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WEb#1A team from Element 79 spent Tuesday night and Wednesday in Wisconsin as part of an ongoing new business pitch process, including an overnight stay at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, WI.  This charming town exudes a well-kept vintage vacation lake feeling.  Driving in, I noticed a roadside marker for something called “Briggs Bend.”  Then another for “Ted’s Turn.”  Later I found “Werner’s Wend”–obviously, all this alliteration separated these signs from the typically dry postings that mark places of historical semi-signifigance (“Millard Fillmore kept a goat pen here“).WEB#2

Taking the long route and poking around a bit revealed the area around Elkhart Lake enjoyed a huge burst of popularity as a site for road racing during the boom years for sportscars after WWII.  During those pre-litigious times, Le Mans style open road racing filled that rolling Wisconsin countryside with the sound of high-revving engines and squeeling tires.  These days, that action is consigned to on-track racing at the still remarkable four miles of twists and turns at Road America: “Road Racing at It’s Best!

WEB#3Racing history, captured on small signs along country roads, in a hamlet west of Sheboygan…  If you’re not fascinated by America, you’re just not paying attention.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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On the way into work today, I passed a bus featuring an ad for Quaker Oatmeal.  Three simple words floated in a beautifully clean layout atop a portrait of the Quaker and his knowing smile (whom for reasons lost to time we always called ‘Larry”).  The headline read “Go Humans Go.”

“Go Humans Go”?  What?

I am admittedly biased on this subject given we handled this account for six years or so at Element 79, but they’ve been flogging variations of “Go Humans Go” for over a year and as much as I genuinely respect Goodby’s creative and planning excellence, I can’t think of a more ill-conceived campaign for the Quaker brand.  It is a new voice for the brand and one that is no doubt attention getting.

Apparently "Earthlings" Didn't Test Well In Qual

Apparently "Earthlings" Didn't Test Well In Qual

But so is belching the National Anthem.

Attention-getting creative still must relate to some consumer benefit or else it’s entirely dismissable.  A new consumer voice still must feel somehow authentic to the brand or else it consumers won’t believe it.

What’s been sacrificed here for no discernible reason, is brand voice.  Perhaps some new people on the brand team consider things like ‘trust’ and ‘wholesomeness’ too passive…  Perhaps they wanted to do something kicky that the kids might like…  But whatever their intent, pursuing it this way destroys the trusted Quaker brand voice.

Putting “Go Humans Go” above Larry’s grin literally re-positions the trusted Quaker as a robot, a superior lifeform patronizingly looking down on a lesser species, like a representative for some semi-benevolent alien race.  That’s interesting, but not particularly relevant.  And it sure isn’t human or empathetic or even trustworthy.  I mean, does that make you want to Facebook friend him?

Change is often necessary for brands.  But I doubt this is change anyone can believe in.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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In this week’s Advertising Age, Chris Perry–the senior guy in Weber Shandwick’s digital practice–wrote an article placing the major ‘blame’ for social media’s under-performance squarely at the feet of the ‘dated agency model.’  Because social media is so new and so revolutionary, traditional agencies and their clumsy attempts to mainstream it into existing profit structures fail to use this medium to anywhere near it’s full potential.  In short, we’re all doing it wrong.

Art by Steve Lambert, http://visitsteve.com/

Art by Steve Lambert, http://visitsteve.com/

Oh please.  This kind of hand-wringing, model-bashing argument is getting truly tiresome; it’s too much “I told you so” that doesn’t tell much of anything. We’re slapped in the face with the promise of it even though no one has yet to deliver any profits from it.  Garrett’s Popcorn is tweeting now? Okay, I’ll remember that next time I feel compelled to talk to a tin of caramel/cheese popcorn.  Dell’s much ballyhooed two million dollars worth of @delloutlet Twitter sales?  That’s less than one hundredth of a percent of their annual sales.  NBC CEO Jeff Zucker said it best: “Our challenge with all these new-media ventures is to effectively monetize them so that we do not end up trading analog dollars for digital pennies.”  Indeed.  This is, after all, a business.

But all of this is quibbling; fundamentally, Mr. Perry’s argument is flawed because Mr. Perry assumes there is such a thing as Social “Media.”  I disagree.

Social media doesn’t yet live up to the hype because social ‘media’–as agencies and advertisers define ‘media’–simply doesn’t exist.

