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Meet America’s New Diversity Trainers: Starbucks Baristas

Posted on  20 March 15  by 


by Monica Mason

Starbucks recently rolled out a new initiative — #RaceTogether — that has many consumers perplexed as to why they should be having a conversation about race with their Starbucks barista. And what’s even more puzzling is that Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Schultz, stands by his decision to encourage these kinds of conversations at the counter, further proving that he and the Starbucks brand are out of touch with, well, reality.

What would make Starbucks think that consumers, prior to their morning caffeine fix, would be interested in having an in-depth conversation about anything with a Starbucks barista, much less a conversation about race, especially considering that people who normally facilitate these kinds of discussions have to participate in specialized diversity training?

im_NationalProtests_401240_2Starbucks isn’t the first brand to take part in the national race conversation. As we’ve covered, Ben & Jerry’s announced its support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement by encouraging franchisees to sell T-shirts benefiting the Hands Up United organization. And the LUSH cosmetics brand supported employees who wanted to participate in peaceful protesting during the 2014 holiday season.

But are brands really trying to engage in an honest conversation about race, or are they trying to capitalize on a buzz-worthy topic to keep them in the public eye? Although Starbucks might have had good intentions, the #RaceTogether initiative lacked a constructive approach to a sensitive issue, and the consumer response further demonstrates that the brand missed the mark. Instead of taking an inside-out approach, Starbucks should have considered: 1) What do our customers think? 2) How might our brand really contribute to the conversation? and 3) What’s the end goal?


photo credit: fuseboxradio,

Iconosphere 2015: Special Tracks, Special Speakers

Posted on  5 March 15  by 


We’re gearing up for our ninth annual member event, Iconosphere, in the Windy City May 4-6. So geared up, in fact, that we’re ready to announce our two keynote speakers, as well as our new way to help attendees navigate the conference.im_Iconosphere2015MktgFeat_401152_2

Now that marketers must become content providers, you’re probably wondering how to make the stickiest, slickest and smartest of content. Look to the guy who produced the most profitable movie in Hollywood history. Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions made the horror flick Paranormal Activity for a mere $15,000, and it grossed close to $200 million worldwide, ushering in the new “micro-budget” model of studio filmmaking. In his day-one Iconosphere keynote, Blum will share his unique insights into newly successful forms of storytelling, discuss the game-changing ways in which Gen We and Millennial consumers are influencing content, and answer plenty of our attendees’ toughest questions.

But wait, there’s more. On day two we give the stage to journalist powerhouse Hanna Rosin, who wrote the 2012 book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, sparking a national conversation and prompting marketers to sit up and take notice of major shifts in gender roles. The insights she shares in her talk are sure to have a major impact on how brands position themselves to women in the lightning-soon future.

In the moments between these keynotes, attendees will be soaking up the smarts at our consumer strategists’ presentations. We have so much deep research to share this year that we decided to organize the content by theme: “Mindbenders” presentations will rock your marketingscape with new avenues and strategies; “Demographic Dives” will go deep on particular generations or groups; “Behavioral Beacons” will help brand owners understand consumer shifts within particular categories; and “Functional Excellence” will bring meta-level marketing insights to the mix.

Won’t you join us? Contact us soon or you’ll miss the party — and the take-home favors are sure to be the most actionable consumer insights of the year.

And the award DOES NOT go to…

Posted on  4 March 15  by 


by Monica Mason

We at CEB Iconoculture have been documenting the recent wave of diversity in movies and TV shows — and the rave reception that diversity has had with audiences — with movies like Dear White People, Pelo Malo and Pretty Rosebud, and primetime TV shows like Jane the Virgin, Fresh off the Boat and Black-ish — but you wouldn’t know that by watching the Oscars.

Two Sundays ago, 36.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the glamourous spectacle. But missing from that number — down from last year’s 43.74 million viewers — were many who chose to boycott the show, feeling that many actors, actresses, directors and movies were snubbed of an academy award simply because they weren’t white. Hashtags like #BoycottOscars, #OscarsSoWhite and #ChangeHollywood gave way to comments on Twitter: “Every year I watch the #Oscars. Then every year I wish I had spent those 3.5 hours doing almost anything else. No more. #OscarsSoWhite;” “I’m not watching the Oscars tonight 4 basically the same reasons I wouldn’t go 2 a Klan rally. I know where I’m not welcome. #BoycottOscars” and “I adore Hollywood guys, but I’ve made the decision to watch shows that align with my values. #ChangeHollywood #BoycottOscars #OscarsSoWhite.”

