For Some Reason, I Watched The Bears On Monday Night Football Last Night

Not the whole game, just a bit. But enough to see Devin Hester return a punt by running backwards for seventeen yards. And Aldon Smith embarrass Jamarcus Webb about a half dozen times.  But I digress…

What really stuck out during that painful broadcast was this spot from Corona Beer. Generally speaking, I like this campaign. It’s long been smart and consistent and singular. Not particularly chancy, but certainly strategic.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, Olson

But somebody should have kept the client at the craft service table during this setup. Because in every one of my dozen or so viewings, this particular shot sticks out as awkwardly as a palm tree in Chicago. In the long history of beer drinking, no one has ever held a beer like this. The actor holds that bottle like it’s his shoe and he just stepped in a cow pie. It is heavy-handed and entirely false. And then the woman mirrors this silliness. I don’t care if it helps viewers read the label–no one is confused about the branding on this spot. This is just bad.

Trust your viewers to get it. Don’t insult them with pap like this. Ick.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

When Good Intentions Go Horribly, Desperately Wrong

Selling great creative ideas is tough.  Building consensus around something dependent on aesthetics is rife with challenges.  So over the years, I’ve learned to temper my dismissal of agencies when their creative projects go awry.  God knows, we all live in that glass house from time to time.

Still, most projects start with hope.  A clean screen beckons with the promise of something remarkable to come…unless your briefing sounds something akin to this:

Client:  “So we need an ad campaign–TV, online, OOH–to encourage Boomers to file their Social Security paperwork online, because that cuts government expenses.  You can do anything you want!”

Agency: “Great!”

Client:  “–as long as you use George Takei.  You know George, he played Sulu on Star Trek? We’re playing with the idea of ‘Boldly Go’–but that’s just a thought starter…”

Agency:  “Oh.  Uh-huh…  Well, we can probably work with tha–“

Client:  “Oh, and Patty Duke.  We signed Patty Duke too.”

Agency:  “The one who played Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker?”

Client:  “Exactly!  Sulu and Helen Keller–together at last! It’ll be magic!

Or not.  Sometimes, you just get dealt a bad hand.  But this is really hard to look at every time you get off the commuter train in Chicago…

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, Olson, Minneapolis

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

New Pew Research Shows Dropping Perceptions for Landline Phones and TV’s…And Shortcomings of Research Headlines

Two weeks ago, the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends released a study that found only 42% of Americans consider television sets a necessity: a figure down 10% from last year.  In a post regarding this research, great hay was made over a similar 6% drop in the perception that a telephone landline was a ‘necessity’ of modern life.

This is positioned as very scary for the luddite ‘traditionalists’ who cling to the notion of the all important television…

Or is it?

If you read past the headline, the landline phone dropped as the cell phone grew, which essentially demonstrates that the platform is insignificant compared to the behavioral need.  There are now more cell phones in the US than landline phones; we like to talk (And if you like to talk a lot, perhaps you should look into the unbeaten value of a Cricket cell phone*).

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79Similarly, spinmeisters conveniently overlook that in addition to “TV Sets”, the study included a category called “Flat Screen TV’s” which was up 2%, proving nothing so much as researchers split hairs far more than consumers.

Earlier this year, Nielsen released their “Three Screen Report” which features some truly amazing, myth-busting realities of the state of modern media.  Among other remarkable findings, their data showed TV viewing time in U.S. homes increasing, growing 1.3%.

That might not sound like much, but given TV’s huge base, that equals an incremental two hours per month year over year.  At the same time, Internet video viewing grew 5.9% which is real growth but comparatively, it only equals an incremental eleven minutes year over year.  So as explosive–and meaningful–as web video growth is, it still equals less than 2% of total American video viewing time.

If you are one of those new media acolytes who thinks it’s fashionable to bash TV, re-read that last sentence.

In fairness, if you do read the entire report, the good people at Pew Research cover most of these rather critical details, discussing how the growth of technology and marketplace realities impact their findings.  And personally, I believe research respondents always exaggerate activity that reflects positively on themselves–“Me?  Oh I rarely watch TV.  And I exercise religiously.  And floss.”

Still, there’s that attention-grabbing headline, and in our Immedia oriented culture, we rarely take the time to dig deeper.  We read one line from or see a Tweet from a pundit and simply stop there.

