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QUACKCAST 417 - Can we be better?

Ozoneocean at 12:00AM, March 12, 2019

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This is a big, awkward, contentious and fiery subject. What we're talking about in this Quackcast is the current phenomenon of social marketing and how it fuels and drives the “culture war”, or “pop-culture war” to be more correct. Word-of-mouth and viral marketing are old hat now, Social Marketing is in.

But what is it?
Basically its word-of-mouth and viral marketing smashed together and weaponised: Marketing companies hijack hot-button social issues and hitch their client's brand to them in clever campaigns (“We can be better”, etc). The purpose isn't really to make a brand seem progressive, modern or new, rather it's another way of getting it trending on social media that's guaranteed to work, unlike the legion of hit or miss but mostly failed “Viral” campaigns. Whether people say negative or positive things about this issue is irrelevant to the marketer, as long as people are talking about the brand is all that matters. Free advertising is the goal, but it has a social cost.

This has led to issues because the so called “culture wars” divide people in artificial ways. The way the social issues are presented in these campaigns is often overly simplified and so can sometimes be harmful to the issue itself. Fallout over community discussion can bring unwanted attention to the brand… People are random factors and can run with things in unexpected ways: actors can go off-message, people can get together and organise campaigns to review bomb things or even hound actors off-of social media, studios can get nervous and throw their weight around using their advertising budget (the threat of withholding it) as a bludgeon to kill websites…

So much for the theory, what are examples of social marketing?
A recent famous example was the “We can be better” video done for the razor company Gillette. The message was didactic and simplistically constructed, but what you'd expect from a marketing company. It was an enormous success though: it was fuel to the fire of the “culture-wars” and massively increased the profile of the Gillette brand. The campaign was trending on all social media, videos were made about it, blog posts, comments, rants, news articles and so on. The Gillette got far more than their money's worth with what they paid their marketing company.
The social marketing of recent movies, the Ghostbusters reboot and the new Captain Marvel film caused problems (not the films themselves). Social marketers wanted us to think they were socially progressive and politically aware, promoting female empowerment, when in reality they're simply big budget, well-produced mainstream entertainment, the same as any other. The social marketing added to their profiles but also caused them to become pawns in the culture wars: by advertising love or hate of them people signal allegiance to a raft of other social issues and positions.

Another early, but good example is the famous “Fearless Girl”
This is a bronze sculpture that was commissioned by an advertising company, its purpose was to market a new female focussed investment fund on Wall street. As an aesthetic piece of art it's awful, looking like a Disney figurine; pure ugly kitsch. It also unfairly re-contextualised the older Charging Bull statue which it was put in front of. It looked like the girl was bravely facing it down which made the bull an evil villain. The bull sculpture had been created by an artist to celebrate the vitality of and dynamism of American business culture while this new sculpture was essentially fake art, a marketing gimmick created by an advertising company. However the unintentional result was that the sculpture became an icon of female empowerment, far beyond the small scope of the investment fund it was promoting. Bad, false art that it was, it actually became a successful “Good” art piece because it resonated and communicated so well with people everywhere, albeit with a far different meaning than was originally intended. It's now world famous.

The problem with social marketing
Companies ARE made up of individuals and they can support whatever ideals they like, as they should. This can genuinely be reflected in the products of those companies, this is perfectly ok. The problem comes when marketers insert issues as an artificial layer as part of a marketing campaign. Progressive issues are too important to be hijacked by marketers.
The world is being divided more and more and the power of the individual is getting smaller, social marketing campaigns usually only exacerbate the problem. They hijack left-wing progressive issues and attempt to manipulate masses of people. They are not a genuine contribution to the cultural discussion, they aren't sincere, they are not organic, and they have more resources and a bigger voice so that they cause imbalance and contention. The web used to be a massive, chaotic, democratic morass, now it is dived amongst a much smaller number of media companies: Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter etc, so that it's very easy for corporations to manipulate and attempt to control social sentiment while also shutting down the voice of the community.

How can we combat social marketing?
Calling out social marketing for what it is, that's a start: Recognise when something is attempting to manipulate you and instead of engaging with it (“This movie will be amazing because it's about this social issue!” or “This film is horrible because it's about this social issue!”) say what it's really doing: “This film is no more an advocate for that social issue than any other, I will see it because I like the content. The marketing campaign attempting to promote it as socially aware is false and manipulative”. But simply ignoring fake controversies the same way we do with viral ad campaigns is probably best.
Progressive people should not be fooled into thinking a corporate entity properly represents issues and nor should those who are against them. No one should be tricked into doing the work of a marketing company, you are not being paid and they don't deserve the free help.

