You've Come A Long Way, Baby

The title of this post could (and should) be an entire course. There is easily enough new material generated every year to incite impassioned debate. Organizations like the 3% Conference and Advertising Women of NY make great strides in getting us closer to reality as communicators, yet the question always lingers--Have we really come a long way? And by whose standards?

The recent Women's March seen and heard around the world tells me--probably not.

The first brand to introduce a modern version of feminism in advertising (that I can recall from first hand experience) is Virginia Slims' "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" campaign in 1968. My Dad worked for Philip Morris when I was young and used to bring me a Virginia Slims "Engagement Calendar" filled with images of sophisticated seductresses with extra-long skinny cigarettes who seemed to be in charge of their lives and loving it.

That was a version of feminism from the 70s. And shortly after that campaign was introduced, Title IX became law, so it must have jived with public sentiment to some degree. Though, it must have been an iterative process because at some point they dropped the "Baby" part in the ad above.

The next one I remember is still a favorite: Nike's "If You Let Me Play" spot. I show it every semester to every class. Even though it dates back to 1995, it still resonates. Note that it was created by an all-female team.

There have been lots of campaigns since that have pushed themes of equality (or lack of) to the forefront. Dove's "Real Beauty," Always "Like A Girl," American Greetings "Toughest Job In the World" are top of mind. 

But let's fast-forward to Superbowl 2017. Audi's "Daughter" spot very touchingly tells the story of a Dad asking himself "What will I tell my daughter?" as he watches her compete against boys to win in a go-cart race. The end of the spot proclaims that Audi believes in equal pay for workers no matter their gender. It's a very nice, heartwarming spot.

But my question is this: Compared to Nike's "If You Let Me Play" spot from 1995--almost a quarter century ago--have we really come a long way?

Before Dove did this in 2004:

Nike did this in the 90's (also done by an all-female team):

(Thank you, Kathy Hepinstall, copywriter)

(Thank you, Kathy Hepinstall, copywriter)

So I ask my students two questions: (1) Have we really come so far? and when you are in charge of the decisions someday, (2) How do you make sure you move the conversation FORWARD and not let it stagnate?

Frats: A Worthwhile Rebrand

What if sororities and fraternities were much more useful to society--more than just a good time, a literal form of social security or a series of outrageous fees with little transparency in regards to how the budget is allocated?

What could they represent at their best? What impact could they have?

I did not attend a university with sororities so I can not comment on what it's like to be in one. But I can tell you that these Greek organizations continue to be choked by negative brand impressions. 

Which is actually a shame because, at their core, they are groups of college students trying to rally around a common cause. But it comes off as rather aimless, haphazard and pointless. 

What if fraternities and sororities actually made a positive impact on college life? No doubt, some do, but that information is not widely disseminated. 

As with any successful business, an alternative type of frat could have a clear and purpose-driven mission, with a visionary leader, a connection with the community and the power to make a difference--all with measurable results. 

What would that look like? How would that galvanize the students. After all, when you've got IG, Twitter, FB, Snapchat, Tinder and Bumble, what do you need a sorority for?  

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Best Gift Guide for Things You Didn't Know Existed

PSFK has just released their Holiday Gift guide and it is both a surprise and a delight. What I like best about this list is 1) I haven't seen the items listed anywhere else; 2) It's a fabulous showcase for the importance of product innovation and design; 3) It serves as a mini-newsletter of projects straight out of Silicon Valley or Kickstarter; 4) It makes me feel like the Jetson's lifestyle isn't actually that far away; 5) Like every insightful gift list, there are multiple price points and age groups for all the techies on your list and finally, 6) What a totally on-brand thing for PSFK to do.

Thanks, PSFK, for giving me some great ideas and a dose of optimism for the future....

NYTimes Virtual Reality is Here

This morning I received Google's cardboard Virtual Reality glasses with my Sunday NYTimes paper. Very impressive. What a great use and introduction of new technology to the masses.

I can't imagine a better purpose for VR than news reporting. Incorporating VR into video games, advertising and other forms of entertainment are a given, but news reporting is ideal for a number of reasons:

1. I barely managed to get my hands on the little contraption before the kids were all over it, plugging in their headphones and watching the news. And I didn't even have to worry about it being dropped or damaged. Imagine how it warms a parents' heart to see her children glued to the story of the global refugee crisis.

