Google Analytics

Thursday, July 26, 2012

May No Act of Ours Bring Shame

The title of this post comes from Penn State's alma mater.


When the Penn State scandal first broke, I wondered what the school could do to improve its severely tarnished reputation. Now, with the NCAA’s punishment on the books, it’ll be years before Penn State will be able to do that.

To build a brand is to build trust. At the core, brands are reliable. You know what to expect from them; brand standards govern a company or institution’s behavior. The key to building trust, of course, is transparency. Building trust is quite simple, actually: you do what you say you’re going to do, unless you can’t. If you can’t, you tell people as soon as you know you can’t. If you make a mistake, you fix it and apologize. (“You were right, I was wrong. I’m sorry” carries a ton of weight, because so often apologies come in the form of “I’m sorry BUT …” which isn’t a real apology.)

Ironically, Penn State damaged its brand most by trying to protect it. The damning information revealed by the Freeh report indicates that Penn State’s senior officials covered up years of Sandusky’s incorrigible behavior, at the expense of children (and having volunteered in rape crisis, I feel confident in saying that there are more kids who just didn’t come forward). And here’s something I know for sure, as a marketer and as a person who lives in the world: if you get caught lying or covering up, the fallout is always worse than it would be if you just owned up. As a teen, when I lied to my parents, I got in trouble for doing the thing I wasn’t supposed to be doing, and for lying on top of that. They were always angrier about the lying. And none of my teenage antics were anything close to this.

Now Penn State is “that school that let kids get raped.” Not “that school that found out that kids were getting raped, fired the guy who was raping them and turned him in to the police, and got the kids some help.” Which one is the one you’d send your kids to? Which is the school you’d encourage your star players to play for?

And this is leaving football aside, which I recognize is hard to do at a school like Penn State. (I have pride in my alma mater but I think I went to one football game in four years.) Penn State lost sponsors when all this broke – and I’d bet that more will pull out. They should. Those more knowledgeable about college sports than I say that the postseason ban and the scholarship restrictions strongly limit Penn State from putting together a team that can achieve the success it’s used to, and that this will be the case for at least five years after the penalties are lifted. The NCAA is allowing Penn State players to immediately transfer and play elsewhere if they choose, which will very likely incite a mass exodus (and really, if you’re a freshman or sophomore, why would you stay?), decimating the program.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the sanctions were designed to ensure that “… football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people.” Penn State released a statement almost immediately after the NCAA handed down its sanctions, saying it accepted them and that the “ruling holds the university accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the university community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity." Coach Bill O’Brien offered a similar sentiment.

In order to save any kind of face, they couldn’t do anything else – to dispute the sanctions with everything that’s come to light would only reinforce the idea that football matters more than the safety of innocent kids. Penn State has to take its lumps. And it should keep its head down for a while, although I would guess its next football season will be heavily scrutinized– who stayed, who left, how O’Brien does, how well the games are attended. I’ll be curious to see how Penn State’s enrollment numbers look over the next few years; anecdotally, I spoke with someone on a recent flight who had a relative who had been accepted but declined the offer of admission when the story broke, and I’m sure she’s not the only one to do so.

What can they do? Own up. Keep their heads down, do the work required to improve their standing as an institution and sports program, and when something goes wrong, tell the truth. Take a lesson from parents everywhere: “It’ll be better for you if you just come clean.”

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Commodity of Being a Woman


This will be one of many blogs and articles written about last night’s episode of Mad Men, “The Other Woman.”  I’ve been thinking about it all night. It cruelly and brilliantly laid bare the burden of being a woman in 1966, something to be bought and sold and owned.

There’s a school of thought that anyone other than white men has to work twice as hard for half the recognition. I'm black and female; I’ve felt this my whole life. I’ve felt that “You’re representing the whole race” burden at my private high school, at Columbia, and in business school. I’ve felt it being the only woman in the room; I’ve felt it being the only person of color in the room. And for me, that burden has meant that I expect to have to work harder to prove myself and to be taken seriously. It’s unfair, but it’s the world I live in. In 1966, I’d have had far, far fewer choices than I have now. I wouldn’t have the luxury of being a copywriter whose work is overlooked; I’d be Don’s not-seen-in-many-episodes secretary Dawn, if I were lucky.

If I were white, like Peggy and Joan, I’d be faced with more, but tough, choices. If I were Joan, I’d have to face being literally pimped out by my colleagues – expensively pimped out, but pimped out nonetheless. I’d have to live with the burden that my colleagues see me as a whore, and then with the burden of whoring myself out, as Joan does. If I were Peggy, I’d have to deal with not getting the recognition I deserve, having my underlings recognized over me, having money literally thrown in my face by my boss, and being a pawn in my new boss’s quest to stick it to my old boss (although I’m not sure Peggy realizes the latter yet, and if she does, I’m not convinced she should care. Business is rarely altruistic, after all).