Call me a copywriter, but words matter.  “Social Media” is an ill-considered term for advertisers.  As an important cultural phenomenon, slapping the label “media” on it creates the impression that clients must put messages there and that’s simply not true.  The explosive expansion and proliferation of social networks is nothing short of a communications revolution, but that doesn’t make them a marketing medium…or any sort of “media” whatsoever.  When my sister friends her long lost high school bandmate on Facebook, she doesn’t consider it an advertising platform–Facebook is simply a way to connect and communicate.  It is SOCIAL first and foremost; it is absolutely not “Media” by any traditional industry definition.  This simple reality drives headlines like this from today’s Online Media Daily: “More Women Using Social Networks, But Brands Not Benefitting.”  The whole conceit of ‘Social Media’ is a sociologist’s invention–using it in reference to marketing unnecessarily confuses the issue.  With the notable exception of Word of Mouth PR outreach, social networks provide an extremely limited forum for selling and driving profit.

Do social networks matter?  Very much so.  Should agencies be focused on them?  They better be.  At Element 79, we believe every one of our clients should be deeply involved in social networks–less as a selling platform and more as a deep, rich, real-time glimpse into consumer sentiment about their brands and categories.  Social networks present an unprecedented platform for real time research that savvy planners can mine for opinion gathering and monitoring. 

In these times when brands are opinions and opinion enjoys a vast media channel independent of the paid media that spurs and sparks consumer conversations, we must start creating metrics around social network conversations as another measure of our communications’ success in market.  Internally, this lays a new groundwork for planner responsibilities: first mining social networks for consumer insights and relevance and later assessing the results of our efforts.  Did our ideas enter the conversations?  Were our strategies compelling, our executions memorable, our messages relevant and persuasive?  That’s all measurable with the vast data engine that is the web.

These new platforms are social networks; rich and vibrant communication ecosystems that advertisers should strive to protect and foster.  Social media however, remains a pipe dream, an ill-considered fool’s errand where marketing messages flounder amidst a social setting that so far, is neither welcoming nor profitable.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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A recent Pear Analytics study finds that 40% of Twitter messages from a random sample of 2,000 tweets amount to “pointless babble.”  Items like “I’m eating a sandwich” clog the micro-blogging service, followed closely by conversational messages between users at 37.5%.

In other words, nearly 80% of Twitter content amounts to little more than incidental conversation.  Which should serve as a stark reminder that Twitter–and Facebook, MySpace and hundreds of other smaller social networks–are all about the social.  Overeager advertisers looking to exploit low cost media platforms need to take a hard look at this communications environment: it’s hardly a welcoming audience to commercial messages.

Of course, not knowing the people of Pear Analytics or their credentials, I decided to grab ten tweets from this morning’s Element 79 feed and analyze them.  In fairness, being an ad agency  and not an individual attracts a disproportionate number of industry reps, job seekers and for some reason, people who tweet in Spanish and Mandarin, but that is mostly a result of an earlier non-discriminating ‘you follow us/we’ll follow you” policy: a basic no-no of effective social networking.  Anyway, here are this morning’s ten:

1.  @JBajancopymaker:  This would be Babble.CT

2.  @tkdainc:  This pitches an artist who creates doe-eyed anime creatures sporting tatoos and furry hats with ears.  This is Sales.

3.  @redsquareagency:   A link to camo-wearing, gun-toting Hispanic military men, two of whom sport this agency’s t-shirt.  This is Sales, and depending on your perspective, funny or ill-advised.

4.  @richandcom:  A link to a news item about well-financed quick buck schemers hosing longterm investors.  This is News, of the irrelevant and vaguely depressing sort.

5.  @Oshyn_Inc:  A link to a blog about “Live Server Dynaments.”  I wandered at “Live Server” and they lost me at “Dynaments.”  News.  Kind of.

6.  @GuyKawasaki:  A funny link to Craig Damrauer’s witty morenewmath.com .  This is Humor, and depending on your perspective, funny or time-wasting.

7.  @charlottehrb:  This is a Conversational Message between users.

8.  @kevin7211:  This, the first of three Tweets within three minutes, spotlights some ad guy selling mobile with a ‘context over content’ message.  Wants to be News, But it’s Babble.

9.  @drdue:  Sales pitch for girdles.  Bad targeting.  Sales.

10.  @LuckyIntern  RT of an Adweek article.  News.

So by the strict parameters of this carefully-conducted study, the predominance is split between Sales and News, both at 30%, with Babble and Conversational Messages at 20% each.  Of course, by personal standards, the Kawasaki link was the only thing worth following.  For a quick laugh.

