Writing Sample: The Fashion Channel Case Study

Note: This writing sample was written for a college course as a case analysis in causal, non-APA style.

Looking at the case study of The Fashion Channel’s 2007 season marketing lineup, there are countless factors to consider. First of all, looking at the consumer and market data provided there are several questions we as readers must ask to interpret it. Who is the largest and most active audience (as of the 2006 data)? Who is the most valuable audience? What audience does CNN and Lifetime, TFC’s primary competitors, have? From what we know from the background, TFC is desperately in need of a branding makeover. In the past TFC has solidly focused on a “something for everyone” set of programming. And after so long of a lukewarm, unfocused message, TFC is polling behind their primary competitors in every aspect (consumer interest in viewing, awareness, and perceived value). It’s time to solidify a message and audience to save the channel’s ratings.

Going back to our questions, who is the largest and most active audience? The largest (and possibly most active) falls under the “planners and shoppers” category. They make up 35% of the current audience, and are regularly engaged in the content put out currently. The second largest group is the “situationalists”, making up 30% of the current audience. They are only occasionally active for specific needs or shows, and they are highly interested in value. The next group in size is the “disengaged”, and they are 20% of the current make-up. This is the only category that is predominantly male, and this is almost the miscellaneous demographic. The disengaged don’t tend to interact, and their loyalty is easily bought. Finally, the last group is the most enthusiastic: the fashionistas. Even though there are less of them at only 15% of the current audience, they are the most loyal and passionate. They enjoy fashion and find it important to keep up with upcoming trends. Due to their high level of engagement and interest, fashionistas are one of the most valuable audiences. They are going to be the most likely to build up brand loyalty with. The other audience to keep an eye on are the planners and shoppers due to their large size and general activeness with the channel.

The most valuable demographic to focus in on would clearly be 18-34 year-old females after analyzing the data. “Young women” are an extremely influential audience, and having a concentration of them on lock would certainly raise ratings and CPM. In addition, fashionistas (one of our most valuable audiences) have the highest percentage of young women. Therefore, young women are by far the most important demographic for TFC to focus on in their new makeover. That being said, TFC’s biggest competition for that demographic would be Lifetime. CNN may have the largest overall audience, but they have a much higher concentration of basics and men.

The case study itself presents three primary courses of action. The first option is a cross-segment approach going for overall young women in the fashionistas, planners and shoppers, and situationalists categories. To do this, there would have to be a dramatic increase in general marketing and advertisement. This should raise overall awareness and viewing of the channel. It is the least drastic option, which could please those employees and audience members who dislike change. If successful, over time it could boost ratings from 1.0 to 1.2. But if the shift isn’t drastic enough or fails altogether, then there will undoubtedly have to be a 10% in CPM to keep on advertisers. Such a failure could be a huge hit to the channel, and it’s what the new marketing strategy was brought on to avoid. Looking at this approach, it would not be drastic enough to guarantee a success.

The second proposed approach would be to focus strongly on the fashionistas. There is a high concentration of young women, but an overall smaller viewing pool. The lack of targeted eyes could lead to a drop in viewers, and therefore overall ratings (estimated at 1.0 to 0.8). If successful though, the increase in 18-34 female viewers will raise the channel’s value to advertisers and likely bring up the CPM significantly. Young women are often the tastemakers of society, and having most of that audience would give TFC some reputability and renown; possibly bringing in new viewers. Additionally, another $15 million would have to be budgeted to develop programming for the channel’s new look. Looking at this approach objectively, it looks like it may be too much of a risk to focus on the smallest audience pool, no matter how valuable its demographic is.

The final scenario is a joint target on two of the segments: fashionistas and shoppers and planners. Given that fashionistas are the most valuable and shoppers and planners are the largest portion of the audience (and second most valuable), focusing in on these two poses an attractive option. CPM and ratings would increase according to analysts. The largest con would be that an estimated $20 million more would have to be budget in to bring in content for both sections. After analyzing the data though, this option is the simple choice. Not only would it draw in the two most important viewer categories, but also a large concentration of young women. The new, focused message and audience would build up the channel’s reputation as a reputable source for fashion culture, eventually drawing the name-brand power away from Lifetime. Both planners and shopper and situationalists are heavily interested in value, therefore programming geared toward planners and shoppers will also likely draw in some situationalists as well.

It’s important to keep in mind who makes up the audience for the new set of programming. In our audience, 55% of people answered “somewhat agree” to “strongly agree” when it came to wearing whatever’s comfortable. Shopping for value was a positive factor for 59% of the audience. And a large 65% enjoyed special TV programs on current fashion. The fashionistas are important, but the planners and shoppers have 20% more people. Therefore, a large chunk of the new program will have to be designed for the thrifty, practical, value-loving everyday people. In addition, TFC needs to push their constant content. With CNN and Lifetime pushing 7 and 10 hours of content a week respectively, they simply won’t be able to compete with hour number once TFC is focused and rebranded.

Writing Sample: Social Evolution of Disney

Note: This was a writing sample developed for a course on multiculturalism in the media. It was developed to be a casual, blog-style commentary on society.

Social Evolution in Disney

Disney is one of America’s most beloved brands. Grown adults get in passionate debates about which animated film from their childhood is best. People hoard the VHS for the nostalgia. Disney Channel shows like Lizzy McGuire, Even Stevens, The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, and many more are still loved by the kids who grew up with them. Disney has been a prominent brand in America for a long time: since 1923, in fact. Since it’s been around for so long, some of their older products certainly reflect the opinions of their times. While there is still plenty of progress to be made, Disney’s recent commitment to inclusion has been a step in the right direction. But to know how to move forward, we have to know what was did wrong.

