Alexander Cockburn used to argue that, under corporate capitalism, one function of the major mass media is clever misreporting of important stories.
With this powerful hypothesis in mind, take a listen to this little ditty from today’s version of NPR’s Morning Edition:
The story is about how Bloomberg News instructed its own award-winning reporters to stop probing the wealth and power of China’s ruling class [story behind paywall, of course], and went so far in the effort as to try coercing its journalists’ life partners into signing NDAs.
So, important story, for sure. But what, pray tell, is it about?
Surely, the story is about the severe limitations placed on journalism by private, for-profit media ownership — right, National Public Radio?
Nope. Not even close.
What, instead, does NPR — the supposedly alternative content “made possible” by its constantly-mentioned private sponsors — say their own story is about?
Optimization opportunities are similar to having a focus group providing real-time feedback about what does and doesn’t appeal to readers. With today’s robust ad tech ecosystem, marketers have expanded tools to apply A/B tests and optimizations on campaigns. It’s no different with content — marketers can test their branded content’s various components, such as headlines and images. By not taking advantage of this, brands are turning down the chance to listen to consumers and gain actionable insights around messaging that best resonates with users.
Yes, “listen to.” That’s “listen to” in the mode of BB and Winston Smith, of course.
Meet Shane Snow, the founder of Contently, which pimps writers out to corporate capitalists like American Express, Coke, GE, Google, Walmart, and General Motors. The service sold is “content marketing,” meaning fake journalism designed to sell more corporate products and otherwise advance the aims of big business marketing campaigns.
Ad Age reports that such efforts are a major boom industry. The various overclass flagships “are expected to spend nearly $2 billion on sponsored content in 2014.”
Mr. Snow does his pimping by “licensing software to brands to help them manage content-marketing projects and connecting these companies with freelance writers, for which it takes a 15% fee.”
As actual journalism dies via strangulation and systemic neglect, here’s how the action looks at Contently:
There is a range of writers and prices from which brands can choose. There are, for instance, best-selling authors and Pulitzer Prize nominees, youngsters fresh out of journalism school and a number of others who work for major publications but freelance on the side. Contently’s stable includes about 50,000 writers, according to Mr. Snow.
“It’s like a supermarket for writers,” said Tomas Kellner, managing editor at GE Reports, GE’s content-marketing site. “People like me, who need to scale up their operations, can get access to writers for a specific project.”
What a personage. TCT happened to see her show tonight during her usual phony “concerned” bipartisan posing. While asking some goon about the continuing death of journalism, she asked “How will this affect consumers of news?”
“Consumers of news.” Nuff (or Ruff) said. Stay tuned for Antiques Road Show, voiceover provided by “intellectual” actor Paul Giamatti.
This [purportedly fancy toilet paper] is Kimberly-Clark’s biggest push ever in the $3.5 billion-a-year U.S. toiletpaper business, where it is a relative newcomer. Its original Kleenex toilet-tissue brand struggled after its introduction in 1990. The company merged with Scott Paper, maker of the Scott and Cottonelle brands, in 1995 and created Kleenex Cottonelle, which helped Kimberly-Clark gain a 23% share of the market. But it trails rival Procter & Gamble’s Charmin, which has 30%. Among premium tissues, Kleenex Cottonelle still ranks a distant fourth behind Charmin, Fort James’s Northern and Georgia-Pacific’s Angel Soft. Overall, bath-tissue sales are flat and premium brands are losing share to economy-priced tissue.
In other words, the real spur to all this environment-raping TeePee was stagnant corporate profits, not popular demand. Left to their own devices, people gravitate toward “economy-priced tissue.”
This, of course, meant that people simply could not be left to their own devices, them and nature be damned.
Pope conveyed the outlines of the usual consequent marketing procedures, which have since yielded the true course of events:
Kimberly-Clark hosted focus groups to talk to consumers about toilet paper, and asked them to compare leading brands with the new Kleenex Cottonelle textured tissue. They discovered that even though tissue advertising doesn’t talk about how well a toilet paper wipes, that is what customers are thinking about.
In the meantime, the company will launch a new, softer version of Kleenex Cottonelle in the rest of the U.S. Those more-traditional ads show a bubble drifting onto folds of toilet tissue. But the product package includes the “clean, fresh feeling” promise, in an effort to prime consumers for the eventual appearance of the textured tissue nationwide.
In similar fashion, the alleged proof of the alleged product benefit comes after, not before, claims about it are implanted into “the consumer”:
“If we have news that’s important for a consumer, then we can find a way to tastefully communicate it,” says Tom Falk, group president of Kimberly-Clark’s North American tissue, pulp and paper business.
The advertising solution is an anthropomorphic roll of toilet paper with a heavy British accent (the voice of London actress Louise Mercer from the old NBC sitcom “Dear John”). “I’m new Kleenex-Cottonelle toilet paper, and I understand you have a cleaning position available,” the tissue says. “I have a unique, rippled texture designed to leave you feeling clean and fresh. I’d love to show you what I can do.”
In another ad, the tissue brags that consumers prefer it to the leading brand. “Looks like all my bottom-line thinking is paying off,” the tissue says. For now, the ads will claim only that consumers say the new tissue leaves them feeling cleaner than other brands, but Kimberly-Clark is “working on a way to objectively measure cleaning better,” says Mr. Willetts. “There’s no method right now.”
Oh, there’s a method alright. George Orwell is spinning in his grave…