Laughter definitely has human value, but it’s kind of hard to bill to a client…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Picture 1Guest Blogger: Patrick Brennan

The ever-charming, eminently capable Patrick Brennan graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Communications major and began his career in production with a Madison cable access show featuring shelter animals. After moving to Chicago, he worked various freelance crew gigs (“Anyone need a second second AD?”), and slowly worked his way into advertising through the Leap Partnership, BBDO, and the DDB dub room.  He got his first staff job at JWT, then moved on to Leo Burnett and high profile work for McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, Nintendo and Samsung.  Element 79 eventually wrangled him in as a Senior Producer where he applies his high standards for film to both television and interactive work.  He likes to bike, cook, travel and lavish attention on his wife and bull terrier.  He would also like to sell his condo.

In the ad world, rarely will you see the gathering of more specialists, more experts in diverse fields, than you will at a broadcast commercial shoot. In order to create the perfect :30 world where every nuance is scrutinized (local cable TV ads notwithstanding), every element from the carpet to the cat is discussed ad nauseum among the client, the agency, the director, and experts in the fields of carpets and cats.

blueprints_main_levelDue to this level of specialization, the TV shoot is often where advertisers spend most of their creative production dollar (and given the budgets our industry has seen lately, I use the singular form of dollar intentionally). In order to gain efficiencies of scale and stretch the production budget, the TV shoot has increasingly become the locus of all efforts to acquire material for other media. Thus, the TV shoot has become the headwaters for the flow of creative content. It has become the norm rather than the exception for agencies to shoot a TV spot while also acquiring assets for digital, stills for print, and the inevitable “making of” video that rarely sees the light of day (not unlike the video’s editor).

Because production has become so integrated, the title “Broadcast Producer” is starting to go the way of the Diplodocus and ¾” tape. We now call ourselves “Content Producers” or “Creative Content Producers”. In some cases, our titles seem to cross over to other professions entirely, like “Content Architect” or “Creative Content Specialists” giving the impression that we bustle about the halls of ad agencies with stethoscopes and armloads of blueprints.

Hopefully, unlike the Diplodocus, the producer has evolved. The resourcefulness and creativity required to be a good producer can be applied outside the Broadcast realm. It’s not Aquaman fighting in space. There are new terms to learn, new shenanigans to call bullshit on, and auspiciously, new people to meet.

By Patrick Brennan, Senior Producer, Element 79  Visit him at pangaean-american.com


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This morning, an article in Advertising Age landed in my e-mail no less than four times before 9am.  Mike Wolfsohn, the Executive Creative Director of Ignited wrote a strong blog post on his agency’s site outlining his frustration with the Zappo’s RFP process.  He describes how Ignited analyzed the actual time spent with this potential client’s review of their comprehensive response and took issue that it amounted to only five page views averaging fourteen seconds each.Picture 3

The key issue amounts to the trackability of interaction, which Mike understandably views as cursory.  Given Zappo’s hard-earned reputation for outstanding customer service, he believes their consideration to be woefully inadequate.  In Zappo’s defense, they opened up this review to what essentially amounts to agency crowdsourcing. and given their desirability as an attractive roster client, they underestimated the overwhelming response they would receive.  By Brandweek’s estimation, more than 104 agencies responded to their very detailed RFP and the sheer volume of material that reached their small marketing department could probably fill a wing of the Library of Congress.  As it turns out, that estimation was low: in his thoughtful response to Mike’s post, Zappo’s head of Business Development Aaron Magness cited the number of actual respondents as 170.

As someone who has some experience with crowdsourcing, one of the biggest negatives about getting all that freely generated material is the respondents’ need for feedback, which can all too quickly bury the organization behind the effort.  Anyone who gives a brand their time and thinking rightly expects some sort of response for their efforts and when they actually do get it, the work improves substantially.  But it is a very tall order to respond to every submission with meaningful and focussed feedback.  If you’ve ever lived through an all agency creative gangbang, you know the problems.

The simple fact is that our society has recently and powerfully evolved to embrace a Web 2.0 empowered two-way marketplace.  We expect to give and get feedback.  When the demand for that feedback grows too large, the sheer manpower demands to answer chokes most organizations.  This is not simply a Zappo’s issue; this will be a growing issue for all marketers and one that will demand we evolve our organizational structures to answer.  The real convergence today is the rapidly colliding worlds of advertising and word-of-mouth PR outreach.  Marketing organizations need to create mechanisms not just to send messages out, but to prepare for meaningful, ongoing consumer dialogue and engagement.

