Sunday, December 31, 2023

16487: Seeking $upport For HCBUs.


Adweek published a perspective suggesting that White advertising agencies and brands go beyond viewing HBCUs as potential promotional heat shields, and instead provide meaningful investments to back the colleges and universities. It’s a tough proposition, given that industry support—whether for HBCUs or any non-White enterprise—has not yet progressed from crumbs to cash.


Allyship With HBCUs Is More Than a Marketing Campaign


Brands can bridge funding gaps through meaningful long-term investments in infrastructure


By Will Ayers


Since the inception of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the 1800s, HBCUs have been a driving force in developing successful Black professionals in America. According to a White House report, HBCUs have produced approximately 40% of all Black engineers, 50% of all Black lawyers, 70% of Black doctors and 80% of Black judges. These prestigious colleges and universities have also produced close to 50% of the teachers in America, and many of the most accomplished names across the world of sports, business and entertainment are products of an HBCU.


Even many of the trends we see today, whether it be in fashion, music or social media, have been driven by some of the brilliant minds that have walked HBCU campuses. Collectively, these colleges and universities sit at the four-way intersection of authenticity, academia, culture and commerce.


Markedly, HBCUs have accomplished all of these feats while being underfunded, so imagine the potential if they had meaningful support. Brands across America can bridge the gap, not only by showing up during key moments throughout the year but also making meaningful long-term investments in HBCU students and institutions.


Over the past five years, brands have begun to align themselves with HBCUs and diverse communities more often. However, it’s important that brands’ alignment transcend symbolic gestures in marketing campaigns, sponsored events and brand activations. Now is the time for brands to build a more meaningful relationship with HBCUs that nurtures campus life, professional development and talent pipelines that enhance the HBCU experience.


It’s not enough for brands to just be present—they must authentically engage with HBCU culture, their graduates, students at the university and its rich history, in an always-on approach that helps HBCUs overcome the obstacles of being underfunded for many decades.


One recent example of a brand authentically engaging with HBCU culture is when Flamin’ Hot partnered with Grammy award-winning artist Megan Thee Stallion to raise scholarship funds for HBCU students. Knowing the importance of homecoming season at HBCUs, Flamin’ Hot teamed up with the Houston rapper to launch Flamin’ Hot University, a fictitious university that offered online courses and limited-edition merchandise inspired by popular streetwear designer Melody Ehsani.


The collection also included a Stallion Varsity Jacket and a Hot Girl Club sweater, which was inspired by Megan Thee Stallion. Proceeds from the collection went towards starting a scholarship fund of up to $150,000 at Texas Southern University, which is also Megan Thee Stallion’s alma mater. The partnership with Megan Thee Stallion was organic, the campaign was seamlessly integrated into HBCU culture and it left a meaningful impact on students at Texas Southern University.


The campaign illustrated a successful and authentic way to engage with and invest in HBCU culture, so how else can brands tap into HBCU culture in meaningful ways?


Invest in campus infrastructure 


Long-term investments in infrastructure enable brands to be more present in the daily nuances of the HBCU experience. Financial support for infrastructure such as dorms, athletic facilities and classrooms enhances the college experience of HBCU students. These types of investments and partnerships allow brands to be authentically woven into the fabric of the everyday lives of HBCU culture and students who are pursuing their degrees.


Empower students through mentorship


At the core, HBCUs are schools of higher learning that build leaders and some of the most esteemed professionals, not only in the Black community but in America—it’s important that brands understand this mission. Establishing mentorship programs at HBCUs seamlessly aligns with this assignment by providing students with the proper insight and guidance to help them secure jobs once they graduate. It also provides them with access to conversations with individuals who have once walked a similar path. This will not only accelerate their professional development but also help them build a strong network of professionals they can lean on to help navigate their academic and career journey.


