Ted Chung is an expert at fostering cultural exchanges.
As founder and chairman of the Cashmere Agency, a 360-degree marketing firm that helps brands with everything from public relations to social to creative to production, he has led teams in brand collaborations and activations with such Hollywood heavy hitters as Netflix, Universal, Sony, and more.
The past few months then, as you might imagine, have tested Chung and his agency’s creativity and flexibility like never before.
In late May, I chatted with Chung about the recent launch of Nice Sweater, a digital experiences division of the Cashmere Agency geared toward millennials and Gen-Zers. We talked about Nice Sweater’s plans to utilize emerging tech platforms like Zoom, TikTok, Twitch, YouTube Live, Instagram, and Facebook Live to connect artists, brands, entertainment, and nonprofit entities virtually, as well as its most recent event, a virtual prom in partnership with Jack in the Box.
Our new digital experiences arm Nice Sweater teamed up with @JackBox for an epic prom. Check out this piece in @Adweek to see how the fast food brand, @diplo, @DillonFrancis, @RaeSremmurd and more helped uncancel prom for two LA high schools.https://t.co/elNklobyGE
— Cashmere Agency (@CashmereAgency) May 15, 2020
We also talked about how COVID-19 has shifted the way brands must communicate in the digital space, as well as what they needed to do in order to communicate authentically with multicultural audiences.
Spoiler alert: It’s deeper than just vaguely expressing support on social media.
A little self-awareness goes a long way
On Monday, Chung and Cashmere took the next step and launched OneOpp, an initiative geared toward helping brands make social justice part of their company action and culture.
Through OneOpp, The Cashmere Agency has partnered with the nonprofits Center for Policing and Equity and Color of Change, which respectively champion police reform and racial justice. As Chung wrote in an open letter:
We are challenging others in the industry and partners to join us in this fight and we’ll continue to add new partners to OneOpp. We’re inviting our peers in marketing to join us by using their financial and media resources to champion policy reform and justice. Actionable items for brands who join OneOpp are that they can repost relevant news content from OneOpp to company socials, partner with companies in the OneOpp collective that champion social justice, embolden staff to volunteer, and more.
The killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and countless others have vanquished the veneer of stability in contemporary society; we are seasoned in the accretion of revelation. We are all, as the entire advertising and media industry, accountable to contribute financial and media resources to change systemic racist policies and the consequences of police brutality. We, as Cashmere, challenge you to join the #OneOpp initiative at www.OneOpp.org.
The overall goal is to engage contemporaries and allies in marketing and media to contribute financial and media resources toward changing systematic policies and the consequences of police brutality. Taking initiative will eventually look like posting on social media feeds to amplify content; committing a budget to media spending, which would be used to create a designated feed for OneOpp news and updates; developing a public database that compiles the names of officers who have had their licenses revoked due to misconduct; mobilizing voters behind policies to end police brutality; and more.
Operating at the speed of culture
OneOpp is just the latest adaptation Chung has had to make to a business that’s constantly in flux as the culture races from one epochal moment to the next.
Our conversation took place just after the anti-racism protests began, and a couple of days before L’Oréal joined the echo chamber of brands posting solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter. The makeup giant was swiftly called out by Munroe Bergdorf, its former cover girl, for not practicing what they posted. In 2018, L’Oréal fired Bergdorf after she tweeted about social justice. All parties involved have since reconciled, with Bergdorf back on the team as a consultant, but this is just one example—out of many—of how much brands need to learn about the people they serve before trying to communicate with them or at least hire people who do.
Chung is the first-generation child of Korean immigrants who grew up in Long Beach, California, and his staff at the Cashmere Agency represents a range of backgrounds and demographics—something that isn’t as obvious to some companies as it should be.
After talking to Chung as well as members of his staff about Cashmere’s approach to marketing, three key ideas emerge of how to embrace the moment we’re in:
- Intuitive marketing matters
- Data scientists are dope
- Brands need a reality check
This is a time when more consumers are purchasing with a conscience, and if brands don’t figure out how to provide an experience that feels authentic and immersed in the times, then at some point, they will lose credibility. The cultural zeitgeist is constantly changing, especially during turbulent times, and when Nice Sweater soft launched last fall, it was in response to changing needs led by young adult multicultural consumers.
Then the world went into quarantine due to a global pandemic, which changed the targeted demo’s behavior, once again, which fast-tracked Nice Sweater’s official launch in late April and made its purpose even more relevant.
“We’ve always been a culture- and social-first agency throughout our careers,” Chung says. “What we saw emerging was the dissolving of this invisible wall [separating] remote conferencing, digital events, certainly the rapid evolution and adoption for Gen Z (and millennials even) with Twitch and so forth, and utilizing the [streaming] platform in innovative ways. It just started resonating with us for many reasons why we would be most prepared for it. Getting that domain expertise in remote production technology, creative trends, digital data analysis, and online PR was a really interesting set of talent to pull together to create a division that is stand-alone focused on digital experiences.”
Nice Sweater keeps its finger on the pulse in two ways. One, by employing a diverse staff who can provide a variety of perspectives, but also by utilizing artificial intelligence known as Weavers. The system was created specifically by the agency’s data interpreters, trend analysts, and programmers, who go by the name “Dope Data Systems” as a collective. They are constantly creating distinct products just for Cashmere Agency and Nice Sweater. Weavers is a proprietary algorithm that takes various cultural cues, trends, signals, and activities to create what is described as the first software to provide an “accurate and actionable picture of how your brand is, in culture across all digital channels.” Chung and co. are so protective of Weavers that they wouldn’t disclose any clients currently using it.
“When we think about strategy, we have to think about—let’s always remember where the culture comes from—and then let’s also keep in mind that we have to create strategy and messaging that is fluid because there are things happening in our lives second by second,” Chung says. “A message yesterday could be an inappropriate message today, because the evolution of how we’re communicating with each other is moving faster than the process. That’s something we’re very focused on.”