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Calling Bullsh!t: Tarnished Trust? Calling Bullsh!t
Our final episode of the season we end where it all began: with an examination of the trust crisis and what we’ve learned about it in season 1. Then we get BS called on us by a listener who makes some great points – which leads to a conversation with ad exec-turned-activist, Matt Rivitz. We discuss the role of advertising and marketing companies in the Bullshit-o-sphere and the possibilities for making tangible change.
But there are companies that are doing good things. Sometimes you need to use the system itself to try to improve it. And so sometimes you have an opportunity to do that, which is great. And the companies are more open to it now than they’ve been.
– Matt Rivitz
THEME MUSIC: “In Passage” by Migration
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Welcome to the last episode of Season 1 of Calling Bullshit! Today, we’ve decided to dig into some of the things we’ve learned – from our guests, from our own research, and from our audience. And then I sit down with the founder of Sleeping Giants, Matt Rivitz. The main theme, of course, the thing that led us to do the show in the first place, is TRUST.
Interviewee: I think like almost all corporations are incredibly performative, especially during like, with like pride. And I think also with like black history month, it’s like all just very performative In my opinion.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
We are suffering through a crisis of trust.
People, especially young people, are just losing trust with institutions of all kinds. And they’re calling Bullshit. We wanted to get out and ask some folks how they feel specifically about trust when it comes to businesses. So our producers Haley and Basil hit the streets of New York.
SFX: NYC street sounds for a few seconds to lead us in
Interviewer: When you think of a company that is untrustworthy, what do you think of?
Interviewee: Untrustworthy there’s a hundred different ways to look at it.
Interviewee:When they like have all these ads, like, yes, try us. We’re good. And then they let you down.
Interviewee:If a company is pushing around funds and the money trail’s a little shady, that’s my biggest thing.
Interviewee: Like saying that they’re like good and sustainable and like, but actually causing a lot of environmental harm.
Interviewee: I think Starbucks,
Interviewee: I think Amazon.
Interviewee: I automatically think of Amazon.
Interviewee: For sure, I definitely think of Amazon
Interviewee: I’ve heard that they don’t actually process the returns and they just throw them away a lot of times.
Interviewee: It gets a lot of flack, but I don’t know enough to pass judgment.
SFX: NYC street sounds
Interviewer: What company or companies are you most loyal to and why?
Interviewee: I shop at Reformation a lot because they seem like they’re pretty environmentally friendly.
Interviewee: I am most loyal to REI because REI is really good with the environment. And, they have some non-profits and it’s just a lot of values that align with my values.
Interviewee: So definitely Trader Joe’s because they have great products and I think they do try to cut out plastic where they can.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Today, people are becoming increasingly activist in support of their beliefs. For example changing their spending habits to align with those beliefs.
Interviewer: When you think of conscious capitalism, like what comes to mind?
Interviewee: A business model that can make money and still do the whole capitalist thing, but doesn’t harm any groups of people or the environment or diminish any cultures.
Interviewee:I don’t know if there’s such thing as conscious capitalism. I think shopping at small businesses, especially in New York City is the only way to go. If you’re truly going to be like a good citizen.
Interviewee: I usually research the company before I purchase anything.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
A few people even told us they boycott certain companies because of their values.
Interviewee: Like BP and Exxon, for example, like I will refuse to get gas there just because they’ve done oil spills.
Interviewee: I’ve stopped shopping at like Brandy…um Brandy Melville. Because of Kind of like the whole body positivity movement.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
And one person felt like the system is just too hopeless to even support at all.
Interviewee: Friends or, I like, we don’t feel bad about stealing from like Walgreens or things like that, because it’s a corporation. I don’t think there’s ever been a corporation where I’m like, damn, that’s like, they’re doing something good.
TY MONTAGUE (VO) The actual data here is sobering: more than 50 percent of young people today reject capitalism. They don’t trust that it has their interests at heart. And they really care! Ninety percent believe companies have an obligation to help solve environmental and social problems.
There is a growing list of companies out there who ARE doing this right – and the market rewards them – purpose-driven companies grow an average of three times faster than their competitors while keeping their workforce and their customers more satisfied. In the long term, I believe this generation will force the old-school bullshitters to shape up or ship out.
MUSIC: Bauxite BY Blue Dot Sessions
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
When we started this season, I thought we’d chosen organizations with a wide range of BS scores. I honestly thought more of these companies would fall somewhere in the middle. But that’s not what happened.
Often as we dug in, the deeper the BS got. Overall, we found that companies were either really low BS, or pretty high. You can see this for yourself at our website: callingbullshitpodcast.com.
No matter where a company falls on the BS scale, each one taught us something new. And as we looked back, three overarching themes emerged about how purpose-led companies really require a new approach.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
First, purpose is not marketing. You have to mean it. As Russell Diaz-Canseco from Vital Farms told us – your purpose lives at the core of your business.
