Episode 81: Renny Gleeson on Walking in Stupid, Ouroboros and the Meaning of Friends in a Social Media World
Renny Gleeson is the Global Director of Digital Strategies for Weiden + Kennedy, a leading creative agency based in Portland, OR.
Renny talks about his career at agencies including Saatchi and Saatchi's Darwin Digital and his client-side work at Delia's and the NBA. Now he's working on digital strategy for Nokia, Old Spice, Nike, Electronic Arts and Google Japan.
Renny shares his views on the evolving social media landscape and its opportunities for marketers. He gives us "lessons learned" at the Social Graph Foo Camp. We talk about the word "friend," and whether it's been devalued in the brave new world of social media.
Hear Renny's recap of the concepts of "ambient intimacy" and "social proeception" - where your ego is in space, both in the reality landscape of where your physical body is as well as where your digital footprint is online and how that affects the mindspace of others.
Suz and Renny talk about E Clampus Vitus and what Clampers are. The talk about Ouroborous, the snake that eats its tail and how that's as applicable a concept as it was 2,000 years ago.
Finally, Renny shares the axiom by which he lives his life, "Walk in Stupid." That resonates with Susan as she carries a similar belief typified by the statement "Begin as a Beginner."
Take that on today for yourself. Walk in stupid. Ask one dumb question... Do it for Renny. Do it for Suz. Do it mostly for yourself.
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Susan: Welcome to dishy mix. I'm your host Susan Bratton and on today's show you're going to get to meet Renny Gleeson. He's the global director of digital strategies for Widon and Kennedy. He is one of our own people. An interactive dude from the word "go". On today's show, we're going to talk about getting swaggerized. We're going to talk about the meaning of friends in this new social media world. We're going to talk about eating our own tails and should you do it too? A funny little thing called eclampus vitus and the value of walking in stupid.
Renny: (recording)This row of girls lined the seat behind us, every single one of them wearing a sherbet colored tank top and a cowboy hat. Now the sherbet colored tank top were in different shades. There was mauve, there was magenta, there was you know, sort of pastelly yellow. But you know, it was amazing how they had found a way to carve out a place for themselves, but at the same time show their unity, and membership in a group. And a lot of what we did is just foster that ability to both be unique and also identify with a broader group. We're intrigued and interested in the way that people use the word "google", again as a verb. And that, you know, for the most part now, if you're going to explore either hiring somebody, marrying somebody, datinig somebody, you know, the first thing you do....
Susan: Meeting somebody, talking to somebody...
Renny: You drop their name into google and see what comes up, right? You don't want to find out about the rap sheet later. I think what's fascinating is that the word "friend" is just an interesting word. Start with the real world. What's amazing about human beings and social dynamics is that we are on the fly, dynamically re-calibrating what "friend" means and micro-changing our delivery and our content on the fly, to everybody that we run into.
Susan: Welcome, Renny to Dishy mix.
Renny: Susan, thank you. My avatar was unavailable so you'll have to deal with my actual physical body.
Susan: Oh, the wet wear of Renny Gleeson?
Renny: Exactly, sorry. Completely so.
Susan: What's your avatar like? Because mine is this huge buxom viking with a helmet. What's yours? Girl, of course.
Renny: Mine is actually, it's a, it's sort of a vaguely human looking creature, wandering around with an enormous deer's head.
Susan: (laughs) Deer's head, caught in the headlights kind of thing?
Renny: (laughs) Exactly.Trust me. Everyday, everyday.
Susan: (screams) So I can't believe you. I've never touched you physically, I'm looking forward to the hands-on wet wear experience, and we've been circling each other. We've got.. we probably know hundreds of the same people. You've been in this business as long as I have. You actuallly came out of multimedia CD ROM which was my etomology into this space as well.
Renny: Yeah, yeah.
Susan: You founded Saatchi and Saatchi's Darwin Digital in the early days.
Renny: Yup, one of our hearty member of the Rag tag Rebel fleet, yup.
Susan: So tell me, if I knew then what I know now, what would you have done at Darwin Digital then, knowing what you know now?
Renny: Wow. Great question.
Susan: Good I've got lots of those. (Renny laughs) Strap in, Renny, strap in.
Renny: That's what I've heard. You know, I don't know that we necessarily would have done a lot differently. I think that where we were at the time was.... I would like to believe that things are dramatically different now and oh my god, look at all the lessons we've learned but it still feels like a lot of the conversations we're having now, we were having then. So what would we do differently? I think we probably would've worked, probably would've worked differently with our clients, to outline what the opportunities were. Maybe a little differently than the, kind of 'frothing at the mouth' Zelatry, I think that we brought to it, at that point.
