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Op-Eds

Op-Ed: Is It Racist?

So, we’ll let the conversation roll in a regular series we dub, “Is it Racist,” which is essentially the brainchild of Gitamba Saila-Ngita, a multidisciplinary designer and innovation strategist, living, working, and playing between CT / NYC / SF. He is the founder and chief innovation strategist of DEFT COLLECTIVE, a creative innovation agency based in Hartford, Connecticut.

My name is Gitamba Saila-Ngita and I once helped an agency sell sugar water to children. I’ve also helped them sell new technologies, ideas, and other people’s culture. But what I’ve always found funniest is when I’ve been hired to make things more, “urban” and by “urban” they meant “black”. Race is a topic that in the United States at times feels like we’re trying to seriously look at it with a fine lens and other times completely turning a blind eye to avoid it because it might make for a lack of a better word a few folks, butt hurt.

Recently in the last few months I’ve found that for advertising folks and almost always on this blog we’re hashing over if something is, “racist or not”. Mainly under the pretense that a group of people were offended by the subject matter in the ad and have used the internet to voice their opinion. I reached out to Kiran because I wanted to hopefully start a casual dialogue about the matter from the perspective of ad folks who clearly make these communications for their respective clients.

First let’s define some things so we can look at this objectively.

Racism is defined by most dictionaries as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities     and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular  race” and a racist as “a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that a certain human race is     superior to any or all others. For fun, let’s throw in offensive as “causing resentful displeasure; highly irritating, angering, or annoying”

With those thoughts in mind, I wanted  to find an ad each time I or anyone else writes for this series and put it through those quantifying factors with understanding that the third one is purely subjective to an individual or group.

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Op-Ed: Do Awards Matter?

While we’re on the op-ed kick, let’s pass the mic briefly to Scott Briskman, currently chief creative officer at our monthly, San Francisco-based contributor Extractable who’s also spent time as a senior creative at the likes of Digitaria/JWT and Agency.com. The question’s raised above. Let’s see what the answer is below.

We all work hard to deliver creative solutions that are compelling and useful. Successfully clearing the hurdles along the way of a project are rewarded by seeing an idea come to life and the positive results it generates.  The icing on top is when colleagues take the time to acknowledge our efforts with awards.

Question is, do the awards we win have a purpose beyond making us feel good?

It’s easy to be cynical about it — there are so many shows, so many categories, so many media types.

Don’t go there.

Realize that smart, strong creative execution is necessary for brands to grow and stay ahead of the competition. It’s not just the strategy and the user experience that will affect people. It’s the way people perceive your brand. Visuals must be married with the right words, the right content and displayed in such a way that people are excited.  And with all the stimulation that society is bombarded with today, it’s tough to get it just right, especially with all the varying audiences we’re aiming to please.

So no matter how smart the strategy is, how efficient the media plan is, or how great the technology can be…  if the creative falls flat it’s all for naught. Great creative is what generates an emotional response.  Great creative is what compels action.

So, do awards really matter?  I say, yes, more than ever because they point us to examples where creativity worked.  And, it’s important to have outlets that still celebrate it.

Congratulations to all you lucky award winners this year.  Keep up the good work.

Op-Ed: Commercial Appall

Recognizing mistakes retroactively is easy. After the damage is done, heads roll downhill as people ask, “Who could’ve let this happen?” At times, the criticism can be unfounded. The political correctness machine does not care much for different sides to an offensive story. But sometimes, in cases of extreme public blunders, the story only has one side.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen two thoughtless content blunders – one from Mountain Dew, the other for Hyundai – that resulted in serious and immediate public backlash. Mountain Dew’s goat spot was developed by rapper Tyler, the Creator, and was quickly pulled by Pepsi Co. after viewers complained of racism and misogyny. As you’ll see in the above ABC News clip, it’s also being referred to as “the most racist commercial ever” for the way it reinforces black stereotypes. The Hyundai spot, which aimed to pull humor and brand equity out of a failed garage suicide attempt, may go down as one of the most insensitive commercials ever. Hyundai reached out to AgencySpy, hoping to distance itself from the bad press about an hour after we published excerpts of a heartfelt blog post from Holly Brockwell, a London-based copywriter whose father died in a similar manner to what was portrayed in the ad.

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Op-Ed: And the ‘All-Time Insensitive Award’ Goes to…

By now, you’re probably aware of the shitstorm spawned by Hyundai and Innocean’s recent U.K. spot “Pipe Job,” which didn’t sit too well with people who were directly affected by its subject matter. In turn, the ad was pulled and apologies rained. So, since it’s still fairly fresh in mind, let’s get some quick thoughts on the campaign from Bernie Pitzel, a 35-year ad vet who’s currently creative in residence at Jacobs Agency and is the man behind the “Be Like Mike” Gatorade campaign.

