February 24, 2020
Spring is a time of renewal and new beginning. In the Pacific Northwest, it also means a literal return of sunlight and green earth. As someone who has long experienced seasonal affective disorder, this is no small matter.
Twenty-nine years ago, in the early spring of 1991, the teenager me was studying the Bible and fundamentals of theology with my then-pastor in preparation for baptism, which was to take place on March 24 of that year, the Sunday before Easter. I made a promise to God and to myself that I will be a proclaimer of the truth. Although I had a vaguest idea how that might be, and my theology had greatly evolved since then (I was a Fundamental Baptist then, I am not now), I have not forgotten that commitment — despite three decades of trials, errors, sidetracking, backsliding, and doing just about everything else.
Of course, this explains why, in 1997 I abruptly abandoned my college journalism major, relocated to Oregon, and attended a Bible college for some time — a decision that made no sense to most people and made no sense to me shortly thereafter (considering I had already lost my faith in Evangelical Christianity shortly after I started at that school, and spent much of the subsequent 20 years between paganism and agnosticism).
A series of events that took place over the past several years and rethinking my core values and mission, I have began a process of realigning my activities this past year to do the right thing in God’s eyes.
I give lots of thoughts on ethics and moral integrity (or lack thereof) in contemporary society and culture. Not necessarily in the way how some hateful Bible-thumpers twist the ideas of “morality,” but rather, in a way how so much of what goes on in current politics, media, entertainment, commerce, and culture are there to leverage and weaponize privilege and reinforcing oppressive constructs that do injustice to marginalized humans, who are just as much of expressions of God’s image as those privileged people for which our culture is geared towards.
When I first discovered Internet in 1995, I saw its potential as a tool of liberation: liberating knowledge and learning, giving voice and power of self-expression to the voiceless, and spreading the Gospel around the world, around-the-clock. But now, a quarter-century later, Internet and social media are cesspool of hatred, deceit, trolls, gossips, propaganda, and polarization on the one hand, and an orgy of “lifestyle businesses,” influencers, selfie-culture hedonism, and consumerism on the other hand. I no longer think the world is now a better place because we have Facebook, nor is social media a panacea for every ill of society.
First, Since 2016, I ran a small digital marketing and brand management company called Limeadestand Works, which was renamed last year mostly to avoid getting sued by a similarly-named entity but also because I felt that I wasn’t taken seriously.
The truth be told, I was the one who really couldn’t take it seriously any more. During the course of three and a half years in this industry, I saw good, bad, and ugly. I witnessed a proliferation of self-appointed “gurus”, unqualified “coaches” and other charlatans teaching others how to run unethical and morally questionable businesses with a dubious promise of a six-figure income (if you’ve heard such buzzwords as “launch,” “pain island to pleasure island,” you know what I am talking about — Jeff Walker’s formula has become foundations of countless charlatans who exploit people’s insecurity while positioning themselves as a cult-like authority by leveraging privilege and through victim-shaming and gaslighting). I became increasingly critical of this type of marketing practices over time.
I am here to lift up all people, especially the ones on the margins of society, who are discarded and failed by society–in particular in this age of Trumpism. At its onset, Limeadestand Works began in line with that value. But it got lost somewhere and I became, unwittingly or not, part of that evil.
I cannot continue this with good conscience.
Second, the industry landscape in brand communication and digital marketing has changed quite a bit over the last three years.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal shed light on deceptive and manipulative business practices of social media giants, leading politicians and governments to institute new regulations such as European Union General Data Protection Rule and California Consumer Privacy Act. Compliance with these new and emerging rules complicate my work as I do not have satisfactory resources to safeguard personal data of consumers around-the-clock nor do I have means to compel my clients to comply with these regulations. This means potential legal liability exposures for me, a risk I cannot afford to take. In addition, other emerging legal and regulatory changes on the horizon, such as a stricter enforcement of Americans with Disabilities Act on digital platforms (e.g., web site accessibility requirements), possible changes to copyright and IP laws, and potential watering down of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, present me with further complications when working with businesses.
The regulatory changes aside, the world of digital marketing is changing fast. Blog-centric content marketing, once the “king of traffic,” has already lost its strength and meanings as people spend more time on social media on their smartphones and their attention span gets shorter and shorter. These days more people go to a social media site before a search engine site. Most traffic now begins and ends on major social media platforms as most users go mobile and their online experiences are becoming confined to the “walled gardens” of social media apps. On the social media marketing front, the situation is less comforting. It is now almost entirely pay-to-play. Organic reach no longer has much power in attracting customers, so I cannot offer my clients any false hope about that; social media is not a substitute for a strategically placed paid advertisements.
The only exceptions to this trend are podcasts (such as Anchor, Soundcloud, and Spotify) and videos (such as YouTube and Vimeo), as they are still powerful and growing as people like passive media consumption that is entertaining and informative.
