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Posts Tagged ‘Television’

My venture capital friends don’t concern themselves with whether or not Kevin Jonas is dead (“Kevin Who?  Does he play for the Brewers?”).  My accountant acquaintances may or may not know who Leodis McKelvin is, or care what it means to professional athletes when a poor on-field performance leads to fan vandalism of their homes.  And most anyone I know who is gainfully employed and enjoys a social life of even the most modest proportions has better ways to occupy their time than watching Shaquile O’Neal embarrass himself in a pool against Michael Phelps.

Spiking Up To #29

Spiking Up To #29

But this isn’t a luxury for anyone in advertising.  Being informed about ephemeral pop culture happenings is part of the business.  It’s why I kept a subscription to People for years, despite the certain knowledge that my brain cells shrunk everytime I read it.  It’s why we have to pay attention to pop music and reality TV.  It’s why we have an opinion on Kate Gosselin’s new hairstyle (“Hate the waves!”).

For years, if you had a friend in advertising, you wanted her on your Trivial Pursuit team.  Because advertising people spend countless hours learning the names and attributes of every human footnote who earns even fifteen minutes of fame.

Which is just one more reason why advertising people should embrace the web with appreciative abandon: it makes these needs easier than ever to know.  If you want a list of one hundred topics that are popular right now, you simply punch up Google Trends and the top 100 most discussed topics on the internet are there, neatly listed for your perusal.  Along with perennials like diets and recent television episodes, you will find the names of basically anyone in the news.  And phrases enjoying their moment of pop popularity.

I read through this list every now and then and always learn something that I can use in conversation later.  It’s quick, it’s effective, and it’s glaringly obvious that as a culture, we are not a particularly intellectual bunch.  That said, I took some heart in trend #26 today; apparently a number of people want to learn the definition of “admonish.”  

And you thought boobs like Joe Wilson and Serena Williams and Kanye West couldn’t teach today’s young people anything…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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A group of us spent the day yesterday at a briefing session for a new business pitch. Unlike most of these exercises, this client spent a lot of time carefully assembling a presentation that was incredibly dense with facts and background information.  To a person, they understood their advertising’s key shortcoming: it is long on reason but lacking in emotion.  They want to inspire people to not simply consider, but to care.  

After 104 powerpoint slides, they ultimately arrived at the same sentiment as Bill Bernbach’s famous quote: “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”  “Art” is a big word and one that many of us shy away from: it implies too much, it assumes a level of importance that a static banner ad may not seem to merit.

And yet, the best advertising messages contain an extra something, a spark of humanity or truth or simple engagement that transcends mere communication.  You can call that art, but in television, that ‘art’ usually amounts to ‘performance.’Picture 2

Which brings me to this ad for Harris Bank.  To see it, surf to this Harris microsite, click on the small TV icon in the lower left, then click on the little square that pictures a blue shirt-wearing young businessguy.  Now pay particular attention to the second vignette of the couple kayaking on the Chicago River…

Nice huh?  I’m probably more proud of how the team brought this scene to life than any other we’ve captured on film in years.  Candidly, I didn’t think this vignette would even work when I saw it in board form.  Yet somehow, inspired confident casting, deft choreography, and two actors capturing a commonplace yet momentous human exchange through a believably natural yet heartwarming performance, elevates this scene beyond the prosaic.

If you analyze the meaning of this scene in a commercial context, you reach one understanding.  But when you feel it, the experience reaches a far deeper, more meaningful level.  A great human performance–whether remarkable or hysterical or moving or naturally relatable–can be powerfully persuasive.  Because it can make you feel.

And that my friends, is why creating an animatic to understand how a commercial might work is like buying a blow up doll to understand how a relationship works.  It’s not even close.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Marketing leaders spend a great deal of time worrying about the changing media landscape these days, and an article on MediaPost by Gavin O’Malley this morning will only further their agita.  According to a Princeton Survey Research study, 90% of young adults use video-sharing sites.  Well, no kidding.  The only reason that figure is not 100% is that broadband has yet to penetrate the entire country.

One of the marketing leaders’ principal responses to these changes is their insistence on renaming television production as “content” production.  In their minds, “content” or “video assets” can be endlessly re-purposed with different edits of different lengths for different platforms beyond merely television.

That is good planning, even if it is nothing particularly new.  Candidly, framing a shoot as “content production” helps agencies sell something that every creative on a shoot always wants:  options and additional scenes.  Production experience will quickly teach you to get alternate takes, particularly alternate endings.  With so much of a commercial’s impact and engagement dependent on the actors’ performance, the cost of getting options on set is relatively low.  If you experiment a bit, the actor might deliver a different and better performance than you planned- -which explains roughly 75% of creatives’ bristling at dogmatic pre-testing.  An animatic is but the palest imitation of fully produced film with human performances.

Viral?  Or TV Commercial?

Viral? Or TV Commercial?

Consider the videos that have clogged your inbox over the years: Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”, the non-sanctioned VW “Terrorist”, and arguably the granddaddy of all internet virals: John West Salmon’s  “Bear”.  People forward clips like these to their friends and family because they’re entertaining, surprising and fun.  And yet, every one of these began as a television commercial, albeit an outstanding television commercial.  These may have also worked in a longer format, but thirty or sixty seconds often proves ideal for their impact.  And our attention spans.  Why?  Because we have spent decades absorbing commercial messages at these lengths; we have been conditioned to expect these clips in these concise formats.

All of which means that the changing media landscape will not suddenly render the way we have learned to tell efficiently-structured stories as meaningless.  We must still engage consumers with worthwhile messages presented in a rewarding fashion.  Technology will continue to change, but story endures.

