The Years Are Short

Over the past six months, my wife and I went through the daunting process of selling our home while raising two young boys. We have a 1-year-old who loves throwing anything he can get his hands on (often at his older brother), and a 6-year-old who plays five minutes with a toy before moving on to the next one. 

Of course, this led to many nights of counting the minutes until bedtime just to get the opportunity to make sure the house was presentable for potential showings the next day.  Enjoying the moment was replaced with an exhausted exhale once the boys were down for the night.  

During that stressful summer stretch, I happened across a saying that described the situation perfectly:

The days are long, but the years are short.

While those long days were seemingly crawling by, my wife and I celebrated our 9thwedding anniversary, our sons’ first and sixth birthdays, and a full ten years of living in our first home together…not to mention my 3rdyear anniversary of working at Upstream 360. 

On each of those occasions, my wife and I would reflect on how far we’ve come – and wefound ourselves saying “there’s no way it’s been that long!” Each of those painstakingly slow days somehow added up to a total whirlwind of a decade. Only the happy endings seemed to matter; we eventually sold the house, and the boys are still alive and well (with only a few minor bumps and bruises to show for their troubles).

I’m doing my best to remind myself of this phrase when we get extremely busy here at Upstream.  For example, a commercial we produced popped up recently on my cell phone as YouTube pre-roll.  It had been well over a year since we shot and edited the spot. I was eager to bring it up to a few fellow Upstreamers who immediately reminded me about the tedious process we went through in order to get final approval.  

They weren’t wrong – while in the midst of post-production, this project seemed like an unending string of alts and revisions. Now, over a year later, I had completely forgotten about that repetitive sequence of events. The long days in the edit suite had given way to the short years of having an awesome finished product.

When it comes down to it, the impossibly long rough patches blur into background noise over time. The polished final results are all that remains in focus, whether it’s a fantastic new sizzle reel,or an adorable toddler with a big smile.


Well, I managed to survive “Move In Day” at Elon University in North Carolina.  My daughter is a newly-minted member of the Freshman Class.  Her graduation in 2023 seems a long way off.  Until it seems like it’s almost here.  Welcome to the life of a College Dad.

Elon gave every new College Parent an interesting task to do during the move in; write a letter to your daughter that will not be opened until half-way through the First Semester.  By the University’s calculations, this is typically the time when the novelty of College begins to wear off, stress becomes elevated, and bouts of homesickness can occur.

That’s a lot to assuage in a short letter – but hey – we’re storytellers here at Upstream, so bring it on!  I didn’t want to use any of the “talking points” I was saving for the “Big Good-Bye” later that day, though. 

The first sentence was easy: “Remember me?

Okay, I bet that will at least earn a small chuckle.  But if she wants laughs, she has Netflix.

Then I decided to apply a little innovative thinking.  Instead of guessing what content might be relevant to her nine weeks from now, try a different angle.  I thought: “What letter would I write today to my 18-year-old self?”

Had to ask for extra paper.

You don’t know everything.  So show humility when you compete. Win with grace and lose with dignity. When you fall down, get up. When you fall down again, get up again. 

Have you figured out yet that it isn’t those with the most talent who become successful, but those with the most resiliency and the strongest character when faced with disappointment?

Take care of your teeth. They were pricey.

I hope you haven’t missed a class. Be on time. Be reliable. Make your best choices when no one is looking, because that’s when they really count. And by the way, you have to know that someone isprobably looking.  Privacy is an illusion on a college campus.

Be focused, be present, be your best self. Be grateful. Arrogance sucks. Realize how fortunate you are.  Help other people by giving back.

Listen at least as much as you talk.  Respect yourself and dump anyone who doesn’t respect you.  Say no when you don’t want to do something. It’s okay if everyone doesn’t like you.  

Embrace change.  Keep an open mind – your only limitation will be a lack of imagination.

Given her graduation year, I’m hoping hindsight is 2023.

