A clash of cultures: Twitter cancels Burger King.

A lot has been made of Burger King’s recent ad titled “Women Belong in the Kitchen.” If you’ve heard about it, you’ve likely already taken sides and are either itching to rage-tweet me, or are eager to hear someone else who supports your point of view.  Instead of taking sides, let’s be objective and unpack this thing one step at a time.

For anyone who doesn’t know, or didn’t read past the headline, Burger King was announcing the establishment of a new scholarship called H.E.R. (Helping Equalize Restaurants) to aid aspiring female employees who want to pursue careers as Chefs. The timing of its release coincided with International Women’s Day. 

Here’s the ad that ran as a full page in The New York Times:

First, let’s clarify what the ad was meant to do.  And we can do so by remembering what ALL ads are meant to do: get your attention. And this headline, while controversial if it stood alone, does that very well, because it’s dangerous. Because it’s a trope. Advertising leverages drama because it leads the reader to a destination that’s equal parts entertaining and attention-getting. And because a headline that reads “Burger King launches new scholarship to aid female representation in restaurant kitchens” is neither.  That sort of thing is for a press release, not an advert.

From a craft point of view, this is a strong headline, in that it serves to do at least one job that all good headlines should perform: it summarizes the content that follows. If we’re being objective, (and we agreed that we would be,) this is a very good all-copy ad-nouncement.

Now, let’s look at where it went wrong: in a word, Twitter. When the brand (and the agency behind it,) wanted to extend this exciting conversation online, it took to Twitter and Burger King’s 1.9 million followers with the initial tweet. Which, sadly, was just the headline. It then tweeted a summary of the content that follows in the ad. [Important note: the tweets were initially “debated” on @BurgerKingUK.] While Burger King did clarify the headline tweet in subsequent posts, it was apparently the string of ugly comments in the conversation thread that got out of control. The entire thread has since been deleted, and an apology was issued by global CMO Fernando Machado.

Ad culture meets Twitter culture and fails.  Cancel culture meets Burger King and shuts it down. This whole thing has gotten off the rails, and I think it’s mostly because people are not taking anything beyond face value. I would argue that we need a context culture more than anything else these days.  An army of fact checkers and industry experts who could act as docents for a whole generation of people who seem to crave being offended, and who magically find a fix on social media at roughly the rate of every news cycle.

The ad, the subsequent Twitterstorm, and the media kerfuffle that followed it have become new facets in the cultural touchstone that is today’s cancel-happy culture. The sad part is, it’s a pretty good ad. And Burger King, as a restaurant chain, (whether we should call them a “restaurant” or not is a different subject altogether,) is trying in earnest to do a darn good thing in the face of an inequality on which they are wholly qualified to comment. It’s a shame that we’re dealing with this level of bullshit from a minority of wokesters when a brand decides to put its money into something that might actually help in a concrete way what is, in this case, a marginalized segment of the population.

Now let’s look at what’s REALLY wrong with this ad: the typesetting is insulting, and should be cancelled immediately! The face is what it is – Burger King’s going for the retro-hip thing with the old bubble letters logo. Fine. I’ll concede that for the sake of the old-is-new branding mission.

But lord, where is the copyfitting? When the creative director was reviewing this, didn’t he or she think, “hmmm…that’s a weird place for a hyphen?” In the middle of the name of your new scholarship, in the middle of what’s arguably the most important word (Equalize,) you couldn’t break the line differently? And then again, in the last line of the ad, in another important word (kitchen) we couldn’t hard kern a little bit?

After a week of debating the merits of this approach, I haven’t heard any ad geeks talking about this.  Why? If we’re being objective, there’s probably a conspiracy afoot.

Is THIS the best an ad can get?

A lot has been made of the new Gillette short film entitled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.” The spot, which challenges men to take a look at tired masculine clichés, like “boys will be boys,” and mentions #metoo within the first five seconds, depicts several scenes wherein some certain male behaviors have been tolerated almost hypnotically for quite some time.

A group of teens sit on a couch and flip through scenes of female marginalization in situation comedies and reality shows. An executive inappropriately (because he’s pandering,) puts his hand on a woman’s shoulder and starts a phrase, “What I actually think she’s trying to say is…” And so on.

Then, a new narrative starts to form in the video, where men intervene positively in several oft-tolerated situations, including cat-calling, fighting, and bullying. Underneath it all, the voiceover insists that “some is not enough.” And “Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”

On its surface, this is an incredibly powerful social statement. And Gillette should be congratulated for boldly making it.

