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The Hypocrisy of Woke Capitalism with Jennifer Sey

Jennifer Sey is an author, business executive, and retired artistic gymnast. She’s also known in the marketing world for spending a great deal of time with Levi Strauss, as she managed all aspects of the brand as brand president, including product. Jennifer and Kevin talk about the hypocrisy of woke capitalism, and why brands should focus on having open and transparent conversations with their audience, or just decide to make it more about the product and less about taking a stand on an issue they might not be ready to fully back up. Jennifer and Kevin discuss a few examples of brand campaigns that have gone wrong, and the consequences that often come with trying to use social justice in your marketing.

Takeaways:

[4:10] Jennifer was at Levi’s for close to 23 years and moved beyond marketing to end her time there as brand president. She was outspoken about school closures and restrictions on kids during the pandemic, and discusses being asked to leave and her thoughts about the situation.

[10:11] In a tweet celebrating Women’s Day, Levi Strauss turned off the comments once they faced backlash. Jennifer and Kevin discuss alternative measures that could have been taken, and how it demonstrated just a tiny ripple in the wave of the many brands that are hypocritical in their woke capitalism.

[11:09] If Jennifer was to lead a marketing division or company again, she would make sure that everything they said and did was true, and that they walked the talk, even if it was a decision that came with some risk.

[12:18] There is often a huge difference between what brands say, and what they actually do.

[14:14] You can actually build greater loyalty and a true connection with your audience when they feel like it’s a two-way relationship and that you are open to listening. When a brand turns off comments, this sends a message that they don’t want to have the conversation.

[18:12] Jennifer discusses how we can assign weight to some of the feedback you get, at what point does it lose value, and when should we just decide to not engage?

[27:38] In the same way that consumers can intend to purchase a product but not buy it, they can also say they won’t buy it and do the opposite.

[30:00] Nike got themselves into hot water when they posted about woman-related holidays, and some major incidents came out that showed they may not have supported women the way they postured to do.

[33:00] A lot of the time, the pressure at a brand is internal and CEOs can be intimated by younger employees pushing.

[42:15] What brands like Abercrombie and Victoria’s Secret did wrong to alienate certain consumers from the beginning.

[44:19] One of the problems with guru-led management can be how it’s used selectively.

[49:02] Consumers are not stupid, and they can pick up when there’s a gap between what companies put forward and how they act.

[55:18] The blowback that Pepsi got because of a poorly done ad campaign suggests and illustrates that there are limits to what people will tolerate in terms of borrowing themes and imagery from social justice to sell products.

Quotes:

  • “If I were to lead either a marketing division or company again, I would make sure that everything we said and did was true and that we walked the walk, even if it was a decision that came with some risk. I would also probably focus mostly on the product.” — Jennifer [11:09]
  • “You can’t just ignore what you’ve been for decades. You’ve got to find a truth in it that can be made relevant today.” — Jennifer [45:19]
  • “At the end of the day, you’ve got to market yourselves authentically.” [46:33]

Mentioned in This Episode:

Jennifer Sey:

“DiGiorno Used a Hashtag About Domestic Violence to Sell Pizza”

Sey Everything

“Oh the Ratio!”

White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch

“God May Forgive: But Google Never Forgets”