Delta Needs A Chief Culture Officer

The airline industry has had a pretty rough go of it for a little more than a decade now, at least back to 9/11. Fuel costs, security, bankruptcy, consolidation, foreign competition… the list of challenges goes on. In addition to that we’ve certainly see a full assortment of self-inflicted wounds as carriers impose and administer draconian rules have seen the famous and the ordinary complain loud and long. Without even thinking hard, I can recall United Breaks Guitars, Kevin Smith, Jet Blue on the tarmac, the crew member who flipped out, you get the idea.

One bright spot, was the little bit of magic Delta airlines caught with their in-flight safety video:


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Nothing amazing, just a little finger wag. Now normally, you can’t get people who are actually on the plane to watch these things, but this video has 2.7 million views. To me, this was perfect for Delta. It gave a brand that has little to no personality just a bit of humanity. Nobody thinks of Delta as having a sense of humor or an irreverent style. That territory is owned by Virgin. See, their in-flight safety video looks like this:


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That’s what I would expect from Virgin. But now, Delta has decided to try and capitalize on the magic they caught by doubling down on the funny. Check out these new in-flight safety videos:


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Well, that feels more like Southwest Airlines than Delta. It’s not exactly over the top, but I’m not sure I want that much humor in my safety video. At least not from Delta.

Apparently I missed the memo, but a some point Delta decided they were going to take a run at a position change and be the fun(!) airline. This got post back in the spring:


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For me flying is a hassle, and yeah, even a little scary. Faux hilarity is not something I’m looking for. Extreme competency? Yes. Compassion? Yes. Choreographed dance moves? No.

Delta – please just be what you are: A stand-up brand that does what it’s supposed to do with a little heart.


Disclosure – My agency, Y&R, does work on behalf of Virgin Atlantic.


Creative Struggles Look To Continue At NBC

Growing up in the 80s, NBC wasn’t just a television network, it was the television network for me. Cosby, Cheers, Family Ties, Night Court, Wings, Facts of Life, Hill St. Blues, St. Elsewhere, LA Law, Miami Vice and, of course, The Tonight Show and Letterman. Oh, sure, I may have dabbled in other channels – ABC for Love Boat and Fantasy Island, CBS for Dukes of Hazard, but for the most part you could have turned the dial (yes, the TV had a dial) to NBC and then ripped the knob off and it wouldn’t have affected me much. Brandon Tartikoff was a genius.

NBC kept it rolling into the 90s with Seinfeld, ER, NewsRadio, Friends, Mad About You, Frazier, Will & Grace and The West Wing.  An incredible run of about 20 years of amazing, quality TV. That’s why the current state of NBC is so sad. Yes, The Office, 30 Rock, Parks & Rec and Community have been flying the flag, but increasingly they feel like the dying vestiges of a once great empire, rather than the vanguard of cutting edge entertainment.

In previous seasons you could at least see the thinking behind some of the ideas coming out of Burbank: Super Hero movies were hot, so they rolled out The Cape. Should they have teamed up with DC or Marvel and created a weekly series out of an established character? Of course, but again, you could see the logic.  Undercovers was Hart to Hart meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith as seen by Tyler Perry. Ok, I get that. Was The Playboy Club a blatant rip off of Mad Men? Yes, but at least it was a blatant rip-off of Mad Men. You could understand the thinking that was underlying the greenlighting of these ultimately doomed shows.

Now, thanks to the Olympics, we’ve caught a glimpse of what NBC will be trotting out this fall and, well, it’s grim. No, not Grimm, grim. Let’s look at the heavily promoted sitcom Go On. The show stars Matthew Perry as a sports talk radio show host who… [record scratch sound]. I’m sorry, what was that? Matthew Perry is a TV star at least partly because he looks like a TV star. Radio show hosts are on radio because they look like radio show hosts. In no way is Perry believable as a sports talk radio show host the way, say, Ray Romano was believable as a sportswriter on Everybody Loves Raymond. Romano looks like a sportswriter.

Ok, small point, let’s move on. Wait, hold on, why is he a sports radio talk show host? Is that an inherently humorous profession? Well, NBC had hits with Frazier and NewsRadio and of course there was WKRP in Cincinnati, so this is… well worn turf? Hmm, alright. So, this will b a workplace comedy I guess. No, not exactly. Apparently Perry’s character has recently lost his wife [cue laff track!] and he’s forced to join a support group by his employer.

On paper, I’m struggling with this. Let’s take a look at a teaser promo, maybe it plays better on screen.

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My eyes. It hurts my eyes.

Let’s break this down. Why is there a former Olympic athlete, with her medal, in the group? This spot ran during the Olympics, so they went for the tie-in. But Shawn Johnson, a great athlete and Olympic champion, at this point has no awareness with people so they put her in a leotard and told her to wear her medal. Then, just to make sure, Perry calls her by her full name in an incredibly awkwardly phrased line. And now, here’s comes the punchline, wait for it… wait for it… there’s a guy who’s dressed funny!