Mark Smith is the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Storyteller for Upstream 360, as well as the father of a teenage daughter.  He stays motivated by the twin powers of doubt and insecurity, while his approach to the work is making it legitimately interesting, shareable, and something people can connect with. 

Mark is also an author of the book Innovation Myths and Mythstakes, available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and coming soon on Audible.  

Our Differences Make Us The Same

Once upon a time…

In a galaxy not so far away, our galaxy, our planet, there are seeds for change.  

This obvious riff on two pop culture tropes leads us into the arena of storytelling – that is the foundation of all that we consume – from film to tv shows, from books to music, and from news to the advertisements that seem to infest most content.   

What I’m not going to do is explain storytelling to you – that would be an entirely different story!

This is a story of how my family and I got to see “A Conversation with SCOTUS Justice Sonia Sotomayor” at Walnut Hills High School.  Sonia Sotomayor is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  She is only the third woman and the first Hispanic and Latina Justice out of 114 people who have served during the Supreme Court’s 230-year lifespan.  

Justice Sotomayor is not shy about her life story and has written several books, for both adults and children, that share her history, her influences and her love of Law.  At the age of 7, she was diagnosed with diabetes and because of being in a single-parent household due to the untimely death of her father, she began giving herself life-saving insulin injections at that same age.  This condition created a distance between her and her classmates – bridging this divide became the central theme of Sotomayor’s new book “Just ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You!”

Sotomayor’s storytelling, takes two different approaches: one for children and one as a learning tool for adults.  Both teach us all a better way of interacting with people that appear different from ourselves.  Her analogy of people being like different flowers in a garden helps establish this landscape before delving into the stories of 10 or so children and their unique qualities – which, as we all grow and blossom, know are not that unusual.

The importance of this book (and its thoughtfulness), quickly became very personal, as I reflected upon the challenges my own friends and family face – from Autism to Speech Impediments.

At Upstream, we’ve had the opportunity to help tell the stories of others that if you bumped into them on the street or sat next to them on a park bench – you may have found yourself staring – whether you meant to or not.  From children with Ocular implants to those with nearly full paralysis – each story helps prove the old axiom that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, or as Justice Sonia Sotomayor remarked when, as a teenager, someone saw her injecting herself in a public restroom “Don’t think the worst in people.” 

This is a children’s book that is set out to challenge the misconceptions of adults.  

So everyone, and yes that means all of us– Just ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You!

What Creatively Inspires You?

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams

What creatively inspires you? That’s the question today. Working in media, it’s common to find ourselves constantly creating to a point where we may feel like our creative “tank” is running low.  Have you ever found yourself just staring at a screen, hoping that something miraculous and perfect comes to mind?  

As creatives, we not only have to take the time to invest in the projects we’re working on, but we have to make a conscious effort to invest in ourselves as well. It can be extremely healthy and productive to shut off for a while and experience things that will kick that imaginative side of our brains back into gear.

Fortunately, there are countless places to go to look for creative inspiration. We live in a world where Internet is king and the ability to share content with anyone at any time is instantaneous. Everyone is inspired differently – each of us has a unique blend of preferences and interests. 

With all this in mind, we started to get curious about what inspires our coworkers here at Upstream. To find out, we did what we do best in this industry – we asked our group to brainstorm. What keeps the gears going? How do we pump out content that not only our clients love, but that we ourselves are proud of?  

Our results were incredible – we sifted through all different types of content (videos, music, sports, nature, you name it) that really proved how diverse our group of creatives are at Upstream. Go ahead and scroll through our “melting pot” of inspiration…it just might have an effect on you!



TED Talks are great source to hear from professionals across all disciplines!


Instagram Accounts to Follow:

Places to Walk Around:

Books To Read:

Music To Listen To:

Video Games To Play:


How did I end up crammed in the back of a pickup truck with fourteen other people, traversing the mountainous Guatemalan countryside?  Or miles deep in the forest, following locals to a natural spring?  Or how about the market of Momostenango – overwhelmed by vibrant colors, food, and aromas? 

