February

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Charlotte Awbery | Fast Pig | Dystopian Clearview | Martin Lewis vs Media | Filter Weather Guy

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's been a strong week for viral stories which, apart from keeping us entertained when we're all housebound over the next month, are worth unpacking. Apart from that we're taking a look at some more dystopian tech and some more fake news...just to keep things cheerful. 

Is Viral Fame overtaking Traditional Media Coverage?

On both sides of the pond this week, social and traditional mainstream media alike have been consumed by the story of Charlotte Awbery, who went viral when a video of her singing Lada Gaga’s ‘Shallow’ in a London underground station was posted by comedian Kevin Freshwater to his substantial social media following.  

Awbery’s video landed her an appearance on US chat juggernaut Ellen, alongside Freshwater, and she has since amassed over 640,000 followers on Instagram.

Awbery is the latest in a long list of internet sensations whose viral fame has preceded any form of traditional media profile, highlighting again the levelling playing field between open access platforms and fame’s previous gatekeepers; newspapers, television, radio and online. It’s rare and desperately hard to manufacture, but one viral hit – when you add in the ensuing traditional media coverage- can be worth as much as a whole publicity campaign.

There is still debate over whether or not Awbery and Freshwater’s original video was staged with the current situation in mind – something they denied on Ellen – or a truly organic random encounter, but that won’t stop either of them enjoying, or trying to extend, their 15 minutes.

The Anthropomorphisation of the News

An academic paper in New Zealand a few years ago posited that animals in David Attenborough documentaries are given human characteristics, and their stories given an anthropomorphic frame, both to heighten drama (i.e increase entertainment value) and invoke a level of empathy which could stir support for conservation efforts.

The media at large is now following suit, shorn largely of the benevolent motives. Animals go viral incessantly just as viral potential becomes an influential news value for traditional outlets. More specifically, animal stories are increasingly being presented in a style which blends Disney/Pixar anthropomorphism with the dark realities of real life, for mainly comic effect.

Just this week we’ve seen widely-shared stories about an incredibly fast and graceful pig (Pumba’s new groove?), a gang of feral chickens in Jersey meeting a bloody end (a dark crossover sequel of Chicken Run & The Wrong Trousers?) , a 100,000 strong army of ducks assembled to fight locusts (Daffy & David Cross in Kung Fu Panda vs A Bugs Life??), Kenyan donkeys saved from the slaughter (basically just the first five minutes of Shrek, right?), and a swarm of herpes-ridden monkeys in Florida (Spring Break for Donkey Kong?!)

These stories take place around the world but won’t have global impact (unless the duck army develops a taste for war and comes for us) and their only quirk is that the authors protagonise the animals in a way that raises a casual smirk before we scratch the surface of cruelty, stupidity or wider climate catastrophe underlying the headline.

Given recent bad publicity for corporate brands who deal regularly with animals (industrial farms, zoos, big pharma) this hopefully isn’t a trend they’ll be able to exploit, but, as with Attenborough, it might be one that conservation and animal rights organisations can use to shape their storytelling for maximum media impact. That’s the space to watch.
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RIP Privacy? (BC - 2020)

You might not have heard about Clearview, and you best hope it hasn’t heard of you. Put simply, it is a search engine that allows its subscribers to put a picture of a face into it and using nothing more than that image it will find every picture of you on the internet. That includes social media profiles et al but also images that you might not know exist. On one hand, a police officer could put in a still from a grainy crime film and find their victim. On the other, a psychotic obsessive could put your face in and find out which town you live in, where you go shopping and what car you drive.

This could represent the beginning of a fundamental change to the human experience. Clearview is totally unregulated and although tech giants are launching legal challenges, BuzzFeed today reported that the programme had been sold to thousands of clients already – from US Immigration to the Sovereign Wealth Fund – despite the company saying that the product was purely for law enforcement.

If you were dimly worried about your Amazon Echo constantly recording and selling data on you, or Facebook using period tracker and therapy apps to hawk sales data to quack doctors, or Google going through your emails and keeping records of your location for the rest of your life, then add to that list the possibility that someone could find your home address just by snapping a quick photo of you on the tube. 

