Open Letter To Brands - about consumers (aka "Gamergate")

Over at The Week a their correspondent Ryan Cooper, who has written for Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post but as far as I know not worked in advertising or PR, has some advice for brands (or #brands ) about Gamergate, in this 'open letter to brands'.

The tl;dr boils down to "stay away", which is an assessment that I've previously agreed with, albeit from the polar opposite point of view. And I specifically said stay away from toxic websites that are not only contributing to the outrage culture online, but often were the catalyst of it. For example, when Sam Biddle at Gawker media ruined Ms Saccos life over a tweet joke, then Gawker tricked Coke's twitter bot into tweeting "Mein Kampf", and defended it. Mr Cooper correctly assumes that brands don't want to court controversy - and most do not, though several underdogs have made their name doing just that, American Apparel, Protein World, PETA and Benetton come to mind. "It's the kiss of death for brands" Cooper says - and it's also how some brands are actually born. Brands aren't busy measuring public opinion, brands know they can shape it - Bernbach himself told them so.

Mr Cooper furrows his brow when he addresses the "Corporate PR Departments".

So let's be real: I know that when you get hundreds of coordinated emails purportedly in favor of "ethics" and against "bullying," your first instinct will be to give in immediately. Intel, Adobe, and Mercedes-Benz all folded before Gamergate, because it carries the hallmarks of a genuine consumer rights movement.

No, lets be really "real", yo. This lazily penned post is a massive insult to anyone working in advertising and PR, assuming off the bat that public relations is all about waiting for fires to put out and that the default strategy for anything is to run away scared as soon as a million moms, little old ladies from Hastings, or people who associate with the hashtag "Gamergate" send in emails. But it gets better! The statement about bullying above, is just leading up to.....

To fold in the face of their demands is to lend credence to a movement widely regarded as despicable, and you will be attacked in the strongest terms by numerous writers, including this one, who work at outlets with far more influence over brand perception than Gamergate.

What is that? A threat? Is this writer deciding for all brands on the planet what they should be doing or else? That right there is exactly why I said check where your brand is, make your media buyers and PR people earn that paycheck. Do not let your ads be shotgunned all over the webs blog networks via a lazy Adwords approach when you quadruplecheck every single comma in every single social media post.

Here's the thing, the democratisation of voices on the web by way of boards, forums, blogs and papers also mean that brands no longer have to turn to a media house to reach a target. Brands are well aware of the fact that they own their channels, places where they can produce content such as shows and articles related to their brand, places where you are already curating their own products into Pinterest boards* and where the soft-sell story of Barbie style has four hundred thousand more subscribers than the hard sell of Barbie. The Dot Com era is old enough to buy itself a drink in a US bar, PR managers have grown up with forums and cut their teeth on AOL keywords. Digital has matured, social is now ubiquitous, and the collected data can now pretty much tell us what people are considering to have for lunch by breakfast.

Meanwhile, "content" has been devalued since the first rallying cries against Metallica, and this attitude in turn has made everything from photography to anything written a free for all - ad-supported of course - starting with Metro in subways all around the world. As cheap as it is to get content for free, news sites still need to earn money, and they can only do that by advertising now, paywalls are shunned by the same writers who grab pitchforks just to get clicks. They're desperate. They jumped on the free-content boat and now they're hellbent on drowning in it, as newspapers & magazines pooled their images into Flickr, their clips to youtube, and their words to the ether - all while not reading the TOS on who is making money off their data or how that content is allowed to be used. Articles are written, copied, spread and to make a buck the originating site really needs your click, articles are rushed because first out with the headline is top search result in Google. Articles embed youtube videos because they'll get traffic and ranking in return. Buzzfeed made an entire corporation based on scraping Reddit, tumblr & twitter for stuff they could cobble together into an easily shared clickworthy post.

Since everything under a publication banner is now technically worthless, journalists are simply trying to carve out their new niche as outrage-directors. Like shock jock hosts of yore, but now in online publications and lacking the irreverent humor. If they can't sell their words, perhaps they can sell their ability to rally the people™. Everything is entertainment now, everything is politicized. It's all about traffic, and traffic moves in waves of outrage. The only way to make a coin is to earn it by celebrity, not by the content you create. So we can't blame Cooper and pals, really, for running with "opinion pieces,” which as we all know, do not necessarily reflect those of the media company.

What Cooper may have missed is that the consumers are already way ahead of the media outlets. Twitter personas have been established for years, jumping in on any topic that a journalist will quote them on - like a_girl_irl (who by the way, was never a girl IRL). The most recent star is @GodfreyElfwick who appears regularly in mainstream articles. Cooper's estimation of Gamergate being "a few hundred at most", while linking a single Reddit board dedicated to Gamergate topics which has 42,530 members is being willfully ignorant. The few hundred people have created a website listing corrupted journalists, and the social reach of a single thunderclap about it went to 1,111,298 people. Brands want to sell product, and consumers buy products - regardless of how many "strong terms" are used by writers to "condemn" brands for trying to market their wares - which still actually make money, unlike most media outlets online.


(*seriously though, who the heck still does pinterest?)