Russell Diez-Canseco: [Vital Farms]: You’ve got to live it. You have to live it even in your darkest moment.
You’ve got to do it for real and, and you got to start with the purpose and let the business model come from that, as opposed to trying to stick a purpose on top of a business model that you already think is the right one.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
And we encountered several organizations that use purpose as a marketing tool instead of an action driver. For example, Meta (formerly known as Facebook) says their purpose is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together, all the while prioritizing the most polarizing and often truly harmful content. Here’s Ramesh Srinivasan:
Ramesh Srinivasan [FB2]:The most heinous forms of speech are what are being most prioritized. So, ya know Ty, it’s one thing for me to say, you should be able to speak how you wish and you should be able to read what you want.
It’s another thing to say that Ty, I’m just going to keep feeding you insane, crazy, and at times conspiratorial and outrageous content. So you go crazy with dopamine firing in your head and it’s like staring at a burning car the entire time.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
But Meta definitely isn’t alone in saying one thing and doing another – as Joe Nocera pointed out in our episode about the NCAA.
Joe Nocera [NCAA]:The real bullshit factor to me about the NCAA is how Orwellian the language is.
They screw players in a dozen different ways, and yet they always characterize what they’re doing as being the force for good as being the people who are trying to, to save the college athlete.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Or take this story from Jaime Henn about a leaked marketing presentation from BP. Instead of outlining strategies for actually reaching their goal of net-zero, it was all about messaging.
Jamie Henn [BP]:
They run through this incredible series of slides about how the world changed in 2019 because of the global climate strikes and Gretta Thuneberg, and everything that had happened. And BP was, wasn’t trusted on this important issue of climate change that the public cared about. So they needed to do something to signal that they “got it” on climate change. It could be part of the energy transition. Of course, nothing in the presentation was actually about concrete things that they would do, like stopping oil and gas production. It was all about the ways that they would remarket themselves.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
This brings me to my second major takeaway. Doing is believing. The opposite of empty marketing is purposeful action. Many of our guests had fantastic ideas for actions companies should take to help close the gap between what they say and what they do – like this idea that Matthew Weatherley-White had for Blackrock.
Matthew Weatherley-White [Blackrock]:
If I were Larry Fink, I would do one really simple thing. I would change the new client form to require investors to opt-out of sustainable and impact investing. and instead opt-in.
I think the messaging alone would give Larry Fink so much power, so much sort of political capital to force change within the organization, that that institutional, operational, hesitation, slash resistance, slash intractability. I think it would sort of collapse by on its own weight.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Or this potential action for Facebook from Ramesh Srinivasan.
Ramesh Srinivasan [Facebook 2]:
What if Facebook partnered with independent journalists in every single country where it operated so that those journalists could actually have power over mediating, you know, auditing, tweaking, working with Facebook technologies so that they can reach people in those countries in ways that are more fair.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Good intentions must be backed by action. Being purpose-led isn’t an end state, it’s a journey. Like Andrean Clarke explains, it can also be a fight.
Andrean Clarke [America]:
And I say well then you’ve got to grab the bull by the horn and wrestle with it. And make it work for you.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Wrestling with the problems, actually trying to solve them, is what makes being purpose-led so exciting. But without trust, people just won’t come along for the ride.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Which brings me to the third and final takeaway of this season. The key to trust is transparency. To be transparent, you have to tell people what’s really going on. Are you achieving your purpose? Are there problems that you’ve encountered that you can’t solve? Admit that! Private prison company Corecivic, for example, would benefit massively from being more transparent.
Sharon Brett [Corecivic]: So I can’t find data on their website about a lot of things that I would typically look for in measuring whether they’re running a constitutional prison. And there’s a whole list of things that the facility needs to be measuring to show that they’re in compliance with the constitution and you don’t see that type of data or that reporting on Corecivic’s website.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
That’s Sharon Brett from the ACLU, explaining just how hard it is to trust that Corecivic is living up to its stated purpose.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
But just collecting data. Isn’t enough. You have to measure what matters. In our episode about America, Andrew Yang was inspired to start a third political party to restore faith in our system, partly based on the idea that GDP isn’t everything.
Andrew Yang [America]: Right now you have these economic indicators that are, GDP and stock market prices and they’re going up and up, even as more people are sinking into the dirt. So what I believe we should do is take our human well-being and look at it the same way we do stock market prices and say, okay, how are the kids doing?
You know, how are people doing, how are communities doing?
We should be measuring our health, our mental health, our kids’ ability to learn our environmental quality, our affordability and access to healthcare and education.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Measuring what matters and making those results public is a big part of being purpose-led.