Year after year, it’s always the same. Yes, a person of color might get an award from time to time, but for what kind of performance? News sources representing each of the dominant multicultural segments — African American, Asian American and Latino — addressed the Oscars’ diversity problem, so when will the Oscars get smart? Does the well-received diversity in movies and TV shows from consumers not speak for itself?


Got data?

Posted on  24 February 15  by 


The CEB Iconoculture Values and Lifestyle Survey is a long-term effort that identifies and monitors trends, measures the relevance of core values among consumer groups in multiple categories, and provides magnitude and direction of the forces shaping consumers’ lives. We’ve now amassed five years’ worth of data, having started conducting the survey in 2010. 3,020 US consumers age 15+ took the 40-minute survey in 2014. Each year, we internally pass around the key findings from that survey, sliced and diced by category, generation and gender. They’re a helpful tool in our process of unlocking significant consumer insights. This year, it hit us: Why not share the love?


We’ve just published our first slate of US “Data Dives” into the survey findings from 2014: 10 short slideshows (consumer activities, consumer values, fashion and style, food and beverage, health and beauty, home, media and technology, money and spending, shopping and retail, transportation and travel) outlining the most compelling consumer behaviors in the categories marketers can’t ignore. Wondering whether kids actually go to the mall anymore, whether the DIY home spirit is as strong among Millennials as it is with Boomers, or whether Latino consumers’ values really differ from the rest of the population? Then these docs are sure to tantalize. Contact us to get your hands on the full slideshows.

Measuring Up

Posted on  19 February 15  by 


by Nissa Hanna

What’s your sleep score? Are you in the top quintile of performers at work? Gen We – from babies to teens — are already getting used to such metrics. They’re being measured in a number of new areas, not just around academic performance at school or growth percentiles at the doctor’s office. This recent push for tracking and quantification could have implications for how this demographic forms their self-image and self-esteem.


It’s a contentious issue that parents, pundits and educators are weighing in on, declaring it as beneficial or potentially harmful – or cautiously assessing both sides. But society likely won’t know the individual and cultural effects of this new style of pervasive, intimate and sophisticated quantification for a number of years. Still, many parents and experts (and US governors) aren’t waiting for a verdict, enlisting a variety of devices in their kids’ lives — from activity trackers that help them meet fitness goals to smart beds that measure sleep quality to tech-enabled pacifiers that relay vital signs.

For more on the quantification movement, why parents are into it or against it, and how brands might benefit from it, check out our trend “Growing Up Against the Numbers.”


photo credit: Thijs Knaap,

10 things brands are doing wrong – and how Iconosphere will make things right

Posted on  5 February 15  by 


im_Iconosphere2015MktgFeat_401152_2At Iconosphere 2015, we’ll be putting the insights back into Consumer Insights. We’re hard at work conducting groundbreaking research in all the key areas you care about. Check out these tantalizing appetizers, and don’t miss the main courses: main-stage presentations, breakout sessions and interactive roundtables that will deliver white-glove service in Chicago, May 4-6.


  1. Most brands assume that Millennial women will follow the work-life path of their Boomer moms. The reality is much different — impacting the entire purchasing trajectory of this huge generation.
  2. Almost all consumers think of themselves as middle class, right? Actually, they are quite attuned to their place in the whole, which has a ripple effect on luxury positioning and marketing-by-income.
  3. Brands should resist the urge to segment consumers into hyper-specific food types. A more grounded high-low mix is the new way to eat, drink, shop and cook.
  4. Legend has it that country is the strongest predictor of behavior or attitude, but we’ve cracked the code on the correct answer for any brand gunning for global dominance. There will be gasps.
  5. Financial services brands are missing a gargantuan opportunity to connect with Millennials — banks and advisers should no longer wait until the young’uns are old and rich.
  6. Cultural nuances still deserve consideration in marketing — sometimes. Trouble is, few brands thought to ask Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans for their take. We’ll provide a roadmap for when and which multicultural consumers expect to be included in the general market.
  7. Authenticity is marketing’s least helpful buzzword. That is, until you attend the Iconosphere presentation that will tease out what consumers really want from the promise.
  8. Myth: Boomers have been studied to death, and are too old to be relevant. Truth: Their massive influence will outlive them. Hint: We’re talking a cultural shift in Americans’ view of aging, and the spending it drums up.
  9. Most brands think that Millennials are the sweet spot for mobile shopping, using apps to research a purchase rather than make a purchase. Wrong and wrong.
  10. Trying to appeal to shoppers’ emotional side is actually a bad idea. Instead, we’ll show you how to support the rational retail road that consumers are already starting down.

