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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sexually Inappropriate Fruit

Thanks to Copyranter, I just saw a spectacularly terrible ad courtesy of Y&R Mumbai. The product is Lotte Chocolate Caramel with Mango (which sounds gross in and of itself - I love all three of those things but I don't think they go together), and in it, the lecherous mango leers at his pregnant black maid - chocolate! Geddit? - complete with uniform and hanging laundry. Their spawn is, presumably, the candy in question. That I now want to purchase, after dealing with all kinds of antebellum flashbacks. Yes, I TOTALLY want to buy a candy that makes me think of rape! Sign me right up! Yum!

The maid looks weary, as though she's grown tired of Mango's sexual harassment and just goes along with it because she has no choice. Also, Mango's dog appears to be checking her out too, so she's getting ogled from all sides.

There is another such ad, this time for strawberry chocolate, and this one is worse - the strawberry is putting his clothes on after apparently raping the pregnant black Sleeping Beauty. The ad appears to be playing up the whole "knight saves damsel in distress" thing - the strawberry's clothes include a sword and tall boots, but THAT DOESN'T WORK IF THE PRINCE RAPES HER WHILE SHE IS UNCONSCIOUS. I have to say this out loud, really? There is a whole campaign dedicated to fruit raping black women? Does anyone hear how ridiculous that sounds?

*sigh* I have perfect blood pressure, but it's up right now. I suppose it would have been asking too much to just make them a couple. I know that there's a lot of complex politics related to castes and colorism in India, but this is beyond.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How Much is Too Much?

One of my Facebook friends posted a status update today that got me thinking. She works for a nonprofit and was frustrated by the organization's emphasis on social media, wondering if at some point the work itself needs to take priority over how the work is accessed. She proposed a "technology non-revolution."

I'm of two minds. On one hand, there are definitely aspects of social media that I deliberately avoided - I wasn't on Facebook or Twitter for a while because I am, overall, a private person, and wasn't sure about putting my life on the web. I have read PLENTY of oversharing tweets and status updates, and I am just not that person who's going to tweet (or blog) about my gynecologist appointment (I wish I were making that up), or my family. I knew I wasn't going to put myself on blast, so I wondered "What's the point?" Not realizing, I guess, that I had control over what I put out there, and could comment and post photos and whatnot without putting all my business in the street. My last status update was about how excited I was to hear one of my favorite songs come on over the loudspeaker in Starbucks.

On the other hand, I was delighted when an old friend I haven't seen or heard from since we were 13 friended me on Facebook, and even more delighted to see that she seems to be very happy. (I have had to hide a few oversharing folks, though.) And Twitter has been both fun (the tweets from the Fug Girls are as funny as the blog posts themselves) and informative. I follow companies on Twitter and learn about their upcoming projects and strategies. I was on Twitter when the news of bin Laden's death broke - I follow my local news as well as ABC News, CNN, and Anderson Cooper. I got advice about what bike to buy on Facebook, and get great recipes from the Food and Wine Twitter feed, as well as from my favorite Top Chef contestants (Hootie Hoo, Carla!).

Now, my Facebook friend's status update wasn't maligning social media altogether; just saying that she thought the focus should be on the work itself, rather than how the work is consumed. And without knowing what kind of work her organization does, it's hard to know how effective social media is for her organization in particular. She's certainly not opposed to highlighting the work her group does; she just doesn't want to get so focused on talking about the work that doing the work falls by the wayside. It doesn't do anyone any good to tweet about shoddy work. I don't think anyone will argue with that. In fact, it's a hindrance - if you have a big social media presence and a crappy product, that just means that many people are aware of your crappy product, and have many different public forums to discuss just how crappy your product is.

As a marketer, you kind of have to find social media useful, because it's as much a part of marketing as buying ad space. So it's easy to forget that it can be invasive for people who just use it to stalk their exes, or read what witty thing Wanda Sykes is thinking about at any given moment. Or that people just want to put their heads down and work, and not worry about page views and the number of followers. So I hope that my Facebook friend is able to strike a balance between talking about her work and getting it done to the best of her and her organization's ability.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Cadbury/Naomi Campbell Controversy

If you're unfamiliar, Naomi Campbell sued Cadbury over comparing her to chocolate in an ad for Bliss Dairy Milk Chocolate. The ad's tagline was "Move Over, Naomi, There's a New Diva in Town." The Advertising Standards Authority deemed that the ad was not racist, but Cadbury pulled it.

