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?

Friday, May 15

Be Careful Reporters, You're Running Out of Adjectives

Bleak. Painful. Historic. Uncontrollable. Calamitous.

Yep, we're in a real panic situation.

Or, rather, a PANIC!! situation.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a goldmine for media organizations as they attract more viewers, sell more papers and earn more downloads thanks to a public that's hungry for the latest news about the crisis and its effects — nay, sweeping effects.

It's also been a gift to those writers and editors prone to the hyperbolic and the hysterical.

When they're teaching you to write (as if writing could actually be taught, but that's a topic for another post), you learn to use adjectives judiciously, sparingly. The same goes for adverbs. Stephen King, in his excellent tutorial On Writing, pointed out that "the road to hell is paved with adverbs."

Somebody ought to remind today's reporters of that.

Part of the reason the general public has such contempt for the press is that we have an annoying tendency of describing the news rather than simply reporting it. People do not need to be told that the pandemic and its effects are bleak or painful or unprecedented in our time. And they really don't need to be told that it's calamitous. It's a pandemic. How exactly would a pandemic not be calamitous?

Dear fellow journalists: Please stop trying to impress us with your talents for hyperventilating and your large vocabulary. Just give it to us straight.

Wednesday, May 6

'Absolutely NO Burgers!!' Where's the Beef at Wendy's?

With all the marketing throwbacks lately, perhaps it would be fitting for Wendy's to resurrect "Where's the Beef?" That's what one dude suggested on Twitter, sharing a snapshot (above) taken at a Wendy's that had run out of hamburgers — only to have reporters from The New York Times and NBC hit him up for permission to use the photo (which wasn't his, as it turned out, but, rather, was a pic he'd taken from a friend's social media feed). "Some of our menu items may be temporarily limited at some restaurants in the current environment," said Wendy's, which suffered the shortage at the same time it was launching a gift card giveaway on Twitter, as Ad Age reported. What's been lost in much of the coverage of Wendy's running out of meat — and which was absent from even its own corporate statement — is the fact that it is one of the few burger chains to use fresh rather than frozen meat. Seems to me touting the fact that it uses fresh meat would make for a better marketing play than another uninspired contest on social media. Meanwhile, never fear, fast food fans: Word on the street is that McDonald's still has plenty of frozen hockey pucks.

Monday, April 27

Meatless Monday Through Friday? 'Food Supply Chain Is Breaking' Tyson Warns in Alarming Newspaper Ads That Happen to Appear Alongside Stories About Tyson

"Eat More Chicken" pleads the forlorn, sandwich board-wielding heifer in those familiar Chick-fil-A ads. Soon eating more of any kind of meat could be a problem if Tyson Foods' warning is correct. "The food supply chain is breaking," the meat producing giant cautioned in alarming, full-page ads in the Sunday editions of The Washington Post, The New York Times and the company's hometown paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as the Post reports.

Tyson, which has been forced to shut down 13 plants amid the pandemic, argued in the ads that its facilities must stay open to protect the free flow of food (meaning, meat) to American households, even as it defends itself against not properly protecting its workforce from the coronavirus. The ad called on the government to help find ways "to allow our team members to work in safety without fear, panic or worry" — in an advertisement conspicuous for its tone of fear, panic and worry.

D.C. labor lawyer Jon Steingart took to Twitter to note the weird juxtaposition of the ad's placement in the Post alongside the jump of a page one story on the safety of workers at meat processing plants, notably those employed by Tyson Foods.

Understanding that newspapers are desperate for revenue, allowing for the deliberate placement of an ad directly related to a news article on the facing page is, depending on one's point of view, either a violation of journalistic purity or perfect ad-edit symmetry and the logical way to position the paid response of a subject refuting the claims made about said subject in that very story (I'm sure it's just a coincidence that it's a terrific moneymaking scheme).

It used to be that this sort of thing just wasn't done, that ads related in any way to editorial content were strictly forbidden to run adjacent to that content. Of course, anyone who's been paying attention knows such quaint rules have long since been shredded — just check for the many blurred lines between ad copy and edit copy in fashion magazines or for the countless content and event "partnerships" between news orgs and the companies they cover, supposedly aggressively and without bias. The point is, don't be surprised if you start seeing more industries defending themselves by way of such adjacencies. Lord knows newspapers need the cash and industrial titans have got plenty to defend.

Friday, April 24

Ad of the Week: Bud Resurrects an Absolute Classic

We could all use a little "WHASSUP?!" right now. This week, Budweiser brought back its iconic TV campaign from the 90s, reframing it for the age of coronavirus, as Ad Age reports. The spot — which was shot using Zoom and was the brainchild of Bud agency VaynerMedia — features retired hoops stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the WNBA's Candace Parker, DJ D-Nice and Wade's wife, actress Gabrielle Union, resurrecting the classic "WHASSUP?!" line, à la the original commercial from 1999 that became a fin de siècle pop culture phenomenon. As every advertiser knows, nostalgia has a way of making consumers feel all warm and fuzzy, and never more than during challenging moments. Spot-on in tone and timing, this little shot of sentimentality and silliness — albeit with an important message in these crazy times — is just what we needed.

Thursday, April 23

Publicis Groupe Creates Global CMO Position

The shutdown of the ad world caused by the coronavirus pandemic hasn't stopped one agency holding company from creating a top executive-level post.

Publicis Groupe today promoted Justin Billingsley, its president over Germany, Austria and Switzerland (DACH), to the newly created role of global chief marketing officer, where his responsibilities will include product development and marketing, client transformation, new and organic growth, and internal and external public relations and communications. The company said his immediate priority would be partnering with Publicis's global account leads and with clients directly "to ensure they are recovery ready, for today and tomorrow's 'next normal.' "

Billingsley will continue his role as chairman of Publicis Emil and Publicis One Touch, the bespoke agency networks for Mercedes-Benz and Nivea, respectively. Under Billingsley's leadership, DACH won both those accounts. Prior to joining Publicis a decade ago as CEO for Saatchi & Saatchi Greater China, Billingsley held senior marketing jobs at brands including Nokia and Coca-Cola.

Publicis this month reported a net revenue increase of 17 percent in Q1 but a 2.9 percent drop in organic revenue, as Ad Age reported. At the same time, the company announced that due to the pandemic's impact on its business, chairman and CEO Arthur Sadoun and Maurice Lévy, chairman of the supervisory board, would take a 30 percent pay cut while other top managers had their salaries reduced by 20 percent.

While stressing in an interview that there had been no layoffs at Publicis, Sadoun said that every country leader would "curate" cost-cutting plans, adding: "The world has been through many global crises, but nothing like the one we are facing today. I have no doubt we will overcome the crisis."

Publicis recently launched an AI platform in the U.S. called Marcel, which, it said, enables employees working remotely at the moment to post available jobs on assignments and projects throughout the organization to maximize efficiency and workflow.