It’s easy to trust that Allbirds cares about sustainability – there’s a comprehensive label explaining it to me on every shoe box and everyone’s compensation is tied to hitting their sustainability goals. CEO Joey Zwillinger:
Joey Zwillinger [Allbirds]: That carbon emission reduction goal that we stated right alongside our financial guidance, I’m paid on that. If we don’t hit those reduction targets for carbon emission, I don’t make as much money, and same for all of the executives and, and leadership team at Allbirds.
We think about ourselves as a purpose native company. So that alignment between mission and financial outcome was essential for us.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
So, if you want to build trust and close the gap between word and deed, start with a genuine purpose, remember actions speak louder than words, and finally, transparency will keep you honest.
And since we try to hold ourselves to these same standards, you’ll hear what it sounds like when somebody calls BS on us, right after the break.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Welcome back. In the spirit of participation, we set up a phone number, where folks can call in and tell us what they think of the show. Did we get a score wrong? Or right? Were we maybe bullsh-BLEEP?
SFX: Voicemail transition
Call-in: This is Whitney. I just listened to the Allbirds episode. I thought it was super cool hearing about the materials innovations that Allbirds is leading with their sweet foam and, with the tree runner eucalyptus. And honestly, had never really thought much about how a lot of our sneakers are made out of oil or petroleum.
Call-in: Hey, I really like your podcast. But I got to say the latest episode of Allbirds is purely a PR plug. Like there’s nothing about calling bullshit. It’s all about like, you know, praising the company, interviewing the co-founder, so,I would just encourage you to stick to your original format because you’re almost like doing PR for other companies.
Call-in: Hi there. I have to say my favorite episode has been Vital Farms. I absolutely loved listening to the CEO’s perspective about how every company is on a journey. And the way to progress on that journey is to continue to set really audacious goals and to hold yourself accountable to those.
Call-in: Hi, I listened to an episode for the first time, regarding what it kinda means to be an American. And I really enjoyed the many vantage points that you included in the episode. Just kind of hearing, from folks that are maybe similar-minded, but then also talking to folks that, you know, may have had an opposite view.
Call-in: Calling Bullshit Team. In considering the Delta between word and deed, between the American dream and lived experience of many Americans, you gave a score of 62, I would argue that it should be even higher. For whatever it’s worth. I give 75.
Call-in: I’d like to hear more about Wellness companies at a mass scale that are really challenging the stories that are fed to women in the capitalist society.
Call-in: I’d love to see some, some more episodes on some of the big guys, the Amazons of the world, the Googles, hear what you all think about some of these big tech giants,
Call-in: Another interesting, episode for a company to examine could be Tik TOK.
Call-in: When you start to smell bullshit in a company, what are the telltale signs that a company is purpose washing versus, you know, we’ve made a mistake? Thanks so much. Bye.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Thank you to everyone who took the time to call in, and please keep ‘em coming! Even if we’re in between seasons, the line is always open so if you have any thoughts or opinions, hit us at 212-505-2305.
We also received some pretty critical feedback via email that surfaced some important questions and made some interesting suggestions.
I’ve asked our producer D.S. Moss to read part of one from a listener we’ll call Joe:
D.S. MOSS (VO)
It’s hard to take this seriously coming from marketing consultants, people working for years in a field that has largely helped corporations avoid accountability and change rather than drive it. Why don’t you start by calling bull on marketing firms, first and foremost? They have the biggest Say/Do gap of all.
I certainly hope that some of the ‘experts’ you bring on include activists who actually put their work and lives on the line to get corporations to make those statements in the first place, to show and to tell them what they need to do in order to change in meaningful ways, (instead of meaningless actions that do nothing real).
You’re talking about the classic Say/Do gap to build your brand and to get clients. Other people do it — and have done it long before you, and will do it long after you move on to something else — because they spend their lives devoted to the fight for social transformation.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Ouch! Honestly though, I thought Joe made some great points here. First, just to be clear: Your purpose is not marketing. In fact, it’s companies that think of it as marketing, or part of their brand image, that get in trouble and maybe wind up in an episode of Calling Bullshit.
This email got me thinking more deeply about the role that advertising and marketing play in the Bullshittosphere – and so I decided I wanted to have that conversation about trust with a real activist – and also someone in advertising, the founder of Sleeping Giants, Matt Rivitz.
My conversation with Matt, right after the break.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Welcome back – to dig more deeply into the topic of bullshit and marketing – I called up Matt Rivitz, founder of social media activism organization Sleeping Giants.
All right, folks, I am very pleased to introduce Matt Rivitz. Matt, welcome to calling bullshit, and thank you for being here.
It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
So to start off, I’d love it if you would tell our listeners a little bit more about your journey in advertising. How you got started in the business, and then maybe a little bit more about how you, began to become more activist.
Yeah. I started in 1994. I had always kind of known that I was going to go into advertising. I was really obsessed with the early, Cliff Freeman commercials, little Caesars, that kind of thing.