Campbell has, to put it kindly, a reputation as a "diva." The term "diva" has morphed from "a celebrated voice in opera and theater" to "demanding superstar." Off the top of my head, stories about Campbell throwing phones and screaming at her service staff, wearing couture gowns to do community service as a deliberate snub to the process, and knowingly accepting literal "blood diamonds" from Liberia's former warlord spring immediately to mind. (In my opinion, this goes well past "diva" and toward "terror," but that's me.) Cadbury's intent was to liken the Bliss line of chocolate to Campbell's diva image (but I'm sure the intent was to compare it with the "softer" side of her diva image - I doubt they want to liken the chocolate to someone who abuses her assistants). Bliss is fierce, bold, luxurious, like Campbell. Bliss is billed as a "dreamy chocolate truffle," so fancier than your average chocolate. The photo depicts a bar of Bliss atop a mound of diamonds, so certainly Cadbury is working to cultivate a luxurious brand image for Bliss. (I did find myself wondering if the diamonds in the ad were a dig at Campbell's blood diamond scandal.)

As a black woman, I am intimately familiar with the connotations of juxtaposing blackness with chocolate. Black people have a history of being commodified, objectified, and treated uniformly (our skin tones go way beyond "chocolate" - Campbell's skin and mine look nothing alike), and slapping Campbell next to chocolate perpetuates that. They're personifying the chocolate, and there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself - all good, memorable brands have personalities. It's one of my favorite parts of branding. But they would not have used a white woman in this campaign. "Move over Barbra, there's a new diva in town," with Barbra Streisand next to a picture of milk chocolate? Never would have happened. Racism, or racially suspect behavior (there's a difference), is often subtle. This is a key example of institutionalized racism - in the brainstorming meeting, once the idea was set to compare the chocolate with a person, how many of the names tossed around were of black women? I'll probably never know, but I'm guessing "most."

Do I think Cadbury meant it "that way?" No. Should someone in the brainstorming session have tossed out the possibility that it would be taken "that way?" Absolutely. I'd have done it. I'd be curious to know the racial makeup of the team on the account, because I certainly could have seen this coming. I'd have done it with the Dove Visible Care ad too. Another ad that wasn't intended to be racist (and I truly don't think there was any negative intent there at all - it's just a careless layout), but needed someone to say "Hey, let's take another look at this."

I have issues with many of the things I've read that Campbell has done, but she does get a say in how her image - an image that she has worked for decades to cultivate and maintain, that is literally her livelihood - is used. At the core, if she doesn't want to be mentioned in the same space as chocolate, that's her right.

And at the end of the day, the intent is secondary. This is true for race relations AND marketing and PR. Marketers say it all the time: perception is reality. If the ad is perceived as racist, by Campbell or anyone, the image is tainted. (Which begs the question: why choose Campbell? Again, her reputation goes beyond "diva" and toward "criminal," and she's pretty much only in the news for bad behavior these days.) Al Sharpton was calling for a boycott. Not all press is good press.

There's no easy solution, as is typically the case with race matters. Cadbury pulled the ad, but I have issues with the ASA making the decision that something isn't racist ... it feels out of their purview. They can say the ad wasn't meant to be racist, but to just deem it completely fine along racial lines feels really dismissive to me. It reeks of "Oh, don't be so sensitive." But I do appreciate the discussion this has generated - there's no progress without discussion.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I'm Mad About "The Killing"

The season finale of The Killing was last night, and it made me really mad. Judging by the blogosphere and Twitterverse today, I am not alone.

I watch a pretty wide swath of TV. Some of it is quality: Friday Night Lights, The Good Wife, Mad Men, other cerebral dramas and smart sitcoms. Some is straight trash. But when I watch trash, stuff that I'm using purely as background noise or because I have half an hour to kill before I have to be somewhere or do something, I know it's just that. It hasn't been billed as anything else and it doesn't pretend to be anything else.

The Killing billed itself, repeatedly, as better and smarter than the average crime procedural. It wasn't. It was boring, except when it made no sense. By the end of the season, I had no idea who Rosie Larsen was, so her death meant nothing to me other than the general "Aw, that's sad" when you hear that someone young has died. I only knew bits and pieces of her parents, especially mom Mitch (who I started to hate when she Lady Macbethed all over Stan and goaded him into beating Bennett Ahmed into a bloody pulp); I thought I knew Holder but it turns out I didn't. I knew that the mayoral candidate had lost his wife, picked up escorts and slept around after his wife died, and that he was running for mayor, but the show failed to make his campaign interesting (and as an Organizing for America volunteer, I know they can be), so I didn't really care about that part.

