Publicis’ Head of Futures, Tom Goodwin, Faces Twitter Backlash for Takes on Pandemic

By Erik Oster 

Tom Goodwin voiced some strong opinions on Twitter yesterday and shared some harsh words in an exchange with R/GA’s Tom Morton.

The Publicis Groupe head of futures and insight sparked criticism when he commented on a post noting that a comparable number of people to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack are dying every two days from Covid-19. Goodwin opined about an “obsession with Covid deaths” while also claiming that “excess mortality is now near zero.”

R/GA U.S. chief strategy officer Tom Morton replied with a plea for Goodwin to stop what he referred to as “clickbait contrarianism,” to which Goodwin reacted with a series of profanity-laced Tweets accusing Morton of being out of touch. Morton quoted the thread, saying, “I guess this is the end of me and Tom Goodwin’s professional correspondence.”


In a statement, Goodwin told AgencySpy that Morton had blocked him, so he couldn’t see his replies, but that he would “welcome the chance to talk to him about any aspects of what he’s written, either in public or private.”

“I’m a big believer in conversations about vital topics and to learn from the debate. Changing your own opinions from conversation is better than maintaining it; it means you’ve learned something,” Goodwin added. “Rest assured I mean nothing personal. I, like many of us, am simply painfully aware a lot of people are really, really suffering right now. We use lines like ‘we’re all in this together,’ and I’m not totally sure we’re doing our gifts of empathy justice. I’m not sure, but I may be wrong, that we’re using our imagination to see quite how bad things could be if 23 million Americans face evictions, or 56 million kids don’t get to go to school.”

Industry leaders including Wieden + Kennedy’s Colleen DeCourcy and The 3% Movement’s Kat Gordon responded in sympathy with Morton’s reaction.


Criticism over Goodwin’s pandemic takes extended to at least one Publicis Groupe client. Chris Gough, head of marketing at Samsung Electronics, responded that Goodwin had “properly lost the plot,” while expressing the opinion that the situation was “becoming quite damaging to Publicis Groupe.” Samsung Electronics expanded its decade-long relationships with Publicis Groupe in 2018, when Samsung named Leo Burnett as lead agency for its TV business.

“His views are not reflective of the company’s,” a Publicis Groupe spokesperson said in reference to Goodwin’s comments.

Morton has yet to reply to a request for comment.

Here is the statement provided by Goodwin in full:

Tom Morton blocked me, so I’m unable to see what he’s put, but I’d welcome the chance to talk to him about any aspects of what he’s written, either in public or private. I’m a big believer in conversations about vital topics and to learn from the debate.  Changing your own opinions from conversation is better than maintaining it, it means you’ve learned something.

Rest assured I mean nothing personal. I, like many of us, am simply painfully aware a lot of people are really really suffering right now.   We use  lines like “we’re all in this together,” and I’m not totally sure we’re doing our gifts of empathy justice. I’m not sure, but I may be wrong, that we’re using our imagination to see quite how bad things could be if 23 million Americans face evictions, or 56 million kids don’t get to go to school.

The homeless around Penn Station grow ever more gaunt, drug addiction hotlines get overwhelmed, the elderly are feeling more isolated by the day, kids below the digital divides see their chance of changing generational wealth gaps evaporate. The value we bring to our clients comes from understanding the world and most of all from really understanding people. It’s our job to see why people would vote for Trump when perhaps it seems illogical, to see why people don’t want to wear masks, to drink with ICE agents, to do trends decks from Dollar General as well as from from Hudson Yards or Westfield.

Only when we get close to other people can we seek to understand them, only when we understand them can we change their behaviors. Each moment we spend in coastal cities, fervently watching shows that align with our values, surrounded by “people like us” breaks down our grasp on the real nature of the world we face. Right now we have retreated to our homes, off the streets and the connections of glanced smiles on public transit. We have never been less able to understand the complex struggles, the known and predictable and unpredictable primary and secondary effects of lockdown. Perhaps distracted by the busyness of back-to-back Zoom calls, comforted by healthcare, we are more susceptible than ever to forget how different our lives are from each other. We all know of personal tragedy, we are all emotionally drained and emotional, it’s clearly taking a toll on all of us, myself included. But my intentions are good, I am privileged to have a voice and think the only thing worse than caring too much, is caring too little, that believing in the what you think is the right thing, is the right thing, even if you end up being wrong. Science is about debate, I’m not quite sure why now is a time to set people up for scorn, rather than seek to learn from their vantage point.

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