And it wasn’t even paid for. It just happened and it was perfect.
Well it didn’t just happen. It happened because it was a genuine moment and in essence a promise as well.
It was in the indie film “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon based on the popular book by Cheryl Strayed. I’m not sure on how Ms. Witherspoon or the film will fare tonight at the Oscars but I do know that anyone who sees the movie or read the book will remember this moment next time they’re shopping for outdoor gear.
There aren’t any spoiler alerts if you haven’t seen the movie. This moment isn’t integral to the actual story. It’s simply a nice and honest moment. As the movie begins, Reese Witherspoon is at a precipice, metaphorically and literally and tending to her battered feet. She has to pull a toenail off because her boots were too small and have torn her feet to shreds. While writhing in pain she accidentally knocks the one of the boots off the precipice and away it goes. In a fitting moment anger and frustration she hucks the other boot into they abyss and then proceeds to put back on her sock and Duck tape her Tevas to her feet for untold miles and presses on, foraging streams and snow. She presses on to her next mail-stop where she would pick up a package from REI. With what? New boots, as promised, free of charge.
When Cheryl Strayed wrote this book I’m fairly certain that she didn’t intend to create the most seamless product placement moment in movie or literary history. She did it because she really believed exactly what she said, that REI would be her “most favorite company ever.”
This is because REI has a little known policy of supporting its customers in the wilderness specifically on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). After she arrives at one of the first main stops of the PCT, a kind gentleman helps Ms. Strayed with refining her pack (affectionately dubbed as “Monster”) as well as sharing other sage hiking and camping advice. Upon seeing her battered feet he tells her that her boots are too small and asks if she bought them at REI, which she did. He tells her to call REI and they would send out new boots to her to be at her next stop, completely free of charge.
Having been in this business for quite a little while, the moment wasn’t lost on me. However what I know is that often, product placements are clumsy and forced. They’re usually not even remotely genuine but simply go the highest bidder. And the highest bidder wants their product in every other shot, the actual artistic content be damned.
There are three simple criteria that I like to apply to product placement:
- Are the product/brand and content aligned?
- Is the attempt genuine?
- Will it leave a positive lasting impression?
I recently called REI to purchase new snowshoes (for those who may have noticed, the Northeast has experienced a little bit of snow). I spoke to a sales guy (who’s name was also Mark) who was beyond kind with his time and more than happy to talk about the change of topic. That change of topic was taking an opportunity to get a better understanding of this policy at REI. It isn’t so much as a policy but rather a means of supporting of the brand credo. Or in other words, putting your money where your mouth is.
Mark hadn’t seen the movie “Wild” but had heard about it and then talked to me at length about the importance of supporting people of any level who wanted to experience the outdoors. He talked about the company wanting to create long time stewards of the environment and the outdoors. So whether it was boots that were too small or a tent zipper that failed or a strap that broke on a pack, they would find a way to get you a replacement in as easy and seamless a fashion as possible. In one fell swoop, Mark gave me this great degree of confidence in buying my snowshoes or anything else from REI even versus LL Bean or EMS and especially Apple. Mark, talked to me about how much they backed the products that they sold. Apple in particular is horrible at this practice. In fact Apple almost never backs its own products. None of the things you might expect to be warrantied are in fact warrantied at Apple even if you buy an extended warranty under AppleCare. Forget any third party products because if one of those goes down after 30 days, you’re on your own.
Mark gave me the number for the public relations/publicity department at “corporate” at REI (which I’m guessing is not so “corporate”) and said they could do a better job of talking about the brand mission and so forth but I didn’t feel the need to call. Sometimes the best representation is that of the folks who aren’t scripted and can just do it because of the passion they have.
Recently, a grown woman who “was” a communications director for a Tennessee senator decided that she’d take the Obama girls to task for basically being slovenly and disrespecting the office of the President of the United States during the pardoning of the turkey. Yes. The pardoning of a stupid turkey. One of the sillier presidential traditions. So let’s just keep that in context. Let’s be very clear, this is hardly the first time someone has tried to use the kids of the President as political fodder, however it has generally come from the pundits who spew vitriol for a living. That doesn’t make it any more or less okay but it’s to be expected from the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter.
Here’s what she not only had the inclination to think and then put “pen to paper” as it were and post it on Facebook. Keep in mind this is from a grown woman who’s job it is to know and advise a politician of what to say and when.
“Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect the office very much, or the nation for that matter so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make face during televised public events.”
I have two daughters.
They are both stunningly beautiful and charming and smart and athletic and in general all around wonderful. They are also different. At least in our community. You see, they are mixed race girls. Their mother is white and I am black. As such these wonderful little creatures got the best of both of us in this little package of mocha smooth skin and hair that everyone fawns over incessantly. But they live in a community that is probably about 98% white.
However as much as people in grocery stores touch their hair and compliment them on how adorable they are or how much their friends say they wish they had their hair, it didn’t matter that one day.
That one day when my eldest was all of a 2nd grader and two 5th grade boys made fun of her hair. “Your hair looks funny,” they said.
She was sad for days, always donning a headband or requesting braids. We didn’t know at first what it was that made her sad or why she so adamantly had to have her hair tamed. It took numerous exploratory conversations before what had happened finally emerged.
And it’s this that remains firmly planted in my mind when I recently read of the GOP staffer, Elizabeth Lauten’s Facebook post in which she publicly and unnecessarily derided the daughters of Barack and Michelle Obama.
Sasha and Malia had to endure yet another photo-op and happened to show their age. Dad was being, well, a dad, which is to say a dork, unassumingly embarrassing his daughters.
This past Thanksgiving weekend I had my girls and we were in New York City visiting my mom and family for the holiday weekend. My older daughter has long since sloughed off the malicious comment of those two boys. On Monday, she called me to ask what she needed to wear for the holidays. These days, she wants nothing to do with anything “girlie”. It’s all about sports and sneakers and sweats. I said she needed three nice outfits as we were attending the theater twice and a parade watching party at someone’s house. In other words, no sweats or t-shirts.
