The “Lazy” Libel Lawsuit – Blog Assignment #9

•November 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Academy Award-winning actress Kate Winslet was recently awarded approximately $40,000 in damages after winning a libel suit against the UK Daily Mail.

Kate sued the British tabloid’s owner Associated Newspapers over allegations from a January, 2009 article titled “Should Kate Winslet win an Oscar for the world’s most irritating actress?” claiming that she publicly lied about her exercise regimen.

The article written by Liz Jones (which is no longer available on the UK Daily Mail‘s site but can be found archived in full on BNET) accused Ms. Winslet of under-reporting on her fight to stay fit during her awards-season red carpet runs last winter:

There is no way Kate despite her protestations the other day that: ‘As long as all of this is going on, I have stopped exercising and am eating whatever I want. That [exercise] has gone out the window for now because I haven’t got time what with awards ceremonies and film premieres’, or that it is her Narciso Rodriguez gowns that nip her in and push her up in all the right places has not worked supremely, vomit-inducingly hard to get the figure she has today.

I can see the fact she has ‘gone for the burn’ etched on her woefully drawn features. She might say it is down to 20 minutes of gentle Pilates a day but, trust me, it ain’t. I’ve done that amount of Pilates for years and I do not have anything approaching Ms Winslet’s enviable muscle tone.

Winslet, who has frequently and publicly denounced Hollywood pressures to maintain a certain body type, explained to Reuters the basis for her libel suit:

“I was particularly upset to be accused of lying about my exercise regime and felt that I had a responsibility to request an apology in order to demonstrate my commitment to the views that I have always expressed about body issues, including diet and exercise.

“I strongly believe that women should be encouraged to accept themselves as they are, so to suggest that I was lying was an unacceptable accusation of hypocrisy.”

The Daily Mail ran the story three weeks before Winslet snagged a Best Actress Oscar statuette for her role in the WWII drama The Reader. She had already been making the red carpet rounds both for that performance and for another highly-regarded turn in the 1950s Americana suburban drama Revolutionary Road.

Kate Winslet in The Reader, for which she won several awards including the Academy Award for Best Actress.

In a nutshell, Kate Winslet was repeatedly quoted as saying that she had not been dieting or exercising much during the busy awards season. Liz Jones wrote in the Daily Mail that Winslet must be lying because she looked to be in great shape.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Winslet sued the Daily Mail because they questioned her own claims that she was lazy, alleging instead that she indeed had been working hard to stay in shape. This might seem like a frivolous lawsuit, but it was potentially quite injurious to Winslet’s image.

Winslet, who often encourages women to love their bodies as they are, worried that the article, if taken as truth, would make her seem like a hypocrite: telling women to love their bodies while striving to make her own as perfect as possible. She filed the suit not to collect damages ($40,000 is pocket change for the highly-paid actress), but to force the Daily Mail to detract the claims, allowing her to maintain credibility in her message to women.

The tabloid immediately accepted the charge and could offer no defense. PR-CANADA.net reported that the suit set a “legal precedent”:

This decision clarifies that in Offer of Amends situations, claimants, in this instance Miss Winslet, have the right to appropriate vindication through the process of a Statement in Open Court.

I haven’t the faintest idea what that means. I speak a few languages, and legal jargon is not one of them. What I do understand is that the outcome of the suit will make it easier for celebrities to file and receive compensation for libel cases in British court. I think this is a positive and important development in the legal system.

Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road, for which she won several awards including a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama.

Celebrities are in the spotlight of the entertainment news media, and many believe that they should learn to take the good with the bad: to ignore negative and false stories because “any press is good press,” or because it’s “part of being famous.” But celebrities are people, who deserve honest representation, and also, in a sense, commodities, that typically have vast commercial interests riding on their reputations.

The media cannot be given free reign to write about celebrities as they please. Barriers need to be in play to prevent them from creating false messages: scandalous headlines might amass a larger readership, but these messages can be very damaging to prominent figures and the businesses built around them.

Any widely-disseminated media message has an inherent responsibility to inform the public in a truthful way. If a media outlet purposefully produces a false message, they need to acknowledge the mistake and compensate any damaged parties. The media are too powerful not to be held to this standard.

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The Popcorn PR Problem – Blog Assignment #8

•November 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

You’re at the movies, and you want to snack on something during the show. What’s the go-to solution for the movie munchies? A big bucket of salty, buttery, delicious popcorn, of course! It’s the perfect treat. It feels natural, automatic–an inconsequential classic, right?