The Money Expert vs Fake News
 
What happens when the unstoppable force of digital advertising meets the immovable object of Martin Lewis, founder of moneysavingexpert.com?
 
Lewis, among the UK’s most trusted voices on financial matters, has long had platforms like Google and Facebook in his sights. He even brought a lawsuit against Facebook over its failure to prevent scammers using his name and image, until dropping the campaign after they agreed to donate £3m to a new anti-scam project.
 
Now Lewis is taking on mainstream news publishers like MailOnline over new adverts claiming to report his death, calling on the government to enforce standardised reporting of scam adverts in upcoming legislation. Will his latest campaign change anything? Probably not. We know by now that any change to the online status quo would require extraordinary political will and the incentive to defy profit margins. Even Elizabeth Warren hasn’t been able to force significant change across the pond. Until we as consumers manage to wean ourselves off the influence of social media giants, don’t expect that incentive to appear any time soon.

Filter Weather Reporter: Coincidence or Stunt?

WATCH THIS 

Twitter went nuts this week after a local television weather reporter ‘accidentally’ set his phone to a random filter generator with hilarious consequences. Wholesome small town viral moment, or crudely calculated publicity stunt?
 
Organic Viral Moment
 
With Coronavirus dominating the news agenda, sometimes we need a good old cheap laugh.
 
So when a CNN weather reporter on Facebook Live accidentally activates a filter on his phone masking his face with a carousel of comedic filters, you can’t help but chuckle.
 
PR stunt? Don’t be so cynical! Whilst the reporter and his camera operator may have clocked on to the face-filter generator mid-stream, they likely rolled with it adding a bit of colour to a bleak and mundane forecast.
 
Cynical Stunt

Let’s work backwards.

The opportunity? An out-of-studio report in a remote location without witnesses to unpick the careful planning.

The motives for manufacturing a charming viral stunt? Almost self-explanatory. Just read about our mate Charlotte or any of the others who have made a career form a flash of fame.  

The means? A camera operator with a sense of humour, malleable principles and a basic understanding of Facebook filters.

The giveaway? Hinton claimed that he only realised what happened after coming off air and had but the vaguest idea that anything untoward was afoot.

But you can clearly see him tilting his head in a way which seems to change or at least somehow affect the filters, and he actually laughs at the weightlifting filter in a way which suggests that he can see it. It was the funniest filter. And his ultimate undoing, along with a Facebook post which protested a little too much.

Nice try Justin, you fooled the world, but you didn’t fool us. Enjoy the limelight, you worked hard for it.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Dave's Masterclass | Adidas vs Bezos X Greenwashing | Sad Songs | Changing Media | Dystopian Tech

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

This could be a week which fundamentally changes the relationship between society and celebrity. You can read Mark Borkowski's thoughts here. Elsewhere the communications geniuses at the heart of our government managed to follow-up recent concerns about their competence and the extremity of their politics by hiring a eugenics proponent as an adviser...but we're going to focus on some slightly less exasperating issues, in the worlds of music, corporate sustainability and the media itself.

Dave gives slowthai an Awards Ceremony conduct masterclass

This time last week we were watching slowthai’s drunken, gropey attempt to tank his career so the contrast when a fellow twentysomething British rapper, Dave, elevated his frontrunner status as the country’s next genuinely transcendent music icon with an excoriating Brits performance targeting inequality and injustice in a way which showcased his talents and suggested more authentic engagement with, and understanding of the issues than the average celeb (see our Oscars trend for more on that…)

We’ve elegised Dave’s mastery of publicity from his deeply personal debut album to ‘Alex from Glasto’ and through his Mercury win. His conduct in public forums has galvanised his reputation and media profile pretty much flawlessly. His Brits performance gave us a moment akin to Stormzy’s iconic Glastonbury set generating the kind of rapt headlines only accessible to a superstar.

