Camille Reyes

Archive for the ‘Advertising’ Category

Nuclear Energy Propaganda-Now in Three New Flavors!

In Advertising, Culture, PR on March 27, 2011 at 3:25 pm

A friend sent me a link to three pro-nuclear energy propaganda shorts featured on MoveOn.org and Mother Jones.  The first was created, it would seem, in Japan as a response to the current disaster at Fukushima.  They equate potentially lethal levels of radiation from the reactor leak there to a cartoon character named Nuclear Boy, who has diarrhea.  The video is bizarre, perhaps owning to my Western sensibilities, or maybe because it is wrong in any language.  Even the team behind South Park might think twice about turning a nuclear disaster into one giant fart joke (emphasis on might).

Most disturbing is the treatment of the brave plant workers hailed by other media as the Fukushima 50.  Their sacrifice, with death almost certain and likely painful, is reduced to a group of anonymous doctors who are trying to help cure the sickness of the plant.  The narration cops to the dangerous nature of this healing work, and solicits gratitude, but it remains sanitized in the telling, free from the toxic poo and the stench of real death.  Of course, to deliver a frank treatment might cause panic, and the point of the short is to ease the fear of the public.  Yet this very motive is dangerous when it holds no connection to reality.  Cultural differences or no, glossing over a real threat with ill-timed humor is unacceptable.

In 1952, General Electric produced the second short featured on the link.  It is ostensibly about nuclear energy production, and its benefits.  I admit to a certain culturally specific seduction with the beautiful (to my eyes) hand-drawn and now nostalgia laden animation, the soothing, authoritative, and familiar voice of the narrator, and the easily digestible science.  In fact, the explanations about the way atoms and nuclear fission work seemed more effective than my high school Chemistry textbook¹.  Yet the propaganda has some insidious work at play:

  1. Like the Japanese video, it tries to infantilize an extremely complex subject, rendering it meek, without fangs.  Radiation is characterized by a dancing fool with an atom for a head, not a dragon, a bulldog, or even a boy with the runs.
  2. For essentially the same purpose, it uses ancient myths, but with a modern twist that dispenses with pesky hubris, i.e. the main point of Greek tragedy.  No, in this animated adventure atomic energy is personified by various muscular giants (read Gods): the warrior, the healer, etc.  All represent the wonderful potential of nuclear energy, and as the narration makes clear, all these giants are under the thumb of mankind.  The only reference to the dangers of nuclear energy come around minute 11:00, and pass quickly to an exciting array of applications to make our lives easier.
  3. This brings us to the wonder of bringing good things to life!  The old GE advertising tagline is apt here.  The short makes no mention of the company’s role in making all sorts of products from bombs to electric juicers to propaganda films.  It strikes me as a super stealthy way to promote a new Cold War rhetoric.  We use nuclear energy to power the stuff you want to buy, and conveniently keep the Russians subordinate to the power of some specific men.

http://www.hulu.com/embed/1vaazh3Kuv4nU_6oZ_7oJA

The third short (linked above) is more overtly branded, a clear sign that we are dealing with another contemporary project.  The Simpsons and Fox Television lend their talents to create Smilin’ Joe Fission, a wild-west alien character on a mission to tame jumping bars of radiation.  The considerable educational merit of the GE short is lost, replaced with a bunch of yuks, including Joe’s attempt to hide that pesky nuclear waste under a carpet.  My assumption, given many hours of Simpson watching, is that this moment is satiric, a wink to the audience that the gremlins of nuclear energy are persistent.  However, the overall effect invites the viewer to buy another Bart toy, and allow the nuclear gun slingin’ to continue unabated, albeit with a yellow hue.

 

¹Of course, back in high school I was too busy singing musical numbers and writing radio commercials about scented tampons for my English class to really pay attention to the periodic table. The spot ended with the sound of a maxi-pad ripping off underwear.  My teachers had a love/hate relationship with me.  I like to push the envelope (what does that even mean?), but my chuckles end at nuclear radiation.

