PPPPosing Four Questions - Four P's #150

You don't have to be the youngest in the room to ask them, either.

As the sole remote/virtual participant in my family's Passover gathering this past weekend, I admit to being only partially engaged. While everyone else struggled to make it through an in-person, express Seder, I didn’t have the motivation of my mom’s brisket waiting for me at the finish line.

The fact that so many families held in-person gatherings is both promising and troubling. I hope everyone was careful. I know we were: My wife, parents, and in-laws are all several months post-vaccine and were able to be together with my children while I "watched" on Zoom from the comfort of my own couch. Little did they know (or maybe they suspected?) that I had positioned the camera right next to the television so that I could also watch NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games.

I make no secret about the fact that I've had real struggles with organized religion going all the way back to my childhood. At the risk of alienating the 95% of humanity who believe in a higher power, I don't. I also struggle with the violence, discrimination, and destruction to which many religions have contributed (both directly and indirectly). I am not ignoring the positive contributions that religion has brought - morality, community, Hannukah and Christmas presents- but the fact that everyone believes their religion is right, preferred, or chosen is inherently problematic.  Perhaps my biggest issue is the fact that most religions discourage, or actively prevent, the questioning of authority. Clearly, I have a problem with this.

So while the others were gathered in-person, my mind also began to wander and think about unrelated topics and questions. Actually, there were four of them:

  1. What's in all of those shipping containers, anyway?

  2. What happens when marketing and medicine intersect?

  3. How many games will the Mets win this season?

  4. Why does privacy matter?

Something Practical:  What's in All of Those Shipping Containers?

You're not going to believe this, but about a day before that big tanker ran aground in the Suez Canal last week, I happened to ask someone randomly during a Zoom call how many of those giant shipping containers were there sitting on docks, in ports, or at storage yards around the world? 

Then fast forward a week of images all over news websites and Twitter of hundreds of them stacked high on the sideways ship stuck in Egyptian waters. My first thought when big coincidences like that happen is to wonder whether I had anything to do with it, even in some Butterfly Effect-like way.

You've probably asked a similar question, especially if you've ever driven up and down either U.S. coast -- whether in New York, Newark, Philly, Baltimore down to Miami... or in Long Beach or San Francisco on the Pacific. You see them,  thousands of them, stacked hundreds of feet high in the air.  Some have probably been in the exact same place for years. They are used to ship a variety of goods internationally and domestically, easily moved from ships to tractor-trailers to freight trains, carrying everything from raw materials to cars across oceans and continents.

A quick google search will tell you that there are about 17 million shipping containers scattered across the globe. Many are in terrible condition, but salvaging them for scrap metal or recycled parts often requires a level of financial investment that many shipping companies aren't willing to make. And there they sit.

So why am I talking about this? As our planet gets smaller, dirtier, yet more digitally advanced, this surplus of containers will never be right-sized again. We have too many. In fact, fewer than half (only about 5 million) are currently active at any given time.  From an environmental concern, approximately 97% of all shipping containers are manufactured in China, and many are now being deliberately sunk to the ocean floor (Let's hope that as much of the harmful material as possible can be removed). Some also end up there by accident.  According to insurance records, about 1,000 are actually lost at sea each year. Imagine all of that precious cargo at the bottom of the ocean, something companies deem "an acceptable loss."

About 95% of global shipping still happens on water, but the volume of goods shipped is actually on the decline. In total, 200 million "trips" are taken each year, and that number is decreasing.

So as we think about things like sustainability, there is definitely something to be said about shopping and sourcing locally whenever possible. We know about reducing our carbon footprint, but let's also start thinking about reducing our cargo footprint, as well.

Something Professional:  What Happens When Marketing and Medicine Intersect?

There is still an astounding number of people who do not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine. While the percentage of global and U.S. citizens who have gotten one or both of the vaccines continues to rise, far too many are choosing not to. At least not yet. 34% of Americans say they are not likely to get the vaccine, according to a March 8 Ipsos poll, which is at least down from 63% back in September. But we've still got a long way to go with a hardcore group of anti-vaxxers.

