Monday, June 27, 2011

Neanderthal PR

       So far, you must think that I have it in for PR --certainly for the PR industry.
       Well, I work in this industry.  And I think there is good stuff and bad stuff –and that you don’t have to follow Edward Bernays’ idea of "PR"– even if he did invent the phrase.. While Bernays may have given a name to  it,  "PR" is just one of those things, that people have being doing for aeons but had other names for.  Like “psychology” for example. 
      What do  you think, the Neanderthal’s cave paintings were?   Or course – art, self expression – but also PR.   Our supposedly primitive forebears had the Wow Factor too.  Yarhhh!! Look at  Erg and Ugh and Brog and me killing  a the Hairy Mammoth.  We’re the Mammoth Men!.Awesome! Incredible.  And so is our Tribe, which you can trust us to lead.  We're Cool -- We're the Mammoth Men.  Ferocity that you can Trust!
    All human communication involves “PR”.  What do you think a brassiere is?  Or lipstick?  And if Johnny wants to date Jenny, he needs the right image.  “PR” at every turn.
   In previous times, of course, there was the kind of PR where the King made a speech to his loyal subjects and lopped off the heads of anybody who didn’t look impressed.  
   But on a more equal level – people interacting with other people more or less freely – communication was direct, was multidimensional, and (if you like) multimedia -- with dress, accessories, body language, facial expression, tone of voice, as well as words playing a role.  Think of bargaining in a market.  Oh yes, it was about buying things cheaply or selling them expensively.  It was utilitarian. It was also a game, a competition.  It was work and it was fun.  If you did well, you gained status as well as the kumquat you wanted to buy.
     The whole thing was also spontaneous rather than scripted..  Most important of all, it as dialectical – there was immediate feedback -- back and forth, immediate response. .  It was harder to lie.But you did anyway and mostly everyone knew.
       Of course, in other situations you had to be more careful  -- someone might kill you if they didn’t like what you said.
   Today things are different. 
   While we talk a lot about “multimedia” today, we are talking about technologies, which we can control..Using such technologies, radio, TV, movies, the web, Twiitter,-- we are rarely spontaneous – and our purposes are not always obvious.
    When Barack Obama gives a speech, it is carefully written – by someone else of course – and rehearsed. Every gesture, every expression is scripted.  Advisors will use video playback in rehearsal, so the President can see exactly how he looks.  Focus groups check audience reaction.  The aim of the speech is usually simple – make people trust him, believe in him. “Change you can believe in” was as big a lie as any history – but people bought it. The medium is the message.
    Sovereign doesn't really talk about what it does. It gives few examples. It pretends to be "just folks" like you when it is really a big impersonal corporation run for the enrichment of its owners.  Lots of people buy into this -- for a while.
   To the  extent that is dishonest, people eventually “get it” when PR is just leading them on.  But when they realize they have been seduced, induced, and reduced , the shit hits the fan.
     So PR should be ethical and honest, if only as practical matter.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sovereign Bullshit

A lot of PR is, as I have said, propaganda….  A good example is PR for the insurance industry.  Take a look at this blurb from the Kiwi insurance company Sovereign.

Our values
Our values
Sovereign is no ordinary insurance company. As a values-based organisation, we believe in putting people first. This not only means our customers, but also our staff and the community at large. We know life and business is not just about making money and our corporate culture reflects this. 

This stuff about “putting people first” should be a give away!  Especially since Sovereign has been sued (unsuccessfully) by people that felt it was not putting them first.  Since when did an insurance company prioritize claimants, On the contrary, the put their considerable resources to work, to avoid paying.  Insurance companies are in it for the money – so this is just hype.
Our purpose… is to provide New Zealanders with long-term peace of mind. 
No. our purpose is to make money. Take a look at our section on our finances.

Our vision… is to be New Zealand’s best insurer and financial services provider, excelling in customer service.
Not best insurer– richest.

Our values… provide a framework for the way in which we interact with our customers, each other and our business partners. They are:
Corporations rarely have values – they have profit and loss statements.

- one team one goal
- an inspiring team valuing diversity
- listen, encourage, support
- contribute to our community
Pay your premiums.  Don’t expect to get anything back.

- be true to yourself and your word
- honour our promises
- open our hearts
- take responsibility and ownership
But you better read the fine print first.

- push the boundaries
- develop and stretch
- share knowledge and experience
- embrace the future
- delivering to and exceeding expectations

exceeding  expectations for our owners”

- choose your attitude
- participate and get involved
- take time to celebrate success
- smile

Oh please. What could be more disingenuous?    Break a leg and have fun trying to get a disability benefit.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Apple and Totalitarian PR

Ideally, PR should be honest; it should define a company's identity, culture and philosophy -- communicating not only information about policies and products -- but purpose.  But that assumes the public is informed and intelligent -- and (of course) actually cares.

