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The blacker the berry…

Posted on  15 December 14  by 


By Monica Mason

While attending an Intermedia Arts event in Minneapolis, I experienced a powerful performance that explored the culturally provocative prompt “the blacker the berry.” The phrase comes from a 1929 novel by Wallace Thurman, The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life. But it gained popularity within the black community in the early ’90s after “Keep Ya Head Up,” a hit by Tupac Shakur, featured these lyrics: “Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice. I say the darker the flesh, the deeper the roots.” The multimedia performance piece in Minneapolis explored issues ranging from identity and culture to racism and colorism (discrimination based on skin color).

For brown-skinned girls living in a society that glorifies white and light complexions, it can be difficult navigating perceptions of beauty, confidence and pride, especially when negative perceptions of darker complexions are perpetuated by one’s own community.


The ill mentality of colorism within the black community is slow to heal, and with rap lyrics elevating lighter complexions and limited media representations of darker complexions (especially among women), it won’t be easy to bridge the divide that has been wedged between lighter-skinned and darker-skinned blacks. We know that the media has a huge impact in shaping impressionable young minds, but the issue of colorism extends beyond media depictions — it’s woven into the fabric of our society, as seen in the infamous Jim Crow laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and, earlier, in the Willie Lynch Letter of 1712. The latter reflects a time in our history when the lighter-skinned house slave was pitted against the darker-skinned field slave, and when blacks were given the brown paper bag test. (If your skin was lighter than a paper bag, you were considered more attractive and given better opportunities than darker blacks.)

In an effort to celebrate brown-skinned women, actor and filmmaker Bill Duke codirected the documentary Dark Girls (2011) and cowrote a companion book (2014). In the book’s dozens of interviews, prominent black women share accounts of the struggles they’ve encountered at various points in their lives because of their darker complexions. As more black people become willing to address the issue of colorism and change the negative behavior associated with it, we can begin to construct a stronger identity that extends beyond color.

Brands have an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the variety of skin shades through their product offerings and media representations, which can result in a better connection with black consumers and multicultural consumers as a whole.

From fame to blackout: New parents consider the spectrum of baby privacy

Posted on  4 December 14  by 


By Rachel Steinhardt

Before you get too outraged, I’ll spoil it for you: The New Born Fame nursery mobile, outfitted with Twitter, Facebook, camera and microphone plushies that send out a baby’s own random gurgles and playful swats as online status updates is merely a concept design. It isn’t real, though the angry outbursts that the mock toy inspired were real enough.

Though the artist behind the decorative social media device was out to prove a point about how babies have no say in their parents’ choices to share their likenesses online, the controversial mobile struck a chord with me, and reminded me just how fractured the opinions of my own Millennial-parent friends are on this subject. In a few weeks, my husband and I will need to decide just how much of our baby to give the internet.

connected babySome new parents I know have opted to go “total blackout”: They post no baby photos online, and request that their friends and family do their part to help keep their kid offline. This philosophy drew some attention after a 2013 Slate article argued that parents must protect a child’s internet legacy — and keep infants out of the clutches of pervasive facial recognition software as well as creepy trolls who appropriate strangers’ baby pics to create their own role-playing fantasies. The parents who take this view are often technologists themselves.

But there are real benefits to sharing — for parents. A 2014 master’s thesis from the University of Michigan found that sharing baby pictures online helped mothers feel connected with family and friends; they received social support and validation while creating a record of memories. At the same time, it lessened the pressure from family and friends seeking more baby pictures.

Though no recent data measures the percentage of parents who share baby photos online, a survey conducted by Gerber found that 40% of Millennial moms had created social media accounts for their babies by the time they turned 1. This decision is the opposite of an attention-grabbing one. “It’s a step I took to make sure I remained me,” said one respondent (, 18 October 2014). Making a separate baby account allows interested people to opt in to the stream of baby photos, and relieves other friends from being forced to witness a barrage of kid pics on the mom’s feed.

It’s tough to predict where the Millennial mindset will fall when it comes to sharing baby photos on social media. But a quick look at CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights’ Values and Lifestyle Survey data from 2014 reveals that both perspectives are well represented. The value of safety has moved up 21 places among Millennials in the past four years to become the 31st-most-important value; at the same time, the value of sharing is the 10th-highest in ranking this year.