When we got to New York and she had to get dressed to go to the theater all that was in her bag were a pair of ill-fitting cargo pants and pair of way to skinny, skinny jeans. Not any of the nice clothes from Crew Cuts or Boden. None of the nice sweaters. Three pairs of Old Navy sweats, a t-shirt from a gymnastics meet, a long sleeved Patriots t-shirt and a long sleeved Bruins t-shirt. Not a collared shirt. Nothing. Nothing from the weekend of school shopping with her grandmother from earlier this fall. I was livid.
“Fine. Wear whatever you want. I don’t care,” I said tersely.
Here’s the thing, I did care. But not one other person did. No one looked at her as if she was bereft of anything or slovenly. After all she’s eleven and lithe, stunning, eloquent, charming and exceedingly polite. The host from the parade watching party, demanded hugs upon leaving. People still smiled at her. The only thing people noticed was her new braces.
I cared because of people like Elizabeth Lauten. Because of my need to “present” her as a way to protect her from the likes of the Elizabeth Lautens of the world. When in reality I should be learning from my daughters who have learned to embrace their difference, their curls, their mocha skin. Oh to have the confidence that they have. Of course in time they will have to “play the game.” And to some degree subscribe to “the code.” But for now they don’t.
And this is where I struggle with the root of Elizabeth Lauten’s comments.
They come from a place of hate. And where did this hate or level of vitriol come from? What happened?
If I didn’t know any better, I’m guessing that Elizabeth Lauten’s life is pretty cherry. I’m guessing there is little she wants for but for some reason she felt it appropriate to take 13 and 16 year old girls to task on their attitude and attire. The girls’ attitude was about as age appropriate as one might expect. The commentary on their attire was quite frankly just stupid. And let’s be honest, their dad was pardoning a friggin’ turkey.
Jamie Lee Curtis was quoted as saying, “Hurt people, hurt people.”
I suppose, deep down, Ms. Lauten is hurt or has been hurt. Nevertheless as a communications director, I would think that she would know better than to take two teenage girls to task for no good reason whatsoever other than her disdain for the President of the United States.
She remarked how she remembers those “teen years”. But does she really? Does she know how hurtful her remarks are? Does she know that 98% of women don’t find themselves attractive? It’s true. Dove created a multi-million marketing campaign around that simple realization.
What made it okay for this woman to “thoughtfully” author such a scathing critique of two young girls for really no reason whatsoever?
Of course an unintended consequence of her remarks (aside from losing her job) was that it brought out the history of how mean people have been to the daughters of various Presidents from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton to George Bush. I’m sure Chelsea Clinton is oh so pleased to be reminded that Rush Limbaugh once called her a dog and I’m sure Jenna Bush is stoked to have pics of her yawning at an event sitting behind her dad or being reminded of her youthful debaucheries.
And again, I ask, what happened?
Why did it take her parents and the Lord for her to realize the error of her ways?
If she’s so beholden to the Lord it should be embedded that her remarks are hardly emblematic of Christian values, which the GOP seems to use when it’s convenient. At the end of the day, she’s become desensitized and less thoughtful. In other words she’s become a part of a culture of vitriol. There is a quote that goes something along the lines of “people in society do as their leaders do.” As such, if our political and business leaders are spouting off with vitriolic rhetoric and in general being mean-spirited then the rest of us will so see fit.
Sasha and Malia may never even know of Ms. Lauten’s remarks but I’m certain that Michelle and Barack do. As a parent, if I knew of the remarks, I’d be pissed. As my friend Christy recently penned, “I fear for the person who breaks my daughter’s rose colored glasses.”
So again, I ask, what happened?
Just what happened that this is where we are? That a woman who clearly should know better should have such angst as to bully two teenage girls because she hates the President of the United States so much.
I credit my former colleague Will Burns, for bringing this to my attention. It’s a an op-ed by a Texas Sportscaster about Michael Ham. And it does not go where you think at all.
The mindset of this man looks nothing like the GOP base or of that of any “anonymous” NFL GMs. His remarks are similar to a lot of what’s been said over the past few days but I believe the problem is one of leadership or lack thereof. As we sit and watch Aaron Hernandez on trial for one if not more murders, laugh about Plaxico Burress who shot himself in the leg by accident, talk about not when but how many times Ben Rothlesiberger has been accused of sexual assault or Michael Vick who served time in prison for we all know what, here’s a young man who simply wants to go from the best of a college career to a pro career without having to live a lie.
His teammates embraced him wholeheartedly. His father did not. And now what was once thought to be a first or second round pick is now thought to be a third to fifth round pick. Because of his sexual orientation. He didn’t lie about an online girlfriend. He didn’t get caught with drugs. He told the truth.
So here’s what I wish: I wish a team owner would lead from the top. As I recall Paul Tagliabue had a son who was openly gay. I sat on a board with with Mr. Tagliabue and I can attest firsthand that he was as loving and proud of his son as you can imagine. Roger Goodell remains shamefully as a mime. The head of the NFL Players Association came out with strong positive words, but what I wish was that a team owner would march down to the GM’s office and meet with the head coach and tell them to get the locker room to fall in line and that if they had a problem with drafting one of the best defensive players in college football because of his sexual orientation, well then I’m sure there are plenty of others willing to take his paycheck. Of that I’m certain. And we all know (especially Pats fans) the diamonds in the rough you find in the lower draft picks. Tom Brady to name but one. To be a team that lacked the character to be adults, as an owner would make me ashamed to be an owner. As Mr. Hansen points out, if nothing else this points to the fallacies that exist in the NFL for what’s acceptable behavior. Which when you look at it is pretty disgusting.
Thank you Mr. Hansen for being a shining light in Texas, no less. Well done.
If my good friend Marty St. George, CMO of jetBlue and a man who knows a thing or two about customer service felt fit to re-post this exchange on Facebook I felt it was most definitively worthy of Twitter. This is the second post on this blog about Verizon and customer service. The first post can be seen here. In full disclosure and as not to appear biased, I did have a negative experience at Verizon but that doesn’t hold true with everyone. That experience was told here. As if there’s not a better example of how awful it is. When I posted this exchange which was the third of my attempts to upgrade to a new phone without spending an egregious amount of money especially as my phone old phone was dying one of my friends remarked that her cousin had worked for Verizon for 25 years but would not use Verizon Wireless as his cell provider.