Most PR, however, is manipulation.  Bernays saw the public as ignorant and poorly educated, if not as a dangerous mob, a hoi polloi that might at any moment rise up against its master.

The Bernays tradition continues -- and dominates.

Apple is a good example.  As The Inquirer points out, Apple is all about control.

And this is dictated through peer pressure --a kind of subtle authoritarianism insofar as this pressure is orchestrated from above.  Apple products are "awesome", "incredible", "cool".  In China kids sell their kids to get an IPad.  That story is upsetting -- but also viral --and also sells a lot of IPads, which are one of those "must have" things.   People rarely consider just why they have to have an IPod or IPad or Macbook over all the other competing products. The just feel they must have them. And others should have them. 

Macbooks are so "in".  And cheap Korean netbook with Linux and free open-source software works just as well -- it's so nerdy.  No darling I will not marry you unless you are Apple.

Does this prove Bernay's (and Hitler's) point. That the masses are ignorant?

I think not.  Because lots of people buy stuff without the ubiquitous half eaten fruit on it.  Maybe they sense that the fruit a.) has already been bitten into b.) is probably genetically modified c.) attracts flies.

Oh yeah, and Hitler lost. 

What the Inquirer says.....

 Nick Farrell at the Inquirer says it all....

Apple's subliminal marketing propaganda

Comment Reality distortion field in action
Fri Sep 18 2009, 16:14
A VIDEO CLIP on Youtube that shows some edited highlights of Apple's recent Ipod press conference reveals how unimaginative and repetitive the fruit themed Cappuccino outfit's marketing techniques really are and has created a storm of laughter.
dalekAll the video's creator did was edit the press conference footage down to just the marketing superlatives that were used. It seems that every person who took the stage could not help but use the words "incredible, amazing, awesome, wonderful, really cool".
The stupidity of it would be really funny if it didn't make you want to throw up at the same time.
In the DIY marketing book "My Struggle", aspiring Austrian marketeer Adolph Hitler first mooted in the 1940s that if you tell a big enough lie and simply keep repeating it, most people are stupid enough to believe it.
It seems that "incredible, amazing, awesome, wonderful" Apple marketers have not advanced their techniques beyond the staging of Nuremberg-style rallies, bribing the media and repeating that they and all their products are really cool.
Now it is possible that it's all just enthusiasm. It's like people want to believe that there is something innocent about such things.
Nothing is really prepared it is just all "incredible, amazing, awesome, wonderful, really cool". If they are limited in their vocabulary about all of the company's product that is because they are just normal slobbering fools like most of the rest of the great unwashed.
After all Steve Jobs really looks like he believes what he is saying, so of course you want to believe too.
But enthusiasm causes people to gush. They choose a lot of words and not the same ones as everyone else. Excessive enthusiasm is the Monkey Boy display of Steve Ballmer. You know he really does that sort of stuff and most Microsoft marketers probably wish that he wouldn't.
Such a concept of free creativity is beyond the Apple corporate structure. Apple's entire corporate ethos is one of extreme control. Everything is controlled by the Supreme Dalek and nothing is by accident.
So what is more likely is that the people giving the presentations were told by Apple's marketing cadre to repeat "incredible, amazing, awesome, wonderful, really cool" as often as possible, sort of like the mantra that the Hare Krishnas chant as they parade down the high street.
It is unlikely that a normal rational human really would care that much about a mere gadget, other than perhaps a woman about shoes. These are people who go to work, design stuff and have more interesting lives outside of their work. They are not really going to believe that a product is so "incredible, amazing, awesome, wonderful, really cool". It is just their job to build it and flog it to the true believer fanboys and others with more money than sense.
On their deathbed they will say the same things that other people do about what mattered to them in their life - their family, their adventures, their amusing stories and the fun they had. I bet none of them will say that their contribution to humanity was making this "incredible, amazing, awesome, wonderful, really cool" MP3 player.
The Youtube video exposes how silly the whole Apple marketing schtick actually is, and what's scary is that it actually gets away with this. ยต

Now, this is Apple PR.  Propaganda at its best?  Or at its worst?

Monday, June 20, 2011

What exactly is PR?

What exactly is PR.  The term was coined by Edward Bernays back in WWI. He thought it a better phrase than "propaganda".  So Bernays, known as the "Father of Public Relations" was also the Father of Spin.  Bernays knew he was doing. And he later wrote a book about PR which minced no words.  And it was called, not 'PR" -- but Propaganda!  The following quote is taken from Wikipedia....

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of humanbeings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. [...] In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons [...] who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

This is something to consider. We, in the PR industry, seldom think about the assumptions and core concepts behind what we do.