New parents, including myself, will wrestle with this decision over time. Brands that make one-to-one sharing, or “narrowcasting,” easier and more organized will coax me to share more. But as I know from being on the receiving end of the baby photo stream, a little goes a long way.

Perfectly imperfect

Posted on  20 November 14  by 


By Nissa Hanna

In fall 2014, actress Blake Lively joined the celebrity-cum-lifestyle-guru set (members include Gwyneth Paltrow and Lauren Conrad) with the launch of her content and commerce site Preserve. And while certain internet and media circles take pleasure in deriding such pursuits, Preserve’s twee stories and photos and curated artisan product selection were met with particularly vociferous and disparaging remarks. (But to the critics’ credit, Lively’s introductory editor’s letter did contain the sentences “I am hungry, though … not just for enchiladas. I’m hungry for experience.”)

PinnedAgainstPerfStill, the scathing response was more than a collective eye-roll over another actress joining the fray to help aspirational consumers whip up a tomato, cilantro and yogurt face mask and outfit their table with a porcelain berry basket made to look like a generic supermarket container ($65). There was unease about another self-appointed expert encouraging consumers to embrace a more ideal lifestyle.

We’re starting to see some consumer segments (Millennials and Gen X parents, specifically) push back on the pressures to pursue and project perfection. They’re deciding that “good enough” is good enough when it comes to issues of parenting, domestic duties, appearance and what they share on social media. Yes, a desire for perfection will always manifest somewhere, but the general attitude is moving toward a place of greater acceptance of one’s abilities and limitations. And that’s supported by the consumers who are coming to their senses and acknowledging that the picture-perfect lifestyles they see on Instagram or Pinterest don’t show the full picture.

So as consumers get comfortable and confident with opting for good enough over perfection, brands will need to take those steps with them. But messaging around imperfection requires a delicate balancing act: Characters shouldn’t be played up for laughs (we’re looking at you, incompetent-dad spots), though brands can use humor if they do it with sensitivity toward their subjects. Give a nod to the relief in letting go of unrealistic aspirations. Consumers will appreciate knowing that they’re not alone in their imperfection.

Getting Smart Fast

Posted on  18 November 14  by 


Charlotte Beal

Back by popular demand — our clients would freak if they didn’t get their annual fix — Consumer Outlooks have arrived on our website. These quick-and-clean docs provide a salient overview of the most asked-about consumer demographics and categories, from Millennials to Women to Food to Media. They highlight key statistics and proprietary info from our quantitative analysis to ground marketers in understanding people and their behaviors within certain categories. They detail brand best practices that are resonating with consumers. They link to the most relevant research on our website. In short, they help marketing teams get ahead of the curve, and any Consumer Insights junkies would be silly not to take a gander.

The “Hot Doughnuts Now” light is on.  Come and get ’em — fresh consumer insights, that is — by contacting us today.


Posted on  14 November 14  by 


by Charlotte Beal

As sure as early sightings of candy canes on store shelves the day after Halloween, so too are the TRENDS FOR 2015 rolling in from every corner of the mediaverse. While most of these lists tend to focus on niche happenings – technology, retail, dried spices – we at CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights work hard to go extra broad. In this case, broad doesn’t mean a badly written TV show or Bea Arthur – it means the big, big shifts in consumer mindsets and habits that are sure to impact every business category known to consumer kind. We find the sweet spot between far-reaching and micro-detailed, and map the patterns between the trends to teach the better way forward. After all, we believe that the smartest marketers and product developers know to look to the in-between spaces for the best crumbs.


Ok, ok, we won’t make you wait until the Dec. 11 webcast and publication of these fine tomes to get a sense of what they encompass, at least a little more specifically. We searched our hearts and our massive collection of consumer data to find that consumers are most certainly undergoing an intense period of redefinition. They’re increasingly expecting their phones and their appliances to go from boring tech specs to intuitive, humanized interfaces. They’re turning their backs on perfection in appearance, entertaining, cooking, career and celebrity to Get Real about what interesting people and success look like. They want time to slow down and speed up in surprising new places. They place a rising importance on finding sanity, exploring new experiences and improving themselves. And whether they fully realize it yet or not, they want the brands in their lives to aid and mirror these redefinition goals. It’s the Self-Help Moment of a lifetime – for people, but also their products.

