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Gawker issues defense of trolling Coke, misses irony

In case you didn't hear, Gawker trapped Coca-Cola into tweeting phrases from Mein Kampf. to culture jam Coke's #makeithappy campaign. Because god forbid Twitter show any signs of happiness at this point. When outrage ensued over this dick move, Gawker doubled down on the dickishness with this amazingly tone-deaf defense.

The article, which I won't link, is entitled Brands Are Not Your Friends. It starts with the question "When was the last time Coca-Cola did anything nice for you?"

Besides providing a beverage I sometimes enjoy? Besides making me happy with advertising that isn't mean-spirited? Or employing providing jobs to more than 130,000 people? Not once, I guess.

This isn't a defense of Coca-Cola, though.

This is pointing out how incredibly stupid an article attacking a brand and its advertising is. On one hand it maintains that brands are not people. By the end of the article though it insists brands are psychopaths. Which is it?

But let's start at the beginning with the article weirdly suggesting people have never lost their virginity to Doritos, but these brands show up in news feeds of your sister, even though your sister has never appeared on a highway billboard. Huh? Okay. I kind of see the point? I mean, if I've had a lobotomy or don't understand how social media sites are ad-supported, which is why they are free to use, or if I don't know that regular folks' faces appear on billboards as well as TV spots all the time, and that the majority of folks don't mind this unless they happen to write for a site so craptacular the founder was slapped with a class-action lawsuit for violating wage laws.

The rant continues that brands' trying to convey an emotional message of happiness is very very bad. Like really bad. And that we should all be upset by it.

No, what's upsetting is the people who think making a twitter bot-- not a human, but a bot-- make a photo out of Mein Kampf is a good idea. It isn't. It's the product of a diseased hipster mind, obsessed with class-envy, and click-bait featuring ISIS Babies filled with the kind of self-righteousness that has made Twitter the cesspool that it is today.

The article offers up some amazingly paranoid comments on advertising. Like the idea that Coke's Happiness campaign is trying to trick consumers into buying more Coke. How exactly is Coke "tricking," someone into buying more Coke if the happiness campaign is being communicated directly from the brand? What part of a campaign that launched with a Super Bowl spot is covert? If by "tricking you into buying more Coke," you mean "coming up with a campaign based around happiness which it has been running since 1971," than yeah, it's totally pulling the wool over our eyes. Got me there, Coke. How dare they show me something happy!

The article is actually surprised that when Coke pulled its bot campaign, not wanting to be trolled by assholes any more, people came to Coke's defense. Shocking! Why, how is it possible we don't froth at the mouth when we think of Corporate America, the way Gawker does? Why is it we aren't all raging into the dying of the light because a brand is daring to sell a product to us? How is it possible, indeed.

The article ends by suggesting that all brands are inherently psychopathic. As if that's some sort of defense for throwing Hitler in the mix.

Thing is, all brands aren't inherently psychopathic. Unless The Peace Corps's twitter handle is somehow covertly psychotic, too.

Gawker has certainly shown that it is a psychopathic brand, (arguably with sociopath employees) and one that is ultimately unaware that it is even a brand, or assumes its self-righteousness protects it with that special social justice invisibility shield, immune to hypocrisy.

They're wrong of course, but we already knew that. And if I have to choose between brands like Gawker and brands like Coke, I'll stick with Coke.

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Saikotic's picture

It gets worse for Gawker. The father of the president of Coke (Necdet Kent I believe) actively saved Jews in WWII.

Brad's picture

As mentioned in the last article's comments section. Who in their right minds would want to advertise with Gawker or ANY of the other affiliated sites?

Doc's picture

WELL what are you waiting for! Email their advertisers! Tell them about their insanity.

bazzar's picture

#Gamergate has been doing that since September, maybe people will listen now.

Homunculus's picture

It's hard to do that because Gawker has hidden the page that lists their affiliate sponsors. I'm not kidding. They did this after Gemrgate people began contacting sponsors to drop Gawker. Thankfully, there is an internet archive of their sponsors page before Gawker took it down. Some of these are likely no longer sponsors. For example, I think Adobe stopped sponsoring Gawker.

