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October

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Corporate 'Greenwashing' | Coldplay's PR blinder | Innocent's Conker-milkstake

From the inane to the tragic: the ongoing tabloid vs. Royal feud was put into perspective this week after thirty-nine people were found dead in the back of a lorry. Words are hard to find with certain news stories. But there was light-hearted news too, including a hilarious fake book cover wrapping Cameron's memoirs shared on Twitter. It brought a lot of much-needed laughter to Borkowski HQ.


The rise of 'Greenwashing' 

As we come ever closer to naming our end of year Trend of the Year runners and riders, the environment must surely look like an early favourite. From Greta to Gretna, to fights on tubes and frights over jets, everywhere we have looked one subject has been raging.
 
Faced with a dying planet, diminishing resources and an angry populace, it makes sense that big business would get behind the cause. Seeing as just 20 companies on the produce a third of our carbon, it is probably the efforts of big business more than any other that will shift the dial.

Which is why it’s equally encouraging and concerning that BlackRock have put £20m into the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. That foundation has honourable aims of clearing the oceans of plastic, but its member list includes Coca-Cola (although they have been recently removed from their website), Bridgestone Tyres and Renault – companies massively responsible for plastic leaking into the oceans.
 
The question is, is BlackStone (a company worth £135bn) giving EAF £20m to help change the species' fundamental relationship with the sea, or so that it can claim to have done its best and generate some warm PR as the oceans clog with litter? Corporate history has taught us to be cynical...

 
Coldplay's PR blinder

Coldplay, once judged ‘the biggest band in the world’, have faded from the mainstream in recent years. Often regarded as a ‘marmite’ band, they inspire just as much derision as devotion among the public these days.
But whichever side of the fence you sit on, the reveal of their eighth album has been a PR masterstroke.

A weeklong campaign has seen the band tease fans using mysterious billboards, seen in Hong Kong and Madrid, sending sporadic cryptic letters to random fans that sparked debate across social media, and using classified ads in local papers to announce the album – releasing a list of 14 songs and the album’s release date in North Wales’ Daily Post.

A lot to unpack. Ultimately Coldplay have pulled off a tricky balancing act, executing a nostalgic album promotion whilst still adhering to industry norms and standards. In their series of cryptic clues, they have given fans what they love most: something unexpected, sparking conversation, debate and outlandish theories. True excitement.

On the surface it seems like they’ve used an array of odd media methods (regional print media, radio, black and white billboards and posters) but in fact, they have understood the value of stepping back from the digital sphere. As a result, they’ve shown they’re one step ahead of the increasingly homogenous competition. Bravo!


Innocent's Conker Milk-stake

Innocent Drinks have made a name for themselves over the years with a uniquely youthful tone of voice. Intended to be affable and sweet, over time it became cloying and disingenuous, cynically mixing medium and message.
 
This week that obnoxious cocktail was remixed into a new stunt. Having released a fake conker-based milk for Autumn, they released an intense flurry of tweets clarifying that conker milk would, in fact, be both disgusting and potentially life-threatening. Riffing on the current zeitgeist around plant-based foods, they adapted their usual language to that of a wise older figure, advising those silly millennials not to believe everything they read.
 
In reality it was the same old story. Innocent’s error is in treating its customers like distracted children, presumably in the hope of making them forget that the supposedly holier-than-thou company is actually owned by Coca-Cola. In our age of ‘brand purpose’, that is not a sustainable strategy. 
 
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BBC 100 Women | Elizabeth Warren vs Fake News | Reality TV | Hate Crimes | Gareth Southgate & Vaping

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

This week we're looking at a new fame formula for female rolemodels, fighting Fake News with Fake News, the rise in Hate Crimes, the possible hate crimes being perpetrated by Reality TV producers, an ode to Gareth Southgate, and a crossroads for the vaping: fad or seed change. Don't say we're not good to you...


BBC 100 Women: A New Blueprint for Fame? 

This year’s BBC 100 Women list is out, honouring the most influential leaders, creatives, environmentalists, athletes, academics and activists of 2019...without a Kardashian in sight.

