Out of Scope Issue 66: Communicating During a National Tragedy
What to say when it’s hard to find something to say
The horrific and deadly shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, was an unspeakable tragedy. Yet we must find a way to speak about it, share the emotional weight, and grieve together. As part of that process, we looked at how people and brands have responded to the incredibly fraught topic before diving into our usual round-up of the latest in reputation management and communications headlines.
💡ON OUR MINDS
Uvalde, Texas Shooting
Fast Company praised GoFundMe’s new fundraising pages that take a sensitive approach to grief in a sad but aptly timed feature that ran on Monday morning. Since then, the brand has received praise for its quick response and thoughtful approach to showcasing the pages for those affected in Texas, making it easier for people to provide support.
Another notable response was from the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, who teamed up to pause live coverage of Thursday night’s games on their social channels to share facts about gun violence. This move made a significant statement without feeling too political, which can be a tough balance to strike.
Many reporters have taken to Twitter to discuss the personal mental health challenges they often face after particularly difficult reporting moments, in addition to journalism’s continuing evolution on reporting best practices during a tragedy. Many have shared commentary on the importance of trauma-informed practices and gently interviewing sources.
Politicians and public figures alike have spoken out this week – but their motives may vary. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made an emotional but direct statement about the shooting, calling on senators to take action while comforting his team. Kerr himself has close ties to this issue, as he lost his dad to gun violence.
In a similar but bolder move, former Texas Representative and current gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke publicly confronted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a press conference on the shooting before being kicked out of the event.
Our take? It’s a fine line between grandstanding v. sincere opposition, and the moment and method of delivery matters. Some will question whether Beto took a tragedy as an opportunity to make a campaign speech, and others will call it an impassioned moment of activism. Either way, it’s a risky move.
Responses to the Baby Formula Shortage
In light of the crisis, many desperate parents have turned to the internet for solutions. Unfortunately, many viral DIY formulas circulating on social media are harmful.
While major social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, and Youtube have been trying to flag (and in some cases, remove) the dangerous misinformation, they have done so inconsistently, thus allowing the advice to continue spreading and putting children at risk.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued warnings stating that parents shouldn’t make their own infant formula because of the dangers associated with a lack of nutrients.
Meanwhile, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, Abbott Nutrition (the primary U.S. manufacturer of baby formula) CEO Robert Ford apologized for the baby formula shortage. He reassured consumers that the company is doing what it can to address the resulting challenges now facing families.
Ford’s statement balances compassion and solution-oriented language. He directly acknowledges criticism from families and details Abbott’s specific actions to address each. It’s a solid statement, but given the great pains families have gone through to secure infant formula, its success will ultimately be measured by how well Abbott follows through.
🏆 BRAND FAIL OF THE WEEK: Walmart’s Juneteenth Ice Cream
Walmart released a series of Juneteenth products, many of which have received criticism across social media. The product making the most headlines was their “Juneteenth ice cream,” a red velvet and cheesecake flavor.
Why the backlash? Juneteenth is meant to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. Observed on June 19, Juneteenth only became a federal holiday in 2021. Critics have accused Walmart of attempting to exploit this solemn day for profit, which has long “been overlooked by non-Black Americans.”
Walmart said they would “remove items as appropriate” and apologized in response. They made a brief statement on the product assortment: “Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence. However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize.”
Many major publications have since covered the ice cream mess-up, and social media commentary keeps coming. In a viral TikTok, actor Kevin Fredericks walks through Walmart’s product line. Some have also accused Walmart of ripping off the flavor idea from a Black-owned business.
Notably, Walmart’s statement does not acknowledge why these products were inappropriate in the first place. Marketing teams need to be ever-mindful of the racial and cultural implications of their company’s products.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Does every business activity need an explicitly stated higher purpose? That’s the question some are asking in light of Unilever’s push for each of its 400 brands to have a social or environmental purpose, including mayonnaise. As one investor said, “A company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has in our view clearly lost the plot.”
Boris Bondarev, a counselor in Russia’s delegation to the UN in Geneva, took to LinkedIn and Facebook to post a public resignation statement, calling the Ukraine invasion an “aggressive war.” With Russian media controlled by the government, it makes sense that Bondarev distributed his protesting message on social platforms where he would not be censored.