Doctors and scientists couldn't convince them. Local and national government leaders haven't swayed them. So who's next? Advertisers, naturally.

As the husband of a talented, passionate, caring physician, I've experienced the pandemic through her own experiences as well as my own. It has been devastating for the medical community, but to see how they rally around each other, support, and uplift one another is tremendously inspiring.

But now it's time for them to take a well-deserved break and let us marketers do our thing.  The Ad Council, made up of major brands, media companies, and community-based organizations, is collaborating to extend the reach of important messaging across all channels.

With apologies to the doctors (whose medical memes I do enjoy while looking over my wife's shoulder when she's on social media), this Ad Council initiative is one of the largest public education efforts in U.S. history supporting the campaigns designed to reach distinct audiences. These partners include Apple, Facebook, Twitch, Sesame Workshop, Verizon, Black Information Network, FOX Entertainment, Google/YouTube, iHeartMedia, NAACP, the NHL, NBCUniversal, Pandora/SiriusXM/, Telemundo, ViacomCBS, Walmart, WarnerMedia, and more.

The first content, “It’s Up To You,” shows that we've been listening to America’s top questions, that we understand their concerns, and are working to educate and empower people across the country – particularly communities of color, Black and Hispanic communities, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

The Ad Council’s research shows that Black and Hispanic Americans who are undecided are significantly less confident they have enough information to guide their decision about getting a COVID-19 vaccination, compared to those intending to get vaccinated.

So let’s do this, marketing people!

Let’s use our MFAs, MBAs, and “specialized skillsets” to pick up where the M.D.’s, Ph.D’s, R.N.s and other medical experts/scientists left off.

Let’s leverage our insights and audience segmentation, digital strategy, copywriting and video editing skills!

Let’s save the world, one shot at a time! (Also, don’t forget to do your timesheets this week.)

Something Personal:  How Many Games Will The  Mets Win?

Real baseball resumes this week! That's right, Opening Day is this week, and I've tried my best all spring to temper expectations and keep my hopes for a New York Mets World Series run in check.

But it's hard. The Mets have the best pitcher in the league (Jacob deGrom) and traded for one of the most talented stars (Francisco Lindor). They improved in many areas, yet still missed out on a few opportunities that could have put them over the top. The gap between vision and reality certainly closed, but by how much?

Like every year (except for maybe last year), I enter the baseball season seeing the upside for my favorite team. This is how sports fans should think about it. Believe... until otherwise disappointed. The potential and expectations are highest on Opening Day, and the Mets have the best Opening Day record in baseball history, having won twice as many times as they've lost.

For the record, I'm going to predict that the Mets win 90 games and earn a Wild Card spot. That would be fun. So while there are open questions (bullpen? team health? third base? left field?),  the biggest question this season is... Can I go to games?

By the time the Mets return home from their opening road trip, I will be fully vaccinated! The games are outdoors and I'm sure seating will be spaced out. Masks are still required, as are either proof of vaccine or negative tests. But what about in June or the warmer months. How far along will we be by then? Will I even feel comfortable being around others?

I'm trying not to think about it too much yet and just enjoy the hopeful enthusiasm and optimism of another season.

Something Political: Does Privacy Matter?

There are a number of political and social issues that are just no-brainers for me. The positions I've held have been part of my moral makeup for decades, and they generally put me pretty clearly in the liberal side of the spectrum. Not a surprise to anyone who has been with me for the previous 149 editions of the Four P's. But one issue that doesn't clearly cut across party lines involves data privacy.