And I could live with that if the plotting had been consistent. Instead, we got red herrings, capital-I Issues (female genital mutilation, Native American burial grounds and casinos, prostitution), and filler. The third to last episode involved the two detectives on the Larsen case, Linden and Holder, driving around looking for Linden's teenage son (she's a single mom), not working on the case. We do get to know them better, sure, but with three episodes to go, the time for that character development was much, much earlier in the season. With a 13-episode arc, there's no time for filler. (Not to mention that when they do find the kid, it turns out he was with his father, who hasn't been in his life. In the next episode, Linden meets up with her son's father and tells him she'll have him arrested for kidnapping if he comes near her son again, and in the final episode, she's on the phone with her son talking about "I'm glad you're having fun with your dad. Let me know when you want me to pick you up." Now what now? What happened to the kidnapping charges she was going to file?) I was past the point where I wanted to know about Linden and her life: I was only holding on for the whodunnit payoff, so this was a waste of time.

And I didn't even get the whodunnit! I have no idea whodunnit. Oh, it was the mayoral candidate - except it wasn't, because Holder is in someone's pocket and is framing him. (And don't get me started on the stupidity of Linden going alone to his apartment when she believes him to be a murderer, and not arresting him. The second time she just goes over to yell at him. Quit poking the bear, Linden.) And now I have to watch Linden and her son NOT move to Sonoma some more (her fiance either has the patience of Job or he's an idiot) and work this out? That could have worked if the show had built up any sort of goodwill, if it hadn't spent an entire season doing just this - introducing subjects and then clearing them, not making any progress.

Alan Sepinwall, with whom I frequently agree, notes that as much as Veena Sud, the showrunner, claims that The Killing doesn't have a formula, it totally does. (And there's room for great work in a formulaic procedural drama - Cold Case, for example, Sud's previous show, had a standard solve-a-case-per-episode formula, but don't try to tell me that "Best Friends" and "The Sleepover" weren't great episodes of TV.) The formula is, basically: "Don't develop the characters, introduce seventy-'leven red herrings and then clean some of them up in the next episode, but also leave a few of them hanging, and show some grief porn and rainstorms." And that does not make for entertaining TV. I have no reason to care now, about any of it - who killed Rosie, where Mitch went, when Stan will go to jail for nearly killing Bennett (and come on, there's no way Mrs. Ahmed wouldn't know who Stan is, nor would the hospital allow him to see the man he beat within an inch of his life), who will win the mayoral race (was this not the most boring political campaign ever?) ... anything, because I know the show is just going to make it up as it goes along, and insult my intelligence.

The one thing I sort of care about is who's pulling Holder's strings, because I think he's the most interesting character on the show - but I have no reason to believe that the show will respect me enough to handle it well, so that's not enough. If a show's not going to be interesting, it should at least be entertaining. This wasn't.

So that'll do, Killing. I do hope that Mireille Enos and especially Joel Kinnaman find vehicles that are worthy of their talent, because they did the best they could with what they were given. But ... yikes, what a mess.

Friday, June 17, 2011

If She's So Popular ...

The title of this blog comes from a pun: "If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy all her friends?"

I had zero interest in Barbie as a kid. I liked to read and "play pretend." I don't remember my childhood friends taking much of an interest in Barbie either. We were unusual, though, because Barbie is EVERYWHERE. Barbie has a dream house and a boyfriend. Barbie has a kid sister (but no parents, so apparently they sprung up from the ground). Barbie has a Token Black Friend. (When I graduated from high school, one of my relatives gave me a black Barbie, complete with cap, gown, and diploma, as a gag gift. Ha ha?) Barbie has a car. Changing careers for Barbie is as easy as changing outfits. Barbie has been re-created in "real life" countless times. A former teacher of mine wouldn't let her daughter play with Barbie because Barbie was anti-feminist. Barbie is, in short, one of the world's most recognized brands.

As a marketer and avid media consumer, I often think about what makes brands successful. Brands are built. They have personalities that change and grow with their consumers. At the core, brands are vying for your friendship. Barbie works because she's been around for so long - she's changed with the times, somewhat, but those proportions are still the same - she's immediately recognizable.

This blog will take a look at ads and brands that work or don't, and why, and how media helps make or break brands and campaigns. I will probably make fun of a lot of stuff. Most of the time, I kid because I love. Most of the time. Some stuff is just wack. We'll get there, trust.