Balancing and Breaking from a Branding Strategy

My last full-time employment prior to putting all my time and effort into Chocolate Diamond Media, was as an assistant in a branding department. I was hired because of my knowledge of marketing and branding practices, as well as my background in English (I have an M.A. in English- Fiction Writing, and worked for a year as an editor at a publishing house), as well as my attention to detail.

It was a very rewarding position, I met someone I would consider one of my best friends, and I worked for a company in the medical field doing work that was life-saving. In addition to that, I really learned a ton about building a brand, and how that relates with fonts/colors/tone. The job absolutely prepared me for what I’ve been doing with Chocolate Diamond since.

Another aspect of branding that I was fortunate enough to learn, was when to break from your branding. The branding manager that I worked with was also the social media manager, and while the company was in the medical field, there was a very strong social conscience to the brand outside of the medical field. They weren’t afraid to make a statement. That’s important, because while ultimately you want to be making money, there is a level you have to stick by your moral compass as well.

This idea of being outspoken as a company is something that we’ve all seen, Ben and Jerry’s, Chic-Fil-A, and tons of other companies have taken political and social stances on every side of every issue. It wasn’t a shock that my company did the same, but what was shocking, was seeing how detail oriented, and strict they were with so much of the message (to be fair, there was a lot of it which was FDA regulated, so it had to be strict), including not wanting varying fonts, sizes, and colors in their messages, wanting a very uniform graphics style, and then I would see them say “you know what, we need to address this.”

I’m sure, that Ben and Jerry’s, and other companies have those same branding departments, controlling every little consideration in the marketing process, and for many companies political or social statements are a departure from that brand, they are the company saying “we the leadership feel strongly about this, and even though it may alienate some of our customer base, we need to be able to look ourselves in the mirror,” and they make that decision, (this may be less true for Ben and Jerry’s who’ve very much incorporated social and political causes into their branding).

I bring this up, because we’re seeing a lot of what might be confused for that moral compass leading companies away from their branding, with the protesting following the deaths of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. We know that in a lot of these cases, the companies are making calculated marketing decisions, to ensure that they don’t alienate the large number of people—it has to be a majority at this point, right?— of people who are fed up with the injustice; and I personally, am a bit skeptical of a fair amount of them. Then you see something like Ben and Jerry’s where the message is impassioned, and it serves to do two things, first it shows us that there is genuine concern and outrage coming from some companies. Second, it serves to highlight when we get a disingenuous message from other companies.

In January, I went through the process of removing video work that I thought looked unprofessional in it’s message and tone, because of how political it was. It’s not something I’m sorry I did, most of it wasn’t that good, but then I thought for the past few months that it served me best to keep this company apolitical, in order to not alienate potential clients. That I don’t agree with anymore. I will not use this platform as a soapbox to preach and lecture from (as it grows, because currently it’s not that large of a platform) but I will not try to remain ‘neutral.’ That’s the promise I’m going to make with you, the people reading this now, or prospective clients who are scrolling back through my posts in the months/years to come. I can work with people of differing opinions, and I will not lecture, but I will not remain silent when I feel that silence is complicity.

Last week’s post, I wrote a plain and straightforward message about the Black Lives Matter movement. I have been in the habit of writing one post a week, in order to try to keep my presence online consistent, but I could not think of anything else to write about, and frankly, the idea of writing about a video technique, or business and marketing strategy, seemed like an impossible task, and an undesirable one. That’s part of what is inspiring this as well. Watching the protests on the news, and seeing the boarded up storefronts in downtown Raleigh, and witnessing six sheriff’s cars pulling one car over, I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to try to come up with a ‘fun’ or ‘informative’ topic and pretend their isn’t social unrest everywhere right now.

I want to say one last thing. My best friend, Adam, and I started Chocolate Diamond Productions in 2008, with the hopes of making the movies we enjoy watching. The Chocolate part, was because we loved Scrubs and I would call him Chocolate Bear like J.D. called Turk. The Diamond was because a coal (or Cole in our case) under pressure becomes a diamond.

It has been 12 years, and we’ve both gone through a lot of changes. We’ve both gotten married, had kids, and at a certain point Adam got a career, and while I kept the name Chocolate Diamond, and my intent has always been that if we hit it big, he would come back into this company as my partner, he’s off doing his own thing, and so I need for everyone to know, that when you read this posts, or our social media, it is me, and not Adam. I would say, without going into too much detail, that I’m the more radical of the two of us. So, please, if you read anything on this site, and upsets you, keep in mind that he has nothing to do with it. When and if that changes, we will let you know.