But of course this is just a tease. You simply must come to our party on Dec. 11. Contact us to get access to the full scoop. Think of this webcast as the most engaging cocktail conversation you’ll ever overhear. It just might change your job.

Feelings over facts

Posted on  12 November 14  by 


by Emily Weiss

The health and wellness experts at CEB Iconoculture have always emphasized to our members that no matter their brand, on some level, they’re in the business of health. Skeptical? The test is simple: Is part of your goal to give consumers a better experience and, ultimately, a better life? If yes, then you’re in the business of health.

The test might be simple, but the execution is not. How can brands engage consumers who don’t have healthy pursuits at the top of their to-do lists? Or, perhaps more important, since we know that healthy habits are developed over time, how can brands keep consumers engaged along this journey?

fim_FeelingOverFactmedia_397633_2First, by acknowledging the changing health landscape. Between doctor shortages, new healthcare laws, rising insurance costs, and major strides in mobile technology and telemedicine, we aren’t all rushing to a physician’s office every time we get a scratchy throat or stuffy nose. The second step is in understanding that health, as an intensely individualized experience, is increasingly defined by consumers in terms of self-reliance and personal context.

What we’re hearing again and again from consumers is that health is highly individualized, characterized by its ebbs and flows, and that, more than anything, health is a feeling rather than a good blood test result or being able to run a 4-minute mile. In order for brands to market health and a better quality of life, they must show a balanced picture of optimal health and what’s realistic. For more detailed pointers on how to build a strategy for your brand, check out our latest health research.

Roundtable Discussion: Is HBO the blade that empowers consumers to cut out the middleman?

Posted on  29 October 14  by 


HBO’s long-awaited announcement that it plans to offer consumers an internet-only version of its content is more symbolic than anything else. The company offered few details about the delivery method, pricing and depth of the soon-to-be standalone, cable-less product, but one thing is certain: Consumers will soon have one more big reason to opt out of a cable company’s bundle of channels. While we wait for more information, we’ve compiled a few speculations about what the move means from our Media, Entertainment and Technology team.


And now the work begins

On the one hand, this news proves that with enough vocalizing, consumers can force major industry changes and demand products that better fit with their needs and expectations. On the other hand, what the heck took HBO so long to comply? Missed opportunities aside, HBO’s eventual capitulation paves the way for other enormous media brands to do the same.

Will Millennials, up till now subscription-averse, gobble up the individual streaming subscription offerings now being marketed to them? Like beleaguered revolutionaries who’ve finally toppled the powerful regime and won the war, I think consumers will look at each other and say, “Now what?” Well, now the work begins — the work of sorting, filtering, researching, comparing and deciding; the work of forging a democratic method for accessing media. In our recent research Fishing in Too Many Streams, we examined how consumers are coping with the onslaught of streaming choices. There’s a clear problem: Self-aggregation is too big an ask for many TV fans. Each former “channel” (HBO, CBS), each portal (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon) and each hardware interface (Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast) expects to draw in the viewer, but only the platform that does the best job of surfacing, sorting and enabling relevant discovery will win the lion’s share of loyalty and revenue. And right now, none of the land-grabbing streaming brands has proven that they understand this.

—Rachel Steinhardt, Lead Editor MEAT/Millennials


Competitive pressure: It’s on!

This move puts the Comcast/NBCUniversal behemoth in a precarious position. Now that HBO and its ilk have talked up their definitive à la carte streaming plans, NBCUniversal properties (NBC, E!, Bravo, USA and Syfy) can’t follow without drawing unwanted attention to the outdated business model of their parent company, Comcast. There’s no way for that company to look like anything but an un-strategic laggard, and the timing couldn’t be worse for the beleaguered brand. The news of HBO, CBS and ESPN leaving the “nest” comes on the heels of some very public ridicule of Comcast and its unfavorable customer service practices and standards.