Fat Jeans in the Spin Cycle

In Advertising, media on March 6, 2011 at 10:04 pm

While folding my laundry at the mat the other day, I was subjected to the most confounding form of misogyny, the kind perpetrated by women on other women.  It is called the Wendy Williams Show.  Cheryl Burke, a young celebrity and dancer, was the guest.  If you watch the clip, you’ll see Wendy bring up Cheryl’s weight issues.  They show a photograph where Wendy says she looks “fine.”  Perhaps Wendy meant fine as in “damn, that girl is fiiiine,” but Cheryl certainly doesn’t take it that way.  She says she looks fine like she’s wearing a grey turtleneck, sweat pants and white socks in Birkenstocks. Fine. Meh.  Soon, the “after” picture pops up, and Wendy excitedly says, “I can see your ribs.  You lost a lot of weight.”

At this point, I suppressed the urge to throw my large, fine, folded panties at the screen.  The claps of approval from the live studio audience were nauseating.  I could just picture some kid with a headset on, raising her hands urging the robotic crowd to clap on cue.

Cheer for the suppression of your entire gender!  Yay!

Cheryl looked better than fine in the first picture; she looked absolutely beautiful.  As for the second picture, it is a subtle portrait of hate.  She is posing in a red suit.  She looks hungry.  She looks desperate.  Each rib screams in succession: “Look at me now Hollywood bitches!  I conform!  I have an eating disorder called FullFast!”  Cheryl really believes in FullFast.  Like really, really.  It’s a spray that kills your appetite.  Just don’t mix it up with RoundUp!

And because Wendy Williams cares so much about her viewers, she’s giving you all a free sample of our national disorder.  Like most women, I worry about my weight.  Although I love my father beyond measure, I will never forget all the times he’s called me “chunky” or after coming home from an adult soccer league match to watch me play, saying “if you lose weight, you’d run faster.”  More damaging still are the hurtful words from other women.  I noticed when my abuela stopped calling me flaca, or skinny.  No more Cuban bread for me.  Solace is not to be found in our mass media either, even on so-called women’s shows.  Solidarity doesn’t work on television.  Compassion and community doesn’t sell FullFast.  Self-loathing does.

Two women very close to me have struggled with eating disorders.  They both happen to be empirically attractive.  Yet foreheads on toilet bowls are not pretty.  Spraying shit in your mouth is not sexy.  The media has long upheld a false mirror to women.  The media, our parents, our siblings, our lovers, our friends, our own minds are guilty.  Yet this particular problem is hardest on women; and the media, as our arbiters of public opinion, are the worst offenders.

I worry the resurgent, media-darling fight against obesity will be co-opted as justification for the media’s brokering of air-brushed images, spray-on bodies. Doctors quoted in the press urge us to get fit or die, yet they leave it to the people without medical degrees to define what fit is.  According to trend expert Wendy Williams, Cheryl Burke is a model, one who has overcome the adversity of the image conscious Hollywood, to show us just what a killer collarbone can do.  The televised Cheryl Burke is fit–fit for the furthering of gross stereotypes, fit for daytime television, fit for your manufactured applause.

Press Release Roach Motel

In Advertising, media, PR on September 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age should know better than to write “A Death Of…” piece so soon after the tired Wired declaration of the Internet’s demise.  Could we put an end to “the death of” as a news device?  This funny video points out how much Wired alone abuses the trope.  Stylistic quibbles aside, I did feel a tinge of hope when I saw the object of Dumenco’s funeral march: the press release.

As a PR pro for almost 15 years, the press release and “relationship building” have been the two constants of my career.  Relationship building is an art form.  The press release is more Marcel Duchamp–stick a toilet on a platform and, “viola!” art!  Yet, there are rigid rules for releases; rules I stuck to because when broken it made the release even worse, like taking a sledge hammer to the toilet.  This is odd for me to say.  I’m a rebel in the office.  I take pride in learning the rules and strategically breaking most of them.  Not so for the press release.

For instance, releases should be no more than two pages long, yet your client will INSIST on a six pager at least once in your career.  What’s the big deal?  Ask this question to a reporter on a deadline, a reporter who is teetering on the brink of a layoff and learning how to video edit at night because guess what, that’s part of the job now, too.  Ask them how they feel about four fucking superfluous pages.