I have an iPhone 4S bought in February 2013. It’s starting to shit the bed. On about 4 occasions this past weekend. Ya know, Thanksgiving memento occasions wanting to take pics of the girls or whatever, my phone would read 67% battery and then die.
I called Verizon Wireless today (FYI, that’s a different company than VerizonFIOS or Verizon Business don’t let the fact that the Verizon prefix means they’re the same company) and said that I was having this problem and I spoke to a person who was “the most senior up-level” person. In other words the “buck stops with you,” I said. “Yes it does.” Well great. I explained the issues and here is how the rest of the conversation went.
Me: So I’d like a new phone.
VZW: Well we can do that for you?
Me: I’d like to upgrade to a 32GB 5S.
VZW: Well that will be $749.
Me: But the advertised prices are $299.
VZW: Well you’re not eligible for an upgrade until February 1, 2015.
Me: That’s more than a year and half from now? Do you realize the pace of technology is about 6 months?
VZW: Well yes, but you signed a contract.
Me: Well contracts are rewritten every day. It’s like I was refinancing a mortgage. I’ll sign a new contract.
VZW: It’s not like that for us.
Me: What do you mean?
VZW: Well that would be like you bought a house for half price and then asked to refinance on a price that’s not the full value of the house.
Me: So wait, you sell a phone for $199 or $299 and you lose money?
VZW: Well no.
Me: But that’s what you’re saying.
VZW: No it’s not.
Me: So Verizon is in the interest of losing money to attract new customers? I’m sure your shareholders would love to hear this.
VZW: Well no. You signed a contract. I’m sorry that you don’t get it. I’m held to the same contract as you are and I’ve worked here since before it was Verizon.
Me: Are you meaning to belittle my intelligence to say that I don’t get it?
VZW: I didn’t say that you didn’t get it.
Me: Ummm.. I’m pretty sure that these calls are recorded so maybe we should play back the tape.
VZW: I’m so sorry to have said that you didn’t get it, it’s not what I meant.
Me: Well maybe you’re the one who doesn’t get it. Every Verizon employee I’ve seen has the fanciest new something. For someone who has been around as long as you I would think you’d have some sort of privilege.
VZW: Well I can borrow phones of my colleagues.
Did you know that I can go to AT&T and get a phone for $0 down.
VZW: Well yes but they amortize the cost of the phone over the course of the year.
Me: Of course they do. I GET that. I would expect nothing less. Did you also know that I can get the exact same data plan and iPhone 32GB 5S for the same amount as my as data plan with Verizon?
VZW: No sir.
Me: Did you also know that I could terminate my contract with Verizon for no more than $350 less $10/month for every month I’ve had my existing contract?
VZW: Yes sir.
Me: So at this moment you can sell me an iPhone 32GB 5S for $299 and I can continue to pay $122 a month or I can part ways tomorrow to go with AT&T and spend $117 a month with no money down and actually save $49 plus $5 a month as opposed to buying a phone from Verizon for $749 or lets just say in some mythical world with leprechauns and unicorns you sold it to me for $299. So let’s do the math together shall we? $299 + $122 x 12 vs $250 – $5/month.
VZW: But what about the service?
Me: Apparently you don’t get it. Have a good night.
AT&T set me up with their “Next” plan which I’m told Verizon has something comparable. They signed me up for a new iPhone 5S, a $50 port credit, took my old phone and gave me a credit for $200 and my bill is still less than what it was for Verizon and now I can upgrade annually. Not quite on pace with technology but as it is I like to give the technology some time to work out the kinks. So I am a very happy customer.
Today was a seminal moment in history. Not since the Civil Rights Movement has this country been forced to look so deeply within itself and discuss race.
Today, the President of the United States used the office’s daily press briefing to make a surprise appearance to discuss what no one really wants to talk about. Race. He very candidly talked about his personal experiences with being a victim of racism and that it is a shared experience.
I rarely talk about my personal experiences with racism. Why? Because it hurts. It’s a constant reminder of inequities suffered. For years.
I rarely use this forum to talk about personal experiences that may be deemed political but I thought today I could add an exclamation point to the President’s thoughtful words. So I will write explicitly about my personal experiences. The only one I will leave off the table is what my ex-wife and I experienced with her own family when we were courting and would ultimately get married. My ex-wife’s family are tremendous people with considerable intellect and faith and were able to examine their attitudes from within and actually change their mindset and their beliefs. The same people who once said “But what about the kids” are now the most doting grandparents on the planet of two lovely mixed-race little girls (perhaps next to my Mom).
Keep in mind that I grew up with all the privilege imaginable. I did not want for anything. I spent all with the exception of about 30 seconds of my academic career in prestigious private schools. I was afforded everything. Yacht clubs, tennis lessons, ski trips, you name it. Through genetic lottery I was born to an exceptional family on both sides who were trailblazers in fields such as architecture, politics, civil rights and academia. But none of that matters because I was all too often judged not by the content of my character but solely by the color of my skin.
The first moment for me where I really experienced the most explicit racism was when I was 15 years old. I spent the summers on the Cape with my Dad and grandparents. That summer I was working in Buildings & Grounds for the Cape Cod & Hyannis Railroad. It was then solely a tourist attraction. For years the Railroad had leased property from a neighboring business owner for parking. However the summer that I began working there, the government owned a closer good bit of property and sold it to the Railroad for a relative steal so long as the Railroad would take responsibility for clearing the land and creating sufficient entrance and egress. That was a part of my job, a job in which I would literally learn how to get my hands dirty.