Many consider slowthai to be as talented a musician as Dave, if not more, but his aimless combustion at the NME awards shows that he doesn’t (or didn’t) understand the nature or purpose of publicity and until he does he’s going to be outstripped by the likes of Dave.

Greenwashing: Bezos should take a lesson from Adidas

Earlier this month, Adidas made a sustainable football field using 1.8 million plastic bottles; corporate greenwashing –capitalising on the growing demand for environmentally sound products– or a genuine attempt to make their products more environmentally sound?
 
1.8m plastic bottles may sound like a huge number but relatively it’s a tiny drop in the ocean: a million bottles a minute are produced every minute worldwide.
 
Despite this overwhelming statistic this Adidas stunt could be a trailblazer. Hypothetically, sustainably converting the 11,000 synthetic-turf fields in the US alone (assuming they’re all the same scale) would recycle a far more significant 20 billion plastic bottles.
 
It’s this out-of-the-box thinking that multinational corporations need to adapt to. Crucially, Adidas have earned to boast about their environmentally friendly initiatives with various programs leading it to be recognised as a global leader in sustainability.
 
On Monday, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos– a notoriously grudging philanthropist– pledged $10 billion to tackle climate change and, rather cynically, called it the Bezos Earth Fund.
 
On the surface, $10Bn is a gargantuan sum that could make huge changes. However, until Amazon makes strides to shrink its own carbon footprint, this move is likely to be dismissed as greenwashing. Hopefully, the $10b will be well spent, god knows it hasn't brought Bezos much positive PR.


Art Imitates Life: And Music is getting Sadder

Who leads who when it comes to pop chart? Are you the kind of person who believes that great pop artists lead the crowd, or that the crowd thrusts greatness upon them?

Music is getting sadder and it's interesting to ponder whether this is a reflection of our miserable society, or a unilateral artistic movement. 

Either way – pop culture provides amateur anthropologists fascinating (and potentially misleading) insights into life, the universe, the human condition.

Hence, you get people writing essays linking the accelerating growth in inequality, and the threat of a collapsing environment with the boom of superhero films.

You could probably spin something about there being nothing more elite than a superhero, and there being nothing more comforting than the idea that our complex problems can be simply solved by a haymaker from Captain America.

Nonsense or insight – it’s difficult to say. Either way it's important not to read to much into it. But there is something compelling about the collapse of optimism in being reflected pop music.



A Week in the Future of the Media
 
This week was an interesting microcosm of the changing media, with further examples of both the forces chipping away at the decaying monoliths currently dominating the landscape, and of the structures – corporate, political, technological - lurking ready to take their place.
 
On Sunday the government launched an all-out assault on the weakened BBC, threatening to end the license fee and in doing so jeopardising huge chunks of our state broadcaster’s output. To add spice, the news was broken by the Sunday Times, whose owner is one of several competitors moving against the Beeb with Times Radio, which this week poached top BBC journalist John Pienaar.
 
With the right-wing corporate vultures circling, the BBC’s best and brightest attempted to co-opt their fanbase by sharing an audience comment that was ill-informed and bigoted even by Question Time standards creating a nice new scandal for themselves.
 
This was also a bad week for newspapers; with tabloids already taking a shellacking for their perceived role in the Caroline Flack tragedy, their websites doubled down - publishing intrusive, insensitive details of the case, albeit backed by a supportive Society of Editors statement. In many cases newspaper websites are worse offenders than their papers, but this kind of race-to-the-bottom clickbait might outright replace more considered, better edited print before long. Thursday’s new ABCs showed every major newspaper suffering tumbling circulation. Some of them may only have a couple of years left (apart from the Telegraph who are above the puny ABCs and besides were too busy nearly getting kicked out of WHSmiths). 
 
So clickbait and Murdoch (or Bloomberg) propaganda might be all that remains of the news in a couple of years, and a Tweet on Wednesday gave us some insight on how the former works, exposing the fact that a prominent manufacturer of media controversy literally has a copy/paste template for articles attempting to race-bait young black musicians. Little wonder we’re so flooded with outrage-inducing online stories.
 