Build talent pipelines


Building a career pathway for students will also make a significant impact on bridging the gap for HBCUs. Create a calendar of events throughout the year that includes professional development workshops, panel discussions that provide career insight, and internship opportunities that are designed to establish clear pathways for students to have successful careers in their respective fields. Additionally, brands should also consider investing in curriculum development and campus career fairs in an effort to ensure that students are being prepared for what their respective industry looks like now, and in the future.


Allyship with HBCUs is more than just a marketing campaign. Marketing campaigns only represent a moment in time or in the world of advertising a “flight.” In an ever-changing world where budgets are getting tighter and the return on investment is more important than ever, one of the best returns on investment for a brand is investing in HBCUs. Not only are you showing up in front of an audience that is one of the driving forces behind trends for young people, but there is also an opportunity to help students become leaders in their respective fields, creating a sustainable pipeline to hire Black professionals and helping nurture the HBCU experience in a way that drives authenticity and allyship.


This can be accomplished by forming apparel partnerships with HBCU athletic programs similar to Nike’s partnership with Florida A&M University, establishing internship and mentoring programs for HBCU students, creating unique brand activations at HBCU homecomings, hosting exclusive product launch events on HBCU campuses and by leveraging social media to engage with HBCU students in a way that lets them know you care.


It’s one thing for brands to say that they care, but the impact comes from actions rooted in authenticity. 

Saturday, December 30, 2023

16486: Google Antisemitic Searches Up—Oy Vey.


MediaPost reported that Google searches for antisemitic content have spiked since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, 2023. It’s not clear if the search inquiries were rooted in hate, cultural cluelessness, or curiosity. But it will be interesting to see the Google Doodle addressing the disturbing phenomenon.


Antisemitic Search Queries Rise ‘Massively’


By Laurie Sullivan


Mordy Oberstein, head of the SEO brand at Israeli software company Wix, shared data on social-media platforms that had him “literally shaking.”


Google searches for antisemitic queries are up “massively” since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. What does it mean for marketers?


Oberstein, who authored The Mideast Journal’s study, has worked at Wix for more than three years, but he also serves as a communications advisor for Semrush.


Search has long been a guide for what people want to purchase or learn more about. Companies float a variety of numbers to determine the number of searches daily.


One report estimates that in August 2023, about 8.5 billion searches took place on Google daily, about 99,000 searches per second. Some 15% of Google searches are unique, which is equivalent to 1.275 billion unique queries every day.


Analysts working with Oberstein pulled data from Semrush, analyzing the search volumes for particular keywords in September 2023 compared with October 2023.


Keywords analyzed include intifada, intifada revolution, from the river to the sea, glory to our martyrs, by all means necessary, why did Hitler hate the Jews, Hitler was right, are Jews bad, kill Jews, and why are Jews bad.


Oberstein found misinformation, decay and hatred — not only in the United States, but worldwide.


Just prior to Hamas’ attack on Israel in September through October, the data shows an 1800% rise in the number of Google searches for “Kill Jews.”


The search term “are Jews bad” rose 182%, and “why Jews are bad” rose 460%.


“It could be argued, that as people watched the news unfold, [and listened] to the vocal protests, Google users were searching for the term without any malicious intent toward Jews,” Oberstein wrote.


In early September 2023, before the attack, zero Google searches registered for the term “kill Jews” in Semrush’s data. A month later, after the attacks on October 7, the term began to register in the data.


“We went from not seeing the term register in the data set at all to seeing the search query accrue more than a substantial amount of monthly Google searches (approximately 500 in the U.S. over 30 days),” he wrote.


In October 2022, data also showed a significant increase in the frequency of searches for the term “kill Jews.” At the time, Kanye West had used antisemitic language and NBA star Kyrie Irving struggled with his own antisemitic controversy.


The rhetoric spewed by the singer and the NBA player raised concerns about spreading antisemitism. The term “kill Jews” at the time reached a monthly search volume of 170.


Since October 2023, searches for the term “Hitler was right” rose 122% and the terms “intifada revolution,” “from the river to the sea” and “glory to our martyrs” jumped in search frequency above 10,000%.