Anyways, here is Gawker's sponsors before they decided to hide their sponsors: https://archive.today/3QYHI

Trudatness's picture

We at #GamerGate have been trying to tell you about these lunatics - but you all have been too busy buying into the lie that we're all serial harassers of women and haven't taken us seriously.

Do you really think Gawker is anyway ethical now? Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

lokitoth's picture

They are simply projecting. Gawker media have gone so far down the native advertising sinkhole (and not the good kind either - I mean the deceptive kind where they use their incredibly low-contrast byline font to indicate an article has affiliate links by tagging it "Commerce Team" as though that would mean something to most people), that they cannot imagine a company having an ad that communicates explicitly about the company, that is kind and cheerful and well-put-together so people actually go out of their way to watch it (possibly multiple times) often because it is heartwarming.

(See also, the Budweiser Clydesdales / Dogs commercials as an example, and there are plenty of others.)

Incidentally - is it just me or were this year's Superbowl ad spots the most depressing/negative, when taken collectively? (Granted, I have only seen a couple of years' worth before)

David's picture

Preach it Brotha!!!

EJ Spurrell's picture

It's pretty funny when you think about it. Gawker is insanely hypocritical and either deluded, or manipulative. (I'd put money on both.)

What else do you expect from a company that claims to speak on behalf of women's rights in one breath, and in the very next defending 'leaking' her nude photos or contents of her email inbox for the world to see? Or who refused a court order to remove a sex tape, simply because it cost them less money to pay the fines than they were making from clicks?

It's tabloid, yellow journalism at its finest, although I'm loathe to refer to those people as 'journalists.'

Ryan's picture

I'm going to take a mildly contrary stance that isn't in line with what Gawker did but does question more subtle aspects of what this story brought to light. To clearly state: what Gawker accomplished was adolescent and ridiculous. Bragging about invoking Hitler with Coke's pen is unequivocally in poor taste.

There are points brought up in the article that have to be considered in the modern advertising world. Consider how many brands flew away from hashtag brand during SB spots. Consider the wasteland much of Twitter advertising really is. Made up holidays, generic small talk, bad awful never going to be used hashtags. We've all seen it. There are some brands that work and work well, those that are brought up in the 'Brands Are Not Your Friend' followup albeit in the worst possible light, as Gawker is firmly anti-brand (or jokingly #brand). But they're there, and they're pervasive and with such a smarmy voice speaking up about their social work, clearly their advertising is effective. (the Reggie Jackson quote of 'they don't boo nobodies' applies here)

These are contrarian points that should be considered legitimate complaints if a small, noisy section of the audience is firmly behind them. Their snark posts are based within their voice.

There is a defined line reserved for reporting on news to get clicks and creating news to get clicks. While they pull stunts like this regularly, some of their work is fine as hell. Please look into some of the work of the writers they've graduated. Brushing them aside as merely toxic is dangerous, just as assuming Taco Bell is whimsical because they talk like a Cool Teen or that Buzzfeed is merely a series of numbered lists instead of an broad-armed all encompassing media juggernaut. Simply because they came after a project by Coke crudely, I wouldn't want them to let up their passion on a separate issue that is important to a specific subsection of culture.

Oh, Gawker's brand is to go after everyone. It's not an excuse, it just is. They doubled down because they're Gawker. This bullheadedness is either enjoyed or reviled. Not much on an in-between there.

Let's also be clear that Coke is placarding an image upon themselves and are, by in large, the most successful brand to ever exist. They're golden in everything they do. Everyone talked about the personalized labels. The happiness machines. The holding hands print ad that got an unknown kid a gig at Ogilvy. It should also be considered that Coke's record is far from spotless. There are very real human misgivings they've employed to gain that #1 spot. Obesity, spotty labour, marketing directly to kids, the ties between Coke and Germany with the '36 Olympics and beyond.

There's a commonality between the two stances I'm trying to wade through here. Coke saying 'what if the Internet weren't such a shithole?' and Gawker saying 'what if we break this little machine and make it dance for us?' The consideration and initial concept of 'can we do this?' should be addressed. This is, at its core, no different than being given a set of tools and using those tools in a way that no one planned for. This is, at its core, what advertisers struggle with every day.

