Season 1, Episode 8: Marketing in Pop Culture
In this week’s episode of Outsmart, your hosts Nicole Allen and Rex Petrill sit down with our Vice President of Digital at TEAM LEWIS, Johnson Lee, to discuss marketing in pop culture through the lens of the popular Netflix show, Emily in Paris.
In this episode we explore:
- What the creators get right about agency life – and where they fall off
- Celebrating fresh perspectives to maintain relevance and drive growth
- The importance of situational fluency across global campaigns
Johnson: You bring in fresh blood because you want their different point of view. You want to hear what they have to say. They are engaged in social media in ways that you may not be because you didn’t grow up with TikTok. At least for me, I feel like, all right, let me go on TikTok Talk and find out what this is about. It was like, what is this, another social platform? Get off my lawn.
Nicole: Welcome back to another episode of the Outsmart podcast with TEAM LEWIS. I’m Nicole Allen, joined by my co-host, Rex Petrill. And we actually got to see each other in person for the first time in two plus years last week in sunny San Diego. Wasn’t that a joy, Rex?
Rex: It sure was. I’m sure all the listeners know that because they listen to the previous episode. So, check that out if you haven’t.
Nicole: We’re joined by another one of our fabulous colleagues, Johnson Lee, who’s a VP of digital here at TEAM LEWIS, who sits out of New York together with Rex. Johnson, welcome to Outsmart.
Johnson: Hi, Nicole. Hi, Rex. Great to be here.
Nicole: Before we dive into today’s episode theme, which I think is going to be a fun one and a fiery one, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Johnson: Sure. So, hi listeners, for all three of you that are listening to this podcast. Again, my name is Johnson. I am one of the VPs of Digital here at TEAM LEWIS. I work across a few different accounts here, including a couple of really fun ones like ASTROGLIDE, where those conversations are always fun. They always go in many different directions. Fluidra, which is one of our robotic pool cleaner clients. I say one of our robotic pool cleaner clients, but they are only robotic pool cleaner clients. And a couple of other ones. I have a little over 16 years of experience in digital marketing and it’s really been a fun ride, I would say I started off with entertainment marketing, do a little bit of CPG, a little bit of beauty, some fast food, back to entertainment. And now here I am at TEAM LEWIS. So that is a really high level 30,000-foot view of my background and what I do here at Lewis.
Nicole: I love it. And so, the entertainment background is probably a little bit why our conversation today is going to take the direction that it will take. But yesterday Rex was slacking off and unavailable. So Johnson and I got together.
Nicole: We had a chat, and we were just kind of bouncing ideas around about what we’re going to talk about today. And Johnson, you were just on a soapbox about Emily in Paris, this I will say polarizing, Netflix show, right?
Johnson: I suppose it is polarizing now that you talk about it. Sure.
Rex: Johnson assumed that I hadn’t seen any episodes, which may have been a correct assumption.
Johnson: I think that was a pretty safe assumption.
Rex: I did some homework, so I’m all prepared.
Johnson: Well, I’m glad you watch at least a little bit of it.
Rex: Just like Emily, the first time that I went to Paris, I was just saying bonjour and mercy to everything.
Johnson: Okay. At least you were trying.
Rex: I didn’t feel great about it. One waiter came up and said, would you like to practice your French? And my wife, of course, she said, yes. And I said, no. Please, no. I was jet lagged. Everything. He goes through the menu, the spiel. And I had this whole plan out to say, like, thank you for everything, which I knew how to say. And then all I could get out was, Bonjour, bonjour, at the end of a greeting. It was embarrassing, and I wanted to die.
Johnson: Yeah, well, that’s probably embarrassing, but nowadays, like Emily does in the show, we have Google Translate, so you can always fall back on that nowadays. But anyway, yes. Emily in Paris. Oh, my God. I’ve been on this Emily in Paris soapbox. So, when it first came out, I didn’t watch it because I watched the first episode or ten minutes of the first episode, and they start talking about social media. I’m like, I’m triggered. I can’t watch this right now. I need escapism. I can’t talk about marketing. But then a lot of my friends watch Emily in Paris, and season two came out in December of last year, and I was like, all right, I have some FOMO. I got to just make my way through the show. So, I sat down, and I watched both seasons in two days. It was Friday and Saturday. I don’t think I even got up to pee.
