Hey kids! The next that you get all pouty about “the corporations” coopting your “scene”, as if yours is the first subculture to have experienced such a usurpation; remember the Beats.
“Unbranding” is the term given to the purportedly Machiavellian method of gaining traction for one brand by actively harming another. This is what putting a free luxury handbag in the hand’s of the multi-millionaire, Jersey Shore star Snooki was supposed to achieve. The idea is that when consumers see a brand/good/commodity in the hands of a person who is, for whatever reason, publicly reviled, they will direct their dollars to competing options.
The hypothesis of “unbranding” turns on a misconception of how negative consumer choice – meaning actively choosing not to choose something despite its easy availability to the consumer – works. Marketers wrongly assume that it’s like getting people to buy something — by making them associate whom they are or want to be with a product — but only in reverse. In this instance, Magnotta posing with a Blue is thought to be tantamount to a backwards endorsement. “Deranged, homosexual, murderers drink blue – Drink something else instead,” is how Labbat thinks we’re reading the photo.
There are two reasons why this hypothesis doesn’t pan out. Firstly, it assumes that we don’t see incongruence between the product being consumed and the person consuming it.
When Snooki is photographed with a genuine luxury handbag, the shock isn’t in the bag losing its luxury distinction by the juxtaposition. Rather, it’s rooted in the unresolved antagonism between new and old wealth. While Snooki can surely afford luxury goods, it’s believed that she doesn’t have the social class credentials to consume them gracefully. In summation, the brand is left unscathed while the high profile consumer is derided.
Second, the hypothesis disregards that other, more powerful, factors go into consumer choices.
Because the confluence of forces acting on consumers, such as price, supply, need and emotional attachment (fond memories, our innate desire for community/acceptance, etcetera) are so formidable in swaying rational consumer choices, brands themselves need to deeply offend potential consumers in order to turn them away from a brand. These choices simply aren’t rational, in a purely economic sense. That said, most consumer boycotts are unsuccessful simply because people need to stubbornly ignore all of the aforementioned forces just to make a mostly symbolic gesture.
That said, Labbat certainly offended some consumers with its response to the Gazette’s publishing of image. I know that I was angered by it, and the response on Twitter seemed to share my sentiments.
Labbat tried to not only censor the media, but to sue them for something that they didn’t do. The Gazette didn’t put that beer in Magnotta’s hand, which is really what upset Labbat, they just printed a publicly accessible photo that people would have saw on their own if they were so inclined. Even then, it’s hard to make a solid case that this would have turned them away from Blue.
I’m not a fan of those who bully the news media into silence, especially those who leverage democratic institutions, namely the law, to do so. I don’t drink any Labbat products, but if I did I’d need to see twenty-eight bottle cases on sale for the price of a two-four until Labour Day, as a way of atoning for being SLAPP-suit boneheads. (That’s some free advice. You’re welcome, Labbat.)
Considering that most consumers “drink the label” and not the beer, so it makes sense that Labbat would react the way that it did. However, there’s a big distance between reacting and responding, one that requires landing on reflection before reaching the latter. To counter this image, Labbat could have doubled down on advertising, as a means of reinforcing their desired brand image. Or, they could have done absolutely nothing, laid over and allowed the sheer enormity of the story to roll past the image. Instead, the company inserted themselves into the momentum of the story and was carried along with it.
I had my suspicions that Mike Daisey had embellished parts of what was arguably the most epic installment of This American Life to date, but certainly the most downloaded. The narrative and journalistic elements just seemed to be handed to him in a country where, let’s be honest, people fear talking candidly to their neighbours let alone to fat white foreigners. So I can’t say that I was entirely surprised when it became known yesterday that parts of the episode were fabricated.
TAL has since retracted the episode and will devote their next episode to laying bare the fabrications and have also canceled an upcoming performance of the one-man stage act that the episode was taken from. Producers couldn’t have handled this crisis better, especially for being part of a larger organization that is regularly accused of radical leftist bias, however they know that this incident is going to damage their credibility. I imagine that Ira Glass is still cursing Daisey up and down and will be doing so for some time to come.
