November 2010

Thanksgetting

In the groaning aftermath of Thanksgiving, the nation is already casting its insatiable eyes to the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, the official kick-off of the year-end Hail Mary consumerama sometimes quaintly referred to as Christmas. Shopping isn’t just the central transaction in an economy that’s rapidly evolved from manufacturing to consuming. It’s at the core of our identity. Get the best thing, get the best deal, but by all means get something. Throw out the old stuff and repeat. It’s trite to be overly judgmental about this – we’re all complicit in this frantic paddling in the shallow end. We might be grateful instead that this relentless materialism has provided amazing prosperity no only to ourselves but to people around the world who labor to make and ship the objects of our restless desires. Our retail, marketing, and advertising industries depend on people buying more sweaters and iterations of gadgets than they know what to do with. Like all marketing gimmicks, Black Friday is no longer enough. It isn’t even true anymore, in terms of being the day when retailers’ bottom lines finally go into the “black” for the year – we buy like crazy all year long. So now we also have Virtual Monday, for deal-seekers who don’t want to leave the warmth of their computers. And under consideration: an American launch of Boxing Day, the traditional British holiday that gave the servants December 26 off since they had to man their employers’ parties the day before. It could be a great way to goose those all-important after-Christmas sales, proponents argue. http://bit.ly/eFjbwE

The Devolution From News to Newest

The news media has fallen under the boot of “the forces of entertainment” said a prominent senator this week. Huh? Was this a battle that we missed somehow on one of those 500 specialized channels we can’t find the time to watch? Kiddo, that war is long over. Entertainment won. “Instead of a watchdog that is a check on the excesses of government and business, we have the endless barking of a 24-hour news cycle,” scolded Jay Rockefeller in a hearing that was supposed to be about retransmission rights between broadcasters and cable operators. He stayed on point, however, with his argument that consumers shouldn’t have to pay (and dearly) for hundreds of channels they don’t care to watch and that swamp the mindscape with bread-and-circuses triviality and ideological hokum. He noted the average monthly cost of cable service increased at triple the rate of inflation between 1995 and 2008, according to the Federal Communications Commission.. [http://bit.ly/clo0p8] In any event, the yapping is going to just get more intense. Any day now expect to witness the debut of the The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s newest creature, eager to show its 24/7 social media pedigree by being available only on tablets like the iPad (a “game changer” declared the savvy old mogul during an earnings call in August). “We think it’s a great format because the tablet in general lends itself to a type of journalism that is really new,” said News Corp. heir James Murdoch. So just what is this new type of journalism? Reports [http://bit.ly/98PPwe] have it that The Daily is experimenting with an investigative secret weapon called a “quadricopter” -- basically a drone with cameras that can be operated with an iPad touch screen. No celebrity will be safe. Just another example, Senator, of how the newest thing (a.k.a., technology) trumps news.

Making Pate from the Golden Goose

Where would Google be without people scouring the neighborhood and the world for news and information, writing and editing and packaging that information at great expense, so Google could then share it for free and score billions in ad revenue? But just because Google gutted journalism as a business doesn’t mean it wants to kill the golden goose. It wants the old bird to evolve. Google says “it’s crucial to encourage innovation at the grassroots level.” So the multi-billion dollar goliath is donating $5 million to help nonprofits develop “new approaches to journalism in the digital age” – $2 million to the Knight Foundation, and $3 million will go to unspecified journalism projects outside of the U.S. All Things Digital called it Google’s $5 million “Get Well Soon” card to media, noting that Google had net profits last quarter of $2.17 billion. Google closed out its blog post announcing the grants with a few words from that old innovation standby, Thomas Edison: “Stop experimenting and you go backward.” Look for publishers to experiment with Google Maps and YouTube Direct to make news websites more engaging for readers.

Let’s Make P.R. Stand for “Promoting Responsibility”

Before the Deepwater Horizon destroyed its credibility and balance sheet, BP spent millions on green-related imagery: donations to environmental groups, solar panel experimentation, speeches on safety. It redid its logo to look like a green and yellow sunflower and cleverly recast its initials to stand for a new slogan: “Beyond Petroleum.” We know how well that worked out. We got the Gulf disaster anyway. Not because it was inevitable. No, a million spent on a better blowout preventer would have avoided that – a mere drop compared to the gallons of money expended on commercials and lobbyists and image consultants since the accident. Lesson: Integrity is cheaper than bullshit. Arguably, the company did its damnedest to stop the leak and continues to clean up the aftermath (at least on the visible surface). But wouldn’t the global behemoth, and the planet on which it resides, have been better off if its catch phrase had been retooled as “Beyond Publicity”? Or “Beyond Perfidy”? There’s nothing wrong with salesmanship. It's a necessary lubricant. Most relationships, good ones too, get their start with a little courtship. But increasingly in this hyper-marketing age (commercial, political, religious, and otherwise) we have to be on the lookout for those whose game is deception. Or even self-deception, for believing something is true doesn’t make it so – viz, all the trendy "green" campaigns we've witnessed recently. When you come across falseness, you don’t necessarily need to crusade against it. You have other things to do. But you should refuse to feed the beast with your business. As Thoreau said, “It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support.” Shun the lobbying polluters, the Trickle-Down tricksters, the Wall Street thieves, and their ilk. Deny them your eyes, ears, mind, money and votes as much as possible. Do not lend them your sacred trust and credulity. Give a new meaning to P.R. by putting your own spin on it: promoting responsibility.
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