While my professional knowledge of digital and social platforms has probably desensitized me, I do think the average American would be shocked to learn how much information they have about us. At every moment, governments, and corporations are accessing, gathering, and storing data about us. They do it without asking you and without telling you. They collect our location. They collect known sexual preferences. They learn about our health problems, our political convictions, and our cognitive capacities, and so much more. Oddly enough, I've been kind of okay with it up until now. I have nothing to hide and don't really think anyone is out to get me. But I know I'm in the minority here, and many believe this to be unacceptable. They believe our freedom and our very democracies are at stake.

Ubiquitous surveillance has become a fact of twenty-first-century life. It’s nearly – but not entirely – impossible to avoid. Anyone born after 2000 doesn't know any different, and that's where the digital dividing line is drawn. The data economy only really kicked off in the this century. TVs didn’t listen in on our conversations and even mobile phones couldn't track our movements. Before Google’s rise to power in the early 2000s, personal data didn’t yet have any commercial value. But they figured out that the searches its users made could be used to sell targeted advertisements. For the first time, a company began to use personal data to build precise profiles on individual users and sell this information to third parties. And it made them a very valuable company. Other companies from Microsoft and Facebook to banks to Nike and Disney followed suit. The data economy has transformed citizens into products.

The most well-documented use of personal data, as we’ve already mentioned, is targeted, customized advertisement all over the internet, on your apps, and in your social media feeds. Sometimes it can be useful, such as when retargeted ads remind us of products we can actually use. But it does become a problem when elections are impacted, right? We know in 2016, personal data enabled Cambridge Analytica to identify people it referred to as “persuadables” and then specifically target them with customized propaganda and fake news. Other companies use your personal data, not to influence you, but to discriminate against individuals. Consumer rating companies keep a secret score on you based on your data. This score is used by all sorts of companies to determine things like how long you’re put on hold when you call them, and whether or not you’re eligible to return a product.

So while I am not a victim or target of surveillance capitalism, I know others are. And that IS a problem. Inequality is the essence of the data economy. Through your data, you’re targeted and treated differently. I care about YOUR privacy because the lack of it degrades your freedom, equality, and democracy itself.

While brands, marketers, and other corporate entities thrive on data, it's also dangerous. When it leaks out into the world, it can damage lives, ruin businesses, and threaten public safety. Cybersecurity can be expensive, and when there’s a data leak, individuals suffer. As I said earlier, I have nothing to hide, but data leaks and privacy breaches make us vulnerable. Privacy isn’t about hiding your wrongdoing; it’s about protecting yourself from the wrongdoing of others. As long as your data is out there, you never know who’s going to get hold of it and what they’re going to do with it.

Which gets me back to the most recent hearings around Big Tech companies. As Senator Amy Klobuchar pointed out, companies have been winning an ideological war against us. They’ve convinced us that privacy is an outdated value. And, they’ve successfully dressed up a system of mass surveillance and coercion as progress. The platforms have a vested interest in people believing that their technologies are inevitable. But this way of thinking ignores the role that public sentiment and government regulation play in directing technological development.

But don’t we need to collect personal data to promote the innovation of ethical technologies? While it’s true that tech companies need some of your data for their services to function, that doesn’t mean they need to collect everything about you and store that data indefinitely. Waze is one of my favorite apps for navigating traffic. It needs to know where I am, but it doesn't need to know WHO I am.

And this is why it's Something Political. We do need to regulate the data economy, but we need to do it the right way. Not with fear, but with intelligence and individual safety at the forefront. The tech industry developed faster than governments were able to regulate it. But with strong, smart leaders now in place, we need to pass some modest legislation protecting our right to privacy online, as we're starting to see, and the tech giants will fall in line.

I am not advocating a ban on targeted advertising, but I do think our governments should ban the trade of personal data. People’s private lives shouldn’t be a commodity that companies can share, sell, and exploit for a profit. We currently live in a world where it’s legal for corporations to profit from the knowledge that someone lost a child in a car accident, or that they’re the victim of sexual abuse. We must demand the right to control our data. We should be asked clearly for our consent before our data is collected. We should be able to see our data and contest it if it’s inaccurate. And, we should have the right to delete it if we want to.

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