If templated clickbait doesn’t float your boat then Vogue offered an alternative glimpse into the media’s future this week, releasing a video of Billie Eilish being interviewed by a robot. Its idiosyncratic style aside, the robot actually wasn’t a whole lot worse than a lot of red-carpet reporters. The future’s bright, kids.

Black Mirror-ish Nightmare Corner

‘There’s an app for that’ goes the adage. Back when it was a mere slogan it was said with hope - when the internet seemed like it was going to make everything, important or frivolous, seamlessly enjoyable.

Well if the promised evolution of a ubiquitous internet remains unchanged, the promise of hope has surely faded.

In an age arguably defined by mainstream acceptance of mental health issues, the ‘app for that’ is a therapy app called Better Help.
 
On first glance, making therapy accessible and affordable is a brilliant idea, bringing untold relief to individuals making a profound difference to society.

On second glance, you would be forgiven for wondering about the sanctity of their altruism when scratching the surface of how Better Help uses its patients mental health records.
 
The information that you release to the therapy portal is effectively processed into a sales pitch. And passed onto data giants.

Even just the metadata is corporate gold dust. Is someone opening their therapy app every day on their lunch break? Perhaps its time to bombard them with job advertisements. Or sad music. Or Prozac ads.

If that’s not enough, Facebook know where you open it and how long you spent on it. Although they don’t know exactly what is said, there are plenty of people who don’t share their therapy routines with their families.
 
There aren’t many sanctuaries from the internet – and now it seems that, just as it has enveloped communication and shopping, it is winding ever deeper – into your eating habits through your fridge, into your physical health through the heartbeat monitor on your wrist, and now into your mental health.
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: slowthai | Oscars | Green Day | VR 'reunion' | Mike Bloomberg

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

More Awards Nightmares, more dystopian tech, more ageing music industry demagogues. We're playing a lot of the greatest hits this week (as well as Billie Eilish's bond theme)...


It's a Long Road Back for slowthai 

What makes a great apology? It’s a question that vexes crisis PRs everywhere. Social media amplifies scrutiny, so the utmost attention must be paid to the subtleties of language and vocabulary. A corporate statement, clearly written by professionals, is often seen as disingenuous and inauthentic, while attempts to inject personality often backfire, considered immature and unwilling to take the issue seriously. It’s a delicate balance indeed.

This was the dilemma facing slowthai. Following his insulting and offensive behaviour at the NME Awards on Wednesday night the rapper released a statement on Twitter that is, by most accounts, a good model for others who have nearly ended their own careers in a five minute spree of misogyny and violence. He appeared apologetic, humble and authentic. No mean feat.

That assessment isn’t meant to mitigate his shocking behaviour in any way, and the statement isn’t a cure-all; slowthai’s ‘what started as a joke’ line is an unfortunate cliché that risks inflaming fans further, and he has already lost his place as an ambassador for Record Store Day. But the long-term damage to his career is likely to be fixable, helped by a statement that is certainly among the best of recent reputation meltdowns. Katherine Ryan’s haste to downplay the incident – an impressive show of strength and rejection of oversimplified ‘victim’ status - will also help.

Expect a period of silence now as his management look to brush this under the carpet, stay silent and move on.


Oscars: Winners and Losers 

With major Awards and their ceremonies currently having a stinker it’s not surprising that last Sunday’s Oscars were somewhat subdued in terms of big statements and stunts.
 
But there were a few brave souls sticking their heads above the parapet to show individuality beyond the gleaming uniformity of the Stepford Stars who formed the Red Carpet majority.
 
Perhaps most-discussed was Natalie Portman’s embroidered cape, protesting the lack of female Best Director nominees. While this is undoubtedly a major issue for Hollywood, and Portman should be saluted for using her lofty status in the industry to draw attention to it, she doesn’t appear to have thought the whole thing through. When making a big statement on controversial issues, celebrities and brands must make sure both that they’re bulletproof against claims of hypocrisy, and that the form of their statement fits the message. Portman failed in that regard, and is paying the reputational consequences.
 
