Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Kepa, Partridge And The Independent Group's Cheeky Nando's
Borkowski Weekly Media Trends
Loads of talking points this week, and we may yet pontificate on The Oscars and whether Hollywood has solved its diversity problem (spoilers, no it hasn’t), the propaganda war that’s been unleashed by the fresh military tensions between India and Pakistan, the very real storm in an creepy, artificially constructed teacup that is Momo, Pokemon exploiting Britain’s cultural largesse for its latest offering, and the Comic Relief-Culture War between David Lammy and Stacey Dooley, but in the meantime here are some other issues which ground the Borkowski gears this week.
Kepa Calm and Sarri On
A communications crisis almost without precedent arose for Chelsea FC last Sunday when their talented but temperamental 24 year-old goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted, despite suffering from cramp, during the closing minutes of what had until then been an uneventful Carabao Cup Final against Manchester City (who would go on to win on penalties).
The fascinating thing about this is how difficult it is, with forty television cameras trained on the incident, to convincingly pull off the old trick of obfuscating for as long as it takes to get your implausible but theoretically possible story straight.
What was clearly a heated disagreement between goalkeeper and manager (the embattled Mauricio Sarri) was at first written off by the club as a ‘misunderstanding’ in ‘nothing to see here’ fashion’, and then acknowledged as wrongdoing on the part of Kepa - who was fined, dropped for the next match against Spurs (with doubts remaining at time of writing about whether he’ll be recalled this weekend), and begrudgingly apologised.
This is bad crisis comms. Chelsea is a club renowned for its ‘player power’ – a term used almost affectionately by fans in reference to the Terry-Lampard generation, but tantamount to anarchy under Sarri, whose authority was in question even before Kepa’s tantrum. Anarchy unequivocally isn’t a good look.
Chelsea were trying to save face on three fronts and should have come out with a single unifying statement which turned these factions into an unshakeable triumvirate:
- The Club: amid the player power chat that had encircled their downturn in form Chelsea needed to come out as a structured, united, professional organisation which commanded loyalty, not a remake of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
- Sarri: He’s gone from hanging from a shaky peg to being seen widely as a dead man walking after his failure to control his player and inconsistent treatment of him afterwards. He needed to radiate decisiveness and command and he didn’t
- Kepa: Brattish though his behaviour may have been, many people think Kepa -- the most expensive goalkeeper of all time and still young for the top tier – has a longer future at the club than his manager. He needed to take his medicine but didn’t deserve double standards and inconsistency
None of this has happened and, despite things simmering throughout the week, Chelsea still comes across very much as a club in turmoil.
Britbox vs Partridge
AHA!! This week we saw both faces of British television; high-quality, self-deprecating meta-television – this week in the form of This Time with Alan Partridge – and Britbox, the new streaming service whose conception and launch could easily have been conceived by, well, Alan Partridge.
Let’s focus on the publicity; Partridge announced his re-arrival on Monday morning with a passive-aggressive and unmistakeably Partridge-esque email to his BBC ‘colleagues’. Simple, but more innovative and effective than a press release.
The first This Time… was a roaring success – playing off Partridge’s (increasingly important) role in British society as the ultimate cringeworthy middle-aged little-Englander, the pariah with whom all middle-aged white men must avoid comparisons as a matter of urgency, or risk a Partridge-inspired lampooning.
The show’s success created a wave of smugness around the nation’s creativity, the crest of which was a perfect place for the BBC and ITV to launch their new Best of British streaming service Britbox.
But somewhat ironically Britbox’s launch was all a bit #AccidentalPartridge; the branding looked like it had been commissioned by Matt Lucas and David Walliams, the name sounds a tiny bit like ‘Brexit’, and the project was immediately labelled as a “too little too late” (Times) venture which is “doomed to fail” (i) and “will surely bomb” (Guardian). The whole thing felt a lot more ‘monkey tennis’ than ‘classic intercourse’.
The Independent Group's (possibly) Cheeky Nando's
The Independent Group continues to fascinate us, and this week was subject of a lively office debate; whether their trip to Nando’s was simply an innocent dinner which happened to capture the public imagination, or a cynical PR stunt designed to make them appear more ‘down with the kids’ (despite being exactly the kind of people who would use the phrase ‘down with the kids’ unironically).
At an impasse we’ve decided to present both arguments; one written by an ex-political operative, the other by someone who eats at a fast food chain at least twice a week.
