Out of Scope Issue 37: Merch Drops Gone Wild
This week’s nonrequired thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we look at the line between comedy and communications crisis, brands chasing Supreme, why kids around the world are imitating a pig, and some brave announcements.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
Dave Chappelle’s Stand Up Falls Flat
Dave Chapelle’s latest comedy special sparked backlash for jokes that many deem transphobic. While Chappelle is no stranger to controversial humor, this special has become a unique communications challenge for Netflix.
Reportedly, employees at Netflix raised concerns about the special before it aired. And after employees crashed a recent executive meeting “uninvited” to protest the special, they’ve been suspended.
Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has defended Chapelle on the basis that comedians have a different standard of social acceptability applied to their material. Sentiments like this have reignited the debate about what constitutes “comedy” and whether it can really be considered offensive, given its nature as satire or critique.
While Chapelle has a history of being inflammatory, even by the standards of the less socially progressive Overton window of the early 2000s, his routines have never earned this degree of backlash. The critical distinction is that Chapelle’s position in both the stand-up community and society has changed since then.
Early in his career, Chappelle was a pioneer for the Black community in the unafraid manner in which he went about social criticism. Though crass at times, he sought to hold society accountable in ways that many found refreshing. During this time, Chapelle wielded significantly less money and influence than the groups that he criticized during his routines.
In 2021 this paradigm has shifted, such that the once witty jabs of a black man in America against groups and systems that continued to wield power, now read as brutal and insensitive remarks towards a group of similar marginalization.
Whether or not it was Chappelle’s intent to critique this very process is debatable, but from a communications standpoint, the takeaway is clear: punching down never reads well to audiences.
The Latest Brand Trend? Merch.
Goldfish, Pizza Hut, Panera, Chipotle — it seems like everyone is dropping fire merch these days. You can probably thank the wild success of Supreme, the streetwear brand recently acquired by VF Corp for $2.1bn.
Legacy brands are selling apparel and merchandise that coasts on contemporary fashion trends to capture the youthful energy, enthusiasm, and fierce loyalty of the kids who religiously buy exclusive merch.
It’s become such a trend that even SNL is commenting on it. Please Don’t Destroy made an SNL debut last week with a digital short that parodied the overabundance of choices in the hard-seltzer market. The premise? Young adults enjoying hard seltzers from brands like JCPenney and Jiffy Lube. It might sounds ridiculous, but really isn’t that far off from reality (and leaves us asking how much more chemical fizz booze do we really need?)
🏆BRAND FAIL OF THE WEEK: Houston, we have a problem...and it’s Southwest Airlines.
For anyone traveling last weekend, we certainly hope you weren’t caught in Southwest Airlines’ woes. The airline canceled over 2,000 flights with thousands more delayed stretching into Monday. As you can imagine, travelers were not happy about it.
Finger-pointing ensued. Southwest released a statement that bad weather out of Florida and air traffic control issues disrupted their operations on Friday, from which they scrambled to recover. Air traffic control blamed staffing shortages from the airline. Some even speculated that staffing shortages were a response to Southwest’s recent vaccine mandate, which Southwest has denied.
We suspect that a story will drop in a month or so that breaks down what happened. But for now, the only thing we’re sure of is that other airlines did not experience the same widespread operational issues this weekend, despite staffing shortages across the industry. According to FlightAware, Southwest had nearly double the delays as their competitors.
Southwest’s unique “point-to-point” system, rather than having a centralized hub, may be to blame. This system makes it difficult to move crews around quickly to cover delays. Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Casey Murray said in a statement: “What was a minor temporary event for other carriers devastated Southwest Airlines because our operation has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure.”
Southwest likely has to just grin and bear it until the news cycle changes because they won't be able to out-communicate their operational issues. We do love an apology tweet though.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Lizzo put cultural touchpoints in context with a TED Talk on the history of twerking, where she traces its origins to a traditional West African dance and speaks to how generations of Black women have kept the tradition alive. Well worth the watch.
Will this celebrity x royal mashup attract more investments in environmental, social, and governance (ESG)? Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, hope so. They’ve just joined Ethic, a fintech asset manager that specializes in the ESG space.
After Starburst’s 2007 Berries and Crème commercial resurfaced and recently became a viral meme on TikTok, its star – “The Little Lad who love berries and cream” – was bound to be a hit costume this Halloween. Starburst is capitalizing on the opportunity to keep its free publicity going with its “official limited-edition Starburst Little Lad costumes” and sweepstakes.
Ugh, kids these days - even the mob is experiencing the negative impact of phone addiction, meaning their activity lately is much easier for authorities to track.
When it comes to work, the term “hybrid” is out. “Flexible” is in. Colleen McCreary of Credit Karma spoke at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit this week, explaining that using “hybrid” to describe the new realities of work is “super loaded” because it implies a strict work schedule. Instead, “flexible” work allows teams to decide how to get work done well, in a way that’s intentional and inclusive.
What do a babysitter, a hidden memory card, and a Band-Aid wrapper all have in common? They’re part of this wild story about a couple in Maryland who attempted to sell submarine secrets to foreign powers but were intercepted by the FBI. Who were they attempting to sell to and why remains to be answered, but gee, what a headline.
After emails detailing casual use of homophobic and misogynistic language leaked to The New York Times, the Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned from the team hours after the leak. The comments leave fans and league members wondering whether they were a deviation from the norm or a sign of the league’s culture as a boys club.
The Brooklyn Nets announced on Tuesday that Kyrie Irving is banned from the team until he complies with New York City's COVID-19 vaccination mandate. The next day, the superstar shared his feelings via Instagram Live, expressing he respects those who are vaccinated, but is upset that people "are being mandated to do this and are losing their livelihood." The regular NBA season begins on October 19 and unless mandates change, Irving is on a path to forfeit millions in paychecks.
A new study from the Gina Davis research institute finds that the parents of young children (as much as the rest of society) ascribe to gender norms in regards to the professional world and their children’s future place in it. In response, Lego has pledged to aim for more inclusive product norms, but the company’s actions to support this ideal remain obscure.
Larry Miller, a Nike executive and former president of the Portland Trail Blazers, revealed to Sports Illustrated that he killed a man when he was 16 years old. It’s a shocking decision and a courageous decision by Miller. It’s also a testament to the power of owning your mistakes and your narrative.
A British cartoon pig in preschool, Peppa (say that five times fast), is the latest craze entertaining kids around the world. So much so that some parents have coined the phrase “The Peppa Effect” to describe how their kids have started imitating Peppa with pig noises and cheeky British phrases. Is this another example of a psychological phenomenon where humans imitate what we like? Probably. Is it also an example of extremely strong branding? We’d say so.
Following The Wall Street Journal's deep look into Facebook's impact, Sephora released social media guidelines to tackle online harassment in conjunction with World Mental Health Day. It claims to be the first major retailer to publicly debut guidelines, according to Retail Dive. Considering a significant chunk of Sephora’s audience is teenage girls, publishing the guidelines seems like a supportive move towards its consumers.
Looks like Moderna is about to get a boost to its (already strong) legitimacy, with the FDA advisory panel unanimously recommending on Thursday to make Moderna booster shots available to large groups of Americans who received Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
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