Another edict: don’t use flowery prose, let the reporter do the writing.  So when the team behind “Spirit of the Dance” INSISTED that I use their headline for the local run of the show in our press materials, I did what any good publicist would do.  I disobeyed them and gave my reporters what they wanted: just the facts.  Thus, “Spirit of the Dance Steps To A Tenth Decade of Blockbuster Irish Magnificence–Three Electric Nights!,” never made the rounds in Tampa press circles. They really should’ve bought me more drinks, the eye bleeds I saved them from.

Yet even when the press release is done right, in its “inverted pyramid” most-important-info-first glory, I pretty much hate it.  They are by nature utilitarian, and once you have built those relationships, a simple email or media alert (think calendar listing with a little fat) will suffice.  Skewering the press release saves you the pain of a committee of editors ready to gouge eyes over magnificence v. grandeur.

And yet, I must disagree with Dumenco, because like an upended cockroach in Florida, the legs of the press release are still twitching.

Yes, even I will admit that when you’re dealing with a gigantic media list, a list so large you must tier your reporters in priority order (now there’s a FUN exercise), there is nothing quite so useful as a press release blast on the wire.  If your client is looking for a high quantity of story placements, there is still no better tool.  What about Twitter and Facebook?  Ah, these fancy pants new media tools are quality pushers.  I love them.  Twitter is still a game for the techno-elite.  This might change.  Even Facebook is still limited.  Do you really think Walt is going to notice your product promoting status update nestled in the sea of photos of his grandkids?  Social media is an incredible new platform for relationship building, and it offers cool hybrids of broadcast and narrowcast media.  Yet social media is not a blunt instrument.  Getting your story picked up in the Paducah Post Gazette times 1,000 still requires a press release and a wire.

Believe me, I’m looking for the can of Raid, but in the immortal words of Python, “Not dead yet!”

Mainstream?

In Advertising, media on August 21, 2010 at 11:23 am

I’m a bit poll happy lately, but before you get an itchy clicky finger, some background:

I recently re-tweeted this with my skeptic’s comment upfront:

To which social media consultant Shel Israel responded*:

Here’s where I’m going to depend on your honor to answer the poll question NOW, before reading to the end of this post.

Quit your whimpering about my lack of criteria or context. What is your first reaction?

At NYU, I get scolded with some regularity by my profs for not “defining my terms.” For example, I’ll throw around the word “propaganda” like pepper on my scrambled eggs. Surely we all know what propaganda is? Okay, so when I put it this way, it seems pretty stupid. Of course you need to explain what you mean by such loaded, history laden words. I blame my impatience to get to the center of the Tootsie Roll Pop. I digress.

To be fair, defining terms using only 140 characters on Twitter is tough. Yet, mainstream media (MSM) is, as we love to say in academia, “problematic.” I had not thought about this until Shel’s reply. My gut reaction to National Geographic is a long row of yellow bindings on my grandparents’ bookshelf, not the stuff of the masses and breaking news. I’d say National Geographic has a branding problem, at least with the Gen Xers. My baby sister, a 20-year-old Gen Y, likely agrees with me, although I should know better than to assume this. (Cate?)

Resisting the urge to devise a snarky twoosh (I’m a product of my generation. I snark, therefore I am.), I decided to a. poll my friends, then b. look up some online circulations to help me define MSM a little better. You’d think, working in marketing all these years, I’d have a ballpark number in mind, but most flacks and Humanities grad students are afraid of numbers.  Oh, to be a quant jock.

My first stop: National Geographic. I quickly found their online stats, but not so for the print. No matter, online was my main concern. According to the site, they have 14.32 M unique global visitors. Whoa. Looks like Shel might be right. How does that compare to say, The Washington Post? Foul! Wait, you say, that’s an international daily newspaper, and not a fair comparison. Calm down, I just wanted to compare NG to something I thought was indisputably mainstream.

Plus, words like daily, weekly, monthly seem so dated in a real-time news world.


The Washington Post has 16.7 M unique visitors in a three-month average!  I’m still in disbelief.  How can NG’s monthly be that close to WaPo’s three-month average?  With some trouble and registration, I found a case study at Omniture, the company providing the NG analytics.  No real detail there.  We’ll have to take their word for it.

