Out of Scope Issue 64: What You're Seeing is Not Happening
After two years of denial, North Korea is suffering from a COVID outbreak. Plus: Goop and adulting.
COVID rears its ugly head in the unlikeliest of places: the Hermit Kingdom. As the world dealt with a calamitous pandemic over the last two years, North Korea's official stance was consistent: no positive cases or deaths. Well, as of this week, that’s changed a bit.
💡ON OUR MINDS
North Korea… The Next COVID-19 Epicenter?
In a stunning reversal ofter claiming to have experienced zero COVID cases, North Korean state media has now reported its "first" outbreak, declaring it a “most serious national emergency.”
If this weren't enough to deal with, the country could become ground zero for the new variant with almost no vaccinated citizens and low immunity to the virus. To date, North Korea has rejected 5 million doses of vaccine.
For two and half years of debating how to handle the coronavirus pandemic and which nation has the best approach, we may finally be able to say with certainty who has dealt with it the worst. Denying a global pandemic for years and refusing the vaccine has set up a very real health crisis with global ramifications.
Kim Jong-un is finally wearing a mask in public. Consider it another influential fashion statement from the North Korean leader.
🏆 BRAND WIN OF THE WEEK: The New York Times
This week the New York Times demonstrated the value of getting ahead of your mistakes by fully owning them. The Gray Lady had to handle a minor scandal this week when the popular puzzle game Wordle, which the newspaper acquired earlier this year, served an insensitive word to players.
In case you missed it, the word was “fetus,” was the answer for Monday’s Wordle word puzzle, which many people considered inappropriate given the sensitive status of Roe v. Wade. The Times explained that Wordle’s words were loaded into the program months ago, and despite system updates, the problem word would continue to be served to anyone who didn’t refresh their browser before playing. Essentially, once they determined the issue and recognized that they would get backlash, they faced it head-on.
Hirsch Leatherwood was impressed by the statement from the Times, which was clear, sensitive, and proactive (though as savvy readers may notice, never explicitly apologetic). It’s a good lesson for any brand, because every brand messes up from time to time. If you see a problem coming down the pike, own it up front. Your customers will respect you for it.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Everything old is new again. Like authoritarian leaders before him, Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro is trying to gain legitimacy by casting a sheen of social consciousness over his government by proclaiming support for and using the language of America's progressive movements. Of course, enacting progressive policies is not the goal. Burnishing the brand and maintaining control is the name of the game.
The solar industry is ‘frozen’ following an investigation by the Commerce Department into whether Chinese solar products were being illegally funneled. Solar advocates and renewables leaders are livid, as the investigation has halted more than one-third of the US’ solar development pipeline, threatening the Biden Administration's goal of halving the cost of solar electricity by 2030. In a battle of conflicting priorities and narratives, which will win?
Not everything should be a trend on TikTok. The recent spurt of viral Amber Heard and Johnny Depp TikTok videos shows how the algorithm can bring out the ugliest side of content and creators, as millions of videos joke about the domestic violence allegations on both sides of the complicated and sensitive defamation trial. It begs the question, how much does the algorithm truly drive the court of public opinion? Or is it merely providing an echo chamber of people capitalizing on the latest trending topic?
Peloton’s latest ad highlights its portfolio of fitness instructors turned mega influencers, who have amassed millions of social media followers and become famous in their own right (shoutout to Cody, a.ka. last year’s Dancing with the Stars Second Runner Up). Will the strong parasocial relationships that these instructors have formed with consumers be enough to help Peloton withstand recent losses and falling shares?
What does it mean when a brand discontinues a signature product? As the iPod goes off to the Lisa and the Pippin in the product graveyard, Apple offers an object lesson. A totem of the 2000s and peak mp3 culture, the iPod is arguably among the tech giant's most successful products of all time. But now that everyone can stream music from their phone, it's basically irrelevant. So Apple is turning the discontinuation of an obsolete yet beloved product into a celebratory news moment. Expect more obituaries for the iPod in the future.
In the latest tech giant squabble, IAC-owned Match Group (behind top dating apps including Tinder, Match and OkCupid) is suing Google over its alledged ‘monopoly power’, claiming the Google Play app marketplace exerts too much control over payments options and takes an unfair cut. While we're all for bipartisan efforts like Open Markets Act that would provide more access for both iOS and Android app stores, our question remains: is this lawsuit ultimately a power play to grab headlines?
What do you immediately think of when you hear FIFA? Perhaps the soccer video game that EA Sports developed for nearly 30 years. However, announced this week Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) and the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) are ending their partnership after failing to reach a renewed licensing deal. Partners quickly turned rivals — EA will confidently rebrand the game while FIFA is… exploring options.
In another move towards inclusivity, 63-year-old American doll manufacturer Mattel created the brand's first-ever Barbie with hearing aids and Ken doll with the skin condition vitiligo, as well as made significant changes to Barbie's stereotypical body type. While some brands in the past have tried to evolve to meet modern consumer standards (see: Mrs. Monopoly), Barbie has consistently nailed in this arena.
In a rare moment of self-awareness, Goop announced a limited luxury diaper drop on Instagram this week that sparked criticism at the ridiculous price of $120 per 12 pack and features like “virgin alpaca wool, fastened with amber crystals, and infused with the scent of jasmine and bergamot.” The news had its intended effect to grab headlines for Goop’s latest nonsense, but it was quickly followed up with another Instagram video directly from founder Gwyneth Paltrow, who revealed the product launch was a fake to raise awareness for the high costs and added luxury tax on diapers in 33 states. The campaign was anchored in a call to action to donate to Baby2Baby, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating the diaper tax and providing diapers to families in need.
While many companies are bowing to workers' demands amidst The Great Resignation, Netflix is not one of them. After months of coming under fire for platforming what some view as harmful content, the platform has drawn a clear line in the sand with its updated corporate culture memo. Under their new "Artistic Expression" policy, Netflix vows not to "censor specific artists or voices" regardless of employees’ feelings. The zinger? The memo explicitly reads, "If you'd find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you." Ouch.
In case you missed these stories this week.
Check out this profile of the woman who invented the phrase “adulting.” She Invented ‘Adulting.’ Her Life Fell Apart. She Wants You to Know That’s Okay.
Clearview AI, the notorious facial recognition company, has agreed to permanently halt sales of its massive biometric database to all private companies and individuals in the United States as part of a legal settlement.
A history of the Nap DressTM, its founder Nell Diamond, and a brand conquest, in which communications played a crucial function in how it all came to be.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print: This week’s newsletter is brought to you by an admittedly fair critique of this statement by Prince Charles.