Sorry, Don’t Be Sorry UK McDonald’s

In the late 70’s, I came in from the woods around our house around lunchtime and, not seeing anything for lunch, decided to cut up an onion, heat it in an iron skillet, then put it between two slices of bread. My Mom came into the kitchen, saw what I was doing, and started crying; apparently her father, the grandfather I never knew, used to make that exact same oddball sandwich… Continue reading

Becoming a Right of Spring

Anyone in the communication business dreams of creating something that hits a nerve and draws massive, global interest. But few might expect that to come from ballpark signs created by the Board of a Wisconsin little league.

As reported in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one player’s dad, Evan Primakow, posted this photo of their sign on Reddit as the season opened in mid April. In less than two weeks, it’s garnered over twenty-eight thousand reactions and 715 comments (of course, being Reddit, a lot of those are trolling humor, but still…).
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Social Media Outrage: The Case for Embedding Anthropology

In a noisy trend seemingly endemic to today’s social media, the outrage machine cranked up again, this time against haircare brand Shea Beauty. The trigger for online scorn and trending hashtags like #SheaMoisture Apology is this seemingly-innocuous ad:

Okay, pretty young models pouting about hating their hair–what’s the problem?

The problem is simple: Shea Moisture was built as an African American brand. This market became its first loyalists, helping the brand gain more attention and grow to where it now has a presence in mega-chains like Target.

But this ad features three white young women and one very light skinned bi-racial one. At least until the end tag where more women of color appear in small sections of a graphic collage. Reading the comments on YouTube, it’s clear that Shea Beauty loyalists took immediate notice, and deeply resented it.

When social firestorms happen, I can’t help wondering if I would have made the same mistake. Yes, any creative would know the company is black owned. And that the core audience is also African American. But since clients approve, and often dictate, casting decisions, the issue is probably less about a dumb, subjective creative call and more about a strategic brand desire to ‘expand the base.’ Shea Beauty and their agency no doubt had nothing but the best intentions from a marketing perspective, along with data highlighting a market expansion opportunity with blondes and redheads.

And that’s exactly why I favor anthropology over planning. Anthropologists focus on audiences, not brand metrics. They study the people you hope to reach: their values, their economies, their rituals and sacrifices. Anthropology focuses on what aligns and motivates people, which is crucial now that marketing is a two way dialogue.

Research and planning inevitably focus on the advertiser’s wants, but brands no longer control the conversation. Using anthropology to better understand your audience protects you from becoming the worst kind of person in any social situation: the one that only talks about themselves.

Actually, if they listen, Shea Beauty’s audience even gave them the answer to the issue. YouTube commenter Lorietha Causey said this about the cut:

“why in the commercial they have a woman that looks bi-racial and then the other women are white and then at the end they show a background of different shades of women. I feel the ending should’ve been the beginning with of them having a say on the product.”

That’s a solid re-edit idea. And if they’re smart, Shea Beauty will listen to their loyalists, get back into edit, and fix this now; which is another advantage of our iterative digital world.



It’s no surprise that a digital marketing publication like ClickZ would release a study asserting today’s consumers are less focused on ads than content. While it makes me worry for future generations, there’s no doubt the Kardashian freakshow moves a lot of merchandise with their tweets and posts.

The ClickZ report includes this particularly aggressive claim: influencer marketing generates $6.50 for every dollar spent.

ClickZ claims a 600% ROI from Influencer Marketing.

While that number seems inflated, there’s no doubt this is an effective platform. Influencers provide direct access to specific audiences unreachable with other media. People prefer to hear from consumers they trust rather than companies. And marketers don’t have to produce anything themselves. Win, win, win!


They’re influencers. And your opinions can be theirs.

However, even as this report came out last week, the FTC announced it had sent letters warning 90 Instagram influencers that they must disclose all paid posts, whether that payment came in cash, gifts or free products. The Commission specifically stated that just appending posts with #sp for ‘sponsored post’ wasn’t enough; they want disclosure at the top, above the “More” button.

Two things about this seem odd. First, the FTC sent actual letters? Isn’t that adorably old school?

But more to the point, the letters failed to spell out any penalties. This second point is crucial; historically, the government has preferred to target companies, not individuals. Two years ago, Kim Kardashian made posts promoting the morning sickness pill Diglecis (seriously, who names these drugs?), without divulging they were paid posts. That neatly sidestepped the mandatory publishing of the lengthy risks and contraindications disclosures. The pharma company Duchesnay USA, not Ms. Kardashian, got off with just a warning.

While I’m sure the wording was very stern, that was it; no fine, no nothing.

Further, advertising watchdog Truth In Advertising Inc. filed a complaint to the FTC last year citing over 100 disclosure-regulation violations for Kardashian-Jenner family posts. But nothing happened, nothing changed, and its naive to think it will. When you get famous via a sex tape released by your Mom, you’re not easily cowed into submission.

Yes, many consumers recognize that celebrity brand mentions don’t come for free. In fact, paid influence should be a $1 billion business this year on Instagram alone. With no reason to think this growth will slow, the FTC will have to step up and do something to level the playing field.

The current administration may favor a hands off approach, but given the pervasiveness of social platforms, deregulation can quickly devolve into deception.