Peggy refuses to put a price on her dignity. Humiliated and overlooked by Don for the last time, when she gives notice and he tells her he’ll beat her offer if she just gives the number, she tells him there IS no number. She’s going. She tearfully tells Don not to be a stranger, holds her head high, and walks away. She liked the people at work, but … it’s work, and she has the chance to do more and better work at a new agency, so she’s going. It’s the move she has to make at this point in her career. This is common even now – to “move on to move up” and then later, to become a “win-back.”

Contrast her with Joan, who actually DOES put a price on her dignity – a 5% not-silent partnership in the agency. Her colleagues clearly don’t respect her if they’re willing to inform her that Jaguar Guy wants to sleep with her, take a meeting about whether or not they should pimp her out, and tell her that such a meeting took place. In doing this, it’s clear that they see her as a whore – if they didn’t, they’d know better than to bring it up to her. They’ve also changed her job title without telling her or adjusting her compensation and gave her the task of reviewing TV scripts, praised the way she did it, and then gave the job to a man and paid him more. Crude drawings of her have circulated the office. They’ve all said they can’t live without her, that she runs the office … but they don’t respect her. She’s a woman doing woman’s work, and she has a place.

Peggy’s new boss noted that Don still sees her as “a secretary who’s willing to help out” (that’s how she got noticed in the first place). They clearly see Joan the same way, with the added bonus of being conventionally beautiful.

I don’t think women can watch an episode like “The Other Woman” and not wonder “How far would I go?”

Would I prostitute myself to get ahead in business? (I can't say "sell myself" because we all, regardless of gender, sell ourselves in business all the time - we sell our abilities, our connections, our attitudes, particularly in advertising. The men of Sterling Cooper Draper Price are always selling.) No. Knowing how hard I already have to work to be taken seriously, I could not undermine myself like that – I couldn’t allow myself to become That Woman who slept her way to the top. It’s hard enough out here, and the person who sleeps her way to the top is rarely respected. But I’d like to think I’ve earned enough respect and carry myself in such a way that my co-workers wouldn’t even think to suggest it.

If they did (and I think how you see this episode depends on whether you can believe that the men of SCDP would go so far as to pimp Joan out – and I have no trouble believing it, especially re: Pete, who is disgusting, and Lane, who is between a rock and a hard place since he just embezzled $8K from the company and has to keep from being found out), I have options that Joan doesn’t have. I’ve been blessed with excellent educational opportunities. I have degrees. I have family I can lean on in hard times (Joan has her mother but she’s not particularly happy about it and she doesn't appear to have anyone else). LinkedIn exists. My ultimate "prize" isn't to snag a rich husband. It’s 2012, not 1966. 

We’re meant to see Joan’s situation as semi-desperate, I think – a single mother without a ton of money, raised “to be admired” but with the admiration window closing (Roger Sterling, her former lover, married a woman younger than she, as did Don, and both women are unencumbered by children). So I guess I’m paraphrasing Chris Rock: I'm not saying she should have done it, but I understand. I understand how a woman who has always traded on her sexuality and who knows that the men who employ her don’t hold her as their equal would trade on her sexuality one last time to ensure that she doesn’t have to do it again.

There’s always a line in business, a boundary you won’t cross. The staff at SCDP has fairly well erased that line. My question is how they’ll treat Joan in the aftermath – is she just that woman who whored her way into the partnership, or has she earned their respect? In the present day it would be the former.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Actor Brand Loyalty and Marketing Efforts


Last night during a bout of insomnia, I was reading my Zite app on my iPad and learned two wonderful things: that Connie Britton, AKA Friday Night Lights’  Tami Taylor, will be starring in a show in the fall called Nashville, and that Jesse Plemons, AKA FNL’s Landry Clarke, will be joining Breaking Bad in season 5. (Zach Gilford, AKA Matt Saracen, AKA my FAVORITE character on FNL, was at the Fox upfronts but I haven’t been able to find out what show he’s on. If he’s on The Mindy Project, I will die happy.) All the alums are doing well: Taylor Kitsch and Jesse Plemons will both be in Battleship this summer and Kitsch will also be in Savages with Blake Lively; Adrianne Palicki will be in G.I. Joe; Kyle “Coach Taylor” Chandler has a number of movies in production, including the highly anticipated Martin Scorsese movie The Wolf of Wall Street.