One day, I noticed a nice Golden Retriever seeking solace from the heat underneath one of the cars parked on our property. Knowing a train was due back I tried to coax the dog out from underneath the car not wanting him to get run over. While I was lying on my stomach in the dirt trying to convince this dog to come out I hear behind me, “Hey Nigger! Get away from my dog! What are you doing, blackie?” I stood up to see a man who was clearly irate and reddened with anger. I tried to explain that I was trying to get his dog to come out because I didn’t want him to get run over when the man, still incensed took a swing at me. He missed, dragged his dog angrily by his collar and put him in his car, got in and then proceeded to try and run me over. My boss was in the B&G office not 10 yards away and called the police. The man as it turns out was the neighboring business owner who had lost the lease for parking. The police came and took my statement and asked if I wanted to file criminal charges to which being very scared I said no. Later I would be called by the district attorney’s office and asked to press civil charges. This would require me mid-school year going back to the Cape to stand before a Barnstable County Court judge and re-tell the events of that day in which I would be literally bullied by the defense attorney. A grown man, yelling at a 15 year old boy trying to get me to screw up while sitting in a witness chair. Everyone I worked with stood by my side while the man was pronounced guilty and sentenced to community service work with African American boys in the inner-city in Boston and was also requested to write a paper on what it meant to violate someone’s civil rights.
As my mother alluded to in a Facebook post, I was often followed in Bloomingdale’s by security as I wandered the store on the way to my step-father’s office who was the VP of Public Affairs.
I remember once being at my mother’s office on 9 West 57th Street when she was a corporate executive at Avon. It was across the street from Scandinavian Ski & Sports. I was getting ready for a ski trip and needed something. My mother gave me her gold Amex card and a note and phone number to call if there were any questions. I walked across the street and was immediately profiled. Keep in mind I was dressed in my school wear which was a crested blue blazer, khaki’s, dress shirt and tie and boat shoes. I chose whatever it was I needed and headed to the cashier. I handed them the credit card and note (this was a common practice among my peers). I was denied sale and sent on my way. Sheepishly I went back to my Mom’s office and told her what happened. It took her all of .02 seconds to storm across the street and give her a piece of her mind and loudly.
I recall working at Puritan Clothing on Cape Cod at the Hyannis Mall. I had to dress in dress pants or khakis, loafers, dress shirt and tie. I asked a gentleman if he needed help and was given a host of racial epithets for what I don’t know. My boss and mentor, Kerry Marchant, the man who taught me what customer service looked like let the gentleman find some items to purchase and told me to wait out of view in the tailor’s area near the register. The gentleman handed Kerry his Puritan charge card. At which point Kerry cut it in half kindly asked the gentleman to leave and that he was no longer welcome at any of the Puritan stores.
I can’t tell you how many cabs have passed me by both in NYC and Boston between the 80’s and 90’s to the point it became laughable. It was a running joke among my numerous caucasian friends who would have me hide behind a car while they hailed a cab. Funny, up to a point.
My friends unfortunately had to bear witness to even more explicit racism.
Driving down Main Street with my friend Jason in Waterville, Maine, he had the sunroof open. “NIGGER!” was shouted from an open window above. Not a pleasant experience for Jason. I was used to it.
Shortly after college I was with a whole host of my buddies. I’ve typically been the only black person in a room. In this instance we were in Woods Hole where my friend Jay was doing graduate work. His apartment neighbored a strip of buildings with various small businesses in them. It was an overcast day and being young and dumb we decided we would start drinking early while playing wiffle ball in the completely empty parking lot. The parking lot abutted a wooded area where all of my friends would “relieve” themselves. This was all fine and dandy until I did it. When we heard from behind us, “Hey blackie… Nigger! You can’t do that there!” At which point all of my friends (all Caucasian) turned and angrily approached the man. Him being fearful retreated inside and called the police. I took the time to tell all of my friends when the police arrived that I would do the talking. My friends were extraordinarily angry. I met the police and explained what we were doing and what had happened and said that my friends were just looking out for me. The police were very empathetic and explained that they told me that we needed to bring the party inside and that they would advise this gentleman that should he like to press charges against my friends and me that they would advise me to press civil rights charges against him. The matter went away.
When my ex-wife and I were dating we were walking with friends on our to some establishment near the Boston Garden. One of the friends we were with was a friend Joe who’s white and stands about 6’4”. It didn’t stop a group of white men we walked past to call me a nigger. Joe and I almost got into it with them but cooler heads prevailed thankfully to the female influence that accompanied us.
I’ve been denied opportunities for jobs, profiled, followed, told that there were no tables available. Every example the President cited, happens. All on the basis of race.
So when the President talks about shared “…experiences that don’t go away.” He’s speaks the truth.
As I author this blog post my good friend and high school classmate Dexter, posted this on Facebook.
“While I find nothing remarkable about what Obama said today (because I have lived it every day of my life), It never ceases to floor me that I’ve gotten the chance in my lifetime to see a President that looks like me, speak about something meaningful in my life from my perspective. I love this man… Ladies, you’re next (let’s hope).”
I know every one of my African American friends (both male and female) have all of their own stories. The culmination of them all if you put them all together would make me very sad. However one thing to notice about my experiences very often is that I had friends or colleagues who came to my defense, who shared in my experiences and sought to understand. I never asked them to fight my fight they simply stepped up when the time came with little regard for themselves. I am perpetually thankful for the love and support of my friends and past colleagues.
I’m personally thankful for his attempt today to start and navigate the conversation.
I implore anyone and everyone to read a book called “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude Steele. It offers incredible (and scientific) insight into the phenomenon and perceptions of how we as humans address difference be that with race, gender or sexuality and how we might correct our feelings and behavior.
When I was in college my senior year I took a class called Female Experience in America. It was taught by one of those professors who leave an indelible stamp on your life. Her name was Phyliss Mannochi.
This was a class which at the time was 12 men and 24 women. We were clearly outnumbered. But the stamp that the class would leave on us all in large part I would argue made us in part the people who we are today.
In this class we were charged with selecting six social ills which plagued our society at the time. We began this process by writing down all the social ills we could think of on a blackboard. We came up with about 150. We narrowed it down to things like “Prostitution in Rural America”, “Date Rape on College Campuses”, “Interracial Relationships” (not a social ill but how people treated couples/families certainly was, and notably “How Women were Portrayed in Disney Films”. We would then create 10-15 minute narratives/documentaries about the issues. Everyone in the class was divided into groups to represent whatever issue we felt most passionate about.