And, between that and SNL, I just felt like that’s something that I would like to do. And, I was lucky enough to get a job. I graduated early from college and got my first job in Boston, and just started working at an agency there.
And it was just a, a great business to be super creative, to level up. And then I moved to San Francisco and I got to work on Adidas, which I always wanted to work on a sports brand. And then I went freelance. I’ve got a great partner that I’ve been working with for a long time. And we just went and we worked at all these places that we’d always wanted to work.
So, 2016 rolled around and the election, everyone was feeling very raw and I was feeling like I wasn’t as concerned about Trump as I was about the rising tide of racism in the country.
And I got particularly obsessed with Steve Bannon, who I felt like was a really dangerous individual. And he, he said at the time. It was just after say 2016, maybe around there, he gave a speech. And he said, let them call you racist wear it as a badge of honor. And. I thought that was horrendous.
Yeah, that’s insane.
These are, I didn’t think that existed. I was not really attuned to that. Um, so I got really obsessed with him he was at the time, the president, of Breitbart news. I had never heard of Breitbart before.
And so I went online and I could not believe what I was looking at. There were these articles that said hoist it high and proud. The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage. And would you rather, your child had feminism or cancer?
And the real hard part about it was looking above all those articles and seeing ads for companies that I’d worked on previously in my career. And, and so, right then I knew there was something wrong. To have brands that I knew as a writer, you know, they were notoriously scared and don’t want a word out of place.
And I’d spent a whole nights writing these ads, making sure that nothing was offensive at all. To show up next to an article saying the Confederate flag is great, seemed really off to me. And I just thought, why, why would they ever support this? And, and as it turns out, I was right. They didn’t really know.
My parents were very attuned to the world and I learned a whole lot about the Holocaust growing up because I’m a Jewish guy and I learned a lot about slavery and I learned a lot about human rights abuses, and they actively encouraged me to get involved whenever I could.
So, that’s kind of, that was the beginning of my journey in this. I just felt like, all right, some action needs to be taken and who around is going to do it, except for me. I don’t know.
That’s that’s great. And so is that the moment that that Sleeping Giants was born?
The exact moment. I was really scared at the time, but I just decided to go for it. I opened up an anonymous Gmail account and an anonymous Twitter handle.I had had a Twitter account that I’d sent 10 tweets from all about the Baltimore Ravens horrific offense.
And that was about it. That was my, that was the depth of my knowledge about Twitter. But I did know that if you were sitting on the runway for two hours, on a plane, that you could tweet at the airline and say, I’ve been sitting on there on the tarmac for two hours and they would,
They would get in touch, they’d respond instantly, and they would send you 20,000 miles for the trouble. So I knew I could either try to call these companies that wasn’t going to work. So I opened up this anonymous Twitter handle.
I found some shitty stock art to put on it and I called it Sleeping Giants because I wanted it to seem like it was bigger than just one person. I put a crowd shot on the masthead to make it seem like it was a lot of people. There was no one following and I wasn’t following anyone at the time. So it was really just
From scratch. So I took a screenshot of the first ad I saw it was for So Fy, which is a progressive loan company in San Francisco, California, next to the article proclaiming the glory of, uh, of the Confederate flag and I tweeted it to the company and then I tweeted it to the CEO who was also on Twitter.
And they got back to me within the CEO, got back to me within 30 minutes. It was so quick! And he said, I had no idea that our ad was on there. And I don’t even know if there’s anything I can do about it, but I’m going to try to get it down. And I said, there’s gotta be something wrong with the technology where brands don’t know where they’re ending up.
And that was the beginning of all of it. I got real addicted to it for someone that loves to level up, it was, it made a ton of sense for me to I’m like, okay, well now I got really obsessed and it felt really great, right? These, this company said, we’re not going to advertise on this page anymore.
We don’t want to support the racism on this page. Okay. So there gotta be a bunch of brands that believe the same thing.
So started tweeting it, every other brand that I could find you just refresh. And there’s another brand that would pop up. Really big ones, you know, that were placing ads all over the internet. And it just one by one, they kept coming down day by day, there were like two and three that would come down and it was, you know, a week into it. And maybe 15 advertisers left.
And did you ever get contacted by Breitbart? Did they notice that this was taking place?
No. They, it took a while to land on their radar. And all of a sudden I had a friend who’s who was a, um, he’s a New York Times bestselling author. And I said, would you mind sending this out to your audience?
So he sent his followers out said, these guys are doing some interesting stuff. And all of a sudden I had a hundred more followers and then 200 and then a thousand. And they were all watching as these advertisers would leave one by one and they would amplify the tweets that went out.
And then I thought, well, you know what, like these people are all watching and they’re cheering on, but they can, this is so easy. It’s like taking a screenshot on your phone, tweeting it to an advertiser.
