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Out of Scope Issue 42: Who’s buying the United States Constitution?
This week’s nonrequired thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we look at some bold marketing moves from Gary V, Taylor Swift, and Dame, and consider whether we ought to just steal the declaration of independence or something after a viral effort to buy the US Constitution fell flat.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
Who Runs the Internet? Taylor Swift
If you’ve been anywhere on the internet this week, you’ve probably encountered Taylor Swift and fan reactions to her latest album release, the re-recording of Red, which originally came out in 2012. Red (Taylor’s Version) is the second in a series of re-recordings from Swift after winning a long battle to take back ownership of her songs from her former record label.
So what’s the hype about? Taylor Swift famously sings about past relationships, which is part of what makes her songs easy to relate to for so many fans. Her song All Too Well and the associated short film hit a special nerve though. It’s allegedly about her relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhal, a person generally well-liked — at least prior to this song. People across the internet, including Washington Post’s TikTok guy, are creating content that speculates about how Jake is reacting to this.
While brands like Taco Bell and Chips Ahoy made references to the album with varying degrees of success, Senator Ed Markey (who won many of the youth’s hearts in 2020 with his social content) took to Twitter and used the All Too Well hullabaloo to push the Build Back Better plan.
The situation is an interesting example of what emotionally-driven storytelling can do to personal reputation (i.e. Jake) and for a multi-million dollar brand (i.e. Taylor and her music). Taylor Swift is widely recognized as a “marketing genius” because of the way she’s built a brand empire that deeply understands its audience and interacts with them in ways that feel intimate while reaching mass populations.
🏆 BRAND WIN OF THE WEEK: DAME
In a big win for ending double standards in advertising, sex-tech company Dame reached a settlement in their three-year legal battle with New York City’s MTA and began running their first ad campaigns on subways across the city. Dame isn’t the only women-centric business that’s had difficulty with the MTA; other companies like Unbound and Thinx have made their own complaints about discriminatory practices in the past. In 2018, Dame submitted their application to run advertisements for their products on the MTA’s trains and was denied on the basis of the MTA’s apparent policy against “sexually-oriented” businesses - the same year that ads from companies like Hims, Hers, Welleco, Roman, and others were running on trains promoting products for erectile dysfunction and other sexual wellness needs.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Last month, Nike exec Larry Miller granted a bombshell interview to Sports Illustrated in advance of his upcoming memoir, revealing he committed a murder at age 16. The piece was largely received well - but this week, the New York Times published a piece from another point of view - the family of the murder victim. When it comes to sentiment on major issues, it really does matter who is telling the story.
The “Metaverse” is the latest fad in business dialog and investor pitches. Even if Facebook’s rebrand felt a bit bold and futuristic, other brands are hopping on the trend - and fast.
Pope Francis is making waves with one of the oldest mass communications form in existence, the epistle. In this case, it’s a heartfelt letter to Michael O’Loughlin, the author of a book on the Catholic Church’s role in caring for victims of the AIDs crisis in the 1980s. While the letter doesn’t state any change in the church’s stance on social issues, it is a testament to the power of communication to link one heart to another, and by extension have the power to speak to the whole world.
In a big moment for the newsletter zeitgeist, Substack says it has more than 1 million paid subscriptions.
Flo from Progressive (Heidi Gardner) and Jake from State Farm (Jonathan Majors) dragged socially conscious advertising on SNL last weekend in a sketch that left marketers across the country laughing—perhaps a little too hard. The two brand reps presented awards for “Audacity in Advertising,” celebrating fake ads from BP, Facebook, and beyond. It’s not just a good laugh; it’s a reality check that sometimes, an overly conscious brand voice sounds inauthentic.
NFTs are a major trend right now, and Gary Vaynerchuk took advantage of the moment by offering a deal to potential readers of his new book: buy 12 books and get a free NFT. The offer resulted in over a million book sales - which is certainly one way to land on the bestseller lists. One thing is for sure: Gary V knows how to market.
With the infrastructure deal signed, the U.S. government will be supporting measures to bridge the digital divide and provide affordable wifi in underserved areas. As companies look to secure some of the $65 billion broadband funding – which the NCTA CEO has urged to go towards small, community-based local exchange providers – big broadband corps are pushing out CSR initiatives. It's likely we'll see much more of these initiatives publicized over the next few weeks as the competition ramps up.
