Archive for December, 2008



The best ideas typify convergence: the smashing together of two ideas previously considered disparate: portable music,  cellular computing, canned beer.  When someone has the vision to combine things not ordinarily associated with each other, they create exciting new possibilities (or really horrific concoctions like chocolate covered bacon).

At last week’s agency Holiday party, someone made this very simple visual mash-up between a DVD and a chalkboard.  And reminded me all over again why we are so lucky to work in the idea business and earn a living this steeped in pure fun.  Merry, merry.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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It's Not Just For Mail Anymore...

For comparison, the entire year only contains 8,760 hours.  So everyday, people clog YouTube with digital video requiring over fourteen months to watch…and apparently 90% of that video is original content.

These numbers stagger the imagination.  The sheer volume makes one wonder how anyone manages to comb through and dig up those apparently incredibly rare YouTube gems that fill our in boxes.  Because clearly most everyone is uploading hours of footage of sleeping kittens and Aunt Marge’s birthday and nine year olds delivering particularly loud belches.

On one hand, it’s staggering.  But at the same time, it gives me great comfort.  Yes, what I produce professionally, costs far more.  But you do get what you pay for.  And the vast majority of ‘user generated content’–at least when it comes to video–is forgettable, anonymous tripe.  Whew.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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the Viral Hit of Summer '08

In what turned out to be our swansong on Gatorade, our agency created the biggest viral hit of the Summer with “Ballgirl.”  An Ad Age writer called to talk about it today and like most industry journalists covering viral, he steered the questions towards the issue of transparency.  Sure, not identifying “Ballgirl” as a Gatorade ad was benign, but is there a line not to cross with such ‘stealth’ videos?  Must you always announce yourself when creating web videos for clients?  How about working the comments and message boards–if you do that without disclosure are you within ethical boundaries?

All interesting questions but to me, they are all off point.  The fundamental issue boils down to governance: as of now, TV has it and the web doesn’t.  Clients can act in whatever way they choose on the web, unlike television where the FCC sets standards, enforces censorship and demands all claims be thoroughly substantiated (though somehow Enzyte and it’s execrable spokesperson ‘Smilin’ Bob’ got past them for a year or so).  The web is not paid media like television nor is it burdened with television’s standards, which must make network executives more than a little peevish.

Which is why I think we all better enjoy this unbridled freedom now because like it or not, legislation will be coming to the web.  This past February, the European Union enacted legislation that levies heavy fines on any advertiser that creates content for the web without identifying themselves.  With this much money involved in the fight over ever-shrinking media spends, its only a matter of time before the US follows suit.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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The Winds Of Change Are Blowing

The Winds of Change Are A-Blowin'

That’s the challenge facing classic advertising agencies: we are generalists in a time of specialists.  More and more over the past three years, clients have turned to consultants and specialty agencies for strategy, insights, and creative ideas, undercutting what had been the traditional  province of advertising agencies.  And so now, we basically have three options to address this situation: 1. watch our portion of the marketing investment continue to shrink, 2. hire specialists in various non-traditional disciplines and broaden our agency offerings, and 3. reinvent what we do and how we do it, including staffing and compensation.

All three options are valid, but all three options also share one common theme: change.  It is necessary.  And coming.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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logoA feature on ShootOnline describing how GSP won both Agency of the Year and Top Interactive Shop accolades for 2008 quotes an internal memo: “This was the year we decided we should no longer be an advertising agency.  In fact, no one should be an advertising agency.  They just don’t know it yet.  Instead, it turned out we should be something that leads our clients to create and embody popular culture in the world at this point in time.  Something that puts them into mainstream media well beyond advertising.”

Given it was an internal memo, let’s overlook the arrogance of the ‘they just don’t know it yet’ comment because the rest of the statement outlines a bold vision, even if it is left open-ended.  How exciting to think you will leave ads behind and enter the culture to redefine yourself as, well, something.  As a something, GSP certainly is an amazing something.  They have developed a singular style for massive, cross-platform projects that is both technically impressive and imaginatively ambitious.  This innovation springs from their thorough embrace of true interactivity.  So what can that teach the rest of us?

Primarily, we simply must create cultures of innovation.  We need to embrace the ongoing need for change and improvement, for redirection and reinvention.

We should innovate our creative staff mix.  Bernbach teamed art directors and writers back in ’47 and we haven’t changed since.  At the least, we should introduce interactive experts into that equation: user experience experts, flash designers, information architects.  But how much more interesting would it be to bring in radio station programmers, rock critics, magazine editors, game and packaging designers, performance artists and improv comics?  It might not always work, but we’d at least get better stories.

We should innovate media planning.  With today’s hugely splintered audiences, there’s real opportunity in creating bespoke brand networks across unrelated platforms.  The instruments in the media mix have never been more diverse; it’s time for new sounds, new experiments with how and where we hear brand voices.

Finally–and this is perhaps the biggest example Goodby sets–we need to innovate the reach of our assignments.  A client may want an ad, but it would be so much cooler to expand that assumption and deliver a movement, a force for social change or a platform for real commentary and engagement.  ‘Enter the mainstream media’ indeed…

A friend of mine who sold a successful Chicago business and moved to New York to start an entirely new successful business recently told me “That old ‘if you can make it here you’ll make it anywhere’ bit really should apply to Chicago because it’s harder there.  New York and the West Coast want innovation; Chicago resists it.”

It’s an interesting if debatable point, but ultimately, it is no excuse for a stumbling Chicago ad scene.  Because innovation doesn’t begin with clients.

It begins with us.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Haven't Used One Of These Since I Left The Foodservice Industry


Our digital brethren have done it for years: at the outset of a creative assignment, they estimate the hours they will need to solve the problem.  And then they solve the problem in that timeframe.  It sounds simple enough, but it also sounds incredibly foreign.  

As a purely kneejerk reaction, the artist in me rebels against that kind of chronological tyranny and assembly-line mentality; I’ve never worked that way and can’t imagine how I’d imagine on a timeclock.  But until we get a more workable solution that properly values ideas and creative thinking, hourly billing will have to do.  As retainers drop and project work rises, figuring out some way to maintain a margin will be paramount for our industry’s survival and rebirth.  And we can’t be lax on this point; historically, creatives have been notorious for giving away ideas, for allowing others to exploit concepts we casually toss off without first negotiating any sort of price or value for them.  I won’t venture into the whole Freudian overtones about what this says regarding the creative need for approval, but I will say that we are going to have to consciously address how we can return value to the creative contribution.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Oh.  That's not good.  

Oh. That Is Not Good...

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–no doubt to the consternation of people who know me far too well–advertising is a confidence game.  Not a con game, certainly not, but a game that runs almost exclusively on confidence.

The confidence that our ideas merit the investment.  The confidence that opinion can be swayed.  And the confidence that in the end, spending the money beats saving the money.

The only problem is that today, we finally copped to the reality that the United States of America is in a recession.  And we have been since last December, which goes a long way toward explaining why 2008 has been such a bust of a year.  In a recession, you can’t expect clients to display much confidence.  And so the cycle intensifies.  My biggest visual impression over the recent Thanksgiving break was of car dealerships packed with inventory: definitely not a sign of confidence.

Fear is an ugly, hateful, contagious thing.  For the sake of our industry, we all need to swallow hard, look forward, and picture a brighter future.  If we work for it, we will create it.  And in the process, help ourselves out of this tough spot.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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