It turns out, your bag of popcorn may be more menacing than the dastardly villains or alien invaders onscreen. A recent study by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) put movie popcorn under the nutritional microscope. What they found is the plot of a horror film: moderate servings of popcorn likened health-wise to steakhouse specials with all the fixings and after-dinner dessert.

Hardest hit by the study was the Regal Entertainment Group, whose theaters popped the unhealthiest product of the tested movie theater chains. Their largest serving of popcorn contains 20 cups of popcorn, totaling 1200 calories, 60 grams of saturated fat, and 980 milligrams of sodium. According to FDA guidelines, that’s three days worth of saturated fat, the type of fat responsible for clogging arteries and causing heart disease. It’s also got about as many calories as three Quarter Pounders from McDonald’s and nearly as much sodium as three orders of large french fries.

Even the small serving of 11 cups of popcorn contains 670 calories, 34 grams of saturated fat, and 550 mg of sodium. That’s more calories than a Big Mac, and enough fatty artery paste to cover the next 36 hours. Each tablespoon of extra “buttery topping” adds an additional 130 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat.

The study also revealed that Regal’s drink sizes are larger than those of its competitors, offering more calories and sugar in every serving. The cherry on top? A large and medium popcorn at Regal contain the same amount of popcorn: the round, short bucket-like container of the large only makes it seem bigger than the bagged medium size. The prices, of course, are not the same; though the large does come with free refills, or as much heart poison as you so desire.

Regal has found themselves with a buttery heap of very bad press. The study was released just last week, and the theater chain has yet to respond. But this could be catastrophic to Regal and all chain cinemas, whose greatest profit margins come at the concession stand by far.

Regal has several issues to address here:

  1. Their popcorn is very unhealthy.
  2. Their popcorn is more unhealthy than the already unhealthy popcorn at other theater chains.
  3. Their drinks are larger and more unhealthy than those at other chains.
  4. Their candy servings are unusually large and therefore more unhealthy.
  5. Their “large” popcorn is actually the same size as their “medium” popcorn, even though the “large” costs more. (though it does provide free popcorn refills)
  6. The stated nutritional information for their popcorn was very inaccurate.

First, they can accomplish several quick fixes:

  • Get rid of the “large” size popcorn bucket with free refills – The offer is mostly a sham anyway (since the large is the same size as the medium), and the free refills are seen as a ticket to extra heart disease. Do away with it entirely.
  • Get rid of the largest drink size – The studies showed that Regal’s “large” drink size was much larger and more unhealthy than those of rival chains. If movie concessions are hazardous to your health, Regal doesn’t need their treats to be more hazardous compared to their competitors.
  • Upgrade all popcorn and drink sizes – McDonald’s used this strategy when their fries and drink sizes came under attack a few years ago. “Small” becomes “medium,” and “medium” becomes “large”– just so that size-to-health-detriment comparisons do not seem as troublesome.
  • Limit the amount of “extra” buttery topping – There’s no need to add more artery paste onto an already hefty amount of artery paste. Extra topping is free anyway, so do not offer or publicize its availability. Customers who ask for it should receive 1/2 tbsp. increments, dispensed by concessions workers only.

These immediate responses should be described in a press release, along with open acknowledgment of the study and its findings as well as a promise that Regal is actively working on improving the nutritional value of its popcorn and other concessions offerings.

Next, Regal can start to implement additional quick and easy changes:

  • New “small” size – A smaller “small” size for both popcorn and drinks will allow consumers to buy portions that are less unhealthy than currently available options. The prices of these sizes do not have to be much lower than the former small sizes and can actually be higher in terms of dollars per unit.
  • Smaller candy portions – Similarly, smaller portions of candy will be healthier than the currently used larger-sized bags and boxes. Again, prices do not need to be cut much, allowing for higher profit margins.

Regal should not try to discredit any of the information in the study: this will make them seem like they are defending unhealthy eating habits. Though the CSPI study aggressively assails movie theater popcorn without providing any advice for improvement, it does hint at the solution to these problems. In their monthly Nutrition Action Health Letter, they quote the Popcorn Board industry group’s website:

“Did you know that popcorn is among the healthiest—and tastiest—snacks around? …It’s a whole grain food that’s low in calories and fat and it’s a complex carbohydrate.”

The CSPI addresses this assertion:

“Turns out the Popcorn Board is right…if you’re talking low-fat popcorn or (fat-free) air-popped.”

There’s a crucial springboard for the folks at Regal. They need to replace their current popcorn production methods with healthier alternatives. Regal should openly “work with” the Popcorn Board to come up with new techniques– air-popping their popcorn and using low-fat popcorn.