Yes, this is just a teaser spot, but in these 30 seconds you learn so much about what is going on at NBC. In the words of cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken, NBC is desperately in need of a Chief Culture Officer. Someone who has an understanding of what’s going on in culture, who understands consumer attitudes and behavior.

Go On would have made a lot of sense in 1985. Everything about the show is dated.  The premise is tired. The star, since his success in Friends, has been the lead in two shows, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Mr. Sunshine, which together aired a total of 31 episodes, neither seeing the light of a second season. Viewers have been pretty clear on how they feel about Matthew Perry’s TV career post-Friends.

Recently NBC also announced Michael J. Fox, another former NBC star, was returning. Read Elizabeth Talerman of Nucleus’ take on this development. Money quote:

 “In working with entertainment brands we’ve found that all too often they have a tendency to believe that a single product, act or character will mean salvation and will effect brand turn-around. But to us, this feels like a Hail Mary pass that we simply wouldn’t want any client to have to throw.  Make no mistake about it, a great product can deliver substantial business value in the short-term, but effecting brand turn-around is bigger than any single product and is better revenue insurance for the long-term.”

But those issues aside, what part of the Go On promo plays into how people watch TV today? “OMG, no way! They got @ShawnJohnson for the @NBCGo_On promo!! #hilarious #mustseeTV,” tweeted no one, ever. What sort of second screen experience would you be interested in having with this show?

To further illustrate NBC’s tin ear to culture, here’s an actual tweet from the @NBCGo_On twitter account: “What scene are you most excited to see again in tonight’s first episode encore of #GoOn at 10/9c?”  Just, wow.

What makes this all the more perplexing is that NBC’s cable networks seem to have a much better handle on culture. G4, Syfy, Bravo and USA all create programs that get people talking. Check out McCracken’s great piece on NBCUniversal Cable Chair, Bonnie Hammer. Here’s another.

I’ve got a soft spot for NBC, I want to see them do well, so it pains me to see this sort of thing. I could have given you 800 words on another new NBC show, Revolution, and let’s not even start on Animal Practice.  Unless NBC is ok with being the network of Sunday Night Football and bad reality programming, they need to get a better understanding of consumer behavior, cultural trends and how the modern TV show works.

Goodby, Silverstein Hire a Chief Culture Officer

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Goodby, Silverstein & Partners - Creators of Culture

News broke last week that Barbara Lippert, longtime ad critic at trade publication Adweek, would join leading ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners as their curator of pop culture. It’s an intriguing move and one that, if, like me, you are a disciple of Grant McCracken, you’ll be especially delighted and intrigued by. Lippert’s role, at least by the sound of her title, is akin to McCracken’s Chief Culture Officer. In the book, McCracken argues the importance for companies to be plugged into culture in a deep way.

The move by GS&P is interesting on a couple of levels:

First, it’s an acknowledgement by the agency that culture, specifically pop culture, matters. It matters enough to have a high level employee make the understanding and curation of pop culture their job. How many companies recognize this? Few I would imagine. How many are willing to make this level of commitment? Even fewer. But the real bold stance here is that in an era of procurement departments and an increased emphasis on analytics, Goodby is pushing their chips to the middle of the table and betting on intuition, hunches and educated guesses.  That surveying the crazy, jumbled, mash-up land pop culture is integral to making the ads their clients need.

The move is also interesting when you consider that Goodby, Silverstein & Partners have made quite a contribution to pop culture already. From Got Milk? for the California Milk Processor Board to the Budweiser Frogs, Goodby has shown an ability to discern what will resonate with the American public.

Ultimately, the move is a demonstration that the agency understands the true secret – that trying to follow trends is a losing position. For an agency, in

budweiser frogs

Pop. Cult. Ure.

2011, to say, “we should get Lady Gaga” is not good enough. Lady Gaga has already been gotten.  It’s too late to say, “hipsters are ripe for parodying,” Portlandia already exists. This is the job of the Chief Culture Officer. To not just chronicle or catalog pop culture, not merely to be fluent in the zeitgeist, but to be able to see what pop culture is going to look like before it becomes pop culture. That’s the true benefit that someone in Lippert’s position can give Goodby. McCracken deftly illustrates the point of making culture not just following it with his look inside the USA Network and their ability to create the archetype of cable television lead characters thanks to Bonnie Hammer.

The hiring of Lippert by Goodby – which already has Gareth Kay (profiled as a Chief Culture Officer by McCracken as well) – is a signal to the advertising world that in the lightning fast world we live in today there is simply too much happening, and too much at stake, to allow yourself to be blindsided by trends you didn’t see coming. If Lippert succeeds in her post (and I certainly hope she does), this will be an interesting development for the position of Chief Culture Officer.

Chief Culture Officer Bootcamp

Regular readers of Eyecube know what a big fan I am of Grant McCracken. If you are truly interested in culture, marketing and understanding the inextricable link between those two you simply must read his blog and books like his most recent: Chief Culture Officer (Disclosure: Grant was kind enough to mention me in the appendix of the book as a CCO candidate). 