Susan: Got it. So a little bit more business case?
Renny: Yeah. Although, it's a time to be perfectly honest. You know, we were winning effy's because we were developing actual business solutions. I think then, things got a little fluffy and frothy after that. And I think given the current economic climate we're coming back to, a lot of that, I think that there's more weight to be put on effy's than on just sort of fun stuff. Not to say, you can't do the other things but that's a little bit...I see us coming back a little bit to things before. So again, back to "differntly", I wish we had this context now and I wish we had the level of knowledge now outside of the industry that we only had inside the industry at that time.
Susan: You have flip-flopped back and forth from client to agency side and you left Saatchi..God, I can't say that today. You left the Saatchis and you went to be SVP at Delia's. That's a little store, a mall store brand for teen girls, and I always thought they have the cutest clothes. We don't have that in California. I don't even know if they are still around. You'll have to tell us. But here's my question about that. Tell me, give me the marketing insights for what motivates teen girls to buy clothes.
Renny: Well, I'll give you one piece of history. So when we were..when I jumped over to Delia's, that was in 1999, I'm sorry, 1998. And at the time, there was all the conversation, "oh, there aren't enough women online" and ironically we were having conversations, I remember, strategically about why in God's name, would Delia's- a teen girl retailer be focusing... Actually catalog was a big thing at that point. Delia's actually hadn't extended into retail yet. Why would they be online when teen girls don't have credit cards? And it was one of those sort of moments where, all of the nay-sayers were saying, you know this is not a great idea. Then you get back and you look at the numbers, it's like, as a teen girl, you don't need a credit card. You have other ways of influencing the purchase.
Susan: Right, it's called "mommy". Shake down mommy and daddy, and they're great at it.
Renny: yeah, at the end of the day, Mom and dad want you to wear the clothes they buy. And so if you like it, they will facilitate your purchase of it. So, you know, given the speed with which I am and a lot of other technologies were taking off with teen girls, it was...Once you got over the first hurdle which was "oh, they can't buy anything", it became incredibly logical, that you would do this stuff. I think.. I don't know that was more insight necessarily than that, other than just making it as available and as friendly as possible for them to find what they wanted. And enable the feeling of a shopping cart, so that an unwitting parent could provide you with their credit card number. But what was amazing was our initial projection to how quickly we would begin to move sales over from the catalog side to the online side. We grossly underestimated the speed of the shift of purchase from the catalog to the online space.
Susan: So what, tell me the psyche of the teen girl. What do you remember from that? It was a while ago, for you, I know this. Ten years ago. Do you remember anything about teen girls?
Renny: Yeah, my wife and I talk about that a lot. The psyche of the teen girl....they were looking for ways to, at the same time that they were trying to express individuality, they also wanted to be a part of something. And I'll never forget...
Susan: Delicate balance.
Renny: I'll never forget, we went to a concert, the Kiss FM concert on Long Island, and this troop of girls came in behind. You know, my wife and I were sitting in the seats. You know, we're both sort of enjoying the sociological experiment of being at this sort of teeny, teen event. This row of girls lined the seat behind us, every single one of them wearing a sherbet colored tank top and a cowboy hat. Now the sherbet colored tank top were in different shades. There was mauve, there was magenta, there was you know, sort of pastelly yellow. But you know, it was amazing how they had found a way to carve out a place for themselves, but at the same time show their unity, and membership in a group. And a lot of what we did was just foster that ability to both be unique and also identify with a broader group.
Susan: That makes a lot of sense to me. You told me that the worse fork in the road of your life so far was, that you didn't quit before you got fired. From what have you gotten fired and why?
Renny: Well, yeah, good question. I used to work with a gentleman named Robert Gober, who is a phenomenal artist and sculptor, and who I think is honestly one of the greatest things since sliced bread. And he hired me to to head his studio, and what that entailed was fabricating his work and then installing it around the globe, under his direction. And it was actually while I was working with him, that I started, that I got into the interactive space. A friend had called me about working on a CD ROM and doing some animations and that was really where I got into it. I'd been doing storyboards for films on the side, and started doing this stuff, and was really excited and engaged in that. And found that my attention was shifting, but that I continued to try to do this other job, and I wasn't as effective at it, as I needed to be, both for Bob and myself. So I think Bob recognised that well before I did, and he pulled me into the room one day, and he just said, "hey Renny, you know this thing, this isn't working out". And I think we surprised each other, in that he said that, and I said "you know what, you're absolutely right." And we both walked, it was very, you know.. It was the right thing at the right time. And so it wasn't one of those messy performance...."you're a jerk and I can't stand you anymore". It was just like, "You know, this isn't working, and let's move along". It was a kick in the ass that I needed to really dive into, the interactive space full on.