This isn’t a celebrity competition, but it’s worth looking at the most famous list members (in the UK and USA) to form a portrait of merit-based-fame in 2019.

We picture it as a VENN Diagram of Talent, Principles and Intersectional Appeal (here meaning inspiring an audience beyond the male, pale and stale):

Greta Thunberg is an extraordinary speaker and organiser, wants to save the planet, and is achieving so much unencumbered by her youth or her Asperger syndrome - which places her bang in the middle of these values.

Ditto Megan Rapinoe: prodigiously talented footballer, brutally hard worker, anti-Trump, and out loud and proud.

And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: the youngest ever US Congresswoman, a pro-Obamacare, Green social democrat, and potentially the first female, Puerto-Rican president.

Another crucial skill these three have in common is a mastery of both social and traditional media and an ability to create your own audience is undoubtedly a factor in modern celebrity.

However there is a sprinkling of old school showiz glitter on the list too; Bella Thorne’s campaign against online sexual abuse has been stirring but undoubtedly gained more from her fame as a Disney actress than vice versa, while Scarlett Curtis’ Pink Protest partly owes its success to media platforms it could more easily access (eg Evening Standard) via her influential family roots.  

This isn’t a criticism it just shows that sometimes, when it comes to fame, the old ways are still the most powerful.

 
Elizabeth Warren sets Fake News to catch Fake News

We’ve written in the past about the battle raging between Republican Senators and Facebook legal teams to determine who gets to pick what we accept as the truth. Now the Democratic Presidential race has caught up with the strategy.

Last week Elizabeth Warren uploaded a paid Facebook ad that asserted, falsely, that Mark Zuckerberg had officially endorsed Donald Trump for President. Fully-fledged fakery. A brilliant strategy to put Facebook over a barrel and set a press pack trap. Zuckerberg is forced to admit that there’s problem with fake news or to become overtly partisan.

His reaction was to ‘err on the side of greater expression’ and that ‘people should decide what is credible, not tech companies’. His speech contained six comparisons to Martin Luther King – prompting an angry reaction from his family.

The problem that won’t go away for Facebook is that it has commandeered the profits and the power of the news publishing industry, but hasn’t taken on its responsibilities - to either journalists or readers.
 

The Hateful Spate

Hate crimes are up 10% according to the police, with a surge in anti-gay and transgender attacks. A troubling statistic that indicates that society is getting nastier.

The Home Office spun the findings, attributing the increase to better police recording and an increase in victims coming forward, but even they had to admit that “genuine increases cannot be ruled out”.

In the wake of this news, we awoke yesterday to footage of a mob of seething commuters yanking Extinction Rebellion protestors from the roof Canning Town tube.

The furious Londoners hurled vitriol and abuse as TFL staff and a few brave outliers shielded the downed protestors from a flood of kicks and punches. The comment section was a cacophony of keyboard warriors howling their glee and vindication. It was a bad move from XR but the response was like something out of Joker.

As the country tears itself apart over Brexit, as global recession looms, as the environment hurtles toward the point of no return, as the highest political offices on the planet are manned by crackpots - society is becoming less tolerant to opposing views and compassion is evaporating.

However tomorrow’s latest Brexit knife-fight of a vote goes, we live in perhaps the most polarised age in recent memory, and this trend isn’t over.


Reality TV: A New Nadir?

Reality television is something of an institution in the UK. But recently the genre has appeared to stoop to new lows. First there’s The Tribe Next Door,where reality star Scarlett Moffatt lives alongside Namibia’s Himba tribe in an exact replica of her County Durham home. Alongside this is X Factor Celebrity, a brave attempt to revive an arcane format, and frankly bizarre offerings like The Surjery and Meat the Family. These shows have been labelled uninventive, even offensive, by some commentators.

But is the genre really in trouble? Probably not. The Tribe Next Door, has also drawn praise from unlikely quarters. And other productions, like The Circle are bringing a bold and youthful energy back to the genre, like Channel 4’s The Circle. Whatever its moral, creative or commonsensical shortcomings, Reality TV has some life in it yet.