 

1930 Shorts

In the 1930s, Disney produced many short animations while they were in production for their first feature-length animated film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The shorts that they produced in the meantime, though, were essentially racist per diem. They were so blatantly racist that there is no better proof than me just showing you them. The shorts in question are Trader Mickey, Mickey in Arabia, Mickey’s Mellerdrammer, Mickey’s Man Friday, The Three Little Pigs, and Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.

These shorts were, of course, products of their time. They feature blatant racial stereotypes and references to the disgraced entertainment of minstrel theatre. Minstrel theatre, as seen in Mickey’s Mellerdrammer, was the popular entertainment of African American exaggerated stereotypes on stage, often played by white people in blackface. Even the title of the short makes fun of “negro” speech patterns by changing the correct “melodrama” to “mellerdrammer”. These instances of blackface portrayed black people as extremely simple but often mischievous; lazy; gluttonous; having huge, overdone lips and deep black skin. It was, by today’s standard, obviously extremely racist. To see a beloved character like Mickey to happily participate is uncomfortable, but it’s important to acknowledge. Otherwise we as a society would never be able to improve.

The other shorts created in this time were strongly problematic as well. Mickey in Arabia, for example, shows a greedy, drooling sultan-type figure kidnapping Minnie Mouse to force her to kiss him. Trader Mickey shows dark-skinned natives as uneducated, cannibalistic savages. And even in The Three Little Pigs, the most well-known of these shorts, shows an obviously “Jewish” salesman. All of these shorts, at the time, were fairly popular and completely socially acceptable. Why is that?

This is mainly due to structural (or societal) racism. Structural racism is a term put on the socially acceptable but racist behaviors in a society. This is how societies’ attitudes and ideals come together to discriminate against minorities. These behaviors change throughout the years, and that’s why these cartoons are considered offensive today. But at the time, these stereotypes were not only okay, but they were entertaining. Mickey was assumed to be a “white” character, even though he is not even human. He was made to be the relatable main character in a sea of quirky colored characters.

So why is this different from general representation? The stereotypes of minstrel theatre, Jewish salesmen, dark-skinned savages, and kidnapping sultans are degrading caricatures that paint entire groups of people as simple or evil. This is simply not representation. They are not accurate or even positive depictions of real people, and such illustrations makes is easier for those in power to dehumanize them.

 

Disappearance of Song of the South

Another piece of embarrassing Disney history comes in the form of Song of the South. Song of the South was released in 1946, and was based on the “Uncle Remus” stories. It was a feature film about a white child named Johnny who after moving to a Georgia plantation with his mother, is distraught until he means nearby Uncle Remus. Uncle Remus is a former slave who still lives happily on the property and remains subservient to the white family living there. He befriends the children and tells them stories, but the movie does a bad job of hiding the obviously racist post-Civil War tones. Walt Disney himself expected the film to be a box office smash, but even in 1949 people had objections. In a preview screening in Atlanta, one crowd reacted so adversely Walt Disney actually left the theater.

The film and how it was received, as media often is, was a direct reflection of racial tensions in America at the time. The actor who played Uncle Remus, James Baskett, was awarded an “honorary” Oscar. He was not eligible for a legitimate Oscar, nor was he allowed to attend the awards show because he was black. The film began to stand for the American attitude that white people were fine with using black people when convenient, but still did not want to acknowledge them as equal.

Critics described Uncle Remus as the “dream African-American” citizen; polite, subservient, kind, kept out of the way and never fought back, even when he was wrongfully blamed. And it is that writing that distinguishes Uncle Remus as a racist interpretation from a positive one. Even though it was a welcome change from the 1930s cartoons, Uncle Remus stood for the simple, happy slave narrative. It set an unrealistic standard that white people wished other black people could adhere to.

So why did Uncle Remus’ actor, James Baskett, go along with it? Part of it could be attributed to assimilation. The sociological phenomenon of assimilation refers to minorities having to lay low or play along with the majority’s opinions to successfully function in society. As a black actor in Hollywood, there weren’t many roles available to begin with. Even fewer were positive, non-villainous roles. Baskett had to take some problematic roles simply to survive in the industry.

Nowadays, the film is seen as one of Disney’s largest embarrassments. It hasn’t been released from the Disney “vault” in over 25 years. Virtually the entire Song of the South legacy lies in two things: the award-winning song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, and the cartoon characters on Splash Mountain. Even then, Splash Mountain has been altered so severely, it holds very little resemblance to the actual film; just to the cartoon characters it featured. Nowadays, Song of the South is an example of suppression of past prejudices.

 

Today

Today, Disney is generally seen as a beloved, progressive brand. And even though it has had a few slip ups in recent years, it has made aggressive efforts to correct them. For example, Aladdin’s opening song featured the lyric: “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric but her, it’s home!” After objections for Arab-Americans, Disney quickly changed the lyric and apologized. It cannot be found in film releases today. Disney continues to work towards inclusion and fairness to all people, but I’d argue that erasure is not always the best way to deal with past mistakes. Its a fine like to walk. Pieces like Song of the South and the 1930s cartoons cannot be fixed with a simple rewrite. They cannot be dubbed over with new dialogue. They are too broken. The fact that they have been taken out of circulation is adept; Disney should not profit from them. But in the future, when Disney makes mistakes, it needs to keep in mind that pretending it never happened is not the answer. Warner Brothers, for example, puts the following disclaimer in front of many of their older cartoons: “The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.” In summary, there is still much work to be done in the media. The rules of what is acceptable and unacceptable are constantly being set and rewritten, and it is important for companies to try and stay on top of it. After all, we have to acknowledge the problems in our past to keep them out of the future.

 

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