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Out of Scope Issue 35: George W. Washington and McDoals
This week’s nonrequired thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we look at the fall of Ozy Media, Zillow’s wins and losses, the death of Instagram Kids, and more.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
Ozy’s big oops
Silicon Valley and tech startups these days are known for their “fake it till you make it” ethos, but one media company took it too far recently while raising a round of funding with Goldman Sachs, going so far as to impersonate a YouTube employee to boost their reputation.
Ozy Media claims it’s getting huge traffic numbers, but as Digiday’s former Editor in Chief Brian Morrissey noted, when was the last time their content organically crossed your feed?
As CNN media analyst Brian Stelter put it, “In some ways, this has been the biggest open secret in digital media. And now it has been subjected to a harsh spotlight.”
In the fallout of the news this week, Marc Lasry stepped down from Ozy Media's board following the scandal.
Side note: Ozy’s Instagram followers may be mostly robots, but if you need some inspiration on influencers who have *verified* followers, here’s Ad Age’s list of the most “influential influencers.”
Zillow on blast from viral TikTok
The company, valued at over $1 billion, has been buying up homes in neighborhoods around the country before “flipping” them by reselling them at a higher price.
Zillow invites owners to request an offer for their property and then uses its software to calculate a bid. If the owner accepts, then Zillow buys the house, makes some repairs, and puts it back on the market. In theory, this makes life much simpler for sellers who won’t need to wait around for a buyer.
The TikTok video, created by Las Vegas real estate agent Sean Gotcher, claims that Zillow’s scheme is to buy up homes at market value before buying a final home in the neighborhood at a much higher price, raising the value of all of the other houses in their local portfolio, thereby allegedly cheating the original sellers out of a substantial sum of money and milking buyers for more than they should be paying in an already hot market.
Zillow denies the claim, sharing in a statement that it pays market value for every home it buys.
All of this home buying by Zillow and other private equity and tech industry giants comes during a supply shortage of homes. Driving up these prices could ultimately lead to a generation of lifelong renters priced out of the housing market - leading to greater resentment and ill-will from Zillow’s audience.
🏆 REPUTATION WIN OF THE WEEK: Graphic Design Jokes
What started as a satirical TikTok video from Emily Zugay, a 24-year-old with a graphic design degree and tons of followers, quickly turned into a PR opportunity that many brands are trying to latch onto.
In Zugay’s logo spoof videos, which have now garnered millions of views, she redesigns major brands’ logos in a goofy way. After official accounts like the Washington Post incorporated Zugay’s suggested logo into their Tik Tok branding, Zugay’s comments are now filled with dozens of brands asking her to redo their logos, including McDonald’s, Adidas, Adobe, MLB, and Etsy. Even TikTok itself went in on the joke.
But as more and more brands try to jump on the opportunity to show their fun side via Zugay, we’re wondering if the moment has passed, turning the joke into more of a business opportunity than satirical content. In today’s day and age, trends move quickly and timing is everything!
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Reputation is everything - even if Instagram Kids is “the right thing to do,” according to IG head Adam Mosseri, no one else outside the company seems to share that vision. Child safety groups have been demanding the program’s end for months, and as of this week, Facebook will not be continuing work on the project for the foreseeable future.
Knights in the bedroom and dinos on the lawn? That’s one way to stand out! Home listers have taken to hiring unusual models to pose in their property photos for Zillow, and so far, the tactic seems to be working.
Bad news for the advertising industry - even the most invasive government agencies think ads are a little too insidious when it comes to data. The NSA and CIA shared they use ad blockers internally because of the potential dangers hidden within online ads.
The Arc de Triomphe, an iconic symbol of French national identity, gets wrapped up in the name of art. “L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped,” is a tribute to artist Christo, who died last year after wrapping everything from a stretch of rocky coastline in Australia to Berlin’s parliament house. It’s fortunate that the installation lasts only 16 days, as Parisians are divided on whether or not the art is something to be prideful or shameful about.
