The Thrill Is(n't) Gone

Back in November I had the privilege of shooting a commercial with Russell Wilson (for my client, American Family Insurance). At the time his team was 8-1, and I'm not sure any of us (besides him) were 100% certain he'd make it to the Super Bowl.

As we now know, he did. And won.

Which made our Super Bowl spot even more relevant and powerful.

Here's the team with Russell, and the commercial which aired during the Super Bowl in 66 markets.

It was a great thrill to spend the day with Russell and subsequently watch him achieve his dream.


Training? We Don't Need No Stinking Training!

The two biggest stories of the week are Bubba Watson capturing the green jacket at the US Open, and Facebook buying Instagram for $1 billion.

What do these two seemingly disparate happenings have in common?

Both accomplishments were engineered by guys with no formal training in their respective field.

Watson - as was noted several times during Sunday's telecast - has never had a lesson or analyzed his swing on video.

Instagram's CEO, Kevin Systrom, is apparently an entirely self-taught programmer.

The world (and media) loves stories like this, and I'm guessing the stories are in the neighborhood of truth, but not quite as sexy as they've been made to be. 

Nonetheless, it's an interesting narrative and one I'm sure we'll continue to hear.

By the way, here's Watson's shot from the 2nd hole of the sudden-death playoff.  Maybe the best shot I've ever seen, given the circumstances.


NFL Labor Dispute - First of the Social Media Era

Cross posted from Ogilvy's Fresh Influence blog.

Disclaimer:  Due to several conflicts (including children, work, wife, The Office, Jersey Shore and sleep) I had to  schedule this post 12 hours in advance of it going live; meaning I might not have the latest information on the talks between the concerned parties.  However, that has no material impact on my main points.  Trust me, I’m a journalist.

With that out of the way …

By the time you read this the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between NFL owners and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) will most likely (see disclaimer; and even if there is a 24-hour extension of the CBA, as reported Thursday afternoon, this thing will eventually come to blows) have expired, leaving the two sides without a labor agreement and the 2011 football season - or at least part of it -  in serious jeopardy.

As a sports fan, I’m totally turned off.  As many people will tell you, this is billionaires fighting with millionaires over sums of money unfathomable to the vast majority of fans (Charlie Sheen excluded, of course #winning!).

As a marketer, and one who currently focuses on social media, I’m keen to keep a close eye on how the dispute plays out in public, particularly in social media.  This is the first pro-sports labor dispute of the social media era (the last being the National Hockey League during the 2004-5 season, when MySpace was hardly a hotbed of sports discussion and Facebook was just blooming as a place for Zuckerberg to exact revenge on a girl who slighted him - at least that’s how the movie goes).

It’s 2011 (you’re welcome for that nugget) and I can’t help but imagine the stream of opinions flowing effortlessly from the Twitter feeds of NFL players, owners, media and fans as the dispute moves into the grind-it-out-let’s-pretend-we’re-all-working-towards-the-same-goal-when-really-we’re-just-interested-in-protecting-no-actually-growing-our-pile-of-money phase.   In fact my crack research staff tells me that between February 15-28 there were 11,000 Tweets mentioning “NFL and lockout.”  Just since March 1 there have been the same amount.

The NFL is a public relations juggernaut, second only (in my opinion) to the NBA.  And it’s worth noting that basketball faces this very same situation next year; though as many sports writers have noted, the NBA actually needs a battle like this to realign a really broken compensation scheme; whereas football seems to be in pretty good shape.  In any case, I’m sure commissioner Stern is paying very close attention to the public sentiment as owners prep for battle with the NBA players union.  In fact I bet this post makes his morning clip pack (#DavidStern #Stern #DStern #NBA #TallAndRich #TheDecision #GoBulls).

But while NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has proven to be a disciplined voice for the league, he can’t control what has already been, and will continue to be, said on the social web.

But he can influence it.

See what I did there?  Can’t control.  Can influence.