Friday Night Lights is one of those shows that just gets to you and hangs on. Season 1 was a perfect arc of television. “The Son,” an episode in season 4 in which Matt Saracen’s soldier father dies, was the best episode of television – not of that season; of television – I watched that year. So I’m always happy when alums from the cast get work, and I usually support them. (Same goes for The Wire. When Michael B. Jordan, AKA Wallace, turned up ON FNL and proceeded to do great work, it was a great time in my life.) I watched American Horror Story entirely because of Britton (and then stayed for Jessica Lange). I fully intend to see Battleship (don’t judge me!), I will watch Nashville, I saw Super 8 because of Chandler (and then stayed for the cast of kids), I can see myself seeing G.I. Joe. I already watch Breaking Bad so Plemons’s casting is just icing.

But my loyalty is not blind. Kitsch starred in John Carter, which I knew right away I was not about to see (that was a terribly-marketed movie). I don’t think I’ll be in the theater for Savages either; I saw the trailer when I saw The Cabin in the Woods and was unmoved. I didn’t watch Gilford’s most recent (now-dead) show Off the Map, nor did I watch Charlie’s Angels with Minka Kelly.

There was an article in The Wall Street Journal years ago called “Brand Loyalty is Rarely Blind Loyalty” that highlighted this concept, that most consumers switch brands for some items without giving much thought to loyalty. And while actors, movies, and TV shows aren’t brands in the traditional sense like Starbucks coffee or Crest toothpaste, they ARE brands. Simply put? If an actor I like from a show I love takes a part in a movie or show that looks like crap, I will not watch it. The “looks like crap” part outweighs the “but she was on FNL!” part.

In this economy, where money is tight for many, I think people are even less inclined to blindly support brands, and that includes actors. In 2011, movie revenue was the lowest it’s been since 1995. People aren’t flocking to the movies in droves anymore (The Hunger Games, The Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises are going to bump those numbers up considerably, though), so actors don’t have that loyalty to bank on. The media world (especially the film industry, because it’s more expensive and time-consuming to see a movie than it is to watch TV) really needs to bring it when it comes to its marketing efforts in order to put butts in the seats. Complacency and coasting simply won’t cut it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ashton Kutcher and the PopChips Controversy


Ashton Kutcher did an ad for PopChips in which he plays a bunch of different characters looking for love. That’s the whole ad. For potato chips. One of those characters is “Raj,” a Bollywood producer, complete with stereotyped accent and brownface. Sigh. I think Anil Dash said it best: " … if you find yourself putting brown makeup on a white person in 2012 so they can do a bad 'funny' accent in order to sell potato chips, you are on the wrong course.”

The ad has since been pulled from the PopChips site amidst cries of racism. I actually wish they hadn’t done that, because I think in order to make an effort to eradicate racism (in all forms, and I think this ad was a result of the casual racism so prevalent in our society, rather than what is commonly thought of as the only form of racism: Klansmen actively plotting harm to people of color), we need to talk about it. Pulling it down and issuing an apology (which the CEO did, and it’s a pretty pat apology) means we don’t really have to talk about it anymore, and I think that’s antithetical to what’s helpful when it comes to improving race relations. I don’t think the ad should remain in play (more on this in a sec), but I DO think it would be more helpful to offer the thought process behind the ad, and to explain where, why, and how that thought process failed.

Also, and I freely admit I’m not an Ashton Kutcher fan, the ad is really not funny, nor is it particularly clever. That's a huge part of why it should come down. People doing funny voices? Feh, seen it. If the intention was to generate buzz about PopChips through a controversial ad … I mean, do better. Yes, it succeeded (there’s been a ton of discussion online and in social media spaces), but is that really how you want your product, which is fairly innocuous and not controversial on its own, to be known? And what’s the link between dating and PopChips? It’s like the Wheat Thins ad with Tracy Morgan – it feels very much like both companies just wanted celebrity endorsements (there’s another Wheat Thins ad with Alex Trebek that's not good; the message seems to be “Wheat Thins make you annoying at parties") and didn’t care about much else.

I doubt very much that Ashton Kutcher and the PR and ad teams behind this ad are actively working toward the oppression of people of color. I think it’s just a bad ad. I think it’s a bad ad that could maybe spark some dialogue about how prevalent casual racism is, but I think that’s pretty unlikely.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Don't Get It

I have so many questions about this ad.

