Tapping into the Zeitgeist: #OscarsSoWhite Makes its Mark on Hollywood and Beyond

In our post, “After OscarsSoWhite, Now What?” we discussed just how far the movie industry had to go to reflect global diversity. Fast forward one year, it’s hard to disagree the 2017 Oscars were dazzling for people of color. Six black actors and Indian-Englishman, Dev Patel, vied for major acting awards, winning two. Moonlight, an independent film based on a semi-autobiographical play about the coming of age of a young, gay black man in Florida–which had no featured Caucasian characters–won Best Picture, upsetting what people thought was a sure thing for La La Land. African American actor, Mahershala Ali, won Best Supporting Actor for Moonlight, making him the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar. The response to the film’s win was a wider release; it was announced following the awards Moonlight was set to open on 1500 screens nationwide. The much admired and beautiful Viola Davis, a dark-complected actress who has spoken publicly about her body and hair insecurity, gave an impassioned acceptance speech upon her Best Supporting Actress win for Fences, again expressing her wonder at coming from abject poverty to a place in the spotlight. Another work, Erza Edelman and Caroline Waterlow’s Best Documentary Feature win, OJ: Made in America, while evoking sad and disquieting subject matter, tapped zeitgeist issues of race and justice and fame.

In response, voices we’d heard loudly in 2016 were hopeful, yet measured. April Reign, whose ubiquitous 2016 hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, became an energizing rallying cry, pointed out that we have to be vigilant about inclusion of not only black faces and voices, but all the colors and circumstances that make up the real world. Her twitter post noted: “One year of films reflecting the Black experience doesn’t make up for 80 yrs of underrepresentation of ALL groups.” And realistically, the films we enjoyed this year were in production or pre-production for years before their release dates. So what gives?

#OscarsSoWhite undoubtedly was influential. In response to the outcry, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, planted seeds of change by successfully leading a campaign to diversify the voting membership. The hashtag also threw light on a small and specific film like Moonlight, and helped make Hidden Figures a box office smash, surpassing La La Land domestically by $17 million as of today. As several people have pointed out, however, the power structure in Hollywood hasn’t changed yet and remains predominantly white and male, but there’s no denying the door has been cracked open.

The phenomenal success of multi-cultural series television and online programming, and the growing population of millennials and those who will come after are propelling the rhythm of contemporary culture. Not only are millennials a more accepting generation, they are also more pragmatic about the long-term necessity of diversity. Shows like black-ish, Atlanta, Fresh Off the Boat, Scandal, Empire and Insecure explore sometimes real (controversial and painful) and sometimes outlandish themes. Why are these shows so popular, drawing large and diverse audiences? Because content is key. Millennials are interested in unique content providing an experience, over anything. (That’s kind of what all viewers want.) And millennials would like their ads to look the same, thank you.

The ad world has determined it’s content celebrating diversity as a central theme that has made the most successful campaigns in the last five years. Diversity casting is important, but it’s what advertising depicts and says that works — millennials respond to an experience and a theme reflecting the world they inhabit. They are also paying attention to what your company is doing with their profits, and what your company culture is like. And since they are the most diverse audience in history with purchasing power of over $1 Trillion annually, they can’t be painted with a broad brush. Mainly, they want to be authentically engaged or entertained by companies with some social consciousness.

I’ve always known TV had its finger on the pulse, and as the audience goes, so go the advertisers. We are moving forward.

Questions to consider:

  1. How well are advertisers doing when it comes to including diverse talent in media campaigns?
  2. How well are advertisers doing when it comes to tackling issues outside of racial diversity, such as gender, age and ableism?
  3. How has Millennials’ acceptance of diversity, in its broadest expression (i.e., race, socio-economics, gender expression, etc.), as the norm, influenced marketing to this coveted community?

Make Black Friday Green With Sales!

Instigated by the frenzy of commercials and promotions, shoppers often wonder “am I getting the best deal?”  In a tongue-in-cheek campaign, appliance retailer hhgregg captured this anxiety as FOBO (Fear of Better Offers.)  Zimmerman, the agency behind the campaign, said the idea came from “research that found millennials currently experience feelings of fear that better options may exist elsewhere.”   hhgregg is positioned as the solution:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLKZvsssNcw
As we head into the peak shopping season, many consumers are likely to be feeling the effects of FOBO. And despite the positioning of Black Friday as the height of discounts, some reports are finding these “deals” are not deals at all, furthering shoppers’ angst.
Some apps and websites are seeking to help relieve shoppers of these fears. Flipp aggregates retailer flyers and lets consumers pinpoint the local retailer with the best price for items on their shopping list. They’ve even created a new commercial highlighting the app’s applicability for Black Friday gift shopping.


