Television Commercials Aren’t Dead. They’ve Just Gone New Places. Amazing New Places…

Remember this spot for Cheerios? It first aired this past month and due solely to its casting of an interracial couple, incensed a disturbing number of bigot trolls, whose inflammatory comments forced General Mills to shut down comments on their YouTube page (but, admirably, not back down and pull the spot–way to be, General…).

It’s nothing more than a TV commercial. The same kind we’ve been watching for decades. The same kind certain pundits have deemed dead in today’s interactive age.

Television is far from dead. The numbers prove we watch more of it than ever. And as this spot demonstrates, no other medium has the breadth of reach or emotional impact of moving pictures and sound. No, while television may be many things, it is certainly not dead.

That said, television has definitely been transformed, mostly by the participatory web. A tiny but vocal smattering of racists attacked this sweet, simple story, using the coward’s cloak of online anonymity even as millions of people reacted normally, with emotions running the gamut from delight to benign neglect.

But those prejudicial attacks spurred another small but vocal group—Michael David Murphy and Alyson West from Atlanta, Georgia–who decided it was time to answer that ugliness with a showcase for love and family. They created a Tumblr  called “We Are The 15 Percent”: a reference to the 2008 census which noted that interracial couples make up 14.9% of all marriages in the United States. Michael and Alyson’s blog invites interracial couples and families to send in their photos as a counterpoint to this sort of idiotic bile. In just a few short weeks, they already have over 2500 submissions. And with national coverage from outlets like MSNBC, those numbers should continue to swell.

The photos are beautiful. The movement is affirming. The reach of television empowered by Web 2.0 is a marvelous thing to behold.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Superbowl Ads and Racism, Real and Imagined

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingThis morning, I was interviewed on K-Twin FM, which is ever so conveniently located right downstairs from the Olson office. It was a hill of fun and its always interesting to watch people make news and programming–all the editing on the fly, the hand signals to speed up, slow down or cut to the next story…

The topic was Super Bowl ads, most of which anyone with a high-speed internet connection has already seen. Specifically, show host Cane Peterson was interested in the controversy swirling around two ads, one for Coca Cola and the other for VW, both of which are getting called out for racism on social media.

Like many social media firestorms, this one will burn hot and furious…and pass quickly. Because the Arabian character in “Chase” is not a racist portrayal, it’s a movie reference. Much like the ensuing film references to cowboys, Mad Max and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the opening character pulling a camel is clearly based on Omar Sharif’s role in Lawrence of Arabia.Dennis Ryan, Advertising, Olson

Still, the radio hosts wondered, not without reason, whether these controversies were intentionally ginned up by the advertisers to gain more attention. While Mercedes clearly did that with their juvenile Kate Upton ad, no advertiser wants to trump up a controversy around racism.

That’s simply not funny.

That said, a Jimmy Cliff voiceover placed seamlessly atop a blond and bland Minnesota business guy?  I laughed. So the question is, does that makes me an insensitive jerk or the main reason for Judd Apatow’s meteoric career?


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


What Happens When Your Day Job Goes Viral? Ask Dean Richards.

I’m not exactly on his Christmas Card List but I know Dean Richards.  I’ve been interviewed by him a few times on WGN TV and radio where, to my eternal gratitude, he treated me fairly, even kindly.  We’ve talked about Super Bowl commercials and new movies and new forums where advertisers place their messages and each time, he was prepared, on point and informed.  In short, I think he’s a good guy: a fair critic and a straight shooter.

Of course now, the public at large can weigh in–even the public far beyond the massive audience reached by WGN, the “Super Station.”  Because Tuesday, Dean interviewed Mel Gibson and instead of just tossing up meaningless softball questions, he had the temerity to ask Gibson whether his hugely publicized outbursts of anti-Semitism, misogyny and drunkenness might effect the reception of his new movie.  Mel didn’t take that line of questioning very kindly.  Watch the clip here.

I once liked Mel Gibson–in fact, I liked him a lot.  I saw all three Road Warrior movies on the big screen, starting with Mad Max way back in 1979 at the 120 seat Derry Theater in Hershey, PA.  He seemed cool and funny and full of piss and vinegar.  As he mugged his mullet through the seemingly endless Lethal Weapon series, his bug-eyed, masochistic intensity act had started wearing dangerously thin.  By the time he was revelling in the disembowelment of William Wallace, I had moved on.  I missed his whole Jesus act and the subsequent Apocalypto ‘I don’t act in English’ period.

Unfortunately, I did catch the “Sugartits” and “F’ing Jew” comments that went along with one of his Malibu DUI’s.  And that felt unconscionably ugly.  Still, as Mel contends in his comments to Dean, that was over four years ago.  Given the intensity of the trailer for Edge of Darkness, I was almost over my hesitation and ready to plop down my ten bucks.

But not anymore.  The guy’s just a jerk.  And now Dean is caught up in his freakshow, because everyone seems to be watching this clip.  That’s the thing about viral videos-they’re like car wrecks you can summon up any time of the day when the mood hits.  And Dean’s now part of the latest Mel Gibson car wreck.  What a bummer.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Social Networking For Social Nitwits

A Reuters news story that’s simultaneously fascinating and pathetic discusses the phenomenon of hate groups turning to social networks to spread their extremist messages.  The Simon Wiesenthal Center reports that the same sites where we send birthday wishes and take daily quizzes to determine “Which lump of coal do you most resemble?” (I got Bituminous!) are increasingly being exploited to spread propaganda and recruit members.  The Center cites a 25% increase in ‘problematic’ internet social networking groups.

Don't Expect Many Ballads From These Excitable Boys

Don't Expect Many Ballads From These Excitable Knuckleheads

This makes perfectly logical sense.  The only cost of setting up such a group is time: one racist who posts on YouTube even brags about how he’s on his sixty-fourth site; everytime administrators take him down, he creates a new persona and sets up shop a few bits of code down the block. This is a fascinating phenomenon Clay Shirky analyses at length in his book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.  With such low cost of entry and such a wide net of users to recruit from, social networks provide the ideal vehicle to assemble coalitions out of far flung fringe types.

Comedian Jake Johannsen used to do a bit on gun control where he’d cop the rhetoric of advocates, saying “Guns don’t kill people…”   After a long, wide-eyed pause, he’d add “It’s those little tiny bullets…  The guns just make them go really, really, fast.”

Racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance remain deeply-seated issues within humanity.  So while it’s true that social networks provide them with a new forum to organize and spread, the appropriate response is not to curtail freedom online so much as to redouble our efforts to expose intolerant idiocy offline.

And maybe invite extremists to lighten up by taking a “Which character on Gilligan’s Island are you?” quiz on Facebook.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79