Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to this week’s episode. Today, we are going to talk about something a little bit different. I’m actually recording this on Wednesday night to be published on Friday. Normally, we publish our episodes on Thursday, but you probably have no idea and you just listen to this when it comes out. I’m okay with that. But we actually delayed the publication of this so that I could do this episode; we were not planning on it. But in light of the shootings, both in Buffalo and Uvalde, I’ve just—we’ve just had conversations in our workplace about sensitivity and then also inclusivity when it comes to social media and your marketing.

And so we have had some conversations that I want to share with you. But before I do that, I just want to tell you that this is not a podcast that I ever intended on publishing. And I feel like I have to be honest about that, mainly because of my own fear. I have had experiences before where my bias and my racism, or my racist thoughts, have been called out before, and I have learned from them. And I think putting something out that is sensitive and my opinions on inclusivity, or like my thoughts around it, really feels like putting myself out there in a way that maybe I could be criticized. And I don’t know about you, but it’s not like I look forward to criticism, even though it’s something that will make me grow, but I am putting this out here because I think it’s important and I think it’s important that I keep on learning. 

So, at the end of this podcast episode, I’m going to talk a little bit about what we’re doing around Stratos and Marketing in the Wild and in my own personal life to keep on learning. But I wanted to really discuss some of the things that we’ve been talking about internally as a team and perhaps some things that might help you as you are figuring out how to do your marketing in a way that is relevant, sensitive, and inclusive.

Before I get started, I just want to acknowledge that I am a white, affluent, cis-gender female. Those three things bring a lot of privilege into my life. They also have created a lot of blinders to other people’s situations, not because I’ve wanted to be blind, but because I know my experience, and until I hear other people’s experiences or expose myself to those experiences, I don’t always know what it’s like. And the other thing that I want to acknowledge is that these conversations have been a long time coming. They first started in our team after the social media blackout in 2020 after George Floyd’s murder. And so it’s taken us a minute, taken me a minute, to figure out how I want to enter this conversation.

Even this morning while we were having a conversation with our team, I was like, “I am not sure I really want to do this.” But our employee, Justine, just reminded me that, hey, I am not coming at this, necessarily as a person who knows what other people’s experiences are, I only know my own experience and can only speak for myself; however, we can approach it as marketers and say, “Hey, did this campaign land well? What happened?” In the end, marketing is supposed to connect a company with their end consumer. And how should we be staying sensitive? How do we stay inclusive? And what does that look like? 

I anticipate that this episode might be a little bit longer than our other solo episodes. And if that’s the case, I’ve learned that I think I sound better on one and a half, two times speed. If you need to speed this one up, go for it. But I think it will be really important and hopefully the beginning of some conversations here at Stratos and in Marketing in the Wild. 

So I realized that we’re talking about two different things: the shootings that happened, the activism around them, even the shootings that have been happening for years, hence the social media blackout after George Floyd’s murder. But we’re also talking about inclusivity and campaigns that are not inclusive and not sensitive. The reason that I’m talking about these together is because I think that there’s some things that overlap between both areas because in the end, we want to stay relevant as companies, but like, how are we doing it, and are we doing it in a way that’s respectful of both crises? Like the shootings. And in marketing campaigns, whether it’s for like a particular celebration month, like Black history or Pride month. I think that there are some commonalities. In future episodes, I hope to tease out some of the differences as I learn about them, but for now, this is where we’re at. And so I’m going to talk about two things, two areas, professionally and personally. I’ve debated on which ones to talk about first and which ones to talk about second, but I’m going to start with professionally and then we’ll move on to the personal piece.

So when things like this happened, so professionally, one of the things that we make sure that we do the moment a crisis happens or there’s a social trend, whether it’s an activist one like the social media blackout, or other trends too, it’s really important for us to revisit content. If you’ve been around here for two seconds, you know that we’re all about repurposing content. We’re all about scheduling it to make less work for yourself, but we have to make sure that we’re always revisiting it to make sure that it’s not tone-deaf. And I think that that’s really important. We have some organizations that we work with that are social justice-minded, and we have others that are just your run-of-the-mill business, but we want to make sure that everything that they’re saying is appropriate for the timing that it’s coming out. And so we’re constantly revisiting. 

Last week, when the shootings happened, or the week before, we were looking through our client’s content, making sure that it didn’t sound awkward or tone-deaf. We paused what needed to be paused. We reached out to our clients to ask them if they wanted to say something about the crisis. We want to make space for those things and some of it needed to be paused because there is other more important conversations happening on social media. And we didn’t want to cover them up or maybe drown out the noise, however you want to talk about it.