Gareth Southgate: PR Campaign of the Year

Although it’s hard to glean a positive from the mortifying and contemptable scenes that engulfed the England men’s football team’s victory over Bulgaria on Monday, the first-class response from the players was testament once again to its amazing PR turnaround, one of the comms campaigns of the decade, engineered largely by manager Gareth Southgate.

He’s not the best football tactician in the world but Southgate has inspired a reputational revolution by instilling a genuinely modest and inclusive ethos in the squad, turning it from a divisive, scandal-ridden brat factory that allowed the ‘golden generation’ to squander their talents, into a unit capable of behaving with bravery and dignity in shameful circumstances, as they did on Monday.


Vaping approaches regulatory crossroads

It’s the miracle cure or the creeping killer. On the one hand, non-smokers report less coughing, YouTube comparison videos show the difference between cigarettes and vapes have on the lungs as they are each inhaled, and it stops the stink. For smokers, it seems like we’ve made the jump from the Walkman to the MP3 player – although (to labour a metaphor) vinyl users are also making a comeback. 

But the public tide is turning.

Deaths have happened, and that is extremely worrying - but with so much of the market being so unregulated it is of little wonder. So the question is whether we end up in total prohibition (likely to be as difficult to police and beneficial to gangsters as the last one a century ago across the pond) or if stronger regulations come into place and wipe the dangerous chaos out of the market. We can only hope that the trans-Atlantic kneejerk, hysterical political and media class approach these problems carefully – thinking through the unintended consequences.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Coleen vs Rebekah | Weatherspoons Vegan? | Immersive Theatre Crisis | Stormzy Effect

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's been a bumper week of stories and we've decided to dissect another triumph for Stormzy, a surprising move by Weatherspoons, crises for both immersive theatre and (shockingly) the influencer industry, and, of course, the feud of the century: Coleen vs Rebekah.

Coleen Rooney vs Rebekah Vardy: WAGnarok

Firstly, we came up with that headline before Marina Hyde used it in the Guardian today……and we have the screenshots to prove it.

In one of the most sensationally soap opera-ish storylines to hit the headlines in 2019, Coleen Rooney (AKA WAGatha Christie), concerned that somebody in her orbit was leaking details of her personal life to The Sun, planted fake Instagram stories only visible to a limited selection of followers and monitored their inevitable appearance on the newspaper’s website until she was able to trace them back to one account…that of fellow WAG Rebekah Vardy.

No sooner had we witnessed a mindbending level of public adulation for both Coleen’s sleuthing skills and her sense of dramatic timing, than Rebekah Vardy came out swinging, denying all charges and attacking Coleen both directly and via a series of intermediaries as a backstabber with scant regard for the health of a heavily pregnant woman. We await Coleen’s next move in both fear and awe at the 4-D Chess she’s playing.

The story is also an almost too-perfect lesson in news values in 2019 as it blends:
  1. The traditional news value of famous people behaving badly AND feuding
  2. The viral age news value of Meme-ability: this is harder to define precisely but how we’d characterise it in this instance is that the tone of Coleen’s post was the perfect mix of both trivial ubiquitous accessibility, and weapons-grade level petty, extra hysterics.

We tasked some of our top strategists to recommend the next career move for each belligerent:

Coleen: Detective Novelist
WAGatha Christie is too good an instant brand to let this moment pass unexploited. Plenty of celebrities pursue careers as ‘authors’, and Coleen demonstrated both a lively imagination and a mastery of suspense and plot development in ensnaring Vardy’s Insta account. A book deal - with a well-chosen ghostwriter- is the logical next step.

Rebekah Vardy: Panto
Perhaps the scandal has done Rebekah Vardy a favour, in that she is clearly now Britain’s no.1 villain. A promising career as a pantomime villain awaits her if she plays her cards right. Provincial theatres up and down the land could soon have her name in lights.

Coleen: Actress
Footballer’s Wives was the show everyone bayed to reboot as a Coleen vehicle in the wake of her triumph, but that’s too tame. We were thinking that the perfect start to Coleen’s acting career would be another, often cruelly overlooked football drama: Sky’s Dream Team. Coleen’s lack of acting experience would blend in more naturally with the mixed ability traditionally on display in the short-lived melodrama, and her detective masterpiece would sit comfortably amongst storylines which included the FA Cup final being interrupted by a sniper, and an embittered former manager trying to suicide bomb his ex-team's bus.

