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Out of Scope Issue 33: The Science Fiction Episode
This week’s nonrequired thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we’re looking at crowdfunding a Jurassic park-like future, more billionaires in space, a mental health crisis building inside of glowing rectangles, and other news from the week that truly would have boggled the minds of anyone reading this in a previous decade.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
AOC’s Met Gala Statement Dress
Unless you’re blessed with a social feed absent of any influencers, you probably noticed Monday’s Met Gala happenings - or at least wondered why everyone was sharing photos of extravagantly bedecked celebs. For the first time since 2019, Vogue’s Anna Wintour sent out the invites and rolled out the red carpet. The theme? American fashion.
As a US representative herself, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made an appearance at the Met sporting a dress and matching handbag from Aurora James’s brand Brother Vellies, making a statement with the phrase “Tax the Rich.”
Reactions to the dress and its message were mixed - some praising the decision to make a political statement in a room full of some of the richest people in the world, others criticizing the hypocrisy of being there in the first place. Whatever your POV, it’s undeniable that AOC remains a master of staying in the spotlight.
On Tuesday morning, AOC added context to the dress, quoting Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message.”
Taking to Instagram stories, AOC noted that there was a surge in searches on the “tax the rich” phrase - calling it a job well done that people were beginning to look further into the country’s tax code.
She noted that by “rich,” she wasn’t referring to doctors and lawyers and other upper-middle-class Americans, but the superrich like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, and others. Earlier this year, ProPublica published a breakthrough report on IRS records revealing that the wealthiest Americans are not paying a dime in federal taxes.
Some also pointed out that the dress mimicked the styling of Joy Villa’s 2019 “Build the Wall” Grammy’s dress and “Make America Great Again” purse.
In any case, it seems tax law may be up for discussion at the White House, with President Biden tweeting a call for fairer tax enforcement for the rich on Tuesday.
The Teenage Nightmare, Triggered by Social Media
This week the media confirmed what older millennials and above have known for a while — being a teenager sucks, but it’s even suckier if you grow up with social media.
Let’s start with Facebook’s leaked internal documents, which the Wall Street Journal has reported on as a three-part series called “The Facebook Files.” The files in question are internal-facing materials, including research reports, online chats from employees, and presentations to senior management, all of which reveal the platform’s harmful effects on its users.
One finding stood out as particularly concerning. Facebook’s app Instagram negatively impacts the self-image of one in three teenage girls. Given that 40% of its roughly one billion active users are under 22 years old, we’re talking about a lot of teens who are experiencing increased levels of anxiety, depression, and body image issues — in some cases severe – that can be traced back to Instagram.
This begs an important, though complex societal question: Now that social media giants have built a machine that’s forever changed culture, are they responsible for fixing it? Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri tried to take the “this is actually a good thing” angle, tweeting that the research is important to help the platform get better. But given the severity of its negative impact, and that Facebook does not have the best track record with fixing widespread platform issues, some are calling for Instagram to be regulated like a drug.
Anyone following the rise of the D’Amelio sisters (who skyrocketed to fame on TikTok), will notice that even the most popular and seemingly well-adjusted social media stars face intense pressure and scrutiny on the apps. We’ll continue to keep an eye on how the executive teams communicate around the increasingly public conversation about the good, the bad, and the ugly of their platforms. What we know for sure is that Bo Burnham will have something to say.
Influence and Misinformation
Platforms are still struggling with how to manage misinformation, and people with large followings are NOT HELPING!
Rapper, singer, and songwriter Nicki Minaj cited the reason she didn’t attend the Met Gala this year was due to the event’s vaccine mandates, which she did not comply with. She then went on to tweet the following to her 22.7M followers:
Nicki’s tweet is an anecdotal logical fallacy, where the evidence relies on an isolated instance rather than on scientific evidence, is a type of misinformation that influencers can easily spread like wildfire. and wide platforms still aren’t sure how to handle.
The tweet has gained a ton of news attention, with the Minister of Health for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago coming on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to debunk the claims. The representative also explained how much time their department had put in trying to run down the false claims.
But with Nicki adamantly defending her actions on her Twitter feed, are the counter efforts enough? How much influence has Nicki’s tweet truly had?
🏆 REPUTATION WIN OF THE WEEK: Inspiration4
Another billionaire went to space this week! Jared Isaacman, CEO of Shift4 Payments, funded the SpaceX trip (and probably has a hefty say in the naming rights, given the mission’s name of Inspiration4). Isaacman donated the three other seats as part of an effort to raise money for charity and went all in on the messaging, going so far as to determine his fellow passengers according to four mission pillars: leadership, hope, generosity, and prosperity. The mission marks the first time an all-civilian crew heads into orbit and sets the stage for the future of space travel.
