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Knock-knock jokes…  Top Ten lists…  “That’s what she said”…  Over time, cultures build stockpiles of shared comic references.  Back when we all watched Saturday Night Live, everyone copped Dana Carvey’s “Isn’t that special?” complete with the Church Lady’s off-balance lip pursing.  More recently, Kanye West’s obnoxiousness led to a spate of  “Imma let you finish–” bits.  Sharing laughs around common reference points builds bonds between people, and simply makes the day pass more pleasantly…Picture 1

So it’s no surprise that this video popped up at the end of last week.  Mark Wegener, the man behind the consistently intelligent humor of ‘Local Paper’, passed along this latest version of Downfall, this time with Bruno Ganz’ Hitler screaming about the news media’s breathless over-coverage of the Balloon Boy hoax.

These days, you really are nowhere in the cultural landscape if you haven’t been referenced and had the piss taken out of you by ridiculous subtitles laid over this 2004 Oscar nominated film.  Type “Hitler Downfall” into YouTube’s search box and you’ll get 2,280 hits.  People have re-edited this clip to make Hitler rail on everything from Twitter’s server fail to Michael Bay’s Transformers to Tony Romo dumping Jessica Simpson.  It’s become such a common reference point it’s even gone meta, with Hitler losing it over his discovery of all the Hitler parodies.

It will take a far smarter person than me to explain our collective subconscious enjoyment of seeing history’s most notorious villain alternatively simper and explode over the banal topics of everyday life.  But the simpler truth is that the internet, originally designed to link brainiacs involved in military research and development, now serves a far more noble purpose: enabling distant people–often complete strangers–to satisfy our deeply human need for connection.  And laughter.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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SmileBalloon_IMGThis blog began almost one year ago as a repository for thoughts and opinions related to the rapidly-changing world of marketing.  “Collective-Thinking” referred to the cloud nature of modern intelligence; how the thoughts and opinions surrounding our industry exist in an ever-growing, ever changing aggregation online.

The process of keeping pace with our changing industry in order to write about it forced a lot of growth and new thinking.  Perhaps the most fundamentally game-changing realization is how the time-honored notion of ‘brand truth’ no longer holds.  “Brand Truths” are vestiges of a time when advertising dollars could buy a one-way sales channel to consumers.  Because the messages flowed solely from the marketer, the advertising agency could determine and dictate what constituted ‘truth.’

Today, that model simply doesn’t exist.  Opinion enjoys a mass channel, personal recommendation drives the vast majority of sales, and the dawn of broadband and the widespread access to Web 2.0 has eradicated the old one-way channel.  Today, there are more outlets for feedback, more forums for discussion, more places for consumers to provide their perspectives on brands.

Today, Brands must find ways to thrive in a world of opinion no longer dominated by advertisers.  Brands must begin adopting a two-phase process of advertising and word of mouth, of building awareness and empowering advocates, of getting recognized and the getting recommended.  Agencies must work to develop and spread ‘sharable stories’ to influence the dialogue out in the world of opinion.

That will be the way forward for marketers.  At least, that’s my opinion.

So if through some stroke of momentous kindness, you’ve bookmarked or subscribed to this site, please reset your feeds to www.brandsareopinions.com.  And thank you very, very much.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

I missed two blog entries last week due to an annual golf trip to Ireland.  This year, we went to the West, in County Clare and the Galway area.  After playing a gorgeous round at Lahinch and before an unbelievable plate of stew at Gus O’Connor’s pub in Doolin, we stopped briefly at the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher.  Standing on O’Brien’s tower gives you a 700 foot vantage point on Galway Bay with the Aran Islands barely visible out in the Atlantic.  It’s a spectacular spot and thanks to both our tour guide Tim and Wikipedia, I learned that it served as a backdrop for The Princess Bride, the latest entry in the endless line of Harry Potter movies, and even the hazy cover art for U2’s recent album, No Line on the Horizon.

CliffFall

Sign #1

Along the walk up, the tourist bureau posted a series of warning signs.  It may be true that much like Scotland, Ireland and the United States are two cultures separated by a common language, but really, a few words may have been in order to help clarify the meaning of these imaginative, if over-reaching symbols.

They started simply enough with Sign #1: a triangular-shaped warning that sprinting along the edge may cause both damage to the cliffs and an ungainly posture.  Indeed, this simple visual messaging would easily translate for visitors from most any culture around the world.

Sign #2

Sign #2

Sign #2 however, began the descent into indecipherability.  It could mean ‘please don’t kick the oversized black piano keys’ or perhaps ‘no hurdling gravestones.’  Maybe it means that ‘climbing shipping boxes of framed paintings requires two hands’ or perhaps even something as prosaic as ‘no dancing too close to obstructions of any sort,’ but that seems unlikely given the Irish proclivity for enthusiastic if ungainly dancing.  No, Sign #2 remained something of a mystery to our group, but whatever it warned of, apparently we were able to walk away unscathed and apparently, without egregious violation.

Sign #3

Sign #3

Sign #3 though totally lost it with the implied intent.  ‘No hovering at altitudes higher than the local birds’?  ‘No walking on flaming coals while littering candy wrappers’?  ‘Beware of fire gulls’?  The possibilities for misinterpretation seem limitless and would require someone with expertise in a made up academic discipline like “Symbology”–that’s right, I’m talking to you Robert Langdon and you too Dan Brown–to interpret the meaning of the graphic artist here.