This week Gunwallace has given us the theme to The Lightning Orb: Zaps, shocks, sparks, electrified plasma arcing through open air with the hot burning smell of fresh ozone… invisible pulses through flat gold wire circuits printed on green silicon as electrons are exchanged at almost the speed of light.

Topics and shownotes

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Featured comic:
Redneck -

Banes' newspost about Gag orders -
Banes' comic strip We Can Do Better -
Fearless Girl and the bull -

Special thanks to:
Gunwallace -
Banes -
Tantz Aerine -
Ozoneocean -

Featured music:
The Lightning Orb -, by AWilsonnn, rated T.



Abt_Nihil at 7:15AM, March 13, 2019

I‘m not really sure what you mean by „I see these fights from both crowds“. Sure, it’s not great that there’s fighting at all, but I don’t see how you can get around a dispute in cases of significant moral disagreement. The damage is primarily done by the stances fought over; the dispute itself is just a consequence. (To be sure, I‘m not talking about violent fighting, just heated discussion. Which I agree is annoying/frustrating in simple nerdy popcultural contexts.)

Ozoneocean at 6:14PM, March 12, 2019

With the sole purpose of becoming viral.

Ozoneocean at 6:14PM, March 12, 2019

No, the divisions are there already, the discussion, the argument is already there- what this current style of social marketing does is that it simply hitches a ride on it. Unlike the coke ad and things like that where they were promoting a simple positive message, they weren't being deliberately injected into an on-going debate.

Gunwallace at 5:32PM, March 12, 2019

This sort of advertising has been around for a long time. Coke's 'I'd like to teach the world to sing' advert was made in 1971. I do wonder if what has changed is the ability to have a forum to (instantly) comment about such things. If that Coke ad was released now, instead of 1971, what would the reaction to it be? Is it the advert that's dividing people, or are people just able to voice their division louder and easier than ever before?

Ozoneocean at 8:29AM, March 12, 2019

People fall into a trap of saying "it's all them! It's their fault, they are the ones bringing it" - referring to the comicsgate people, or equally the anti-comicsgate people (whatever they're called). I see these fights from both crowds and it's disturbing and disappointing.

Ozoneocean at 8:25AM, March 12, 2019

I don't think the Marvels film are reduced or affected in any way, but discussion of them has been- or rather only for the Captain Marvel film, I haven't seen anything at all like that for Black Panther. And I am not saying that the marketing focussed on socio-political matters at all, I'm saying that social marketing was used as one of the marketing tools- it is merely a component of a marketing campaign.

Abt_Nihil at 8:09AM, March 12, 2019

(ct'd) Also, there is nothing feminist in the Captain Marvel marketing which isn't in the film itself (i.e. some empowerment messages), pretty much akin to the DeConnick comics. This is not just the marketing, it's just Captain Marvel's topic. Obviously, the Gillette ad is another thing - that's obviously pure marketing.

Abt_Nihil at 8:05AM, March 12, 2019

I would agree with you, if they were actually reduced that way; but I think it only seems that way because of the dominant reactions on social media. But as we saw from the huge success of Captain Marvel in comparison to the hate that's being spewed online, the general public doesn't seem to care that much, and neither do I. The social marketing aspect of Marvel films has actually been minimal in comparison to the effect it had on right-wingers. It's true that Marvel execs would in interviews frame Black Panther and Captain Marvel as contributions to diversity, which these literally are; but the actual marketing wasn't that focused on sociopolitical matters. The only thing regular people are likely to see is the "her" morphing into "hero" in the trailer, the rest will only be really noted by the fans. Basically, that whole thing is being forced on Marvel, coming from the comicsgate and MAGA crowd, rather than Marvel aggresively pushing it. (ctd')

Ozoneocean at 5:48AM, March 12, 2019

Those are factors that I wanted to separate it from as much as I could. Social marketing is more problematic than it is positive, especially considering the Marvel films are not especially progressive and so it's created a false narrative and more fodder for the so-called culture wars. Genuinely good films become nothing more than flags for people to rally around or attack and that's sad. I'm disappointed to see pop-culture discourse reduced to left-right political divisions.

Abt_Nihil at 4:54AM, March 12, 2019

I agree with you insofar as marketing of this kind may indeed muddy the waters, introduce artificial conflicts and/or create unnecessary tension. However, it should be noted that (1) for better or worse, the mere exposure of the products and marketing changes the issue being associated with it (e.g. promoting diversity by way of inclusion actually increases diversity and inclusivity), (2) often, the people behind the product are the driving force behind this because of their morals (e.g. Kathleen Kennedy on the Disney side, the Marvel Studios execs on the Marvel movie side, Kelly Sue DeConnick on the comics side), and hence, we are dealing with an actual moral discourse rather than some articial marketing front. Hence, there are (in many cases) good reasons for engaging the respective marketing on a moral or sociopolitical level.

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