Think locally, act locally: Why brands should be embracing the power of localism

Culture Hack

Think locally, act locally: Why brands should be embracing the power of localism

As a child of the 90s, my millennial brain is particularly steeped in a deep-rooted, Michael Jackson-esque globalism. An underlying fondness for global brands and global citizenry, that is gradually giving way to another 2020s movement that shows no signs of fading away: Localism. 

The pandemic might have accelerated the renewed interest in all things local, but in reality, this has been brewing for quite some time. The political revolt against “global elites” and internationalism that preoccupied the 2010s. An increased understanding of social and economic inequality in our gentrifying neighborhoods. A growing interest in sustainability and traceability that extends to who, where and how our services and goods are manufactured.

Consumers are increasingly seeking brands that embrace where they come from and show up for the communities in which they operate. And yet, with local and community media in decline, you could argue that it’s harder to connect to people locally than ever before. Nevertheless, as brands seek to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with their consumers, localism represents a huge opportunity to engage consumers within the communities where they already exist.

While I love a spot of locally relatable copy (Hello Streeteasy!), embracing localism goes beyond customized creative. As with any community, it starts with understanding the equity a brand has with a given audience and the role they play in local culture. Whether it’s Nike’s embrace of local graffiti artists in São Paulo, Aesop’s locally informed retail experiences, or even Budweiser’s embrace of Philly Philly; the key, as obvious as it may sound, is being unafraid to let those local differences be part of the brand experience. 

To quote my favorite Australian soap, that’s when good neighbors become good friends.

-Ed Hunt

Gen Z Feminists are Demanding Diversity and Intersectionality

Culture Hack

Gen Z Feminists are Demanding Diversity and Intersectionality

With Gen Zs being one of the most diverse generations yet, Feminism is moving beyond gender and embracing the intersectionality of many traditionally marginalized groups.

Gen Zs have strayed away from the need to be defined or placed in a box. Instead, they seek brands that empower them and remain authentic to their values and social causes in a way that is unique and differentiated. Recently, Amazon released the first of its series of ads as part of the “Its on Prime” campaign featuring a girl rocking her mustache. Contrary to traditional norms, where she has the option to purchase a razor, she opted for a yellow jacket and embraces the look. In just 10 days, this ad has already received 8.2 million views. 

Some of my other favorites include the award-winning Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, as well as Bumble’s recent campaign with Keith Powers: “A Love Letter to Black Women”.

With this in mind, I hope to see more brands follow suit and continue to be courageous and radically imaginative in how they support and participate in intersectional feminism, but also, reevaluate their partnerships and supply chains to ensure all women and all genders are at the forefront of all that they do. And most importantly, respectful enough to look beyond this single component of one’s identity, consider gender neutrality and acknowledge transgender identities.

With Women’s history month ending, it is not lost on us the lack of representation of trans women, specifically trans women of color in advertising. Now more than ever, it is important that brands take into consideration marginalized groups, diverse experiences, and intersectional identities. Including these factors and finding the space in which your brand fits, will indeed attract Gen Z interest. 

– Naomi Augustin 

What Ramadan Can Teach Us About Acceptance And Brands About Inclusivity

Culture Hack

What Ramadan Can Teach Us About Acceptance And Brands About Inclusivity

In my early childhood years, I grew up in a household with what I would describe as ‘the perfect mix of religious and cultural’ exposure that I still carry with me today. I was taught the importance of resilience, cultural humility, faith behind action, and most importantly, kindness. As a result, I honestly was given the best of both worlds to make informed choices of who I want to be and how I wish to proceed throughout the world. 

When given the opportunity to move to the Middle East, I was excited the most about the exposure to a culture and religion I only knew on a surface level. And although I am still by no means an expert, I left my four years in Dubai with a deeper understanding of Islam that I am genuinely grateful for. 

For many looking from the outside, the perception of Ramadan is that those of Muslim descent are simply fasting for a 30-day period, not far off what some may do for Lent. However, there is more to it than just fasting. The observance of Ramadan has the ability to teach us love, humility, and patience. 

And in turn, I learned that there was so much to learn and celebrate, even for those who may not be Muslim or observe this moment each year. 

