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Why #OscarSoWhite Should Matter To Average White Movie Goers

A version of this post first appeared in Brandtalk on March 1, 2016.

This year, and last, at the Oscars, every single major acting nomination went to white people. Seems suspicious, to say the least. I live in Los Angeles but don’t really have anything to do with the Hollywood machine. So, to me, the issue of diversity at the Oscars seemed like a localized, industry squabble. Being neither black nor an Oscar member nor even in the biz, I felt that this was someone else’s war to fight. It was an example of a brand struggling with an internal values issue. But, after watching last Sunday’s celebration, I feel that an average white movie goer like me really does have a stake in making Oscar more diverse. Why? Because Hollywood is a brand.

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Get Your Brand To Take A Selfie

Do you remember what it was like to hear your recorded voice for the first time? And how strange it sounded? And isn’t it interesting that people can’t look at themselves in the mirror without bias? We see what we want to see, confirming either a positive or a negative opinion of our appearance. When we self-regard, we get a distorted view of ourselves. For instance, when we hear ourselves speak, the sound waves aren’t gathered by our ears the way we hear other sounds. We hear our voices from inside our own heads. So nobody else hears your voice the same way you hear it. Similarly, no one perceives a brand the way its creator does. After a few years in business, the founder of a brand knows all its history, all its glorious successes, and all its crushing failures. The founder of a business has an encyclopedic and invaluable perception of it. Invaluable, yes, but also the most isolated point of view. No one else experiences the business in the same way; not its employees and certainly not its customers. So, while it can be a little unnerving to see yourself the way your market does, it pays, every few years or so, to have your brand take a “selfie”. Understanding how others perceive your brand results in astonishing clarity about how to go about delighting your customers. It provides a clear road map as to how to grow the business.

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Is Your Leadership Page Your New Logo?

One of the first things we do when we think of working with a new business, whether it’s a prospective client or a new vendor, is we check out the About Us tab on their website. You can glean a lot of evidence there, providing the business knows enough to publish it there. For instance, you can get a quick overview of the company, learn about its history or what kind of awards and recognition it has received. Very often, there is an overview of the leadership team. That page is full of information. Do they have separate people filling the roles of VP of Sales and VP of Marketing? Or do they have one person wearing both hats? That tells you something. Looking deeper into their bios or LinkedIn profiles, you can discern whether they’re naturals in their job positions. You can also tell who seems ill-suited for their current role. Of course, all this information has to be taken with a grain of salt. Websites hardly ever tell the whole story. But it can help you prepare your approach when you start to engage. We all know that doing business in the Covid-19 era is going to differ significantly than in prior times. But the racial unrest of the past few weeks has also delivered a meaningful change. And it all has to do with that Meet-the-team page.

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Branding So White. Why?

Mark Ritson is one of the world’s best-known branding authorities. He is also one of my favorites because of his clear-eyed, intelligent assessments of brands. But mostly, I think, it’s his call-it-like-I-see-it attitude that attracts me and, probably, all his other legions of fans. It was Ritson who convened the notorious public debate, Brand Valuation: Brilliant or Bullshit? in 2015. More recently he wrote, If ‘Black Lives Matter’ to brands, where are your black board members? It is a scathing indictment of the many global brands that are blatantly hypocritical about race. On the one hand, they are piously running ads proclaiming support of #BlackLivesMatter and the people demonstrating peacefully all around the world. But, in their board rooms, it’s all lily white, with no evidence that anything is ever going to change there. It reminded me of a time when Boardwalk was starting out and I had a conversation about race with my (then) partner, an asian woman. She asked why almost everybody in the world of graphic design was white. We ran through all of our associates and contacts who were active, professional designers. About 80% were white, about 17% asian, a couple of Latinos and zero blacks. It was just a small, un-scientific sampling, true, but it seemed like evidence of a larger, systemic issue. Since the problem seemed beyond our capabilities to solve, we just shrugged our shoulders and moved on. But that’s not an option any more.

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Brand Identity For A Sports Team

When sports teams unveil a new look, new uniforms, insignias, etc., they are almost always met with universal derision. This is because sports teams deliver an enormous amount of emotional benefit to their customers. Fans love them fervently. When people love a thing, they tend to want it to stay the same, always. But as soon as the competition begins, the fans remember what’s really important. They get involved in the play and quickly forget how much they hate the new uniforms. Until the next time they change. Some teams change their look every season so fans get used to an annual disappointment, however brief it may be. They would be more forgiving, I believe, if they knew how hard it is to design a team logo. It is especially difficult when the team’s design intentions go against the wishes of its league, which is almost always the case.

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