And for those who prefer to shop Cyber Monday? As noted in last week’s NYTimes, new apps like ShopSavvy allow users to compare prices for items in brick & mortar retailers versus Amazon and other online outlets “ all in search of the best deal.”
Some questions for marketers:
*How important is getting the best price for your prime customers?
*How transparent is pricing for your product or service? Is it easy for consumers to choose to buy your brand?

Competing for Eyeballs – Rio Olympics Edition

While the world’s elite athletes are competing for medals in Rio de Janeiro, a battle for viewers is being waged by cable and broadcast networks, social media and streaming platforms.
One of the key properties Comcast gained with its 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal was the rights to air the Olympics games in the US.  And now Comcast, through its Xfinity cable subsidiary is leveraging new platforms and apps to engage subscribers with Olympics content. As cord-cutting increases, Comcast is looking to upgrade current subscribers as well as entice new users with exclusive Olympics content available only through their partnership with the USOC.  NBCUniversal now has an exhaustive schedule of Olympics viewing across NBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, USA, Bravo and more through the X1 application.


In a bid to reach cord-cutters and mobile users, Google has dispatched YouTube stars such as Liza Koshy, Brodie Smith, Ben Brown, Caeli, Chloe Morello and Felipe Castanhari to livestream parts of the games and special events in host city Rio. Google is leveraging content from these Creators into search, maps and mobile applications to increase engagement. YouTube is also offering subscribers an IOC channel to increase visibility beyond US-centric users.

Not to be left out of the mobile/streaming wars, Facebook and Instagram have partnered with NBC to create a Social Media Command Center with access to NBC commentators and behind-the-scenes video.

Early reports indicate that live viewership for the Olympics is down versus the 2012 London Games.  Some are faulting excessive commercial breaks and ongoing concerns about Rio’s preparedness for the games.  But with so many options, are viewers choosing to engage with the 2016 Olympic Games in other ways rather than just live TV?

Some thoughts for marketers:
*Are the increased numbers of platforms and channels to choose for Olympic content possibly confusing or overwhelming viewers?
*Which brands are best leveraging the variety of platforms in order to connect with target consumers?
*What is your favorite way to watch the Olympics?

The Marketing of An Icon

David Redfern/Redferns/ GettyImages JB Lacroix/ WireImage
David Redfern/Redferns/ GettyImages JB Lacroix/ WireImage

When I was 13 years old, I experienced what many adolescents go through— I had very little self-esteem.  My lack of self-esteem stemmed from feeling like I didn’t fit in.  My reflection didn’t fit the standards of beauty that adorned the pages of the magazines I read. I thought I was fat and was often on a diet to try to lose 10 pounds. I thought my nose was too broad and my thighs were too large. I even dreamed about the day when I would be able to afford surgery to fix my imperfections.

Of course, none of those options was available to me.  But when I heard Nina Simone’s version of  To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,  I saw and heard a woman who looked like me and I began to find my inner and outer beauty.  When I heard this song, I felt so validated.  I began to look at and accept my African features in a whole new way. This was a magnificent turning point in my life.

For me, and I’m sure many other women, Nina Simone represented a liberation from desiring an unattainable beauty.  Her music, presence, and stand for her artistry had a tremendous influence on me and I was proud of what she represented culturally in the United States and in my corner of the world in the Caribbean.

As a huge Nina Simone fan, I was captivated by the Netflix-produced documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?  that debuted last summer. The film’s authentic look at Nina’s life and music is engaging. A few weeks later, I was delighted to learn that a theatrical release, Nina, was coming to the silver screen, and I was planning too see it for the entertainment value.  I heard Zoe Saldana was slated to play the leading role.  While I questioned the producers’ choice of Ms. Saldana to fill the enormous emotional and cultural shoes of the iconic Nina Simone, that did not deter my plans to support the film.

Then came the release of the trailer for Nina.  I was taken aback to see that the film’s producers had darkened Ms. Saldana’s skin and had applied a prosthetic device to broaden her nose to make her look more like Nina Simone. The decision to change Zoe Saldana’s look to better reflect Nina is a clear example of what happens when production decisions go wrong.

Knowing your brand is key when developing a production or marketing strategy.  Whether it’s designing a package, developing advertising, choosing promotional vehicles or any other marketing efforts, several factors must be taken in to consideration.  It’s important to understand the brand, feature its unique attributes, and understand what it means to the audience. From the signs of it, the branding of Ninaseems to have missed these key elements.

What to Watch For

I’m looking forward to seeing Miles Ahead this month with Don Cheadle starring as the legendary Miles Davis. While this film is not a true biopic, I am eager to see how Mr. Cheadle created a film from this later portion of Miles Davis’ career.

Questions to Consider

  1. Which companies do you consider to be standouts when it comes to getting it right with their branding efforts?
  2. What marketing decisions do you feel have missed the mark and what was the fall out that ensued?
  3. What businesses have successfully gotten ahead of negative social media reactions to their marketing decisions?