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86 Gourmet

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

As part of a new business pitch this morning, we’ve been reviewing the Lighthouse philosophy of challenger brands as espoused by Adam Morgan and the big brains at “Eat Big Fish.”  At the most simplistic level, a Lighthouse Identity helps a brand define what it stands for, both out in the marketplace and inside the company hallways.eatbigfish_logo

It’s a well-reasoned, very pragmatic approach to positioning and shaping brand considerations and perceptions.  And last night, over omelettes and coffee at a roadside Perkins, it got a few of us thinking about what we would consider our own agency identity, what one thing galvanizes us and represents the best of this advertising business.  We quickly arrived at one thing: enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm for the process, but far more importantly, enthusiasm for our product: ideas.  In the marketing business, ROI really boils down to Return on Ideas.  Ideas create perceptions, differentiation, empathy and engagement.  Ideas separate and celebrate.  Ideas are our ultimate product.

And anyone who touches them, influences them or sells them does that better when alight with the energy and group-lifting zeal of enthusiasm.  YEAH!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Since it’s debut in 1970 on ABC, Monday Night Football has been a storied franchise. With nearly forty years of TV ratings success, that would be inevitable.  Week after week, the nation tunes in to watch the NFL in it’s most deluxe packaging–extra cameras, ever more innovative graphics, and a palpably higher level of excitement that only a two team national telecast spotlight can provide.

scaled_jpg.phpTonight, the Green Bay Packers visit the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.  But that’s not the story. The story is Brett Favre vs. the Green Bay Packers.  People want to watch the perennial-retiree face the team he lead for sixteen seasons and by extension, the state that welcomed him deep into their hearts.  Green Bay and Favre were a storybook relationship that ended with feelings of betrayal and recrimination.  And it’s an awkward situation made worse because Favre ended up with Minnesota; these are two northern states with a deep-seated professional antitpathy.  Tonight’s game has so much interest, officials pushed back the Tigers-Twins one game baseball playoff game at the Metrodome til Tuesday.

I like the NFL, but I’m much more of a Saturday football fan.  Still, like every other person on the planet, I can’t resist a good story.  And tonight’s game features a terrific one, one that I’ll still care about even after every analyst and promo spot hammers it into overkill.  Stories matter, and the NFL brand seems to have an intuitive sense of that.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

16dayPalmcardToday is decision day, when the International Olympic Committee announces their choice of city to host the 2016 Olympic Games.  Because of this, great numbers of Chicagoans now know firsthand what it’s like to be in a new business pitch.

Because that’s what this is, on a global scale.  And it’s certainly been a long slog getting here…  Committees formed, strategies outlined, creative developed–by most any measure it’s been a Herculean task to marshall the civic resources and execute the proposed plan.  And yet, dealing with the challenges and problems is rarely the big difficulty in a pitch–the waiting is the hardest part.

Solving problems is our daily work, much like it’s Daley’s job for this City that Works.  Pulling everything together is mostly a larger, less certain version of the tasks we handle every workday.  But now, at this point, there is nothing more to be done.  There are no more points to make, no more influence to wield, no more remarkable surprises to unveil (“Presto!  It’s Oprah!”).  There is only the backroom handicapping (“Sure Rio’s right, the games have never been in South America…then again, Rio police average more than three killings a day under the heading of resisting arrest!”) and the nail-biting wait for the decision, for the messenger to emerge from behind the closed doors, for the white smoke to issue from the Vatican chimney…

An estimated thirty-thousand people will be gathering in Daley Plaza today, starting around 9 AM.  The announcement itself is planned for 11:30 (CST).  If you want more details, check out www.chicago2016.org

A lot of us from Element 79 will be down there in that anxious throng, wearing orange t-shirts with our fingers crossed.  The announcement could make for wild elation or a huge bummer.

Which is only fitting because in the long run, much like a new business win, it will work out to be some balance of both anyway.  Go Chicago!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

UPDATE:  BUMMER

Congrats Rio...I guess.

Congrats Rio...I guess.