Handing over the responsibility to a bot to discern good and bad taste was an err in judgement by Coke. Twitter bots are for the most part a curiosity for code enthusiasts, not the focus of a global campaign. We should be clear, someone would have subverted this somehow. Don't think the people at 8chan weren't licking their fingers. The speed and toxicity of the manner in which it was dispatched allowed this to become news.

There is a specific bravery championed with difficult advertising and journalism respectively. A message, an image, an overall tone. There is a voice you're trying to convey to like-minded individuals to further purvey your stance on the world. Both companies have done this. It would be very easy to take small slices of either Coke and Gawker and sling to further a specific perspective. In this case, Coke made a mistake in relying on tech that could be exploited and Gawker was wrong to invoke a harrowing time in human history to make that point.

To single one issue out for a company has always been strange to me, in that entities are never purely one-sided. Gawker is an outwardly facing company who has to put out everchanging content daily and Coke has specific brand messaging to focus on. Comparing the two is difficult and nearly impossible in that while they live in their own lanes and their morals seem to be diametrically opposed, depending on your perspective and background, they're more likely to live somewhere in the middle due to the lack of internal optics. It would be a point to find who worked on the Coke project and if they're still functioning after being throughly chewed out by mid-to-upper management.

I do have a secret hope that ad folks become more media literate and (very much) vice versa. It allows the line between advertising and editorial to dissipate and the respect of the two cultures to heighten. Knowing the differences between The Awl and Fusion can be just as important as recognizing work by W+K and BBDO.

I'm @ryanfarkas on twitter if you want to yell and call me stupid.

kidsleepy's picture

I have no interest in yelling at you or calling you stupid, and I don't appreciate the assumption. As for your "secret hope," more ad folks will become more media literate--Unless you've met a vast majority of ad folks, you're showing a prejudice that is quite myopic.

While we're on the subject of literacy, there is nothing in this Gawker article that Naomi Klein and Adbusters haven't already covered, ad nauseam except theirs was more thought out, less Juvenalian, and less out to shock and enrage for clickbait's sake. I still disagree with all of them, of course, but at least the previous iterations were better informed and less geared toward the echo chamber, not to mention they didn't include Hitler.

"These are contrarian points that should be considered legitimate complaints if a small, noisy section of the audience is firmly behind them. Their snark posts are based within their voice."

And I would argue in this case that the size of the audience is proportional to the validity of their complaints. Judging by the number of people who did not in fact applaud the stunt or ensuing article, the noisy minority of anti-advertising elitists is nothing more than that. And if a justification for a co-called respected media outlet to troll a brand's bot because 8Chan would have done it first-- that's not really much of a justification is it.

However, I do think you are more correct than you realize with this point. It clearly is a dick move that 8Chan would have done first. And nothing more. If the rambling article/apologia/justification that followed didn't convince me or the majority of people, than it only proves my point.

Asking me to overlook the usual Gawker Media slime from their Real Journalists™ is akin to asking me to read Playboy for the articles. While the articles may once upon a time tried to legitimize the magazine and mitigate to a certain extent the soft-core pornography content in late 1950's America, the magazine's brand and lifestyle has and will always be associated with bunnies and centerfolds. There may be great writers there--I don't care enough to investigate, and that wasn't the point of the article. I already know roses can grow in a pile of shit, but at the end of the day it's still a pile of shit the rose is growing in.

Gawker media's yellow journalism and shock-value and crass attitude is its brand voice. I'm not interested in legitimizing that brand or entertaining it on any level.

Moreover, I am not rushing to Coke's defense so much as pointing out that Gawker's brand is better known for pulling dick moves while shilling Yellow Journalism than any sort of tome that is crackling with intelligence and inspiration.

Ryan's picture

I just wanted to extend a conversation that seemed one-sided and expand the idea beyond denouncement above all else.

I've met very literate ad folk, I've met completely illiterate ad folk. Merely looking to extend the idea that everyone should learn about all avenues to consume rather their narrow spectrum, something we're all guilty of.

And the last line was a joke.

kidsleepy's picture

It's hardly a one-sided conversation to point out that both Gawker and Coke are in fact, brands.
That's not a denouncement. That's truth. And a fairly objective one at that.

However, I can get behind your point that we need to expand our palette. Although I sincerely doubt you've met illiterate ad folk in the truest sense of the word unless they are art directors. I KEED.