Intrigued, I looked up my favorite business magazine. Perhaps a niche pub would compare nicely with what in my mind was still a niche “science” pub. My trip to Fast Company yielded nada on the online front–only print numbers. Same for my favorite brain food, The New Yorker. What are these companies thinking by not including online stats on their online media kit in an easily accessible place? I digress. Stymied, I clicked to Newsweek.com. Here was the real test, the ultimate mainstream magazine. Guess what? Newsweek clocks in at 5.1 unique visitors per month (?-tough to tell the time frame), well BELOW that of National Geographic. I officially stand corrected. Thanks, Shel.

(I realize there are many other criteria for shaping a definition of MSM, but in my mind, raw numbers of people, i.e. “the masses” pops up as the first question.)

*I’m still such a kid when it comes to social media. Whenever a Jeff Jarvis or Shel Israel Internet celebrity type responds to me, I freak out. Don’t they know I’m a nobody? I hope I never lose my sense of wonder at the power of the Internet to connect people and ideas in such a populist manner. Yes, yes, computers will be the end of us. I’ve watched BSG. But still, after working with rock stars at a venue for years, I became a bit jaded. Thus far, I’m still screaming over technology. Here’s to the interface, your router and great software.

Freedom, Not Fairness

In Advertising, Culture, Policy on February 21, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Just read a great article from Craig Aaron at Free Press on HuffPo about the brouhaha over the Fairness Doctrine.  The federal Fairness Doctrine said that opposing viewpoints had to be given broadcast time and it was rightfully tossed out in 1987.  Do you want the government monitoring our media- playing referee in that manner?  I surely do not.  There are better ways to promote a public sphere full of viewpoints galore, as Craig suggests.

Turns out, Republicans are brilliantly trying to call upon their rich history of deceptive rhetoric to bring the ghost of the Fairness Doctrine back to life.  I think Democrats obfuscate too; the recent track record of the Rove kids is just the stuff of shock and awe.  The Republicans have better “strategery.”  Better twirlly-bar mustaches and villain laughs.  I’m a little jealous, but I’m praying for less evil tactics on all sides.  I digress.

So this FD ghost is really going to take net neutrality out back and, well, I can’t speak of it in polite circles. Republicans will dress any attempt at regulating the Internet so that it remains a neutral space in tattered, Scrooge scary clothing with heavy chains not worthy of Lady Gaga.

This is why I’m suggesting a strategy of my own for those in favor of net neutrality, which should be every single one of us who doesn’t work for a telephone company or major media conglomerate (and even some people at those places with souls–shhhh, we need them to stay hidden!).  My suggestion: change the name!  Call it Net Freedom.

I’m not kidding.  People feel funny voting against freedom.

I’m stealing this idea from Fox News actually, which makes it all the more poetic.  They called the invasion of Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Maybe they took this directly from Rove.  Regardless, Fox certainly popularized it and most of us, including me, bought it.  Okay, so I personally looked at is as Operation Save Our American Asses Because Colin Says They Have Nukes–that’s why I bought it, but that’s not catchy and someone knew they needed to ahem, “reframe” the war.  Thus, freedom for the other guy emerged.  How noble.  I digress.

Back to net neutrality.  Most people in this country who hear the word neutrality think of Switzerland.  This is the only other time we see this word–from our history text books.  They stayed out of the war.  Regardless of authorial intent or historical accuracy, we hear neutral and we think of the land of chocolate, Swatch watches, bank accounts and really nice rich people. Neutrality equals Swiss!  This is far better to the American than say, oh, France.  Ack!  Give me back my freedom fry you French, life loving type!  Yet, Swiss is still not American and if there is anything that stands for American values, it is the Internet!  So says Hillary.  And now Google in China.  Groan.  I digress.

Neutrality does not equal some messiah network of routers and switches teeming with information (porn!) that will magically liberate the globe.  (I’ve just upset the techno-utopians and worse, Cisco.)  Neutrality, among other things, means that Comcast can’t turn internet speed into a secret packet auction where some of us only get a fraction of access for what we paid.  Comcast or any company shouldn’t get to rob us blind like a giant peacock picking our pocket at the zoo.  Scary.  Yet, this has already happened and the FCC has already slapped their hand.  Comcast will soon get to own a major content provider, NBC, because why would Comcast do anything wrong with such a sterling property?  Hmmm, because they robbed the masses at least once already?  Speaking of rhetoric, I have a suggestion for Comcast, too.  Try out the tag line: We did some evil, only a little evil.