Nicole: You clearly do not have children if you’re able to binge watch.
Johnson: No, I do not have children. I do not have any living creature other than my fish that really relies on me for living.
Rex: Independent fish, we’re good.
Johnson: Sorry Rex, what did you say?
Rex: They’re independent, the fish, they’re self-sustaining.
Johnson: Yes, they’re self-sustaining as long as they have water, they’re fine. So, I really go into Emily in Paris, and I was like, I want to go to Paris. I want to meet people. I want to people watch. And I was like, we have a Paris office, right? Because I’m ready. I’m ready to go there. And like I said, win everyone over with my charming personality and American insights, I was ready for it. So, I thought that would be interesting for us to use Emily in Paris as a catalyst for this conversation, because obviously marketing is fun, but it’s always interesting to see marketing, digital marketing in particular, get reflected in popular culture, because there are some truths to it. Yes. There’s certainly some elements of alien powers. Okay. All right. I can see this being something interesting. Different, stunty, sure. But it’s always very superficial, and it doesn’t always showcase all the work that goes into what we do. So, I just thought that it would be interesting to talk about this.
Rex: Johnson on that point. What are some of the things that stood out to you in watching the show? And you’re rolling your eyes, you’re shaking your head, you’re going like, oh, my gosh. She said, what now?
Johnson: Yes, I think so. One of the things, a common narrative through line in this show, is how Emily basically subverts how marketing is done in France. Because the marketing agency that she joins in Paris, she basically goes to bring them this American point of view because they want to expand the footprint of their advertisers because this little French agency was basically purchased by a larger conglomerate. So, the large conglomerate sends Emily over to Paris and is like please help them. So, she goes into this culture and again, a very common narrow through line through season one and two is basically she comes up with these crazy ideas that are very contrary to how the French usually do marketing. Which is really showcased as a super laid back, super exclusive approach to marketing where the target demographic is really tiny, and the point is to make it more exclusive than inclusive. Which is a little bit different than how we generally approach marketing. But that being said, I think that there is something that is truthful to how she approaches marketing, which is a more inclusive approach. The way that she approaches social media is how social is very important to the way that we do marketing nowadays. Whereas the French is like social media, blah, blah, blah. That’s not even a French accent, but I don’t know how to do that. But in any case, they poopoo that and they don’t think it’s the right way to do it. I think that it’s really interesting that the show doesn’t really showcase any of the research or the analytics or the data that really goes into creating the foundation of what these ideas need to be. And Emily, obviously she has a creative mind, so she’s kind of like the creative person that just comes up with ideas. But there’s really no solid basis for how these ideas are then justified because a lot of the idea she comes up with, they’re expensive ideas or big fancy ideas, influencer, partnerships, things like that. But without the backing of that understanding of why it’s a good idea, there’s really no way to justify to clients that this is a good investment of their funds. And of course, this is a dramatization, it’s a romantic comedy. So, the clients are like, Emily, that is a great idea, I will give you all my money, but that’s not really the way the world works. So, I did think that was really interesting and that is something that I think is very sorely lacking in a lot of the ways that marketing has showcased the media. They just really don’t show like all the surveys and polls and research that goes into generating these concepts, ideas that are really critical to how the ideas are rationalized and justified to clients. So, I just thought that was really interesting and I wish it was a little bit more of that. And I understand that sometimes research is hard to kind of make shiny and glorify. But for me, I think that is such an important part of what we actually do nowadays.
Rex: Your show notes are like, more PowerPoint is required to do the things that we do. We need to show more PowerPoints, is what you would have told the producers.
Johnson: Basically. I mean, they do have some PowerPoints and they have some handouts, but it’s always the shiny, creative stuff. It doesn’t actually show any of the data justification or what are KPIs? What’s our projected ROI? There’s nothing like that. So, I think that that is just something that oftentimes that’s lost in the media translation of the work that we do.
