It's About the Work



The Tao of Super Bowl



The Super Bowl is a spectacularly American event. No doubt about it. Last night’s version, the 51st installment, was particularly so, and not just because of the Patriots’ improbable, yet seemingly predestined, come-from-behind win.

With each passing year, it is this game and everything that surrounds it that stands uniquely apart as the signature American cultural moment. As cliché as it is to suggest greater contextual meaning in every commercial, play call, and outcome, it’s become more glaring, and to some, pretty unnerving. Today’s fractured viewing environment has allowed annual live events like the Super Bowl to become a reflection of a public’s state of consciousness and conscience and no other spectacle can elevate all the trappings of the American myth quite like it. Here are three observations that made this year’s Super Bowl perhaps the most relevant of any before it.

Madison Avenue vs. Hollywood: Competing Themes of Unity and Apocalypse

The advertising industry still celebrates the Super Bowl as the premium media vehicle to carry a brand’s message to the largest possible audience and the opportunity to be your most audacious. Viewers still expect a lot from commercials and still acknowledge the social currency of having seen them.

Recently, brands have been pilloried for being too maudlin or bleak. But this year’s ads from brands like Anheuser Busch, Audi, Airbnb, Coca-Cola, and standout first-timer 84 Lumber (this year’s most affecting offering) revealed a more sentimental and well-forged set of patriotic narratives that were unmistakably political and forged deeply in the theme of unity. Immigration and the refugee crisis, equal pay, freedom of religion, America as a land of opportunity; once traditional but now seemingly progressive themes that under normal circumstances would be risky for brands to engage –  but are especially more so in an environment where a Trump tweet assault is always lurking – were common. In fact, the prolific output of so many ads devoted to these weighty issues carried a feeling that made viewing contributions from Avocados From Mexico, Mr. Clean, and T-Mobile featuring Justin Bieber seem small and silly. More and more, the Super Bowl seems to be a moment to have an adult conversation, for brands that have powerful beliefs and storytelling prowess to grow up and grow into a conversation that goes beyond the features, functions, and benefits of any individual products.

While there’s certainly a lot to cheer here, the problem for companies may still be that we exist in clashing visions of the American ideal, and it’s not yet clear how themes that at one point felt unquestionably American will resonate with audiences.

Conversely, Hollywood chose to be bleak. It felt like every film teaser – many of which are installments in a well-known fantasy series (again, a state of our times) – demonstrated an apocalyptic and chaos-ravaged existence. Transformer robots, comic superheroes, even pirates, survive in and contend with a world of anarchy. Hollywood has been critical of the ascendance and leadership of President Trump, to no surprise, and what it sees before us is a fearful planet on the precipice of destruction. The goal wasn’t to engage the desensitized among us to more hyper-realized fare, to say “escape with me into this world.” What it seemed to suggest is all is lost.

Halftime as Female Empowerment

For years, Lady Gaga has told us it’s OK to be you. Love your weirdness, accept it, be joyful. Last night she followed a recent line of powerful female pop performers like Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Madonna, among others, to own the halftime in the country’s most masculine sport. It’s no secret the NFL has pivoted its growth strategy to include women and families, and the greatest gesture to that fact is the primetime placement for the year’s most sought-after timeslot. In any other year, Gaga would have just been the latest, albeit among the most daring and inclusive, female performer to occupy this space.

But in Trumpland, it’s yet another eagerly anticipated moment for a powerful female voice to make a statement (hi Meryl!). Gaga’s version included a medley that started with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” sung atop the stadium’s roof in front of an endless sky. With those words, Gaga wanted everyone to feel safe, choosing not to overly politicize the moment, and then promptly jumped off the roof into the air like a futuristic eagle, soaring and flipping, in what else, but heeled boots and a tight dress.

The Familiar Comeback

For most of the game, the narratives that existed beyond the field were much more compelling. Then, the fourth quarter happened and it ended pretty much how we expected. Tom Brady won, again, and rode off and up the podium as the most decorated quarterback in NFL history. But something even more of the moment existed in the quarterback’s incredible turnaround performance.