Neutrality is the idea that will keep your mom and pop equivalents running because they can’t be pushed out by the big guys any faster than you stop patronizing them online (or, eeek!, in person).  Neutrality is good for Powell’s Bookstore, Bitch Media, eetsy and Britton’s Archery.  (I had a great interaction with the latter store when Ted Nugent came to town and I did a cross-promotion with them to get butts in seats.)  I’m not a fan of killing deer, but I am a fan of the friendly shop owners and their freedoms which include Net, say it with me now, Freedom.

To sum it up, we should advocate for less Switzerland; no Fairness Doctrine; more red, white and blue (without the brie); and more Braveheart.  And remember, in the wonderful words of the Broadway musical Avenue Q, “the Internet is for Porn!”  Net Neutrality = Net Freedom.  Freedom is not fair.  Freedom has been regulated in this country since 1787.

A Fallen Football Hero

In Advertising on January 29, 2010 at 4:40 am

My first question when it comes to controversy is, “Who paid for it?”  This question and the answer are at the center of my anger about an advertisement set to appear on the Super Bowl, starring Florida Gator football legend Tim Tebow and his mother.  Notice I’m not calling the ad anti-abortion or anti-choice.  On the surface, the ad actually sounds like a celebration of life; I can get behind that.  No, the happy shiny message tarnishes the instant I get the answer to who paid for it: Focus on the Family.

Focus on the Family uses that kind of Bush administration, Karl Rovian evil genius language we were numbed by for so many years.  You remember, stuff like the Clean Air Act that actually relaxed pollution controls or the Patriot Act that actually took away more freedoms than it preserved.  Focus on the Family would have you believe they exist to strengthen our nation’s families, to promote love and community.  Annnngh (buzzer sound), thank you for playing.  Focus on the Family only wants to support families consisting of one man and one woman (preferably at home & pregnant) with children, all of whom Bible thump in an exclusive way.  Their definition of love is narrow and dangerous.  Now if they just stopped at supporting their kind of family, I would be less vocal in my opposition to them.  No, this organization-this cyclops of love-engages in buckets of hatred.

For a look at this in action, I encourage you to rent the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So.  You’ll see how a focus on their kind of family actively rips apart actual living breathing families with gay children.  You’ll see their brand of love in action.  The word ‘brand’ reminds me–this ad is going to be played on the Super Bowl on CBS–a branding bonanza.  Times must be tough for CBS to interrupt the ad beer pong long enough for a public service message.  Free speech advocates get their panties in a bunch (mine included) when you suggest that this might not be the appropriate venue.  Again, I’m not even calling this an anti-abortion ad, but I am calling the organization who paid for it some choice names.  I also have to raise an eyebrow at CBS who conveniently changed their “no advocacy commercials during the Super Bowl” rule AFTER this commercial came their way.  They just want to make a buck you say?  Well, due to the timing of their decision, they made sure it would be next to impossible for a counter organization to raise the funds to pay for a response.  In other words, they could’ve made even more money, but for some reason (read: politics), they chose not to rake in any extra cash.

The NPR story I linked to in the first paragraph drives home the fact that most people do not want to watch any kind of advocacy messages during the big game.  It is the one time of year when people actually enjoy watching commercials, when the ad agencies put forth their most creative work in the hopes of selling more cheese powdered, carbonated goodness.  Clearly, Focus on the Family wants to take advantage of the broad audience and of their great pawn, Tim Tebow.  Many of you know I’m a vocal Florida Gator football fan; my parents met and married at the university.  Even non-fans are aware of Tebow’s missionary zeal, a characteristic well covered in the press.

Until this incident, I supported his unusually mature and seemingly loving devotion off the field.  Of course, I supported his unprecedented performance in the shot gun at the Swamp, too.  How sad for me personally then that the man they dubbed Superman, #15, has aligned himself with one of the most wicked organizations on the planet.  I’m glad Tebow’s mom gave birth to him, as is the rest of Gator Nation no doubt.  I just wish I could be ignorant of this unfortunate detail.  In a sort of reverse Tiger Woods, I long for my sports heroes to keep it on the field.