It may build brands and serve agendas and elect presidents, but it’s not making us truly more informed.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


* — Shameless Client Plug.


Character: The Key To Great Comedy Writing

Truly funny television commercials get picked up and passed around in a sort of ad hoc media buy that clients can only wish they could afford.  Unfortunately, creating truly funny television commercials is extraordinarily difficult, particularly when you add the requirement that the comedy must have some strategic relationship with the product or service being advertised.

But occasionally, someone does it brilliantly.  The crinkly-male-wisdom of the old Miller High Life voice over…  The over the top histrionics of Bud Light’s Real Men of Genius announcer.  The deadpan charisma of Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World…  All of these served as the cornerstone of highly-successful comic ad campaigns.  What do they have in common?  I mean, aside from the fact that they are from the beer category–one of the few sectors unafraid to chase entertainment as a branding strategy.

The most interesting trait that they all share is that their unique comic voices spring from character.  We never see him but we know the High Life guy is a wisened old dog from the blue collar set, street smart and unimpressed by foolishness.  Given that well defined character, the kind of lines he’d read became self-selecting.  Puns wouldn’t work.  Name checking pop culture references wouldn’t work.  But talking about plumbing?  Right in his wheel house.

It is extraordinarily difficult to create an advertising character in thirty seconds that’s well defined.  Most characters evolve over the course of a campaign.  But recently, Weiden and Kennedy introduced us to a shirtless he-man with a loopy self-confidence named Isaiah Mustafa who sold all sorts of deodorants and body washes for Old Spice.  And in short order, they created a singular comic patois that is totally unique: sprightly, unerring, stentorian…and prone to idiosyncratic references like monocles and motorcycles.

Extending this campaign virally, they created a series of one-take, single wall set monologues where Isaiah ostensibly addresses people who either reference him, his commercials or the Old Spice brand in social media.  A collection of nearly two dozen of his responses can be found on this You Tube page.  If you appreciate good writing and winning performance, go watch each and every one of them.  They are note perfect and widely-divergent, yet the words in each one of them seem almost pre-ordained.

Because they spring from a singularly unique character.  Well played Old Spice, well played…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


In Praise of the Classics: “St. George” for Blackcurrant Tango

Perhaps it’s part of the aging process, but every now and again I find myself returning to the classics.  In music, it’s the Stones, the Who and Seger.  In literature, it’s Hemingway, Fitzgerald, even John Irving.  But for television commercials, it’s this minute and a half long beauty for a soda brand I’ve never tried that’s long since disappeared from grocers’ shelves in the UK: “St. George” for Blackcurrant Tango.

When this commercial debuted back in 1996, I was leading Budweiser’s US advertising.  Our creative group sat in slack-jawed wonder, replaying it over and over after discovering it on an award show’s ¾” tape.  The pitch-perfect jingoistic hysteria of the dialogue, the carefully-calibrated clumsiness masking the precision craftsmanship of its seemingly single-take, and the audacious journey of spokesman Ray Gardner from downtown Croydon out to the White Cliffs of Dover created a palpable envy in every one of our creative egos.  This was hyperbole on the grandest scale, a magnificent accomplishment of deeply engrossing and engaging absurdity.

For some reason, after showering this morning, whole passages of this nearly fifteen year old commercial popped into my head and I regaled my extraordinarily patient wife with a clumsy synopsis until grabbing the laptop and finding it online.

So click on the link and enjoy a classic that stands the test of time.  Thanks to the seemingly infinite server capacity of YouTube, the joy created by such fanciful, unrepentant silliness can live on for generations.

Even if the product couldn’t.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Without Commercials, The Super Bowl Isn’t

A group of us flew down here to New Zealand for a large commercial shoot.  The weather’s nice, the country’s beautiful and the production team is very buttoned up.  Which is why we had the afternoon of Super Bowl Monday free to catch the Big Game™ at a local pub (Four Nations, Auckland, NZ).  Watching the game on a sunny afternoon certainly changed the experience but not half as much as watching it on an ESPN Live feed where the network fills the commercial breaks exclusively with ESPN promos.

That’s right: no Budweiser ads.  No Dockers, no Snickers, no Coke–just promos for rugby and soccer matches.  When the commercials came on, the crowd just headed for the rest rooms or the bar for another pint of Kilkenny’s (lovely stuff, that).

