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Out of Scope Issue 41: Go back to sleep, Sleepytime Bear
This week’s nonrequired thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we look at journalism best practices, “anti-woke” universities, re-branded mascots and logos, and controversial brand partnerships.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
On Background Out of Favor
The Verge announced a major policy change that makes their default “on the record” when officially speaking to any communications professional.
Their communications on the matter take a firm stance. They published a blog post announcing the change, citing frustration with the practice of going “on background” — essentially speaking without attribution or quotability, giving more “background” information than direct evidence: “Tech companies have uniformly adopted a strategy of obfuscating information. It’s also easy to see why companies like to abuse background: they can provide their point of view to the media without being accountable for it. Instead, journalists have to act like they magically know things, and readers have to guess who is trustworthy and who is not.”
While The Verge will still honor some requests for “on background” interviews, these requests will be granted at their discretion. They released a statement of public ethics that lay out acceptable reasons.
Will this effort increase transparency and accountability or just lead to some really cringy quotes? Probably both.
Worker-first movements take the stage
Amid a time in the workforce that is being referred to as “The Great Resignation,” union strikes seem to be popping up across all industries right now, including healthcare, food services, journalism, entertainment, factory workers, and agriculture.
According to the LA Times, workplace experts attribute the increased risk of working during the pandemic and the labor shortage to the shift in increased worker empowerment. “The companies that have faced strikes have often been stubborn and stingy — they’re part of a backward-looking group that is clinging to corporate America’s philosophy of recent decades: Squeeze your workers and battle your unions.”
To keep a full and happy workforce in today’s times and avoid worker strikes, companies must stay in tune with employee satisfaction and keep up with the higher standards being set by others. This also goes for the companies who are worried about meeting increased demand ahead of the upcoming holiday shopping season and scrambling to attract new employees.
Getting extra help has proved challenging for many employers, so some are going extra lengths to entice prospective workers during this particularly competitive time. For instance, Amazon recently released a commercial showcasing how they are willing to accept worker demands that might have once been thought of as superfluous, such as only being able to work two days a week at night or covering an entire college tuition bill.
However, whatever goodwill Amazon may have created with that messaging was threatened by their promo featuring Terry Crews as a worker in one of their fulfillment centers. The promo, which featured Crews working the floor, drew the ire of many who accused Crews of “cosplaying as a poor person” -- it doesn’t help that he’s wearing a $30k watch, which is nearly the annual salary of his assumed warehouse position. Maybe leave the watch at home next time, Terry?
Is higher education broken? A new attempt to answer: The University of Austin
A new university was announced this week, helmed by several of the “anti-woke”, including David Mamet, Bari Weiss, and Steven Pinker. Bari Weiss announced the launch of the University of Austin with a guest essay in her Substack newsletter, “Common Sense.”
New university president Pano Kanelos wrote, “In these top schools, and in so many others, can we actually claim that the pursuit of truth—once the central purpose of a university—remains the highest virtue? Do we honestly believe that the crucial means to that end—freedom of inquiry and civil discourse—prevail when illiberalism has become a pervasive feature of campus life?”
The group behind the university thrives on “the discourse;” in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Tufts Professor Daniel W. Drezner writes, “If its faculty even remotely resembles the board of advisers, the school would be assembling the most cantankerous, egotistical assortment of individuals since the Trump White House.”
So far, the university is unaccredited and isn’t able to offer degrees to students. Its first offering will be a summer course, called “The Forbidden Courses,” where students from other universities can join in “spirited discussion” about the big questions that the university claims often lead to “censorship or self-censorship” elsewhere.
So far, the school is taking a strong stance on its views - but it remains to be seen whether its staunch conservative bent and “unique” financial model will work.
🏆 BRAND FAIL OF THE WEEK: Celestial Seasonings
This fall, Celestial Seasonings tea took their popular Sleepytime Tea mascot, a very cozy bear, and for the sake of a marketing push… woke him up.
The ploy comes as the bear celebrates his 50th anniversary on the brand’s boxes and Celestial Seasonings attempts to connect with Gen Z with Tik Tok and social media. Crucially, however, they may not have quite hit the mark with this approach. “We didn’t do official consumer testing that we might’ve done in some more traditional campaigns,” Melinda Goldstein, CMO at The Hain Celestial Group, shared in an interview. When it comes to marketing to Gen Z, one of the most diverse generations yet, attempting to make things “cool” may backfire. Sometimes it’s ok to follow the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Then again, for something so low stakes, perhaps any news is good news.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Have we reached peak James Corden [over]exposure? After appearing in what feels like every mainstream musical, fans are making their stance heard through a petition on Change.org to “Keep James Corden out of Wicked the movie.” We’re curious what will win out: the lure of Corden’s name association and the money that comes with it, or the pleas of over 86k petitioners and counting.