Below are a few tactics I would expect the league to employ, as I would any brand heading into a very public battle.  As a marketer or fan (or fanketer - helloooo Urban Dictionary), what have I missed?

Paid Search
Using Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool I took a look at the competition against the search term “NFL Lockout” and found it surprisingly low.  What if the NFL launched a SEM campaign against terms related to the lockout, driving people to either an FAQ on the domain or even a Facebook page?  Seems simple enough, and moderately effective at delivering a message to people actively seeking out information.

Live Listening
I’d be shocked if the NFL doesn’t already have in place an incredibly robust real-time monitoring solution.  The challenges, I suspect, are twofold:  (1) How are they filtering the signal from the noise and (2) What are they doing with the intelligence gleaned from the monitoring.  Which leads me to my next point …

Response Protocol
All the listening in the world won’t do you much good if you aren’t analyzing, looking for opportunities and disciplined about how you do/don’t engage with supporters and detractors alike.  At Ogilvy we often develop bespoke response protocols based on the issue, the client, the nature of the discussion and other factors.  The NFL must be really clear and consistent in their response protocol about what they say, when they say it, to whom they speak and what tone they take.

Conversation Management
Whether it’s to the 2.6 million fans on their Facebook page or their 1.9 million Twitter followers, the league must carefully map out what they are going to say publicly on the matter, where they’re going to say it and how, if at all, they are going to react when publicly challenged (or lauded).  Effective conversation management, very much tied to the response protocol, is kind of the backbone of everything the league is going to do (on social media) during this time.  They must get this right.

Content Creation
You better believe the players are pumping out content to tell their side of the story.  Check out the video below from the NFLPA’s YouTube channel, which has garnered 152K views.

What’s troubling, from the league’s standpoint, is that a pretty sophisticated YouTube user (me - don’t laugh) can’t seem to find the NFL’s official YouTube page after about 30 seconds of searching.  And guess what - I give up.  So the message here is that not only do they have to consider a content creation strategy, but just as important a distribution and optimization one as well.  By the way, not just video but also photos, written content, etc. - anything that can be indexed by The Google and helps the league put forth their perspective.


This entire episode will be interesting to watch play out.  As a fan I truly hope they resolve it sooner than later so we can get on with a great 2011 season. 

How YouTube Ruined the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

YouTube ruined the NBA slam dunk contest.

Back in the day - say 1988 - if you told me Michael Jordan dunked from the free throw line, I'd believe you.  In fact, if I missed the news that night, I'd have no choice but to believe you.

But here's the thing - Jordan didn't take off from the free throw line.  He was a good 1/2 step inside it.  Oh, and he never double clutched, as many now believe. So the dunk that launched a thousand marketing executions was not quite what it was reported to be.

And I can't tell you how thankful I am YouTube didn't exist in 1988.  I would rather remember that dunk as it was reported, rather than as it really was [see clip below].


Fast forward 23 years.

"Blake Griffin just dunked over a car!" screamed the Internet a few nights ago.

But here's the thing - he dunked over the hood of a car.  And while a great physical accomplishment, not quite as it was reported.  Very similar to the Jordan situation, except these days, everyone's an analyst - and we all have access to the greatest instant reply machine ever invented ... YouTube.

In the days since Blake's dunk I've watched it probably 10 times, from various angles and speeds.  And I've picked it apart like no dunk I've ever seen.

And I hate that.  It feels like I've ruined a great moment.

Bill Simmons recently had David Stern on his podcast, and they talked about YouTube becoming a great accellerant for the popularity of young NBA talent.  And I agree.  Blake is Blake, in part, because of YouTube. But with that upside, comes the down.  And the down, for me, is a loss of wonderment and imagination. 

I wouldn't go back to the old way.  I'm too addicted to YouTube and too strapped for time to watch a lot of live TV.  But it does make me pause and think.

So yes, for me YouTube ruined the NBA slam dunk contest.  Then again, the silly props and seemingly infinite attempts at each dunk don't help either.