Advertising doesn't tend to create narrow minds; in fact it's the opposite. Most people are too busy spending time online and working to get out and experience "real life." But if the widening spectrum includes inhaling detritus like Gawker on a regular basis, I'll pass, thanks.

Also in my opinion, open mindedness is a non-starter. If you were truly open-minded, you'd have no opinion at all. Everyone has an opinion. Open-mindedness is just saying you're closed-minded on the other side.

Dabitch's picture

Well, Kidsleepys beat me to it, but there's a few bones I still have to pick. Ryan, you bring up Coke's sponsorship of the 1936 Olympics (trivia : Coke is actually the longest continuous sponsor of the Olympic Movement, has sponsored every one since 1932), as if this somehow negates what Gawker did a week ago, and I find that a little odd.
If your point was that Fanta was playing with the Nazis, then how do you feel about brands like Chase, IBM, Ford, Hugo Boss, Bayer, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Adidas, Siemens, ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP... And here's irony for you: Random House publishing, who also published Naomi Klein's "No Logo"? Is this news to you? Did you not study advertising and learn George Lois famous quip about selling a nazi car in a jewish town?

The funny here is, to me, that Gawker - a brand all its own and well known for being "out there" and "risky" and "unconventional" or whatever positive term you would like to put on them, with a track record of creating stuff like the gawker stalker maps, who defends the idea of leaking the private messages of celebrities inboxes, simply because they're celebrities : like Taylor Swift’s hacked inbox, and who put up Hulk Hogans sex tape, are simply gossip-mongers. Not journalists uncovering important truths in any way. They trade only in salacious gossip, which entertains all sorts of people lacking lives. Their brand at Gawker media is firmly established as clickbaity-outrageous-gossipy stuff. There's room for this, of course, but lets not pretend that this has some sort of higher moral ground to stand on than a company that makes soft drinks. They're both capitalist entities, one has evolved to be the click-tempting-headline-generating machine that it is today by fine-tuning how it gets clicks, in perfect symbiosis with advertising, catering to CPM and sponsored content. They are part of the brand eco-system that they so loudly complain about, so that they can keep their "punk" cred. Also, they're selling themselves as creatives now, offering creative executions to brands like... IBM. Irony.

Ryan's picture

In consideration, an outward discussion.

Dabitch's picture

At least Nick Denton is aware of the fact that Gawker, and Biddle himself, are brands. Perhaps he also realises that Gawker's brand is toxic to other brands. Sam Biddle failed up (was promoted) after tweeting "bring back bullying", something he already did when he shone a bright spotlight on Justine Sacco's tweet which started the #hasjustinelandedyet trend. Nick has also surpassed the junior college ideas of marketing & branding as it fits in the economic model, and graduated to the Cayman island tax avoidance strategy and "interns are free labour" greedy capitalist ideal. Basically, they're not one to talk. Gawker's brand is hypocrisy. If Nick really disagreed with Sam Biddle's move as part of the face of Gawker, he as a boss could just can his ass, not write essay-like comments on why their opinion differs. This is all part of the same branding. This is their entertaining PR. I'm positive it'll hoodwink some, as it has done so often before. Brands not interested in encouraging this kind of media landscape can consider where they advertise.

kidsleepy's picture

A Gawker author and two Gawker colleagues talking to each other in the comments section hardly qualifies as an "outward discussion." Echo chamber, yes. Navel gazing, yes. Turning story's focus back on themselves, yes. It's about as fascinating as being at dinner and overhearing a couple of Silver Lake trust fund kids have a conversation at the table next to me.

Dabitch's picture

professional-wrestling analogy alert.

Andromedastrain's picture

The Denton / Biddle open pretend arguing was just grandstanding, a show they put on to draw more rubbernecking clicks. And it worked, because someone here linked it under an article that refused to link the original clickbait screed.

kidsleepy's picture

And I tried so hard to keep the syphilitic hyperlinks out, too.

Mick's picture

Interesting to read about this incident in light of David Auerbach's Slate article: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/bitwise/2015/03/outrage_clickbait_its_internet_dominance_is_about_to_fade.html. Gawker's strategy of "Shit on everybody, all the time" won't appeal to advertisers much longer.

Sport's picture

What kind of asshole leaves a comment that begins "We at #Gamergate...."??