And most importantly, and something not many people are talking about now, is the overall loss of credibility in digital media — mainly social media but also blogs, web sites, and online advertising. People are bombarded with low-grade online contents, misleading information, and disguised-as-native-content advertisements to the point where they are seeing them but not paying attention to them. And people are rightfully skeptical of online ads. After all, anyone can buy ads on Facebook or Google rather inexpensively, and these ads are neither memorable nor look authoritative. Lately, I began advising people to invest in traditional media such as print advertising and radio advertising because of this reason. Since the number of junk mailers has decreased overall, even bulk-mailed postcards get more attention than your next Facebook ad buy (especially if your business is hyperlocal). Ads on monthly magazines and local alternative weeklies have a far longer lifespan than your Twitter ad exposure, too. Even more importantly, print ads and radio ads look just more authoritative and credible — you can differentiate yourself by making your business look more established and legitimate than every yahoo with a computer. I think traditional media will be here to stay and because of their inherent social function as curators of news and contents they will make a strong comeback when we are all sick and tired of this 24/7 information overload. (And yes, please buy newspaper subscriptions to support your local newsroom!)
Third, since the spring of 2019, I have contemplated of returning to ministry. After all, I did not decide to move to Oregon if not for attending a Bible college (and I also felt, at the time, Portland was more of a center of Christianity in the Pacific Northwest as it was home of Evangelist Luis Palau, Multnomah University, Western Seminary, George Fox University, the University of Portland, Concordia University, Warner Pacific University, Marylhurst University, and the Pamplin conglomerate that used to own a big Christian bookstore chain, two Christian music labels, and a Christian music radio station). And I had a brief and short-lived experience back in the mid-2000s as a church-planter affiliated with the dissolved-since-then Reformed Catholic Church of America.
If I had not lost faith (a long story) while in school, most likely I would have been in some kind of Christian media ministries either in a media production capacity or in a teaching capacity.
Over the past 10 months I have discerned my vision and learned various ways in which it could manifest itself.
The Spirit of God has impressed upon me numerous times that, as an autistic person (I have not been open about this, and “masking” has taken a significant toll on my mental health), I ought to go find a community there.
As I looked at a search engine looking for “autism +church” “autistic +religion” and so on, I noted the lack of resources except for a few geared toward church leadership on how to tolerate autistic children in their churches. Presently there are practically no resources for autistic adults, and there is no dedicated faith community or ministry that is both for and by the autistic community. Then there are pervasive stereotypes that all autistics are atheists, overlooking the fact that there are many who are highly religious (though may not necessarily be “spiritual” in a sense neurotypicals may think) and find comfort in the structures offered by faith communities and traditions. I learned more about this community through more recent scientific papers as well as interactions with autistic community online, and I also learned how much of anti-autistic misconceptions and ableist hate I had internalized over time.
This is quickly becoming a large undertaking, a vision for one-of-its-kind ministries with global impact and potentials for evolving into something far bigger (and overwhelming!) than I had originally imagined almost a year ago. And this will take front and center of what I do, as it requires a lot of work, time, and more learning, as well as supporters both within and outside the autistic community.
I will share more about this if you are interested in this kind of thing, but for the sake of others who aren’t, I will not bore you with further details.
This means I am making, effective immediately, following changes to ADSTELLAM’s products and services:
- As I had announced on Dec. 31, 2019, I am no longer taking business/corporate clients. This is also because of the aforementioned liability concerns.
- Furthermore, I am no longer directly managing client brands or work as a digital marketing contractor for any client. In any case, I can only do so much and even the best of my advice can be disregarded as irrelevant to some clients as they unconsciously sabotage and undermine their own brands (sadly, there is no cure for stupidity).
- My roles and service level will be limited to that of consulting on brands, with an emphasis on visual designs and consistent brand presentations, subconscious and implicit messaging, as well as ethical values and social impact associated with brands. Over time, this will shift toward educating individuals on branding and related topics. It is my goal to empower individuals and offer my insights as to current best practice and industry trends, in addition to creating and running an ethical, value-driven brand that makes positive impacts in the world.
- As time and workload permit, I will continue to take copywriting and editing projects.
- In the near future I may repurpose the ADSTELLAM brand for other activities, or as an “umbrella” brand, while rebranding this aspect of my business.
- I will be more likely to recommend and refer people to other resources, books, videos, etc., by other brand experts.
- A plan in the making is a new free podcast and subscribers-only educational contents, which will be priced affordably.
I know this may cause some alarm and discomfort with many of the people that I came in contact with and befriended in recent years. To some it may come as a surprise. They had met me when I was not particularly religious or spiritual, and when I was better known as a community activist.