Everybody could be doing this. Right. You could build an army.
So, that kind of happened quick. I just put a set of instructions on the pin tweet at the top of the page and it caught fire. All of a sudden there were, you know, 10 advertisers leaving every hour and. I just said to tag sleeping giants on the back so I could keep track of them. And it just built and built and built and built.
Ty Montague: Yeah, no, that’s that’s great. Well, and this is like shame on me. I didn’t become aware of sleeping giants until later when you got engaged with trying to get brands to boycott Facebook,
Um, and when w when was that? When did that start for you?
That was later. It really became to me an obsession about the platforms themselves.
How do you go deeper into this? It can’t just be about advertisers. It’s gotta be about platform accountability. These are advertising platforms that are serving ads to, um, to sites that really should, there were white supremacist sites that were getting ads when this thing started.
And I sort of became obsessed with Alex Jones who was harassing Sandy Hook parents out of there. His followers are harassing Sandy hook parents out of their homes, after their children had been massacred.
Which is unbelievable, right?
It just felt, I just thought it was beyond the pale. This person was doing this and he was a conspiracy theorist and he was making tons of money on YouTube from ads. And Facebook.
And I was like, if an advertiser had the option to sponsor this on TV, there’s no way they would do it. So how are they doing it on these platforms? And I’d started to look up the terms of service on these platforms, how nothing he was saying was matching up with our terms of service? He should have been gone a long time ago, according to their own rules.
So I just started a lobbying effort on YouTube and you know, as Sleeping Giants as the whole sort of community started to really push this and there was no accountability, they kept saying, no. He would get a strike here and a strike there.
And then that would go away. It was like they were making up the rules as they went. And eventually, I got a call from a reporter that said, what do you think about Alex Jones?
And I said, what do you mean? He said, Apple just got rid of him from their platform, because they don’t make their money from ads. They’re just, uh, they’re a hardware company that also happens to have, you know, they have some platforms, but they’re not reliant on ad dollars.
And what happened after that was one by one. The next day, YouTube got rid of him and Facebook got rid of him and Twitter waited for another two weeks and then they got rid of him. And I said, man, that is no way to enforce your rules. Everyone should have their own rules and they shouldn’t be looking for cover from anyone else.
So that’s really what got me into the platforms. I thought that was really wrong beyond ads, supporting things, advertising supports these platforms and platforms make up their own rules. And what we’re seeing right now in the world is they’re really making it up as they go. So that really became kind of an obsession of mine. And then of sleeping giants, writ large.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And so, I mean, I’m not going to go into the history of Co: but we share a worldview, we’ve taken different paths, but like you, I, I loved advertising. I became addicted to it in a way. The people really, actually, it was such a fun business and then decided that there had to be a better way.
You know, I was, I was becoming much more, I guess, sensitized to the damage that we were doing by just creating endless growth. And so decided to jump out and do Co: collective and you know, way led onto way. We were working with companies, I guess our thesis was rather than tell your story using paid media, you should do your story through innovation and the customer experience.
And that if we could get companies to take action to make it, make their, you know, their intent real through the customer experience, we would close the gap between word and deed. And then we decided to do this podcast because in the 10 years between the time that we started Co: and today purpose got really popular.
And we started to see examples where it’s like, well, that company is saying they’re purpose-led, but they’re definitely not. And the one that we became just hyper-aware of was Facebook who says that they, you know, want to empower everyone to build community and bring the world closer together.
Facebook is the most egregious when it comes to that. Their messaging has been one of togetherness and connecting the world while, taking zero responsibility for what they’ve caused.
Yeah, literally doing the opposite.
This is our season wrap-up episode. And so what we’re trying to do is just take stock and figure out what we’ve learned so far, both from our experience just making the show and, and also about some feedback that we’ve received on the show.
And one of the most interesting pieces of feedback that we’ve gotten, is a listener who called BS on us and me specifically, for being, to use his words, a marketing consultant who should be calling bullshit on the marketing industry.
And I thought that was a totally fair point. Not like totally accurate because marketing is a big part of several of our episodes, Juul and BP specifically, but definitely a topic worth discussing.
Ty Montague: And so largely that’s the territory I wanted to explore with you today because you’ve been both. Like you’re both a highly awarded creative person in advertising and you’re also an activist in the advertising and marketing space.
Yeah. I mean, I’m a freelancer, so I’ve been really lucky. I’ve been able to kind of pick my pick and choose the projects that I’ve worked on, which has been great. Um, but it is hard. Every time that a job comes up, you kind of hold your breath and go, okay is this going to be the right thing to do? Everyone’s got their own code and what they’re willing to work on.
Totally. How do you do that math?
I I, think I do have a line on certain companies that I will definitely not work for, and Facebook being one of them.