Outright winners on the night included Bong Joon-Ho for his gracious and relatable response to his historic victories. Mixed report cards go to Joaquin Phoenix and Brad Pitt for effortful speeches whose attempts to make serious points couldn’t quite burst the fog of smug elitism tainting the public’s vision of Hollywood. Another big loser was Eminem whose shtick (more below) caused the genuinely young, relevant observer Billie Eilish’s eyes to roll out of the back of her head, and literally bored Martin Scorsese to sleep.
 

And speaking of ageing shock jocks...

As mainstream rock undergoes a serious identity crisis/correction, and genuine rockstars approach the verge of extinction, increasing numbers of the old guard have tried to rage against the dying of the light through their album promotion.

Marketing campaigns for vintage musicians in general exude an increasing desperation to seem rebellious and edgy, even as the artists themselves hurtle towards middle age and the middle of the road.
Enter Green Day with their new album Father Of All Motherf**kers…

The middle-aged rock band took a very ‘Dad’ stand against "trap beats, Swedes and features” in a billboard publicising their release, instead promising a Partridge-esque "100% pure uncut rock". Each statement was underlined with a line of cocaine, complete with a rolled-up note, just so you know this is ‘real’ ‘rock ‘n’ roll’!

It gets worse…

The track ‘Oh Yeah’ is aided by a vocal sample of a Joan Jett song “Do You Want To Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” which is a Gary Glitter cover. If it’s a Joker-inspired attempt to seem edgy it’s fallen flat on its face and forced them into a retreat. Even donating the royalties of the song isn’t going to absolve them of this blunder.

Recently we’ve commented on Eminem and Wiley’s respective attempts to whip up a storm. The rules of the game have changed; artists need to be more conscious of what they want to stand for, and how inauthentic this lazy brand of shock-jockery comes across.  


Meeting You: Revolutionary VR Therapy or Black Mirror Nightmare?

Once again Charlie Brooker has predicted the future. A 2013 episode of Black Mirror came to life this week in an explosive South Korean TV documentary, Meeting You. It’s about new VR technology which reunites people with digital versions of their deceased loved ones.

In a clip released online we are introduced to Jang Ji-sung, whose daughter Nayeon died in 2016 of leukaemia but who, thanks to said VR developments, can now see, speak to, and even ‘touch’ her little girl again.

In terms of public perception, it's a moral tightrope; there’s an argument that the producers of both tech and documentary have exploited a vulnerable, grieving family for publicity - a Twitter storm and global media outcry is, after all, excellent for brand recognition.

But Jang Ji-sung has spoken positively about her experience on the show, saying she hopes it will allow other families dealing with death to cope with their grief, and that she is grateful for a new, happy memory of her daughter.

Whilst the documentary-makers claim the broadcast was meant to ‘console the family’ rather than promote the VR product itself, publicising the ‘reunion’ in the first place could be considered problematic and undermining of this claim: watching Jang Ji-sung desperately claw the air believing she’s stroking her daughter’s hair while she wails with grief feels like pure voyeurism on the producers’ part.

Perhaps, used in different circumstances, as part of a VR bereavement therapy course for example, this technology could gradually and organically build a reputation for giving grieving people closure, but the immediate media circus and inevitable wave of tech companies profiting off the back of it is distressing. It might even be worse than what happens in the Black Mirror Episode...


Bloomberg buying a Corporate Ticket to the Whitehouse?
 
On both sides of the Atlantic the two predominant progressive parties are gearing up to elect a candidate to take on their ascendant right-wing rivals. The objective is the same, but the reality couldn’t be more different.

If you’re working for Labour, you’d be lucky to get the campaign to pick up a low-end pizza delivery for the volunteers. If you join the Mike Bloomberg campaign, you get three catered meals a day.

