Whenever I’ve discussed cybersecurity and information security with clients or team members, I’ve often returned to how security should be considered during the initial design and implementation of technical infrastructure and processes. It can’t be an afterthought where an organization just buys a fancy system a vendor promises will keep them safe. That’s what I was taught. The phrase I’ve long heard, and often recycled, is “security should be baked in and not bolted on.” Putting aside how perfect security is a fantasy, “bolting on” security is an approach that will leave huge gaps.
Pepsi’s recent ad featuring Kendall Jenner and a faux protest struck me as so obviously bad that I wondered what the creation and approval processes must have looked like before it reached the public. If we allow an assumption of good faith, there were enormous gaps in the process through which this thing sailed through. This brings us to the question at the heart of this month’s column: what do you have baked into your processes and structure as marketers to protect you from producing bizarre cultural blunders?
What do you have in place as a fully-integrated part of your business, and not an afterthought, to protect yourself and your clients?
This article was prompted by the PepsiCo ad, and we will touch on some of what made it so obviously bad, but that is being examined everywhere. While I will share a few thoughts and recommendations, I’m writing in part to satisfy my curiosity. As professionals who produce content for brands, think about the questions above and tell me how you think your organizations and teams are doing.
Maybe I’ll write a follow-up depending upon the quality of the responses I get.
Let’s get into some of what you need.
Diversity is the first thing that comes to mind, right?
It’s been awhile since we received the survey results of “Diversity and Inclusion in the U.S. Graphic Communication Industry.” How have you been measuring the success (or not) of your inclusion initiatives?
That was easy. And won’t be enough. Let’s travel further.
When I saw the Pepsi ad I reflexively thought “there can’t be any Black people on the team that created this.” But that assumption is not necessarily true.
The Pepsi ad was created by PepsiCo’s in-house studio, Creative League Studios. PepsiCo launched their studio with intentions of lowering production costs and creating self-funded marketing in the form of monetized entertainment content. Though this doesn’t necessarily mean they have Black people on their full-time staff, they have produced content with a number of high profile Black stars including Janelle Monae, Timbaland, Kelly Rowland, Spike Lee, Usher, Idris Elba, T.I., and tennis goddess, Serena Williams.
Also, per Variety, the studio was launched under an African-American executive, Frank Cooper III, who was then PepsiCo’s Chief Marketing Officer of Global Consumer Engagement (Mr. Cooper transitioned to another organization back in 2015). Per Ad Age, PepsiCo brings in other talent as needed to work with the studio’s seven full-time employees. Let’s just say as consultants or as part of PepsiCo’s full-time staff, record label, and crew, there have been Black people in the mix. The alternative may be true, but since it would be nuts, let’s do what we evolved to do and err on the side of allowing our minds to read any environment as containing elements that are familiar and comprehensible to us. If it turns out the faces in the rocks aren’t really there, just be thankful your predecessors’ traits helped them reproduce before they were eaten or whatever.
(Whether those Black people are decision-makers, in-touch with what is relevant, or empowered to stand athwart foolishness and yell “STOP,” is another matter. But let’s put that aside.)
Even if by the numbers, an organization is doing better than Silicon Valley when it comes to inclusion, there is another potential point of failure that is related to diversity, but has to do with our approach to our ideas and the content we and our organizations create.
Marketing is not created in a vacuum. No ideas or art are developed in isolation. Whatever we think of our own brilliance, we do not create out of nothing. Want to make an apple pie from scratch? Not going to happen unless you can also whip up a universe.
Here is a recommendation for an approach that should be baked into our content production, review, and approval processes: return to the source.
In Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking, author D.Q. McInerny makes suggestions geared towards preparing minds for logic that we can snatch out of context to apply here:
“Our ideas are clear, and our understanding of them is clear, only to the extent that we keep constant tabs on the things to which they refer. The focus must always be on the originating sources of our ideas in the objective world. We do not really understand our own ideas if we suppose them to be self-generating, that is, not owing their existence to extramental realities.”
There is a reason why we tell stories of extra-terrestrials with societal arrangements and physiology we recognize. Those “extra-terrestrials” are imagined by humans and draw from what humans perceive and experience. Unicorns do not come to be without horses.
McInerny goes on:
“How do we ensure that our words are adequate to the ideas they seek to convey? The process is essentially the same as the one we follow when confirming the clarity and soundness of our ideas: We must go back the sources of the ideas. Often we cannot come up with the right word for an idea because we don’t have a firm grasp on the idea itself. Usually when we clarify the idea by checking it against its source in the objective world, the right word will come to us.”
How do we ensure that our content is adequate for communicating the ideas we intend to convey?
If “living bold,” and a generation coming together in “unity, peace, and understanding” is being represented with protesters confronted by police officers, it’s pretty clear that the most significant real world source for the ad’s content are the organizers and participants in what has been called the Movement for Black Lives and Black Lives Matter (the latter, in this case, referring to more than the specific #BlackLivesMatter organization founded by Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza). PepsiCo did not create ex nihilo.
Let’s do like the Old Spice commercials. Look at PepsiCo’s ad. Now look at the source movement mostly driven and organized by Black women. Now look at the ad. Now look at the real-world experience of protesters who were teargassed. Look at Ieshia Evans.
Now look at Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Look at Tamir Rice. Look at Rekia Boyd. Look at Sandra Bland.
Look at Daniel Holtzclaw.
Now look at the ad.
Upon going back to the source, is the content sound? Does the content make any sense to produce? Was it appropriate? Does it serve the objectives PepsiCo stated in their apology? Who was the target audience for this ad and did the target audience include the people of the source? If the target audience didn’t include people of the source, was that wise?
The following goes for all of us: If you are not of the source, go to the source. If you think you are of the source, reflect, collaborate, and think carefully because you might not be of the specific source, and in any case, you are just a single interpretation of a tune. Your fancy glasses, your playlists, your city, your dating history, your politics, your traveling, and your ethnicity don’t give you an all-access pass. Review ideas. Review cultural products. Review history. Review current events. Pay attention. Go to people (peep the plural) who are part of the specific culture, movement, environment, context, etc. you wish to draw from. Compensate them. Hire them. Learn. Listen. And stop when your ideas are bad.
Well before this point, someone has left us and fled with an ossified “political correctness” card in hand. Here is what you can tell that person if you see them.
We’re not just talking about how to avoid offending people. It’s about the craft. Let’s assume you are a misanthrope. You’re smarter (*cough*) than everyone else and you don’t care about offending people. You imagine a fictitious era when any human being could say anything without worrying about consequences or offending particular people (I’m writing most of this on April 4th, so about that…) and you think “Congress shall make no law” is “American” for no one should say your ideas are stupid or harmful. Cool. You should still get on board so you can produce better work. Work truly informed by context. By reality. We talk so much about personalization. We use tools like Marketo and Hubspot to make sure we’re getting the right message to the right person at the right time. We have AR technology allowing people to receive calls to action personalized by attributes including their location and behavior. Well, what we’re discussing here is a layer to address on our way to personalization for the individual.
Forget about humanity (you hate people). People of the source and their experiences, contexts, cultural products, etc. are part of the real world just like purchase histories and location data. You want to produce work that will resonate as appropriate for the world in which it will be released. Just as your time, location, and behavior-informed call-to-action in AR would not prompt someone to buy a bathing suit during a blizzard, you do not want to produce work that simply does not belong in the world that will receive it. Again, you do not create from nothing. From the world your ideas will come, and to the world your ideas will return to be judged.
If you want to connect with and sell to people of the source, address this layer above personalization appropriately. If you think you are marketing to a “global” group that may or may not include people of the source, think again. You want their cool. You want their cultural capital. And they will see you and respond. Dismiss them as “sensitive” if you wish, but you are going to respect that failing to do this work puts you and your clients at risk.
Even if you are a misanthrope, you at least want to avoid giving people the equivalent of a Jerry Seinfeld “offended as a comedian” moment. FYI, that has nothing to do with Kramer doing standup, but try to avoid that too.
Return to the source. Develop processes and practices to identify the real-world sources of your organization’s ideas and stay connected to those sources. Bake that in. Check to make sure you, your client, and your organization are not on their way to producing something that is embarrassing at best.
Your turn, marketing professionals. Let’s hear your best practices, excuses, explanations, experiences, and rationalizations.
Andy Solages connects people and organizations with technologies to improve professional experiences and business results. Andy is a monthly contributor to Print Media Centr’s News from The Printerverse and a regular participant in #PrintChat on Twitter.