The rise of the internet meme has been a largely amusing thing: keyboard cat, Hitler ranting on issues of the moment, and of course, Kanye.  Kanye, Kanye, Kanye/Hitler… But like anything that soars in popularity and finds a way to touch the masses, it can be turned and used…less positively.

Watch this video of Gilbert Gottfried roasting his friend Bob Saget in 2008…  It is only a minute–just watch it, I’ll wait…

Admittedly, that’s a harsh joke.  But it’s ragging between comedians–one of whom does a decidedly-filthy version of The Aristocrats joke–and it’s on a platform that’s intended to be outrageous.  Remarkably. this is the explanation used to explain what inspired one man’s response to something he believed to be outrageous–talk radio, specifically the Glenn Beck show.  This guy’s response? glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com

Teach Your Children Well

Teach Your Children Well

The site positions itself as a sort of social experiment, cataloguing and measuring the responses it generates.  And the author defends his intentions by claiming to be mirroring the same kind of willful, agenda-serving truth-bending that Mr. Beck regularly employs.  Further, he cites how the word ‘parody’ appears again and again throughout the homepage.  Yet the basic provocation remains, a snarky, one-sided smear along the lines of that classic unanswerable yes or no question: ‘do you still beat your wife?’

It will be up to the courts to decide whether an offensive domain name constitutes defamation, but the sad truth remains; we’ve become a society riven by shouting, by insults, by loud voices amplifying narrow perspectives. I’m not a fan of political commentary performed by anyone aside from maybe Letterman and Stewart–the opinions are too shrill, too strident, too focused on convenient framings of blame.

If this is how we disagree, maybe we all need to go back to school.  Or at least Sunday School.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
These Webb Cookies Go Deep Undercover

These Webb Cookies Go Deep Undercover

This month’s Epicenter blog on wired.com discusses Flash Cookies, an online tracking mechanism similar but far less known than the more commonly-recognized internet cookie.  Both operate very similarly to store user data, but there are signifigant differences.  Perhaps the biggest difference is storage capacity: HTML cookies can save up to 4 KB of data while Flash cookies can hold nearly 100 KB.

Oh, and there’s one more thing: when you choose to clear the cookies from your browser, you eliminate the HTML ones, but you don’t touch the flash cookies because they aren’t stored in your browser.  Actually, they are part of the Adobe Flash Player and you can find them through the Settings Manager.  Generally, they have an .sol extension.

Viewed positively, Flash cookies keep track of things like your volume settings for YouTube videos, high scores on flash games and user data for sites like Amazon.

Viewed suspiciously, they are shadowy spyware, implemented in a manner that runs counter to the transparency that characterizes the best web behavior.  Some paranoid programming and tech savvy types conjecture that Adobe intentionally tries to deflect privacy concerns by locating these files in disparate tab locations within their software, under unusual labels like ‘storage’ instead of more straightforward headings like ‘security’ or ‘privacy.’

Unfortunately for marketers and online data crunchers, most people do view cookies negatively.  According this article in today’s New York Times, a study from Penn and Cal Berkeley shows two-thirds of Americans object to online tracking.  It’s even becoming an issue on Capitol Hill as various representatives are considering legislation to address the issue.

I am not anti-cookie (or Local Shared Objects or DOM Storage Objects).  They make many things far more convenient and I’m willing to sacrifice some measure of privacy in exchange for their usefulness.  This compromise also drives things like my use of Catalina Marketing’s discount card at the grocery store and my daily use of Facebook; I’m willing to let marketers learn more about my behavior in exchange for coupons and free services.  And you can always turn them off.

But first you have to know they exist.  And reside in a different directory.  The disturbing point at the crux of the blog post was how nearly half of the web’s most popular sites use these cookies, yet very few mention them in their privacy policies.  That’s wrong, plain and simple and people have a right to be suspicious of these site’s intents.  Remarkably, the list of offending sites even includes whitehouse.gov.

Of course, if you grew up watching the Watergate Trials, that will just confirm years of suspicion.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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