Thursday, February 27, 2020

comic book morality.

There is right and there is wrong in this world, right?

I got into an argument with my parents earlier today. More like I lost my cool with them.

In our modern world, it is not uncommon for many progressive, adult (or adolescent) kids finding themselves at odds with their family - across the dinner table, during a weekend visit, a phone catch-up, a group text, or worse, Thanksgiving. There's always the uncle with the red hat, the in-law with the crash joke, or the grandmother with the outdated views. In America, today it's most likely rooted in our ever-worsening political divide, exacerbated by the man in the oval office. But before our reality TV president, it was also with our first black president, and before that, the man who lied us into a war. I could totally point fingers about who was at fault each time, but that's not the point of this post. You probably know where I stand here (spoiler alert, I listen to a LOT of Pod Save America).

Growing up, I read a lot of comic books. Be it the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, or the Flash, these heroes did what was right, every time. Even if it was the harder choice. All life was sacred, and everyone got a fair shake, with the often exception of the misunderstood hero. As a young boy, this left an imprint on me. You always did the right thing, no matter the consequence. 

I also grew up in a religion whose language I literally did not understand. The righteous, colorful figures whose stories I was told in temple and song were larger than life. Be it blue man with a bow, or a monkey carrying a mountain, they vanquished villains and always saved the day. My parents even got me some comic books about them (thanks Amar Chitra Katha).

It was this combination of stories - telling right from wrong - that founded my moral fiber. There were no explicit lessons decrying about racism, misogyny, or violence. If anything, my history books - be it world, American, or Alabama - painted a darker picture about the world that came before me. I would later get my regular dose from the news of the world as it is.

My family is probably bit different from yours (but we're all the same). My wife is Chinese American, and quiet. I'm Indian American, and loud. Our daughter is American, and a riot. Lately, the current arguments we have with our parents, while occasionally about the American political climate/situation, have more often been out our parents motherlands. Whether it's Xi or Modi, we frequently find ourself in disagreement with our elders' points of view. 

Be it a breakfast argument about my wife's cousins protesting in the streets of Hong Kong, or an evening quarrel about the Indian President's troubling nationalism, the attitudes have become more heated, and voices are often raised.

In India, there is a leader who, thru legal maneuvering, wants to take an entire segment of his population - poor Muslims - and rob them of their citizenship. And he's riled up his base - and proxies - to take action. "It's not that simple," my parents say. "Besides, look at all the corruption he's cleaned up. You're not from there, you don't understand."

Later on, via group text, they forward a tasteless, nationalistic joke about a neighboring (Muslim) country. I chastise them, and they simply say their friend sent it. I try to explain that sharing these things gives them life and makes the more ok.

During our most recent heated exchange, I posed the following hypothetical to my parents. "What if when I was a teen, I would mow the lawn and take out the trash for everyone in our neighborhood, for free. Wouldn't that be great? But what if I also made racist jokes about our black neighbors? I'd then get our (white and Indian) neighbors in on the harmless fun. And when one of them (maybe their kids) escalated to some eventual worse, maybe violent action? Would it still be ok that I swept the driveway? Would I not be complicit? What about them that never told me to stop in the first place?"

I tried to explain that after September 11th in Alabama, it didn't matter that I was a model minority - I was brown. I tried to explain that in when they started pulling over people of color in Alabama and Arizona and asking for their papers, I worried about my dad, with his thick accent, forgetting his wallet at home (bc something similar happened to my father-in-law in NYC in the 70s). I tried to explain that when pictures started showing up of migrant children being separated from their parents and locked up, i couldn't help but see my young daughter's brown face. 

I once heard a saying. 2 scoops of ice cream and 2 scoops of shit, is really just 4 scoops of shit. charming i know, I grew up in Alabama. But the saying holds true. 

There are lines you don't cross. Things you don't do. 

Look, I'm not worried about my world. I live in a blue bubble. But the rhetoric, the things we let slide, the things we refuse to call out? That sets a precedent. An increasingly slippery slope. And 5, 10, 20, 30 years later, when our parents' generation has passed, my brown daughter will be a woman in this world. What will be considered normal by then if we let certain actions and rhetoric go slide? What sort of things will my half-black nephew and niece have to deal with? 

The moral arc of he universe does not bend itself, we must exert pressure, as a society, to make it bend towards justice. Otherwise other pressures will pull it back.  

Or is there a spectrum? Are we actually living in the grays of a black and white world?

My best friend, someone I've known since my adolescence, is as close as a brother to me. We have shared some of life's most terrible losses, and celebrated together some of the continued joys and adventure of life. He is a vegan, and more recently, become committed to zero waste. He is a man not without his flaws, but he is one of my favorite people in the world. 

On recent visits, we have discussed more deeply his moral motivations, and his frustrations with the world. He asked me to imagine that I found myself in a world where it was ok to kick dogs. How, in this world, no matter what I said, people kept kicking dogs. It would be frustrating and heartbreaking that no one would listen to my sane pleas to stop. They would persist. That, he reminded me, is how he feels in our world. 

The point of that story is not to shame anyone who does not follow his beliefs (as someone who is not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, it does me), but just to add relative perspective. I've just gone on and on about my moral certainty of certain things we should not stand for, and yet am reminded with every interaction with my best friend, that there is yet another scale of morality.