But as a piece of advertising, it may be overreaching at best, and carelessly ineffective at worst. While I can appreciate what it’s trying to do, the ad loses focus in its earnest to say something share-worthy on social media. (Although, in its defense, it has succeeded in doing at least that.)

The modern American consumer does not always make the loftiest cerebral decisions when trying to discern which brands to buy. Instead, they make simple, often one-word phrase mnemonic connections (that brands typically provide for them,) and choose based on how that singular experience makes them feel.

And for the past 30 years or so, Gillette has “won” consumers on a simple concept: the best a man can get. Strong tagline. A simple and understandable position for consumers. Advertising to support it. Not surprisingly, strong sales followed.

But now, Gillette has waded – rather, they’ve taken a rocket-powered speedboat – into dangerous waters that even their historically strong positioning may not be able to weather.

Here’s why.

It’s too little. And it’s too late. And so it looks like a desperate attempt to re-imagine the “appropriate” response. If there was a Gillette spot genie, these would be my three wishes:

  • I wish this spot was made a year ago, when #metoo was really a national discussion being had by, for, and with women. That it comes out now seems suspect.
  • I wish this spot also involved gender and sexuality issues – toxic masculinity is especially reprehensible towards non-heterosexual males and the LGBTQ universe in general.
  • I wish this spot took on the real issue, which is not just how young boys’ behavior gets formed, but more importantly, how that behavior is reinforced when it gets pardoned at nearly every important juncture of their lives.

In all the reaction I’ve seen, no one has mentioned that other brands, including other P&G brands, have tried this approach before, and to great reception. A zillion accolades (and ad industry awards) were showered on the #likeagirl campaign from Always. And the #realbeauty campaign from Dove was equally lauded.

Why is Gillette getting pounded by the social mediasphere? Probably because it’s disempowering. Probably because it’s by males for males, and about males and male grooming products. And that’s kinda not the point.

Probably because, as a brand, Gillette makes products for men that are purchased as much or more by women on behalf of men, and nowhere in this spot does Gillette equate toxic masculinity to domestic abuse towards women. Swing and a miss.

Now let’s be fair.  Gillette attempted to have an important conversation with American consumers, and they handled it awkwardly.  But that is STILL better than avoiding that conversation at all. And if you can imagine this, things are about to get harder for Gillette from here.

When a brand takes on a position, embodied by a bold tagline, then you have to own it – and that can come at quite a cost. The real test now for Gillette is where they go from here. If they continue to embody this refreshed perspective, and if all their forthcoming ads are aspirational (where we show men aspiring to be better men, especially with and around their female counterparts,) and they continue to use their brand to inspire action and help shift attitudes, then we can look back and say, “See? This was the moment they became aware of who they were as a brand, and the responsibility they bare as a consequence.”

But if they don’t?

Then the market can have at them – and Gillette will deserve every criticism they will likely suffer, not to mention probably losing market share to a host of upstart razor companies ready to eat their lunch.

No pressure, Gillette. But the world is now watching. And you invited us all to the party.

Saving Face(book): three lessons from the Cambridge Analytica scandal

zuckerberg

The recent news that’s still in the news about the Cambridge Analytica scandal on the Facebook platform is making the rounds in marketing circles, and for very good reason. In many ways, and across virtually every category, calls will be made for heads in data and analytics departments nationwide, just as they were (initially) for the head of Mark Zuckerberg. “How could this happen?” the world seemed to ask. More accurately, the throngs pleaded, “how could YOU LET this happen?”

The harsh – and probably less titillating – reality, however, is that neither Zuckerberg nor Facebook are culpable of even a misdemeanor as far as this story goes. The folks at Cambridge were undertaking some very underhanded activities, and OF COURSE they did it out of sight of Facebook’s developer guidelines.

A quick review of what transpired: Cambridge Analytica (through a developer company called GSR,) created and then convinced 270,000 people to download an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” where users shared profile data and answered questions about themselves in exchange for a payment. That part is totally legal and fine.

What’s not legal, and very much not fine, is that the app those users agreed to have access their post data was also accessing data of their extended networks through Facebook. Unknowingly, friends and associates of those initial 270,000 had their profile data accessed too, and without consent. Some estimates put the digital swipe at about 50 million profiles (about a 20X reach.) A new report issued last week, raises the estimate to 87 million.  The algorithm GSR built used that data to create (according to some reporting) 30 million unique “profiles” that then helped in the design of highly targeted political ads.

