Life Lessons, Marketing and Branding, Sustainable Design

How does a non-profit accidentally harm its mission?

As an animal lover and owner of an adopted pet, I really admire the mission of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).  However, I have ambivalent feelings about their recent collaboration with Ralph Lauren for Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. Apparently someone from Ralph Lauren called Nancy Novograd of “All Tame Animals” to collaborate on an event that promoted the adoption of shelter dogs and this was how The Dog Walk campaign was born. The online campaign featured adoptable dogs in Ralph Lauren’s Fall 2013 Accessories Collection showcase. So here’s why I’m ambivalent…

The Ethical Implications of the ASPCA + Ralph Lauren Corp Awareness Campaign

PROS

  • Increased awareness of the ASPCA mission: the Ralph Lauren Corp is immensely successful (2013 revenue so far is 16.9 billion USD) and has a powerful voice in the marketplace
  • Increased fundraising for the ASPCA: the Ralph Lauren brand exudes luxury, exclusivity, leisure and premium quality
    • This will attract more wealthy donors and “aspirational” donors (people who aspire to be a part of the Ralph Lauren brand tribe)
    • This will lead to more partnerships with “aspirational” brands (brands who aspire to be on the same level as the Ralph Lauren brand)
    • The partnership will make philanthropy look chic, cool and fun
  • Animals will get loving homes and help the ASPCA “rescue animals from abuse, pass humane laws and share resources with many shelters across the country”

CONS

“We believe that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and must be protected under the law.” -ASPCA

Inadvertently Promoting Animal Cruelty: Because the Ralph Lauren has such a powerful voice in the market place, they have the power to influence trends. For instance, do we want leather dog bags to become a fashion trend? The bag in question, one among many other leather accessories featured in The Dog Walk campaign, was made in Italy. I’m not sure how the leather industry is regulated in Italy.

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  • Short-term gain at the cost of the ASPCA’s core values: while the ASPCA will definitely get a huge financial and PR gain from this collaboration, they have also inadvertently condoned a cruel practice that goes against their own mission. Using animal parts in art and fashion is not going to disappear anytime soon, but this does not mean we should stop thinking critically about the issue.

ASPCA Missed an Opportunity

The ASPCA and Ralph Lauren could have showcased premium quality products not made of animal parts. While the ASPCA can’t tell Ralph Lauren Corp to never use leather, they could have collaborated on a leather-free collection.  Obviously the Ralph Lauren company had already created this collection before reaching out, but the ASPCA could have stuck to their values and declined. They could have proposed a beautiful cruel-free collection for the following year. Ralph Lauren certainly has the design talent to pull off a leather-free accessories collection.

No brand partnership is perfect. People and organizations are flawed and filled with moral contradictions.  Furthermore, every one of us has our own ethical line. For years I used to only buy leather shoes, because I rationalized that no part of the cow was wasted and the products lasted longer (saving me money and reducing consumption). Now that I live with an animal and have focused more on creating art that helps protect nature, my ethical line has shifted. I have become almost a vegetarian (I occasionally eat sea food) and I no longer buy leather. (Unfortunately, I cannot afford any new shoes right now, so I have to keep wearing my old leather shoes).

I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer to this situation. Life is not that clear-cut. As an emerging artist and entrepreneur interested in social responsibility, I find these scenarios extremely useful to study. They help me prepare for the ethical dilemmas awaiting my brand.

PETA’s Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing: Companies That Sell Some Leather and Fur Alternatives

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Illustration, Life Lessons, Marketing and Branding, Science, Work In Progress

I’m a generalist, in other words I’m going to starve!

Over the past several weeks, I’ve realized that I need to reevaluate how I’m branding myself and my company, Organic Lyricism.  Although my friends and family are very familiar about my passion for art and science, I have a nagging feeling that my passion is not resonating online.

The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

A couple of days ago I reread one of my favorite books on branding, The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier. In the book, Neumeier forces you to answer these THREE LITTLE QUESTIONS:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

Over the upcoming week, I will try my best to answer these questions. In the meanwhile, this is what I am now…

Arlene Ellis Overview, September 2013

Arlene Ellis Overview, September 2013

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I’ve been told that I’m stubborn. I stubbornly disagree, of course. I’d like to think I’m open to alternative approaches, provided I respect your reasoning. Let’s see, what else have I been told?

  1. “You need to focus, focus, focus!”
  2. “You think too much!”
  3. “You over analyze everything.”
  4. “Well, you’re just interested in everything. Aren’t you?”
  5. “Your illustrations are really out there! Are you sure you don’t take psychedelics?”
  6. “You’re too uptight, logical and practical. Relax a little!”
  7. “You’re definitely a Type A!”
  8. “You have a good heart, but you have to censor your ideas.”
  9. “You’re brave for pursuing your art.”
  10. “You’re naïve for pursuing art.”
  11. “You need to be more humble.”
  12. “You need to be more confident!”
  13. “You’re smart, but how can you help me?”
  14. “You need to stop caring what people think!”
  15. “I admire your passion and idealism, but you’re going to stave.”
  16. “Good luck with your dreams. You’ll need it.”
  17. “Why be anti-corporate, you’re not going to change anything.”
  18. “Stop being so practical!”
  19. “Start being more practical!”
  20. “It’s admirable that you care about human and animal rights, but nothing’s going to change.”

How I could be perceived as both too pragmatic and not pragmatic enough, is beyond me! I can’t get too annoyed by all the concerned opinions people throw my way. Most of the people who tell me these things care genuinely about my survival.  I don’t think I’m that unfocused. Nor do I think I’m interested in everything:

Main Interests Over the Years
Ages 6-14:
Fashion and Visual Arts
Ages 15-17: Biology
Age 18: Fashion and Visual Arts
Age 19: Visual Arts and Writing
Age 20: Biology
Age 21-22: Neuroscience and Visual Arts
Age 23: Medicine and Graphical Arts
Age 24: Graphical Arts and Medical Marketing
Ages 25-27: Medical Marketing and Medical Copywriting
Age 28-29: Medical Copywriting, Visual Arts and Fashion
Age 30: Visual Arts, Fashion, Biology

Call me crazy, but this list of interests does not seem to include “everything.” It looks to me like I’ve always been interested in art, fashion and biology. Over the past few years, I’ve been advised to pursue graduate degrees in these professions. “Have you thought about earning an MFA? Why not pursue a degree in fashion or textile design? You should get your Ph.D. in biology.”

A generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources… A specialist species can only thrive in a narrow range of environmental conditions or has a limited diet. Most organisms do not all fit neatly into either group, however. -Wikipedia

As of now, I’m not interested in pursuing graduate degrees in the visual arts, fashion or biology. Why? Because I would be miserable. I understand the need for specialists;  however, I also think generalists are vital too. Generalists are the people who can mine useful insights buried across multiple disciplines.  Many writers are generalists. I suppose one could argue that writers have specialized in the craft of writing, but the craft is a merely a means to an end.

It’s not about writing, painting, sewing, drawing, etc. These are modes of communication. It’s about the idea. Ideas are what change the world.

My illustrations are not simply about depicting natural phenomena through a decorative lens. They are about revealing the interconnectedness among all species. They are intended to inspire an appreciation and hopefully a desire to protect our natural world.

My bird Illustrations over the years (Arlene Ellis, 2013)

I’m not sure when I developed a thing for birds, but apparently I’ve been drawing them since 2010! I thought it would be interesting it to see how my illustration skills have evolved over the last three years.

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