This class exposed every fiber of our beings. I had never been so exposed and personal with classmates and I’m lifelong friends with people from that class as a result. It was powerful stuff for people who were barely young adults but probably the most necessary class before setting us out into the cruel world far away from the sacrosanct Mayflower Hill.
My fellow classmates and I poured everything into this class. At one point a student went to another professor for another class to ask for an extension on a paper. As she explained her case she said “It’s just this Female Experence…” The male professor granted her extension presuming she meant something completely different.
But it was amazing. Students truly poured their heart and souls into these labors of love. They conducted interviews with real people. They became “60 Minutes” correspondents and every student was changed as a result.
The class would culminate in a showing of the documentaries over a couple of nights to whomever could fit in the largest auditorium at the time. The documentaries were all excellent and heart wrenching. If Kleenex were smart they’d sponsor the class. The investment would pay off in two nights.
There is one documentary that stuck out in my mind. And it’s the “Women as Portrayed in Disney Films.” One of the members of the group happens to be my best friend who’s now a legit producer in Hollywood. Apparently he learned something. In any event, because we went to such a prestigious institution the fact that someone was a degree, maybe two of separation from Michael Eisner probably shouldn’t be surprising. But leave it to these guys to get a phone interview with the guy. At the time he ran that little institution known as Disney.
Now obviously if you look at the history of Disney animated films, the protagonist women are statistically presented as…
… and always win the Prince in the end.
The villainess was generally…
… and always lost.
So they got Michael Eisner on the phone and he said this, “I don’t believe I see the role of women changing in Disney Films.” Heartbreaking. Keep in mind, Brandi Chastain hadn’t happened yet.
Here’s the thing… I think Eisner was flat out wrong. As wrong as he was about challenging Jonny Depp as to how Jonny wanted to play his character in Pirates of the Caribbean.
I think this because of a film I watched with my kids the other day which was actually a precursor to so many other films. This film is “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”. It starred Angela Lansbury. She played a witch. Or a witch in training. It’s a wonderful film and I highly recommend it. What I realized about this film is that this was Walt’s vision. Consider the scene “Portobello Road”. It’s a scene in which diversity is on parade. Then that got me to think about the protagonist of the film. Angela Lansbury was attractive but single and decidedly middle aged. But she helped turn the war (not factual obviously) but in our hearts. She was the strength of the film.
And it got me to think of Mary Poppins. The character in and of herself in the film but the mother who led the women’s suffrage movement which made me think about the scene at the bank which wasn’t just about the son having a bank account, but the daughter as well.
I think Walt had a lot more in mind for our world. And it was lovely and inclusive of all.
A good friend of mine recently posted this to his Facebook page along with a video of one Apple’s most recent ads which aired during the NHL playoffs.
“I like using my various Mac products, but sorry Apple, it is not a transcendent spiritual experience.”
I couldn’t have asked for a better entry to this post if I tried.
This post will be about why I think Apple’s most recent advertising effort might actually do the exact opposite of what it’s intended to do.
I have two sets of people I talk to about the business I’m in. I have the people in my business and then I have the people whom are not.
The people in my business and myself can wax poetic all day and play devil’s advocate to one another and nudge and tweak and cajole each other into a frenzy.
The people not in my business which is most of my friends in general have uninformed opinions about marketing which are usually far more complicated than they need to be. And they chalk their opinions up to this simple little statement with a laugh… “Well I guess I’m not the target audience, right Bolesy?”
Little do they know that the dirty little secret about marketing (as a whole) is that it’s not rocket science but they’re convinced there is a little black box and that’s how we came up with whatever idea it was to try to sell you something.
Don’t tell but here’s the truth… The best marketers I’ve ever known are broadly smart, tremendous observers of culture and highly intuitive. They usually start out with a hypothesis and set out to prove they’re right. The really good marketers sell it before they know they’re actually right.
Lately I’ve had the peanut gallery asking me about Apple’s latest round of advertising and they’re complaining that it’s “nice and all” but it’s not really “cool” or “fun”.
This is where my professor hat goes on. Or my dunce hat. That’s up for you to decide.
So here’s my explanation for Apple’s most recent efforts.
Probably the greatest percentage of my friends are in the financial services business. This is an important fact as it relates to target audience.
Apple’s advertising over the course of the past few years has been focused on “stuff”. Specifically new colorful Shuffles, Macs versus PCs, iPads, iPad minis, iPhones and so forth. Ads like this get to be really fun because they have to “cut through the clutter” and have to motivate you to buy something. It has to differentiate the product from the mainstream and really show why Apple’s products are inherently better. And it has to live up to the essence of the brand.
The essence of a brand is a singular thing that the brand basically lives by. Not all brands by the way have an “essence”.
I would argue that Apple has an essence. Samsung does not. This is an important point as it relates directly to innovation.
Apple has done an exceptional job at this over the past several years. At one point Apple held the dubious distinction of having some 60% of their revenue being driven by products that didn’t exist within three years prior. As in like they weren’t even categories yet. Drink this in… because it’s an astounding fact and it went against a down economy. Apple got people to buy things that people didn’t even really need, nor could they necessarily afford.
But then something happened. Well, a series of things happened.
1) The rest of the market caught up.
2) The rest of the market took what was good and arguably made things better.
3) Apple got caught a little bit behind.
4) Apple’s manufacturing practices were called into question.
5) The same thing that was a thorn in Microsoft’s side (Mac vs PC) became a thorn in Apple’s side (Samsung Galaxy vs iPhone)
6) Investors/Shareholders doubting Apple’s ability to be able to continue to innovate especially with the absence of Steve Jobs.
Part of this is where we get into the VHS vs BetaMax debate.
For those unaware of this it’s simple: To license or not to license
Way back when, Betamax by Sony was the better technology for watching movies. Sony however refused to license the technology. Along came the Victor Company of Japan which created the Video Home System (VHS). They in turn licensed the technology to any and every electronics company around. It was a hell of a lot cheaper and comparably good enough. This was a seminal moment. It changed the film industry (especially the porn industry), electronics, technology and created categories such as video rental stores. Hello Blockbuster.