The outcome of this particular situation remains to be seen.  But as one of the agencies who responded, I want to wish Zappo’s good luck with this challenge.  Of course, I would also be more than happy if anyone there wants to call me for advice.  Element 79 loves that brand.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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ChaseGuest Blogger: Michael Chase

Michael Chase is an account director at Element 79 and a man with both a deep track record with sports brands and an enviable short game.  He came to Element 79 to work on Gatorade and help develop Element 79 Sports with projects for clients such as Discover, US Soccer, the Wade’s World Foundation, and Chicago 2016.  Before returning to Chicago, Michael spent six years in Portland: two working on Nike Golf (and his short game) and four at Weiden and Kennedy where he first began working on Nike (and his short game).  He began his career with sports projects for Coors and Midas at Foote Cone and Belding after graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder (where the mile-high altitude helped his drives).  Later this afternoon, Element 79 will be relying on Michael’s total game at the AAAA golf outing in Harborside.  Long and strong Michael, long and strong…

Throughout my career, I have had the distinct fortune and pleasure of working with a number of wonderful companies and brands with their sports-related advertising and marketing initiatives. While I have a great deal of passion and energy for the business of sports, I am also a fan.  Okay, not just a fan, but a fanatic

Growing up, if I wasn’t playing baseball, football, soccer, basketball tennis or golf, I was watching it.  Some of my favorites in no particular order were John Elway, John McEnroe, Jack Nicklaus, Pele, Nolan Ryan and of course, MJ.  And like the rest of my friends, I bought what these athletes used, wore, and endorsed. 

I loved watching athletes in advertising.  From Mean Joe Green and Coke to the cast of characters for Miller Lite’s Taste Great/Less Filling campaign, from Nike’s “Bo Knows”  to  Gatorade’s MJ taking on himself, the great ads came from brands with clearly-defined understanding of their roles.  The best brands tapped into insights that resonated with sports fans and took the time and energy to find exactly the right athlete to deliver their message.  I cannot stress that last point enough. 

It has become more and more challenging for brands to find the right athlete.  For years, Element 79 Sports helped brands do just that.  But with our seemingly unlimited media access to our sports hero’s lives, we know too much about today’s athletes and recognize they are not the bulletproof, do-no-wrong heroes they once were.  Worse, with so many sports vying for our attention and so many new media outlets splintering our focus, some of the old luster is gone.  Combine all this with a down economic climate where limited dollars exist to sign athlete endorsers and showcase them through marketing and it’s obvious the old rules have changed.  Those rules may even be gone completely and it is time brands recognize this.

Gone are the days of scouring the Q scores to find the best athlete for the job.  Today, brands need to consider a multitude of criteria to make this crucial decision.  Excelling at their sport and demonstrating an interesting personality is simply not as important as it once was.  One of the most important emerging criteria to consider is whether the athlete is doing a good job of marketing themselves.  Do they have their own website?  Is it any good?  Are they active in social networking?  And if so, as this recent SI article about Twitter and professional sports asks, are they being followed?

Some of the most popular athletes in the world of Twitter may not be among their league’s leaders in stats, but definitely make the most entertaining use of less than 140 characters.  This list of the Top 10 Twitter athletes tells an interesting story; while it contains some of the biggest names in sports (Shaq, Lance, and Serena), you might be surprised by some of the others (skateboarders Ryan Sheckler and Tony Hawk? Nick Swisher? Kareem?).  A new site called Athlete Tweets aggregates thousands upon thousands of tweets from hundreds of athletes from all different sports creating a sort of Twitter sports network.

522,894 Followers Is Waaay Above Par

522,894 Followers Is Waaay Above Par

PGA fans may know Stewart Cink but he is hardly a household name in sports.  Still, Stewart has nearly 523,000 followers.   He provides rich, personal details of his golf life through nearly 1,000 tweets and his Twitter bio, right down to which brand of shafts he uses in his clubs.  Fans comment on the courses he plays and his club selection–they definitely notice.

The brands who recognize this new playing field, the ones who embrace it and use it to create even deeper relationships with athletes through it will win. Social networking will radically restructure who is chosen to endorse brands, how they endorse brands and how those endorsement deals will be structured.  Brands can use sports to reach their consumers in more relevant and efficient ways than ever before.  And the ones that do will win.

Last year Buick made the tough decision to end their long relationship with Tiger Woods because they could no longer afford him.  Maybe they should call Stewart Cink.  Actually, they should tweet him.

by Michael Chase, Element 79

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