…Hyundai and those wacky cut-ups at Innocean Europe for their recently pulled Hyundai iX35 “Pipe Job” commercial portraying a failed suicide attempt, which was the platform they decided on to tout their 100% water emissions.

Suicide? Really?

Oh, the commercial is powerful, but at what cost? How low can we go to shill a product? Apparently, way lower than I or most of America imagined.

This is the heartbreaking reaction to the commercial from Holly Brockwell, an advertising creative whose father committed suicide; her father’s last note is included. It’s very sad that she had to relive the pain because of this cruel and thoughtless piece of trash.

What amazes me most, is not that some clown came up with this idea (this business has more clown cars than Barnum & Bailey), but that not one person at either Innocean or Hyundai, said, “You know group, maybe depicting a suicide attempt is not such a great idea.” Apparently humanity, common decency and common sense are out the window if we think this is the kind of execution that can sell a car. A stupid car.

I won’t go on. The article, which consists mostly of Holly Brockwell’s response, speaks to the senselessness and pain far better than I ever could.

It’s a tough read. I can only imagine the tears she shed on her keyboard while she wrote it, and I can join her in never, ever purchasing a Hyundai.

In the end, I only hope “Pipe Job” encourages people to shy away from this ridiculously insensitive brand, rather than achieve Hyundai’s and Innocean’s desired intent.

Yes, they got our attention.  Let’s hope they pay dearly for their success.

Op-Ed: Mud-Wrestling Hippos–with Data

Once again, Simon Mathews, currently chief strategy officer at West Coast shop, Extractable who’ s also worked at the likes of Isobar as well as Molecular on the strategy side during his career, is back with his monthly contribution to this here site. We’ll just let him explain the headline. Take it away, sir.

Every digital design / marketing project has a client. Not the most insightful of statement, I know.

And every client has the senior boss, the final sign off or at least the ‘key’ stakeholder.

Many times this senior stakeholder adds knowledge and value to the project, skillfully guiding the future campaign or digital experience inline with long-term business strategy.

Other times, not so much. This is when we enter the world of the mythical, but oh so real, Hippo (Highest-Paid-Person’s Opinion).

I first encountered a big-game Hippo more than 15 years ago while just a junior strategist working in the background (fetching coffee) on an Asian airline TV campaign. The last step of the mammoth production process was a viewing of the final commercial for the airline’s CEO.  It went well. He loved it. Then, this gem of a quote, “It would be better with harp music.”  I’ve never seen an executive creative director quite so speechless.

Today, with digital experiences we merge creative spark and data insight. And it’s this data that makes the challenges of the Hippo more obvious, but may also give us a path to success in the mud-wrestling arena.

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Op-Ed: Don’t Ask Me How I Feel; You Stopped Caring Years Ago

Ladies and gents, meet Virginia Alber-Glanstaetten, group director of planning at Huge who picks up the baton from Josh Seifert on monthly writing duties. In her debut column on this here site, Alber-Glanstaetten, who’s also worked on the strategy side at Organic and Razorfish during her career, shares her thoughts on Facebook’s new emoticons feature.

I’ve never been a fan of the emoticon. Perhaps it’s generational – or my own form of language snobbery and elitism – but whenever I see grownups using smiley faces in a sentence I just want to issue the common parental command “use your words.” So you can imagine my feelings about the news that Facebook has added emoticons to its arsenal of self-expression.

Not only does it add to the injustices inflicted upon the English language of late, but I believe it actually pushes Facebook further away from its stated intent of connecting people. Over the last few years, Facebook has succeeded in commoditizing our relationships with each other – remember when you used to visit your friends after they had kids rather than leaving it at a Like and a comment on their photo album?

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Op-Ed: When Tragedy Strikes, Silence is Golden

We’ll spare you the preamble and just let you read this piece sent to us from Heidi Modarelli-Frank, VP, client social strategy at Cleveland-based agency, Marcus Thomas.

The world has learned to turn to social media when tragedies unfold. Whether it’s a school shooting, a hurricane or the senseless bombing of the Boston Marathon earlier this week, we’ve learned to turn to social media within the immediate hours of the event for news and information.

We want facts. We want to know if our friends and families are okay. We want to know that WE are safe. If we are directly affected by the tragedy, social media can play a critical role in helping us learn where to go, where to get help.

