Emotion-Marketing and news stories that sell

All media have had to switch to audience-markets, now that network penetration has reached critical mass. Now we have a new kind of advertising, or maybe it’s just been so subtle I didn’t see it before: ads presented as news stories on formerly legit information-market media such as NPR.

After the Florida tragedy, an institution of higher learning announced that it was accepting the application of one of the dead students posthumously. This was covered by NPR with somber tones of deep empathy, by a regional reporter (they interview each other, which is also done for audience marketing, as we love to eavesdrop on a conversation). It is an example of the kind of advertising that is effective in our new world of attention-capture. It was an ad for a college – and simultaneously, for NPR – disguised as news for its gossamer connection to the horror of Valentine’s Day.

Another example of this advertising-as-news-coverage, mutual-benefit phenomenon is the announcement that Johnnie Walker is marketing a new whiskey, “Jane Walker”, for, you guessed it, women. Marketing a special booze to women, why? Because it’s got more/less alcohol in it? Because the current product is somehow too macho for women? Or the corollary: if too many women drink too much JW, men will start calling it a girly drink? My guess is that their PR department – excuse me, their Audience Marketing Department – like the rest of the howling pack of eternal hucksters and paparazzi, want to find some way to cash in on the “#MeToo Moment”. It might sign that the movement has solid legs under it and is here for the long haul, when such pathetic pandering shows up. But damn. Jumping on such a truly emancipating movement in order to diversify a brand of booze so men can feel special drinking it – and now women can, too! – just goes to show how doomed the rape-culture finally is. This movement can’t be dismissed as a mere “moment”.

The shift from Information Age to Attention Age has been going on for some time, but when the “social” media achieved that critical saturation that put Forty-five in office it became clear that the balance of real power had shifted radically. Big Data is still an important commodity and continues to develop, but it is now reduced to a component of the audience-market, refining the collection and deployment of ever more precisely targeted emotional hooks. A school massacre presents a tempting platform for anybody who can figure out a way to tap into the temporary gravity-well of raw emotion that still echoes around the web. Certainly the NRA has been creative in their heavy-handed efforts to deflect attention away from the tsunami of antipersonnel firearms washing across America. They seem to prefer to dump it on “The Mentally Ill”, a demographic with no connection to such awful acts, which is already burdened with stigma and pathetic levels of funding for what few services are accessible to those who really need it. This makes said demographic virtually defenseless against a high-priced PR scapegoat campaign. Forty-five will no doubt start calling for deportations, along about the time the benumbed public gaze wanders from him again.

We’re being told that all the unhappy people in the world are about to be harrassed and surveilled, while ignoring the statistics around drugs that say “Side effects may include suicidal thoughts…” Professionals in the mental health fields will point out that there is no predicting a school shooter. However, somebody should point out that there might be a link between such events and the medications the shooters were taking, or had just stopped taking, or got a different prescription for, when they snapped out. It has been claimed by some healthcare professionals (but apparently none who wish to keep their jobs) that just about all the mass killers in recent years were under some level of professional care involving medications that carry warning labels about suicidality and violence. I have no specific knowledge of this, and such information seems to be withheld out of respect for the dead mass-murderers’ privacy. After the reports on the wildly excessive and profitable marketing of opioids that has brought us “The Opioid Epidemic” nothing Big Pharma does should surprise us. It is interesting that the arm-the-teachers proponents (are there more than just the one?) have scrupulously avoided this rather likely factor, while PR-carpet-bombing the millions of victims of diseases you can’t see, and pushing for teachers to take on yet another unbearable responsibility and become armed guards. That’ll sure help. Not.

Of course everybody who doesn’t have some financial or political interest knows that banning weapons designed only for killing as many people as possible would actually work, and work dramatically, to reduce these massacres of innocent children and school teachers. As that courageous Senator Murphy from Connecticut has pointed out in Congress, America is the only place facing such a nightmare. But I’m forgetting: we’re not in the Information Age anymore. That’s probably somewhere in Kansas with Auntie Em.