VW's Underrated PR, Nike's Hypocrisy and the Myth of Sustainable Seafood | Non-Obvious Insights #264

Dear karl,

A clever yet underappreciated April Fools Day joke, a surprising finding from a remote work survey and several new stories about what we should or shouldn't eat (and what we should call it) are all on list of stories to share with you this week -- along with a few documentary film recommendations. In addition to these non-obvious stories, I'll also be participating in a fun conversation later today at 4pm EST on Clubhouse with my friend and advertising legend Mark DiMassimo where we're talk about the art of writing, creativity and how "writing shit" may be the real secret to breakthrough ideas. Enjoy the stories this week!

If You Think the "Voltswagen" Joke Failed, You Don't Understand PR

Amidst a mostly forgettable April Fool's Day of brand jokes this year, you might have heard Volkswagen announced they would be changing their name to Voltswagen to celebrate their commitment to electric vehicles. Soon after, they backtracked and declared it an ill-advised joke ... which predictably global media covered as a "debacle." Those declaring it a failure don't really understand how PR works. Not only did the move signal VW would be committed to electric vehicles in a big way, it helped them rise above other competitors also investing heavily in electric vehicles in the race to catch up to Tesla.

As proof their strategy is working, there was an article in BusinessWeek the same week focused on "The End of Tesla's Dominance" of the electric vehicle category. Guess which brand was shown in the rear view mirror illustration as a top emerging competitor? Yup, VW. So let's break down this PR strategy. You make a bold statement - maybe as a joke. Stoke some outrage, get a few "experts" to condemn your strategy ... and generate coverage. Meanwhile, the people who actually matter (ie - dealers and consumers) are either indifferent or thrilled at the results. This is what a great PR strategy looks like. Fittingly, the article referenced above ended with this line: "VW vowed to tighten internal marketing controls but stopped short of removing executives and severing ties with agencies."  

Removing them? Actually, they should give them all a raise.

Two Documentaries To Shift The Way You See The World

It was a thought-provoking week for me as I watched two powerful documentaries that shifted my perspective. The first, Coded Bias, was one I had been looking forward to seeing for some time. I even devoted an episode of my show to exploring the topic of algorithmic bias and this film featuring the work and insights of Ghanaian-American computer scientist Joy Buolamwini illuminated an emerging topic that we all need to understand better.

The other film was called Seaspiracy and revealed the surprisingly ignored fact that more than half of ocean plastic isn't from our plastic bags/bottles/straws - but from plastic commercial fishing nets and other remnants of the multi-billion dollar fishing industry. His extreme conclusion that there is no such thing as "sustainable seafood" and that humans should eat less seafood has created a full blown controversy. In the tradition of Supersize Me or Inconvenient Truth, this is one of those films that will change how you think about the environment and what you put into your body.   

USPS Slams Nike For Its Hypocritical Approach to Copyright

Nike is notorious for pursuing legal action against any brand (large or small) that it believes is infringing upon it's designs, but this week the brand is getting slammed for doing the same thing with a line of their own products. The USPS, perhaps one of the most underappreciated brands in the US, has issued a statement of their own -- justifiably calling out Nike for its hypocritical approach to copyright issues. The story raises an interesting question. The United States Postal Service is a 50 year old brand representing a centuries old institution. Does the brand belong to the U.S. Government? Or to taxpayers (which apparently doesn't include Nike either)? The courts will decide, but in the meantime, you can go directly to the USPS store and pick up some Earth Day merch right now and wear share your postage pride with the world. 
 

How the "Woke" Classroom Is Teaching White Shame and Black Futility

In The Atlantic this week, an African-American candidate for an Illinois local district School Board named Ndona Muboyayi shared her experience of having her kids come home from school after being taught that "all white people are privileged and part of a system of white supremacy." At the same time, her black kids were also learning that the "system" was and would always be against them: 

"The narrative is, 'You can't get ahead.' Of course I want my children to know about slavery and Jim Crow. But I want it to be balanced out with the rest of the truth. They're not taught about Black people who accomplished things in spite of white supremacy."

Teaching white kids to be ashamed of themselves because of their privilege and teaching black kids that the system is and always will be rigged against them is a disservice to both. 

Impossible Foods Launches New Campaign Declaring: "We Are Meat."

Words matter. For several years now, the fight has been raging between the dairy industry and all of the alternative types of milk (oat, soy, almond, etc). This week, Impossible Foods launched a new campaign that may start a similar war of terminology between it and the meat industry. The brand has been using the tag line "For Meat Eaters Only" and their core brand message in the new campaign is simple: "We Are Meat." Let the fight begin. 

Microsoft Survey Accidentally Reveals Truth About Remote Work

A recent survey about the future of hybrid work released by Microsoft featured plenty of predictable conclusions about how people will start to blend remote work and office work as offices slowly reopen. A more sobering review of the survey spotlighted one unintended finding: the extreme flexibility of remote work is also leading many workers to the point of digital exhaustion ... and their bosses aren't noticing. In the absence of management by walking around, bosses are delighted at the rise in output while workers are quietly suffering, dreaming of changing jobs and getting buried by constant work the erodes work-life balance. The survey and conclusions should be a wake up call for leaders that people aren't all fine just because they are getting more work done. In fact, that might be part of the problem.

Even More Non-Obvious Stories ...

Every week, I find more stories than I'm able to write about in this newsletter. Here are a few worth a read if you have a bit of extra time this week: 

Join me LIVE on Clubhouse today for a chat about Writing Sh*t ... 

This week my friend Mark DiMassimo and I will be on Clubhouse talking about writing, creativity and how to get inspired. Join us! 

Join TODAY at 4pm EST >>
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