April 13, 2010

Media Makes Strange Bedfellows


By Wendy McHale

"Politics makes strange bedfellows"... was the expression once used in Washington, before television aimed the spotlight on the warm and fuzzy factor that we expect from our leaders today.

Pre-first screen, it was immaterial whether two candidates liked each other; or even knew each other. All that mattered was that the political party bosses liked and knew them. Candidates back then did things "for the good of the party." Or in other words, because they were told to. "You'll do as we say or else! was an effective political party "line," or "talking point" as they are called today.


So much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Or has it? In this era, where we are bombarded with so much B.S. about this product or that service, you would assume that phrases such as "Mission Accomplished", "I did not have s-e-x with that woman", "Read My Lips", "Compassionate Conservatism", or "I'll keep Social Security in a lockbox", have no influence or believability among American political consumers. But they still do.


You can raise the issue of who's fault that is. but the larger question is, "What roles should 6th Avenue and Madison Avenue play in our lives today?"

Journalism and marketing have changed as compared to an earlier era. They are almost uncognizable from the influence they had 40 years ago. They've changed so much that they have reversed roles.

(For "out-of-towners", 6th Avenue is the street address for many of the world's largest media companies' headquarters, such as CBS, NBC, News Corp, Time Warner, Disney etc... They're all there. Most New Yorkers only refer to the street by its number. All others know it by its much fancier name, "Avenue of the Americas" which sounds better.)


In advance of turning the TV on, picking up a newspaper or listening to the radio, viewers, readers and listeners know up front what "brand of journalism" they will get from each news source:

1. Fox News vs. CNN vs. MSNBC.

2. WSJ vs. NYTimes vs. USAToday

3. Rush vs. Imus vs. Howard.


What used to be a "Report the truth" mentality among news organizations has now become "Sell the truth". But frankly, the "truth" doesn't really matter. Today the media uses the media to sell the media. It's a brilliant scheme used to perpetuate ratings which translates into advertising, which translates into $$.

Conversely, advertising agencies advise in the era of "social media" that their clients must now "Tell the truth" clearly and transparently. Communicate facts and insights pertaining to all aspects of your brand's strategy, product and service.

Let's get this straight, media companies now "sell the truth" while marketing companies now "tell the truth." Result? A TV viewer is more apt to receive "truthful" information during commercial breaks than between them!

Recently when Theodore Sorensen (JFK's speechwriter and alter-ego) was asked by the New York Times if he wrote Kennedy's legendary "Ask Not" inauguration speech line, Sorensen snidely replied that reporters "ask not." Like Duh... his answer was tantamount to saying "Yes, I wrote it." Otherwise, why didn't he just say, "No."

(That reminds me of another old political bromide: "Just say no!")

People are smart enough to read behind that line. But they are also naive enough to believe stuff that is just "a line." The common joke around MadAve these days is, "What do you get when you marry Ogilvy & Mather with Woodward & Bernstein?"
1. Hannity & Colmes
2. Weiden & Kennedy
3. Leno & Letterman
4. All of the above - Answer

There was a humorous yet straight-forward piece published last year by MarketingProfs, a well-respected leading marketing and new media resource. It was written by B.L. Ochman, a social media marketing strategist for many large companies. The article, titled, "The 12 Tenets of Social Media Marketing (and Why You Need to Learn Them)" was about how marketers need to be straight forward if they are going to succeed in the 21st century.


Read the whole article. Here are the last three tenets which we found particularly informative, written as if they were on stone tablets for maximum effect:

X. Concern thyself with thy overall marketing strategy

Thy overall marketing strategy is an arduous process that requires constant vigilance. To be successful thou must practice true multi-channel marketing in which you synergize your advertising, PR, Internet and sponsorship efforts to project a unified image and allow personality to shine through the corporate shield.

XI. Give they brand to the consumer

They will take very good care of it, for they will give it back to you in better shape than when they got it. Fear not that thy consumer shall have input in your brand. But heed closely thy clueless ad agency so it does not chargeth thee a hefty fee when in fact the consumer creates thy ads.

XII. Remember: thou must keep holy the Internet.

The Internet has changed the nature of marketing irrevocably in two distinct regards. It has changed the way companies communicate with the public and the media. Thy public often is thy media as well. Screw them not.


The good news for consumers is that the new rules on Madison Avenue suggest that marketers should have conversations with their customers. The bad news is that if you watch the cable "news" channels, there is none...conversation that is.

Turn any one of them on and then ask yourself the question "How does one debate with a liberal or a conservative? The answer is "Sorry, under current media rules, debate is not allowed."

As the political season unfolds, MadAve & 6th Avenue will hit some traffic when Barack and Hillary decide whether or not they will meet at the alter during the Democratic Party Convention in August. If they decide to do that or not, the Democratic party will have to rely on Madison Avenue will do what it can to make them appear as if they are "playing nice-nice." for America's media.

However, citizens this time may exercise even more strength than the old party bosses if they perceive that politics "is" making the candidates even "stranger" bedfellows than what we, as political consumers, can stomach or stand.


As they say on TV, stay tuned:

Will Mad Ave say "Thanks, but no thanks" to the new chic-chic "Art of the Conversation" talk? Will it revert back to its old "hucksterism" to present Obama and Clinton as America's sweethearts? The answer most likely is "Yes."

Will the media revert back to its old "just the facts" truth in journalism? The answer most likely is "No."

If you had to make a choice between relying on the Nielsen poll or the election poll to be the best source to help predict the outcome which one would it be? Without a doubt, choosing between the two, the answer is "Yes."



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