion.  The problem isn’t advertising, it’s BAD advertising.  When the net swims in a Brandfill of 3.6 trillion banner ads, it’s a safe bet that the overwhelming majority of those are hideously bad.  Or at least wasteful.  And useless.

In the environment Yarmis outlines, smart advertisers focus on engagement and spreadability.  When messages become missions, they can travel further and so have a far greater likelihood of entering those vast, vital, pre-qualified social network markets.

Brand Missions only thrive when shared.  At their best, they place the words in all of those mouths, driving critical peer recommendation.

Which is why “advertising” must be considered a verb.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79