Big Ideas from a Small World

Change-vertising: Why it’s ok to make Dungeons and Dragons Jokes

Posted in From Canada, Get High Fives, Global Outlook by Ryan Thomas on May 27, 2009

This morning a good friend of mine and talented writer here in Toronto sent me the following e-mail:

I’ve been reading Goodson’s blogs and articles for days now, and analyzing case studies on the Strawberry Frog site. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the exact notion of Cultural Movements and how you would go about sparking one.
And also how you could project the success of your idea without actually having to execute it in order to sell the idea to a client.

I’m hoping you have some knowledge about this and could provide some insight?

Insight I have. Dental and Medical I do not. So without further ado…

Step 1:


Think of a closed culture as a log cabin. They are structurally sound, tightly packed and cozy – but above all they keep the outside out. We all belong to closed cultures or have at one time. Your family is a closed culture, your work place, your hobbies and interests make for great closed cultures.

Well before advertisers stumbled onto the idea of starting cultural movements, closed communities have been breeding them. Jazz spawned whole new way of looking at music, addressed racial barriers, and spawned some of the greatest cultural movements of the 20th century. Remember the beatniks were proto-hippies.

Now it’s important to make a distinction here.

Open Cultures are: Represented in mass media

Closed Cultures are: Not represented in mass media

For this example though, we are going to use one of the strangest closed cultures ever to grace North America:

Dungeons & Dragons

In the mid seventies there was nothing quite as geeky or socially ostracizing as Dungeons and Dragons. Groups of young men limited to 5 or 6 would sit in basements and spend entire afternoons fighting imaginary creatures and playing pretend. The game itself worked on a rules system that was totally inaccessible to people outside the community. To purchase books or products you had to find a store, a rare jewel where often the owners knew you by name.

In short if you were a member of this community you felt a sense of belonging and ownership – yet you were also an outcast.

Step 2:


Closed cultures over time build up vocabulary, preferences and commonalities between its members. The stereotypes often associated with the gay community did not start that way. They developed as a cultural short hand. A way of seeing and speaking that told others that you were a member if they also spoke the same short hand.

Skateboarders did the same thing, though were far less persecuted. If you didn’t know what a heel flip was, you did not belong to the community. It was a simple test and you were a tourist.

These communities developed well in advance of the internet and today closed cultures dry much more quickly. Meme’s can now race through a community over night, developing what once took years in a matter of days.

In our Dungeons and Dragons example cultural short hand revolved around the rule system already packaged with the game. A great roll on a 20 sided dice would let a character do amazing things. Members of the culture announcing “I roll twenties” is a kin to rappers promising “I’ll make it rain on these hoes“. Once a closed culture has developed a cultural shorthand, brands have an opportunity to partake in the culture.


Nothing is more tragic than when marketers start fires with wet kindling. Free running never had a chance to really develop before it started appearing in marketers’ pitches. It never got the opportunity to call something it’s own before it was sold back to its members.

Step 3:


So you have a culture that is under represented and perfect for your brand. It has its own shorthand. But how do you know if your culture is big enough to really get a good cultural fire started?

Look for trees around the cabin.

Many people may be associated with a closed culture by virtue of personal relationships. You many never have played D&D yourself but that boy you dated in university did. There were always sharp dice on his floor, his bookshelf embarrassed you at house parties. Or you had a Magic the Gathering phase in high school. You knew some of the terms associated with D&D but never really got involved yourself. In many articles about the death of Gary Gygax one of the founding fathers of Dungeons and Dragons his reach is estimated at 20 million players over 30 years. If the average person has upwards of 100 personal contacts, the question begs to be asked: how did D&D stay out of mainstream media for so long?

The same goes for jazz, street racing, guitar hero and about a million other closed cultures.

Your trees have reach and are well connected, if you start a fire big enough, they burn too and you’ll have a fire lit under the ass of a much larger culture.

Step 4:


Use what you have learned about a culture. Borrow its language and images and bring it to mass.

Why mass media?

In an age where everyone is talking about social media, why would starting a cultural movement be about mass?

The answer is simple: To open a closed community’s doors.

Television represents the collective everyman. Even in a market of 1000’s of specialty channels, if it’s on television or on radio or on the side of a billboard, surely you’re not alone.

The community is bigger than you think.

  • Skateboarding is not a crime.
  • He’s a hip cat.
  • I have a plus one to social rolls.

That’s the best activator of social media you will ever find. Suddenly people are willing to say ‘I did it’ or ‘I used to know someone’. The closed community grows and with it your brand and the connections you have made.

It’s high risk and still requires great creative, but sparking a cultural movement means your brand is no longer simply jumping on trends but helping people to connect and recognizing their passions.

Here are some of the closed communities growing in Toronto today:

  • Fixie Bicycle Riders & Slow Bike Gangs
  • Amateur Burlesque & Sideshow groups
  • Stictch n’ Bitchers & Square Foot Gardeners
  • Web & Indy Comic Readers

Given time any one of these could develop into a brand new touch point to help grow people’s personal interests and your brand.

Happy Rolling D&D Image


Wii gifts British Royals

Posted in Global Outlook by Ryan Thomas on May 26, 2009

For the launch of the Nintendo’s Big Family Games, THQ has given a gold plated Wii to the Queen Mum.What else can you say about this – I hope she plays it. It would be a shame to see it gathering dust waiting for next No More Heroes to come out.