Friday, December 29, 2023

16485: PBM WTF.


PhRMA—Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America®—sounds the alarm by declaring, “There’s a PBM standing between you and your doctor.”


A PBM, incidentally, is a Pharmacy Benefit Manager. NAIC—National Association of Insurance Commissioners—states the following:


Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are third-party companies that function as intermediaries between insurance providers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. PBMs create formularies, negotiate rebates (discounts paid by a drug manufacturer to a PBM) with manufacturers, process claims, create pharmacy networks, review drug utilization, and occasionally manage mail-order specialty pharmacies.


In light of rising health care costs, the role of PBMs are being reviewed due to the cost of prescription drugs and the effects on consumers. The cost of insulin and EpiPens has been the focus of much of the news coverage, with patients being forced to ration medicine when they cannot afford copays.


In short, PBMs are key players in deciding which drugs will be covered by which insurance providers, ultimately impacting drug manufacturers, doctors, people, and insurance providers—albeit each in distinct ways.


There are clearly conflicting interests between drug manufacturers—ie, Big Pharma—and PBMs. So, it’s not surprising that PhRMA would launch a campaign to discredit the irritating intermediaries.


But why stereotype PBMs as angry, old White men with corporate suits and characteristics? Oddly enough, the image seemingly reflects public perceptions of Big Pharma executives.


It’s pot calling the kettle, well, White.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

16484: Adland Backtracking, Systemic Racism Fast-Tracking.


Campaign published a lengthy report stating the obvious: Adland’s commitment to DE&I—sparked in recent years after the 2020 George Floyd murder—is performative, box-checking bullshit.


Additionally, cultural cluelessness gone bad—eg, the Bud Light–Dylan Mulvaney scenario—prompted diminishing interest and investment in DE&I initiatives by White advertising agencies and brands alike.


To summarize, insincere dedication to equality, insufficient heat shield financing, and ineffective tactics to address exclusivity are worsening.


In Adland, systemic racism isn’t being fought—rather, it’s being fortified.


Adland backtracked on its DE&I commitments in 2023. Leaders worry 2024 will be worse


From Bud Light and Target to KFC and Zara, many of this year’s most divisive moments in advertising were attempts at diversity gone wrong. Industry leaders say there is an urgent need to rethink DE&I’s business role.


By Bailey Calfee


On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes while two fellow officers watched. Floyd was one of 1,152 people killed by U.S. police officers in 2020, and his death started an uprising as the country forced institutions to reckon with deep systemic inequality.


In the advertising industry, those demands were met with promises to increase diversity in campaigns and within teams. Agencies and brands created new positions and departments to address DE&I shortcomings, and reexamined business structures to eliminate institutional bias.


By 2023, the limits of these commitments became apparent. High-profile backlash to LGBTQ+ inclusion by brands led many to abandon or pull back on their displays of Pride, while advertising blunders sparked allegations of racism and concerns regarding marketing teams’ internal diversity measures.


Meanwhile, the chief diversity officer role is increasingly susceptible to elimination as companies tighten their belts and lay off staff amid fears of recession. Three years after Floyd’s murder, industry leaders told Campaign US that the industry’s commitment to racial parity is still lacking.


According to Dr. Dawn Wade, managing partner and chief strategy officer of multicultural creative agency Nimbus, industry norms of calculating DE&I impact by revenue gains sets the system up for failure.


“DE&I doesn’t have a return that hits your bottom line — it’s an expense, it’s not a revenue generating opportunity,” she said. “Of all the efficiencies and good work that DE&I has done, it hasn’t generated money for the brand, so it’s going to get cut — and that’s what we see happening across the board.”


When averting risk is prioritized in the name of maximizing profits, some brands have made plain their limited interest in pushing for progressive change.


“I don’t think that people of color in general are surprised at the downward trend of DE&I,” said Tyra Jones-Hurst, managing partner at agency Oliver and founder of its inclusive marketing arm, InKroud. “We’ve seen it time and time again, where there’s going to be change and then nothing happens.”


