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Out of Scope: Issue 05
This week’s non-required thinking on reputation, business, and culture, ft. Grammarly, Higher Ground Productions, Dr. Seuss, and Suitsupply.
This week, we look at the messy collision of artificial intelligence and grammar, consider the role of America’s Content-Creators-in-Chief, weigh in on the cancellation (or self-cancellation?) of Dr. Seuss, point out the one best indicator of Andrew Cuomo’s collapsing reputation, and take a moment of gratitude for Clippy.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Johnson, The Economist’s curmudgeonly language correspondent, takes a look at Grammarly, and comes away with a newfound appreciation for one way in which only humans can communicate, by understanding grammar so mangled it would defeat any AI.
Getting the world vaccinated is challenging enough without the swirling doubts and questions about how vaccines work. The Ad Council has just released a new PSA campaign encouraging audiences to embrace the sense of hesitancy and ask their big questions. It’s an interesting new approach to communicating a public health mandate, but one that allows people to feel confident in their choice to get vaccinated.
You thought the constant live notifications on Instagram were fun - here comes their newest feature: Rooms!
This week in brands showing up in unexpected spaces, Square becoming a leader in music streaming.
“Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind maker-upper to make up his mind” is not just Dr. Suess’s famous quip about the difficulties of adulthood, but a peek into the mental state of America’s ruling class, which has selected a few illustrations in decades-old children’s books as the new puck in the culture war. Communicators take note, no political authority is allowed to opt out of weighing in on any cultural issue, no matter how small or large. To quote Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle and Gertrude McFuzz on the mood of the moment: “I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”
Alcohol marketers are taking a new approach to the vacation state of mind - literally paying for vacations. While we might associate a Corona (pre-COVID) with clear blue waters and the back of a beach chair, brands are working hard to maintain this image by paying for their customers to take some real PTO. Why now? Probably because Americans left 768 million days of paid time off unused in 2018 (and likely even less in 2020 now that “vacation” tends to mean “other side of the living room.”)
Twitter and the media world were aflutter with hot takes on Suitsupply’s raunchy, “orgy-themed” ads this week, leaving many wondering if this is “the new normal” for ad campaigns. We were taken aback until doing a bit more research. Turns out this is a typical campaign for Suitsupply, who got coverage for similar ads in 2014, 2016, and 2018. If we are either captivated or grossed out, it says more about our collective mental state after a year of lockdowns than it does about the ad makers.
🏆 REPUTATION FAIL OF THE WEEK: NY Governor Andrew Cuomo
For a man who released a book about leadership lessons from the pandemic just a few months into said pandemic, you’d think the one-year anniversary of COVID’s arrival in NY might be a high point of sorts. But instead, Governor Cuomo is hitting a new low, with several women from his administration stepping forward to say they’ve experienced sexual harassment. As fans and self-declared “Cuomosexuals” contend with the news and other stories of his leadership style, along with more news about the concealment of Coronavirus deaths in New York nursing homes, it is a full-blown crisis for the governor.
Just a few months ago, his appearances on his brother’s primetime CNN show dazzled audiences with brotherly antics and lighthearted fun amidst tragedy. Both Cuomos were riding the wave of popularity, but now that Andrew Cuomo is in the hot seat, Chris Cuomo has reinstated his ban on covering his own brother.
The surest sign for us that he’s down in popularity? The Strand, New York City’s status bookstore and intellectual watering hole, has moved his book from “Notable Nonfiction” to “New York History.”
For now, Cuomo is holding firm in his position even with a halfhearted apology. If power is perception, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes.
🤯 WHO APPROVED THIS?!
With some insane visual branding for the year of our lord 2021, Disney unveiled a programmatic platform at its first ad-tech showcase this week. While there’s certainly a nuanced take to be had on what this means for the future of streaming and advertising, we’re sitting here contemplating the fact that the name “DRAX” came out of the great Disney branding factory, and with some seriously dated imagery to boot. We’re getting bouncing DVD logo vibes when this new platform launch probably should be projecting forward-looking thinking. While the shortened version of “Disney’s Real-Time Ad Exchange” might be referring to the Marvel character Drax the Destroyer, is that name really what they wanted to hang their hat on?
💡ON OUR MINDS
Only Amazon could change media consumption with a single marketing campaign:
Originally, the retail giant’s entry into original content had one objective: convert more Amazon Prime subscriptions. Mrs. Maisel, Fleabag, and Sneaky Pete were, at the end of the day, just assets in a campaign to keep users on the site and pay for a Prime membership.
With Amazon on the verge of securing exclusive rights to entertainment’s biggest prize, live NFL games, the dwindling relevance of linear cable is no longer an ‘if’, but rather a ‘when’.
Time and time again, live sports have been a bellwether for media consumption habits. ESPN made cable a household staple in the late twentieth century.
If the NFL ultimately makes the leap onto Amazon’s platform, it will be a sign that streaming is where our collective attention has settled (beyond millennials and younger demographics).
The Obama content powerhouse is hitting its stride: what does it all mean?
Higher Ground Productions, the Obamas’ production company, emerged in 2018 as they signed a major deal with Netflix aimed at “telling stories that embody the values the Obamas have championed throughout their lives” - since then, they’ve released several documentaries and announced another deal with Spotify. In the past few weeks, a spat of new shows have been announced, from Michelle Obama’s “Waffles and Mochi” puppet cooking show for kids to Barack’s podcast with Bruce Springsteen.
Central to their content is a very Obama-era virtue: Optimism. Coming off of his recent Jeep commercial about bringing America back together again, The Boss joins Obama to talk about their “enduring love of America - despite all its challenges.”
In a recent New Yorker piece, Lauren Michele Jackson asks, “I dare you to name something more archetypally boomer than these two cherished idols—the Boss and the Chief—dubbing themselves rebellious in a Spotify-exclusive podcast, sponsored by Comcast and Dollar Shave Club.” So is it posturing? Is it a stake in the ground for what makes America exceptional? Or is it something else?
The Obamas seem intent on moving us all onward after four years of division. Their shows are not always light (pro tip: neither “Renegades” nor “The Michelle Obama Podcast” are bedtime story material; we recommend listening while on a nice walk or drive), but the aftereffect of hope seems more important than the content itself.
The big question: Can we really brush aside the last four years in favor of a cozy warm feeling? Or, to quote Sarah Palin, “How’s that hopey changey stuff going for ya?”
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print: