A Brand's Role in Social Commentary

To comment or not comment? That is the question.

With the state of the world today, people are looking to their favorite brands for information, challenging brands with the decision to share their stance on pressing issues. Marc Gutman and Keith Roberts review what mistakes some brands have made in past conversations and how current brands can avoid those issues today.

Video Transcript

Keith Roberts 0:04

Okay, I have a super hard question for you if you're up for it.

Marc Gutman 0:07

Let's try it.

Keith Roberts 0:08

So right right now, you know, it's this challenging times, right? It's sort of crazy times with, you know, with politics with the pandemic with everything. And I've seen some brands like a couple years ago Ink! Coffee had a catastrophe with, you know, a sandwich board they put outside and Rhino, you know, talking about how they're re-gentrifying this neighborhood that didn't want to be re-gentrified, and they still have backlash from that. I saw a tattered cover on, you know, they didn't respond, a murder happened.

They didn't respond to that and actually got boycotted. So with these crazy times, do we need somebody to be monitoring that? How do we know to react? I mean, it's, it's, it seems terrifying to be honest with you as a brand to make sure that you, you put the right foot forward, but you don't misstep, misspeak, and be politically incorrect.

Marc Gutman 0:55

Yes. And so you're right, it is a really tough question. But it's one that you know, look. So here's my thing. Like, I believe that the conversation is happening on social media. I also believe it's happening with brands. So there's this really crazy trend happening right now, where the world has changed. And people are looking to brands for information, they're looking to brands for political stance, so looking to brands to like, how do we handle the pandemic? They're looking to brands to like, what's your commentary on racial inequality?

And so and this isn't like they're looking to them, like putting them on the spot, like, this is how we get our information. So we're also, we're forming our worldview by how the brands that we interact with are taking stances or not taking stances on these issues. So if you're going to be involved in this, one thing, I will say is that, like, you're gonna screw up like that, that's probably a given. Know that, give yourself grace. But I do think that, you know, just like in life, if you are authentic, if you own it, typically, the news cycle is so quick, that people are quick to forgive people are quick to forget, I would love to do a little deeper dive on the whole coffee thing, because you and I know the creative agency behind that I know this spirit of it wasn't meant to be insensitive.

But the fact of the matter was, it is it's incredibly insensitive, and it was a miss. So like the fact that they're still getting backlash from that. I would just like to know, like, what was the I kind of like to do a deep dive on the study? Because I'm not that familiar with what really happened thereafter. I remember there's all sorts of protests, I don't remember ynX response? Would it be really cool to think like, and look back and study, like, how did they handle it? And maybe use that as a case study and maybe we can do that in a future conversation.

But yeah, people, it's scary out there. I think you need to be authentic. I think you need to do your homework, I think you need to own the fact that you don't know everything as a brand and come out and say that and say like what we're doing our best we might make a mistake. These are the things we're doing.

I think people have this really interesting time, right? Time is like kind of bizarre construct. Thank you, Christopher Nolan. And, like people will hold companies guilty for things they did 50 years ago. And I don't want to make any excuses for them. But you know, it was a different time, people said different things. And we're, we're always moving in time. So understand that and understand that all you can really ask from a brand or a business is how they're showing up today.

Also, remember that they have their own struggles, you know, like, like, Ink! is probably just trying to stay. And by the way, everybody, I don't work with Ink! I don't really know them. But they're probably staying, trying to stay in business. You know, they're just trying to survive a pandemic, they're just trying to do different things. They were trying to be the fun pool, get a brand that was just a little bit different. And they and they hit a joke that didn't land. And sometimes like if you're Louie CK, or I'm trying to think of someone else, Kramer from Seinfeld, and you hit like a racial joke that doesn't land

Keith Roberts 4:07

It's Game Over. Yeah.

Marc Gutman 4:10

Yeah, you're not coming back. And that's just kind of the way it is. And you can do different things. But you know, again, I don't know how their business is doing. But from a branding standpoint, like if it was like, really in trouble, I'd like suggest rebranding, that might be a reason to change your name. You know, that might be a reason to rebrand if you were if you just couldn't escape that that cloud.

Keith Roberts 4:30

I think and again, knowing agency and knowing how exceptional they are, and that it was just a mess. I think possibly what he could have done is just own it. Instead of I think they tried to do this and said we're not responsible. You know, and one of the things that I have learned is I'm responsible for everything in my company, even if it's a minion that does it three levels down. That minion worked for me. I'm responsible for that.

So that was—I threw you a curveball and an incredibly hard curveball. And thank you very much mark. That was insightful and, you know, I'm trying to balance of do you jump in the game? You know, back in the old days, I think I still call Chick-fil-a hate chicken because of the you know, the founders view on LGBTQ I think of, you know, Tommy Hilfiger or Lululemon and the missteps that those founders made that were like, "Whoa, you just really stepped out of line" versus "Hey, this is our authentic view on the world and how we stand by the change that we see needing to happen."

Thank you, my friend.

Marc Gutman 5:24

Yeah, no. And there's, I'm trying to think of it. I'm blanking right now. But if you were to Google today, I think it's called the Richards Group. There's this this, and I didn't really know them. But it's a really famous agency out of I think Dallas and the Richards group, they do like motel six, and they were doing Home Depot and some of these really huge brands and the and the owner. And this is just real time this has happened in the last 10 days, the owner had said some things that were you know, they're not gonna like this ad because it's dot, dot, dot, and, you know, racially insensitive, and like, the backlash was immediate.

Within two to three days, he was resigning, those big brands were leaving the agency. And so, in today's day and age, I mean, you know, Ink! is Ink!, It's funny, because Ink!, not funny, but Ink! was really early on this one, you know, I think if they would have done that today, it would have been really Game Over, it would have been shut down the business writing for you know, like, there is just no room for that. And, and I think that's great, I think that the world is, is waking up, I think that people are trying to enact change and trying to move the world to a better place. And, you know, be aware, you know, it's like, it's like the, it's the economic and cultural climate we're living in.

And, you know, going forward, you can't be real cavalier with that type of messaging. But I also think that like, this is a much bigger conversation about diversity and equity, and inclusion, and, you know, we're two white dudes, and we run in super white dude circles. And you know, at that agency, there probably was absolutely zero diversity. And, you know, had there been some diversity, someone probably would have looked at that before it went out the door and said, like, "Wait a second". Because like, I think that it was just like, there's no excuses, but I think it just was like, they didn't even see it.

They didn't even know that it was insensitive. And that's just an example. The systemic racism, we have that like, there's a lot of things that we don't even know are racist. And we just say them or do them or participate in them. And it's not from a racist place in our heart, but like it certainly is, and it's perceived that way by other communities and other cultures. And so, it had there been some diversity. And again, that's a much bigger conversation. But I think someone would have been like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, like, should we be sending that out?" You know, and it would have been avoided.

Keith Roberts 7:41

Yeah, I had an orthodontist this probably 10 years ago that wanted to do an ad. You want to design an ad with, obviously an LGBTQ person, and then sort of like a split face, and then being straight on the other side, and we can straighten anything and I was like, Nope, not gonna do that. You can go somewhere else. Like, I'm sorry, but you have no clue how offensive that is. And there is no effing way my agency would produce something like that.

And as a friend, please don't do that. Because that's going to be the end of your, your company. And maybe you should actually like, do some sensitivity awareness work on yourself.

Marc Gutman 8:19

Yeah and it's gonna take, it's gonna take more agency owners and more creatives and more people in business, just having that hard conversation. Also being self aware. And if you don't have diversity, maybe just saying, like, you're trying to put that hat on and just saying like, hey, like, yeah, like, how might this be seen? And then you know, and then at the end of the day, we do our best.

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