So, as we face a cultural evolution of inclusivity, I can’t help but think about how U.S. brands (as well as consumers) can lean into these sentiments and create a genuine engagement experience that is reflective of the 1.9 billion Muslims globally (with 8.1 million projected to be from the U.S. by the year 2050). In addition to embracing its enlightened values in the same way Christmas and Hanukkah are. 

Firstly, understand the habits and needs during the holy month and what are the artistic and cultural nuances that make this time special. Influencers and creators such as Yara Elmjouie and Mai’s Vault have often tackled challenges and popular misperceptions about the holy month of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid in edutaining ways for those who may not be as familiar with the Muslim community.

Secondly, it’s important for brands to sway away from the commercialization of Ramadan and instead align with the month’s recognition of gratitude. Brands such as Ikea have tapped into a sense of community with product lines built around togetherness and keeping in mind moments such as Iftar, where families come together to break their fast and eat. 

Thirdly, brands have an excellent opportunity to keep in mind the altruistic side of the observance with campaigns that acknowledge the importance of giving back, one of the critical values during this time. In recent years, brands such as Etihad airlines have created community fridges for those in need. Which also built upon UAE traditions that focused on the spirit of sharing and working with Etihad’s global network. 

Fourthly, focusing on quality over quantity, brands such as Tesco, a UK supermarket chain, created an OOH campaign that utilized tech on digital billboards that filled the plates with food as the sun set, noting the importance of sustenance during Iftar and Suhour.

Fifthly, find meaningful ways to be part of the conversation (even beyond the time). Brands such as Jawwy uncovered a way to authentically remind people to live the Ramadan spirit all year long by ensuring that doing good deeds and helping others becomes an everyday habit. 

Lastly, remember, no matter what route you choose; it’s never wrong to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions others make globally because we are all the better for it. 

 And most importantly, Ramadan Mubarak!

 W. Sky Downing

(with special thanks to Dina Sami)

Black Feminism and Intersectionality

Culture Hack

Black Feminism and Intersectionality

From the rise of the #MeToo movement to the first elected woman as the Vice President of the United States, there is no doubt strides have been made in the feminist movement over the past 5 years. But one of the biggest criticisms of the way feminism is discussed in the media has been the absence of voices from women of color, while that of white women is amplified. Often, negating the intersectionality that race and other identities bring to the feminist movement. 

Thinking about the unique lived experiences within each of these identities led to the rise of Black Feminism: a social movement with roots in the early 20th century that understands the core values of each identity, but allows black women to navigate racist, sexist and other socio-political parts of society. 

We’ve already seen the transformation of Black women in entertainment, often centered around their experiences and different identities. Some examples include ‘Run the World’, ‘Insecure’, ‘Harlem’, Chewing Gum’, and many more. Black Feminism has brought so many culturally relevant conversations regarding feminism and its history to light, ones we are still having to this day.

Many racial or gender related topics often neglect to mention women who have led and significantly contributed to the fight for both racial and gender equality. When supporting women in their fight for equality, it is important to not forget the diversity and intersectionality of identities, especially in today’s day and age where Gen Zs refuse to be placed in a box. Their unique experiences and other parts of their identity provide insight into ways brands can increase visibility and become more inclusive of marginalized groups.

For brands, Black Feminism is evidence of the importance of thinking beyond race, or gender and considering different aspects of their identity. Instead of telling women things they’ve heard before, create a culture where exploring their diverse experiences and empowering them to express themselves is the norm.

 -Naomi Augustin

Who Runs The World? Yardrunners

Culture Hack

Who Runs The World? Yardrunners 

There is no better time to highlight trailblazers at the intersection of change, innovation, and forward mobility than Women’s History Month. The National Women’s History Alliance announced 2023’s Women’s History Month theme as “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” Many brands have elevated women in a transformative way, but one of our favorites is the “Nike Yardrunners” which underscores the importance of elevating the intersectionality of Black women.  

The collection, which launched in 2020, celebrates the storied history of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) by featuring apparel from 19 of these prestigious schools. Nike “is on a mission to preserve and support the integrity that is rooted in these foundational colleges and universities.” Each year, Nike Yardrunners releases a unique cohort that upholds that year’s lane of success: 

  • The first cohort recognizes HBCU business owners and entrepreneurs 
  • The second cohort recognizes the duality of student-athletes 
  • The third cohort recognizes HBCU alumni paving a legacy to uplift future generations

Last year, Nike collaborated with four Black Yardrunner women on the design of the new Nike Dunk Lows. The shoes were specifically designed to highlight four HBCUs and leveraged the women’s experiences as inspirationThe experience of attending an HBCU as a Black woman is one that deserves the spotlight. As this year’s theme is “Celebrating Women who tell our stories,” these four Black women embody the epitome of Black success, determination, duality, and the reality of our ancestor’s wildest dreams.

