Where I've been writing lately:
The Super Bowl has historically been the place where brands have debuted their big marketing campaigns for the next year, capturing viewers from what is still one of the most-watched events in the U.S. The past few years, those campaigns have included stark stands on social issues: from Audi on women empowerment during last year’s game to Dodge making a connection between its Ram Trucks and public service the other week.
The problem? Both of these ads came off almost immediately as inauthentic, and lead to an online backlash. Audi was immediately called out for how few women actually work at the company. And Dodge debuted its campaign with a distasteful voice overlay from Martin Luther King, Jr.
Business as usual is dead.
Many once held as industry innovators and lions in their arenas are now falling like dominos, and their dismissals are finally shifting the terrain of acceptable business conduct between women and men. Prominent media figure Mark Halperin is the most recent to lose not only his latest book deal from Time but also a lucrative series with HBO based on his political writings. Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective just cut ties with another prominent male based on news that surfaced about prior allegations of sexual misconduct. Amazon Studios’ Roy Price just had to resign under the same allegations. And the list will only continue to grow after the wide-spread news of film executive Harvey Weinstein’s decades long sexual harassment of countless women.
Some short time after the 2016 election, I had a conversation with a friend about the impact of social media on Trump’s win. I was wrestling with the role of what I thought was an inherently neutral marketplace of ideas in promoting Trump, the larger issues of Russian propaganda and interference in the election, and the general problem of abuse.
“We can’t put too much faith in technology,” my friend said. “Technology is more like magic than science.”
Today, even the most casual conversations now contain a deep infusion of socio-political perspective and, often times, heated passion. People previously uninterested politics and social issues are now reading POLITICO and The Hill right alongside their favorite business, beauty and sports publications. This information flow is then wildly accelerated by the digital echo-chambers of various tech platforms that then absorbs the collective thought, mashes it up, promotes it, deconstructs it, and creates a veritable never-ending cycle of exchange between a variety of new and effervescent subcultures and voices on the current state of the United States. Diversity. Immigration. Sexual harassment. Racism. Climate Change. No one is safe, and anyone or thing can become the day’s hottest digital target in a flash.
Dear CEOs of America,
Let’s start with a hard truth. We’re living in a dark time.
No matter your party affiliation, it’s hard to ignore the increasing social upheaval and corresponding activism, driven in part by our political moment but undergirded by the bigger trends of globalization, automation, and a historic distrust in our public institutions.
Public life is in crisis. And when public institutions fail, it affects all us, especially the most vulnerable.
So why are so many of you, many with incredible influence over our everyday lives, sitting on the sidelines?
In so-called “normal” years, many companies use the Super Bowl to create a halo effect around their brands, taking advantage of the massive audience to talk about our common values. (See: Proctor & Gamble’s #LikeAGirl, among other recent examples.)
If you’re like me, the past month has caused a bit of an existential crisis — and made you fired up and ready to do something.
But if you’ve never been involved in the kinds of fights you’re interested in, it can seem overwhelming. I’ve had many conversations over the past few weeks with well-intentioned people who see big problems and a big, intimidating white space before them in terms of where to start.
One of the things I loved about being a history major in college was getting to step back and look at the big picture. The study of history shows you how things — people, communities, religions, leaders, ideas — interact and influence each other. It made me appreciate that everything is connected, but it also showed me that if you pay attention, patterns emerge. “History repeats itself” is a trope that has a certain truth to it.
In mid-October, not long after Donald Trump drew attention for his 3 a.m. tweets, I received an email from Hillary Clinton’s campaign inviting me to help canvass voters in Iowa, a short drive from my home in Chicago. The message noted that “1,500 of Hillary’s best supporters” had headed to neighboring states the weekend before, and now they wanted me to do the same.