Rebekah Vardy: Tory Leadership
If this scandal has proved anything, it is that prestige WAGs have an extraordinary power over the British public. Should Vardy decide to take Brexit into her own hands, her seeming inability to take a backwards step, admit guilt, or feel shame suggests a political ability against which neither Leavers and Remainers would be able to put up much resistance.

Both of Them
Coleen vs. Rebekah in the ring for a pay-per-view charity boxing match; a televised bout guaranteed to draw millions of viewers.

This is an event that would placate the public’s negative feelings towards the pair, particularly Vardy who would salvage her dwindling reputation with a sweet left to Coleen’s self-righteous jaw.

This would be national news but very difficult to negotiate while the story is still hot with Rebakah’s pregnancy.
 
Weatherspoons: Are the Gammons turning Vegan?

Perhaps the trend of 2019 has been the environment.

From the XR drumbeat echoing against our office windows, to Greta Thunberg’s majestic UN-bollocking set to the timeless crescendo of a Fatboy Slim remix, to the fastest change in human eating practises, ever – concern over the environment is flooding the agenda.

Sometimes though, calls for radical change can flood the agenda with little meaningful societal change trickling down.

But veganism is different. Not even Piers Morgan simulating vomiting on live TV after eating a Gregg’s Vegan Sausage Roll could stem the supersonic rise of vegan versions of meat products.

Following Greggs’ wildly successful gamble on veganism, Lewis Hamilton invested in a meat-free burger restaurant, KFC had a go in the US, then last week Brewdog cleverly encouraged outraged reactions from both sides by going half-and-half.

Now veganism has reached into the very heart of un-PC, right-wing world. Although Jeremy Clarkson won’t be punching interns for failing to bring pseudo-ham sandwiches to him any time soon, Wetherspoons, the Jeremy Clarkson of pubs and spiritual heart of No Deal Brexit, has launched a vegan burger.

This truly is the test of veganism, and, in some ways environmentalism. If such radical concepts can find a willing home in Wetherspoons then we will know that veganism has spread out of the bubble and into where change really happens. On barstools across the country.
 

One of the first influencers hammers another nail into the coffin

American YouTuber Trisha Paytas – one of the earliest to build a profile as a minor celebrity and influencer on the platform- has, rightly, faced serious backlash for ‘coming out’ as ‘transgender’.

The announcement was derided as appropriative, exploitative, trivialising, insensitive, demonstrating an alarming ignorance of sex, gender and sexuality and offensive to the trans community. It’s been labelled a joke, a provocation and a cry for attention.

Whatever the motivation, Trisha’s actions symbolise the flippant cynicism and histrionic desperation of those first generation ‘Wild West’-era influencers, whose methods of controversial attention seeking are quickly dying out as scrutiny, accountability and regulation begin to filter into the industry. It’s another nail in the coffin of a model of influencer marketing that’s staggered through Fyre Festival and Caroline Calloway already in 2019, and can’t take many more reputational hits.


Immersive Theatre in Crisis

As we’ve written before in these trends, Theatre is a sensitive, emotionally intelligent and almost unfailingly right-on industry. So when reports emerged of one of the industry’s biggest boom markets – immersive theatre- not only experiencing but seemingly incubating problems ranging from production mismanagement, a boom of bandwagon-ing copycat productions diluting the level of quality and creeping corporatisation, to exploitation of unpaid labourers, harassment and even assault of performers, staff and volunteers, there was understandable outrage.

Companies affected include Punchdrunk – the godfathers of immersive theatre, Secret Cinema, The Waldorf Project’s Barzakh and The Immersive Ensemble’s Great Gatsby but the perfect storm arrived this week with two productions experiencing pretty much all of the above problems between them.