Representing Nike Dunk Lows for Tennessee State University (TSU)

Kalynn Terrell 
Nike Alumni Year: Yardrunners 1.0 
Craft: Fashion Designer and Business owner

Kalynn has turned her craft into a business where she is able to be the reality of her own dream. She is now the owner of her fashion brand Nose In The Air, which enables tall women to style baggy fashion with ease. 

Representing Nike Low Dunks for Florida A&M University (FAMU)

Caitlyn Davis
Nike Alumni Year: Yardrunners 1.0 
Craft: Business Owner   

While at FAMU, Caitlyn was able to understand the ins and outs of what it takes to be a business owner. Now as an alumna, Caitlyn is the business owner of her apparel Be Great. After designing the Nike Dunk Lows, Caitlyn expressed to an interviewer:“We were able to talk to big Nike leaders and show them that HBCUs are the culture, and we are the ones driving the dollars to their shoes.”

Representing Nike Dunk Low for Clark Atlanta University (CAU)

Heather Haynes 
Nike Alumni Year: Yardrunners 1.0
Craft: Global Marketer and Producer 

Member of CAU’s 40 under 40 Young Alumni Achievement award, Haynes was able to leave a lasting legacy at her alma mater. Her love for fashion grew at CAU and was able to fuel her creative mind when designing the shoe. 

Representing Nike Low Dunks for North Carolina A&T University (NCAT)

Arial Robinson
Nike Alumni Year: Yardrunners 2.0 
Craft: Multimedia Journalism  

During Arial’s time at NCAT, she was named 2021 HBCU Creative of the Year,  2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar, and the author of the books: The Modern-Day Black Alphabet and Black Hair Care in Color. She recalled to an interviewer, “I was really excited but also really blessed that someone would trust my vision, especially being so young, a Black woman at an HBCU. A lot of times we don’t get those opportunities, so to have that opportunity and tell a greater story that gets people physically moving on campus, it’s amazing and super monumental” Robinson said.

-Kimberly Heard

Activating on Cultural Conversations

Culture Hack

Activating on Cultural Conversations

Great power comes from listening to what consumers are talking about on social media outside of the brand conversation. Knowing what is going on in pop culture and being up to date on the latest trends can be a vital engagement push for any brand’s social media strategy, and has been a mainstay of brand social for the past few years. By doing this, the brand can also increase the chances of tapping into new audiences and getting your current audience to engage in those conversations that you tied your brand into. 

     The show The Last of Us, based on a popular video game, has been trending weekly as new episodes come out every Sunday. Arby’s saw this as an opportunity to create a post that would tap into that show’s audience without directly calling it out. The brand showed a great way of jumping on the trend while being subtle enough to avoid copyright issues.

     Take also Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour announcement: The internet went into a frenzy with conversations of excitement and how they were going to start saving to purchase the tickets. Multiple brands jumped on the conversation and joined the Beyhive on the topic of saving money for the concert. Some brands that also posted were Ritz Crackers, Footlocker, & even Teletubbies.

      Currently, the hot conversation is the supposed unspoken feud between Selena Gomez & Haley Bieber. Fans of the singer have rallied to uncover all of the “shady” actions that Haley Bieber has taken against Selena. People and even brands on the internet are taking sides and most seem to be #TeamSelena, like Whataburger. Others like Little Caesars are using the opportunity to reach new audiences but remain neutral.

These are just a few examples in the past few weeks. Clearly, there are many ways that brands can stay on top of cultural conversations and use them to their advantage. So question is, how will you engage?

 –Mariam Gonzalez

Prevent Burnout While Working From Home: Top 5 Tips from Black Mental Health Experts

Culture Hack

Prevent Burnout While Working From Home: Top 5 Tips from Black Mental Health Experts

In a post-pandemic world, many people continue to work remote from home. As a result, we’ve continued to blend a space once deemed as a sanctuary with the hustle and bustle of work. With these two spaces now intertwined as one, your once humble abode is on the clock 24/7. It’s the space where people live, work and may continue to play even after a long workday. 