Brady, like President Trump, has used the cult of personality to dodge the taint of a scandal (what Trump is to tax returns, Brady is to Deflategate) and emerge victorious. That Brady is a supporter of Trump merely confirms a parallel: a powerful figure who never admits fault, avoids a true comeuppance, wins in spectacular fashion. That it comes against the Atlanta Falcons, a predominantly African American team from a predominantly African American city, adds another layer of unease that reflects the uncomfortable reality of our times.

Tom Brady is a remarkable player with both underappreciated athletic gifts and a legendary resolve to win that is once in a generation. His overcoming a four-game suspension to lead a team that on the surface had less imposing talent than previous Patriots teams to a historic Super Bowl victory – and with the knowledge of an ailing mother in attendance –  should have been the most American of stories. To many it was, just in a different way.

This blog is part of an ongoing series that examines complex and consequential cultural moments from various perspectives within Allison+Partners’ walls. Kevin Nabipour is the head of Content Strategies for Allison+Partners.




Millennial moms are an important demographic for the future of shopping malls, as they drive daily purchasing decisions for their families. However, over the past five years, countless media stories have chronicled the increasing obsolescence of malls around the world as they fall prey to the growth of online shopping.

Characterized by their high mobile and Internet use, a love for online shopping and a penchant for consuming and sharing content on their social networks, millennial moms prefer the ease of doing household errands and shopping for necessities via mobile device. This evolution in shopping has significantly eroded the importance of brick and mortar malls in their lives.

For retail brands to stay relevant to this influential generation of shoppers, they must overhaul the brick and mortar shopping experience, using strategies that keep consumers engaged and coming back for more.

  1. Prioritize convenience, family-friendly amenities and perks

Whether a “kids eat free” day, priority parking, playgrounds or spacious family lounges, millennial moms appreciate establishments that cater to their family’s diverse needs while out and about. They also value convenience, which make investing in things like WiFi or a mobile-friendly website that allows shoppers to browse the store directory, before they arrive, critical considerations.

  1. Curate the right tenant mix and promotions

Millennial moms set the tone for well being in their families, and are very willing to spend on health and beauty services, organic products and on early childhood education and enrichment classes. Malls should keep this in mind, and make it a priority when planning the tenant mix. When devising promotional strategies, offerings that appeal to the rest of the family (i.e., kids, dads and grandparents) should be bundled together so that the mall becomes an anticipated destination for all.

  1. Create interactive, meaningful experiences

Millennial moms seek quality-bonding time with their families. From entertaining Sesame Street shows to educational science adventures, moms want fun and interesting ways to spend time with their kids. Being both progressive and traditional at the same time, millennial moms have a strong desire to connect their children to their own history, so malls should consider bringing back popular games that invoke parents’ warm and familiar childhood memories.

  1. Develop shareable content

These moms consume and share everything — from articles with parenting tips and highlights of fun hang out venues, to photos and videos of their children. They seek solutions and parenting advice from websites, blogs and forums. Malls should consider partnering with parenting influencers to develop entertaining, informative and shareable content, such as videos or listicles that their mommy audiences can share with like-minded communities. Also, sponsoring contests on Facebook or Instagram would give these moms a way to share their happy family moments, promote the mall experience to their friends and strengthen their relationship with the local brick and mortar shopping venue.

Serina Tan is the general manager of Allison+Partners’ Singapore office.



Selling Bling in China: The New Rules



Advertising executive Bryce Whitwam wrote in his Jing Daily op-ed that the future of luxury advertising in China is about “tight targeting.” He’s right, of course, and for more reasons than he realizes. There are many inefficiencies in advertising to 25 million people in order to reach an addressable market of 20,000. The luxury industry in China is weathering a political backlash against ostentation that has sent sales plunging. This makes the job of the purveyor of baubles not only challenging, but downright dangerous. One misstep in such a sensitized environment could lead to repercussions that effectively destroy the China market for a luxury product brand.