Firstly Big Dreamer Productions’ immersive zombie thriller Varient 31 had to, according to The Stage, evict two audience members for physically intimidating their staff, before the much scrutinised production of The Wolf of Wall Street admitted a deluge of problems including cancelling performances in an attempt to catch-up following a disrupted production process, and drunken audience members harassing performers (quelle surprise that a show based on a story which glorifies the most amoral bacchanalian excesses of financial workers would attract the worst breed of city W4NKER...)

Immersive theatre has an image problem. The word immersive is thrown around by mediocre theatre producers when promenade, site-specific or, in extreme cases, singalong, would be more accurate. This is endemic of a wider perception that anyone can produce an immersive theatre show, when anyone who’s seen a good one knows how intricately layered and directed the productions need to be, and how skilful the performers needed to pull them off.

By embracing the demand boom ignited by their successful forebears, the immersive theatre industry risks a bust, the term toxified by its appropriation by sub-par productions who see it as an automatic cash cow regardless of quality, morality or even safety. Don’t be surprised if respectable theatre practitioners start searching for an alternative term for site-specific, non-traditional theatre shows without a fourth wall in which the audience are characters. Immersive Theatre has become a loaded term.

The Stormzy Effect

Today, Cambridge University announced a 50% increase in black students in its 2019 intake, publicly crediting Stormzy which led to the media dubbing it the ‘Stormzy Effect’.

Stormzy has undoubtably had a positive impact, specifically the number of black students taking part in outreach activities and enquiring about courses, but allowing him to claim quite so much credit is a shrewd and calculated move.

After all, 2019 has been a landmark year for Stomzy after that Glastonbury performance cemented his place as a colossus of British culture. And this is an institution which has regularly received bad press for their student pool, facing accusations of elitism on the basis of race, gender and class.

Diversity is an omnipresent discussion and their association with an iconic and influential popstar is the closest they’ll come to making the hegemonic strands of higher education ‘cool’.

Stormzy, on the other hand, just goes from strength to strength.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Our Alt-Progress 1000 | Fast Food Stunt Wars | Politicians' Career-Switches

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Without any ado here are the trends this week!
 

The Alternative 'Progress' List

Our Lord and Master Mark Borkowski popped up in the Evening Standard’s Progress 1000 of London’s most influential people so out of curiosity we’ve decided to go back through these trends and share the (purely quantitative) 'Borkowski 10' of the most mentioned people since we started in January:
 
  1. Donald Trump – yes, depressing, but he does dominate the news agenda and we've often tried to dissect that
  2. Boris Johnson – see above…
  3. Dave – we’ve been touting the Mercury winner’s star potential consistently
  4. Harry & Megan – Megan’s arrival has both opened doors and created interesting challenges for the Royal PR Operation
  5. Greta Thunberg – the surprising figurehead of the world’s biggest and most important grassroots political movement is approaching a crossroads between global fame and a gradual melt into niche obscurity
  6. Taylor Swift – Arguably the biggest powerhouse in global music has had a mixed year reputationally, both feminist icon and participant in corporate boardroom squabbles
  7. James Corden – Splits opinion far more than Swift but between his chatshow and his zigzagging acting career he’s never been far from the headlines in 2019
  8. Dumbo – the plucky little elephant with the big flappy ears has become a symbol for Disney’s eventful year which has swayed between ambitious corporate expansion and a creative mixed bag
  9. Rory Stewart – This week’s re-emergence of the champion of the mild, ‘hug-a-hoodie’ school of Tory politics marks a year in which the gentle, good-natured, slightly weird outgoing MP has become a household name
  10. Elon Musk - His PR people have been keeping him quiet but the billionaire’s bonkers schemes and constant courting of controversy kept his comms team busy throughout the first half of the year
 
Fast Food Stunt Watch

Fast food and booze have been fertile ground for public relations shenanigans recently with big brands frequently coming out swinging against the invisible nutritional hand of sin industry regulation and a blur of changing dietary fads. This week was a good one for watchers of how these calorific giants attempt to capture the public imagination. We’ve compared three stunts from three food’n’booze merchants for intention, execution and impact:

Brewdog’s 50:50 Burger

Brewdog have come in for deserved criticism for a series of recent stunts which come across as, variously, desperately needy, amorally corporate, and a total abandonment of their ‘punk’ principles.