With the lack of separation between two worlds, and the ability to have an “always on mentality” since work takes place at home—in a living room, home office or kitchen table—the feeling of burnout may creep into the picture for remote workers. The feeling of being overwhelmed, overworked without the ability to take a beat, or retreat into a peaceful place. 

To prevent burnout, Ebony recommends the following tips from Black mental health experts:

  • Seek Out Community 

Pre-pandemic, people had the ability to build interoffice friendships with colleagues through daily in-office interactions. Relationship development with colleagues takes place through on-screen interactions now. With this, it’s recommended to seek out opportunities to connect with people in real-life to build a network for professional development, mentoring and emotional support. 

If your budget and lifestyle permits, members clubs like WeWork, Soho House or Industrious have options to work remote beyond home while tapping into a broader network of professionals to build real-life connections.

  • Practice visualization and meditation 

Create a routine—whether daily, weekly or on the weekends—which includes visualization, meditation, journaling, and breathwork. This time will be dedicated solely to you in a place where you deem most tranquil. It will allow you to connect with the day, yourself, thoughts, and prayers. It is uninterrupted to feed into yourself. 

  • Create boundaries

It’s okay to set boundaries at work while working from home. “Boundaries are limits intentionally put in place to protect your peace,” according to Jasmine Cobb, a licensed counselor and owner of Visual Healing Therapeutic Services, PLLC. “Set aside some time to disconnect and refill your cup in other ways outside of work hours so that you can reconnect when you feel recharged,” explains Cobb. Your personal peace, joy and happiness is most important to show up every day as your most authentic self and team contributor in the remote workplace. 

  • Take regular breaks from screens and get outside

In a work from home environment, the always on is real. Throughout the day, it’s recommended to take regular breaks for a few minutes from the screen to stretch your legs, give your eyes a break, get fresh air, and clear your mind. Vanessa Williams, LCSW, a licensed therapist, recommends taking a mindful walk. Mindful walking is simply the practice of bringing your mind’s awareness to your surroundings. Movement helps bring your mind’s attention to your body and is a good source of stress relief,” Williams shares. 

  • Find support

It’s okay to seek help when you feel burnt out. Maybe you are already employing some of the tips presented and you need more support. Speaking to a therapist or trained counseling professional is okay. Hurdle, Doctor On Demand, or BetterHelp are a great option to counseling anytime you need on demand. 

Piece references article from Ebony originally published in December 2022 by LeAura Luciano

Martina L. Smith, MSC

How to Make a Comeback: Rihanna’s Super Bowl Performance

Culture Hack

How to Make a Comeback: Rihanna’s Super Bowl Performance 

After six years of waiting, the Navy was finally graced with Rihanna’s highly anticipated return to the stage, in this year’s Super Bowl halftime show performance. 

Like many times before, the superstar and businesswoman did not disappoint. Leading up to the performance, Rihanna’s Fenty brands certainly took advantage of the moment with Fenty Beauty releasing an exclusive collection of Super Bowl themed products and Savage Fenty delivering custom pieces celebrating the event. 

From Apple’s marketing to Fenty Beauty and the Savage Fenty line, Rihanna certainly capitalized on the moment. According to Forbes, Google searches for Fenty Beauty increased by 883%. Not only did her performance bring awareness to her brand, but it reintroduced fans to her sound. Rihanna herself tweeted that she became the “#1 global artist ranking for the best-selling and most streamed artist on all digital platforms worldwide for the third consecutive day”. 

This comes as no surprise as her songs received a 390% boost in sales and 166.13 million on-demand streams following her performance. While Rihanna doesn’t earn a commission for her performance, the rewards and attention she receives for her brands had a massive impact. 

Outside of the half-time performance and in collaboration with Apple Music, Rihanna’s music catalog brought fans a new way to experience her sound with Apple’s spatial audio, sing-along with Apple Music Sing and Apple Music Radio. As a first-time sponsor of the Superbowl, Apple embraced Rihanna as the face of its campaign with an official trailera performance by NFL fans, and many more. 

Finally, let’s not forget the buzz on social media with influencers, celebrities, and fans analyzing the meanings behind the performance. From defending the music sensation to criticizing the performance, many agree Riri is back. 

 However, the most important question remains: Should we be expecting an album soon? 👀

 –Naomi Augustin

More than just viewing parties: Can brands support queer spaces authentically?