Speaking of oversaturation, this week, many criticized the popular Chris Pratt after posting a photo of his wife Katherine (née Schwartzenegger) to Instagram with a caption praising their “healthy” daughter and her adoring gaze as a jokingly pre-birthday present for if he forgets her birthday. Some saw it as a slight to his son with ex-wife Anna Faris, who was born with significant health problems, while others took the opportunity to dig into Pratt’s performance of hyper-masculinity and special brand of Hillsong Christianity.
Velveeta replaced its logo’s shine and dimension with flat simplicity. In recent years, PBS, Volkswagen, and Warner Bros. have all done something similar. Going with the trend of simplistic and muted imagery for brands could be a cause of a multitude of things, one being that newer brands appeal to younger audiences via a commitment to environmental friendliness. Another aspect to take a look at is the merchification of the logos. Burger King and Taco Bell both have online stores full of a wide variety of BK and Taco Bell branded merchandise. Now the world is left to wait and wonder: who’s next?
The next wave of vaccine comms is upon us: making the vaccine easier for kids and parents to stomach. Sesame Street and CNN held a town hall to assuage fears. Big Bird has a history of making appearances surrounding children’s public health issues, but with the politicization of vaccines, reactions are mixed on whether this is helpful or radical.
Yet another fake press release has affected a major retailer — this time Kroger. Someone released a false statement that Kroger will now accept bitcoin in its stores. Is this the same culprit as the Walmart incident from September? We can’t be sure. But it does leave us wondering whether this is the work of bored internet trolls or a more intentional (though misplaced) push for crypto coverage.
The times are a’changing. Unless you morph into the mystical creature, apparently it’s no longer newsworthy to be labeled a unicorn due to the influx of companies that fit the category.
Elon Musk’s latest Twitter poll may really just have been an attempt to shape a narrative after the fact. Last weekend, Musk asked his followers whether he should sell 10% of his stake in Tesla. But according to tax experts, he would probably have sold a big portion of his stocks anyway as a chunk of shares expires in 2022, resulting in a $10 billion tax bill regardless.
You can now subscribe to a paid version of Twitter in the US, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia — a product they’re calling Twitter Blue. Not everyone is willing to pay yet another cost to Twitter.
A partnership between Travis Scott and BetterHelp in response to the Astroworld tragedy drew backlash from the internet this week. Fans and others alike regarded the move as tone-deaf and exploitative -- especially considering the scrutiny BetterHelp has faced over the platform’s privacy concerns. To address some of the backlash, BetterHelp released a memo stating Scott will not be paid for the partnership nor does the platform sell “information members enter” to third parties, but the damage was done...BetterHelp may need some help of their own cleaning this one up.
Moving on to a completely different brand partnership: Demi Lovato is now an ambassador of Gaia, a streaming video site known for peddling conspiracy theories. According to the press release, Lovato became interested in the platform after discovering their content around space, aliens, and Atlantis. Seems innocent enough, right? Not exactly — Gaia is recognized by some as a hub for QAnon followers to promote their content after being kicked off of other platforms. Perhaps Lovato’s manager should have done a little more research before having them sign on the dotted line.
Branding is powerful — so much so that it can decide the fate of a country. A new study published this week by Jacobin and YouGov examining political sentiment among working class voters found that they support a progressive agenda and candidates when divorced from the language of “woke” politics and presented in universal terms. Heading into the 2022 midterms, if Democrats want to secure the blue-collar worker vote and advance the progressive agenda, they would be well served by avoiding activist rhetoric and crafting universal, salient messaging around the bread-and-butter issues that keep Americans awake at night.
Seoul is reportedly developing its own metaverse platform by the end of 2022 to host various virtual functions for the public. It will be interesting to see how this platform is received by the general population compared to Facebook's (aka Meta’s) endeavor. The nuances between cultures, implementers (tech company vs. governing body), and intended use case should make for very different communications strategies.
After years of staying silent, WeWork’s Adam Neumann "set the record straight" with an NYT DealBook interview. Notable talking points included expressing his regrets, acknowledging that the predicted wealth went to his head, and reassuring that he did not profit while the company was going down. Given Neumann’s dramatic fall from grace, these were adequate — and potentially the only acceptable — key messages. But whether this interview was enough to salvage his reputation remains to be seen. We expect people will be paying close attention to whether his next actions demonstrate the sincerity he communicated.
Getting visibility in a saturated market isn’t something that brands alone are dealing with: OnlyFans creators are turning to specialized marketing consultants to find their niche and build audiences.
Just like about every old, once popular movie franchise, it appears MoviePass may be rebooting for a sequel. We’ll be watching to see if it can reclaim its reputation amongst the subscription service’s allegiant fans after crashing and burning the first time.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
This newsletter was brought to you by one of last weekend’s 33,000 NYC Marathon runners: a duck.