Eager for further 411 on this year’s Sphere? Contact us for registration information.

Pinteresting while black

Posted on  4 February 15  by 


by Monica Mason

As Pinterest becomes more popular with African American female consumers, blogger Rachel Wilkerson Miller calls out the popular social networking site for setting impossible standards for women in general, not to mention women of color. “Pinterest has earned a reputation as a site for Mormon housewives, mommy bloggers and basic white girls,” explains Miller, who set out on a journey to live her life according to the stereotype — allowing Pinterest to dictate every aspect of her life for one whole week.

Her experiment shows that while Pinterest sometimes serves as a great place to find tips and tricks for making magic in the kitchen or arts-and-crafting your way through the holiday season, the site lacks representation from women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. When Miller visited Pinterest’s “most popular” page, it was a reiteration of the site’s most dominant presence, “which is essentially a collage of white girls with impossibly great hair, superhuman nail art skills, and apparently enough free time to create a tidy basket of ‘postpartum supplies’ for ‘every bathroom’ in the house,” she said (, 15 December 2014).

So what are some popular Pinterest topics in the black community? Natural haircare for women and children, black fashion and beauty products, and tons of recipes ranging from traditional soul food and Southern classics to ethnic African cuisine. Much like Black Twitter, these topics are explored outside the site’s mainstream, rarely (if ever) making it to Pinterest’s “most popular” page. But as the site continues to grow and gain acceptance from a more diverse audience, perhaps this will change. Since the point of Pinterest is to inspire creativity, more diverse voices are likely a boon to consumers. Marketers can use the site to gain a deeper perspective into the diverse female consumer or drive diverse users to the platform through other social media sites.

Macrotrends for macro beers

Posted on  3 February 15  by 


by Emily Weiss

Audiences expect to see memorable, splashy ads from big beer brands during the Super Bowl. It’s a game-day inevitability, much like the crushing heartburn that settles in when you reach the bottom of a basket of Buffalo wings. This year was no exception, but the most talked-about ad around the (virtual) watercooler here at Iconoculture was undoubtedly Budweiser’s “Brewed the Hard Way”. Instead of pandering to the values and attitudes that drove the seemingly limitless growth of the craft beer movement over the last five years, Bud made a bold display of embracing its workaday roots, declaring that its products are “not to be fussed over” and are simply made for people who “like to drink beer.”

The brand is right in its instinct to pivot. Our research shows (as do national sales numbers) that Big Beer has taken a big hit, especially among Millennials. im_MillennialsNoBigBeer_398073_2But we also know that preferences for highfalutin foods and beverages are waning. Trends like Foodies Recalibrate and The Ideal Gets Real reflect that consumers may be more open to simplicity, rusticity and transparency than they have been in the past. So we had to ask ourselves: Has craft beer passed its prime? Or is Big Beer just grasping at straws, trying any tactic to stay relevant?

While some among us and in the media felt that the ad was refreshingly realistic, others criticized it for being hypocritical. It remains to be seen whether this spot will turn heads and win new fans, or alienate a whole potential consumer base. But no one can say Budweiser is sending a weak message: They’re “proudly macro.”

photo credit: Rick Marshall,

The Game Before the Big Game

Posted on  29 January 15  by 


by Kelli Theiler

Super Bowl XLIX will air this Sunday, February 1 to over 180 million viewers nationwide. 30 seconds of airtime will fetch a staggering $4.5 million. This, along with factors like social media engagement, has raised the stakes even higher for brands to bring their a-game to the big game. And whom are brands mostly trying to impress with those ads? Millennials, Millennials, Millennials. Will humor, tenderness or something else altogether be the winner in the minds of Millennials this Sunday? We have a few predictions.