The next thing that we think is important, professionally, is to make sure you have a diverse consulting team. So this isn’t about the crisis, this is more about the inclusivity, but I think it also applies to sensitivity. So maybe something in the news or a crisis touches me differently than it touches you. But it doesn’t mean that it’s any less worth the attention. And so I think that that’s important: make sure that you have people on your team who are diverse and whether that’s hiring or your market research, maybe you are putting together an advisory board, whatever it might be, make sure that you have people who are different than yourself and perhaps people who relate to your client. And make sure that those people are the bugs in your ear about, “Hey, this is important. We need to talk about this.” Whether it be a celebration that’s coming up that might be from a different culture than yours, or whether it’s a crisis that has happened that you might not be aware. We all intake news. We also all intake culture in different ways, so make sure that you are getting those different perspectives. 

And so the last thing that I want to talk about professionally, we’ve talked already about revisiting schedule content. We talked about making sure that you have like a diverse team. And the third thing that I want to talk about, and this is where some examples come in, is doing your research. These are the questions that we have started asking ourselves. These are the questions that we’re also asking of other marketing because we find marketing in the wild all the time and we’re studying it.

We’re asking, are you, or are they, is this company promoting this because they actually value it or because they’re capitalizing on it? So an example of that is this term called “rainbow washing.” So today’s June 1st, I’m recording on June 1st, it’ll come out on June 3rd. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are rainbows suddenly everywhere. I woke up and everybody’s Instagram account has changed their profile picture to include a rainbow. “Rainbow washing” is a term that people have coined to talk about these companies that are using these rainbow colors, which normally denotes the support of the LGBTQIA+ community, but they’re doing it without doing actual, real supportive action. So they’re just using the rainbow to say, “Hey, we cater to this community.” without actually like supporting what’s going on. 

Another question that I think is really important—so we talked about, are you promoting this because you actually value it, or are you just capitalizing on it?—Are you feeding into stereotypes? So this is really important. What do your images look like? Do you only have white people on them or do you have people of color in them? Are you using the photos with people of color because you actually value that and you want to work with those people? Or are you just doing it because you feel like you have to? Are there stereotypes, I mean, there’s a bajillion of them, but are you creating marketing that feeds into those stereotypes? 

And stereotypes do exist for a reason, so I don’t knock that, but make sure that you are using them appropriately and in a way that honors people and celebrates them rather than using those stereotypes to make a profit. 

So here’s an example. One of our employees, Justine, came across a campaign that a candle company did during Black history month and they created candles of flavors that are stereotypes about people of color, especially Black people. So like watermelon, things like that. It was honestly atrocious. I have not researched the campaign fully to know what the intention was. Maybe part of their sales went to some organization, but still, they used stereotypes to create a product. 

I would probably bet money that if they had people who were diverse on their team, that could be really offensive. I’m sure it was offensive to people. The other question that I want to address is, are you profiting off of someone’s pain or personal stories? I think that this is super important, too. We have Kelsey, one of our team members, she has a nonprofit and she’s very, very careful and this is something that I admire about her. She is very careful to not use the stories of the people that they’re serving in Africa, to be like sob stories or to pull in donations just because people pity these kids. She doesn’t want to get donations like that. If she were a business, she wouldn’t want to profit off of that. 

Another example would be, Juneteenth is coming up. There is a store that created a Juneteenth-themed ice cream. Juneteenth is a holiday with a complex history. Juneteenth ice cream is not appropriate, in my opinion, and I hope in a lot of people’s opinion. Again, just something that they didn’t think through, honestly. But here’s the flip side. While it’s easy, or maybe not easy, but while these mistakes happen, there are companies who are doing this really well. So for example, Williams-Sonoma, they sent out an email today, talking about their collaboration with The Trevor Project, which is an organization that supports people in the LGBTQ community. They talked about how much they’ve donated. They’ve talked about the things that The Trevor Project is doing. In essence, they use their platform to promote The Trevor Project.

At the end of their marketing email, they do have some Pride swag there they’re selling, but the central focus was The Trevor Project. I love how, Justine, again, I’m talking about Justine because we had such a good conversation this morning. Justine mentioned that it’s almost like they have this marketing privilege. They have marketing privilege because they reach all of these people and they use that marketing privilege to elevate somebody else. 

Another organization that I love is called The Dream Bank. It is in Madison, Wisconsin. It is a program of American Family Insurance. They do a ton of free events and they sent out their June email with all of the things that they’re going to be doing. And they are having guests come in to share about Juneteenth. They’re having guests come in to share personal stories about coming out in the corporate world, things like that. They’re not saying, “Hey, look at us, we’re the experts!” They’re saying, “Look at all of these people.” Again, American Family Insurance is, by way of Dream Bank, is using their platform to elevate other people.

