Edelman Picks A Side
Plus, revisiting That Pepsi Deck, Obligatory Elon, Twitter's New Head of Comms
Back in 2008, when the very idea that I might work in marketing would have caused visible smarm squiggles to emanate from my armpits, I was first exposed to what has remained something of a touchstone: the all-time greatest brand visual identity deck from the now-defunct Arnell Group for Pepsi.
After it was leaked online around the same time as Pepsi’s brand refresh hit the shelves, I dimly recall it provoking my first awareness of the power of a deck. It’s impossible to read through the presentation, even at home in your underwear, without picturing an ECD and some agency sales guys in a big board room in White Plains taking executives on a journey of inspiration and flattery. I’m fairly certain the deck—which is infamous in design and branding, uh, circles—was the first time I ever thought for a moment that I could make money in marketing. If this was the grift, well, baby, let’s fire up Keynote.
Every few years, the deck bubbles up again and I read through it again and like a good book I often find something new. The common refrain: Have I changed…or is it Pepsi that has changed?
But as I read through it again, I have found myself softening to the work from Arnell a bit. I actually think the design system of the brand mark itself is perfectly clever. You can see how motion would wake it up nicely even in a static PDF. And now, having spent over a decade in marketing myself, I have so much more sympathy for poor junior designer who saw their elegant little system become ever more occluded by the theoretical scaffolding the strategists and salespeople constructed around it with so that PepsiCo executives would feel they’d gotten their million-dollars’ worth.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? Redesigning a global brand’s visual identity should cost a million dollars. But if you simply show up with the work and say “We made your logo kind of flexible and modular now, plus figured out all the ways it should show up in the world, and isn’t that fun?” you’ll be laughed out of the room. But if you convince the clients that they’re tapping into Ancient Design Forces That Have Opened Wallets For 1,000 Years, they will happily pay the price they should be paying and feel they got a bargain. Until someone leaks the deck, of course.
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“It’s very tempting to take him as the character he portrays himself to be in his tweets, and not as the actual brilliant entrepreneur he clearly is,” as Nilay Patel, editor in chief of The Verge and Decoder podcast host, cautioned me. “There is a somewhat studied naivete to Elon tweets that is not like Trump at all. Elon plays dumber than he is.”
Respectfully to Mr. Patel, I think it’s entirely possible Elon is as dumb as he plays.
The subtlety, of course, is in what “dumb” means. Elon could not build an electric car by himself, I suspect, even given unlimited time and resources. Few people could. Nor could he design a rocket. Elon is a “businessman,” a term that for over two centuries has occluded the reality that for many executives their primary job is one of salesman and marketer.
Musk is a fascinating study of what happens when you believe your own pitch, and our first living example of the effects on the human body when a person takes every supplement ever mentioned on The Joe Rogan Experience without lifting a single heavy object.
He is very boring, and that is sad, because he has every resource available to become interesting.
How Elon Musk Became the Internet’s New Main Character [Vanity Fair]
A New Trade Newsletter for PRs
Axios is launching a newsletter for “Communicators.” That’s literally about everything I know about this. I signed up, if only to pitch myself to them in the near future.
Twitter Has A New Head of Comms
Considering the circumstances, it is a wild time to be joining Twitter as head of comms. I do not know Ms. Hahn at all, but she already has my respect. She was previously Chief Communications Officer—my favorite of the “What Does The C Stand For Here?” titles in the C-suite—at the Bird scooter-sharing company and was at The OutCast Agency for almost a decade before that. OutCast, as you may know, is effectively the PR agency analog and regular partner of the massive West Coast VCs, and it is commonplace for executives from the firm to step to client-side roles for tech companies or become VCs themselves. (This is fine.)
For reasons that are easy to casually infer but not actually apparent, Twitter has produced some of the best defensive and service comms executives of all the tech startups over the last decade. Was it the nature of Twitter’s business or specific to Twitter’s Communications culture? Couldn’t say, but that shop has always produced smart, strong, grounded PR talent and I wish Hahn luck in continuing the trend.
Edelman Takes A Stand For Journalism By Pitching Saudi Arabia Business
In a previously unreported 109-slide proposal filed, per law, with the Department of Justice this June, Edelman proposed, what it dubbed, a five-year-long “Search Beyond” campaign.
In it, the Saudis would develop partnerships with celebrities and pursue opportunities that could lead to productions filmed throughout the kingdom. The firm pitched partnering with MTV and teaming up with major institutions. It also suggested getting international celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and DJ David Guetta to serve on the board of the campaign.’
This is why agencies fall apart. You start by saying there is some business you will refuse, because you’re in public relations, but the good kind, you know? Then a few thousand employees later you’re pitching a government led by a man who gleefully tortured and killed an American journalist for image rehabilitation.
In a perfect world, no American companies would be working with the Saudis. But at least the structural engineer getting paid to build a modern fantasy city in the desert isn’t in an industry that regularly and explicitly tries to position itself as an ally—gowrsh, almost the other half!—of journalism. Edelman’s entertainment of this pitch is shameful. I feel sorry for employees who did not have the power to refuse to work on it.
As Edelman’s “Citizenship” page says too perfectly: “Citizenship is like any other business strategy.”
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