And for what it's worth, this is how the dunk contest should be.  Courtesy of the NBA D League. 


From Sports Clichés to Social Media Lessons


Between The World Cup and LeBronapalooza I’ve had sports on the brain for thelast few weeks.

As I followed the media coverage I thought I might be able to take some of the tired clichés and re-fashion them into lessons for social media practitioners.

My original plan was to post 10 items, but I could only muster up nine.  Anyone care to help with the 10th?

  1. Singles and doubles start rallies. Not every social media program has to be a round-tripper.  In fact starting small - listen, test and learn - can lead to bigger and better things down the road.  The groundwork gives you permission to swing for the fences.
  2. The “12th man” is your greatest advantage. Give your fans something to cheer about - something exclusive, entertaining, educational or utilitarian.
  3. Don’t hold your stars down.Let your most popular personalities represent you in social media.  Do you have a rockstar product manager?  A charismatic executive?  Give them the tools, forum and role to be a voice of your organization.


4 Lessons From Today's US Soccer Victory

[1] Play until the final whistle.  Same notion as my recent thought on Hail Mary passes.

[2] Hustle, hustle, hustle.  Donovan scored because he continued his run towards the goal even after his brilliant pass.  He didn't stand there admiring his good work.

[3] Sometimes it takes a lucky bounce to make things go your way.  But you have to be prepared to capitalize when luck presents itself.

[4] Winning takes a village - contributions from many, some of which we don't pay much attention to.  It all started with Tim Howard's superb outlet pass to Donovan. While Landon will rightfully grace the pages of tomorrow's papers, that goal involved a handful of key contributions.

[My friend, Michael, just commented that I should add a 5th, which I totally agree.  In regards to Algeria's strategy ..."If you play not to lose,you cannot win."]

Why Blogs With Balls 3 Was the Best Conference I've Ever Attended

This past Saturday I attended and spoke at a fantastic sports media conference called Blogs With Balls 3.  Massive kudos to Kyle Bunch and the crew at Hugging Harold Reynolds for what was the best conference I've ever attended (and for inviting an 'outsider' like me to speak).  Do not sleep on the next time they put one of these together!

Picture 1

That's right - the best conference I've ever attended.  Here's why, in no particular order of importance ...

No Jargon It didn't dawn on me until after the fact, but the day was refreshingly free of jargon, buzz words, insider speak and egos.  Rather, it was people, talking like people, to other people.  Straight shooting.  Learning.  Teaching.  Thoughtful discourse.  Very real.

Fun  Likely a combination of Saturday + liquor sponsor + Wrigley Field setting, but this was the most fun I've ever had at a conference.  It was loose and casual - from the colorful language, to the attire and between-sessions banter.  I even witnessed my first real life Bro getting iced by a bro (@edsbs got iced, as evidenced below).  Fun is not something I normally associate with a conference - BwB3 changed all that.  I had a really good time.  When was the last time you said that at a conference (not called SxSW)?

Bros icing

Great Venue  The venue was perfectly conducive for interaction. It was at the Captain Morgan's club at Wrigley Field.  There was a main room, which held about 200 people, flanked by an outdoor area.  The fact that it was so contained made conversation easy and natural.  I much prefer the tighter quarters - that containment breeds interaction.  And did I mention it was at Wrigley - I mean, how much better can it get? 

The People What an interesting group of sports nuts.  Smart.  Driven.  Not even close to the same people speaking on the same social media topics.  New perspectives to teach.  Really interested in learning.  I had great conversations with folks like Ty Ahmad-Taylor, Mike Germano and Adam Best, Ben Koo, Wayne Vore, Josh Abrams and Zachary Chapman - just to name a few.  It will be my pleasure to continue getting to know these people, and understanding ways we might work together. 