Finally, Target. Target, over Black history month, did a bunch of end caps, or displays, for Black makers. So they had some Black authors, they had clothing from lines that were made by African-Americans and Black people. And they also done it for, I’ve seen them do it for Hispanic companies. And again, I don’t know all of the background of this. And so this is why I have been hesitant to talk about some of it because I haven’t done all of the research that I would like to do in it. But these are the things that I love seeing celebrated; these are these big companies celebrating other people. 

Yes, I have questions: How much money did those makers make? Did Target make a ton of profit or did it share in the profit? I have questions for Williams-Sonoma, like how have they worked with The Trevor Project? They said it’s a long-term project, but is it really a long-term project? Like how many years, et cetera. I would love to see the numbers. I love to see the behind-the-scenes of some of these companies. But what I appreciate about them is that they’re using their platform to elevate others and, by doing that, they are showing that they value those things.

They’re not doing it just to say, “Hey, we are using the rainbow colors because we support the LGBTQ community, but we’re not actually doing anything.” Here, Williams Sonoma is saying, “Hey, we do support these, and this is how we do it.” Target is saying, “Hey, we do want to support these, so this is how we do it. We’re not creating watermelon-scented candles that feed into stereotypes. We’re actually elevating people and elevating other voices.” 

So I ask you, how are you doing that in your own work? Are you being sensitive? Are you revisiting your scheduled content? Are you being sensitive, but asking other people’s opinions? Are you elevating others or are you profiting off of other people, other marginalized communities, just for your own good? 

So I know that’s kind of heavy and it also feels kind of big because, just like I mentioned to you all, I’ve done some research on some of these companies, but I imagine I could dig further and I’m sure I could. And so that’s where I feel like it’s always a learning process. So these are some examples that I love, that I have looked into. And there are also some examples that I don’t love and have looked into, but you probably have come across others, too. Either way, it comes down to this: is how are we supporting other people and are we doing it in a sensitive and respectful way? In a way that is inclusive of people? Or are we elevating ourselves, capitalizing on other people’s pain, and really not serving other people well? 

So I also want to acknowledge that it’s always a work in progress. So if your company is at point A and you would like to be at point Z, whatever points we want to use, don’t forget that it does take steps. And so make sure, that is where those diverse teams help, because we can all help each other learn together.

I wanted to make this personal also because I am actually a firm believer that yes, we have to move the institutions. We have to advocate for people. We have to change laws and I don’t want to use this podcast as a place to lobby for political ideas, but I do think that those things do need to change. Whatever gun reform looks like, that has to change. Whatever racist policies that exist, those things have to change. They have to be acknowledged and changed. However, we have to be able to do it both on an institutional level and a personal level. It is not either/or. It is a both/and situation. And I don’t know what it always looks like, I’ll be honest with you.

But when I get overwhelmed by the professional, by the institutional, I start focusing on the personal, because I do believe that my heart has to change and I have to hear stories about other people. I really think that a lot of the problems that exist in our world and in our country is that we don’t listen to people. We’re not listening to hear what they have to say. We’re listening and thinking about our own response to it before they have even started. Because I think that, while there are truly evil people in this world, there are also people who are, who just don’t know, who just don’t know. I’ve been there. There are still things that I don’t know. Like you don’t know what you don’t know. 

I have friends who are people of color who will also say that, like they don’t know what they don’t know. And so it’s something that yes, are there problems? Absolutely. But we’ve got to start somewhere. And so here are some things that I have developed in my own personal life. And there also things that my team thinks is important and I wanted to share them with you. The first one, I’m hesitant to share, because it does show privilege. For me, when things happen, like whether there’s crises or whether it is racist behavior, antagonism, whatever it is, when people and the news are talking about these horrible, evil things that are happening in the world, sometimes I need to take a break. I need to get off of social media. And I agree, if you’re listening to this and you know anything about privilege, you are probably saying, “Wow, Julia, that’s very privileged of you. You can get off of it, but the people who are suffering, they can’t get away from it.”

And so I acknowledge it is a privilege to be able to get off of it, get away from social media, get away from the events. But the questions that I ask myself when I do this is, am I on social media and/or interacting with it because I feel guilty? Like I feel guilty that I’m privileged? Or am I interacting with it because I do think it’s important and I want to advocate for it?

The other thing that is important for me is, am I getting the correct information? As we all know, misinformation is everywhere on the web and social media. And sometimes I believe what other people post on social media without fact-checking, it’s a flaw that I have. And I’ll be honest about that one too. So sometimes I need to get off of social media and start reading various news sources to get well-rounded opinions. 