Susan: Yeah, it was a forcing mechanism for you.
Susan: And dive you have, so you're at Widen and Kennedy now, and have one of the best creative shops in the business. You have some great brands. You've got Old Spice, Nike, Electronic Guards, Nokia. Tell me about the work you're doing with Old Spice. It's fun, I mean, there's almost an arms race in the interactive world between Axe and Old Spice, going after this teeny bopper boy world. Tell us about your "Swaggerize me" program.
Renny: Well, with... I love the "arms race" analogy there. The Swaggerize campaign was driven by an insight, that..Our angle with Old Spice had been about experience, that it wasn't just about sort of more overt, sort of getting the girl as much as it was the kind of the guys that girls go for, is the guy who shows experience. And we were intrigued and interested in the way that people used the word 'google', again as a verb. And that, you know, for the most part now, if you're going to explore either hiring somebody, marrying somebody, datinig somebody, you know, the first thing you do....
Susan: Meeting somebody, talking to somebody...
Renny: You drop their name into google and see what comes up, right? You don't want to find out about the rap sheet later. And for the young men, who were trying to target, the first thought we had was, well, these folks haven't established probably as visible, a digital footprint yet.
Susan: Oh, right.
Renny: And probably, the digital footprint that they have, may not necessarily show them in the best possible light. So the thought was, what if we could create a tool. The swaggerize me tool, that would allow you to enter some basic characteristics about yourself. Some a bit more hyperbolic than necessarily true, but a variety of sliders that would allow you to kind of create this vision of the person you wanted to be when people found you. And then the tool would spit out a series of articles about you, painting you in exactly that light. So, you know, "richest man alive", "nuclear physicist article", testimonials from various celebs, you know, that sort of stuff. And, by virtue of creating these things, we would also ask you to provide the social profiles that you had, so you could put in your my space page, your facebook page. And we were operating off of, you know, the knowledge of how google algorithm works, which is both determined by a variety of different factors, including textpital. So how many places would link into a particular site.
Susan: In bound links.
Renny: So what we did was, we had this tool, that would create these fictitious articles about yourself, populate and then with a few of these fun ones that would interlink to your profile and therefore, both raise your profile, so if somebody types your name into the search engine, it would b more likely to rise to the top, and also create these other ways in. So it was meant to have conversational value, as well as actually provide a potential social utility in a slightly different way than most folks approach building a social utility.
Susan: That is very clever. I didn't get all of that out of it, when I went to play with it. I didn't play with it for long. It's a great idea. Was it hard to communicate that. How did you actually, you build a site, but how did you actually get people to come there, and how did you get them to understand what it was that you were creating for them?
Renny: Well, it's a couple of different things, offering invitations to folks that we thought would have fun with it, using some more traditional... I love using the word "traditional", when you're talking about online advertising, it's just fun. Using more traditional digital media to drive folks there. So it was both an outbound influence or campaign, it was heating it, with a few of these articles, it was media on related sites that drove similar interests. So, it was both an outbound and an inbound campaign, because trying to explain what I just did, would have taken a lot of time. It required us to actually demonstrate it to folks and get those folks to share it with each other.
Susan: Got it, well, we have to go to a break, and when we come back, I want to hear about the newest Widen and Kennedy win, a new product from Nokia. That is going to be fun, fun, fun, cause you know dishy mix listeners are gadget geeks. A lot of us are gadget geeks so..
Renny: They're going to love this.
Susan: This one's going to be good, so let's take a break, I want to thank my sponsors, many, as a matter of fact, one of my sponsors is Isobar and you told me that Sarah Fays used to work at Cerra. That Sarah Fayes' one of the mentors in your career.
Renny: Absolutely, one of my favorite people in this industry.
Susan: Mine too, and not just cause she's a sponsor. Alright so we're going to go to a commercial. We're going to be right back and we'll get to know Renny Gleeson, the director of, the global director of Digital strategies for Widen and Kennedy a little bit better. Stay tuned and we'll be right back.
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Susan: Alright, we're back Renny. So tell me about this new Nokia win that you have.
Renny: Well, we're really excited. We've been working with Nokia now for over a year on a broad range of their products, but just recently, we were offered the opportunity to pitch for the N-series business. And the N-series business for Nokia is really the, it's the nose cone of the brand. It's where the new technologies are displayed, the new capablities, functionality, both services and software come out of there and then feed down through their full suite of products. So it's really from an intellectual standpoint from a ...It's sort of a concept car...you know, you think of...
