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Out of Scope Issue 40: Spanish or vanish
This week’s nonrequired thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we look at paid parental leave, Duolingo’s mascot, Gen Z’s workplace standards, and McRib cocktails.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
It’s Meghan, Duchess of Sussex Calling
After weeks of back and forth, paid parental leave has been reinserted into Biden’s Build Back Better social spending bill, after being cut to the dismay of advocates. However, according to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Democrats' new attempt will only support a mandate of four weeks of paid parental leave compared to twelve weeks, as outlined in the initial proposal.
But it seems like there are a few more weeks of back and forth still to come. Senator Joe Manchin remains opposed to including paid family and medical leave in the bill, as he believes it should be passed in a separate bipartisan bill.
One person who firmly endorses paid parental leave and is using her influence to implore the Senators’ support? Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. It’s been a topic on Markle’s mind for a while now as she wrote a letter to Congress last month urging members to support paid family and medical leave, writing:
“In taking care of your child, you take care of your community, and you take care of your country [...] Paid leave should be a national right, rather than a patchwork option limited to those whose employers have policies in place, or those who live in one of the few states where a leave program exists.”
Since then, she’s been in contact with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and has begun calling Senators, including Susan Collins (R-MN) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), urging them to support paid family leave.
The optics of Meghan Markle’s advocacy have been widely debated. While many take issue with Markle invoking her Duchess of Sussex title during the call, others are more understanding and defensive of Markle. One particularly stinging headline from the UK’s Independent read, “Meghan Markle is cold-calling Republican Senators because she’s an expert on rich, do-nothing white people.” Turns out all is fair in love and paid parental leave.
The Munger Hall Experiment
LA-based architect Dennis McFadden, who was a member of UC Santa Barbara’s design review committee for 15 years, resigned from the committee in protest over a project on a largely windowless dorm dubbed Munger Hall. He spoke out in an L.A. Times op-ed announcing his resignation and encouraging stakeholders to halt the project.
The dorm, named after $200 million donor Charlie Munger, would serve as a solution to the university’s housing crunch by serving 4,500 students in a 1.68 million-square foot complex with only two entrances. The project is expected to cost $1.5 billion.
McFadden has cited that the dorm, solely determined by Munger himself, “attempts to engineer social experiences” and is severely lacking in basic safety and quality of life needs like accessible exits, reasonable space, access to light, and more. He compares the experience of living in the windowless bedrooms in the center of the building to living in a janitor’s closet buried in the center of an Ikea warehouse, with the closest window somewhere back at the entrance.
While the project seems to exploit several loopholes in building code provisions, it still has to overcome the hurdles of an environmental impact report and review by the California Coastal Commission and review by the Board of Regents.
The building has amassed worldwide controversy following McFadden’s resignation. But Munger does not seem to mind the criticism, responding, “I'd rather be a billionaire and not be loved by everybody.” Is it a reputation crisis if the person whose reputation is at stake doesn’t care?
We’re also wondering what UCSB will ultimately consider more important for their brand and business – standing by a significant donor and “solution” to the housing crunch, or prioritizing the comfort and safety of their students? Based on a statement from the director of news and media relations – “We are delighted to be moving forward with this transformational project that directly addresses the campus’s great need for more student housing” – it seems like the former.
🏆 BRAND WIN OF THE WEEK: Duolingo
Ask anyone on TikTok and they'll agree that the Duolingo owl may just be the best brand mascot of our time. The owl, who regularly admonishes users for skipping their daily language lessons, reached viral fame this week after the company posted a string of TikToks that diverged from the content we typically expect from brands — so much so, that Duolingo possesses nothing if not self-awareness, and even a little pride, over being recognized as slightly "unhinged."
After the owl reached meme status as an evil mascot threatening its users for not practicing, the brand leaned into the joke with their TikTok and social content. NBC News may have put it best: “From twerking atop a conference table to a remix of Adele’s ‘Easy on Me’ with rapper CupcakKe or calling Dua Lipa ‘mommy’ the stoic, yet adorable green owl has become fluent in a language some brands have failed to speak: social media.”
In creating content, Duolingo’s social media coordinator, Zaria Parvaz, has taken a different approach than many other brands. She’s advocating for brands to use TikTok for what it’s meant to do: entertain. “Brands that try selling things don’t really tend to resonate, but if they entertain, people love it,” she explained. With a growing TikTok follower base (now up to 1.2 million followers), it’s clear that Parvaz is doing something right with her approach to draw eyes to the Duolingo owl and brand. Just remember, everyone, as Duo says in the TikTok comments: “Spanish or vanish.”