But rather than give up on making progress, adland must examine its mistakes and rethink its strategy as the country becomes more diverse — and consumers and employees alike demand change.


A purpose-less Pride


In March, ABInBev’s Bud Light commissioned trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney for an Instagram partnership that involved sending her a custom can of beer with her face on the label to celebrate her one-year anniversary of beginning her transition.


What ensued was a vicious reaction from a conservative faction of the brand’s audience: Stock prices plummeted, buyers backed out and truck drivers with Bud Light branded vehicles were attacked along their distribution routes.


But instead of reiterating its support for Mulvaney, Bud Light instead distanced itself from the controversy. This broadened the backlash to both sides of the aisle and undid any attempts at diversifying Bud Light’s audience, a strategy shepherded by its first woman marketing VP in its 40-year history, Alissa Heinerscheid. ABInBev suspended both Heinerscheid and her direct supervisor in the aftermath, and Bud Light’s advertising has reverted to tie-ins with football stars and country musicians.


In the wake of the fiasco, many brands that had previously expressed support for the LGBTQ+ community went silent or at least muted their marketing efforts during Pride month.


Perhaps energized by their success with Bud Light, conservative media targeted other brands that activated for Pride to varying degrees of success. While The North Face refused to backtrack on a Pride campaign starring drag queen Pattie Gonia, Target moved its Pride collection to the back of some stores and pulled a collaboration with a trans designer after untrue allegations circulated that the company was selling trans-inclusive swimwear to children and stocking products with Satanic themes.


Wade noted that the speed with which brands backtracked around Pride commitments this year proved that their initial DE&I commitments were rooted in risk aversion, and therefore were performative.


Rash decision-making to retreat around Pride exacerbated the backlash by alienating both sides, leading to more financial damage.


“Target, for example, made those radical decisions before there could be any counterbalancing from those that support [Pride] efforts, which could have actually balanced losses from that perspective,” Wade said.


In the name of risk-aversion, she added, Target and Bud Light reacted “before [they] recognized that the system was going to normalize itself.”


Had either brand played the long game and stood behind their inclusive decisions, the tide would eventually have turned in their favor, Jones-Hurst agreed. Similar to trading stocks, one doesn’t cash out at every dip.


“You have to trust and believe in the change that’s coming about and that you will get more gain in the end — and not just financial gain, but brand loyalty, brand awareness and new consumers from an audience segment you might not even have tapped into.”


When risk aversion leads to community abandonment, it becomes clear that a brand’s values do not align with its promises.


“If you really stood by the principles and values of what you were creating, then why would you pull it back?” said Theresa Sarbeng, head of DE&I, North America at Oliver. “It shows who your company is if you’re like, ‘oh shoot, we’re gonna lose some profit.’”


Lack of accountability breeds “easy” inclusivity


Three years after the business world began to prioritize DE&I, it seems to no longer be viewed as a business essential. According to industry leaders, this reflects a lack of accountability from the industry as well as consumers.


“There have been countless conversations, countless promises [to prioritize DE&I], and I feel like there is a question around accountability,” said Leila Fataar, founder, CEO and CSO of cultural relevancy agency Platform13. “Even in 2020, I thought, ‘Who’s going to check all this stuff?’ There was so much promise.”


Nimbus’ Wade argued, “Many of those commitments were a facade, and will continue to be a facade until the consumer decides that it’s important to them,” adding that consumers as a whole have not abandoned brands who have failed to meet promises made in 2020.


“[Brands] recognize, ‘they’re not holding our [feet] to the fire to make sure that we are delivering on those [promises],’” she said. “So they took a tentative step back to see if that would be felt, and when there was no blowback or accountability, now they’re more comfortable with taking two feet back — and they will continue to backtrack.”


Similarly, ABInBev’s earnings took a hit in the aftermath of Bud Light’s controversy, its stock prices have since stabilized to about $2 more per share than their worth in January. And as the controversy has faded, more than 40% of consumers that boycotted the brand in April are more willing to come back to Bud Light.