Nicole: And we actually talked to Matt Robbins a couple of episodes ago, our head of research, and talked a lot about the importance of research to develop your strategy. So, before you even get into your strategy phase, you have to have some historical data on past performance, but also research and insights on your audience and the current context in the market.
Nicole: I think looking at not just Emily in Paris, but to your point, like, representation of marketing in the media at large or in more popular culture at large, it often is like, oh, here’s a light bulb idea. And I watch that, and I go, man, I must be really bad at my job because I never had these light bulb ideas. But no, it’s that I actually am working with my research team and the performance marketing team and using all these different levers that we have to be able to come up with an idea. It’s not as simple as just having that light bulb moment. And then, to your point, Johnson, even if you do have that light bulb moment, you got to back it by something. Right?
Nicole: There’s no credibility otherwise.
Johnson: Right. And there is something to be said about effective storytelling, which I think is important to the jobs that we do, but without that rationale, it’s just like it’s just a fun story, but where is this going to get us? What is this going to mean for us if we spend $100,000 with you as an example? There really isn’t that justification for how this idea is going to come to life and why you’re going to make that investment.
Nicole: I think there’s also something interesting in the show, and this is okay, I sort of cringe watch it. It’s different for me, to your point, feel triggered in multiple ways, but the generational gap is really evident. And Emily being I would call she’s Gen Z. Right?
Johnson: She’s like 23 or 22 or something.
Nicole: Right. And she’s definitely more about to your point social media, all the new social platforms. She’s more about experimenting, being really inclusive, speaking to bigger audiences. And I think that’s something that’s really prevalent today is we’re looking both at our employees and the makeup of our employees crossing the generations. But also, the different audiences that we’re trying to speak to and thinking about as a brand you do have to address and meet these different audiences where they are. Because maybe Gen Z is not your IT decision maker buyer today, but they might be in the next ten years. And so, it’s about building that brand sort of preference from day one. What are your thoughts on sort of the generational gap and how they perceive it in the show?
Johnson: Okay, so Sylvie is her boss. Sylvie is basically this VP head honcho over.
Nicole: I love her wardrobe.
Johnson: Oh, yeah. Sylvie is great. I actually love Sylvie. So, another thing about this show that makes it effective, why people like it some people like it is because it’s very Devil Wears Prada. Like, basically, Sylvie is Marina Priestley. Not as glamorous as Meryl Streep obviously, but it’s that same through line, same narrow through line, where you have someone established, they know what they’re doing and this new up-and-comer doesn’t know what they’re doing necessarily in the same way, but shows that they are talented, are smart, and they kind of win them over. So that’s one reason why the show works, is because you have this dynamic between Emily and Sylvie, and Emily’s constantly trying to win Sylvie over, trying to convince Sylvia of that her ideas are worth considering, things like that. Obviously, the show is entertainment, so I do think that they dramatize this generational gap between Sylvie and Emily. I’ve never had a boss where, I’ve definitely had bosses that are older than me, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where they’re so dismissive. I think there are instances where there are going to be at least working in agencies, I feel that generational gap is actually more embraced and celebrated most times than a cause for drama. Look, I’m here for the drama if it’s on Netflix. I’m not here for the drama if it’s at work. And I do have to say, in most of the work environments I’ve been part of, that difference in point of view is actually valued. And I think we’re all a little bit older, the people that are on this podcast right now. But I always actually like talking to younger people, like people in the early 20s, because they do bring a very different point of view. They’re fresh, they’re energetic, they’re very passionate, and they want to learn. At least in most cases, you bring in fresh blood because you want their different point of view. You want to hear what they have to say. They’re engaged in social media in ways that you may not be because you didn’t grow up with TikTok, it was natural for you, at least for me. I feel like, all right, let me go on TikTok and find out what this shit is about. It was like, what is this, another social platform? Get off my lawn. Meanwhile, these young people are, like, coming in and they’re like, oh, yeah, I’m TikTok every day. I’m TikTok in the bathroom, like, when I’m doing homework or whatever, and like, whatever. But I think it’s also celebrated. We want that. We need that. We can’t just be like, well, just buy on Facebook. That doesn’t work anymore. We constantly need to be looking at new ideas. Otherwise, we kind of fall out of fashion, as you would say, very quickly. So, I think that, honestly, if most successful agencies probably, I would say, I would hope, kind of embrace that generational gap because there’s still respect for what’s come before and how we do things and what makes things work, because we have that point of view and we know what’s going to jive, what’s not going to jive. But we also want these new, fresh ideas coming in because otherwise marketing can get stale so quickly. So, that being said, I still love Sylvie. I love her poo-poo attitude. I love her wardrobe, as you were saying. And the thing is, she’s like Miranda Priestly. She does have, if you like, excavated a little bit. She does care and she does have passion. It’s just kind of encased in this icy exterior for the purpose of drama, which, again, I’m there for.