Without commercials, the Super Bowl is decidedly less Super.  It’s not nearly as engaging.  When it ended, people talked about the game for a while before quickly moving on.  There were no debates about which spot was best, what was a dumb investment, and who got hosed by unfortunate placement.  I’ll probably catch up later by watching them online but it’s not nearly the same as hearing a crowded bar erupt at a good joke or loudly pan a weak execution.

DVR technology allows people to skip past commercials and data shows many do–but they frequently rewind if they see something interesting.  And the Super Bowl majors in commercials that at least attempt to be something interesting.  Just this past Friday, a page one poll on USA Today claimed that 51% of viewers enjoy the commercials most about watching the Super Bowl on TV.  I’d have to agree.

Chalk a big W in the score column for traditional media.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PS:  Do yourself a favor and read Ross Buchanan’s comment to this post.  Frankly, I wish I’d written it.

Skewing Online Data: Why Marketers Should Think "Convergence" Not "Transference"

Studies show that if a brand wants to drive significant online impressions, they should advertise on TV.  Similarly, if a TV ad aspires to live longer than thirty seconds, it should continue the experience online.  Cross platform convergence makes today’s advertising media world far more complicated but also far more engaging,  The trick boils down to innovative, creative and effective platform coordination.

Unfortunately, in a tough economy with escalating TV media costs, many advertisers look to the web as simply a cheaper medium.  They don’t really understand the metrics but the siren call of lowcost of entry makes far too many forget any sense of basic strategic responsibility and ROI discipline.

Hopefully, that shortsightedness will change if enough marketers read about this study from Mpire, an online ad optimization company in Seattle.  MPire developed a new technology called AdXpose which recently determined that 95% of clicks and 50% of online ad impressions were fraudulent.

AdXpose: “95% of Clicks, Half of Online Ad Impressions are Fraudulent

If these numbers don’t knock you back, re-read that sentence again.  This fraud is nothing short of Madoff-esque.  For a medium with as much data-mining and measurability as the web, this kind of blatant gaming of the system threatens to destroy it’s incredible promise.  And if that seems like too big an exaggeration, like something confined to the small space bargain bins of discount web banners, watch the click counts on YouTube for the Super Bowl ads this coming February.  Some will legitimately spike as people relive or catch up on this cultural event.  But others, quite obviously, will be blatantly played.  It’s been happening the past few years by some of the biggest names: names that don’t have the track record of performance of say a Budweiser.  With this big a high-profile gamble, a little off-shore insurance can protect your career and so clicks skyrocket for spots that hardly bear watching once.  In some cases, this can even happen without the clients’ knowledge; insurance works for production companies and young directors as well.

Television skeptics have enjoyed quite a run these past few years, particularly over dated and dubious metrics like Nielsen.  Given these findings however, perhaps skepticism deserves its day.  And equal time.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Could We Please Stop the Self-Loathing? Ads Work.

Picture 2This week’s cover headline on Advertising Age reads “Cannes swept by PR, integrated, internet winners” with the subhead “Tally suggests ad age is over–or, at least, it’s evolved to higher plain.”  Setting aside my issue with the subhead’s overuse of commas, this still reads like a textbook example of a classic journalistic mistake: burying your lead.

The headline should emphasize that advertising is “evolving to a higher plain,” instead of continuing to forward the whiny, helpless hand-wringing that’s become endemic to our industry (“it’s over–everything we’ve ever known is now wrong!”).  Yes, social networks are a critical platform that our industry needs to address.  Yes, the media landscape has changed radically.  And yes–most critically from my perspective–advertising alone is not enough anymore.

But here’s the thing: it never was.  For advertising to really work, it has always needed a great product or service, attractive design, and engaging street and retail programs.  But somehow, the simple fact that the advertising environment has become exponentially more complicated over this past decade has led some people–including apparently, the editors of Ad Age–to subjectively dismiss the foundation of our industry: generating creative messaging in paid media.  And that fries my bacon, that salts my shorts, that makes me pigbiting mad…

Because here’s a newsflash: advertising works.

Please read that sentence again.  Better still, let’s read it aloud together, shall we?  Advertising works.

Television?  Still works.  In fact, that audience is bigger than ever.  Radio?  Still works: we may court disaster by texting in our cars but all that commuting time is still filled by AM/FM radio.  And print?  It may be changing radically, but answer this question: would you rather have your name mentioned in the online version of the New York Times or the actual paper?