But there are companies that are doing good things. The other thing is that sometimes you feel like you can take one of these companies and propose ideas that they, you know, sometimes you need to use the system itself to try to improve it. And so you have an opportunity to sometimes do that, which is great.
And the companies are more open to it now than they’ve been. But it is tough and it’s tough to hold the line. You know, I was an inadvertent activist. I had no idea what I was getting into and that thing grew and wow.
Yeah. Back when I was in more, let’s call it mainstream advertising, I didn’t want to do work with oil companies. I didn’t wanna do work with chemical companies. I didn’t want to do work with cigarette companies.
Those seemed pretty obvious to me. And so you’re right. It’s sort of a personal choose your own adventure in that business. I was also lucky enough to work for people w who allowed me to recuse myself right. Based on my personal take which I appreciated.
I was very energized and excited by what you were doing with Facebook. And it got my attention that big brands got on board for a while, at least. and, and started saying, we’re not gonna advertise for a period of time.
Yeah, but that was, that was a moment in time that unfortunately, very, unfortunately you get more work done and really tragic times.
And that was on the heels of George Floyd’s murder. And there were mass protests in the streets. People were really angry. Rightfully so. You just saw a lot of these brands put a black square on their Instagram page and say we support black lives matter.
And man, that was bullshit for a lot of companies. I – talk about calling bullshit.
Yeah yeah yeah.
It just felt like, they were being very, very performative about their support.
We did some person-on-the-street interviews as a part of this episode as well. and that word came up. People know. Right. What’s interesting is companies aren’t fooling anybody when they’re, when they do that.
Not anymore. Information moves fast now, and there are a lot of reporters on this beat. You, you can, you can tell.
And almost instantly, if something isn’t coming from the right place, because there’ll be reporting on it and it will go out on Twitter and they will, they will get fileted over it if they don’t, if they don’t see it through, in everything they do.
I had been really interested in doing some kind of Facebook action for about a year, but never felt that Sleeping Giants is not big enough to do something like that. It was going to be thrown a pebble in the ocean.
And, I got, a call from, a couple people, Jonathan Greenblatt at, at, um, ADL and Jim Stier at Common Sense Media. And they called me and said, we kind of want to do something about Facebook right now. And. I, and I just said, I would love to I’m in. A hundred, whatever you want me to do, like I’m so flattered, you even asked, I’d wanted to do it for a while, but
I think they, they, like, I thought that we needed a coalition to do it. We needed a much bigger show of force from a number of different quarters, for some, for some something on Facebook, and so I just said, look, I think we need something definite here we need something that’s achievable. Let’s ask advertisers to take a month off, take a month off of Facebook, because they really were allowing this racism to run wild, they were allowing disinformation to run wild.
Especially during George Floyd, that the toxicity of Facebook was egregious. And, it worked. I mean, it was really a shot in the dark. It’s amazing to look back now and say, wow, 1100 advertisers left within like a two week period. And at first it started with the usual players, you know, like the North Face and some more sort of, conscious advertisers would leave.
And then I think we heard from Verizon and I’m like, oh shit, this is happening now. And we all started texting each other, like this is happening. And I’d just seen enough with Fox and with Breitbart to know that once one of those things happen, the rest come down with it. And it was a tipping point and 1100 advertisers left. And we knew that they weren’t going to stay away for long, but they all made some really good statements about it.
And it was the first time that there was some kind of dent in Facebook. And we felt like, okay, if we could just get people to think about what they’re supporting with their ad dollars, then, then we have a chance to hold these companies accountable longterm, because advertising, is 98% of Facebook’s revenue. And it’s not the big advertisers necessarily. It’s the small and medium-sized ones that really can’t do business without it.
Yeah, no, it was, it was impressive. I guess it’s slightly disappointing to me that given the drumbeat of horrifying revelation since then about Facebook and their practices, it’s very disappointing to me that more companies haven’t just pulled off the platform completely. Um, and it feels like Facebook in a way, you know, they’ve got the world in a headlock. Right. They’re, you know, the biggest and best attention machine in the world, and that’s hard to resist if you’ve got a thing that you need to sell. Um, but it would be great to see more clients, making that a permanent choice.
There’ve been a few. And there’ve been a few principled companies that have said, we’re not going to do it anymore. And they say that it’s hard. It’s hard to do it. And it really speaks to the monopoly power of a couple of these companies. I mean, we have basically an advertising duopoly and they own our industry, not the way, the other way around right now.
It should be the other way around, as advertisers. We should be owning the relationship. Not them. They are wholly dependent on us. We are not wholly dependent on them, but they’ve made it seem like we’re wholly dependent on them. So we need more competition in the market. We need new platforms, we need other ways to reach people. And we need to think about that more critically. You can’t just ask someone to wholesale leave, the only way that they can actually reach some people, um, that’s not going to work.