Senior Organisers in Labour leadership campaigns have had to buy second-hand tables out of their own pockets when setting up campaign offices. Staffers on Mike Bloomberg’s campaign are given a MacBook Pro and an iPhone 11 before they’ve even found a desk.
 
Neither country has reached a happy medium. Where the British public are angry with MPs who can’t afford to properly staff and resource their own teams, in America, Senators are being replaced at the highest level by businessmen who spend their way into the job. Neither is healthy.

But we are now witnessing a new extreme - Mike Bloomberg is running a campaign without precedent. Infinite money, the best talent and, that rarest of things: a huge organisation that is also reactive. He is buying Instagram influencers, major endorsements and even convincing other megadonors to sit this campaign out.
 
If, as he wants, he ends up being the last non-Trump alternative against Bernie, he could win. If he wins that, he could easily win again, and America will have become a multi-generation oligarchy. That's what people in the know are predicting. Watch this space. 
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Phillip Schofield | Boris vs Press Freedom | Magic Radio | Hamilton x Disney | Inter Miami

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

It's a week which started with an attack on media freedom and ended with a national treasure telling a startling personal truth. Here's the skinny.

Schofield's coming out 
 
A public figure coming out shouldn't really still be news, but it was heartening at least that the near-universally supportive reception to Phillip Schofield's revelation revealed how much society, despite still having a long way to go, has moved on in the past generation. It was only last week that we were being reminded of Piers Morgan referring to soap opera characters as 'yuppie poofs' in a national newspaper as recently as the late 80s.

Schofield did it with courage, respect for his family and deference to the LGBT community. He did it on his own terms, and at a time which suited him - all of which is a leap from the involuntary media 'outings' of years gone by. 

Boris misfires first shot in war against press freedom

Picture it: the country’s most prestigious political journalists, in a pack, entering the hallowed door of Number 10. They linger in the foyer on the striking black-and-white tiled floor bisected by red carpet, until a security guard lines them up on one side of the room.

No doubt feeling sceptical and patronised, they do so.

Then, names are called one by one, with those called asked to cross the carpet and wait on the far tiles. The list ends and those left are asked to leave.

That’s exactly what happened to a number of media organisations including The Guardian, Independent and Mirror earlier this week, with the rest of the lobby joining them in leaving the press conference in a show of solidarity rarely seen in the divisive current media landscape.

If this was a scenario created to divide the media, it could scarcely have been better designed to underline their common cause of holding truth to power.

In 1988, undergraduate Boris Johnson wrote the following on the true nature of running for and holding political office:

“The tragedy of the stooge is that … he wants so much to believe that his relationship with the candidate is special that he shuts out the truth. The terrible art of the candidate is to coddle the self-deception of the stooge.”

Replace ‘stooge’ with ‘journalist’ and you see the Johnson’s press strategy. Extorting favourable coverage from journalists by balancing fear and reward is the game of government media relations. This time, Johnson, or more accurately Dominic Cummings, abjectly misunderstood how to coddle the self-delusion of even the most docile government lapdogs in the lobby.

The next attack on press freedom, if it follows the example set by Donald Trump, will surely be better aimed and executed.
 

The 'Magic' of Radio

What kind of strategy is best equipped to help media brands survive the ravages of an ever-changing content landscape? That is the million-dollar question. This week seemed to suggest that the inoffensive and aggressively accessible stand to gain most from the new times.

Magic Radio for example, the home of easy listening and beige pop, is expanding at a time when other media brands are slashing budgets and haemorrhaging staff. The station attracts 4.2million listeners a week and is highly influential among opinion formers at much larger stations like Radio 2.

Another winner would appear to be BBC Radio 3, revealed in recent RAJAR figures to have reached its biggest audience since 2016, while Radio 2’s breakfast show has only just begun to increase listeners after a rocky few quarters. It would therefore also appear that a solid and credible niche, that neither tries to be all things to all people nor goes out on a limb which risks upsetting its audience, is the way forward for many media who might feel left behind the rapid pace of change.



