Thursday, September 17

Patagonia's Political Call to Action Masks the Lefty Brand's Cozy Relationship With the U.S. Military

It's the kind of media attention money can't buy. Everybody's talking about Patagonia's hidden political message on the backside of a tag sewn into a pair of shorts, imploring customers to "Vote the Assholes Out." It's even become a trending topic on Twitter — what brand wouldn't want that kind of free advertising? Activism is, of course, nothing new for this popular marketer of outerwear, which has made headlines for giving a $10 million tax cut to environmental programs and for closing up shop on Election Day. Every news outlet from CNN to NBC, Yahoo, Vogue and People magazine carried approving stories on the company's clever clothing-tag stunt, but the conservative publication National Review was the sole news org I could find that put a spotlight on the lefty brand's surprising hypocrisy. 

While it gets loads of press and the praise of devoted fans because of its p.c. bona fides, National Review reports that Patagonia also happens to be a longtime contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense, noting that the company has an entire team dedicated to furnishing our fighting men and women with cold-weather and combat uniforms. As the magazine's Jim Geraghty writes, "Most people will have no problem with Patagonia developing and selling [products to] the U.S. military. Then again, some of Patagonia's more stridently liberal customers, who see the U.S. military as an inherently imperialistic or destructive force, might not see the company's military contracts as a sin that they can excuse or forgive." 

Count me among those stridently liberal customers, someone who happens to be a fan of Patagonia who proudly buys and wears its products, in no small part because I so admire its politics. As such, I say let Columbia or Marmot or Carhartt or The North Face supply our soldiers with their apparel. Now, nobody wants our soldiers to get frostbite, of course. And National Review's report makes a pretty broad leap in suggesting that if you're a liberal you're against the troops. (I am a liberal and I am not anti-military.) But strictly regarding brand equity and brand reputation, Patagonia has been far too successful building an image as a socially responsible company to risk pissing off its core customers. You cannot serve two masters, as the commandment goes. Finding out Patagonia is in bed with the Pentagon is like hearing Ben & Jerry's is the official ice cream of Fox News. 

Here's the thing. I believe our armed forces deserve the very best supplies there are — I just don't believe such a famously progressive company with such a devoted following on the left should be doing the supplying. 

Oh, and one more thing: Vote the Assholes Out.

Monday, September 14

Target Latest Company to Make C-Suite More Diverse

Target is going beyond just paying lip service to diversifying its upper ranks. Today, Maurice Cooper starts at the Minneapolis-based retail chain as senior VP of marketing, where he will lead brand, category and promotional marketing efforts across paid, owned and shared media and oversee key campaigns including those around the all-important holiday shopping season. Previously, Cooper was exec VP, chief growth & experience officer at the fast-casual chain Wingstop and also served in brand marketing positions at The Coca-Cola Co. and Intercontinental Hotels Group. Target is just the latest company to make its C-suite more diverse. Another is Boeing, which last week appointed Ed Dandridge to senior VP, chief communications officer. Dandridge previously was global chief marketing and communications officer at the insurance giant AIG. Target and Boeing follow companies such as Apple, Nike and Netflix making high-profile minority hires in recent weeks, each putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to assigning minorities to C-suite roles. The trend is long overdue, and the recent promotions are but a drop in the bucket when it comes to the leadership of American business. As USA Today recently reported, among 279 senior positions at the top 50 companies in the S&P 100, only 5 are held by Black people — and 2 of those recently retired. While many companies rushed to issue statements of support to the Black community following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, they clearly have a long way to go when it comes to making their boardrooms more accurately reflect their employee ranks and the customers they serve. 

Friday, September 11

Wish You Were Here

#rip #wtc #911

The "Brand With Balls Award" Goes to Krispy Kreme

The award for the brand with the biggest balls of 2020 has to go to Krispy Kreme, which, even though Manhattan remains all but emptied because of COVID-19, still plans next week to open its flagship store in Times Square, normally one of the busiest neighborhoods in the world but where foot traffic is but one-tenth of what it was a year ago. (Although it should be pointed out that, even if it had wanted to pull out of the storefront, it probably couldn't have, as New York landlords have been particularly hard on retailers seeking to modify their leases during the pandemic. But, we'll still give 'em props for hanging in there.) There are features of the new Krispy Kreme store, as CNN reports, that we won't likely get to enjoy for some time — like the stadium seating in a giant doughnut box. And with the city still straining to get back to normal-ish, there probably won't be the once-anticipated mile-long lines around the corner on opening day, a phenomenon that, you may recall, greeted such Middle American chains as Chick-fil-A and Arby's when they swung open the doors of their first NYC outposts. But just think: a year from now, after we've all been vaccinated, the coronavirus is a distant, hideous memory and President Biden has reestablished the White House pandemic response team so we never find ourselves in quite this deep a pile again, we'll all be scarfing down those hot-off-the-conveyer-belt balls of sugary dough on our way over to a Broadway show. Ah, to dream ...

Thursday, September 10

On Books, Beaches, Diversity and Andrew Sullivan — Or, What I Did (and Didn't Do) on My Summer Vacation

Andrew Sullivan: 90s pinup

Followers of ToAM (hellllllooooo? Is there anybody out there still?) can see I took most of the summer off from posting content here. Not that there hasn't been anything going on in media and marketing — it's just that, considering the bleak state of the world and the need to mind my own mental health first, I had to shut it down for a while. Took a road trip down South and a handful of trips to P-town and other sandy points dotting New England, finally finished up a couple of books staring at me from my nightstand for too long — oldies like Joan Didion's "The White Album" and Rex Reed's irresistibly titled "Do You Sleep in the Nude?" as well as newbies like my friends Chris Freeman and Jim Berg's latest collection of essays on Isherwood, Andre Leon Talley's takedown of Anna Wintour and comic Judy Gold's book about free speech. That, and redecorating my home/office about a dozen times because, well, if I have to look at that old poster from the David Hockey exhibit at the Met one ... more ... minute ... . Oh, yes, and there's been work, mostly on behalf of companies scrambling to figure out how to communicate to the world that they're still alive even while nobody's paying attention. It's not as if the business has been asleep in the middle of our hunkering down, you know. 

The headline of the summer: Corporations, including some of the world's mightiest, have been scrambling in the age of #BLM and #MeToo to put Black people and women in more senior and visible positions — most recently Citi, which just promoted chief brand officer Carla Hassan to CMO in charge of the newly merged marketing and branding division, and Amazon, which installed Ukonwa Ojo as CMO of Prime Video and Amazon Studios. For years, media and marketing companies have pretty much played lip service to the concept of diversity. I was hired about a year ago to conduct several interviews with the head of diversity for a major ad agency with the aim of developing some external content around the topic. In the scheme of things, a well-placed feature or opinion piece here or there would've been at least been something, I suppose, but also kind of like trying to put out a Cali wildfire with a bottle of Saratoga spring water. That project, as it turned out, was shelved as the agency began to prioritize other fires. Not that I was the least bit surprised. I've been writing about diversity in this business for as long as I've been writing about the business — quite a long time — and only in 2020, because of a movement that began with the criminal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of cops, did anything really start to change. As someone who started his career writing about the business of newspapers (you remember those), I can attest that sometimes it takes the dinosaurs a while to wake up. 

Speaking of dinosaurs, Andrew Sullivan has been the topic of conversation this summer that, try as I might, I simply cannot seem to escape. Going back again to my beginnings as a media writer, I recall idolizing Sullivan when he was the brainy, cuter-than-a-button editor of The New Republic. Posing for Gap ads, putting out a magazine that was a must-read among the kvetching sets of New York and D.C., defending gay rights and gay marriage with clinical precision and unrelenting ferocity — and a British accent to boot — what writer didn't want to be him (or be with him) back in the 90s? Then he got sidetracked into racial politics and was branded a racist himself and this summer he got fired from his lofty perch at New York magazine because of it and, well, the whole Andrew Sullivan Show just became so tiresome. He managed to lose me and a lot of other people along the way. As the headline of Ben Smith's recent Times piece on Sullivan put it: "I'm Still Reading Andrew Sullivan. But I Can't Defend Him." The only difference is, unlike Smith, I do not read him anymore. It's not because I don't consume content put out by people I disagree with — I do. Fran Lebowitz once commented that she doesn't understand liberals who watch only MSNBC and read only the Times. "I watch Fox News," she said. "And believe me, it's much worse than you think." Sullivan is as beautiful a writer and as sharp an observer of politics, history and the culture as he ever was, in spite of my objections about much of his worldview. It's like that line from Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives," wherein the college student (played by Juliette Lewis) explains to her professor (Allen) why she objects to his latest novel due to its overall retrograde views toward women: "We're not arguing about whether it's brilliant or not. 'Triumph of the Will' was a great movie but you despise the ideas behind it." (A prescient line considering the details of Allen's own life as we've come to know them the past few decades.) I say the more content the better in what's left of this hulking old hunk of mud that used to be called a democracy. But frankly, there's just too much to read. And while I wholeheartedly support paying for content (including Sullivan's newsletter, "The Weekly Dish," which charges readers 50 bucks a year), I have too many online newspaper and magazine subscriptions and streaming services to pony up for on a freelancer's pay as it is. Besides, in the case of Andrew Sullivan, I figure I have any number of alternative ways to become enraged for free. 

And yet, it all makes me wonder ... would you subscribe to ToAM were you to be forced to pay for the pleasure? 

Wheels spinning ... wheels spinning ... 

Wednesday, June 24

Everybody Hates Facebook: Ben & Jerry's, Eddie Bauer And Other Brave Brands Join Boycott of Evil Empire

What, me worry?
In a characteristically slick presentation to advertisers yesterday, Facebook highlighted campaigns by Delta Air Lines and Calvin Klein that have run during the pandemic. What it didn't mention, as the Times reports, was that the very same day three brands — Ben & Jerry's, Eddie Bauer and Magnolia Pictures — joined a small but growing army of advertisers committing to a monthlong boycott of the platform in July over its questionable content-moderation practices, essentially pitting the odd trinity of patriotism, capitalism and common human decency against the soulless media monster that has steadfastly defended its dubious principles regarding what it vomits out every day (at least when what it vomits out happens to come from deep-pocketed advertisers, notably politicians).

Ben & Jerry's — a brand well known for standing up for what it believes in, long before and even since its acquisition by global consumer packaged goods giant Unilever — did not mince words in coming for Facebook, urging it "to take stronger action to stop its platforms from being used to divide our nation, suppress voters, foment and fan the flames of racism and violence, and undermine our democracy."

Facebook and its odious, androidlike overlord Mark Zuckerberg have become a popular target for their strange defense of President Trump's offensive and divisive content — with not only powerful advertisers taking a stand but also Facebook's usually loyal-sheep employees, who broke out of their virtual veal pens to stage a virtual walkout this month.

For years, I have taken on social media brands for allowing Trump to use their platforms to spew his hate — content that would get any of us common citizens banned at once. I feel so strongly about it that, at the beginning of his presidential campaign, I took it upon myself to start a petition to get Trump kicked off Twitter because of his obvious violations of its terms of service. As you can see, that noble gesture was a raging success.

I support Ben & Jerry's and the other brands that are sticking it to Facebook — a move made all the more brave because, as America begins to reopen post-plague, advertisers can hardly afford to do anything to hurt their business. Meanwhile, Facebook is not hurting. As this chart from the website Visual Capitalist shows, social media has been affected the least of all media categories because of the pandemic, with business still projected to grow by nearly 10 percent for the year, compared to TV (down 10 percent), newspapers (down 20 percent) and in-cinema advertising (down 32 percent).