So here we are again in this epic battle of open (Google Droid) versus closed (Apple).
Now I can go into much greater detail about all of this but conceptually you just have to get it. At some point I have to get back to the point of this blog post. And that is why Apple’s most recent advertising effort is just, well, meh. And why that’s not really a good thing.
For my friend’s in the financial services business, you ARE the target audience. The most recent ads are what we in our business call “shareholder” ads. They are “brand” ads. They belong on Sunday morning shows or golf or 60 Minutes. They are not product ads. They don’t have the luxury of being overly hip, or fun, or cool. They need to inspire investor confidence that the company understands who they are as a company and that they are more than foundationally competent to repeat the performance that enabled them to be one the cash richest companies on the planet and as such investor darlings. Some of these ads are brilliant, inspiring and make you feel good. Unfortunately the best of the bunch see far less airtime and rest on hopes of the sharing of a meme that makes you feel good about the iPhone you might have just bought.
Who remember’s the key thing that English teachers told you about creative writing? What did they say over and over? Show don’t tell.
That is what made Apple. The proof was always in the pudding. ALWAYS. Their ads in turn showed the pudding. Unfortunately their most recent ads tell and don’t show. And this goes against Apple’s brand essence. This is an important point.
And now everyone else is showing and not telling. And doing it well I might add. Note this campaign which is really pretty clever.
People question how much more Apple can innovate in the near term given that we’d be hard pressed to better improve upon the hardware and now so much is dedicated to software/app development. What the Samsung’s of the market have proven is that they can satisfactorily match the hardware experience and what Google is setting out to prove is that it can better the technology experience by allowing innovation to live in the open.
So the overwhelming question is that given hardware has essentially become an equal playing field, has Apple lost its mojo?
Open or closed?
I always wonder about writing from anger. In general it’s not a good place to write from. Writing from anger means that you’re taking a hard line stance. Stating a very fervent opinion. Often this is polarizing.
But are there times when it’s good and healthy. And then perhaps there are times when it’s necessary.
This isn’t necessarily how I wanted to begin to revisit my blog but alas it’s a blog that as stated is about culture and what I’m noticing about culture these days is pretty reprehensible.
Here is what I wonder… Is it possible that there has been such a confluence of events in which we as a nation have thought we’ve progressed so much but in actuality we’ve regressed to Pre-Civil Rights era times?
Over the past several weeks I’ve noticed a degree of frighteningly and racially charged statements and commentary from a myriad of sources.
There was the backlash about the comments from a dated interview with the Abercrombie Fitch CEO about body image. The blogger who largely exposed that story neglected to mention that A&F several years before settled a class action suit for $50M in which they admitted to designating minorities to back-room positions. Should the CEO’s comments about body image have been a surprise?
There was the viral undercover video from ABC’s show “What Would You Do?” of three individuals each filmed while trying “steal” a bike. There was a young white male, then a young African-American male (both dressed similarly) and lastly a young attractive blonde woman. No one contested the young white male even when he admitted he was stealing the bike. Almost everyone contested the young black male and one called the police with one going so far as to take his “tools”. With the attractive young white woman… people offered to help cut the bike free. Profiling much?
Then there was Sergio with his comment about serving Tiger Woods fried chicken for dinner.
And most recently there’s Paula Deen.
I’m sure you’ve heard about her most recent deposition statements stemming from a lawsuit in which she admittedly uses the N-word freely and makes racist and anti-semitic jokes and hatched a plan to host a dinner in which they would be served by African-Americans dressed as slaves. And then today Paula who agreed to an interview with Matt Lauer on the TODAY Show failed to show. Perhaps someone informed Paula, that the slaves were freed December 18, 1865. At least on paper.
And what I don’t understand even further is the support for Paula Deen on the Food Network’s Facebook page which may in fact be a minority of people but a loud bunch. Kudos to The Food Network for not renewing Deen’s contract.
But then again I don’t understand the support for Sergio Garcia either.
For both Deen and Garcia these are comments which apparently so easily were/are at the forefront of their minds and so easily roll off their respective tongues.
Apologies seem to be a means not saving their own personal grace or to be truly sincere towards those they might have hurt for that matter but really a means to save their bank accounts.
So what was the confluence of events that has led to what is a seemingly festering culture of racism?
And what is it that suddenly enables certain people to have a level of comfort with feelings that are clearly so divisive? My guess is that it was the election of the President of the United States of America and partisan politics.
On the one hand the election of the first African-American President in our nation’s short history in theory symbolized how far we had come from when men were unleashing dogs and fire hoses on innocent human beings. Which at least one person understands that in geologic time frames was basically like yesterday.
But on the other hand is it possible that one moment in time brought forth feelings that had been simmering beneath the surface for those who simply haven’t made it past race and culture.
Is it possible that one moment during a State of the Union address where Rep Joe Wilson felt comfortable enough to disrespect not only the President but the very office of the President indicative of what certain people really feel about race and culture? And is it possible that as partisan politics continues to rage and common decency, respect and discourse seems to elude us do people’s true colors begin to show? Has the perception of acceptable behavior at the highest level given people permission to air their feelings no matter how hurtful or disrespectful?
There is a quote that a friend of mine once shared with me and I’ll do my best to paraphrase it but it essentially says that so as our leaders do, we are then comfortable to do.
In other words perhaps partisan politics cuts deeper than we think to reveal ugly ugly truths.
A friend and colleague recently posted the Nike spot titled Courage to his Pinterest page. It got me to thinking about Nike and the art of the montage spot.
Nike and advertising are basically synonymous.
Advertising and montages can be considered synonymous too.
However, good advertising montages are another story. They are typically an anthem spot with a familiar celebrity’s voiceover trying to talk about how whatever company is so valuable or how valuable you are to whatever company.
The reality is most of these spots suck.
Unless you’re Nike. And then you get guys like me paying homage to W+K and Nike for their omnipresent greatness and ability to so consistently create great montage spots that deliver on the brand promise and make me want to “Just Do It.”
With that, I deliver my top six favorite Nike montage spots.
For anyone who has played competitive sports, you know everything about this moment.
