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Out of Scope Issue 30: Comirnity, Kony 2012, and Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew
This week’s nonrequired thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we’re back with more ill-advised marketing decisions, thoughts on “bloodvertising,” and your usual dose of Covid-related comms news.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Delta Air Lines is working hard to both encourage employee vaccination and to emphasize their distinction from the aggressive B. 1.617.2 (cough, Delta) COVID-19 variant. The airline’s chief health officer, Henry Ting, “prefers to call it the B. 1.617.2 variant since that is so much more simple to say and remember.” Not necessarily an intentional communications strategy, everyone across the company naturally refuses to associate with the variant’s unfortunate name.
Where were you when “Kony 2012” went viral? Slate’s ICYMI podcast took a deep dive into one of the internet’s first viral activist marketing campaigns, exploring how it helped launch a wave of “slacktivism,” and changed how digital activists organize today. Long story short: action and impact are key, and “awareness” is so 2012.
Not to be outdone by Moderna’s “Spikevax,” Pfizer came out with the official brand name of their COVID-19 vaccine, and it’s a doozy: “Comirnaty.” The name, as you might guess, is a scramble of several buzzwords their marketing folks wanted to include - but at the end of the day, does the mashup word actually call any of those things to mind?
Are trendy c-suite titles making CMOs so yesterday? Whether creating a role to tackle a significant issue like climate change or tapping an uninhibited celebrity to represent its culture, both the continent of Europe and brands like Taco Bell are recognizing and acting on the need for influence and specificity to instill positive change.
The most popular MSNBC host, Rachel Maddow, has reached a deal to extend her contract with the network. Maddow has come out on top as she will be working less for more money and given more flexibility to expand her own brand through multimedia storytelling.
Watch out, wellness industry! The $1.5 trillion industry that’s known primarily across six dimensions – health, fitness, nutrition, appearance, sleep, and mindfulness – might have some competition if a new paper published in the APA’s Psychological Review gains traction. The research upends the popular, revered reputation of well-being, stating that while “psychological science has typically conceptualized a good life in terms of either hedonic or eudaimonic well-being, we propose that psychological richness is another neglected aspect of what people consider a good life.”
Crying on Instagram Live is a trend among celebrities and influencers that has come to light in recent years and created the popular phrase “imagine crying on live.” While publically crying on a platform can be interpreted by followers as a more intimate and vulnerable form of parasocial communication, many are quick to call BS and are accusing the public criers of fishing for sympathy and engagement, best described with new terms like “sadfishing” and “vulnerability porn.” It’s interesting how being vulnerable has the potential to either hurt or boost reputations, making it a challenge for those in the spotlight to walk the fine line.
Airbnb has pledged free housing for 20,000 Afghan refugees amidst the country’s fall to the Taliban. Inspired by the announcement, Hims & Hers is offering 10,000 primary care and mental health visits, Walmart is donating $1 million to supporting nonprofits, and Verizon will waive all charges associated with calls to Afghanistan.
Should we respect Elon Musk’s honesty or expect a bit more confidence? When it comes to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving feature, consumers demand perfection, but according to a recent tweet from Musk, “FSD Beta 9.2 is actually not great imo.” That doesn’t seem satisfying or like a promising sign that Tesla will reach its year-end goal of Level 5 autonomy, or a fully functioning car without human input.
We’ve sung Dave Jorgensen’s praises here before, and we’re excited (and a little relieved) to see that the Washington Post is officially adding two additional team members to their TikTok operation. Someone tell Dave to take a break!
GrubHub and Seamless users may have noticed a new logo when placing their delivery orders this week - European delivery leader Just Eat Takeaway purchased GrubHub and executed a rebrand on its new subsidiaries this week. The brand seems to be “lost in translation” in the US, however, according to the WSJ.
Can Kanye make “Ye” happen? Kanye West filed to legally change his name to just, “Ye.” Like, no last name. It seems the artist is doing everything but releasing his album, Donda, named after his mother. He’s spent the past month beefing with Drake, again, and performing listening parties, perhaps all part of his publicity plan to promote the album.