Hamilton: Disney's long game in latest power play

Last year we witnessed constant power plays as Disney aimed to ensure that heavy investment in such properties as Star Wars, Marvel and the rebooting of its animated canon galvanized its place at the top of the entertainment world pyramid.

Eyebrows were therefore raised this week at the announcement of a relatively modest project, an NT Live-style streaming of a 2016 performance of Hamilton by the original cast. Hamilton is a magnificent, game-changing musical but it’s not the blockbuster project we’re used to.

But Disney are playing the long game. An all-singing, all-rapping Mamma Mia-style cinematic adaptation of Hamilton could be the biggest musical film of all time, joining reboots of Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast in the billion-dollar club. And the corporation has been courting Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda for years, bolstering his Hollywood profile by recruiting him to write the music for Moana, star in Mary Poppins Returns and even make acting and musical cameos in the final Star Wars chapter.

But it wasn’t a sure thing. When rights for Miranda’s lesser-known hit In the Heights – initially a Weinstein co-production- became available for obvious reasons in 2018, Warner Bros shipped out a reported $50M, demonstrating a ravenous appetite for his back catalogue. Disney’s soft power pursuit of Miranda had to evolve into a concrete bid for his magnum opus.

And so it transpired. The reported $75M dollar acquisition may even be the catalyst that finally brings widespread popularity to theatre-on-screen, but if not, the cinematic adaptation which must surely follow, and the further opportunities for merch, theme parks and spin-offs will almost certainly prove an investment worth the ravenous pursuit.


Inter Miami: What Makes a Football Team a Club?

Major League Soccer (MLS) – America’s highest level of professional football – kicks off its new season at the end of February featuring brand-new team Inter Miami – established by, among others, David Beckham. An odd concept for most football fans unfamiliar with the American sports model.

However, most peculiarly of all, Inter Miami has – through a clever PR campaign cultural outreach to the state’s Hispanic community, galvanised soccer fandom in Southern Florida to produce an army of hardcore fans without playing a single game.

Miami’s thirst for a football club has driven this billion-dollar project and without the potential fans the owners probably could not have gone ahead and created this club.

This corporate model of fan culture - manufactured and fuelled rather than springing up organically among football purists- smacks of inauthenticity. Until they build a genuine brand, and without a traditional history passed down from parent to child, glorious rags to riches tales or David v. Goliath matches packed with highs and lows; it’s easy to question Inter Miami’s authenticity as a genuine football club.

To the people of South Florida, Inter Miami embodies their demographic and cultural heritage. If the fans accept the club passionately, do the traditional tenets of football as we know it really matter? Or is this simply a peculiarity of the USA, where the culture is built on the soul-void of corporate transitory transaction?
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Grammys | BBC Crisis | Fashion Disasters | Katie Hopkins | Starbucks

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

We're not going to talk about that thing beginning to 'B' that's happening today, and if you're sick of it too you might just enjoy getting your chompers round some other media analysis from the past seven days. 


Are demagogues becoming demigods?
 
Liberals rejoiced this week as controversial commentator Katie Hopkins found her Twitter account temporarily suspended, for violating the platform’s anti-hate policy.
 
The former Apprentice contestant is widely regarded as a toxic, divisive peddler of hateful nonsense. But she has a loyal audience, many of whom were seemingly unaffected by her sacking from both LBC radio and MailOnline. Not even the fact that she was forced to pay food writer Jack Monroe £24,000 for libel has really dented her significant profile.
 
It all begs the question: what does it really take to torpedo your career in the 21st century? Have we really lost all sense of shame?
 
Perhaps Twitter’s move represents a rare step in the right direction. But this was also the week that Nigel Farage began writing for Newsweek on their new Debate platform. It seems that no matter how low they go, right-wing shock jocks are remarkably immune to reputational damage.


Awards Season of Darkness Continues

Days before this year's awards ceremony, bombshell allegations were levelled at the Grammys by recently ousted CEO Deborah Dugan alleging unlawful gender discrimination, sexual harassment, money mismanagement, biases and conflicts of interest in the nomination process leading to unworthy nominations. The Grammys refuted Dugan's allegations claiming she’d created a “toxic work environment”. Accusations shot back and forth between both sides’ lawyers.
 