Another day, another virus is making its rounds throughout the world. President Biden told reporters that the public should be concerned about the approximately 200 confirmed cases of monkeypox around the globe. Monkeypox has not yet reached endemic status, but in the thick of another global pandemic, we wonder how global leaders will communicate the dangers of monkeypox and precautions against spreading it. How many leaders will apply the lessons they learned about the effectiveness of their communication of COVID-19?
Guy Fieri has always seemed like a caricature of himself, with his ice blond spiked hair, his catchphrases, a tour bus with painted flames, and zealous reactions to food across the country. In a profile by The New York Times, the long-time Food Network Star is finally being seen for more than his image, recognizing his philanthropic contributions to local restaurants and wealth of culinary knowledge. Without dropping the “Welcome to Flavortown” rhetoric, Guy is finally being perceived as the multilayered person long-time friends and colleagues have known him to be. His eccentric personality being his own commercial brand made it difficult for viewers and fans to get to know the real, authentic Guy Fieri.
Meta announced their employees are banned from speaking internally from expressing their “political, religious, and humanitarian views on abortion.” An outlier in the tech field, no other major players in the industry have told their employees to not speak on the topic. Open to interpretation, the corporate censorship leaves audiences wondering if Meta is just trying to quell internal controversy over the topic or make an external statement without saying anything.
Who remembers the days of Call Me Maybe, the Ice Bucket Challenge, or the Mannequin Challenge uniting the internet in camaraderie and collective joy? As Kaitlyn Tiffany argues in a nostalgic reflection on the disappearance of the viral video, those days are over -- as social media is no longer “a place to come together but as a place to come apart.”
As the volume of banned-book lists increases and discourse around censorship reaches new heights, Margaret Atwood is seemingly preparing for a dystopian future a la Fahrenheit 451. This week, Atwood and Penguin Random House announced a burn-proof version of her book, The Handmaid’s Tale, would be put on auction, with the proceeds going towards PEN America, which defends and protects free expression. Perhaps Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, put it best: “To see her classic novel about the dangers of oppression reborn in this innovative, unburnable edition is a timely reminder of what’s at stake in the battle against censorship.”
Politics often provides us with examples of what not to say, this time demonstrated by a former Georgia senator claiming that Stacey Abrams is “demeaning her own race.” By now, it’s no surprise when politicians hit below the belt. However, it’s still always shocking when such overtly racist remarks are made in a modern society that, for the most part, now considers brazen intolerance unacceptable.
Historians have taken to Twitter to speak out after the New York Times published the first part of its special report on the generations-long economic sabotage of Haiti by France and other nations. The problem? According to several Haiti and Harvard historians, the Times did not give credit where credit is due. Let this be a reminder to everyone to always cite your sources!
Kim Kardashian - jack of all trades, master of plant-based meat tasting? If the law student, CEO, and reality TV star didn’t already have enough on her plate, she is now the Chief Taste Officer of BeyondMeat. The faux-sounding position is an interesting play by both parties. BeyondMeat’s stock has been dropping, but is Kim Kardashian’s association, a self-proclaimed 98% of the time vegan, enough to save it in a growing meat-alternative market? Kim on the other hand is constantly looking to break out of her stereotype of “famous for being famous.” This new brand title is another carefully curated notch in her belt of extracurriculars to add to her ever-evolving image.
How not to do internal comms: popular buy now, pay later startup Klarna laid off 10% of its workforce with a generic, pre-recorded video message, which is decidedly not a best practice for mass layoffs. While we’re all for finding efficiencies, it’s important to be able to read the room when delivering tough news, which you can only do live.
This week we’ve seen several new relevant studies and rankings come out including Axios’ Harris Poll 100 reputation rankings (which has Trader Joe’s leading the list while some global brands have seen their reputations tank in response to political drama), Gartner's CMO Spend Survey (which found marketing budgets up 6.4% from 2021, though still lower than pre-pandemic levels) and lastly, Best Cities for Work-Life Balance (Spoiler: none at the top are in the U.S.).
In case you missed these stories this week.
After years of sans-serif “startup” fonts and millennial pink, the 80s are making a comeback in the ad design world.
In other branding news, Instagram rolled out a new typeface centered around the “squircle.”
What makes for a good audiobook narrator? This Vulture article examines how the reader’s tone (or lack of one) can impact how impactful passages are perceived.
As the latest big brand trying to keep up with the Joneses, UPS submitted trademark filings this week, including NFTs and “virtual retail shipping,” indicating it plans to join the metaverse.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print: This week’s newsletter is brought to you by the last working payphone in NYC. RIP.