Inspiration4 was filmed and aired on Netflix as a multi-part docuseries, as well as the fodder for an Axios podcast series. As part of the first Netflix episode, both Isaacman and SpaceX creator Elon Musk answered the key question of “Why should billionaires spend all this money on going to space when there are plenty of other problems here on Earth?” By getting ahead of the question, and building so much branding into the charitable nature of the mission, Isaacman and SpaceX largely avoided much of the criticism lobbed at Virgin Galactic and Blue Origins just a few weeks ago for their maiden billionaire voyages. Case in point: messaging works - and having a solid comms strategy can make a big difference.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
In rather Hunger Games-like news, CBS announced a new show last week that would have pitted activists against each other to compete for recognition and a donation to their causes - but when the Internet found out, things changed direction quickly. The show’s producers apologized and announced that the series, hosted by Usher, Julianne Hough, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, would be reshot as a documentary instead.
PwC’s recent Trust in Business Survey shows that both executives and consumers agree that one element of building trust is “admitting mistakes quickly and honestly.” PwC’s Tim Ryan points out that this is the polar opposite of what many executives have been taught for the last 20-30 years, which is (to paraphrase): don’t, under any circumstances, even think about showing vulnerability. Boomers are to dog-eat-dog as Gen-Z is to vibe check — the next generation wants the empathetic, human-centered leadership, y’all.
Planet Fitness launched a parody Instagram account that pokes fun at the “fitspiration” influencers. While some of these influencers spread positive motivation and accurate health info, plenty are non-experts who showcase unhealthy advice and not-easily-achievable fitness routines. What’s most hilarious about this campaign is the dedication the brand is showing to this parody account, with 44 posts and counting despite only 3,000 followers.
Will China get a new character role in the global politics storyline? The U.S. traditionally loves to play up its benevolence, but in the case of vaccines, China could have the leverage to say it’s doing more for the world. Axios reports that China may help vaccinate the poorer parts of the world, while the U.S., for a variety of reasons, will likely not.
The art of product placement has become more and more engrained in the content we consume over recent years that it oftentimes appears without viewers even being aware of it. The WSJ highlighted just how often that the Apple group of products appeared in their own Apple TV+ catalog of shows (it’s a lot) and explored how product placement can lead to product and brand associations with characters and scenes, even if subconsciously.
Apparently, the Supreme Court justices are worried about their reputation these days. At a recent speaking engagement, Amy Coney Barrett “spoke at length about her desire for others to see the Supreme Court as nonpartisan” following the high-profile decision in the recent Texas case on abortion.
Chipotle is redefining the traditionally transactional relationship between creators and brands by taking a true creator-first approach that promotes collaboration and career growth. Aside from free burritos for the influencers, opportunities for the Chipotle Creator Class include promos for their followers and priority consideration for paid opportunities. Will this start a new wave of brand/influencer relationships?
Forbes’ 40 Under 40 and Time’s 100 Most Influential People lists came out this week, featuring a slew of celebrities like Bo Burnham and Olivia Rodrigo. It feels like these lists are getting a lot more casual, following pop culture trends spearheaded by Gen-Zers, rather than their traditional focus on business leaders.
In news that feels like a movie, biotech startup Colossal is raising money to bring back the woolly mammoth, which is… wild (pun intended). This feat of genetic engineering is apparently meant to help fight climate change, among other things, but the communications challenge will lie in how they ease public fears about genetic engineering in general and address the ethics of reintroducing an extinct animal.
In the delicate world of reputation management, the process counts. GlobeNewswire published what turned out to be a fake press release that announced Walmart would accept Litecoin (a small cryptocurrency) in its stores. Both Litecoin and Walmart responded, “WTF”? GlobeNewswire called it an “isolated” issue that they’d address with new authentication measures and an investigation. Was it a tactic by an outside party to manipulate the stock? It’s happened before.
The rave gets a rebrand! One Glasgow nightclub is trapping body heat from its sweaty, dancing patrons to warm up the venue during cold months.
What does the future hold for digital privacy and advertising? As Apple, Google, and even Facebook enact new rules around data sharing, advertisers are left wondering what’s next.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday emphatically defeated a recall aimed at kicking him out of office early. With Newsom’s reputation fluctuating over the last few years, we’re wondering the long-term effect that this recall election will have on his career. In the US system, without “votes of confidence,” like the election that entrenched Boris Johnson and the snap vote that may or may not unseat Justin Trudeau, there is no exact analogy. But winning a risky vote can have the effect of increasing an elected official’s power. Will the same prove true of Gov. Newsom?
Microsoft announced that it’s going completely passwordless (you can now use your face and fingerprint to log into your work stuff). In a world where nearly every smartphone has been doing that for years, this feels kind of… boring? This feeling is reflected in their comms — in a blog post, Vasu Jakkal, leader of marketing for Microsoft's security and identity work, lets readers know that they can still use passwords if they want to, but to give the whole passwordless thing a try. It should be noted that this will likely have a big impact on tightening up cybersecurity at work.
The New York Times’ creative studio T-Brand is acting on its DEI commitments by creating "Soul of Us", a series that tells uplifting Black stories. The content for this series largely comes from outside sources, intending to give their stories and work a platform. T-Brand says there are no KPIs for this project; just awareness. Kudos.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
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