This is for the new Nike Fuel band. I’ll be taking the stairs from now on, thanks.
This just might make you believe that there’s an athlete in all of us.
My better is better than your better. Yes, Ladainian that would be correct. One commercial would vault Saul Williams into the public spotlight and end up being a favorite workout song on everyone’s iPods.
This spot gives me goosebumps every single time. Without fail. It speaks to the elegance of sport and I love it.
I laughed but then thought, wait, “Isn’t it supposed to be, jinx buy me a Coke?”
Is this an uh oh, moment for Coca-Cola? Is there a cultural shift going on right now among my children’s generation where generally middle class parents are less likely to feed their children fast food, soda and sugary fruit drinks. Where we actively buy things that at the very least don’t have high-fructose corn syrup or are organic.
The mere fact that the Corn Refiners Association has a commercial campaign attempting to legitimize high-fructose corn syrup with the line “sugar is sugar” should be telling enough.
Perhaps even more frightening for Coke is when your name starts to slip from the lexicon of an innocent multi-generational game played among kids.
In any sort of filmed medium there’s this thing known as “continuity.” This is when for example you see a scene with a glass of water that is half full. Pan away and pan back and the glass is full. Or there’s a painting on a wall in one shot and it’s not there in another.
This means that scenes were edited from different takes and no one paid attention.
For film buffs, it’s well known that Spielberg could give a rat’s ass about continuity. He argues that if you notice whether or not a glass is full or empty means he’s done a lousy job making a film.
I would argue that in this way Steve Jobs shared this trait with Steven Spielberg although he may not have known it.
Take the iPad for example. When it came out people complained (mostly techies) about it not having Flash. I think Steve Jobs knew that it didn’t inherently matter. Once a user has the device in their hands the overall experience trumps minor flaws.
It’s not to say that we shouldn’t fix mistakes if we can but perhaps not being afraid of a minor flaw in deference to the overall user experience is more important.
Food for thought?
I settle on The Daily Show despite the fact that I was fairly certain that it might depress me. Anything to do with “news” these days seems to be inherently depressing. Even making fun of the news.
Well wouldn’t you know it but The Daily Show would deliver.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Jon Stewart and all he does to expose the buffoonery that our news media outlets have become and for calling them to the carpet on this little gem.
“TOEMAGEDDON 2011: This Little Piggy Went to Hell” is what this would be dubbed.
The creative director for J. Crew, Jenna Lyons is pictured in an ad with her five year old son, Beckett. The moment seems candid and sweet as the two look lovingly at one another nose to nose. Nothing like a little childhood innocence right? Oh and in the ad, he has his toenails painted pink.
Well that is to say until it hits the media airwaves and turns into this statement of a woman trying confuse her son’s gender identity.
Seriously? WTF is wrong with us?
I have two daughters. They play outside. They get dirty. They dress like princesses. They paint their toenails and fingernails. They also have been known to paint Daddy’s.
Wait. Stop the presses. Get GMA, CNN, the Today Show and FOX news parked outside of my house. OMG, he lets his daughters paint his toes. Oh the humanity. They’ll forever be confused about gender roles because I let them paint my toes and even wore the nail polish out in public. WITH FLIP FLOPS.
Oh dear God. Wait. Now I’m confused. I’m not sure whether to stand or sit to take a leak.
I’ve been working on this post for quite some time. It’s purely conceptual in nature and I’m unsure of where it will go or even what it means to a degree. It’s just something that’s been mulling around in my brain for a while and I’m trying to figure out if it’s valid or valuable or if I should just move on.
My wife who is my de facto editor for most of my posts said that while she liked the general gist of this post that it seemed pompous. Great, so I’m an asshole. Well hopefully you won’t see this post as pompous but reflect on yourselves and what makes you… well you. Hopefully, you’re not an asshole.
“Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences.”
So where does culture fit into the mix of your DNA? Is there such a thing as cultural DNA? If you google cultural DNA there are several views of what it might be. There doesn’t seem to be any real consensus and it’s a term that seems to be applied to a myriad of things from corporate culture to the content of one’s character and more. I’d like to apply this term to people as individuals and how you’re “defined” as it relates to marketing, advertising, brand choice and purchasing decisions.
In the marketing universe typically we bucket consumers. And we bucket them as simply as possible to ensure that we reach the greatest number of people. Age, Gender, Race, Geography, Household Income. Occasionally we’ll create custom segmentations and create fancy names for those segmentations and it’s all very clever and smart. We’ll do focus groups and ethnographies in the interest of getting to know “you”.
But what really makes you… you?
I like to think of consumers as a little bit more complex.
If you think about it everyone has what I’d like to think of as cultural DNA. It’s the what makes you… you.
I’ll use myself as an example.
I myself would say that I’m defined by at least 20 different cultures/sub-cultures/communities built up throughout my exposure to a variety of people and experiences throughout my life. This would include, Black culture specifically as it relates to the Civil Rights movement, Beat Generation writers, 60s drug culture, 80s preppy culture, 80s punk culture, early action sports culture, traditional sports culture, feminist culture, Italian-American culture, gay culture, Higher Ed Academia, NYC prep-school culture (yes it’s a culture) and so on. Then you throw in things like birth order and family legacy and things get even more complicated.
Put another way one way you could define a part of me is by my design sensibilities. I would say that I’m more “Dwell” then “Architectural Digest”. If I were to try and understand why I would guess that it was most closely related to my grandfather who was an architect who studied under Mies Van Der Rohe. Thus it’s very likely that my grandfathers design esthetic influenced my design sensibilities and in turn to this day influences purchase decisions related to various brands I migrate to.
Now what happens when you take the complexity I’ve discussed and two interesting people end up bearing children, their kids end up amassing the cultural DNA from both of their parents in addition to the cultural DNA they continually amass from external sources and sub-cultures.
And thus even more interesting and complex people are hatched.
So I guess the question is how do we take this and make it useful. Help.
This is an extraordinarily complex post. There are two fundamental themes. The first is the notion of the changing means of how content is consumed. The second theme is that the notion of consolidation or “whole” really needs to give way to the notion of “fragmentation”.