And I also think that it’s important for your mental health. With the shooting that happened last week, I was livid. I was heartbroken. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a family member to a shooting. I can’t even imagine it. But as somebody who just had a new baby, all I could think about was how terrified I would be if my kid was going to school the next day. I told my husband, I actually don’t think I could send her to school, if it was me. And I imagine that there are other parents who might have felt the same way. And because of that, I felt like I needed to get off of social media to protect my own mental health. Not because I want to pretend that it didn’t happen. I am not here to say get off of social media and pretend you’re like an ostrich with your head in the ground. I’m here to get off of social media to protect what is important. 

Protect your mental health because what that looked like for me was having conversations in real life with my family, with my friends, with people who maybe don’t agree with what I think should happen, with the reforms that I think should happen, but who are willing to have a conversation. 

So I hope you hear me. I’m not saying don’t think about it or to pretend it didn’t happen. I’m saying get off of social media if you need it and make sure that you are taking those conversations into real life. For me, it looks like talking to my therapist, to be quite honest. For me, it looks like making sure that my anxiety doesn’t get out of control to shut me down because we do have important work to do. We do have advocacy work that needs to be done, but it’s got to happen in real life. It can’t just happen on social media because then all we’re doing is a different version of rainbow washing. We’re saying, “Hey, let me share all of these cool posts that are really important, but I’m not going to do anything about it in my real life.”

And then to that point, also do your research; don’t share misinformation. I feel like this should be something that’s important to be said and should just be a key to life. But as somebody who has also shared misinformation, I feel yeah, it’s so hard to find the truth sometimes, but it is important. Make sure you do your research. Don’t share on social media just for the heck of it. Make sure that you are yeah, make sure that you’re not creating noise. What good is noise when it comes to advocacy? Make sure that you’re sharing truth, make sure that it’s relevant, sensitive, and inclusive. 

And then the last thing that I would say is, listen. Listen to the people who are having these experiences. Listen to the leaders. When the social media blackout happened back in 2020 after George Floyd’s murder, I didn’t know what to do. You guys, as somebody who’s worked in a nonprofit that, their mission was to fight racism and empower women, I felt like I should know more, but I also remember I got called out on my own bias while I worked there.

And so, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know, should I speak up? Should I not say anything and create space for others? I didn’t know. But one thing that I found that was really important during that season was to listen to the people who are navigating it. I think of one of our clients who works, who their mission is to promote health equity. CCPH, Community Campus Partnerships for Health. They were some people who I just listened to because they were navigating this in a different way than I was. They were navigating the Black Lives Matter movement in a different way than I was. 

And so I think that’s important. We have to recognize our privilege with all of this. I don’t have to worry about guns in my neighborhood in the same way as people do in other neighborhoods. Right now in my life, I don’t have to worry about my child in school. I have a three-month-old baby at home, that’s not in my reality yet. I’m also not a teacher. I don’t know what it’s like to go to school, perhaps in fear. And so when it comes to that, I want to listen to my teacher friends to know how they’re feeling, what they think is important. When it comes to Black history month or Pride month, I want to listen to these communities who understand these situations in a way that I don’t.

So, guys, these are my thoughts. These are my thoughts. They are raw, unfiltered mostly. And I am putting them out there, I’m putting them out there because I think it’s important. And I think that we need to have these conversations and I’m willing to have them with my team. I’m willing to have them with the people in my life, but I also want to start having them with my community, with you guys.

And so this is one thing that we’re going to start doing in the next few months. We want to create some podcasts on inclusivity and sensitivity. I’m hoping to be able to interview somebody about rainbow washing, and their perspective on that. I’m hoping to be able to interview people about how to celebrate holidays, or how to celebrate some of these holidays that commemorate race, specific events, I want to talk about that and interview people who are closer to it, who understand it, because I think that we all have room to grow in here. I am sure of it. I know I’m not the only one. And so I’m hoping that this will be a great series, a great bunch of episodes. They probably won’t all come out at the same time, just as I find people, we will start interviewing them. And so this is what I ask of you. If you are like, “Julia, I have this question that I would like to ask somebody,” send it over to me. If you also know somebody who could speak on inclusion, whether it’s for any community, or sensitivity or things like that, please send them my way.

I will tell you that there is no judgment here. I hope you know, I’ve just laid out a lot of junk, a lot of my own junk, my own perspectives, my true confessions. And, I’m not going to judge you if you have a question that you’re like, “Hey, I don’t know where to ask this.” We really want to create a space where people can listen to each other and learn more about experiences that are different, so that we can become one, better people, but also better marketers. If our goal is to connect the companies we work for, the companies we serve, with the end user, we have to be well-educated in these areas. And if we don’t know the answers, we have to know where to find them. 

So thanks for joining with me. If you listened to this on double speed, that was wise. But anyway, I will be back next week with some more content. As always, we would love to hear from you. I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful weekend.