And one of the other levers is ad agencies and PR companies themselves. You know, one of the activists that we talked to this season, for the BP episode, was a guy named Jamie Henn who runs an organization called fossil-free media.
He’s actually one of the co-founders of three fifty.org. And his thesis is that ad agencies and PR companies are tools that bad companies are using to do harm to the world. And so he’s overtly going directly after them. He overtly went after Edelman for all the work that they do with Exxon, for instance, what do you think about that?
Look, I think that the next phase of this, I think the next wave is, employee activism. Um, we saw it with Francis Haugen and Facebook. We’ve seen it across the board.
And I think whistleblowers are the most important people in this fight. Within the industry, our industry, particularly in advertising, we like the status quo a whole lot. For an industry that loves change, loves to tout change and say that we’re changing the world. We’re really good at maintaining the status quo.
I totally agree with
And, and, I’d like to see that change. I’m still in advertising. I want to be proud of what I do and I want to be proud of our industry. The governing bodies of our industry are really, uh, doing a disservice to the industry in some ways, by blindly supporting Facebook and Google all the time when Facebook and Google are doing us a disservice as advertisers, they’re putting us next to some really awful stuff.
They’re using our money to, uh, to fund information that has caused genocide in two countries. So I think it’s really important for our industry to speak up. I feel like it’s important for people in every industry. Raise their hand and say, I think there’s something wrong with this.
Yeah. and it’s interesting because we have seen whistleblowers in other industries, You mentioned Francis Haugen and the ad industry has had things like diet Madison avenue, which, they were taking on toxic behavior in the, in the workplace, but I’m not actually aware of any whistleblowers from inside ad ad agencies going after clients or client work.
Have I missed that? Has, or is some of that –
You haven’t missed it cause it’s not really happening. But I also don’t know that a lot of people, even people in advertising don’t understand the mechanisms of, of what we support their
I, I, for sure did not. I absolutely didn’t.
Like we didn’t, we didn’t know. And I think that was like the, the success of Sleeping Giants was more of an informational nature, letting people know that advertising supports all kinds of stuff. Right now, our entire online ecosystem is supported by advertising. We hold up the internet, the free internet. That’s how everyone pays for websites. It’s how everyone pays for social networks. That’s what we support. So I think that we, I think that we do need to more education within the industry to let people know what they’re paying into with their time.
I don’t think that we understand that. And I also think that if they knew that they would speak up and there are a lot of agencies that won’t work on certain things and, and hats off to them. And that’s great, but we do need employees to stand up and say we shouldn’t work on this.
Right. Well, that’s that, that leads to another question I had, which is, do you think the ad industry would ever circle the wagons and refuse to do business with a particular industry or an individual company
Or, or, yeah. Somebody somewhere is always willing to do the
There’s always someone in every business. I mean, advertising is no different than any business. they’re always, bottom feeders in every industry. I’m not saying that, you know, not, not calling anyone a bottom feeder in particular, but there are always going to be someone that’s willing to take the dough, especially now it’s gotten really hard to make a buck.
And I, and I think that you can’t judge a company by trying to pay their employees, you know, in the end of the day. And as an industry,
Uh, it’s really hard to get anyone to agree on anything. Like we were really lucky that we got, you know, 10, 12 organizations to all be on the same page to just go after Facebook for a month to get an all every, ad agency together and say, we’re not going to support blank anymore is really tough to do.
Yeah. Another thing that I’ve said on this show, because I really believe it is that high BS companies and high BS industries of which, some ad agencies and some PR companies and, and marketing, in general, is definitely guilty of will begin to lose the war for talent. Do you think that that’s happening?
Are people choosing not to get into marketing, advertising, PR today, young people, because of this problem?
I don’t think that people are as informed as they probably should be on what they’re paying into. Buit I think if they knew, then they would be a little reticent. Look, we’re seeing there is, there is definitely, there are people at Facebook that are not happy.
And, sometimes you need people internally to champion certain causes to make things happen. But at some point, some people are gonna sit up and say, No. I want to work for a company that’s going to believe in something that’s going to put their foot down when it comes to doing something bad in the world and say, I want to do something good. And, and I’m really banking on that. I feel like we need that. And I think when we have a counterbalance when you have an agency that’s willing to stand up and say, look, there are only certain kinds of accounts that we will work on.
Then once you have that counterbalance, people are going to go and want to go work for them instead. This next-generation, my kids give a shit and they look at everything critically now, maybe because I’ve been such an asshole online for five years and they’ve been listening to me but this next generation does care.
Yeah, they do. And well it’s cause they’re going to inherit all the problems. Right. And they’re acutely aware of that. What advice would you give to creative people and strategists and account people working in the ad business or the PR business who are wondering about the ethical issues surrounding their career choice or who are trying to figure out how to move it in a more positive direction?