Last February, the team and I found ourselves on a wild adventure with just one goal in mind: to capture a story.  All we had was the gear on our backs and the attitude to “get sh*t done.”  

I have to tell you…it’s a journey I never imagined experiencing.  

So – why exactly did we go to Guatemala?  

Since it was founded, Upstream has thrived on a constant influx of creative projects requested by our clients. Last year, however, Upstream was inspired to do something different – to give back to both to the community at large and to its employees. Each of us was given the opportunity to nominate a non-profit that we believed was deserving of a pro-bono video project. 

This really hit home for me – it’s amazing that we were encouraged to shine a light on our individual passions while coming together to help an organization that would benefit from our work. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Upstream narrowed down the list of prospects to ultimately choose my nominee: First Things Foundation.

FTF is a non-profit organization with a simple mission to support local visionaries in their quest for a better life. Here’s how it works: field workers are sent overseas for a year of “immersionship.” This is a time to learn the language, work in the fields, and get to know this new culture intimately. The following year, the field workers get together with local visionaries, called “Impresarios”, to identify the projects to move forward with. Together, they work to bring the Impresario’s vision to life, without the locals ever once feeling like they have been told what to do by an outsider.

Learn more about FTF here.  

Before we know it, the team and I are on a plane heading to Guatemala.  Our specific assignment is to capture the essence of a “Keipi Journey”- a weeklong excursion funded by donors that takes you to incredible places filled with incredible people.  This shared value donation is a major source of FTF’s funding.

After a 7-hour flight, we finally land in Guatemala City. We’re greeted by my old college roommate, Andrew Schwark, who works for FTF.  We immediately hop on a bus with FTF leader John, two other field workers, and seven high school students embarking on their Keipi Journey.  Our first destination is Lake Atitlán, which, according to the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, is the “most beautiful lake in the world.” 

It better be. We add six hours to our travel time – an unpleasant trip thanks to countless speed bumps, pot holes, wrong turns, and our bus driver’s lead foot. We arrive late at night, exhausted and famished, but the FTF staff doesn’t skip a beat. They spring into action to cook a delicious meal consisting of steak, vegetables and fresh guacamole. They even have to add small amounts of bleach to the water to kill dangerous bacteria. 

The next morning, we wake up to discover that this beautiful lake absolutely does live up to its reputation. We spend the day boating, eating lunch, and boarding the bus once again to travel to our destination for the rest of the week – Momostenango.

The Keipi Journey we’re here to document is centered here, and it’s the village that FTF primarily works in.  Situated in the North-West of Totonicapán, in the Western highlands of Guatemala, Momostenango is extremely impoverished and seems forgotten by the rest of the world.  Before we even hop off the bus, I take note of some striking images: droves of homeless dogs treated like rodents, overrunning the streets; piles of trash in the forests due to lack of waste removal services; hitchhikers jumping into the back of pick-up trucks; women who walk countless miles on mountain roads carrying heavy baskets on their heads.

Our time in Momostenango is educational, exhausting, and eye-opening. Every day, we visit various parts of the village to meet different people. The key individuals we are there to see are a handful of amazing Impresarios that FTF works with closely. Abraham is a teacher who runs a free school for the local kids. Dario is a local baker who has his own storefront after humble beginnings selling bread out of his carIxim is a company run by two men and a woman who provide accountable, fair loans to the surrounding villages. These individuals make an incredibly positive impact on the community, and the stories they share with us illustrate the profound importance of FTF.  

We also meet the folks at Health&Help, a Russian medical clinic that FTF helped build to supply free medical care to the surrounding community. Located thirty minutes outside the city, we bounce around in the back of a pick-up truck to get there. Our tour of the facility gives us first-hand confirmation of its level of care – people often travel up to an hour just to come here because they trust it more than the clinics closer to home. 