But I can assure you, as the facts are unfolding, we don’t want or need to hear from brands that have nothing to do with the tragedy. I don’t need to know that may favorite ice cream brand’s hearts are with the victims when I don’t even know how many victims there are, or if someone I know is a part of it.

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Op-Ed: Let’s Talk the ‘Freelance Dance’


“Well, how did I get here?” – David Byrne, Talking Heads

The submissions keep rolling in, and now we have a new scribe in Andrew Baker, who’s spent the last decade-plus as a copywriter/art director at the likes od TBWA\Chiat\Day, Team One, Deutsch and Dentsu. Baker will be chiming in fairly often to discuss what he likes to call “The Freelance Dance,” which should give you the basic gist of his entry. Anyhow, welcome Andrew and take it away. You can check out his website here and on Facebook at andrewbaker77.

In June of 2000, after returning to Deutsch LA from a Hawaii vacation, Donny’s mini-me fired me. Told me, though the vacation was approved, the fact I took it, was a clear let down of “team morale.” Throughout his lawyerish soliloquy, I enjoyed one of his fruit basket apples, crunches that drown out the ramble, and then interrupted him with a “Dude, the 405 is wide open, how much do I get?” His terse lips hesitantly released a figure. Didn’t even hear the number, but told him to double down that number or else I’d sue. Got booked on my first freelance project before I left the parking lot. He double’d down. Life was good.

Since then, it was ten years (2000 – 2010) of easypeasyJapanesey money. Digging ditches in the snow, crewing a dive boat in the winter, that’s work. I know, I did it. Getting paid crazy money to sit around and say “hey, what if…” from the comforts of your Malibu rum stocked home, that’s just too cool to quit. And for ten years, I rolled. Big money and three to four months off a year. No worries, all the way through permalancing 2008 to 2010 with the impossibly nice folks at Merkley on Mercedes-Benz. 2011 and 2012 didn’t exist, as I was bouncing around Southeast Asia chasing adventure. And now, 2013.

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Op-Ed: Bring on the Disruption

Yes, ladies and gents, Simon Mathews, currently chief strategy officer at West Coast shop, Extractable, and who’ s also worked at the likes of Isobar as well as Molecular on the strategy side during his career, is back with his monthly contribution to this here site. Let it roll, Simon.

I was having a flashback.

Last week I was on a stage in front of around five hundred financial advisors at a large resort hotel in Orlando.  The flashback was of a similar room at the NEC in Birmingham (in the UK, not Alabama) filled with professional photographers back in 1994.

Back in 1994 I was part of a panel on trends in photography and my role (I was a PR flak for Kodak at the time) was to promote how digital cameras would be the future of photography.  This was just months after Apple had launched the QuickTake 100 digital camera with a stellar 640×480 resolution.  It was a tough sell, and understandably, I was pretty much laughed off stage.

The trigger for my flashback, besides the similar setting, was Mike Walsh, the keynote speaker on stage before me today. Mike, an author and speaker on the digital future and emerging markets focused his speech on how embracing disruptive technologies and behaviors will drive success in the future.

As an aside, Mike may have the best email signature ever.  His company is called ‘Tomorrow’, so of course his email sign-off reads “Mike, CEO, Tomorrow”.

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Op-Ed: Real-Time Marketing Shouldn’t Be Real-Time Spam

Our monthly contributor and Huge client services director, Josh Seifert, returns post-SXSWi to pen this ditty to, as mentioned above, talk real-time marketing in the age of social media. Why bore you with the preamble, though, just read on.

As a marketing professional working in digital, brands like Oreo getting attention in social media is pretty exciting for the shift it represents. As a consumer, the notion that brands en masse should enter social media and begin tweeting, pinning and posting about everyday happenings is more like a dystopian nightmare. Individual brands that have committed themselves to exploring what’s possible in social media, tying it in with broader marketing programs and shifting their approach when necessary can be exciting and creative—the Old Spice YouTube response videos are a great example. Brands that perceive social media as free media with a low barrier to entry may actually be poisonous for everyone else.

A common theme that seems to reverberate from social media professionals advising brands is the need to “be human”  to be successful. Really, this is a polite way to say that every instinct towards managing brands in traditional communications will prove limited and transparent in social media. Basically, brand-controlling memos like this one from Wheat Thins that Stephen Colbert read on air are not human and won’t translate into social media success. What it doesn’t mean, as this short tumblr nicely illustrates, is to generate nonsense content that may be timely, but isn’t actually valuable.

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