A flexible, choice-enabling business model is a must if the company intends to keep up with the increasingly high standards of the next generation of media consumers. It’s no longer a top-down world where brands and corporations dictate consumer needs and purchases. Listen up! Consumer empowerment is here, and it’s showing no signs of slowing.

—Kelli Theiler, Consumer Analyst MEAT/Millennials


What drives consumer demand? Hint: It starts with a “C”

HBO is a perennial top player in popular culture, with monster hits like True Detective, Game of Thrones, Girls and the recently ended Boardwalk Empire. Such high-quality programming drives consumers to share HBO Go passwords, illegally download episodes and attend viewing parties in order to be part of the cultural moment. CBS also produces hits, but they’re mainstream fare that’s readily available and lacks the cachet of exclusivity.

This is why the two recent announcements from HBO and CBS, while seemingly similar, couldn’t be more different in execution. HBO is fulfilling a longtime consumer demand to be part of something (and pay to do so), whereas CBS is just looking for another venue for consumer access to its already ubiquitous content. I’d be surprised if the CBS streaming service attracted a large number of new viewers. Only time will tell if these services will change consumer demand. For now, content is king.

—Matt Dobratz, Consumer Strategist MEAT


Context is the kingdom

Well, HBO finally did it. It made the long overdue (and unsurprising) move to make its content accessible to those without a pay TV subscription. Ultimately, this is a great and necessary evolution. The media landscape is in flux as more and more content consumption takes place across an array of screens and platforms. A brand like HBO brings a certain weight to the digital world; this is an organization that knows how to find and nurture some of the best content out there. But this move won’t come without its challenges. In the short term, it’s no easy feat for a linear media company to find its place in a nonlinear world.

“It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO,” CEO Richard Plepler said when he announced the news. Removing barriers, indeed. Thinking about media today as barrier-less is not only smart — it’s crucial. But media brands must tread carefully: Because there’s such a glut of content and services on the market, it’s far easier to create unintentional barriers than to remove obvious ones. HBO will need to enter this arena not just with great content but also with the tools that help people find and share it. Content may be king, but in this new digital world, context is the kingdom.

—Mike Garrison, Consumer Strategist MEAT

Taking green mainstream

Posted on  15 October 14  by 


by Nissa Hanna

Green marketing has a well-established MO of playing to consumers’ altruistic instincts about caring for the environment, using resources responsibly and leaving the earth in better shape for future generations. But while mainstream consumers do value those goals, eco-friendliness isn’t always the main reason that they go green. So when brands create marketing strategies that approach the audience as if they’ve ever felt a strong urge to hug a tree, they’re excluding a large group that doesn’t strongly identify with eco-friendly behavior.

But it’s tough out there for a green marketing effort. Our comprehensive IconoCommunities survey revealed that consumers — both mainstream and the devout eco-friendly cohort — hold contradictory thoughts on sustainability. 60% of participants say that they purchase green products and use sustainable practices, but 17% say that they’re uncertain about the impact of their choices, and 13% say that it’s overwhelming to think about all they should do to be eco-friendly.

Image for Green BlogThe green practices that have widely been adopted are ones that don’t make consumers go out of their way to go green or which provide financial incentive for their choice. Consumers are less inclined to take up green practices or products if doing so requires considerable effort.

Our survey also shed light on consumers’ real motivations behind eco-friendly purchases and behaviors. We asked participants why they make sustainable choices, and the top four responses were “It’s good for the environment,” “It’s safer,” “It’s healthier” and “It’s necessary to sustain the quality of life for future generations.” But when we asked why they make sustainable choices in specific product categories, price and health were the leading motivations.

So how do you market green to a large group of consumers who don’t place eco at the top of their list? Find out by joining us for our webinar Taking Green Mainstream on October 23, 2014, at 2 p.m. EST (register here). In addition, CEB Iconoculture members will have access to answers, ideas and strategies in the companion Research Brief, coming soon.