This week’s release of a burger that’s half beef, half ‘Beyond Meat’ is a bit more of a thinker though. Brewdog’s PR stinkers have created an army with their fingers on triggers ready to criticise them at a moment’s notice, so anything they do now needs to be good.

The anti-Brewdog movement have taken the position that the new burger is pointless: the current trends is for brands to increase meat-free options, encourage more people to eat less meat, and thus – when demand decreases and beef farming production follows suit- contribute to saving the planet. Creating a burger which only has less meat, they argue, completely defeats the purpose of meat alternatives and misunderstands the public mood.

But it’s not that simple. Others have defended the burgers on the basis that, if they’re nice (very much TBC), and create a trend for burgers with 50% less meat, then by extension we may only need to farm half as much beef, and the climate-destroying emissions will also be halved, with the possibility of gradually phasing the meat out of the public palate.

It’s not punk but there’s something appealing about it; it’s moderate, a compromise, a first step, downright reasonable: exactly the kind of thinking that’s missing from a lot of public discourse. And Brewdog should get credit for that.

Burger King’s Milkshaking Dogwhistle

The world’s second biggest burger chain had a social media post removed by moderators earlier this week for ‘encouraging anti-social conduct’ by apparently inciting people to milkshake Nigel Farage.

Firstly, encouraging harassment, of anybody, isn’t good and won’t help your reputation. And on that level Burger King shouldn’t have done it.

But on another, far more honest level, people (especially in Scotland, where the post was aimed,) hate Nigel Farage, and found it funny. People will go out tonight after work, have a pint, chat about it, laugh and then feel that Pavlovian stomach rumble that inevitably ends in burger.

Yeah, it’s morally wrong. Yeah it’s normalising assault at a time when governments and big organisations are being urged to take responsibility for the impact and influence of their communications. But on street level, it’ll do Burger Kings absolutely zero harm.

Greggs protects its pork
 
This week saw another compelling PR stunt from Greggs as it announced it was stockpiling pork to guarantee a stable supply of sausage rolls in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It was simple but beautiful, cutting right to the heart of the general public’s anxieties about a disorderly October exit, while also reminding consumers of their association with one of the great products: the humble sausage roll.
 
Like many of the best PR stunts, it comes from a brand that has a very clear idea of what it stands for: simple and honest no-frills food, always on standby for hungry customers, whoever they may be. Unlike Brewdog’s effort this week, which emanated a brash ‘frat-boy becomes woke on his gap year’ energy, this stunt did what it needed to do very simply. Job done. Plus, it supports a hypothesis we have at Borkowski: tie your narrative to Brexit and you make news.


Politicians and the art of Reinvention

What is power, in our constantly developing world? Until recently, the most powerful people in the world were political leaders, business moguls and media tycoons. But the daily onslaught that politicians face has shifted the balance. Many of them are finding ways of sidestepping the shrapnel of a relentlessly angry national news agenda without killing their political momentum entirely.

This week Paul Ryan, ex-Vice President nominee, 54th Speaker of the House of Representatives and one-time future President of the United States, retired from politics, promptly taking a job on the board of Trump mouthpiece Fox News. It promptly leaked that ‘Paul is embarrassed about Trump and now he has the power to do something about it.’

What an astonishingly revealing admission, that Ryan feels more able to stand in the way of a runaway President as a media exec than as the fourth most powerful politician in the USA.

You could make similar arguments for Andy Burnham stepping away from awkward questions about party leadership by getting out of Westminster and going to a Mayoralty, or Tristam Hunt taking a job at the V&A, or George Osborne dodging media scrutiny by becoming media scrutiny, or Sadiq Khan, or, as of today, Rory Stewart.

At the next election Ken Clarke and Nicholas Soames step away, too old and grand to reinvent their trajectory while Gloria Del Piero steps down in her prime toward an unknown destination.

When David Milliband stood down and went to New York it was unusual, but now it is incessant. You can always judge the political health of a country by the early retirement rate of its MPs. 
 
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