Rex: It would take a special kind of arrogance for, I think, us to sit here and say, we don’t need your ideas because the landscape is changing so rapidly. And you have to, there’s no way that we would be able to, like you said, Johnson, people living in this digital age moment and growing up with it have just a different appreciation than we do in the platforms that we grew up with. And I think bringing in those fresh ideas, there’s also the element of we might be more cynical, we might have more scars because things have broken in our faces and we’re just like, not this again. Whereas if you take it from a fresh perspective, we can help give you the guidance that says, okay, what is the outcome that we’re hoping to achieve? What are the best ideas to get us there? And it may not be something that the three of us are ever going to come up with because it’s just not something that’s so ingrained in our day to day lives.
Johnson: Yeah, exactly. Totally.
Nicole: We’ve become the digital dinosaurs, or I think there’s a danger in becoming a digital dinosaur if you are not open to learning more about the digital natives and learning more about what’s next and best. And yeah, as someone who is very averse to technology change, I just got a new iPhone, you guys, for the first time in seven years, and it is terrifying. I know. I don’t like, I don’t like new tech.Rex: You’re a late adopter.
Nicole: I’m a late adopter. I’m the latest adopter. And it’s always challenging for me to really push against that in this job, in being a digital marketer and be like, Nicole, you need to adopt. You need to learn, you need to try, you need to test, you need to be open.
Johnson: I feel that, too. There are times when I’m eager and then sometimes when I’m like sometimes it’s annoying how quickly it changes. I’m like, again, like, another change. I just got comfortable with what I learned, like, two weeks ago, and it’s like another change. Do I need this in my life? But that’s the way it works.
Rex: It is. And it’s not just the digital and not just the technology. It’s how the ways in which people like to be communicated with and the conversations and even the language that’s being used that we all have to be very aware of progressing with the times and making sure that we’re taking aside just, like, the language stuff, but brands and we have to advise our clients and the way that we market to individuals to ensure that we are having an authentic conversation. Some of the reactions to some of the Super Bowl ads where they’re using TikTok music and everybody’s like, oh, that TikTok music is, like, six months old. How could they even think that this was the right music to use? And it’s so challenging because you’re always going to get criticism, you’re always going to be one step behind. But how can you involve those fresh voices from the start to at least give yourself a chance? Because if you’re just ignoring it, you got no chance in the world.
Nicole: Fresh voices and also regionally, diverse voices, which is another thing, I think, that comes across in the show. There’s such a difference between the way that the French approach marketing and the way that Emily, an American approaches marketing. And I’ve come across this, too, working in global campaigns here at TEAM LEWIS and when we think about localization in America, it’s very different from when we talk to our counterparts in EMEA and we talk about localization and they’re like, okay, well, you’ve got to consider Spain and France and Portugal and the UK. And then within that, there are separate little factions, and it gets very, very micro and very, very niche, and it’s just such a different way of thinking. But it’s so important to have that lens, otherwise you run the risk of being completely tone deaf or not hitting the mark or not whatever the case may be.