HOW WE USED TO RELATE TO CONTENT
Once upon a time we had three major networks. We came home from work. We watched the evening news. We ate dinner. Then we watched our shows. I literally grew up with M*A*S*H. MASH ran for 11 seasons beginning in 1972. So from about age 5 to about age 13 I would sit with my mom and step-father and watch MASH every week. I honestly cried during the last show.
Other shows I grew up with were “Different Strokes” (8 seasons), “Facts of Life” (9 seasons), “Dukes of Hazzard” (7 seasons), “Fall Guy” (5 seasons), “Magnum PI” (8 seasons) and of course “The Cosby Show” (8 seasons).
Hopefully, you’re starting to see a pattern. We used to “live” with TV shows. They were constants in our lives from season to season. We had relationships with these shows. Whether it was “St. Elsewhere” or “Hill Street Blues” we had prolonged relationships with shows and networks.
For the longest time every network followed a prescribed schedule. Then along came cable where repeats found new life and new audiences (or the same old ones). Then came FOX that started airing new shows when nobody else was. Then the Internet gradually began to turn things on its ear. Yet for some reason in the world of media planning and buying we still have a TV upfront.
I’ve known for quite some time that that the nature of TV shows and the way we watch them has been changing. I believe this to be a geologic change though. One in which we don’t necessarily see it happening. We make minor adaptations but there has yet to be a seismic shift.
That however I believe is coming. I’m not sure what it looks like. I’m not sure exactly when it will happen. Five years? Ten years? That’s where perhaps you can all lend a voice to predict or pontificate.
I believe that we are on the cusp of something and we need a much deeper understanding of people’s relationship with content.
What do we watch on which screen and why? Where does each “screen” fall as it relates to the trade-off of fidelity versus convenience? What is content we share versus content we commiserate about versus content we talk about at the water cooler?
We used to watch shows on a specific night. Now we may DVR a show and watch it on a different night. We may wait altogether and watch a whole season in weeks courtesy of Netflix. We may watch a show one week with friends and the next week online and the third week via a smartphone waiting at an airport.
Nevertheless, networks continue to present shows the same way all the time.
HOW CONTENT IS CHANGING
About a year ago, I watched Ken Block’s second iteration of Gymkhana.
No this isn’t Kurt Thomas’ attempt to extend his 15 minutes of fame and woeful acting skills on the heels of his early ‘80s film Gymkata. I’m talking about the founder of DC Shoes and his foray into the world of rally racing, stunt driving and the next generation of drifting.
Ken Block is a phenomenally intuitive marketer. Certainly as evidenced by his savvy in building DC Shoes into arguably one of the strongest action sports brands ever. Perhaps second only to Burton. Maybe it’s that no one felt comfortable to tell him the rules. Or he wasn’t listening anyway. Whatever it is, he knows right when he sees it.
Gymkhana 1 was originally posted about three years ago and between various posters of the video, it garnered over nine million views. Not too shabby. No doubt it was professionally shot at every level and Ken Block has money to throw at these things. Although, I’m pretty sure he’s mastered the art of OPM.
But then he came out with Gymkhana 2 (22m views). And Gymkhana 3 (25m views).
Nevertheless, while most create :60 spots and hope they’ll find viral traction on Youtube, Ken Block did it on purpose! And I know lots of people will say, “come on, we did that.” Tampax, Dove, Cadillac. Blah Blah Blah. I don’t think anyone has done it as well AND on purpose as Ken Block.
In Gymkhana 2, the video is 7 minutes and 32 seconds. They even call it an infomercial. At the beginning of the video note the following:
How many people are choosing to watch your spots?
Now let’s just take YouTube and content as a whole. Consider this from the ADWEEK article by Brian Morrissey about “YouTube’s Stars”.
“The dirty secret of cable TV is audience numbers are often pitifully small, with many programs drawing under 100,000 viewers. That’s not the case for a select group of YouTube creators… The numbers they draw can be staggering. Comic actor Shane Dawson averages nearly 1.5 million views per day, according to video analytics service TubeMogul, and has racked up 670 million views of his videos over two and a half years. The typical YouTube star will average 250,000 views per video. ‘On any given night or day or two, the top 10 YouTubers will have more views than any cable channel,’ says Walter Sabo, a former ABC radio executive who started an Internet talent agency three years ago called HitViews.”
iJustine pictured to the left has more than 1m subscribers. DC Shoes… 79k subscribers.
Take that Ken Block.
“Tremor Media, the largest independent network, reached a deal last week to acquire Scanscout, one of its smaller competitors, in a bold attempt to consolidate the market, and create a scaled competitor to Hulu and YouTube. Separately, Undertone Networks is expected to announce a deal Monday to buy Jambo Media, a video syndication and ad platform. Two weeks ago, Specific Media snapped up BBE, one of the first pure-play video networks in the market… TV advertisers are the ones moving most aggressively into web video, looking to achieve similar goals through it. ‘I think that has been one thing that has been missing for advertisers is the ability to deliver mass reach,’ said Chris Allen, VP-video innovations at Starcom USA. ‘A lot of our clients are married to the reach metric, and TV delivers reach as fast as possible. The only way to achieve that reach online is through a network.’”
Is the :60 spot going away? No.
Does broadcast deserve its dominance and to make all the money? Most definitely not. Arguably, they are the least removed from purchase behavior. Wouldn’t it make sense that I’d be more likely if I was online to then stay online to purchase something as opposed to going from one screen to another to do so?
Are “reach and frequency” dated analytics? Do they truly get at how we consume media and connect to purchase behavior?
Once upon a time people laughed at cable as a network contender. ESPN, 24 hour sports. It’ll never work. FOX could never take on the Big 3. 24 hour news? Don’t be silly. 24 hour weather? Please!
Is Comcast/NBC really that big of deal? Not really in my opinion.
Fragmentation is the world of today. Whole is the world of yesterday.
No matter how big Comcast/NBC make themselves, the reality is that when it comes to content, they are hardly the only game in town.
McCracken, Grant “Chief Culture Officer: How to Curate a Living Breathing Corporation”, 2010
Maney, Kevin “Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On and Others Don’t” 2009