It’s also a way better idea to give a gold plated video game console than a bunch of illegal brass knuckles.


Pepsi Max’s insight: Cephalopod’s are so in right now.

Posted in Global Outlook by Ryan Thomas on May 26, 2009

Pepsi Max has created a spot that feels more like a beer commercial than a traditional soda pop spot. I would go as far as to say that this spot has been done before – the only difference. It’s never been done with an octopus.

The spot is from CLM BBDO.

That being said, I love me a good cephalopod.

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Did Lego just hit a home run?

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Thomas on May 26, 2009

I recently posted about Lego’s newest brand extension, here are my blog tracker stats for the very same day:


I’m gonna go ahead an assume that this newest product has some interest with Lego fans.

Feature Length Advertising is not dead!

Posted in Change Something, Global Outlook by Ryan Thomas on May 26, 2009

I loved the BMW films when they first hit. Since then rare companies have done amazing things with long movie-like advertising. It seems like every time brands are willing to risk moving away from low production values, shortened attention spans, and viral seeding great things come from the project.

Yes, it’s an investment. Yes, it takes time and yes it is a real risk, but if everyone zigs you might consider zagging.

Lux has done just that, with their new short featuring Catherine Zeta Jones.

In this age we are forever asking people to opt-in and donate their time to our brands. What better time could there be to start creating real content again. Film quality, talent rich, content.


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Dunlop World Record – How good are you tires?

Posted in Change Something, Method to the Madness, Too Close To Call by Ryan Thomas on May 25, 2009

Tire companies must be in a bind. As automotive sales shrink they must be sweating buckets. Maybe a little bit of fear is a good thing though. It makes marketers ready to reach outside of the box and do something daring to drive sales.

The big tire manufactures often rely on fear to sell product. “We care about your family road safety, do you?” frankly I blame this on the success of one baby:


This image is linked to an Ogilvy Goodyear case study for further reading.

Now with the marketing falling apart here comes a tire company with something viral and just all around different:

The way I figure it, if you’re going to be late to the party at least bust in the front door with a motorcycle and a Texas mickey of Jim Beam.


Adding Brand Value – Lego Builds On Sucess

Posted in Change Something, Global Outlook, Go Read A Book, Make Friends by Ryan Thomas on May 25, 2009

There is an old marketing story about the birth of MTV and the decision to allow consumers to out grow their product. It’s a question that faces a lot of brands as they move through the product life cycle.

Do we shift our brand to meet the needs of established aging clientele?


Do we shift our brand to meet the needs of consumers coming of age in our current demographic?

It’s a serious question with serious consequences. MTV of course chose the latter and became the Peter Pan of the century choosing to forever stay young and inaccessible to aging demographics.

But what of the other side of this equation, how to do you keep loyal brand consumers loyal as they age?

I give you Lego’s new brand Lego Architecture:


This project is a simply amazing case study in borrowed equity and brand values. Personally I hope this project explodes for the brand, they could have a major crown jewel in their brand if this project is taken to its farthest reaches.

I see Lego fans finishing Sagrada Familia church, by Gaudí before the building itself is ever completed. Imagine the brand equity:

A building started in 1882, with a grand vision so big its current completion date is 2026. 15 years before the last stone is put into place Lego fans have built the building one hundred thousand times over.



If you’re not up on the works of this brilliant visionary of achictecture I suggest you start googling Gaudí on your iPhone now.

Digging Through Young Lions for Cannes – Gems Abound.

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Thomas on May 22, 2009

I have been sitting here all morning sifting through some of the entries for Cannes and I have been amazed by the quality of this batch of open submission work. There are highs, there are lows, but my god are there some unforgettable gems.

I have had this song stuck in my head all morning, and I must say of everything I have seen it is the most informative of the spots on the site.

I’m amazed that Luke is so well edited. It’s one thing to have a talented AD and copywriter, it’s another to produce a near professional level spot in 48 hours.

As of right now I must admit these are my top three and as much as I love Luke… and the stunning night writing spot – not much I have seen tops the singing nerd.

New Samsung Viral

Posted in Global Outlook, Method to the Madness by Ryan Thomas on May 21, 2009

Vincenzo from the Viral Factory just shot me an e-mail. They have a brand new video out for Samsung Laptops. I must admit it’s three kinds of cute.

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Big Ideas from Young Cannes

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Thomas on May 20, 2009

With the 48 hour beating of young juniors over, the videos are up and there is a lot to think about. A lot to talk about in the shifts occurring in this industry.

But first, how charming is this?

This video is Spencer Black and (I think his writing partner at Zig’s) contribution.

This video was created in 48 hours, in between real work for some of Canada’s biggest clients. Wrap your head around that for a second.

This business has been called competitive, cut throat. I even had an old professor who promised me that this industry eats its young. Well the shift to video production for Cannes has really refreshed this argument.

Here are just a few of the changes, a few of the things we expect young creatives to know coming into the industry:

1) Your portfolio should be on-line.

2) You should be able to conceive,  produce and edit a video in under 48 hours.

3) You should be able to work really long hours for free.

I can’t help but look at things like this and wonder, if agencies are getting smaller, if clients are demanding more and more for less and less, who is more to blame for this than the advertising industry itself?