  1. Does anyone else think Spicy Buffalo Wheat Thins sound gross?
  2. Aren't Wheat Thins supposed to be the "healthier" snack cracker? Baked, not fried? Doesn't adding a Buffalo Wing flavor detract from that?
  3. Why are the gerbils in little plastic bubbles on the floor? Doesn't that seem like a lot of work? Wouldn't you have to take each gerbil out of the bubble to clean the bubbles and feed the gerbils?
  4. What do gerbils in plastic bubbles have to do with snack crackers?
  5. Why is Tracy Morgan in footy pajamas?
  6. Why do they make footy pajamas for adults? It's really not a good look for grown folks.
  7. How much do you think they paid Tracy Morgan to go along with this?
  8. Do you think he secretly goes home to his tasteful condo or house, sits in his well-equipped library, and reads The Wealth of Nations, like Stringer Bell?
  9. What is that snake doing there? (I closed my eyes when I saw it. I'm phobic.)
  10. Are the gerbils in the bubbles so the snake doesn't eat them?
  11. Was anyone else legitimately curious about what Tracy Morgan would write in his memoirs?
  12. Was that a disco ball in the background?
  13. Are Wheat Thins supposed to make it cool to do all the weird things Tracy was planning, or what?
The best ads make you go "That's funny/clever/cool/original." The worst ones make you go "Weh?" This is one of the latter. Even the comments on the ad mention Tracy, the gerbils, and the snake far more than Wheat Thins (as of this writing). To be fair, I think all rodents are gross so this is clearly not the ad for me, but still. The message seems to be "Wheat Thins make you act weird." It seems like Wheat Thins are trying to give their brand a cool boost by throwing Tracy Morgan and oddness and random "edgy" flavors into the mix, but I don't know that Wheat Thins needed a cool boost. Aside from Saltines, Wheat Thins are the most basic cracker I can think of. And that's fine! They still taste pretty good! (I like Triscuits better.) This ad just makes them look like the oddball's cracker. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Cost of Social Media

I wrote this blog for the Philadelphia chapter of the American Marketing Association's website. Check it out there and take a spin around the site while you're at it!



The Philadelphia Chapter of the American Marketing Association’s recent Social Media Boot Camp is a great example of how marketers can learn about the most effective social media channels for their business, how to measure social media and how to put together a social media plan. Social media can be a valuable part of any marketing campaign.

But, like everything, it comes with a cost to implement. While initiating a Twitter account and Facebook page are free, there’s more to consider besides just waiting for the hits to arrive to your newly established pages. Here are some costs that marketers must take into account:

  • Salary and Time. If you can swing it, you may want to have a salaried person on staff who is solely responsible for managing social media. Or you could outsource your social media campaign. If you don’t, you’ll have to delegate the responsibility to your existing staff, which takes time.
  • Advertising. You’ll need to drive people to Facebook and/or Twitter through email blasts, “like” or “follow” buttons on your company’s website or targeted ad placement on Facebook.
  • Tracking. It’s wise to make sure your social media plan is working. To keep tracking costs down, make sure you’re only tracking information that’s valuable to you. You can just track a few metrics each week or month, such as economic value, which can be measured by the amount of traffic each social media channel refers to your website, the behavior of social media visitors on your site, and the number of social media visitors who exhibit specific behavior (buy, subscribe, take a survey, etc.). You can manage the tracking of multiple social media sites from services like Hootsuite, among others.

A more comprehensive breakdown of social media costs in 2012 can be found here from our friends at MackCollier.com. You won’t necessarily use all of these components, but it’s a very clearly delineated budget breakdown of how much things can potentially cost.

Social media is customizable! Make sure you’re tailoring it to fit your specific needs, particularly if your budget is tight.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Girls Causes a Scandal


There are two new TV series that have brought diversity in television to the public’s conscience. (It’s always on my mind, as a person of color who loves media.) ABC’s Scandal and HBO’s Girls have people talking about people of color, or lack thereof, on TV.  

Shonda Rhimes, the creator, head writer, and executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, created Scandal with Kerry Washington in the lead role and based on the career of Judy Smith, a DC crisis management consultant. The show is the first network TV drama with a Black female lead in 30 years; the last one was Get Christie Love, which I’ve never heard of – it was apparently the story of a black female cop that also aired on ABC during the Blaxploitation heyday.

Oh sure, there are black women on TV; VH1 seems to have become the “ignorant quick-tempered black women with nothing to do but throw glasses at each other” channel, with Basketball Wives, Love & Hip-Hop, and all the “let’s help Flavor Flav find love” shows and their spinoffs. WeTV features Braxton Family Values, a reality show about Toni Braxton and her sisters. Bravo has The Real Housewives of Atlanta, all but one of whom is black. Black supporting characters abound. But a prime-time drama about a professional woman who is great at her job? Those are all led by white women. Fair or not, Kerry Washington has a lot of responsibility here. The marketing for the show didn’t focus on the race aspect at all, although the show did get a ton of marketing – but it was all about “From creator Shonda Rhimes …” And I can respect that. While I can’t stand Grey’s Anatomy and think Private Practice has gone way downhill, I have immense respect for Rhimes’s career. She’s an important woman.