Susan: Yeah, that makes sense.
Renny: It's a concept car but they actuallly make it.
Susan: You get to play with it. Well, to me, it's the only alternative for the i-phone.
Renny: Well, I, yes. I like it. They just actually announced on Nokia world, on the 2nd. The ant would be called by various names, the N97, it's their newest N-series device coming out in 09. And this thing's going to be a pocket rocket. We are very excited about that one. They, you know, Nokia has been... They've owned mobility for a long time. You don't sort of get to, you know, they're playing around about 40% global market share, above and below. And they do so, with a broad range of products that meet a lot of different need groups, from emerging markets- devices with bare bones, but really useful functionality, all the way up to these N series devices. You don't get there without doing some interesting stuff, and they're really focusing. Look, look this year at that device, and there's even also a sick, sick one coming after that, they would actually shoot me if I talk about yet. But boy, I can't wait to start talking about that one too. Yeah, it's good stuff.
Susan: So, you have done a lot of work in the social media space. It's an area that's very very interesting to you. You kind of watch it, and think about it, and pontificate on it.
Renny: Pontificate. I like that.
Susan: Yeah, before I ask you the "pontificate-y" question, I'm jealous that you got to go to the social graph food camp. That sounds like a bunch of geeks getting together to talk about social graphs. I would throw myself into that mosh pit of fun like nobody's business. How'd you get invited? Are there any more, tell us about it, cause it sounds really good.
Renny: I envy myself for actually getting there.
Susan: That made me feel better right there.
Renny: No, honestly, I was so flattered that they invited me to participate in that. Scott Kaviten, was one of the folks who helped organize that and he's been a pretty amazing guy in the open source, open ID movement. He used to be a part of Chanelling here in Portland and is now one of the key players in vidoop which is a really interesting open ID login offering. Anyway, Scott was one of the guys who was behind organising that particular event and he just posed a question to me. He was like, hey, we are going to be getting together and doing this thing, down on the O'Reilly campus. Would you be interested, and you know, for me it was like being Christian and having someone say, hey, Jesus lives down the street, would you like to meet him? I was like yeah. Yeah, I think that would work for me.
Susan: Why, yes. Yes, I would like to do that.
Renny: I could see that happening and I went down there. It was brilliant. You know we camped out on their lawns. It was just some really really wonderful folks. Just wrestling with the issues of the social graph, and data portability. Chris Sad of the data portability was one of the guys there and you know, Scott, obviously, jeez. I mean it was, literally it was one of those, you walk into every meeting, you talk to every person, so I was like, I'm just not worthy to be talking to you.
Susan: So what did you learn, tell us . We're marketers, we're running companies, we're entreprenuers. We care about social media and how it impacts our business and our revenue opportunity. Tell me the key take away for us from social graph food camp. Where is this going? How do we work it?
Renny: Well, two sort of key takeaways, that I shall offer then. There are a lot of unbelievably smart folks in that room and I think the real thing for us, one of the primary questions, is not what we think we should do, but what is it that people want to do?
And putting consumer centric thinking at the head end of pretty much everything we do is something that obviously bubbled up as key both for the technology providers and the folks who were making this stuff. As well as obviously for brand marketers, because a lot of times, people approach the conversation from, how do I get my message out, as opposed to, what's valuable to the people I'm trying to speak with? The second thing that came out of that was really ownership of data as a very very key issue. Who owns that data? How is that data accessed? Who is given permission to access that data, and how portable is your data. You know, sort of a, the idea of do you actually own your data? Because the consensus of that was, you absolutely didn't. And in fact one of the challenges was that bits and pieces of you were sprinkled across the web. Your fragmented social personalities existed as these completely independent things in different places, and you effectively took to benefit from our move to a new technology required a re-registration process, and an investment of energy and time, that seemed disproportionate to the benefit you got from it. So there was a lot of conversation about how, what is the data that you own, how do you access the data, how do you control that data, and how do you dissiminate that data, in ways that are useful to you, the person, as opposed to purely being useful to the folks who are just trying to message to you. That was the second thing that came out.
Susan: So has the word friend been devalued in this new world of social networking?
Renny: I think what's fascinating is that the word "friend" is just an interesting word. Start with the real world. What's amazing about human beings and social dynamics is that we are on the fly, dynamically re-calibrating what "friend" means and micro-changing our delivery and our content on the fly, to everybody that we run into. Right?