The rules of parenting are not black-and-white

Posted on  29 September 14  by 


By Monica Mason

In the wake of the Adrian Peterson scandal, the authoritarian style of parenting, which often incorporates corporal punishment, is under great scrutiny. When your child is often deemed a threat simply because of how he looks, it can be imperative for black parents to enforce discipline and awareness. It’s why we recently wrote an observation about “the talk.”

Race aside, we’ve all probably seen the look a parent gives a child who’s misbehaving in public. It’s the look of “just wait till we get home.” Sometimes that look alone straightens up the child immediately. The issue is perhaps not so much a “black issue,” but a parent issue.

Monica's blogBut what does this newly resurfaced (yet ongoing) battle in the Parenting Wars mean to business? Marketers need to be aware of parental flashpoints as they strategize their positioning, but what’s most important is the need to tread extremely carefully. Going for universal applicability is probably the smartest approach.

In the Hamburger Helper “Track Star” commercial, a black family (mother, father, son and daughter) gathers around the dinner table and enjoys a meal together. The mother recalls her own childhood and proclaims, “The dinner table is where I learned to be responsible; where I learned how to hold a fork… teaching them right from wrong — that’s my job.” It’s a message that most families would find relatable.

Doritos’ “Cowboy Kid” spot portrays a white family: A mom pulls into the driveway with a car full of groceries and asks her sons, “Can I get some help?” One of them replies, “I don’t know, can you?” The mother then bribes the two boys with Doritos to get their assistance. It’s unclear if the child is correcting his mother in regard to “can” vs. “may,” or just being a brat. Either way, the commercial, which was one of the fan-made spots chosen to air during the 2014 Super Bowl, did not seem to resonate — just check out the consumer comments. It was meant to be cute and funny, but the blatant disrespect that the children show their mother seems to distract from the happy snacking message — probably not what Doritos had in mind.

When it comes to family and family values, it’s not surprising that consumers like to see positive representations in ads, whether the message is directed to their racial or cultural group, or to the general market. Take, for example, Apple’s “Parenthood” commercial and Google Chrome’s “Dear Sophie” commercial. Both show images of parenting that connect with the broader audience regardless of race or cultural background.

Streaming music: Big in Sweden, not in Japan

Posted on  29 September 14  by 


By Rachel Steinhardt

It’s not a new story. Digital downloads cannibalized CD sales, and now streaming subscriptions are cannibalizing digital downloads. Right? In the US, at least, on-demand audio streaming revenue was up 52% in the first half of 2014, according to Nielsen, while digital song downloads were down 13% and CD sales decreased by 20%.

Even with numbers like that, there’s no clear winner yet in the streaming game. Spotify has 10 million paying users around the world, and another 30 million who use a free version. Apple’s Beats Music (which it acquired for a huge sum not long ago) has only 250,000 paying subscribers. Google just threw its weight (and dollars) behind Songza.

BeatsPlenty of other players also have a stake firmly planted, but consumers tend to focus on one mainstream provider for internet services: Look at Google (search), YouTube (video) and Facebook (social media). Then, there’s Pandora with its 77 million users. Though Pandora streams music, it is not an on-demand service (Spotify is to Netflix what Pandora is to, say, a movie channel on TV — you get what you get). But would consumers rather constantly select their own music or be fed a limited selection? In the US, it’s likely to be a mix of both models.

Brands invested in what music consumption might look like in a few years can turn to other countries for insight. In a bizarre twist, the typically tech-savvy, early-adopting nation of Japan eschews digital music. CDs still account for 85% of music sales there, and no streaming service can get a toehold. Why? A collectibles-oriented culture plays a role, as does the complicated business of licensing agreements in Japan, but nobody knows for sure.

The opposite is true in Sweden, Spotify’s native land. 15% of all consumers there pay up for the service, and those dollars represent 70% of the country’s total music industry revenue (which is growing year over year). Music piracy is at an all-time low in Sweden, possibly because using Spotify is even easier than stealing.

Though its subscription base is still small, all eyes are on Apple to see what the company will do with Beats — go after Spotify, or cling to a download model; emulate Sweden, or revert like Japan. The company’s decision should hinge on the values and behaviors of US music fans, which CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights has been tracking closely.