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Move over skinny jeans v. dad jeans, the next great divide between millennials and Gen Z is here, and this time, it’s workplace decorum. While some millennials cop to feeling deeply “uncool” and are looking to the youth to teach them the ways of today (proper emoji usage and all), others are put off by Gen Z’s high standards for work-life balance and their desire to infuse political advocacy into their companies’ messaging. The divide also speaks to a larger cultural dialogue about how remote work is changing appropriate communication and behavior amongst colleagues — to the delight of some and discomfort of others.
In the suburbs, September through the first week of November brings a flock of political lawn signs - and in New Jersey, gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli was outpacing sitting Governor Phil Murphy in that department by about 10:1. Ciattarelli lost by a thin margin, closer than many expected - but did the lawn signs help boost his reputation (or brand awareness)?
State Farm marketing is making a push to show up for its “Under 40” audience by releasing NFTs. Though State Farm is no stranger to Millenial and Gen Z virtual marketing campaigns (think NBA2K skins feat. the famous red shirt and khakis from “Jake from State Farm”), we can’t help but wonder: is there actually an interested audience in insurance NFTs?
Recent turnout and polls suggest young voters – specifically Gen Z – care deeply about political issues and are active on social media about them, but are dissatisfied with both Democrats and Republicans. Studies show a need for the White House to better communicate the progress that’s being made and find ways to connect with young voters if they want favorable polling numbers in the upcoming midterms.
In a Lizzie McGuire-esque turn of events, world leaders at the G20 summit tossed coins over their shoulders in a bid for luck in coming to meaningful climate change solutions. It’s unclear if this communicates hope for the future and a commitment to action, or if politicians are so desperate that there’s little else they can think to do.
There is nothing new under the sun. Fed up with static slide presentations, start-up Gamma has updated the presentation deck, and in the opinion of HL, recreated a rebranded Hypercard, a much older idea from the early days of the Web.
As leaders are determining which hybrid working model is best for their team, they must consider how the inevitable office gossip, a vital part of relationship building, will live on. Several studies suggest gossip contributes to employees’ sense of belonging and facilitates an environment that allows for human connection.
Now arriving in Pete Davidson’s New York… gossip publication Page Six published a headline this week on Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson’s alleged courtship declaring the city (home to 8.4 million) Pete’s and garnering plenty of jokes.
Can’t meet customer demand because of supply chain issues? Might be a good time to switch that ad budget (designed to create demand) over to comms (designed to quell customer and employee frustration) for the holiday season.
11 months after the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, multiple individuals present at the riot (all of whom deny breaching the building itself) have been elected to public office as Republicans. Despite continued arrests and legal trials, the event hasn’t tarnished the reputations of its participants among the party base, and in fact, may have even bolstered their standing.
(Almost-former) NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio is seeking to break the office's curse. Despite over a century of high-profile mayors failing to secure higher office, DeBlasio will be making a bid for New York State governor, a bold choice given his famously mixed perception among NYC residents.
McRibs x cocktails: The collab that no one asked for? To add more publicity to the already-hyped return of the McRib, Ryan Reynolds promoted a McRib-inspired cocktail that also plugs his liquor line, Aviation Gin.
According to one of its co-creators, Facebook’s new virtual reality playground, the metaverse, will be from inception a place to do business.
With the Sex and the City reboot projected to release next year, the show is ramping up its visibility with an Airbnb partnership. On Wednesday, Airbnb announced that it’s renting out a recreation of Carrie's iconic brownstone apartment for just $23 a night.
One small step forward, with a few key caveats. Facebook announced it was getting rid of its facial recognition tech (which you probably know from being auto-tagged in photos from your Aunt Kathy). But just because they’re doing it, doesn’t mean its new parent company, Meta, plans on stopping.
What does Kyrsten Sinema’s denim vest mean, and why does it matter? Tressie McMillan Cottom tackles the fraught issue, noting that style clearly says something about the wearer, as it does for AOC. She writes, “For both A.O.C. and Sinema, the media has struggled to put the meaning of style in a context that is not frivolous or demeaning. This has contributed to our inability to talk about their presentation as politics. That inability makes that presentation only more powerful because it can go uncritiqued.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be missing Sunday’s game after testing positive for COVID-19. Many people were surprised to learn he remains unvaccinated, as he had previously said he was “immunized” when asked about his vaccination status. While appearing on the Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers stated he was worried about the vaccine causing sterility. The admission led journalist Astead Wesley to a mind-boggling thought about the similarities between Rodgers’ and Nicki Minaj’s vaccine skepticism:
The Glasgow climate conference might consider paying closer attention to the message they’re communicating via their menu for the COP26 event. The world’s largest climate change conference has several conspicuously high-carbon-footprint items like farmed meat and seafood. While the menu is clear about the carbon impact of each item, many of the items fail to fall under the threshold COP26 itself suggests is necessary to avert some of the damage done by anthropogenic climate change. Talk about mixed messaging!
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
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