There’s a school next door – with only two classrooms – where FTF field workers spend time teaching children English. School is in session, and giggling children swarm around us as we enter the building, goofing around and trying to converse with us “gringos”.  They’re particularly excited to see our drone in action, and are awestruck when I show them aerial shots of their school in real time.

Our last stop is to a village 45 minutes away from Momostenango. Piled in the back of yet another pickup truck, we wind through the mountains and forests to meet with a group of people who have been trying to get the green light for a project for over a decade. Their mission: to pipe running water twelve miles from a natural spring to a village. We hike two miles through dense forest to find the spring, and we watch them perform a ritual over the water. They’re eager to describe the project and ask for FTF’s assistance. I realize that we’re witnessing the potential beginning of a new Impresario project.  Afterwards, we return to the village where they cook a delicious lunch for our group.  It’s mind-blowing to witness the generosity of our new friends that have very little, but still find so much joy in serving a meal to others.  This is the type of humility you don’t get to witness every day.

Above everything, my favorite experience in Guatemala is the traditional “Keipi Dinner” – a tradition from the Georgia Republic centering around a feast that involves toasts and deep conversation. Our crew joins twenty locals, workers from the Russian clinic, and other travelers on top of our hotel. I look around at this melting pot of American, Guatemalan, Russian, Chinese, and Portuguese people coming together. Our language barriers don’t matter; we connect using broken English, Spanish, and even charades. This is truly the essence of a Keipi Dinner – go to a foreign place, share new experiences, and form new relationships despite our cultural differences.

After a long week of documenting, we put our cameras away to simply enjoy our last night with our new friends in Antigua. I reflect on the culture shock I feel from being in Guatemala and the overwhelming sights, sounds, and smells I’ve experienced here. After everything, however, I realize that I wasn’t just learning about the city and its people – I learned how the industry I work in can have a profound effect on the world around me. My team has the ability to produce a pro-bono project that makes a positive impact on a non-profit, a village of incredible people, and ourselves as Upstream employees.  I am grateful to see creative freedom used for this purpose.

Now we’re home, and the hours of interviews and footage await us in the edit suite.  We’re all very excited to finish this project – one that we chose to put our hard work in and that captures the essence of First Things Foundation.  

Be on the lookout for the video soon. Look below to see more pictures!


In what sounds like the opening line of a joke, one has to ask: “Which is harder to accomplish – flying to the moon and back, or putting on a Woodstock 50thAnniversary concert?

Incredibly, while The Eaglelanded on the moon, “Woodstock 50” failed to get off the ground.

Plenty of finger-pointing and paperwork filed in court, but no “Peace Love & Music.”

A missed opportunity to “reinforce the values of compassion, human dignity, and the beauty of our differences embraced by Woodstock,” said Michael Lang, a cofounder of the original three-day concert near Bethel, NY.

It’s interesting to reexamine Tranquility Base vs. “An Aquarian Exposition.”

Back in 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were in a 21-day quarantine, in case they brought back a “lunar virus” to earth.

Meanwhile, Woodstock was going viral.

August 15, 1969.  The social platforms and digital spaces that marketers and brands use to connect people didn’t exist.  No Internet. No cellphones.  

Oddly, the primordial soup of a viral campaign managed to emerge from the mud and muck of Woodstock’s rain-soaked grounds without any of the accoutrements of today’s digital world.

So how in the heck did Woodstock go viral? Because the basics of passing along content (or a message) simply boils down to people sharing original content that connects with them on an emotional level.

Sounds like a Creative Brief from 2019, doesn’t it?

All it takes is engaging with that coveted demographic (18-24 year olds).  It helps that they keenly feel passionately about social and political ideals.  

But whether it’s today, or 50-years ago, brilliant plans still soar, and poorly executed plans still crater.