I think that producers weren’t too eager to turn over all of the rocks on this one, but I can’t fault them. Despite the due diligence that they did undertake, they’re story people — not really fact people — and Daisey is an exceptional storyteller, and that’s what they were hung up on. Daisey’s account was full of interesting characters, suspense and conspiracy. However, because they’re less concerned with fidelity and more so with entertainment, the best storytellers know what to exaggerate, fudge, borrow and fabricate in order to make a true story anything but prosaic. I’m sure that red flags went up, but the story was too compelling to tempt double checking.
The Orientalism that marked Daisey’s account is what piqued my incredulity. In his story, Daisey is the valiant outsider, who arrives to give voice to a voiceless people and they’re glad to see him. The scene in which he describes being mobbed outside of the factory gates stands out as the most aspect Orientalist of the story. Also, the guide character struck me as being a mismatch of naivety and street smarts. She was able to put Daisey in contact with people who are not only well outside of her class circle but also very selective with respect to whom they meet with; like two young union agitators (who could afford to drink Starbucks?) and men in the manufacturing business. Moreover, his guide always seems to chime in with the most insipid and foreign observations, as if she lacks any cultural awareness. Nevertheless, these are all very illustrative scenes and the guide serves as a great sidekick to Daisey’s hero. And as listeners, we’re plumping for Daisey, so we’re willing to override our critical thinking faculties and go along with it.
Daisey seemed to neglect the fact that he was venturing into a still controversial debate on so-called sweatshop labour practices and international economic development. This is a racket where any view that’s even a single degree to the left of extreme free market capitalism is derided as a categorically communist viewpoint and will spur think-tanks to task entire departments on discrediting an author. Truth is often attacked with vague ideological idealism and a single misrepresented or interpreted statistic is enough to prompt a full inquisition. Outright fabrications will have people calling for your head. So while NPR’s business bureau may have mounted the investigation, it was only a matter of time before someone came to the defense of Apple by checking Daisey’s story.
An acquaintance of mine used to screen manuscripts for a literary agent. She read her fair share of holocaust survival memoirs and “escape from the Soviet Union” tales that were full of harrowing situations, plot twists and always had happy, life affirming, endings. For a long time, editors would overlook things that seemed improbable, but then the Million Little Pieces (which, coincidentally, Daisey parodied in another one-man show) & the Boy With The Striped Pyjamas affairs forced publishers to be more scrutinous. She notes the precipitous drop in such stories as evidence of these redoubled efforts to weed out the B.S. The Daisey affair will likely do the same for narrative-form reportage.
Whoops, someone on the Portlandia set left the tripod in the shot. I’ve totally been there before.
A Flickr of Love (documentary)
There’s a debate going on in the social media news press on the relevancy of Flickr as a social media platform. While I think that some of the criticisms that have been raised are valid — yes, Flickr could be better at integrating with other social media tools — but those that dismiss it as an asocial “gallery” are coming from know nothing loud-mouths who haven’t been around the Internet long enough. Users can’t “engage each other” you say? While, I think that this video is a pretty strong case against those claims.
Five newspapers, representing four countries, have been named the World’s Best-Designed Newspaper by the Society for News Design in its 33rd annual competition.
Excelsior, Mexíco City, Mexíco
Cir. 75,000 – 174-999 (Daily)
National Post, Toronto, ON, Canada
Cir. 75,000 – 174-999 (Daily)
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Cir. 175,000 & over (Non-Daily)
The Grid, Toronto, ON, Canada
Cir. 25,000 – 74,000 – 74,999 (Non-Daily)
Politiken, Copenhagen, Denmark
Cir. 75,000 – 174-999 (Daily)
From the judges’ statement (via SND):
The formula for excellence will always be less about format and typography than about the unreserved commitment to the community of readers that newspapers serve and clarity about the nature and interests of those readers. What is a perfect look for an audience in Beijing or Oslo will not likely be perfect for an audience in Buenos Aires or Charlotte. A newspaper must find the voice that speaks clearly to its unique audience of readers, and the best newspapers will always do so.
That’s what all of these World’s Best newspapers share — a certainty about who their audiences are and a bold, sure-footed approach to reaching them. All have a unique voice. All are superb. All share a commitment to print that other newspapers should emulate. They never waste a page, never waste their readers’ time. These newspapers look healthy, well-staffed and richly resourced — even if they are not. It was inspiring to see international journalists who still believe in excellence in print.
Yeah, that’s about right. Like I often say, someone needs to invent a machine that strips the National Post of its horrible, um, copy, retains its beautiful design and fills the space with writing from good newspapers.