Despite the severity of these allegations the public seems somewhat numb to yet another controversy-soaked award ceremony, particularly following the death of Kobe Bryant and 8 other passengers – including Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter – before the ceremony. Music's biggest night was a stark reminder that there are a lot of things bigger than the Grammys
 
What remained was a lifeless damp squib, with the toxicity surrounding the Awards went largely unnoticed. The brand is in dire straits and needs to squash any nefarious encircling it and concentrate on awarding artistic merit instead of commercial success and popularity.
 

BBC: Bumbling Between Crises?

Things haven’t been great for the BBC recently. They’ve taken consistent pelters for their coverage of Brexit and the December election – although in a vacuum these could be shaken off as symptoms of our nation’s diseased relationship with politics – but it’s a series of internal and deeper cultural issues which have driven them to the brink of a reputational meltdown.

Where do we start? There’s their habitual inability to connect with young audiences (BBC Sounds – mascot: Laura Kuenssberg not knowing how to sh*tpost), their involvement in the embarrassment of Britbox, their unequal treatment of their employees symbolised first by Carrie Gracie’s last stand and then by Samira Ahmed’s tribunal victory. There’s their flip-flopping lack of support for Naga Munchetty’s principled stand, Jon Humphries immediate uptake of the Daily Mail hatchet, the decision to axe Victoria Derbyshire – one of their most admired news programmes – and subsequent naval-gazing reporting on it.

And just this week, The Times – with the full might of Murdoch behind them – have launched a new radio station which is expressly coming for Radio 4, and then 450 news staff were laid off (although silver lining, a couple of them might get jobs at Times Radio).

Couple all that with the UK’s most right-wing, anti-public sector government since the Second World War, and the BBC’s charter renewal in 2022 could be extremely rough.


Another Fashion Faux Pas

A couple of months ago we started another one of these trends thus:

“After Burberry’s ‘Noose Hoodie’, Gucci's 'blackface jumpers' and Katy Perry and Prada’s ‘Gollywog’ shoes, the latest communications issue for a major fashion brand was ignited by Louis Vuitton’s roll-out of several Michael Jackson-inspired items as part of their Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, just over a week before the release of the devastating documentary Leaving Neverland.”

Last year’s fashion highlights also include Kim Kardashian trampling roughshod over Japanese culture with her ‘Kimono’ range, and early signs are that 2020 is set to continue the trend of top fashion brands sleepwalking into PR disasters.

This week’s example was House of Fraser’s collaboration with the President’s Club, the brand inspired by the former charity which closed after criticism of its of gropey, all-male dinners. A clothing range with all the class and comfort of Mike Ashley’s hand wandering up your thigh. 

It’s not even worth being morally outraged by this latest one, more just exasperated at the lethargy with which these brands seem to meander into situations like this. None of the controversial ranges mentioned, with the possible exception of ‘Kimono’, even have a brand identity that’s coherent enough to have been deliberately crafted to provoke. They’re just rubbish, overpriced clothes that offend people and that nobody ends up buying, a level of controversy which isn’t worth the smattering of headlines it brings.



Corporate Comms 2020: 101

If one were to simplify the corporate comms strategy of most big brands into a soundbite it would go something like this:

“Find a media-friendly way to look like one of the good guys, and if you can’t do that using your own organisation’s practices, then find a gimmick.”

On a completely unrelated note, Starbucks today launched a new campaign to raise funds for Mermaids – the charity which supports gender non-confirming youth.

It’s a smart move for a worthy and timely cause, and easily brandable thanks to Starbucks’ mermaid logo, but it doesn’t go deep enough to sustainably alter the public perception of Starbucks.

Or to put it another way, it’s great that they’re not openly transphobic, but it’s not like they’ve started paying tax in the UK, treating their workers any better or using Fairtrade coffee. They’re still the Starbucks.
 
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