Black Friday deals have started significantly early this year due to the pandemic's impact on supply chains. But will it ever be the frantic holiday that it once was, celebrated solely on the Friday after Thanksgiving? Experts at Forrester think probably not, as consumer expectations continue to shift and the gamification of e-commerce increases.
The Los Angeles Lakers will host the Brooklyn Nets at the Crypto.com Arena on Christmas Day this year. The Lakers don't have a new home, just a new $700M-naming rights holder of their venue, iconically coined the Staples Center for 22 years. Crypto.com's chief executive, Kris Marszalek, says "people will look back at this as the moment when crypto crossed the chasm into the mainstream."
A recording of an internal meeting leaked this week featuring Peloton CEO John Foley addressing concerns about falling stock prices. In the meeting, according to Insider, Foley recognizes shared frustration and acknowledges that the company’s “undisciplined” response to increased demand throughout the pandemic contributed to the drop. Now Foley says Peloton needs to get “back to the basics” to improve profit margins, sustainably. Not a bad strategy, but we’re curious if his messaging resonated given the profit whiplash — Peloton became profitable for the first time this past year, but has since lost $376 million in the last quarter.
A complicated intersection of transparency, an expectation of instant gratification, and the (relatively new) idea that you need to know the full plate of political beliefs of your boss is contributing to a reportedly rocky dynamic between Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Linda Khan and her staff. Will Khan be able to steady the dynamic by building deeper relationships and trust, or is the uncertainty a political advantage?
Edelman’s corporate values are being put to the test. The PR powerhouse released a plan to focus on climate change while also defending their work with major players in oil. It begs the question: is it more important to build a resilient reputation by evolving your brand’s values as larger societal values change...or to maintain a lucrative revenue stream? Every company will have a different answer to this, but they’ll have to face the question eventually (if they haven’t already).
Documentaries and podcasts are renewing interest in decades-old cases with the intent of casting light on questionable investigations that may have produced false judgments, and in the case of the Netflix documentary series “Who Killed Malcolm X?” they’ve done so successfully. After the case was reopened due to new evidence unveiled throughout the series, news came this week that the 2 men previously convicted of assassinating Malcolm X will be exonerated.
Countdown to comms disaster, or success? NYC Mayor DeBlasio’s office issued its first statement about this year’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. Revelers over age 5 (leading the HL team to wonder how many infants have historically shown up…) have to show proof of vaccine to get in, a snag that will make the already logistically challenging event even more complex to pull off. Key to success will be the ability to communicate beforehand what to expect.
The success of the Friends reunion has inspired the Harry Potter stars to do the same. However, the author of the magical franchise, J.K. Rowling, will be conspicuously absent from the event due to the controversy surrounding tweets about transgender issues for which she’s become quite poorly regarded. Often the assumption is that negative attention garnered on social media won’t be that impactful, but her exclusion from the reunion is a powerful reminder that it can continue to influence opportunities, even for the already famous and wealthy.
The role of CEO is not immune to the Great Resignation. According to Axios, in the first half of 2021, 76 CEOs were newly appointed. These new leaders are more likely to be women, come from countries outside of the company's primary location, and less likely to come from the traditional "feeder" roles like CFO and COO.
Come for the National Treasure references, stay for the implications this has on the future of major business transactions. This week crypto investors joined together to form a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization), which is "a blockchain-based governance structure without hierarchical management." Their goal? Raise 20 million to purchase a rare copy of the US Constitution that Sotheby’s put up for auction on Thursday evening. The group raised over $40 million from 17,437 contributors. Unfortunately, Constitution DAO didn’t win this time, and funders can expect to receive pro-rated contributions back (minus expenses from the organizers, presumably), but we don’t think this is the last time we’ll see viral moves like this one.
The controversy over children’s safety online continues to be a hot button issue as the UK passes new regulations that crackdown on age ratings with respect to digital content. Apple and Google have contacted with requests for information surrounding how they determine age ratings. As always, the way that information is communicated to minors can be especially coercive and damaging, in the worst cases, but the debate over what of the internet children can and will be exposed to is as complex as ever.
If market valuation is any indication of where societal values are headed, it looks like consumer data is worth more when kept private than when shared or sold.
We won’t see you here next week… but we’ll be back in your inbox Dec. 3! 👋
The fine print:
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