What We’re Reading – February 2022

What We’re Reading – February 2022

What We’re Reading is a monthly roundup of current news, commentary, challenges and trends that impact our industry as well as those of our clients. From Spotify’s Joe Rogan crisis to The New York Times’ broken promises to engaging Super Bowl ads, here’s a look at the news that stood out to our team in February. 

Please note: while we strive to issue our roundups on time each month, we held this newsletter for a few days out of respect to world events. Our thoughts are with the people of Ukraine and hope for a peaceful end to the hostilities very soon.


Is inflation really this bad, or are greedy companies profiting off the pandemic? – Megan Leonhardt, Fortune

“According to the article, one nagging question has yet to be answered about inflation: Are consumers “getting screwed by companies using inflation as an excuse to raise prices?” While the answer remains unclear, the question says more about corporate power and the actual need for price hikes amid a tumultuous time for the American consumer. As consumers continue to feel the impact of rising prices on their pocketbooks, I anticipate this narrative will become louder (from the likes of politicians and consumer advocates), and businesses are going to be forced to respond. It will be critical for large retailers and other brands to get ahead of the curve and start preparing explanations about the need for these price hikes.” – Gene White


Levi’s Executive Jennifer Sey Resigns Citing Her Public Views on Covid-19 Restrictions – Jacob Gallagher, The Wall Street Journal

“What rights or obligations do corporate executives have when they want to speak out as private citizens on issues of the day? And what should their employers say and do about it? This article – and especially the executive’s essay (a must read) – shows what can happen – and the impact on corporate reputation. It’s all well and good for companies to expect adherence to company policies, but does an employee need to comply if the company tells them their private views don’t align with the company’s values? The allegations of how Levi’s executives attempted to suppress Ms. Sey’s views (and her unwillingness to go along with them, at significant personal cost) don’t reflect well on the brand.” – Nick Kalm

New York Times Appears To Have Changed Wordle Despite Stating Otherwise – Joyce Li, HYPEBEAST

“I admit, I am definitely on the Wordle bandwagon. It was interesting to learn of The New York Times’ acquisition of Wordle and their explicit public statement promising no changes would be made to the game. But we can all guess what happened next. Although they did change some things (for example removing offensive words), the scrutiny the NYT is facing revolves around saying one thing but doing the complete opposite – something we know all too well with companies and can be simply avoided with open and honest communication with stakeholders during any time of organizational change, such as M&A.” – Haley Hartmann

Vail Resorts Sold a Record Number of Passes. Now Their Ski Areas Are Facing a Logistical Nightmare. – Max Ufberg, Outside

“Did your parents ever say that something was ‘too much of a good thing’? As usual, the lessons from our parents can have practical impacts. In early 2021, Vail Resorts significantly cut the prices for its season passes, which unsurprisingly led to a surge in sales. Unfortunately, this turned out to be too much of a good thing for many as this article points out with Vail ‘mired in a seemingly endless barrage of complaints, social media vitriol, and negative news stories…about congestion, long chairlift lines, and reduced operations.’ Whether driven by inadequate planning by Vail, or by the broader challenging market trends, as pointed to by Vail, they should have anticipated these risks in advance and planned for fuller communications to their stakeholders. Instead, it appears they have been reactive and defensive in their communications.” – Andrew Moyer


Tech Companies’ Super Bowl Ads Leaned Into Dystopia – Angela Watercutter, WIRED Magazine

“I’m a huge fan of the metaverse and personally find the possibilities of it exciting. However, many people are terrified by it, which is why I think Meta should be careful how they advertise it. In this article examining Super Bowl ads, we look at how disturbing Meta’s communication around the metaverse is. If we want people to get excited, we should position the metaverse as an optional extension of an already good life – not something we’re forced to engage with when life, inevitably, comes crashing down.” – Fred Walls

What was that? Coinbase’s QR code Super Bowl commercial confuses viewers  – Gabe Lacques, USA Today

“During the Super Bowl, Coinbase’s ad featured a floating QR code redirecting to its website which elicited intrigue and confusion while driving millions of prospective new customers to its website. The QR code strategy illuminates strategic considerations for companies and communications teams seeking to drive action with audiences in an era where attention spans are shorter than ever: simple, creative, and most importantly, unique call-to-action and design elements win. The company reported that 20 million people used the QR code to visit their website in just one minute and crashed the company’s mobile app.” – Michael Grimm

TikTok Wants Longer Videos—Whether You Like It or Not – Chris Stokel-Walker, WIRED Magazine

“With Tik Tok being famous for its short form video content, it is not surprising that the platform’s users find videos longer than one minute to be stressful. Attention spans, in terms of video entertainment like this, tend to be on the lower end. Despite this, Tik Tok executives are still pushing for longer form videos to keep the platform successful. It begs the question, do a platform’s users really know what they want?” – Stephanie Carlson

Sprecher Brewing pursues NFT strategy, appealing to its fandom of digital natives – Teddy Nykiel, Wisconsin Inno

“Big brands have been making plays in the still uncertain world of NFTs, so seeing the legacy soda maker and brewer, Sprecher Brewing, make this announcement in February came as a curious surprise. The new owner put it well, “We have to speak in different languages, if you will, to different consumers, [] Some just talk digital, and we’re learning that.” Given recent news, including this 2022 report noting  increases in internet users since last year , the interest in digital connections with brands through things like NFTs will only grow. Whether brands should, or how they should do it is yet to be determined, but I’ll be closely watching Sprecher to see the outcomes of their efforts.” – Frances Fyten


Big Tech boycotts tend to be short-lived – Sara Fischer and Neil Rothschild, Axios

“In the moment, calls of boycotting a business can make it feel like the sky is falling. However, as this article shows, those boycotts typically don’t last long, and the long-term bottom line impact is negligible. To be clear, this doesn’t mean boycotts should be ignored. Instead, businesses need to follow the lead of many of the tech companies named in the article (Spotify being one of the most recent examples) and clearly communicate that they’re listening to the concerns being raised. Then, if any changes need to be made, those should be enacted as swiftly as possible to ensure public attention is ready to shift to the next big thing.” – RJ Bruce

Spotify’s Joe Rogan Controversy Isn’t Over Yet Nik Popli, TIME

“This continues to be a no-win situation for Spotify. For certain customers, they applaud the platform defending free speech. For other customers, the idea of profits before people is offensive enough for them to hit the ‘cancellation’ button on their account. While it is ultimately up to Spotify to determine what it stands for, the surprising aspect is that some of this could have been avoided, to a degree. While it is common for companies to clearly outline content and engagement guidelines for what they will and won’t allow on their platforms, Spotify did this after the fact with the Joe Rogan situation, leading to any of their actions being reactive – which is never a positive for anyone in the midst of a crisis.” – Brendan Griffith