Some key themes are clear based on the ads and teasers released so far:

  • The Infiltrators: Some brands have taken advantage of the buzz around the big game without spending any of their budgets during the game itself (Newcastle, Volvo and Papa John’s).
  • The Early Releasers: More brands than ever have released multiple teasers and the ads themselves in an attempt to garner more buzz (Snickers, Budweiser, Squarespace and many others).
  • The Dad-vertisers: Three brands have gone all-in on dads this year (Nissan, Toyota and Dove Men+Care).
  • The Jokesters: Brands have teamed up with some celebrities to help poke fun at themselves (BMW, T-Mobile).

The case for The Infiltrators: Newcastle’s genius casting of Aubrey Plaza in the Band of Brands spots is really speaking to Millennials. Plaza is dry and irreverent, poking fun at the industry and helping Millennials feel smart for being in on the joke. As Budweiser is the exclusive beer sponsor of the Super Bowl, no other beer brands are allowed to advertise — which makes it ever-more interesting to see what competitors come up with.

The case for The Early Releasers: With the costs of spots increasing at alarming rates each year, brands have realized that they need to make the absolute most of that investment. One of the best ways to do that is create mini-campaigns around the spots themselves — complete with microsites, social engagements, pre-show sweepstakes and so on. Millennials are used to immediacy in everything they do — communicating with friends, shopping online, watching shows. They are less interested in sitting back and watching the ads flow over them for the first time during the game.

The case for The Dad-vertisers: No Super Bowl commercial break is ever complete without brands attempting to tug at viewers’ heartstrings. Expect dads to play center stage in this regard, with teasers from Dove Men+Care, Nissan and Toyota showcasing real fathers and their kids. Brands are beginning to realize that Millennials are becoming parents – and traditional-role defiers at that.

The case for The Jokesters: Humor is sure to be prevalent this year as in recent years, but the funny teaser that seems to be getting the most traction with Millennials is T-Mobile’s Data Stash with Kim Kardashian. Young consumers enjoy seeing a brand – and a celebrity — poke fun at itself.

About 80% of Super Bowl ads do not increase sales, but brands justify the hefty price tag with the sheer number of eyeballs and buzz they’ll get. They’re more likely to gain favor with Millennials with irreverence, immediacy, up-to-date social customs and a self-knowing wryness. Now pardon us while we go make some guacamole.

CES 2015 wrap-up and initial thoughts

Posted on  13 January 15  by 


Another year, another Consumer Electronics Show. This year, as many predicted, was full of tiny tweaks and incremental improvements on phones, tablets, cars, household appliances and, of course, wearables. TVs got even more visually vibrant (and the acronyms equally difficult to keep straight) — UHD, SUHD, 4K, 8K, OLED, and the list goes on. We saw a continuation of many trends we reported on throughout 2014, including MEcosystems, Fishing in Too Many Streams, Wearable Carrot and Stick, Ready-to-wear Software, Distribution Retribution and Unseen Screens.


Looking ahead to 2015, consumers will begin to see the positive effects of big-name content producers, distribution providers and device manufacturers teaming up to create seamless and consistent experiences across devices. On the first day of CES, news broke of the UHD (Ultra High Definition) Alliance between premier television makers like Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and Sharp and heavyweight content producers such as Disney, Fox, Warner Bros. and Netflix (among others). Their unified goal is to set 4K standards for content, distribution and devices so that consumer adoption is streamlined and easy to understand (, 5 January 2015).

Beyond media, there were exciting announcements in other categories too. On the wearables front, we saw brands take a step in the right direction with products that helped to empower the user rather than just report on the data collected. The Pacifi smart pacifier and Belty smart belt are two examples of this first step. In the automotive category, big brands like BMW and Mercedes toyed with autonomous cars and mobile/wearable integrations. And, as always, the home space had some key players announce innovations in laundry and kitchen appliances (Samsung and LG) as well as connected home systems like LyveHome, Nest and WeMo.

Although there were still plenty of “tech for tech’s sake” products unveiled at this year’s CES, we did see a few glimmers of hope for consumers. Brands are beginning to meet consumers in the middle with practical products that fuse purpose with pleasing aesthetics.