2. Being able to look up, down and sideways--while listening to a story--is more than listening or watching. It's an experience. As if you were there. As if the reporter was talking to you directly. Now, if only we could ask questions... 

3. The news is meant to be an informative medium--but also a unifying medium. We are meant to not only know what's going on, but also know and attempt to understand collectively. So we can talk about it. Have an opinion. Achieve critical mass. Organize. Do something. By offering a hi-tech experience in a stripped-down, cost effective manner, VR news is available to more people, attracting a wider audience and delivering a more provocative experience. Larger numbers will become more involved and make better informed choices, i.e., what the news is all about.

4. Newspaper readership has really suffered over the years. People don't necessarily want or make time for thorough reporting, or what some refer to as "slow journalism." Lots of people like to consume their news in quick video or audio soundbites, which doesn't always allow for accurate critical analysis. By bringing thoughtful and engaging story back to news, people spend more time with it, consider the different perspectives--they get pulled in. They care more. 

5. Getting a little treat with my Sunday Times makes me revel in my Sunday morning paper ritual even more. The London Times is so good at this--offering a CD or a free app or some other such treat every Sunday. Social psychologists have known for a very long time that getting something extra that you didn't ask or pay for increases emotional attachment. It's called reciprocity. And reciprocity breeds loyalty. 

6. Finally, from a branding perspective, what makes more sense than the partnering of The New York Times and Google? Two of the most globally recognized American brands that share a similar purpose and ethic coming together and combining resources. Imagine what this partnership could accomplish in the future...

Even though i struggled a bit with the double vision, it doesn't matter that it's not yet perfect. It will be. Thank you NYTimes, for taking a risk. Well done. 

Museums + Libraries = Community Learning

What if museums and libraries were re-imagined to become centers of community learning? What could they be at their best? In NYC, an exhibit opens up this weekend at The American Museum of Natural History that will attempt to make the abstract concept of microbes, parasites and disease a more concrete one by making the invisible, visible. What if the idea was taken a step further and there was a museum devoted to the diseases that plague human beings the most? Heart Disease? Cancer? Ebola? Flu? What if the exhibit was constructed around the way people learn, combining engaging visuals, talks and demonstrations from experts, scientists, doctors and patients? Would that do more to get people interested in medical or STEM careers? 

What about museums devoted to studying and tracking ideas with positive influence like Nutrition? Or Religious Tolerance? What would a museum of Peace be like? Would it inspire more people to learn? To speak up? Ask questions?

In Richmond, VA, we have a Museum of the Confederacy, but no museum dedicated to The Constitution. Imagine what a multi-media exhibit and ever-evolving learning center of The Constitution would do. 

On Shelter Island, NY, the local library across the street from the K-12 public school serves as the after-school care for younger students. Instead of going home to sit on the couch and play video games or watch TV, the students participate in the Lego Club or play chess. On weekends, the library hosts talks and forums with local writers, artists or historians for the adult community members. The library serves a crucial purpose: to encourage life-long learning at every age. 

By poking around the internet, we can learn a lot, virtually--but imagine if we were able to build physical, multi-generational communities around learning to complement the most pressing topics in our education system. 


What is Strategy?

Debbie Millman, a well-known and highly regarded designer, shares the top 10 things she wished she knew when she graduated college. #4 (about 16:30 in) is about the importance of STRATEGY: "Ideas are easy. Strategy is much harder." She adopts Michael Porter's (Harvard Business School) definition of strategy to explain "Strategy is choosing to perform activities differently or to perform distinctly different activities than rivals."

Debbie Millman
Ideas are easy. Strategy is much harder.
— Debbie Millman

One of the most influential designers working today, Debbie Millman is also a writer, educator, artist, brand consultant and host of the podcast Design Matters. In one of CreativeMornings/NewYorkCity’s most popular talks (recorded in February 2011), she offers practical advice for soon-to-be design grads that is applicable to anyone, anywhere, in any career, at any time.