So too is Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope. The entire first episode is dedicated to explaining how great she is at her job. The President and his cabinet bow down to her. Everyone who mentions her name follows it up with “she’s the best,” “her gut is never wrong,” etc. I like Kerry Washington (it took some doing but I have forgiven her, Anthony Mackie, and Spike Lee for She Hate Me, which is one of the worst movies I have ever seen) and she brings a quiet confidence to the role.

The cast as a whole is racially diverse. The show doesn’t fall into the Friends trap of never even showing people of color anywhere in a major urban center, and thank God for that. (More on this in a sec.) Guillermo Diaz and Columbus Short are both part of Olivia’s crisis management team. Olivia’s (married with kids) love interest is Fitzgerald Grant, the President of the United States in this fictional world played by Tony Goldwyn; Olivia was a high-ranking member of his campaign team and they began an affair that she broke off … but they’re still madly in love. He told his chief of staff that she’s the “love of [his] life.”

From what I’ve seen of Shonda Rhimes’s shows, she practices colorblind casting and doesn’t make a point of mentioning race at all. Many of the main characters on her shows are or have been in interracial relationships; when Private Practice’s Addison is delivering a baby on the show, half the time the couples are interracial – and not just black/white either. People of color are a part of the world that Shonda Rhimes chooses to depict, but she doesn’t choose to actively call them out.

Conversely, Girls depicts a world where no people of color exist at all.

To be fair, only one episode of Girls has aired. But from what I’ve seen and read (Racialicious posted some casting calls and they’re all stereotypes – the overweight Jamaican nanny, the sexy South American nanny, etc.), the show is one of many that ignores people of color except to depict them as stereotypes. At the end of the pilot, protagonist Hannah walks down the street looking sad (her parents have just told her that her TWO-YEAR run on their tab is up and she’ll need to start supporting herself). A black man who appears to be homeless appears out of nowhere and tells her to smile and say “I love New York!” It screams Magical Negro. The only other person of color is a young Asian woman who has the job Hannah wants; she’s quiet, wears Buddy Holly glasses, and that’s all we know about her (and since Hannah no longer works with her, I doubt she'll be seen again).

The show’s creator and star, Lena Dunham, told the Huffington Post that she’d like to see more people of color, and if they get a second season, she’ll add some in. Which, real talk, reads to me like “I didn’t give people of color a thought until I got called out about it, and now that I have, I’ll deal with it.” And that bugs me.

I spent my college years and 20s in New York City. The world Lena Dunham grew up in is not too different from mine, although I’m a few years older than she is; she and I are both products of urban independent schools and top-tier universities. I saw people of color every day at my high school and my university, and later in business school. We were the minority, sure, but we were there. In my time in New York, I of course didn’t visit every block in every neighborhood, but I saw people that looked like me every single day. On the subway. On the block. At work. In class. At the grocery store. Shopping. At bars. At the gym. The four main characters on Girls are white, which I don’t really have an issue with (it’s not my experience – my friends look like a Benetton ad – but homogeneous groups of friends do exist), but homogeneous New York City doesn’t. Even if you only know one race of people socially, you simply cannot go through your day living in New York City and only see white people. Even on Gossip Girl’s Upper East Side, and especially in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where the Girls live. (My mother and her parents are from Brooklyn and my great-grandparents on that side came to Brooklyn in the '20s from Trinidad; I know black people live there.) You might only notice white people, or choose to only associate with white people, but that’s not the same thing.

And on a deeper level, the show is about four privileged young women (which is interesting since the actresses who play them are all very privileged – each of them is the daughter of someone famous); they all are college-educated, with parents who can afford to support and/or indulge them. People of color like this exist. Not all people of color come from humble backgrounds. The struggles of trying to make something of yourself in your early – mid 20s, even if you have generous financial support, are not just white struggles.

And both Scandal and Girls have a lot riding on them. If Scandal succeeds, it’ll show the media world that people will watch a show with a black female lead, and hopefully inspire them to make more such shows. If Girls succeeds, more shows like it will get made … which further alienates people of color, because “more shows like it” means more shows that exclude people of color.

I don’t know what the solution is. The media world doesn’t bow to my whims, sadly; I can’t force them to hire more people of color as writers and showrunners. But I can, and will, bring issues like this to the forefront in my corner of the world, and encourage people I know to think critically about what they watch.