But lots of people read Grant’s blog and books (in addition to CCO, I particularly recommend Flock and Flow). How can you get a deeper understanding of the critical issues Chief Culture Officer addresses? Glad you asked. If you’re in the NYC area, Grant is running a Chief Culture Officer Bootcamp on Saturday, February 13 (click here for more details). What can you expect from this event? 


Are you ready to make your way to the C-Suite? Are you already in a senior position but would like to sharpen your cultural acumen? Are you already your company’s unofficial CCO?  As a marketer, planner, media specialist or manager you are uniquely positioned to bring change to the corporation as their Chief Culture Officer.  

This participatory one-day seminar will give you a deeper understanding of: 

 1. what to know about culture 

  • changing ideas of gender, body, family, home, self and group
  • culture fast and slow, divergent and convergent
2. how to monitor  culture 

  • tracking the ‘fad, fashion, trend, culture’ continuum
  • what to read and watch


3. how to think about culture 

  • theory and models that clarify
  • reading from surface to depth and depth to surface


4. how to act on and in culture 

  • culturematics and other experiments for making culture


5. how to work with and in corporate culture 

  • how to create a living, breathing corporation


This boot camp is an interactive learning opportunity; throughout the day we will use case studies following the teaching methodology of the Harvard Business School.I’ve heard Grant speak a couple of times and it’s always a lively affair. I’m sure this will be an engrossing day of learning that is well worth the price. I’m looking forward to attending this event, and quite frankly I would have happily worked the craft services cart just for the opportunity to be in the room with the type of people who are going to attend this event. You’ll get smarter by mere osmosis.

I hope you’ll joint Grant at this terrific event.

2010 – The Year You Changed Everything

So, 2010 has arrived and what do we know? We know that some things – agency models, your career track – are broke, and probably aren’t going to be fixed anytime soon. We know that developments in technology are moving faster all the time, and show no signs of slowing down. So, what are you going to do about it? Well, you can continue to go with the flow for another 12 months, but I can’t see that being a wise decision anymore. Competition is too tough, choices are too complex and the difference between winning and losing is wafer thin. Not understanding “the next new thing” means you probably won’t be prepared for the “next new thing” after that. And then you’re sunk.

Now is the time for bold action. Why? Because in another six months everybody is going to be ready to take some bold action (Editor’s note: Unless the economy collapses, then we’re all going to be living in a world that looks a lot like the one from the movie, The Road). So, rather than be in the pack, now is the time to get out in front. Throughout the week I’m going to be highlighting several upcoming events (sorry, these are all in the NYC) that you should really be checking out:

  • Augmented Reality – This new technology development exploded in 2009. Here’s your chance to see where AR is, and where it’s headed. (More on this on Tuesday)
  • Mirren New Business Conference – If you work at / run an agency you simply must attend this conference. Unless you think going out of business is a smart play right now. (Wednesday)
  • Social Media Week – This event went from ‘nice idea’ to ‘essential’ in a year. Clear your schedule and attend as many sessions as you can. (Thursday)
  • Chief Culture Officer Boot Camp – An absolutely critical issue for all corporations, you can get in front of it, or watch in envy from the sidelines when someone else gets this job. (Friday)

If you’ve got another big one I should know about, please let me know in the comments section.

Windows 7, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky and Chief Culture Officers

I’ve just started reading Grant McCracken’s indespensible new book, Chief Culture Officer. In it he highlights the efforts CP+B is doing on behalf of Microsoft (read my take on Grant’s take here). Looking at the campaign in its newest incarnation through the lens of Chief Culture Officer, I appreciate CP+B’s efforts even more. Here’s the ad in question:

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The brilliance comes at the five second mark with the re-enacment of the protagonist’s epiphany moment. The Chief Culture Officers of CP+B added that litte throw-away element of inserting a super-hunk male model to replace the rather average looking consumer who is the star of the ad.

As Grant states in the book, CP+B has shifted the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” paradigm with these series of ads. Apple built its campaign saying that Apple is for the cool kids and PCs are for dullards, cowards and sheep. But the truth is subtler than that. Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” campaign shows that PC users are actually pretty smart, sophisticated folks. And if you’re one of those people and you’ve been using a PC for all these years the Apple ads are probably a little offensive.

But here’s the genius that CP+B ferreted out. This third group, the savvy, Apple-backlashing PC user isn’t an Alex Bogusky clone. They aren’t beautiful or super hip. But, when these people talk and think about themselves, they don’t see the reality we see of them, they see an ideal version of themselves.

In the blink of an eye, CP+B has flipped the script on Apple. Now, the cool personal computer user isn’t pseudo-hipster Justin Long (the actor who portrays ‘Mac’ in the Apple ads), but rather some person who you think you may have seen in a Calvin Klein print ad.

These nuanced understandings don’t just happen. It takes a real sensitivity to culture, and not just the culture you live within. Let’s be honest, we are not the gang at CP+B, those cats are way too cool. But instead of trying to cram together CP+B cool with PC reality – which never would have worked – they understood the key consumer insight of PC users (about 94% of all personal computer users in this country), that they think of themselves as hipper, smarter and better looking than maybe they really are.