As brands continue to lack accountability for their actions, people from marginalized communities are most likely to continue to push for inclusive marketing — but their voices are less likely to be heard.


Leaders agreed that while inclusivity has not fallen completely by the wayside, brands have pulled back from taking big risks.


“I wouldn’t say that I see a shift toward less inclusivity, but I see a shift in easy inclusivity,” said Jones-Hurst. “The quick wins were easy — setting a vision, being very vocal about your commitments, setting metrics — and then the hard part comes with the endurance and shared accountability,” said Sarbeng.


Honing in on the right issues


According to Natalie Silverstein, chief innovation officer at influencer marketing agency Collectively, brands are now honing in more carefully on which issues their consumers want them to take a stand on.


“What we saw in 2020 was that every brand was feeling like they needed to comment on everything, and I think that that’s definitely shifted — brands have gotten more selective about what they focus on by really hearing their customers,” she said. “There’s not as much of a knee-jerk reaction from brands to say something immediately.”


This strategy has been most noticeable amid the war in Gaza, with very few businesses willing to speak in support of either side. Though it’s a nuanced topic that doesn’t affect every U.S. brand, brands were very quick to risk speaking out in 2022 when the Russia-Ukraine war began.


According to Silverstein, brands that have shifted the ways they react to issues have in fact shown who they want as their customers.


“Seeing these patterns, the smartest marketers are focusing on understanding, ‘Who are my customers of today, who are my customers of tomorrow, what am I trying to communicate through this brand effort and what risk am I willing to take to go there?’”


The great DE&I layoff


As brands grapple with how to react to societal issues around inclusion, they’re grappling with a loss of DE&I leadership.


A Paradigm study found that companies are less likely to have had a DE&I budget or strategy in 2023 as opposed to 2022, though it noted an increase in companies with senior DE&I leaders during that time.


But any uptick in DE&I leadership has been overshadowed by industry-wide layoffs. DE&I roles added 2020 getting cut as early as 2021, with the number of job losses surging in 2022. DE&I professionals were disproportionately laid off in 2022, according to a study from Revelio, and while final stats are not yet available for 2023, anecdotal evidence suggests that DE&I positions have continued to be disproportionately laid off or eliminated amid fears of a recession.


“We can see what has been deprioritized, we can see the layoffs, we can see the heads of diversity being removed,” said Fataar.


Sarbeng said she was afraid for her own job, and shared her concerns from “watching different companies cut very established, very strong DE&I leaders across the industry,” with her CEO. “Many companies are almost blaming DE&I for not achieving their goals.”


Fataar argued that DE&I layoffs are due to failures to properly integrate the department as a core business function.


“It should be horizontal throughout the business,” she said. “DE&I needs to go across the business, not just one department, because as soon as you’re deprioritizing, you just get rid of that department.”


DE&I as an easy internal fix also doesn’t work in the long run.


“To try to change a system where the dominant majority have been benefiting from systemic racism and asking them to give more power to a group that has been historically marginalized takes time and investment,” said Sarbeng. “The disconnect is on the original structure.”


Inclusive marketing blunders underline lack of diverse talent internally, or at least a lack of those with power to sway campaigns.


For example, a diversely cast KFC Canada campaign ended up drawing accusations of racism for its out of home element, which showed Black consumers eating fried chicken without utensils. In a previous piece on the campaign, Jones-Hurst cold Campaign US that the OOH imagery “dampened what should have been a cheeky and refreshing take on an old slogan into a classically harmful and stale stereotype for the Black community.”


Recently, a global Zara Atelier campaign drew backlash for the imagery’s resemblance of photos from the war in Gaza, showing mannequin bodies and limbs wrapped in white tarps. A Muslim person on staff could have pointed out that the images were reminiscent of an established Muslim burial tradition.


“Brands don’t know what they don’t know, and until they open their doors and are willing to be exposed, they won’t — that’s why you have to be intentional about who sits at your table,” said Wade.