Johnson: Yeah, I thought that was interesting. And, Nicole, I know you and I, when you and I were talking about this a little bit yesterday, we oftentimes come at things from an American point of view, an American lens, and sometimes it is a little bit hard for us to think outside the lens. And obviously, I think sometimes it is an issue just with American culture in general. It’s very hard for us to kind of get out of this box that we put ourselves into. But I do think that there is something to be said about the value of being able to look at all these different countries and how they do things and being able to put ourselves in their shoes. And not just to how they might be doing the work, but the work culture, even the way they approach their work. One of the things that is in, I think the first or second episode, which is I do not know if this is true or not, but everyone strolls in to work at like eleven or 11:30. There might be some truth to that. I have no idea. I know these in Spain, they have their siesta this is completely, like, that is not something we do here, but it’s part of the culture. It’s part of how they actually approach the work. And one of the things I actually did like about, and this is more of a life lesson, it was like in episode one, episode two, one of Emily’s coworkers talks to her really quick about just how she’s approaching work and she has a passion for work, she has a passion for her job. And she’s always on, she’s always just working. And he was like, well, Emily, I feel that you live to work, but we work to live. And I thought that’s so true. As Americans, our approach to work can sometimes just be so consuming and it weaves into our lives so intrinsically. Meanwhile, in many other countries, it’s not like that. And I think that in working with compatriots in other territories, realizing that, hey, I need to give them a break, just because I’m available whenever, doesn’t mean that I should have that expectation. And I think that is also so important when you’re talking about global agency and being able to work with people from different territories is to recognize that their approach to their job and their approach to marketing is also through this lens of how they look at the world. And I think that there’s something so deep there for us to understand, since we are working with these other territories so often, is that we need to respect where they are coming from. Not just how they do the job, the marketing job, but how they even look at their jobs. So, I really like that. That’s the one thing I did think was interesting. I did like,
Nicole: I love that. Rex, we really need to have some of our international colleagues on. I want to hear what they have to say about all of this and their working styles. And yeah, I think that would be a good conversation to start.
Rex: I don’t know how Lou Malnati got dragged in the first 45 seconds of being in Paris, but I enjoyed some of the American bashing that she goes through upon introducing herself to the office. And I mean, they called it with the arrogance of ignorance or vice versa, of her not knowing a lick of French and daring to walk into an office and have conversations with people I think is a special kind of self-centeredness.
Johnson: No, it’s so true. I bet even when I travel sometimes, I’m like, oh, I hope they speak a little bit of English because I’m like, oh, English is so pervasive. And again, that is my American mindset seeping into the way that I treat other people where, yeah, it is somewhat disrespectful to think like, yeah, why don’t they speak in English? And truthfully, sometimes I do think like that when I went up somewhere and it is very international and they don’t speak English there, so why should I expect them to speak English? I think that that is actually something that is well reflected in the show.
Rex: I know that we have these conversations with our clients where the feedback from their local teams and from our local agency colleagues is like, sure, France might be a big market for you, or Germany may be a big market for you. But if you don’t have the localized content and you’re going to have the audacity to serve this in English, you’re going to do your brand much more harm than possible the social media ad positive could ever bring.
Rex: So, it’s like make the investment, understand your audiences where English is tolerant, where US based content is tolerant, versus where’s the risk not worth the reward to just put something out there because it is an important market, but you don’t have the right content for it.
Nicole: Well, and think about when you get an ad served to you that’s so off the mark, right? And just I don’t know how kind of offended you feel by that. And it goes the same way, right? If something comes to you in a different language or just completely off the mark, you just feel like how this brand is really out to lunch. They don’t understand me or anyone around me at all. Why should I give a shit?
Nicole: Well, Johnson, it’s been such a pleasure talking with you. I think this has been one of the easier and more fun conversations that we’ve had on this podcast. And the prep required us to watch a couple of episodes of Emily and Paris. So, yes,
Rex: For no other reason, we’ve got probably ten more views of Emily in Paris than we had previously. So, you’re welcome. Netflix. What is season three? Johnson in Paris.
Johnson: I’ll be there. I’m ready. Lily Collins, watch out, here we come.
Nicole: Have a good rest of your day, you guys. And thanks to our listeners for tuning into Outsmart.
Johnson: Thanks, everyone.