So yes, the marketing landscape is evolving and will continue to evolve.  Change will continue to be a constant.  And so creativity must adapt to embrace and leverage new platforms but never at the cost of classic storytelling.

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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We’re still watching.  Actually, we’re watching more than ever.  The three-screen audience for video content has never been larger or more active, that is, if you define ‘active’ as sitting still and watching other people do things.

...And Everyone's Watching

...And Everyone's Watching

For advertisers, that’s terrific news. But candidly, it’s even better news for traditional ad agencies that long specialized in television production. Because despite the flurry of new formats and technologies, the fundamental consumer desire to watch video thrives unabated in a platform agnostic manner.  Clients who ran to new media shops based on the strength of their technical prowess alone may want to reconsider; the viewers are there, but you can’t assume they’re an eager advertising audience.  It takes compelling content to earn an audience, and that starts with story.

Two recent posts on this subject actually make for an interesting compare and contrast. Last week, Chris Rohrs, the president of the Television Bureau of Advertising (find their rather hideous website here), posted a persuasive editorial in Adweek where he cited recent Nielsen       time spent data that registered the highest numbers in their nearly sixty-year history.  Nielsen suggests the average American household spends eight hours and twenty-one minutes in front of the TV every day, with the precious Teen demo logging nearly three and a half of those hours.

He went on to cite a March study from Ball State’s Center for Media Design, hailed as the “largest observational look at media usage ever conducted.”  Rohrs takes great delight in that study’s finding that ninety-nine percent of TV viewing in 2008 was done on a “traditional” TV with less than 5 percent of that viewing using DVR playback.  Web video from YouTube, Hulu and all other Web/cell phone media accounted for less than one percent of all viewership.

Obviously Mr. Rohrs has a bias to present but still, he uses these facts well to rebut the conventional bromide of so many new media advocates: “television is dead.”

Of course it isn’t Chris.  Say it with me, won’t you?  “Television is not dead, it’s just diversified.”

And that’s the point Gavin O’Malley made yesterday on MediaPost: viewership on all three screens has never been higher.  Special events added extra fuel to online viewership numbers as people watched the Inauguration and the Final Fours from their desktops.  Again citing Nielsen, US online video usage grew thirteen percent year-over-year while mobile jumped more than fifty percent.

The two mens’ numbers around DVR use seem to conflict but the undeniable truth is that we are watching more video than ever…which must have something to do with this great nation’s rampant obesity, but that’s another blogpost.

Call me self-interested but my takeaway from all of these findings is that agencies deeply schooled in television production can no longer be cast as behind the times.  The collective skill and experience all that commercial production engenders gives us a leg up over any putative content provider, particularly if we’ve moved aggressively into new media anyway.

Like so many things, the means don’t matter nearly as much as the ends.  Facile skills on specific platforms mean nothing if the content isn’t there.

Stories, drama, ideas always come first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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We now work amidst a cavalcade of technological and social changes that actively assail the long-reliable notion of an aggregated audience for advertising messages.  Instead of simply worrying that some portion of the audience may leave to use the bathroom during their commercials, advertisers now face DVR’s, DVD’s, Hulu, hundreds of niche channels, and the ugly reality that in poll after poll, the number of respondents claiming to actively dislike or avoid advertising never dips below the mid sixties and frequently soars far higher.   TV viewers recognize advertising as the tax demanded for their free entertainment, but new technologies make it easier than ever to avoid them. Besides, who likes taxes?

Today's Audience Is Far From Captive

Today's Audience Is Far From Captive

Online advertising fares no better. Last year, the online pollsters at VIZU conducted a survey of 2000 internet users where 72% said they found advertising ‘annoying’ or ‘extremely annoying.’  Wow. Given the amount of free tools available to help people avoid our messages–RSS feeds, online aggregators–merely placing an ad means far less than it once did. And remember, this environment is a huge Brandfill: last year, advertisers threw up 3.6 trillion banner messages online. Written out, that’s 3,600,000,000,000.  In layman’s term, that’s a lot.

And as for print, well, we’ve been reading print’s obituary for the past five years now, although the stubborn cuss refuses to outright die.

As Howard Gossage, advertising’s own H.L. Mencken and a man who never once wrote a TV ad, was fond of saying “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads.  People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

When you can’t assume an audience, it forces you to adapt your strategy from informing first to engaging first.  Engagement must be the primary mission of advertising messages these days because now, more than ever before, the audience has options.

Be interesting first.  Being engaging is step one.  Without it, there is no step two.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Also Available In MP3 and Kindle   

Also Available In MP3 and Kindle

Books demand a considerable amount of time and attention; so how do you go about trying to sell them?  Traditionally, publishers send authors on book tours to generate word of mouth interest, which can be very effective.  Then again, the life of letters hardly prepares someone for a guest shot on Oprah.  Something as fundamental as book cover design certainly encourages potential readers to pick one up and consider it further.  And in the case of industry heavy-hitters like James Patterson, publishers occasionally turn to television ads, usually with unfortunate results.

But in the past month, I’ve come across two deeply-engaging websites that do an incredibly effective job of selling books.  Photographer Andrew Zuckerman has a new celebrity-interview powered book out entitled Wisdom and a tremendous multi-media site to promote it.  Photographer Phillip Toledano created a slightly less-sophisticated but deeply moving site chronicling the final days of his ninety-three year old father, a documentary project which will eventually become a book.  

Both authors are younger (thirty one and forty one, respectively), both are photographers, and both provide generous amounts of their work free to the public in this context.  The online medium fits their work incredibly well, though the challenge still remains to publicize the link and drive traffic to the site.  In both cases, I followed forwarded links, an admittedly far less precise media tool but one that carries considerable weight as recommendation.

Then again, if this is the alternative, less precise is just fine…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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