In this context, luxury brands must not only take a targeted approach to marketing in China, but the efforts must also be:

  1. Integrated. Anyone who thinks marketing luxury goods is about advertising has been asleep for a decade. In some cases, advertising is the last thing a company wants to do, as it would be horribly inadequate to earn the custom of China’s well-heeled buyers. Today’s luxury customer wants to see your website, engage with you through social media, touch the product if they can and to hear what people they trust say about your brand.
  1. Smart. So much of the luxury marketing dollar in China seems to be aimed at tuhao, the newly rich hayseeds who have far more money than sophistication. The result has been a spiral of unsophisticated marketing. The approach today has to appeal to the growing number of luxury customers who are discerning, intelligent and experienced.
  1. Relevant to the point of personal. Brands need to speak to potential buyers at a level that strikes a chord with them as an individual. This means knowing how many of those consumers exist (to Bryce’s point) and how they think and feel. Segmenting is a good start, but the goal is to break consumers down into a “Segment of One.” This means you know how to build toward the sale and understand the appropriate moment to extend them the right offer.

While data tools are helping marketers move in this direction, they are only part of the answer. What luxury marketers need to develop is the keen instinct of a salesperson who knows when, how and why to reach out to a potential buyer. Indeed, good luxury marketing in China is going to become indistinguishable from inside sales. Eventually, there will only be two kinds of marketers in the luxury business: those who actually interact with the customer and squire the relationship on behalf of the brand, and those creating the tools and information to make that interaction more effective.

David Wolf is a partner and managing director in Allison+Partners’ Global China Practice.



Welcome to the Post-Truth Era


Drew Angerer/Getty Images


“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”-George Orwell

As President Obama said in his farewell address on January 10, “The selective sorting of facts is not just dishonest; it’s self-defeating.” That statement, by and large, for those in the Washington bubble, Wall Street and Main Street alike, used to be the general rule of thumb when conducting oneself. You were entitled to your opinion and spin, but not your own set of facts. If you were following the trends in marketing and business up until recently, you would have likely come to the conclusion that the desire of most consumers, stakeholders and employees was greater transparency, greater understanding of a mission, a demonstration of values and a purpose beyond the products and services you sell. Confronting the truth of our globalized world of which we’re active participants, it stood to reason, invited greater admiration and brand love.

Starbucks. Chipotle. REI. Microsoft. Companies and business leaders gained credit for boldly addressing an inconvenient truth within our culture and the world at large and committing oneself to it. Results followed. Good will translated to spikes in revenue and sales, stock prices and recruitment. But a lot of that seems different now.

Of the many lessons and handwringing that occurred in aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, one has jarred our mind and shaken the communications world to its core. As message specialists, marketers and CEOs look forward to the months and years ahead what the rise of Donald Trump has revealed in crystalline detail is the ghastly reality that audiences want affirmation, not information. Today, what’s true is what people want to think. This is a trend with no end in sight.

“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.”- Christopher Hitchens

The rise of and casual acceptance of fake news (married with the outright hostility to more prestigious and traditional outlets). The mistrust of science (health and nutrition: wine is good, no bad; chocolate is good; wait, bad; vaccinations, GMOs, climate). But perhaps most importantly, the myopic tunnel effect of social media feeds where nary a counter argument to a recommended or followed storyline is revealed, creating an echo chamber of one-sidedness that, while validating the mighty algorithm’s ability to consistently present relevant content to users, shuts down empathy and disavows nuance and context. In fact, social media and the control readers have in discovering the digital content they require has had the most breathtaking impact on this “selective sorting of facts,” where you never have to confront the truth if you don’t have to.

This schism had been building for years, yet for most pundits and leaders there was always a delusional sense that the firewall would be our political institutions. That firewall came crashing down on November 8, 2016 with the election of a celebrity who majestically played the media like a fiddle. Contradictions and bold-faced lies are no match for a bully pulpit who understands the media and the American audience better than editors and producers. Fight, never surrender, never admit defeat or show remorse, then fight again.