It’s time our industry corrects itself from this odd fever of self-loathing.  Because the facts don’t support all the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  In the June 22 issue of Adweek, Mark Dolliver wrote a story unfortunately relegated to a short item on the Adweek Media page.  In it, he cites an Adweek Media/Harris Poll recently fielded that concludes that yes, indeed, people are still swayed by ads.

Is advertising alone enough?  Of course not.

The real innovation our industry needs is the strategic melding of creative messages distributed through a coordination of both paid and earned media.

It’s not one.  It’s not the other.  It’s both.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Detroit Doesn't Need Ads, It Needs Documentaries. And Transparency.

So I was quoted in the latest issue of Newsweek

And I’m trying to be cool about it, but this kind of thing doesn’t happen everyday.  I considered spending the morning riding the El around the Loop with the issue open on my lap, saying things a bit too loudly like “Now here’s an interesting point of view” or “This fellow seems to have something to say…”

The Big Story Is On Page 29

The Big Story Is On Page 29

It’s flattering to be asked for commentary by a national magazine, but it’s also an inevitable compromise: you talk to a journalist for twenty minutes or so and from all that, they select a single sentence that supports the point they need to make.  It’s not that they misquote you; it’s simply that the story you hope to tell rarely matches the story they are telling.

Under the headline “Turn This Lemon Into Lemonade”, Newsweek writer Matthew Phillips asks six advertising people for their perspectives on the challenge of selling GM and Chrysler cars today.  My quote reads “Show me plants shutting down, let me hear from the workers…  That story’s powerful.”  I definitely said that; the sad reality that America has shifted from manufacturing to service sector jobs bums me out and the long list of sins by boneheaded corporate and union management that led us here is soul-suckingly demoralizing.

But the larger point I’d hoped to make was that Detroit doesn’t need another ad right now–and certainly not more over-produced anthems like the “Reinvention” spot currently airing.  This kind of clever speechifying, as much as it approaches a mea culpa admission of errors, still feels like more of the same: the requisite slowly-building rock track, the irrelevant NHL and NFL clips, the timelapse of seedlings sprouting, the barn raisings and sweaty-brow moppings–all of it reeks of yet another round of highly-polished obfuscation.

But as tough as things currently are, somewhere among GM’s 235,000 employees good people have great ideas and workable plans to change things: to improve fuel economy and engine reliability, to streamline production and lower mistakes, to ratchet up aesthetics and bend metal into forms that make pulses pound again.  Those stories need to be told, specifically and with rich detail.  We need to know what GM is doing right now, today, this moment, to change their fortunes and set their ship right.  These stories don’t require massive film crews and Panavision cameras to tell; in fact, they are far more effective without them.  The honesty of documentary storytelling focused on sharing a constant stream of new stories would be far more effective than a few super slick generalizations.

Detroit does still need the massive reach of compelling television commercials to get their story out–but they should be producing great television commercials that not only turn heads on air but drive people to deeper, more complete engagement online with opportunities to weigh in and share their own opinions.  Things like new car designs excite people–GM and Chrysler should share those and invite responses from the public, conducting polls and encouraging debate.

What Detroit needs now more than anything else is transparency.  The time of an all-controlling, monolithic monopoly has passed; that mentality simply can’t sustain in today’s information-saturated culture.  Moreover, truly leveraging modern manufacturing requires sharing and openness–unless Detroit starts to encourage their secondary suppliers to bring their own technologies to the task of improving performance, their cars will remain deeply compromised.  Detroit management simply must get over their outdated need to control all aspects of production.  That scene of the barn raising in their current spot brings to mind a very relevant Amish expression: “Many hands make light work.”  Detroit can get further faster by changing from a vendor to a partner mentality, but they’ll have to do that quickly before they drive those smaller partners out of business.

America doesn’t want our car industry to fail.  Sure many of us are angry and consider this crisis largely self-inflicted, but still, we want GM and Chrysler to be strong.  Whether or not the government proves to be the answer, radical reinvention will have to be part of the solution.  And that must start with the mindset first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


PS:  I would like to thank all of the Element 79 contributors who kept collective-thinking fresh last week: Ryan, Lance, Kim, Todd, Amie and of course Brian, who was both incredibly generous and flattering in his comments and dead nuts right that I would have found a way to radically revise them had he shared his post in advance.