A day ending in “y” means the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has some problems to deal with. Currently, PG&E faces manslaughter charges over a deadly 2020 California wildfire, cementing an already tarnished reputation. CEO Patti Poppe released a statement that tries to walk the line of accountability and indictment as PG&E is disputing the charges. PG&E’s comms team is in a tough place of helping the company accept some responsibility while maintaining they are not criminals.
Axios is reportedly buying up local news teams to offer targeted newsletters in more markets — 25 markets by 2022 to be exact. In an era where consumers expect nearly everything to have a personal touch, this trend isn’t exactly surprising. But whether a hyper-local news model with centralized leadership can operationalize at scale well enough to make money...is a challenge that many have tried (and failed) before. Axios’ approach? Smaller dispersed teams.
In other news, Fisher-Price is selling a laptop with a headset for children, complete with video conferencing. If only all of our meetings were dogs! The company has been creating toys for kids to model their parents’ and other adults’ behaviors for decades, so this is only the latest development in the cutesy work equipment department.
McKinsey and LeanIn.Org released their annual joint report, Women in the Workplace. This year’s topic centers on the toll that the pandemic has taken on women in corporate America. Their conclusion: it’s not enough to commit to fostering an inclusive workplace culture in words. Actions create culture. The data show better outcomes start with managers who model work-life boundaries, support employee well-being especially for women with marginalized identities, and ensure that performance is evaluated based on results.
The New York Mets are looking to renew their lease in the minds of baseball fans, specifically young ones. After being sold to now-owner Steven Cohen late last year, the team hired marketing and talent management firm Range Media Partners LLC to bring the brand refresh to life. They’re attempting to build the Mets’ image on social media, in film, and music, with ideas like live comedy during games. They’re also implementing a heavier commission-based model that incentivizes staff to sell more brand partnerships. The entire organization, from video producers to the ad sales team and even the players themselves, is working towards a common goal of creating lifelong Mets fans. The only question that remains: will it work, or is a winning streak all that matters?
Most celebrities make alcohol brands, smarter ones build their portfolios by leaning into what made them famous. Eminem is turning his fun pop-up experiment into a permanent restaurant called “Mom’s Spaghetti,” a lyric from his iconic song, “Lose Yourself.”
Forbes released a list of the World’s Most Influential CMOs, and for the first time, used AI to determine the list. How, you ask? By analyzing the CMOs’ social platforms for their impact on “brand perception, marketing and advertising efforts, trends, financial performance and overall conversational and societal impact.” If you’ve been sleeping on social thought leadership, time to wake.
Sparked by national outrage over inequalities brought to light during the 2021 tournaments, the NCAA announced it will use the March Madness trademarked brand for the women’s basketball tournament beginning in 2022. While this change will provide more equality and opportunity for the women’s event, the announcement feels a bit too little too late.
YouTube is banning videos that spread vaccine misinformation, but will it actually work? We've seen this attempt before (ahem, Facebook) to varying degrees of success.
Coca-Cola is refreshing the brand platform for its Coke trademark for the first time in five years, as well as altering its logo design and launching a global campaign to support the revamp. The new logo turns the original into a "hug," with the letters resembling how they'd appear wrapped around a bottle – very fitting for its new theme that celebrates diversity and togetherness. At HL, we think the creative yet simple edits are very fitting for today’s times.
In the wake of the NBA’s announcement re: unvaccinated players, Texas Senator Ted Cruz entered the chat to give his support of Lebron James. When James gave a statement that didn’t outwardly advocate for his unvaccinated NBA colleagues to get vaccinated, Cruz took to Twitter to do something he’s never done before: agree with Lebron James. Cruz, who has never shied away from his belief that players like James should not be involved with larger issues outside of basketball and instead “shut up and dribble,” is sending flip-flopped messaging of what he expects from famous athletes – not a great comms strategy, given messaging consistency is key.
CNN is doing all it takes to make sure its new subscription streaming service survives. The media giant tapped NYU Marketing Professor Scott Galloway to host an upcoming show on the platform- CNN+. The new show will feature conversations about the intersections of business and technology.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
This newsletter was brought to you by Lindsay Lohan’s “fursona.” Did you have this on your 2021 bingo card?