There are numerous ways to unpack this. But for the sake of the practitioner who may be leveraging data (that’s everyone,) or thinking about it, let’s look at the basic but extremely important lessons this offers us.

Lesson 1: It’s NOT Facebook’s fault.
Let’s leave Facebook out of it (mostly) in terms of blame. Facebook was neither complicit in nor aware of the underhanded swiping of data, or the duping of unwitting consumers to grab information. They have clear policies, and those were blatantly violated by a business on the prowl. [To be clear, “data-scraping” tactics were allowed at one point for academic purposes, but have since been altogether forbidden on the platform.]

Facebook has the odd misfortune of being the central place where two billion+ people go and share information. That Cambridge Analytica stole from them is the issue, but so many of the news stories were focused on the idea that people had their data stolen ON FACEBOOK. That’s not fair, and it’s certainly not indicative of the platform’s policies and guidelines regarding third party developers.

Even if (and this is fiction,) there were some way for Facebook to oversee or even closely monitor every interaction that every third party developer has with any user while on the platform, then said third party developer with dubious intentions would first write an evasive script to keep their real intentions hidden. That’s Hacker 101.

Lesson 2:  This doesn’t make ALL data collection “bad.”
One story, even an egregious one like this, is not indicative of an obvious trend or an impending sign of where the digital marketplace is headed. So let’s not jump to conclusions about the use or misuse of data in marketing. Although it seems like the reflexive idea du jour, now is not the time to “re-evaluate every data collection activity, provider, or service” and start lobbying to pull data – or at least data collection – out of marketing. Data makes life infinitely better for the majority of consumers, whether they are clear about how or not.

Virtually every advance in marketing (from a digital point of view,) has been made infinitely more appealing because of the use of broad arrays of interoperative data sets. From programmatic advertising and retargeting to contextualized offers and recommendations that are algorithmically derived, the average online consumer is treated to a platter of timely propositions that make sense based on their online behaviors.

This is also a good time to remind everyone that maybe seeing your face squished like a funhouse mirror isn’t worth compromising the last seven years of your profile data. And that when you see that “you are now leaving Facebook” warning, it’s because You. Are. Now. Leaving. Facebook.

Lesson 3: Make it a teaching moment.  Evaluate your partners today.
This is an excellent opportunity for careful evaluation and timely introspection. Let’s take a good hard look at ALL our partners, data collection, data storage, data transfer, database, or otherwise – and give them a thorough once-over. Make sure their collection methods are sound. Make sure their statistics are sound. Make sure their conclusions are rooted in strong discipline and rigor. Make sure they’re collecting information that YOUR BRAND can actually use for YOUR objectives. (Not using your customer data pool for information your partners can sell to, say, your competitors, eh?)

As a paying customer, you have the right to ask what sample sizes your data and/or research partners will tolerate before making general conclusions, and so on. This way, when someone calls you on a “you are the company you keep” claim, you can be assured of (and even write policy around) your vetting methods. And here’s a handy little secret: you can brag about it to your clients, too.

 

Actually, Twitter won the 2016 Election.

twitter_politicsI know what you’re thinking. How can Twitter win anything, with its paltry 317 million users and its lame sub-$15 stock price? Compared to the giants like Facebook (1.87 billion users,) WhatsApp (1 billion,) and WeChat (846 million,) you could fit Twitter in the garage of their respective CEOs’ second mansions. Heck, even Instagram – the Etch-a-Sketch of social media platforms – has 600 million users. (Source: statista.)

So on what metric, exactly, could Twitter be outperforming all these titans of social chatter?

In a word, politics.

Trump tweets. Pence tweets. Anthony Weiner tweeted his ass off (and other parts.) And the world reads Merkel tweets. And Putin tweets. And May Tweets. And the usually-epic JK Rowling tweets.

Politics has reinvigorated the in-the-moment DNA of Twitter in a way that perhaps no other sector could. And perhaps no other social media platform could so readily respond to the challenge.

Part of it is the “gotcha” nature of American politics in particular. We’re all taken back to hear one party or one candidate say something that’s very damning in nature, and then double-shocked to hear those words come back to bite them on the ass when someone digs out a tweet from six or twelve months ago. Consider this telling headline from Mashable about Mike Pence as a classic case in point: “This old Mike Pence tweet on Hillary Clinton emails is coming back to haunt him.”

In it, we learn that Vice President Mike Pence used his personal email address (yes, still using AOL,) for official business while governor of Indiana.

The facts are what they are, and I have no intention of arguing whether it’s better, worse, or same as when the former Secretary of State did the same thing. But what’s interesting is where the hearings are taking place: not on television. Not in newspapers. Not on Facebook.  But on Twitter.