The Bloggers  As a social media practitioner, there is nothing more important and valuable than spending time talking with bloggers - face to face (imagine that!).  Of the (my estimate) 200 people in attendance, 150 of them must have been actual sports bloggers.  Women and men pounding out massive amounts of great content every day.  Some of them supporting themselves doing so.  Others hoping to do so one day.  All of them hungry to understand what it takes to get to the next level of success.  Their comments and questions told so much about their wants, needs, questions and aspirations.  It put a human face on these people - something that's easy to forget when Twitter and RSS feeds dominate our daily lives. 

Again, bravo to Kyle Bunch and Hugging Harold Reynolds for a great day.  I think you'll see me next year!

P.S.  If for some odd reason you want to watch my panel, here goes.  I'm the bearded, shorts-wearing Cubs fan.

Watch live video from blogswithballs on

What Brand Has the Guts to Sign Michael Vick

Besides Lance Armstrong's historic comeback, Michael Vick is THE most compelling story in sports this year.  Just today Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a conditional reinstatement, likely making Vick eligible to take the field on week six of the upcoming season.  That's if [and a big if at that] an NFL team takes a shot on Vick.

Vick's return to the NFL is inevitable, be it this year or next.  But not so certain is his standing with Madison Avenue.  I, for one, think there could be a tremendous upside for the brand who signs Vick to an endorsement deal.  First, he'll come cheap - pennies on the dollar compared to before his legal troubles.  Second, he's got a potentially fascinating story to tell.  As an old acquaintance said to me on Twitter today, "One thing Americas loves more than someone falling from grace... A comeback story with an emotional twist."

So what brands could be the right fit for Vick?  I sincerely hope it's not the 2nd-rate energy supplements of the world; or even worse, some mixed-martial-arts league.  Vick's story would be wasted on the few who probably never saw fault in his crime to begin with [I know, a gross generalization, but I'm willing to take a leap on that one].

Rather, I think three marquee brands have the permission, the personality and the audience to tell Vick's story.  It's a win-win.  The brand gets one of America's most famous ex-cons to bare his soul, and Vick gets his payday [and perhaps redemption].

Those three brands are Apple, Nike and EA Sports.  Why?  In Apple's case, it's all about celebrating the outsider, the misfit.  With Nike, it's about celebrating an undeniable talent - one we wish we all possessed.  And with EA Sports, it's all about recognizing that despite his off the field troubles, there will come a day [soon] where both on the field and on the gaming system, Vick will be one of the most feared offensive weapons.

Whoever works with Vick, I know one thing for sure ... put him in front of a camera.  Get real close - I mean, close enough to see his pores.  Turn the camera on, and let him confess his sins.  Tell the people at home how he's served his time.  Tell them about how grimy and ugly incarceration can be.  Tell them how no one believes in him.  And them tell them how he is committed - no possessed - about reclaiming his thrown atop the NFL.  Be gritty.  Be raw.  Don't romanticize the situation.  Rather, acknowledge the long road back to redemption.  It could be incredibly powerful.

So what brand has the guts to step up to the plate [that's a preview of my next post].  Likely, none of the above.  The pragmatist in me can't blame them.  But the romantic in me thinks it would make for incredible theater.  For now, we wait.

Any other brands you could see getting in the arena with Vick?  And if so, how

Foul Balls

FireShot capture #64 - 'Facebook I My Photos - First Cubs Game (2009)' - www_facebook_com_photo_php_pid=2778757&id=678764011&ref=mf

My wife took me and my 2.5 year old, Henry, to Wrigley Field for an early Father's Day.  Seats were incredible ... third first base line, three rows up.  If you've been to Wrigley, you know how close to the action that puts you.

And also how many foul balls come your way, particularly from left-handed hitters.

So here's what I forgot since the last time I was at a game ... people are way too insane about catching a foul ball than they should be.  I'm talking grown men ... I saw one guy fall backwards over his chair trying to catch a ball that came off the bat of some no-name player and is worth $2 [max].  I promise you that guy does not try as hard at his job as he did trying to nab that baseball.

What is this madness all about? Clearly there are a few things at play ... (1) people love free stuff (2) people love taking a piece of the action home with them (3) grown men love making great catches, as if to prove that were it not for the knee injury in high school, they would be the ones on the field.