So why did “Woodstock 50” fail to achieve lift-off?  The original was organic, human, genuine, and compelling.  The ersatz re-boot was seen as corporate and manufactured.  Even the original investor said it wouldn’t be “an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand name.”  When trust is in question, the show is over.

Authenticity means honesty, and it’s the key to customer engagement.  Your audience can spot a phony message or a brand attempting to cash in on a trend, from a mile away.  Joe Cocker had the right idea back in 1969.  Gotta stay relevant, and keep it real, if you want to go viral . . . with a little help from my friends.

Mark Smith is the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Storyteller for Upstream 360, as well as the father of a teenage daughter.  He stays motivated by the twin powers of doubt and insecurity, while his approach to the work is making it legitimately interesting, shareable, and something people can connect with. 

Mark is also an author of the book Innovation Myths and Mythstakes, available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and coming soon on Audible.  

Cincinnati Catering MVP’s

As office manager, it’s my job to make sure my people have everything they need to kick ass at Upstream. Almost every day, we play host to groups who come here for brainstorm sessions, production shoots, and everything in between. Our employees, freelancers, and clients are always hustling – and the last thing anyone should have to worry about is what to eat. That’s where I come in.

There are so many incredible restaurants and caterers in Cincinnati that it would be impossible to list (or try) them all, but the ones below are my absolute favorites to work with. I know I can count on them to provide top notch food and service every time, and it always feels good to know I’m supporting local businesses.

The Echo Restaurant | Hyde Park

This unassuming diner has been a neighborhood gem since it first opened its doors in 1945. Believe me, this place has aged WELL – this is the type of comfort food you dream about. Nobody skips breakfast when they walk in the door to the smell of cheddar bacon burritos and potato cakes. They don’t offer delivery, but the food travels well and their catering director makes pick-up a breeze. They’re quick to customize your order however you need it, and the variety of food will please all types of palates (including those of us who love Goetta).

Tahona Kitchen & Bar | Blue Ash

Our neighbors in Summit Park tick all my boxes – flexible and friendly ordering process, unique and delicious menu offerings, beautiful food presentation…but what sets them apart is their incrediblyfresh ingredients. I could rave for days about the mango pineapple salad, house-made salsas, hot-out-of-the-oven dessert, and Tahona corn. There are a lot of great taco spots in Cincinnati, but we’re lucky to be right around the corner from one of the best. They knock it out of the park every single time.

Revolution Rotisserie | Pleasant Ridge

I do not exaggerate – the second this food walks in the door, people start getting up from their desks to see what smells so good.  Their “chita” (chicken pita) bar is the perfect offering for a large, hungry group. They load you up with tons of fresh toppings so each foodie can create their own pita wrap or arugula bowl that really hits the spot. They bake their cookies fresh every day, the chicken is seasoned flawlessly, and the brussels sprouts are out of this world. They even have a falafel option for the vegetarian folks – talk about a local gem.

La Soupe | Cincinnati

These folks only came out to feed the office once, but it was an unforgettable meal where our team sat down and learned about the La Soupe mission – to rescue food that would normally get thrown away, transform it into something amazing, then share it with those who need it. As someone who constantly struggles to find responsible ways to deal with excess food from our catering orders, I find their work to be extremely important. The one caveat to using La Soupe for your event is that their menu changes every day based on the food they take in, so you just have to trust that it’s going to be great…which it 100% will be. 

Honorable Mentions

Sometimes you just need something simple and straightforward to eat – these tried-and-true places are always reliable and are a breeze to order from. 

  • Panera Bread
  • Potbelly’s
  • McAlister’s Deli
  • Dewey’s Pizza

Cincinnati has a lot to offer to us foodies, and there are more great spots opening up all the time. Support your neighborhood restauranteurs and be sure to try these local spots!

Graduation and Innovation

Last week, my daughter graduated from Cincinnati Country Day High Schooland began a new chapter.  Which means I’m beginning a new chapter as well, becoming the father of a college student.