Mountain Dew has a new Hot Cheetos-inspired “Flamin’ Hot” soda. Add this product to the list of experimental collaborations from these brands, following the Forever 21 x Hot Cheetos clothing line and the “Hard Mountain Dew” created in partnership with Boston Beer and PepsiCo. Both of these brands' styles can be summed up with just one word: loud.
“Bloodvertising” has been making controversial headlines after singer/songwriter Lil Nas X and pro skateboarder Tony Hawk both recently engaged in blood-centric marketing. Lil Nas X made headlines in March for his infamous limited-edition sneakers infused with a drop of blood in the soles, and Tony Hawk just dropped a new skateboard line that has blood-infused paint. This new trend has us wondering, why are celebrities so obsessed with their own blood, and is blood-centric marketing the future of parasocial relationships?
🏆 REPUTATION WIN/FAIL OF THE WEEK: United Airlines
Publicity stunt or internal communications disaster? A leaked memo from United Airlines to its employees gently reminded them not to tape unruly passengers to their seats: “Please remember that there are designated items on board that may be used in difficult situations and alternative measures such as tape should never be used.”
The oddly specific phrasing may refer to an actual incident, in which a passenger on Frontier Airlines was taped to his seat after assaulting staff while the plane was in the air. The United memo was widely mocked, but United could still use help in this area, since a 2017 video of a passenger being forcibly dragged off an overbooked flight went viral (trigger warning on that link).
While the low standards of customer preference depress us, using a leaked memo to gain a reputation as an airline that won’t duct tape you to the chair is the kind of brand-enhancing snark we appreciate.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
The Confusing Nature of Science
Public health communications are never easy, but with the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans have struggled with the changing directives on masks and other rules.
But as this New York Times article explains, that’s just how science works: “Americans are living with science as it unfolds in real-time. The process has always been fluid, unpredictable. But rarely has it moved at this speed, leaving citizens to confront research findings as soon as they land at the front door, a stream of deliveries that no one ordered and no one wants.”
The scientific method at its core is about making guesses and correcting them as they go.
As studies and preliminary research are discussed online and decisions need to be made quickly, the public has gotten a behind-the-scenes look at the process - and for many, that has led to a gap in confidence.
“It can be really difficult for public perception and public understanding when these big organizations seem to reverse course in a way that is really not clear,” said Ellie Murray, a science communicator and public health expert at Boston University.
But the federal government and science community weren’t the only groups behind the past 18 months’ public health communications.
California gave a $15 million contract to Blue Shield, plus another $13 million to McKinsey for a vaccine rollout that some say was not worth the money. And for $4.9 million from the CDC in September 2020 (plus another $4.7 million contract extension), the Boston Consulting Group was responsible for “driving planning for vaccine distribution and administration” -- work that, apparently wasn’t done by the time Biden took office this year.
As the Washington Post put it, “The lack of clarity about the services rendered under a nearly $10 million contract points to the opacity and overpromising that some current and former officials say undermined the first several months of the vaccination campaign — and that also characterized outsourcing at the state level.”
We’ve seen for months now that communicating anything of this magnitude, at this scale, is a massive undertaking. Any group taking on the work opens themselves up to increased scrutiny, but the consultants, in this case, did not serve their own reputations well.
OnlyFans Reverses Course
Last week, we discussed OnlyFans’ announcement that it would ban sexually explicit content – the content that made them their primary income and boosted their fame – starting in October because of pressures from its payment processors like Visa and Mastercard.
Though some sex workers are welcoming the news, others, are still upset. Before Wednesday’s announcement, many had already begun deleting and migrating content to other sites – and plan to still do so because they don’t trust that the platform will look out for their best interest.
While OnlyFans was not originally designed for adult content, explicit content makes up a sizable portion of its content. To avoid losing any more customers and creating further confusion, we suggest that OnlyFans pick a direction and stick with it.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
This newsletter was brought to you by the ever-earlier return of PSLs on an August afternoon.