“Resigning a forty-year membership of a party is no mean feat. Leading a press conference when 8¾ months pregnant is no mean feat. Setting up a political party is no mean feat. Those things do not leave much time or energy for launching cynical and innovative media campaigns.
As much as people would like to read an attempt at a stunt designed to engage a younger audience into the Nando’s dinner, we should not forget that THIS. IS. POLITICS.
Watch each of these videos. Three of the most powerful politicians on the planet making monumental and basic errors in the most public way possible. THEY ALL HAPPENED THIS WEEK!
VIDEO 1 | VIDEO 2 | VIDEO 3
And then tell me that their brethren have the brains, energy and gumption to try and pull a media strategy out of a bowl of peri-peri chicken. This, from the group, whose website didn’t work at their launch event?
And even if they did attempt this strategy – why have they only tweeted about it TWICE? There are dozens and dozens of tweets about all manner of other subjects – but only two for this entire media strategy!? Bollocks.
Here’s what actually happens:
“Where shall we all go for dinner this evening?”
“Shit. We forgot to book. Where can we go that’s not too far away for a woman on the verge of giving birth, can sit 11 plus staff, isn’t ridiculously expensive, at extremely late notice.”
“#ChangePolitics – Chuka’s ploy to appeal to the exasperated, disillusioned and disengaged public, seeped through after a group trip to Nando’s which was a cynical PR ruse. There was nothing discreet about this visit Nando’s.
On a recent trip to Marrakesh, I was regularly accosted by Moroccans street vendors, who attempted to entice me using what they thought were Britishisms, often leading with “hey geezer” and regularly following up with “cheeky Nando’s?”; a beacon of familiarity to a young wayward Brit, they thought.
My Moroccan pals and The Independent Group (TIG)’s tactics closely align. A seemingly casual, yet hopeful, attempt to appeal to a targeted demographic.
A jam-packed Nando’s is the last place I’d go for a spontaneous group meal. Yet it’s a destination thought of by the out-of-touch as ‘hip’ and ‘trendy’.
I couldn’t help but smile at the vendors’ hopeful attempt to sell their wares. But I’m cringing to my core at TIG’s devious actions. The street vendors and politicians have one thing in common: they know nothing about young Brits.”
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Borkowski's Weekly Trends
The stories and trends that stood out for us this week ran the gamut of comedy, abject polemic, mindless fun and inspiration.
I DREAM OF MEMIE
The preparations for Disney’s bumper year continued this week with the release of a ‘Special Look’ at their Aladdin remake following neatly anticipation-building tantalisers for The Lion King and Dumbo.
Reaction to the trailer was described by Forbes as ‘lukewarm’ and Bork HQ weren’t sure about the visuals - which, consensus has it, fell somewhere between second-tier faux-Bollywood and the kind of fantasy adventure romp you’d be most likely to see on SYFY at 4pm on a Tuesday.
The one possible silver lining for Disney was the unarguable visibility boost they received when the trailer’s star moment – the first appearance of Will Smith as Genie – became an instant meme, trending worldwide within the time it took to photoshop him into a satisfactorily ridiculous situation.
Reasons for the fascination with Genie – who we think looks a bit like a blue-skinned, bejewelled pro wrestler from the 90s with Will Smith’s face – range from rumination about which nightmarish crag of the Uncanny Valley he emerged from, to humorous comparison memes which span Smith’s character in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Marvel antagonist Thanos, the Blue Man Group, Avatar, The Smurfs and Tobias Funke. The latter, David Cross’ hapless, occasionally blue-painted character from Arrested Development, is a titan of the meme underworld whose presence in a joke is pretty much guaranteed to turn any social titter into a bellow of viral laughter.
There’s no concrete evidence as to whether the Genie meme will pay any dividends for Disney, although the clip already has 7.4M views on the company’s official YouTube, dwarfing the 170K views on the same channel for a clip of Dumbo released the same day.
CHURCHILLIN' LIKE A VILLAIN
Social media nowadays is full to the brim with the kind of people who never fail to muster an excoriatingly strong opinion on any subject they encounter, which is why this week’s ‘much needed debate’ on whether Churchill was a hero or a villain was inevitable as soon as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was asked to weigh in on the subject in one word at a Politico Q&A.