As the Chief Creative Officer (and Chief Storyteller) at Upstream 360, I feel like I’m prepared, because embracing change and being nimble and agile enough to pivot, is the name of the game, right?

But I was stumbling a bit to the Finish Line on this one, because I was reminded that my daughter was just 2 years old when I first met folks from Upstream in 2003.  

I thought: “Wait a minute.  That can’t be right. Where did those last 16 years go?”

So, time passes faster and faster, but the best part about innovation is with every initiative, we’re always looking to find the next challenge and it always seems to be just as exciting.

In fact, I’m often asked: “What’s your favorite project at Upstream?” and I always answer: “The next one.”

That’s because Looking Forwardis the DNA of Upstream.  And the DNA of college-bound daughters.

This was evident during a late-night conversation in which I was imparting fatherly advice.  It was utterly fascinating – mostly because a teenager was actually interested in what I was saying!  As we say in Innovation: There’s a first time for everything.

She and I both agreed that working really hard is actually easy if your heart is in it.  And besides, the harder you work, the more you get to do what you love – especially when the people you work alongside share your passion for what you do, and for what the late Al Davis called “a commitment to excellence.”

Meeting and working with amazing people isthe ultimate energy drink.  My advice to her was to surround herself with people who are as “invested” as she is.

Naturally, there will be bumps in the road – but just look at them as electives that will teach you what to do better next time.

The final life-lesson I shared was to try and have more fun than more stress . . . and to always use BOTH sides of your brain.  As CEO Multimillionaire Sidney Harman once famously said: “I want poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They contemplate the world, interpret it and give expression to it in a way that makes the reader understand how it runs. Poets are the most unheralded systems thinkers and our true digital thinkers – they will be tomorrow’s new business leaders.”

In other words: You’re a poet, never outgrow it.

Mark Smith is the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Storyteller for Upstream 360, as well as the father of a teenage daughter.  He stays motivated by the twin powers of doubt and insecurity, while his approach to the work is making it legitimately interesting, shareable, and something people can connect with. 

Mark is also an author of the book Innovation Myths and Mythstakes, available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and coming soon on Audible.  

Jedi Research Tricks

May the Fourth be with You. The first time that I heard these words, now synonymous with “Star Wars Day”, was about 10 years ago.  My brother-in-law posted the phrase on Facebook, and I recall admiring how clever he was for the play on Jedi words.  And as the years went on, the phrase came to my ears more and more often— moving from a shared greeting among fellow Star Wars nerds to a widely recognized world-wide holiday.

Clearly my brother-in-law, while still quite clever, was not the originator of this wordplay turned holiday.  As I have researched the phenomenon more closely, it appears that the first recorded usage of the expression was on May 4, 1979. Margaret Thatcher assumed the office of Prime Minister in the UK on that day, and her political party placed a congratulatory advertisement in The London Evening News, saying “May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.”

Since that day, several grass roots efforts arose, with Facebook groups appearing in 2008, the first organized celebration of Star Wars Day happening in Toronto in 2011, and Disney (now the owner of Star Wars) ultimately adopting the holiday in 2013.

What started as an ingenious headline, later emerged as a cult following among fans, and ultimately was embraced by the makers of Star Wars themselves.  It is a great example of marketers being in touch with their passionate fan base, becoming part of the conversation, and adopting the holiday as part of their brand experience.

For those of us not working on brands in a galaxy far, far away… 

There is always a tension as to whether the brunt of our new ideas should come from the mouths of our consumers (our “fans”) or rather from the labs of our innovators.  Henry Ford is famously quoted as saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘Faster Horses’.”  Similarly, Steve Jobs more recently was quoted as saying, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  Both philosophies boldly claim that consumers are not capable of and should not be trusted with the responsibility of developing new product ideas.

I couldn’t agree more.

We hire and train brilliant marketers, scientists, and researchers to invent, design, and deliver breakthrough new products.  We can’t and shouldn’t count on our consumers to give us all the answers.