I’d say, make a set of principles for yourself and what you’re willing to hold yourself to, and try to stick to that as much as you can and try to encourage others to say the same thing.
Yeah, I agree. On calling bullshit, we’re we really believe that it’s important to try to nudge capitalism in a more sustainable direction. And so we really believe in getting for-profit companies to change and really start to think differently about their responsibilities to the communities that they do business in, you know, and the planet.
But my sense is that there are folks, a lot of young people among them who are just beginning to call BS on that. So I guess my question is, is sustainable capitalism itself, just a bunch of bullshit?
No, I don’t think it is. I think we need it. I’m I’m a free market person. I believe in the free market. I don’t think it’s working right now. I think we’ve got a lot of monopolies. What we’re seeing with, you know, the Amazons of the world. They’re you know, they just got their first union, uh, past, um, and, and so you’re starting to see employees being able to have some kind of make, be able to make a stand, take a stand and make a difference.
Money makes the world go ‘round. But I think it’s incumbent upon us to use that money in the right ways. I don’t think it’s bullshit or I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.
I think that advertisers, you know, in our business, if they are much more purposeful with how they spend their money, then they’re able to affect change on the platforms. And then that in turn affects the world in a different way. And it changes the trajectory of what we’re on right now. It’s super idealistic. I know, but I, I’m an idealist.
I can’t continue to yell at people without trying to come up with a solution. I actually joined a company, um, that is earnestly trying to change the ad tech landscape.
It’s called Noble Media and, um, and I’ve been working with them for like two years and we’re just starting to get some traction. It’s nice.
Can you just say more specifically what the thesis is for Noble Media?
Yeah, the thesis is you can’t read the entire internet, but you can try through technology to do it.
And so, they’re working with a language scientist who’s a professor of rhetoric, to identify signals in credible and trustworthy content and also vice versa in disinformation and hyper-partisan information and clickbait and how to differentiate the two of those things so that you can actually, as an advertiser, you can target credibility on a page, which gets, in turn, more clicks and more interaction with your ads because it’s more and more trusted content. So for me, it’s an attempt to solve the problem that I’ve been harping about, which is how can we help advertisers so that they can support quality content, which is what they should be supporting anyway, and not support all the bullshit on the rest of the internet that they don’t really need to be supporting. Right now the system doesn’t allow them to do that. This technology does.
I love that.
I do too, or I wouldn’t have joined. I love it.
Ty Montague: Hmm, totally. That’s fantastic. Well, I hope that works.
Me too. Fingers crossed.
I really do appreciate that you joined us today. I totally enjoyed the conversation and Thank you for the work that you’re doing both with sleeping giants and, and Noble media.
Thanks for having me on, I mean, I really, anytime, you know, you can have an honest discussion about an industry, I think it’s a good opportunity to take. So I really appreciate that man.
THEME MUSIC: “In Passage” by Migration
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
So what have we learned from all this? ARE we qualified to call Bullshit? Should you, dear listener, trust us?
This podcast is driven by maybe the optimistic belief that exposing gaps between word and deed and then suggesting solutions is an act of positivity. Talking with Matt reminded me how powerful information really is and how it can be used for positive change, so we’re definitely going to keep doing what we are doing.
I also want to double down on something that we’ve done in every episode: if you’re a leader of a company that we’ve featured on the show and you want to come on and tell your side of the story, you have an open invitation.
I also know that there are ways we can do better in season 2. We are going to feature more founders and guests who are women and from marginalized groups. We’re also going to feature more companies from outside the U.S.
Usually, I give a BS score right about now, but today, I’d like to invite you to score us. How do you think we are doing? Do you see a gap between what we say and what we’re doing? Send us an email at email@example.com or call us at 212-505-2305. I’m both terrified and curious to know what you think.
TY MONTAGUE (VO)
Thank you for joining us today, Matt Rivitz. You can find more info on him Sleeping Giants and NOBL Media on our website: callingbullshitpodcast.com. And if you have ideas for companies or organizations we should consider for future episodes, you can submit them on our site too.
And if we whet your appetite for another heapin’ helpin of BS in the fall, subscribe to the Calling Bullshit podcast on the iHeart Radio App, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
And thanks to our entire Season 1 production team: Ethan Appleby, Susie Armitage, Hannah Beal, Jess Fenton, Amanda Ginzburg, Andy Kim, D.S. Moss, Ally Ngyen, Haley Paskalides, Mikaela Reid, Lena Bech Sillesen , Parker Silzer, Basil Soper, and Mijon Zulu. And thank you to the whole team at co:collective for really supporting this entire enterprise. Go Honey Badgers!
Calling Bullshit was created by co:collective and is hosted by me, Ty Montague. Thanks for listening.
Tagged as: callingbullsh!t.