Oscars’ Slapgate and what it means for brand values


This piece wishes it wasn’t another hot take on the Oscars’ Slapgate. This piece wishes it was about something else instead. Because by now, you’ve seen it all, heard it all, and are, presumably, done with it all. The verdict has been handed down by the committee, and Will Smith has made his apologies, and accepted the penalty – a 10-year long ban from the Academy.

But considering since all the breaking news, opinion polls, memes, and twitter wars started, only one aspect of the whole fiasco ever received attention and was at best briefly discussed, I’d like to offer a slightly different take on the Oscars committee’s handling of it all, and what, if anything, businesses can learn and take away from it.

But what, you may rightly ask, has any of this got to do with business? Well it all really boils down to brand values – that set of behaviours that dictate how an organisation does business.

What are brand values?

Brand values don’t just enable or support culture, they are supposed to form the foundation on which all business decisions are based. What’s more, brand values should be designed to support the mission and vision of the organisation. They are the behaviours and perspectives needed to achieve the company vision.

How does that work?

The mission of the Academy Awards is to ‘recognise and uphold excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences, inspire imagination, and connect the world through the medium of motion pictures.’ Inspiration. Connection. Upholding excellence. Bold and lofty goals. What behaviours might enable that to happen? Maybe, fairness, for example, since fairness helps to uphold excellence. For the sake of argument, let’s assume.

What do we do with that?

Fairness then translates into a set of behaviours and initiatives that touch all parts of the business. Values should affect several areas of the business, since the business goal is to achieve the vision:

  • Who you partner with
  • Who your clients are
  • How your staff behave
  • How you communicate, and
  • What projects and initiatives you undertake

Decisions in all these areas should be assessed against the business’s core values. This prevents the business straying off course from achieving their set vision and mission.

A complicating factor

Essentially there are four sets of values that come into play in any business.

The first of these is Permission-To-Play values. These are values that are considered table-stakes in any industry. For example, one would assume that in the auditing industry Permission-To-Play might include honesty and integrity. These values may be assumed as the baseline of industry-standard behaviour.

Next are Core values. Harvard Business Review defines these as ‘inherent and sacrosanct; they can never be compromised, either for convenience or short-term economic gain. They are often the values of the company’s founders.’ As a rule, these tend to be the more formal values that are explicitly stated by the company.

Third is Aspirational values. These are the values that the company needs in the future but may lack today. These would be pieces of the puzzle that should be stated explicitly and may be changed from time to time to support the changing environment in which the vision lives.

Lastly, and probably the most troublesome one of the bunch is Accidental values. These arise over time spontaneously, without being cultivated by management. They reflect the behaviours and personalities of the staff of the organisation. These behaviours can sometimes clash with the Core values, as they often arise out of short-term gain in getting the job done. These values also tend to implicitly define company culture, and management will need to keep an eye on these behaviours as they can detract from the long-term vision of the organisation.

It’s precisely due to these Accidental values arising that it becomes imperative for a company to ensure that all business decisions and processes align to their Core values, in order to realise their vision.

So what about the Oscars then?

Fairness, right? When the Academy committee made the decision to ban Will Smith from the Awards for 10 years, were they fair? Considering how they’ve treated past Hollywood monsters-  that then begs the question – how does an organisation balance core values with accidental values when over years they’ve actively endorsed and rewarded behaviour that goes against fairness?

The overriding consequence of this is that their behaviour rings false and perhaps more accurately  reads as inauthenticity to the very audience they’re trying to get buy-in from – the film industry. And broadly speaking, society at large.  And the upshot is that less value is placed on matters of the Academy as time goes on.

In other words, when an organisation doesn’t consistently stand united behind their values, buy-in becomes hard to manage, and support is lost, simple as that. 





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