Does that then mean that we should stop doing consumer research?

Absolutely not.

It is imperative that we continue to invest time and effort in research with our consumers.  We just must insure that it is the rightresearch.  We should not look to our “fan base” for the answers, but rather for the right questions.  While we can’t expect consumers to invent the automobile, we need to know that they desperately want faster, safer, and easier long-distance travel.  A focus group will never design a smartphone, but ethnographic research can show the benefits of having the internet, a GPS, and a camera all in the palm of your hands.  

We shouldn’t be asking our consumers what they want us to make.  We should be investing in finding out what they need and what will give them delight.

And these don’t have to be (and often shouldn’t be) focus groups. There are so many conversations happening organically online that often our research can come from digging into these discussions and trends.  When I worked at P&G, I once had a team design a new, better Dry Shampoo from scratch (from starch actually), solely from learning from YouTubers about current delighters, frustrations, and “wish for’s”.  It doesn’t take a Jedi mind trick… but some deliberate investment in understanding consumer trends and becoming part of the conversation.

Disney didn’t ask consumers if they wanted “Star Wars Day”, but they tapped into a trend and helped to establish and fuel it.  Our fans our passionate about our brands and out there talking about what they want and need.  It is our job as marketers and innovators to use the Force of our expertise to delight and deliver.

And all of us at Upstream 360 would like to pass along our condolences to Peter Mayhew, the original Wookie who inspired us all.

Mike Thomas is the Chief Innovation Officer at Upstream 360 and aspiring Emperor.  He has no affiliation with Disney or Lucasfilm, beyond being a lifelong obsessive fan.


Most digital venues are walking around with their heads down these days.  And for good reason. Make that plural. Reasons. Offensive videos, inaccurate measures of audience, less-than-transparent standards around the use of influencers, bots, and social-media accounts, to name a few.

P&G’s Chief Brand Officer made headlines recently for urging advertisers to demand better quality of content and audience measurement from media outlets.  Perhaps a specific standard of measurement that would take into account viewing across multiple media platforms, such as a digital “tag” that could be placed on all ads, for all formats, across digital and TV, to control ad frequency.

He’s not the only one asking for the media industry to enforce higher standards.

If it’s true that seven out of 10 consumers are saying ads are annoying, and that ad blocking is accelerating and privacy breaches and consumer data misuse keeps occurring, what can be done to stop it?

Especially when digital platforms were originally built for freedom of expression – not a soap box to run ads on in the first place.

Is there an “authenticity check” of some kind that can be used when dealing with social-media personalities, bloggers, and vloggers?  Big advertisers would like to see one.  Not to mention a way to measure the audience.

But when you look around, it’s quite amazing that there are actually very few universal standards of measurement that exist.

The same is true of content monitoring.  Disney CEO Bob Iger recently called social media “the most powerful marketing tool an extremist could ever hope for, because by design social media reflects a narrow world view filtering out anything that challenges our beliefs while constantly validating our convictions and amplifying our deepest fears.”

Scary stuff from The Happiest Place On Earth.

The message is simple.  Clean up the platforms for brand safety, or the advertisers will simply create their own, free of fraud, waste or objectionable content.  And when you spend $7 billion a year on ads, you can actually follow through on “charting the course for a different way,” as Marc Pritchard said.

Personally, I’m all for it.  Every creative organization thrives on embracing new systems when it comes to the media supply chain anyway.  And while you’re suiting up, if you can fend off the persistent “dark side” within the current ecosystem at the same time, well, that’s a bonus.  Hard to argue against quality civility, transparency and privacy.  

In other words, walk towards the light!

Mark Smith is the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Storyteller for Upstream 360, as well as the father of a teenage daughter.  He stays motivated by the twin powers of doubt and insecurity, while his approach to the work is making it legitimately interesting, shareable, and something people can connect with. 

Mark is also an author of the book Innovation Myths and Mythstakes, available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and coming soon on Audible.