News

Creepy brands: how not to win the internet

by Adam Flynn, D/C brand strategist

In a paper for the Nesson Center for Internet Geophysics, Tim Hwang and Adi Kamdar argue that the declining effectiveness of standard online advertising (admittedly a debated topic) will push further market consolidation, encroachment on privacy, and blurring of lines between content and advertising. These trends, hotly-discussed last year, show little sign of abating in 2014. So, if we are where they say we are, how might organizations and brands best navigate this transition in a way that leads to positive results for all concerned?

The first step might be making sure you’re not being creepy.

What do we mean by that? Well, we don’t mean horror movies, Welcome to Night Vale, or our very own talking Ticket Oak. We mean the real world.

And by “creepy,” we mean a specific type of threatening creepiness, one that is often associated with the experiences of women dating men, but can exist in many types of relationships, including brand relationships. It’s a lack of awareness of soft signals and social norms. Tone-deafness followed by dogged pursuit.

It’s following someone around online, but avoiding them in person.

It’s stalking someone enough to know they’re pregnant before their father does. (Getting all of that info stolen doesn’t make it better, by the way.)

It’s assuming that if someone doesn’t go out of their way to shut you down, what you’re doing must be okay.

As Hugo Schwyzer pointed out in Jezebel, being called out as creepy is both stinging and hard to refute, as it is based in the subjective feelings of another: “No other word is as effective as describing when a man has crossed a woman’s boundary; no other word forces a man to reflect on how his behavior makes other people feel. A guy…can only disprove the charge of creepiness by fundamentally altering his behavior to be more genuinely respectful.”

If brands truly want to have deep relationships with consumers, especially women, then they ought to go about it the right way.

Women make the majority of household purchasing decisions, yet the advertising aimed at them is mostly created by (young, college-educated, white) men. It’s hard to develop effective messaging based on an incomplete social perspective. Just as California-based designers of smart watches didn’t need to think about surviving winter or fitting into bulky parkas, they also didn’t take into consideration the possibility they might be “an inadvertent tool of the seedy victimization of women.”

To put it plainly, it’s hard for someone who’s never been the victim of “creeper-moves” to predict what might or might not be creepy – especially in a young, college-educated, white vacuum.

This is a problem in tech, a problem in advertising and a problem in corporate America. Thankfully, there are scattered signs of a greater thoughtfulness and responsibility worthy of the trust inherent in making a brand part of someone’s life.

Twitter recently rolled back changes to its “block” feature after massive pushback. The changes were a sincere attempt to de-escalate the retaliation that often occurs after a notification of blocking (definitely an issue), but ended up making the problem worse. Blocked users could still follow, favorite, and re-tweet, just without the blocking user seeing it. Passionate users revolted, likening the changes to a blindfold and accusing the company of shifting the balance of power in favor of harassers. Twitter executives held an emergency meeting, reversed the changes, and put a stake in the ground that “we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe.” (Twitter’s board, incidentally, just added its first female member this December.)

Down in the valley, as the NY Times reports, Facebook made changes to how its takedown requests work, informed by work in neuroscience, psychology, and mindfulness:

“Previously, someone tagged in an unfortunate Facebook photo could flag the image as offensive and hope the other person would remove it. Now, a form pops up with options like, ‘It’s embarrassing,’ ‘It’s inappropriate’ and ‘It makes me sad,’ along with a polite request to take the photo down… Introducing that simple, thoughtful language has tripled the likelihood that users will send a message asking for the photo to be removed, [Facebook’s Arturo] Bejar said, adding that the overall response has been significant. In the United States, if someone marks a Facebook photo as ‘embarrassing,’ it is 83 percent likely that the poster will respond or delete it. Facebook will soon add a similar function to text posts. ‘We didn’t realize how hard it was to feel heard in electronic communications, but now there are mechanisms for being more expressive and thoughtful,’ Mr. Bejar said.”

It’s a far cry from “poke,” and perhaps a sign of corporate maturity.

And in our own case, we don’t mean to to brag (sorry/not sorry), but we’ve always admired the way John Muir Health puts an emphasis on listening to its mostly-female base of healthcare decision-makers, topics where embarrassment and silence were once the norm. From research to creative development to production, there have always been women in the room, and usually the majority [ed.: should we mention that they call themselves “the coven?”]. We think the value of an end-to-end approach has paid off in the work, and that our new spots speak to something authentic and real, but we’ll let you be the judge of that.

Work + News

Vaccination: our state’s best shot

As reported in AdAge and Adweek, DC was awarded the state’s $40 million campaign to bolster public confidence in Covid-19 vaccinations. And work is already underway on this critical effort.

Animating anti-smoking

The spots are animated. The struggle is real. True tales of former smokers on the perilous path to quitting.

InnovAsian: The Next Generation

DC is back with seconds of our award-winning, supply-chain-busting InnovAsian Occasion campaign now running on stations across the nation.

Kona Brewing

Not only did viewers rank the TV spots above those of market leaders Corona and Dos Equis, they gave them the third highest score for any alcohol-related ad that year. Which might be one good reason for a frothy 37% sales increase.

Beautyscape in the Bahamas

Created by DCLA for e.l.f., the fifth installment of the award-winning influencer program is now underway in the Bahamas. And garnering more heat than ever.

Two female presenting teens are at a table in a school library. One female with dark curly hair is sitting down with her back to the frame. The other is standing over the table with SweeTarts gummies in both hands and smiling.

SweeTARTS' Be Both is back

After the sweet success of last year’s 'Be Both' launch, SweeTARTS is doubling down on the campaign to Gen Z with brand new work in market now — and more to come in 2021.

CBS x Alfred Coffee · Emmy Awards

DCLA partnered CBS Studios with Alfred Coffee to reach Emmy voters and garner support for Star Trek: Picard. The timely work tapped into the diversity and inclusion central to Gene Roddenberry’s original vision.

Action shot of a pink nike shoe as it hits the concrete. The person wearing the shoe is running. A pink Rakuten logo appears above the shoe as if it popped out from her shoe indicating the runner is a Rakuten user.

Rakuten

Loyalty or discount program advertising often dwells in the downscale world of the coupon clipper — a turnoff to savvier online shoppers. Our strategy was to present Rakuten as every bit as premium as the brands it offered rebates on.

StubHub

Even the mild-mannered have something inside that drives them wild. And thanks to StubHub that wild thing is busting out all over.

Gap · Dress Normal

Gap asked us to build consideration and generate trial for their newly launched “Dress Normal” brand platform. Thirty influential Instagram photogs helped us do just that.

This way to health insurance

Today marks the launch of our first campaign for Covered California as part of a five-year, $400-million effort to help all Californians get the health insurance they need.

Kettle Brand

The “Stirring the Pot” work celebrates Kettle Brand's counterculture legacy and all those that zig when others zag.