There are many reasons why the boycott likely won't affect Facebook at all. As Lucia Moses of Business Insider points out, "North Face and its ilk are rivals, so there was competitive pressure to join in. The huge ad spenders have yet to join the boycott. And Facebook's $70 billion advertising business mostly comes from small businesses that can ill afford to quit Facebook."

And yet, brand marketers continue to come aboard. Aside from the advertisers taking a stand, I also admire those ad industry leaders who've had the guts to throw their support behind the boycott — among them, Barry Lowenthal of The Media Kitchen, who told AdExchanger that it "is about more than just brand safety. It's about protecting our democracy."

Still, you'll forgive me for wondering whether any of this will make the social media garbage peddlers change their morally bankrupt ways.

But like any revolution, you gotta start somewhere.

Tuesday, May 19

Needless Necessities: Amazon Delivers 100 Million Items Like Masks and Ventilators to the Front Lines, And Lots of Totally Useless Crap to the Rest of Us

Since launching a b-to-b service in late March dedicated to those on the front lines of the coronavirus fight, Amazon says it has provided more than 100 million items to workers, including masks, ventilators, surgical gloves and sanitizers, as CNBC reports. It's not making a profit on those products — yet one more example of a brand doing good during these weird and perilous times. (Ad Age has been keeping an excellent, comprehensive running tally of these companies — check it out here.)

I don't know about you, but I'm doing my own part to make up for Amazon's lost profits and to ensure that business keeps flowing to the world's largest e-tailer and its boss, aka the richest man in the universe. How? By purchasing every little thing off Amazon I've ever even passably considered acquiring for myself.

Acacia cutting board as big as your sofa? Check. That weird David LaChapelle coffee table book from like 20 years ago, full of arty pictures of naked and otherwise compromised celebrities? Check. Scented soy candles? Kiehl's "Rare Earth" man masques? Gardening tools? Protein bars? Mala beads? An Amazon Echo? Yep, I got 'em all, finally stopping myself (for now) before ordering those padded, butt-enhancing drawers they keep serving me ads for on Instagram for some reason.

Apparently, I'm not alone in my quest for grown-up Christmas every day during this quarantine — the mailroom of my apartment building is awash with packages at all times (I swear it looks like the last scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark down there), but never more than over the last few weeks. I've spotted everything there from workout equipment to patio lounge chairs to an espresso machine to an entire living room rug — even the rare bulk pack of paper goods — all ordered up by my fellow oppressed, homebound neighbors, the large share of it from Amazon. And I'm not even counting the dozens of grocery deliveries every week by way of Whole Foods, part of the Amazon family.

A question: Do we really need all this stuff?

The answer, of course, is no. Granted, many of these deliveries contain essentials like food and toilet paper, but I think we could all live quite comfortably without a photography book or patchouli candles (though the prayer beads couldn't hurt right now). Let's face it: Most of this stuff amounts to straight-up, self-pampering, yuppie consumption that, while not exceedingly conspicuous, is nonetheless nonessential.

It reminds me of that Absolutely Fabulous episode in which PR maven Edina Monsoon tells her daughter Saffy that she actually wouldn't mind at all if she chose to lie around all day scarfing snacks and watching TV instead of going off to college: "Frankly, in my business we need that kind of person."

Despite Steven Mnuchin's dire warning that states not lifting their lockdown measures could lead to "permanent economic damage," if my mailroom and the steady volume of UPS, USPS and FexEx trucks up and down my block are any indication, those of us increasingly addicted to home shopping, home delivery and all this totally needless crap are doing our part to keep the red, white and blue wheels of commerce spinning.

Now, might I interest you in a dozen boxes of fast-expiring Pure Protein Peanut Butter Bars?