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I’ve been thinking a lot about “identity politics.” The whole country has. Or should I say the whole country is, because I don’t know that a lot of us are thinking at all. We have become so reactionary it is terrifying. In America, who or what you stand for has taken precedent over measured consideration, empathy, seeing an issue from both sides. There is no more happy medium. You are either one thing or the other. And, honestly, neither thing is good thing.

Be that as it may, I wonder how this impacts brands. Do consumable goods have politics? Should they? Do we attribute identities to cars and toothpaste and everything in between? Yes we do. And no we shouldn’t.

By way of example, let’s start with the obvious. The media. CNN is considered left wing, liberal and Democratic. Fox is right wing, conservative and Republican. Each of these brands wears its identity on their sleeves. Each side brands the other. Both networks are worse for it.

But what of other media? Is Twitter Alt Right because Donald trump loves using it? By extension, is the President/#notmypresident alt right because members of that group seemingly endorse him? Is Facebook liberal because Mark Zuckerberg is? You can see where I’m going with this. Attributing political identities to things is a dangerous game and we are all playing it, now more than ever.

What if all brands of pickup trucks were deemed red state and racist because they are beloved by cowboys and hunters? Those groups like guns and are white so you do the math. Conversely does that make every driver of a Prius and Tesla a liberal Antifa supporter? Sadly, it would appear so. That means if I buy a Ford Pickup I will be identified accordingly… and incorrectly.

This is nothing new. To some extent we have been judging people by their purchases for years. Brands have taken advantage of it. Chasing young people. Courting African Americans. Yet, I think in the last decade, in the age of social media, brands have been increasingly victimized by identity politics. Profiled. The CEO of a fast food franchise has overt religious beliefs, is mocked for them on Facebook or wherever, and suddenly everyone who buys a sandwich there must believe what he believes. Likewise, if a company keeps a low profile and focuses only on doing what they do are they in turn deemed unsympathetic monsters?

It goes on. And we all play a part. What is the end game? Goods and services that cater to one only identity or another? Messaging and Badging their products to appeal to one group but not another. “Welcome Liberals!” Or: “Conservatives Your Money Not Wanted Here!” That’s not a free market. Can we leave the labels for ingredients?

If you identify with my writing, hit me up. I’ll do it for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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At first glance, this item seems like merely a glib menu item from a bar in Los Angeles. Which it is. But the gimmick of selling patrons a 40-ounce bottle of Colt 45 in a brown paper bag is much more than just an innocuous promotion. it’s a crucible.

Undeniably “creative” in that it is a clever way for St. Felix to make 500% profit from cheap swill and also generate beaucoup buzz. No question the concept will appeal to hipsters looking for “authentic experiences.” It’s ironic. It’s social. It’s the kind of shit new drinkers adore as they search for persons in the bar and personas online. #OldSchool #Chillin #Dawg!

But isn’t it also grotesque because it makes light of skid row and more precisely the American Black Ghetto?  We in Adland remember the embarrassing debacle the seemingly innocuous “Ghetto Days” party invitation created. Heads rolled. Accounts moved. Reputations were ruined. It was a big ugly deal. In my view, selling white boys a “45 in a bag” to get their drink on is basically the same thing.

Deplorable or a small stroke of genius? The question is truly loaded, given the abysmal state of race relations and how angry, sensitive and scared everyone is. These days, a stupid party favor can easily become a fire starter. Is this one?

For creative business ideas that only create “good” controversy: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Boy meets girl. They become friends. Grow up together. Fall in love. And when they inevitably become a couple Chase Bank is there with financial guidance to help them protect their growing nest egg. Perfectly reasonable fodder for an anthem commercial. And this one mines the territory with aplomb. Beautifully shot. Lovely music. Great cast.

Which brings me to the couple. She’s black. And he’s white.

So what? So that’s my point. For all the animosity in our world regarding race relations (the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights Movement) here’s this white man and black woman starting a life together. A couple. Through thick and thin.

And if our society is as misbegotten in terms of race as everyone thinks it is (the alt right vs #blacklivesmatter) then this couple is in for a lot of thick and thin. Which is why I think it’s remarkable that a notoriously conservative entity like Chase Bank has brought this couple to life. It’s as if the shit storm going on in America weren’t happening at all.

Not too long ago, when I was churning out commercials for clients like Kellogg’s, McDonald’s and Miller Beer we would not have considered casting a biracial couple as leads in a TV spot. Sure, we dutifully cast ethnic people here and there in a commercial, but certainly not as lovers, man and wife. This was, to use a loaded phrase, “the last taboo.”

Was.

Now it’s commonplace to see mixed race couples in advertising. Not just black and white people. Latinos and Asians are becoming ubiquitous in adverts – as if, as I said, the shit storm going on in America weren’t happening at all. The news gives us protesters and riots. People are going to be deported. A wall built between countries. Yet, despite this turmoil, more and more advertisers are simply moving forward.

Take notice. Because while diversity continues to be a hot button issue in Adland (and elsewhere), the content we produce could not be more progressive. My belief is that the more people see these images the more comfortable they will become with them. On this side of the camera, at least, all is right with the world.

Maybe life will imitate art. And the sooner the better.

( Ready and able to provide content and creative leadership at all levels: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/ )

Above the fray in every way, comes this gorgeous film celebrating America’s ideals and spirit, words eloquently written by Woody Guthrie expressed through the voice of a Latin American.

Yes, it’s a political message, stoically defending our diverse country of immigrants in the face of fear mongers like Donald Trump. (Building a wall against these people –all people- is indefensible.)

And yes, of course, it’s a commercial for Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey. And so what if it is? This does not lesson the “message” in any way. Sharing a well-earned drink among good men is a wonderful thing. A grand film sponsored by a proud spirit is not a sin. Here the advertiser is a patron of the arts and we are better for it.

But it’s more than that. This short film is an anthem for our time – for all time. Indeed, many of the images depict an America we know, remember or, failing that, at least mythologize. Strong men and women moving forward. Persevering. Getting the job done. Celebrating together. That most if not all of the people in the film are Latino changes none of that. As intended, these iconic portrayals of farmers and workers and parents are only intensified emotionally by them all being Latino.

Taking the high road and not stumbling into treacle is no easy feat. Like the characters it portrays this “commercial” never falters. The care put into its production (casting, audio, video, editorial, etc.) is impeccable. His politics aside, if you told me Clint Eastwood directed this piece I would have believed you. Such are the production values.

With stewardship from various agencies (in this case Anomaly), Johnnie Walker has been doing a marvelous job delivering powerful stories toward their longtime theme, “Keep walking.” And this small masterpiece is no exception.

Let me create uplifting content for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Say what you will about the horror franchise but the latest Purge movie is eerily prophetic in its depiction of the divisive state of our Union. For those unawares, the concept deals with a government sanctioned night of rage that takes place once a year in America. All crimes, including murder, are legal for 12 hours. The subsequent carnage is supposed to “purge” everyone’s pent up frustrations and lead to less crime overall. Something like that anyway.

Regardless of what we think of this science fiction one cannot deny how prescient the idea is. So ripe is the concept I don’t know where to begin. Ragged race relations? Check. Police brutality? Check. The gun debate? Check. Political unrest? Check. Rich vs. poor? Check. And on and on. Clearly, The Purge has tapped into the zeitgeist in ways unimaginable and uncomfortable.

None more so that the latest entry, aptly titled The Purge: Election Year.

One scene has a corrupt, white officer shooting a young black man dead through the window of his car. Another has angry black civilians rampaging against a stronghold of rich white people. At times it was like watching You Tube videos of chaos in our streets. And I haven’t even mentioned the gross similarities between the “Election Year” depicted in the movie and the one we are enduring now. The two Presidential candidates are a fearsome and corrupt rich white man and a liberal leaning female. Sound familiar?

Of course the film is over-the-top and grossly distorted. But it’s all too freakishly on point. That the film was produced well before the recent mayhem in our country further adds to its power. If America wasn’t going through what it is going through right now this movie would come and go as a mildly entertaining piece of pulp genre. Instead, it damn near passes for a documentary.