Having diverse talent on staff can not only limit potential blowback from a problematic campaign, but also underline the importance of standing by inclusive efforts. Fataar noted that ABInBev’s decision not to stand by Mulvaney reflected its lack of awareness on the impact of such a move, whether that be threats to Mulvaney’s life or a subsequent lack of opportunities for other trans influencers.


“Diversity and representation cannot only be on the output — it’s got to be on the input, or else you’re not checked as a brand, you’re not challenged internally and it will hurt your brand at the end of the day.”


Where does the industry go from here?


The lack of accountability and the pullback of DE&I efforts in 2023 shows that brands need to set clear values to inform their course of action.


“Shifting cultural relevance from a marketing ‘nice to have” to a business strategy is what I’ve always championed, because then it goes throughout the business and the output is different,” Fataar said.


This is a responsibility for brands, she said, “especially big global brands, because they’ve got a big voice in the world. They can influence things, they can stand for something.”


Brands also must see DE&I as valuable, rather than costly. “Brands that commit tend to do better over time,” Silverstein pointed out. Likewise, “If it’s just empty behind those messages, consumers feel that.”


Sarbeng acknowledged the challenge for brands and agencies. Oliver, she said, “didn’t cut our budget and stays investing [in DE&I], yet it’s still very challenging. You can constantly feel like you’re failing, but it’s going to cost time and money to make systemic change, which is why you can’t ever give up even when it feels like you’re taking two steps back.”


Though this year was full of high-profile setbacks, there are bumps on the road to progress.


“We’ll have this huge leap forward and then we’re going to have some setbacks,” said Silverstein. “Our responsibility is to continue to emphasize and recommend to our clients how to operate in these spaces and to always be pushing for authentic representation wherever we can.”


In the long term, “if marketers and business leaders are not adapting to an inclusive and diverse workplace and if you aren’t leveling up your leadership in those areas, you are going to fall behind and lose profit,” said Sarbeng.


“I think they’re waiting for us to go away, but we won’t,” added Jones-Hurst of people from marginalized groups. “As generations keep shifting and as time keeps going, we become more and more outspoken — and we’re the ones with buying power.”

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

16483: Bud Light Takes A Performative Pass.


The new Bud Light commercial starring Peyton Manning and Emmitt Smith—created by White advertising agency Anomaly—should be flagged for offensive violations.


Blatantly attempting to recover from its monumental branding fumble, InBev shows the NFL Hall of Famers visiting a good-old-boys bar in frat-boy style, hurling cans of Bud Light with macho splendor.


InBev’s continued denial of the not-so-well-received diversity drop displays a lack of integrity and accountability. And the contrived commercial reflects corporate cowardice.


Seems like the global beer company missed another opportunity to demonstrate authentic support for diverse audiences. Below is a concept to consider.


Just a thought.


Tuesday, December 26, 2023

16482: Kwanzaa In Adland 2023.


Given that many White advertising agencies are closed through the end of the year for the holidays, it’s unlikely that Kwanzaa will be acknowledged in Adland.


Don’t expect to see any Kwanzaa advertisements in the AOTW Holiday Campaigns collection. Even Mickey D’s Black & Positively Golden® campaign will probably take a pass.


White ad shops that feel obligated to engage in performative box-checking stunts will delegate resident Chief Diversity Officers or Black ERGs to post an agencywide email explaining the annual event. And if the Chief Diversity Officer is among the majority who are White, the email content will feature copied-and-pasted results from Google searches—provided they can even spell Kwanzaa.


Count on Campbell Ewald and TRG to steer clear of it all.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

16480: Not A Creature Was Stirring, Not Even A Mouse…


Vamoose promises to get rid of mice and rats—by luring them into a microwave…?

Saturday, December 23, 2023

16479: Just A Few Shoplifting Days Left…


Retail theft might not be as dramatic as news reports and social media claim, but the problem is still bad—so, it seems odd to celebrate the season with holiday steals.