What To Talk About this Week

When I started blogging back in January, the idea was that I would talk about business and video topics. I didn’t expect I’d be writing about a global pandemic, and I didn’t expect that we’d be talking about systemic racism and societal inequality. But here we are, and these topics are not only unavoidable, but must be addressed responsibly. I will however, try to remain apolitical on this blog, but that doesn’t mean I will not express an opinion.

When it comes to the past week of protests, and as importantly the history of racial violence that preceded them, we are on the side of solving the problem as much as possible. Let me clarify, I know that racism will likely never go away entirely, but I am in favor of reducing it, especially the effects of it, as much as humanly possible. I hope that is through peaceful protest, but I also understand that peace has failed until this point.

I have struggled for days to figure out how I can personally affect change, and help to ease this pain, and I’ve come up with little. What I have come up with, is listening and being available. I’m not black, and while I care passionately, I don’t want to rush into misguided action and hurt the cause. What I do want to do, is to be an ally for the cause, which means I’m willing to be told what is needed of me.

I’ve also thought a lot about what I’ve seen other white people doing in videos and news coverage, and I think it’s important that as a whole, we need to take a step back. I don’t mean we need to step away, but I have seen several videos with peaceful demonstrators of color, and an embolden white person creating chaos. Some of this has obviously been with the best of intentions, and some of it has been with malicious intentions, but I think as far as I can tell, that both are harmful. If people like myself, who are too detached to fully understand the problem, interject in a way that gives fuel to the argument that the protests are violent, anarchist, or anti-productive.

We cannot undermine the fight. That is not being an ally.

I will help as I can, as I am asked, but I will not try to lead, or go rogue, because my hope is that I can help to achieve the goal of getting us as close as possible to a just system. I don’t exactly know what that means, just that I’m willing to be lead.

For the Love of Teaching (…Filmmaking)

For the past week, I’ve been working with my son to make a short film. Lacie through their Collective site, is doing a contest to show your average day in one minute. My day is largely dominated by my son, so it seemed only natural that I would make a film with him for the contest.

As you can see, the film that we made was largely inspired by my mixture of frustration and satisfaction of spending all day every day with my son.

One of the things that I have found in these past couple months, is how passion for filmmaking can also translate to passion for teaching filmmaking. Don’t get me wrong, he’s four, and there’s only so much he’s going to learn, but between this short, and my LEGO short video that I made with him at the beginning of lockdown, I’ve had some opportunity to teach him some basics of filmmaking.

The key to teaching, and ultimately to working with a four-year-old in general, is keeping everything interesting to them. When filming, we’ve worked on projects that have kept his interest (LEGOS and annoying me), but also the tasks that he helps me with have been fun for him. In both projects, he’s been able to sit at my computer, in front of my microphone, with massive headphones covering his ears, he can hear his own voice as he speaks, and I tell him his lines. He likes the combination of watching the wave forms in Garageband, and hearing his own voice over and over again as I ask him to repeat his very simple lines or words over and over with different inflections and deliveries. (Eleven or twelve weeks into lockdown, or whatever we are, this is the most I’ve been able to get him to settle down without him falling asleep.)

One thing that surprised me about working with my son on this last film, was how interested in my camera he was. After shooting a night shot, he wanted to hold the camera and see what every button and dial did, so we spent nearly an hour with me showing him the manual focus, and aperture, the different modes of the camera, playback, and menu. Several times he aimed the camera at things and proceeded to play with focus adjusting and doing a relatively good job pulling focus.

In addition to interest in playing with cameras, he also has a lot of interest in special effects. He’s watched how they did the library scene in the first Ghostbuster’s film, and lately we’ve been talking a lot about lightsaber battles, and how to film the special effects such as force pulling the lightsaber to himself (and our neighbor).

I do kind of think in order to keep him entertained, and find interesting things to do, I might start putting him through a filmmaking ‘bootcamp.’ It also might be a good method of honing my own skills, especially in areas that I don’t have that much experience. Maybe we’ll do a lightsaber scene, and some foley work, who knows.

Not exactly Chocolate Diamond Media news, but I had worked last summer on a commercial as an Assistant Director of Photography, and apparently we won a Telly Award for the commercial. If you haven’t seen the commercial you can check it out here: