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Out of Scope Issue 22: Fallout Frenzy
This week’s non-required thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we’re welcoming the new month with comms from Four Loko, ranked choice voting, Venmo, and the NSA.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Perhaps the new tell-tale sign of a brand with staying power is whether it can survive the executive exposé. We’ve talked about pieces on female founders with corporate culture challenges before (see: Away), but the latest in this trend comes from the millennial-targeted brand, Great Jones Cookware. Despite an incident where all of their employees quit over a fallout between the two founders, the brand itself continues to thrive.
Black creators on TikTok are protesting what they see as appropriation of their creativity, particularly by whites (e.g. Social media personality Addison Rae gave no credit to the creators with much smaller followings who developed the TikTok dances that she performed on Jimmy Fallon). Their virtual protests also shed light on the overall greater issue in the creator economy: as it gets harder and harder to trace the original source of viral content, will platforms be forced to step in to help?
This week, Venmo offered to help with rent for a few lucky users who retweeted the post and tag their roommates. As BuzzFeed News’ Katie Notopoulos writes, it trends more toward an affront to consumer privacy than good ole’ positive buzz.
IBM is studying “unwanted bias” in targeted advertising, checking whether marketing algorithms over-indexed for a specific group or demographic or missed out on certain audiences with performance optimization AI.
Bad mask communications continue! Although the CDC has stated that people who are vaccinated don’t need to wear masks in most scenarios, the WHO urges vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to continue wearing masks to minimize the spread of the Delta variant.
Axios reports that media publications that have typically relied on partisan storytelling to attract eyeballs are experiencing a hit to their readership numbers. Is this an indication that people are turning to other mediums to consume personality-driven news or a proof point that divisiveness drives the clicks?
Money can’t buy you happiness, but maybe it can buy you a better reputation? Times reports that the e-cigarette brand Juul has to pay a cool $40 million dollars in their settlement with the state of North Carolina after being accused of targeting underage teenagers in their marketing. Critics say that this settlement gives Juul the facade of accountability without forcing the brand to rethink its tactics in a meaningful way. If you ask us, whether Juul can successfully pull off a rebrand will come down to whether they can convince the public (and lawmakers) that their effort is authentic — no easy task for a brand with a history of bad behavior.
Prepare your thought leadership ideas — publications are launching expanded coverage of the next hot (though not totally new) topic: The Future Of Work.
While this might not get any dogs buying, their owners might just fall for these dog-eye-level billboards.
The NSA has decided that the Fox news machine is too powerful for Tucker Carlson’s conspiracy theories to slide, issuing a rare statement on social media.
People have been saying it for years, but Twitter fallout can have devastating real-life ramifications. Trans writer Isabel Fall wrote a Hugo-nominated sci-fi short story titled “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,” and just 15 days later checked herself into a psychiatric facility and decided to stop transitioning after readers took to Twitter with vitriol assuming that it was a front for right-wing, anti-trans reactionaries.
C-SPAN's 2021 Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership results are here - and President Trump has not fared well in the rankings. Historians rated previous presidents on public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision/setting an agenda, pursuit of equal justice for all, and performance within the context of the times.
Four Loko, the brand originally known for helping us forget things, has pulled a 180 and created an ad campaign we will never forget, using the bizarre tropes and tone of social media to sell a public health message and product: STD kits for post-pandemic life.
It’s officially July, and June’s Pride Month marketing is being swiftly rolled back. Social media users have taken to the platforms to point out the speed of rainbow reversals, some calling for brands to recognize that the LGBTQ+ audience is worth targeting year-round.
🏆 REPUTATION FAIL OF THE WEEK: A Role Reversal for Teneo
Who leads crisis comms when the leader *is* the crisis? Teneo, a firm that specializes in crisis communications for some of the most powerful executives, had to put out their own fire when its CEO, Declan Kelly, was accused of drunken misconduct at a charity event hosted by Global Citizen in May.
The Financial Times broke the story last week, which describes the incident and initial responses from Global Citizen and Kelly. Global Citizen stated that they removed Kelly from the board the day after the event, and a spokesperson for Kelly shared that he has apologized to the individuals involved, taken temporary leave from Teneo, and entered ongoing health counseling as he commits to sobriety.
But Teneo nonetheless faced quick backlash after the FT published the article. In the week since, GM — one of their biggest new clients — announced they were parting ways with the firm, and Kelly has officially resigned.
While Team HL doesn’t have insight into the exact inner workings behind this particular crisis comms strategy, we can point to a couple of key learnings:
Teneo did all the right things on paper to minimize the firm’s reputational damage — they reached out to clients directly, held all-staff meetings to discuss the accusations, and released statements from both Kelly and the board. These statements acknowledged the incident and redirected the conversation toward Teneo’s continued ability to deliver value for clients.
But...given the high-profile nature of their clients (and major price tag associated with their services), if you’re going to talk the talk, you also need to walk the walk. Under Kelly’s leadership, Teneo positioned itself as the leading expert on how big corporations can be more socially responsible. This incident directly undermined the value that Teneo communicates to clients. And in an era where more and more consumers are holding brands accountable to social issues, vague corporate statements aren’t going to cut it.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
Ranked Choice Voting
New York rolled out a new election methodology for its primary elections last week — supporters say ranked choice voting makes for a more civil and democratic election by giving voters even more say (and encouraging candidates to avoid bashing their competitors), while critics complain that it can reduce voter turnout by causing confusion.
NYC voters actually signed up for this - in a 2019 ballot measure, 73.5% of New York City voters voted yes for ranked-choice voting.
To its credit, New York City rolled out comms galore to its electorate, from mailers to social media campaigns to signage in polling locations.
Due to the complexity of the counting process, results will remain undetermined for several weeks following the election to allow for absentee ballots - but even more turmoil came in with the news that the preliminary results accidentally included 135,000 test ballots.
The Board of Elections quickly issued a statement… though its social media tactic felt a bit out of place.
Will this first run result in a wider rollout of ranked choice voting nationwide or a flop? A WSJ op-ed called for a repeal of the measure, but with results still weeks away, only time - and communications - will tell.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
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