Culture Hack

More than just viewing parties: Can brands support queer spaces authentically?

It’s hard not to feel the dissonance of Ru Paul’s Drag Race being in its 15th season on MTV while at least 14 States are passing laws banning drag shows. Beyoncé’s queer-inspired Renaissance dominating the charts and awards circuits while Pride flags are being set alight in the heart of Soho. Queer and trans identities are increasingly mainstream and increasingly marginalized.

So with this increasing bifurcation, what does it mean for a brand to engage and support LGBTQ audiences in 2023?

For as much as LGBTQ inclusion in advertising can often be considered pinkwashing or a commercialization of Pride, seizing a moment instead of seizing opportunities to power a movement, it’s worth noting there are many parts of the world where it results in death threats and families having to flee their homes. Acknowledging the platform of advertising to show authentic, intersectional representations of LGBTQ audiences is certainly a start. 

But in a world where 1/3 of Gen Z see their online selves as their most authentic self-expression, community queerness and its spaces have never felt so important. Supporting them is one of the most authentic ways a brand can show up for consumers The LGBTQ rights movement began in a gay bar after all. 

In many neighborhoods and cities across the country, the gay bar may be the only public LGBTQ anything, and their number is in terminal decline across the United States, especially lesbian bars and bars serving queer people of color.

The ‘Drag Race effect’ has shown the power of these spaces in building community, invigorating local drag and the local bar scene through viewing parties. Without appropriating or exploiting queer culture for the sake of rainbow-washing, brands have an incredible opportunity to support and give back to these spaces that are quite literally under attack and make them a cultural focal point for the next generations.

Match tips… donate to prizes… amplify the people and their stories… center the spaces and their heritage. Stand for keeping these spaces quite literally safe and inclusive.

And with that, I hope to see you all for RPDR Season 15 at your friendly neighborhood queer bar…

-Ed Hunt

Looking Beyond the Blackest Month of the Year

Culture Hack

Looking Beyond the Blackest Month of the Year

In recent years, more and more brands have been forced to look beyond their 28-day approach to Black History Month (BHM). As consumers have become skeptical of anything unauthentic or impersonal, brands must push their BHM marketing to not only encompass the multidimensionality of the Black experience but also not tokenize BHM as the only month that can recognize Black creators, innovators, and trailblazers. As the world becomes more familiar with the multi-faceted nature of the Black experience, marketing campaigns are beginning to move past the fundamental or one-dimensional understandings of Black communities.

Take for example Jack Daniel’s. The beverage brand is celebrating its third annual Black History Month storytelling campaign, Every Legacy Has a Beginning, which not only highlights Black-owned businesses on its social media but also creates a year-round website to view their longevity and success. This is a prime example of thinking “beyond the month.”

Secondary recommendations for Black History Month and beyond may include tapping into the new theme of Afrofuturism, a cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science, and history that explores the intersection of African Diaspora culture and technology. Marvel’s Black Panther showed us the fictional version of a Black society thriving in the future. Brands would be smart to highlight Black scientists/innovators or fashion designers on the cusp of the future, turning Black History Month on its head and becoming Black Futures Month.

The athleisure fashion line, Yitty by Lizzo understood the afro-futurism concept as it honored BHM. “Black history month celebrates the perseverance and survival of our culture. While we honor Black History Month by working with afro futuristic designers and by proudly being a Black-owned business, we also want to remind everyone that every month is Black History month. Every day we celebrate that, we are making better steps toward the future.” Understanding the momentum and gravity of the Black future is an idea more and more innovators are highlighting as they go “beyond the month”. Ivy Briana, Founder of Rolla Magic believes that “BHM means celebrating the depth and multiplicity of Blackness. Celebrating what your Blackness looks like, not what anyone tells you it looks like.” As the world continues to understand the many faces of Blackness, designers, innovators, and creators are also realizing they have due diligence to proudly show their authentic Blackness. 

However, the true key to Black History Month is to not only highlight Black trailblazers during BHM but rather follow through and track their stories. Too often BHM initiatives are highlighted but never sustained. Recognition of Black communities is not a trending cultural moment with a time limit, but rather they are a timeless integral core of society. The brand that can sustain and elevate the importance of this unique experience can win in the eyes of Black communities.

Kimberly Heard