Big Ideas from a Small World

Marketers who have got it right: TV and Film

Posted in Change Something by Ryan Thomas on July 28, 2009

I have been amazed recently.

Not by the combination of witty picture with funny headline that your average Creative Director wants to see from young creatives book but by the zany consumer first schemes of the movie and television industry.

Seriously. We talk a good game about putting the consumer first but I can’t wait till every product is as daring and as strategic as those of our film and movie marketing brothers.

Right now, this very second the internet is awash in the creation of content to fuel the consumption of content.

Wrap your head around that.

Creating content in a verity of media and public spaces to encourage the consumption of revenue generating content.

Welcome to Hype Machine 2.0

The hit television show Lost brought commercials to a comic con. An event awash in marketing messages. This backwards strategy has payed off large and might never show up at Cannes.

Meanwhile at the San Diego Comic Con Disney created a fully interactive world and photo experience for guests.


Locally an abandoned Queen Street store front has been converted into a Harry Potter Set for the upcoming film.

These brave souls are rewarding their consumers and honestly making them apart of the experince.

I’ll even admit that I never watched a potter film, or Lost, but both of these experences caught my eye. I’ll consider them in the future.

For to long marketers have acted like the guy with a gutiar at a house party. Demanding the attention of the room and making it impossible to have a conversation. I hate those guys. It’s really hard to charm someone when your fighting with Under the Bridge for the 100th time.

Sometimes when I see great work on the internet, I still can’t shake the feeling that some CD’s are still bringing their gutiar to the party. Sure sometimes it works and you get a sing along most of the time you just still look like a wanker.

If we are commited to social spaces, we need to be commited to the people that make up those social spaces. Put down the gutair and hire an event planner or two – then get really crazy and let them into the creative breif.


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

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.

Some Days I’m Glad My Girlfriend Holds The Credit Card. (Adobe Icon Pillows)

Posted in Make Friends, Shop Talk by Ryan Thomas on May 4, 2009

Seriously. Grateful.


Jones Soda – Still Cool With Earth Day Stunt

Posted in Method to the Madness by Ryan Thomas on April 27, 2009

Office culture is about enriching environments that challenge staff. Jones Soda did just that this Earth Day – a low cost, green PR stunt.

Only at Jones Soda could you call this a typical day at the office.

To celebrate Earth Day on Wednesday, the company rigged up bicycles to generate electricity.

“This is pretty typical Jones Soda. We do fun, innovative things here, and this is just an example,” said Susan Rozewski, an employee.

The pedal power plan went so well that the company’s headquarters in Seattle went completely off the power grid.

Jones had nine workers pedalling at a time, churning out an electrical charge that gets stored in car batteries. The peddlers produced more power than the office was drawing.

Read the whole story and see the video at

Speaking of Awards: David Trott

Posted in Global Outlook by Ryan Thomas on April 7, 2009

David Trott has written a nice little piece on the nature of awards for Brand Republic:

And I stopped being surprised at what won. But what finally opened my eyes was a speech Chris Wilkins gave. He was presenting the British Television Awards. Before he did, he said he wanted to get awards in perspective. So he read two lists from “The Book Of Lists”.

Winners Of The Nobel Prize For Literature:

E. Johnson
Sully Prudhomme

Losers Of the Nobel Prize For Literature:

Leo Tolstoy
Anton Chekhov
Henrik Ibsen
Thomas Hardy
Joseph Conrad
Mark Twain
Henry James
August Strindberg
Maxim Gorky
Bertolt Brecht
Marcel Proust
Sigmund Freud
Virginia Woolf
F. Scott Fitzgerald
W. Somerset Maugham

I’ll still take people knowing about my agency – after all we are in the business of promotion, and if you can’t promote yourself, who can you promote?

“Interweb the Rainbow.”

Posted in Method to the Madness by Ryan Thomas on March 3, 2009

Try it you’ll like it.

I have been joking with my friends that ever since Obama twitter has hit critical mass and now you’re a sucker if you’re not updating about your latest trip to the fridge.

But Skittles is really doing something neat here. Turning over their whole website to the community and embracing Skittles culture – by turning their homepage into a web portal to social media sites.

The work here comes from who has also remixed the rainbow in another older digital effort for the brand.

Taste the engagement.

Taste the engagement.

Which of course leads to some new and interesting questions:

1) Creating this powerful space for brand advocates are they isolating new consumers?

2) What is the average age of the consumer that Skittles is targeting?

3) Who wrote that great line? Interweb the Rainbow, come on that’s freaking great!

4) Is this method online community management cheaper than traditional web spaces?

So many questions, so much more fun to play with their bright new toy.

NOTE: Laughing Squid has a post pointing to two other executions of this technique before the Skittles launch but the missing recipe in both those cases is the kind of brand energy that Skittles’ more traditional advertising has brought to the table.

Earned Brand Equity.

Posted in Global Outlook by Ryan Thomas on March 3, 2009

You can try and make a brand great, but a teacher of mine has a saying:

“You can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter.”

Here is a case of real earned brand equity.

Google has honored the birthday of the talented Doctor Seuss with a Google logo. This is the one place on the Internet that is not for sale. No amount of begging or pleading will get you a Google logo, you have to earn that kind of attention, and it could not have happened to the legacy of a more brilliant man.

How many people see the front page of Google anyhow?

How many people see the front page of Google anyhow?

About a year ago I sat in a BMV bookstore with the love of my life and read “If I Ran The Zoo” (out loud the way it was meant to be experienced). It was as fun then as it was when I was 8.