In some ways, we doff our collective cap to the Shadow Chancellor for managing to avert the public’s gaze from anything serious at an incredibly serious time using a mere two words (if you count “Tonypandy”). But it felt too easy. Why? One theory on social outrage stems from the fact that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have no dislike buttons. At first glace, this seems understandable given the potential for bullying spawned by the alternative, but it also turns us into a legion of dementedly optimistic Roman Emperors, looking down into the digital coliseum. The chief way to dissent to a post is to comment on it - engage beyond a mere click. This creates a double-edged sword whereby negative posts get more engagement, and therefore attention. The result is that what bubbles to the top of the roiling mess of social media is outrage, controversy, obscene bullying and incessant disagreement. Social media rewards argument. And who does this benefit?
Think about the house rules next time you see someone who has built careers on headlines that piss everyone off, get another headline. These professional provocateurs who have been elevated into a position of power over the national discourse which they have no business occupying. So instead of weighing in on the latest argument, just ignore it. You’ll make the world a better place.
ABOUT A BOT
You’ve heard of fake news, but you might not have heard about how fake the internet really is. We do a lot of research into today’s media landscape here, and we found some very interesting articles. Studies generally agree on around 40-45% of the internet being ‘non-human’.
These bot accounts don’t always appear obvious, but can just quietly give views and clicks to videos for a price. If you’ve never seen a click farm then you should check this out.
But the silent (or at least stuttering) drone army that is directed at the whim of the highest bidder could be on the verge of being able to type as convincingly as you or I.
Only this week, PR Genius Elon Musk has had to hold off publishing his latest research into automatic text generation AI generators. The fear is that if he gave the secrets of OpenAI away, it could easily be polished and used to swamp the internet with long, well-reasoned arguments that would be indistinguishable from the online ramblings of a human.
All you do is feed a phrase of your choice and out pops an essay – here is an example that they provided:
Human led sentence: ‘Climate change isn’t real because…’
AI response: It can’t be detected – it’s happening, and we see it around us every day. President Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior counsellor, Steve Bannon, later likened climate ‘crazies’ to Red China, where said ‘any rising of sea levels is a serious problem for this country and the world.
It’s not spitting out perfect prose, but it largely bears up under skim reading. Five years of heavy research, dodgy morals and highest bidders investing in this process could result in the 40-45% of fake internet traffic able to produce massive amounts of text, quickly dwarfing human output. The internet would be full of fake people, fake words, fake metrics and fake arguments – the only genuine thing left would be the ads.
Lastly, it’s interesting to speculate on the reasons behind the near perfection of the sentence structure and the jangled, contradictory jargon itself. Perhaps it’s easy for a ‘non-human’ intelligence to mimic the patterns and rhythms of how we speak, but difficult for it to understand the inherent internal paradoxes that we all carry within us – the contradictions that make us human.
NYT GOES A BIT BUZZFEED WITH ACCENT QUIZ
It’s Friday morning, attention spans are wearing thin and it’s not uncommon for even the most Stakhanovite of office worker to have a glance on social media. Thousands of people did exactly that this morning only to encounter a near perfect piece of procrastination: a New York Times quiz which asks you a series of questions about which slang terms you use and how you pronounce certain words and tells you what part of the UK or Ireland your accent comes from.
The ensuing trend took a number of forms; prominently hilarity at some of the seemingly fantastical sayings from other parts of the UK and Ireland; Irish people allegedly refer to a snail as a ‘shellakybooky’, although several minutes of referencing hasn’t totally dispelled the theory that this word is the result of a BoatyMcBoatFace type scenario created by a function of the quiz which allows people to submit their own responses.
Another popular reaction was for people to share a feeling of immense satisfaction at having their own interpretation of the intricacies of their accent confirmed by such a lofty source, or less commonly to express shock at being linguistically extradited to somewhere they’d never lived and had no family ties.
Either way it certainly captured the imagination and demonstrated that, with a little creativity and intelligence, interactive clickbait may yet have a shelf-life.
This one is a bit close to home in the sense that the march literally passed outside the office. Today students from 40 UK cities as well as the USA, Australia, Netherlands and Uganda – all inspired by one 16 year-old Swedish activist – took the day off school and took to the streets as part of ‘strike’ action to try and inspire a greater government response to combat climate change.
The march has been the undisputed story of the afternoon (although a certain Mr Trump of New York may yet usurp them) with reactions ranging from inspiration at seeing the next generation so politically engaged, to eye-rolling at what some see as the apex of woke millennial entitlement. Whichever way you swing, it’s a textbook example of direct action cutting through the noise.
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