What is the Goal of Verizon's Set of Videos for Black History Month?

This is the kind of subject matter that gets well-intentioned writer-type people in trouble, so let me state right at the outset
that I love everybody and everything. I am cool with every extant gender, skin color, ethnicity, nationality, faith, sexual orientation, political affiliation and body geometry, as well as others that haven't yet been invented and/or emerged from the Darwinian mire (e.g., pan-Eskimo republocrats, Amphibiasians). If you are a person on this planet - or an animal! don't forget the cuddly, delicious animals! - I celebrate your being. My only bias is against dumb people, who I believe should be fitted for protective mittens and banned from the Internet and interstates.

Now that we've gotten the ass-covering component of this column out of the way: What the dickens is Verizon hoping to accomplish with its series of videos celebrating Black History Month?

Is it seeking to inspire? To awaken? To info-tain? After viewing all seven video vignettes, I'm still not entirely sure. The program, which debuted just before the start of Black History Month, taps nine successful black Americans to relate their business and life
philosophies. They talk about the challenges they faced and the wisdom they've accumulated.

In theory, this is a fine and timely idea, regardless of what month it says on the calendar. In practice, the campaign reeks of corporate do-goodery and political hypercorrectness. It's all platitudes: believe in yourself, failure is a blessing in disguise, there is no finish line, etc. Two videos in, my cliché Bingo scorecard looked as if it had been hit by an ink bomb. No aspect of the campaign is immune to the taint of triteness: Even the site copy reads like a tagline to a straight-to-video movie ("Before their common bond was medicine, their common bond was struggle").

That's my main problem with the campaign: It lacks specifics. I don't doubt that Beverly Bond had to deal with all sorts of boorishness on her way to the top of the DJ food chain. So how about detailing a single specific incident, rather than confining her mini-lecture to generalities? I don't see how Bond's use of social media helps viewers "celebrate [her] story and put [themselves] on the path to success," to use Verizon's own words.

Similarly, Verizon hamstrings the campaign by showcasing businesspeople, professionals and performers whose stories have
already been told (by themselves and by others). That's not to say that the nine featured individuals aren't deserving of the accolades that have come their way, so much as that Verizon didn't exactly have to break its back to locate them. Hell, education reformer Dr. Steve Perry appears on CNN more often than most of its anchors. You want to inspire/inform/galvanize us, flag down a historian or a biochemist or a community organizer who hasn't already been profiled by NPR.

As for the clips themselves, they're right out of Generic Videology 101: They rotate easily between close-ups and side-angle shots and chuck in sporadic you-R-there flashes of nearby monitors and cameras. The editing attempts to lend gravity to the proceedings, sometimes to inadvertent comic effect. Thus Dr. Perry is seen examining an apple with a pensive look on his face, actor Laz Alonso is seen examining a thread of 8mm film with a pensive look on his face and Bond is seen fingering through her record collection with a pensive look on her face. The message sent: Everybody involved with this project has big thinky thoughts about thinking.

In the end, this campaign represents the most cynical kind of corporate PR, a program that exists for no reason other than so that, if challenged, Verizon can say, "Hey, we did something. We are citizens in good standing of Planet Inclusivity." To my mind, that's more of a slap than letting the month pass without acknowledgment. Either do a campaign of this ilk right - real, specific stories from subjects who haven't been massively overprofiled - or don't bother.



3 comments about "What is the Goal of Verizon's Set of Videos for Black History Month?".
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  1. Walter Graff from Bluesky Media, February 28, 2012 at 4:38 p.m.

    This is not the only series of ridiculous and useless videos Verizon has made. A few months ago they created a Domestic Violence video that was so filled with lies and erroneous information that many woman's groups were up in arms let alone every fathers group in the country.

    It painted every man as an abuser. Had every father as a molester. It tried to say that a young girl who witnesses domestic violence is herself twice as likely to experience it just because she saw DV in her life. It used the term 'monster' when describing every man and erroneously attempted to say that women are the only victims of domestic violence when the fact is that nearly as many men are victims of domestic violence as women according to every government statistic released. The video represented a new low in domestic violence distortion and gender vilification.

    Most of it's erroneous information came from a number of woman's groups that distort reality for their own economic advantage. Verizon fell for their propaganda but got in a heck of a lot of trouble because of it. Verizon eventually pulled it from so much pressure from the public.

    What Verizon is trying to do no one knows. Maybe they think all this useless fodder will be something folks will watch on their phones as if they are creating some sort of information database.

    They ought to stick to cell phone service rather than trying to create horrible videos that do little more than distort the truth and waste bandwidth for the ten people that actually watch.

  2. Leigh Hayden from DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, February 28, 2012 at 4:55 p.m.

    At least Larry didn't mention my #1 pet peeve of campaigns featuring African Americans, especially during the month of February: black folks in choir robes. Talk about cynical, lazy iconography.

    As messengers if we don't give a dickens about the issue we are informing others of or the business we are generating revenue for it can't help but show. That's true whether you're pushing processed cheese food slices or Black History Month.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 28, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.

    So what has Verizon actually contributed to hire, train, promote African Americans on all levels including for their R&D and ivory tower positions ? If you don't have your own story to tell, you can't tell others.

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