But I'm interested in reading something a bit more academic, or rigorous.   I tried Google, thinking a sociologist somewhere has done a study on this.  But came up empty (it's a tough set of search terms to nail).  So I'm calling all sports fans and clever thinkers [that's you Noah Brier, Alan Wolk, Ian Schaffer, among others] ... where do you think [if at all] something interesting exists on this silly topic?

If Twitter Were My Only Source Of Information


Thinking this afternoon about the Twitter echo chamber, and personally, what I'm getting out of it. 

For one, it's entertaining.  Very entertaining.  It's also quite useful for connecting with people in my industry.  And without a doubt, I have stumbled on some great content [related to previous points].  Finally, it's allowed me to keep in touch with some people from my past who might have otherwise fallen off my radar.

But as a simple exercise I thought about this question:  What would I think of the world if Twitter were my only source of information.  Here are few off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts - presented as "Myth" and "Reality." 

Of course my views are totally informed by who I follow.  So I'm wondering what YOU would think of the world if Twitter were YOUR only source of information?  Leave a comment.  Or Tweet me @iansohn.

Myth 1:
Austin, TX is where all important global decisions are made. [Reality: For some it is, but for my money I'll take New York]

Myth 2:
Brands, like Skittles, that don't get their first foray into social media right are failures [Reality:  I was always more of an M&Ms guy, but applaud Skittles for their exploration into the unknown. Furthermore, I dare anyone to claim they've never taken a step backward to take two forward]

Myth 3: FaceBook is horribly designed and the evil empire looking to steal all our intellectual capital [Reality: FaceBook remains a massive force in social media, and is quite useful for what it is.  Furthermore, their TOCs are really no different than anyone else - are they?  Finally, it's not THAT horrible of a design.]

Myth 4: President Obama enjoys a 100% approval rating [Reality: I do love the man, but don't forget there are a whole bunch of people out there who voted McCain-Palin.  This NASCAR blindness (I can't use that term enough, thank you @awolk for coining it) will get the Dems in trouble come 2012.]

Myth 5: Shaquille O'Neal is a poet [Reality: Shaquille O'Neal is a poet; and is having an epic comeback season]

How to Avoid NASCAR Blindness? Watch the Daytona 500.

Want to avoid NASCAR blindness?  Watch the 51st annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 15. 

Get over whatever negative perception you have about the sport - give it at least one shot.  And if you've never been to a race (I'm guessing very few of my readers have), trust me when I tell you it is one of the most remarkable experiences you can imagine.

Daytona 500

While NASCAR may be 60 years old, its attitude is that of a young gun.  Drama, danger, speed – it all adds up to America’s biggest spectator sport.  It is NOT a bunch of good ole’ boys driving in circles.  Races are won on pit strategies, car "set-ups," alliances, and nerves of steel.  The story arc that unfolds over the course of a four-hour race is riveting.

So on Sunday afternoon, put down your latte, keep the luxury SUV in the heated garage and skip yoga class.  Buckle up ... it's a wild ride.

Shaquille O'Neal v Lance Armstrong ... On Twitter

Comparing Lance and Shaq in terms of their professional abilities is difficult since they play such different sports [can you say with any confidence that Lance is a better cyclist than Shaq is baller?]. But Twitter is even ground for these giants, and I think it's time to compare celebrity Tweeter @lancearmstrong v @the_real_shaq.

Read More

Google Hosting Life Magazine Photo Archive

Really glad I stumbled on the Life Photo Archive on Google. 

Google is hosting "millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretchingfrom the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google." 

The photo below is one of my favorites ... taken in 1965 (photographer: George Silk), it shows the G.O.A.T. standing over a crumpled Sonny Liston in their much-anticipated rematch.  The look on Ali's face is devoid of the innocence seen after their first fight - in fact he looks downright angry.  An interesting juxtaposition of how we think of Ali now.

Ali liston