We have already seen how profound the consequences of this newfound truth crisis have had on business. In a Trumpwitter era, companies must now embrace new rules of the road, and the ride will be bumpy and ever-changing, with the real potential that you will twist toward a screeching crash. The surge in know-nothing boldness, where past is no longer prologue and standards, ethics and decorum are not seen as virtues but weaknesses that imperil your ability to win. Where higher ground is less important than an upper-hand.

In short order, we have seen pillars of the business community being forced to dodge and weave simply by President-Elect Trump issuing a single tweet. Whether Mr. Trump is taking a swing or supporting the company, the ramifications are immediate and profound (stock fluctuation, boycotts, employee protests). Here are just a few examples:

  • Macy’s Inc.
    • “Good news, disloyal @Macys stock is in a total free fall. Don’t shop there for Christmas!”-Trump tweeted on Dec. 4, 2015.
  • Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co.
    • “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”-Trump tweeted on Dec. 22, 2016.
    • “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”-Trump tweeted on Dec. 6, 2016.
  • General Motors Co.
    • “General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border. Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!”-Trump tweeted on Jan. 3, 2017.
  • L. Bean
    • “Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage. People will support you even more now. Buy L.L.Bean @LBPerfectMaine”- Trump tweeted on January 12, 2017

So what do we now? Well, for one, you need to be quick or be left for dead by the Twitterverse. Now is not the era for corporations to sit back and wait for the truth to come out. No one is coming to the rescue. Go and shape it.

Don’t get drunk on Trump’s brand of post-truth liquor. Unlike elected leaders, corporate heads are answerable to board members, stock holders, investors and customers; the fallout can be immediate. For the most part, Mr. Trump can be held accountable in the midterms of 2018. In today’s digital age of communication and commerce, companies are accountable by the minute.

With President-Elect Trump set to take office on January 20th, the curtain is about to rise on the new communication landscape for organizations, media institutions and influencers. We will be closely working with our colleagues and clients on how best to navigate this new reality and will be keeping our eyes on the new pulpit of the digital age, 140 characters in length and with little room for truth or substance.

This is the first of an ongoing series that examines complex and consequential cultural moments from various perspectives within Allison+Partners’ walls. Kevin Nabipour is the head of Content Strategies for Allison+Partners. David Baum is a vice president in Allison+Partners’ Corporate practice who has worked on political campaigns in the United States and United Kingdom. While CSR in China has evolved significantly over the past 10 years, it has still been slow in adoption. One reason is that many young businesses are focused primarily on increasing revenue and profitability. Rather than embrace CSR as an integral part of a successful growth strategy, they view it as an option for, […]   Global marketers are obsessed with getting their brands into Chinese households, as no other country offers so much potential for growth. However, before western marketers attempt to gain market share, they should first step back and ensure they truly understand the evolution taking place inside Chinese homes and its implications for world markets. […]   They came, I saw, and in a very unbiased (and slightly annoyed way), they conquered. By “they” I mean Airbnb. I recently attended the third annual Airbnb Open, an event that brings 7,000 hosts from 101 countries together to find ways of “improving hospitality together.” I also heard from celebrities, entrepreneurs and other influential […]
How long, O Lord, how long? Where will it end? — Hunter S. Thompson (Doctor of Journalism) Cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn   Clinton up 5…Trump up 3…Safe state now a toss-up… battlegrounds… firewalls… You can’t go an hour without a new headline flashing the confines of what has become the most headshaking of Presidential races. New media, old […]
108. That’s the number of seams on every baseball manufactured. I’ll say that again: THE NUMBER OF SEAMS ON EVERY BASEBALL. Could this get any more storybook? And the number of stories – genuinely interesting stories – is staggering. Ross’, Bryant’s, Rizzo’s, Schwarber’s, Russell’s, Ross’, Schwarber’s, Russel’s, Fowler’s, Zobrist’s, Baez’ – might as well name […]   As a communications professional, there is much to learn from Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump. Whether it’s how to conduct proper research, when to tone down social media rhetoric or when to keep personal thoughts to a minimum, they’ve both reminded us of some fundamental marketing lessons we should always apply to our […]

Older Posts »