Then again, take another look at the top picture.  See all the non-cushioning layers of shale and sandstone that might provide only a harsh and temporary break in any unfortunate fall over the nearly vertical cliff face that ultimately ends in the frigid crashing sea hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet below?  Taking that perspective, it seems Nature already provides all the warning labels one might need to keep all but the most determined visitor from tumbling off.  That’s keeping it simple…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Picture 1Conde Nast’s announcement that they were shuttering Gourmet magazine after nearly seven decades of glossy publication came as a shock to many.  I can’t pretend that I am so accomplished or interested a cook that it affects me directly any more than the simultaneous news that two of their two Bride titles—Modern and Elegant—were closing as well (I’m not sure that they put out a Hillbilly Bride but if so, that survived).  Still, one aspect of this announcement has a distinctly contemporary spin…

Conde Nast plans to continue the Gourmet brand.  While declining ad sales doomed the magazine, Gourmet-branded cookbooks will continue to appear in the market.  A new Gourmet TV show debuts on PBS on October 21.  And in a bit of grim irony, Gourmet recipes will even remain on Epicurious.com, the very type of free recipe site that hastened it’s editorial demise.

So while sister publication Bon Appetit will probably fulfill the balances for Gourmet’s subscribers, the name itself will not disappear from popular—or at least foodie—culture.  That is a very smart decision—brands are powerful things: difficult and expensive to build, but resilient and enduring in the public mind.  That’s why a savvy holding company has been able to leverage the Pabst Blue Ribbon brand through contract brewing.  It’s why a similar strategy revived Indian Motorcycles.  And its why the Gourmet brand does have a future—just not in the format where it was built.

The world changes.  Brands that adapt to that reality can create a sustainable future, even if it’s one that their brand stewards never imagined.  Or candidly, particularly wanted.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Picture 4According to a press release from Cupertino yesterday, Apple’s App Store delivers roughly 6.3 million downloads a day or a head spinning seventy-three apps per second.  You can now choose from over 85,000 programs, up over twenty thousand in the last two months alone.  All of this software serves the more than fifty million iPhones and iPod Touches in the market right now.  More importantly, it drives sales and differentiation for this smartphone platform.  The release quotes Steve Jobs as saying “The App Store has reinvented what you can do with a mobile handheld device, and our users are clearly loving it.”

While this is clearly a bit of sales-driving commentary, those words rang incredibly true for referring to my iPhone as ‘a mobile handheld device.’  It is mobile, it is handheld, and it is one remarkable device.  Unfortunately, it’s also a lousy phone.  It drops calls, it stumbles for minutes at a time as it searches for a 3G connection…but it does have those wonderful, engaging apps.  I have a modest thirty-five on my phone and use maybe four everyday, the rest very sporadically.  That’s not particularly surprising; it’s not like anyone really needs to constantly check movie times.

Still, there’s undeniable genius in this model; create a platform and open it up so that independent programmers can supply it with an endless variety of new and fascinating content, which insures the platform remains differentiated and vital in the world of smart phones.  Mr. Jobs clearly learned some things by watching how software developers flooded the open PC market with choices that his closed Mac system could never have.  And he leveraged that to insure the iPhone’s long term success.

Now if he will just let us pick our own carrier.  I can’t wait for a Cricket iPhone.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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IMG_1693

Along WI CR P, North of Marsh View Drive

The punchlines almost write themselves…but I’d prefer yours.  Anyone?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of American jurists has been reducing our vivid national tongue into an indecipherable mind-numbing wall of impenetrable boilerplate.  Which is a form of job-protection I guess but otherwise adds precious little in the way of common clarity and understanding.

A Question Regarding The Cloud

A Question Regarding The Cloud

I’ve been thinking about that ever since the improbably-named Twitter co-founder Biz Stone sent out a change of policy email to all account holders last week.  Given that it was couched in dense legalese, neither me nor you nor the overwhelming majority of account holders bothered to hack their way through that thicket of legal mumbo-jumbo detailing something as seemingly innocuous as a policy change.  So we don’t really know what we agreed to.

But happily, out amidst the vast resources of curious active minds brought together on the web, a few smart people have.  I am particularly grateful for this wonderfully-clarifying analysis and editorial from Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age.  It’s well worth a read.

Dumenco points out how amidst all the details and ‘whereby’s’, Stone buries the small but not insignificant fact that Twitter reserves the right to all of the content you generate on their service.  That’s right: ALL the content.

Those one-liners you send out everyday?  They’re yours, but Twitter can put them into a joke book and not owe you a penny.  That news you saw happening and described from your unique POV?  Twitter can aggregate it and sell it to any of the major news wires.  That novel you’ve been tweeting?  Those lyrics you’ve been half-crowdsourcing?  That witty bon mot about a current event?  Twitter owns them as much as you do, and can profit on them or resell them or license them to whomever they darn well please.

To most of us, the use of this service and the simple fact that we’re not likely to toss off too many intellectual pearls within 140 characters makes this a fair trade.  And given the sheer dunning weight of meaningless prattle on the service, that is not necessarily a reckless position.  It’s a stretch to consider “Man I need coffee” as Intellectual Property, let alone IP worth protecting.

Still, Twitter’s value lies in aggregation.  In aggregation of opinion, in aggregation of highly-defined target markets and perhaps soon, in aggregation of bite-sized content around themes or lifestyles or specific events.  Would anyone ever want to order a copy of The Twitter Guide To Exceptional Birthday Wishes from Amazon?

If it would come out and you did buy it, you might even find your ideas in it.  Whether you’d be credited, well, there are no guarantees about that…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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