I love my parents. They are good people who have done a lot of great things in the world. I like to thing most of us are trying to do the same, for ourselves, our families, and our communities. But if we don't hold ourselves, and each other to a higher standard, aren't we all complicit? Don't we all have great responsibility?

At least that's what my pal Peter Parker once told me.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Podcasts – It’s What’s for Dinner.

(originally published in Advertising Week 360)

Have you heard? 2020 is going to be the year of podcasts.
Never mind all those headlines from 2019. Or 2018. Or 2015 really.
For those already obsessed with audio content taking the world by storm, you’ve no doubt heard your millennial co-workers (and kids) telling you how it’s the next big thing – and now you’re trying to figure out how to use podcasts to sell more shampoo, yogurt, and/or ad tech software.
I have a pretty strong POV here. Probably because I spent most of my career selling shampoo, yogurt, and/or ad tech software.
Here’s my advice: Don’t.
Please, DON’T.
Still here? Well, I guess you didn’t get promoted to Assistant to the Director of Omnichannel Marketing for Disruptive Branding Innovation without being persistent and scrappy.
Podcasts – here’s all you need to know as you get 2020 started:
Stop what you’re doing. Quit reading articles by “thought leaders.” Start with the consumer. More importantly. BE the consumer.
Answer me this: What are your top five podcasts? If you have an answer, skip to the bottom, you already get it. Your Cannes Lion is in the mail.
Can’t name a top five? Read on.
Want to know my top 5 podcasts?
  1. Pivot
  2. Pod Save America / the World
  3. The Infinity Podcast
  4. Conan Needs a Friend
  5. AdExchanger Talks
In case you’ve never heard of any of these…
  1. Industry rants by the scolding mom + dad of the internet, Kara Swisher & Prof. Scott Galloway.
  2. Political punditry by these insanely smart (and surprisingly funny) ex-Obama staffers (“It’s not great Dan”).
  3. Tangential discussions on the impact of comics and sci-fi on the monoculture – by 3 beloved internet nerds.
  4. Long-form interviews by a scarlet-haired late-night host (and his non-Andy assistant Sona) – giving Terry Gross and Stern a run for their money.
  5. Ad Tech show going deep on digital trends with industry leaders.
Not your cup of tea? Maybe you’re a fan of topic deep dives (“How I Built This” or “Hardcore History”) or true crime (“Serial” or, increasingly “The News”). Maybe you are old school and prefer some “This American Life”, “RadioLab”, or “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” These acclaimed shows are leaders of the pack for compelling audio content, having masterfully transitioned from radio to your phone.
Your clear great taste aside, what does everything in this no-longer nascent medium have in common? They’re personal, cater to your interest, and whisper sweet somethings in your ear(buds).
And most of them have great advertising. And this is where 2020 is going to go off the chains – ads you actually want to listen to.
The best advertising in all media isn’t a Super Bowl car ad or viral display/video campaign. Try listening to Jon Faverau and Dan Pfeiffer riff about ZipRecruiter or the Cash App (by Square).
You won’t fast forward through it because the improv-like experience is just as good as – and sometimes better than – the humor and commentary in the actual podcast. And I remember, like, and try almost all of these brands (sorry Tommy John). Hell, even AdExchanger has great 5-minute interviews with their sponsor CEOs during the ad breaks.
Authenticity? Dial it up to 11.
Ad Awareness/Recall? Through the roof.
Purchase Intent? Top Two Box.
Reason? Because it’s real. It’s entertaining. It’s personal. It’s in your ears.
Sex sells. But Audio allows brands into your heart.
Marketing in this medium is so effective because it’s native to the platform. Yes, it’s a great ad copy – but also marketing with meaning. Because while it interrupts, it doesn’t annoy and fits beautifully into each program. If that experience were jarring or disruptive, you’d have your thumb on that :15 skip button in a heartbeat.
So, what should you, the modern marketer, do about this in 2020?
LISTEN (and learn).
Stop what you’re doing, open your podcasting app of choice (Apple, Spotify, Stitcher), and subscribe/listen to one. Which one? I suggest any of the ones above to get started to hear how the masters do it.
Then, assuming your product doesn’t suck and your brand is willing to be authentic, call the guys @ Crooked Media (Pod Save America, Lovett or Leave It), Vox Media (Pivot, Recode/Decode), AdExchanger (The Big Story, AdExchanger Talks), and maybe even the Infinity Podcast (sorry Conan). Write some good, podcast-friendly ad copy, but let them take the reins. Your ad reader (podcast host) needs to be a believable advocate. If your brand can operate as a native podcasting brand, the audience will engage with their ears and vote with their wallet.
Also be sure to tell your boss some buzzwords about reach, impressions, influencers, ROI, and conversion – she loves it when you’re all over that stuff.
You probably won’t get that promotion by pouring all your marketing budget into podcasts (and please don’t try launching a “branded podcast”), but the millennial kids at home and work you’re trying to impress will think you’re the bee’s knees.
Hurry up and start listening. That’s what the rest of us are doing.
Raman is a recovering marketer from big brands (P&G, Dannon) and startups (Ahalogy, TVision). Raman’s the founder of, a strategic ninja factory doing non-evil marketing and soon-to-be launching new podcasts that don't suck, like "the P&G Alumni Podcast" - where titans of industry talk, and "Model Minorities” - where all gender/race issues will be solved.

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