Pence’s boss is no stranger to the daily-death-by-Twitter phenomenon. Trump’s tweets are so varied and so erratic that CNN has a live website tracking every one of his tweets.

And because he’s President, every tweet becomes part of the official record of his tenure. In case you’re scoring at home, they could become evidence of any number of things in the event of any criminal investigations that may arise. (And, you know, they may arise.)  And based on certain tweets regarding certain former US presidents conducting unauthorized wiretapping, investigations are already en route, and with a motorcade, to be sure.

No other social media platform, no matter how cool, or how many fun filters it offers, could offer such a perfect distribution channel for the gotcha fodder: nasty things said, declarative things said, and all that darn fact-checking.  Why is that?

A few possibilities include the content-capping.  140 characters are just enough to say something really pithy.  Or really dopey.  Also, the in-the-moment-ness of Twitter makes it a “now” social media platform, whereas Facebook or Pinterest, as examples, are excellent “linger with it later” platforms.  And of course, the fact that Tweets.  Stay.  Alive.  Forever.  (Sorry, Snapchat.)

You don’t need to go far to see how the Twitter-back-and-forth-and-back-again is playing out. But pay careful attention to how only one platform is invited into this A-list party, while all the others huddle outside trying to sweet-talk the bouncer with their pleas of “have you seen how many registered users I have?”

Facebook, please.

In marketing terms, Twitter has a highly defensible point of differentiation, and it should seriously consider exploiting it for its own gains. How that manifests is yet to be seen, but if I were the agency of record, I would seriously be trying to strike while the iron is hot and while 45 is tweeting away.

How to get control of your brand. Now.

It’s tough for brands these days. All the competition. All the change. And all that damn marketing! And perhaps most difficult is getting consumers to know you, then like you, and finally, to trust you.

Brands – and I’m talking about brands of all sizes, really – invest a lot of money in so many areas – it might be research and development, or operations, offices, showrooms or retail stores, or even the “perfect” ingredients for their recipes. These are all things that are relatively controllable for the brand.

But once they’re born, brands are basically out of control. Because, ultimately, consumers decide if the brand is good or bad, cool or “over,” worth the money or not. And in the age of social media, the lack of control can really get scary.

Consider the recent tweet by the then-President-elect Donald Trump:

trump_tweet

On the surface, it sounds like another one of the Donald’s weirdly-supportive and overly generalized ramblings. But there’s something really telling about this. The account of @realDonaldTrump has about 22 million followers. That’s a really lot. All of whom now have this “advice” about supporting and patronizing L.L. Bean.

We’ll stay out of the politics of this exchange, and whether or not it’s ethical for a candidate to receive a donation from an individual, and then use his massive influence to issue a sales pitch for her company after winning. Because eeeewww.

But what happens if that brand DOESN’T WANT that endorsement?

After the tweet, a group called Grab Your Wallet added L.L. Bean to a boycott list of any companies associated with Donald Trump. What if thousands, or even millions of L.L. Bean consumers got wind of that and decided to protest the man by dropping the brand? That has real consequences for the brand – especially if it’s publicly traded.  L.L. Bean quickly issued a statement on their Facebook page (that reaches just slightly over 750,000 followers – see the disparity there?) distancing themselves from alignment with any candidate and asking Grab Your Wallet to reconsider their position. [They haven’t.]

And if you’re a brand that’s invested time, and money, and millions of dollars and hired people all over the country and have supply chains in place and employees who count on your continued success for their livelihoods, it’s a little disconcerting to know that equity can all disappear – or at least be seriously compromised – with 140 characters or less. In this hyper-polarized age, it’s certainly possible that bonds are being formed and broken in more and more capricious circumstances.

So what’s a brand to do?

Well, it’s simple. Advertise.

While there are many ways to develop and grow a brand, advertising remains the most direct route to establishing your own position, and forwarding your point of view.

So, if you’re an apparel company, and someone does or says something terrible while wearing your clothing, advertise. If you’re a food brand that gets protested by a fringe group who claims you’re not environmentally responsible enough, advertise. If you’re a retailer and you’re losing share because some influencer tells millions of followers that she overpaid for your wares, advertise.

At the very least, you’ll have had your say. You’ll have run commercials and ads and said to the world: “this is what we stand for.” “This is who we stand for.” “This is who we are.” Otherwise, you might get hijacked by someone’s wayward ramblings…even if they may have had good intentions in the process.