This initiative should also be described in a press release to inform the public and media that Regal is indeed taking the issue seriously and responding appropriately.

Next, Regal needs to re-vamp the image of their concessions stand. They could make new popcorn bags and soda cups that are decorated with “green” imagery (trees, flowers, etc.), giving the sense of well-being and better health. The new containers can be made out of 100% recycled material, and this fact along with nutritional information should be clearly printed on the containers themselves.

Also, Regal’s new popcorn-popping methods should be described in plain and simple language on the new popcorn bags, as to assure consumers that their popcorn portions are not hazardous to their health and much more healthy than comparable movie theater fare. Regal should outwardly name their competitors from the study (AMC and Cinemark) when comparing their new, healthier popcorn.

If the new popcorn is less appetizing and tasty to consumers than the previously-offered unhealthy variety (as would be expected), extra “butter topping” and salt can be available for consumers to dispense onto their popcorn as they please. Both topping and salt should be offered in pre-set amounts that are clearly described nutritionally on their respective dispensers, for the sake of full disclosure. This way, Regal will offer a healthier product, even if it does not taste as good. If individual consumers want to add toppings to improve flavor, that is their prerogative– but they would be doing so while knowingly worsening the nutritional value of their popcorn.

To further improve their image health-wise (and to deflect from the unhealthy nature of popcorn and soda), Regal should introduce new, alternative snack options. They wouldn’t have to invest too much into these options: it’s more a means of appearing more health-conscious than actually offering healthier choices. If the new snacks do not sell well, Regal can phase them out as their image improves. If the response is positive, they can look into expanding these options.

Some possible healthier snacks: peanuts, rice cake snacks, pre-set calorie snack packs of various snacks food items (cookies, chips, etc.), and dried fruit. Regal could look into partnering with a health food label like Weight Watchers in developing these alternatives. Along with soda, Regal can also offer flavored water and fruit drinks.

All of these actions should be widely promoted with pamphlets, advertisements, and press releases. There should be heavy focus on better health, lighter snacking, and green initiatives. All of this would indeed follow the PRSA code of ethics: information will be accurate and fully disclosed, Regal will openly admit the short-comings of its current snack options, and all initiatives will indeed better serve the public, offering healthier solutions to the movie munchies.

The most difficult but also most important variable in play will be the cost of these changes and the prices of new products. Theater snacks are already viewed as over-priced, and compared to other venues, they are. Still, Regal needs to combat the risk of losing its biggest profits from consumers spooked by the CSPI study’s findings. At the same time, they can’t spend so much on concession revamps that they end up losing money anyway.

Regal needs to distract from necessary inflated prices by focusing entirely and heavily on the health aspect of its snack options. Pricey movie snacks have become a part of the status-quo. Regal only needs to set themselves apart from their competitors by being the healthiest of the bunch. Hopefully, consumers will feel more compelled to buy from concessions, believing their purchases will not make as big of a dent to their health (even if the dent to their finances hasn’t changed).

Product Placement in Dexter – Blog Assignment #7

•November 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Dexter is a glimpse into the darkly-dreaming mind of Dexter Morgan– Miami Metro blood spatter analyst by day, serial killer of serial killers by night. The show began its fourth season on September 27th, focusing on Dexter’s newest role: that of a family man. It’s no surprise that Dexter is having difficulty balancing his duties as a father and husband with his unrelenting, instinctual impulse to kill.

Airing on the pay-cable Showtime network, owned by the CBS Corporation and, in turn, Sumner Redstone’s massive conglomerate National Amusements, Dexter runs uninterrupted by commercials. To generate revenue, the show relies on Showtime subscriptions, sales of DVD season box-sets, and product placements during the show– referred to as “product integration” if ever referenced by the Showtime brass.

As an avid consumer of film and television, I regularly see product placements (*ahem* product integration) in media messages. From my personal, non-scientific, anecdotal perspective, I’ve noticed a huge increase in the use of product placements in the last year. This has been especially obvious in television programs, probably to make up for advertising revenues lost during mobile and internet broadcasts on new media outlets such as cell phones and hulu.com.

I would also consider myself a conscientious consumer of media, so I may catch product placements that other consumers would miss. I think it’s important to be aware of these advertising tactics, however; it’s important to know when you are being exposed to intentional commercial speech. This is why subliminal advertising is seen as deceptive. I believe the same sort of scrutiny should be applied to product integration.

What’s more, I find many product placements distracting and disruptive to a narrative. When used without subtlety, they can actually detract from the viewing experience. When the narrative is built around a product (as opposed to a product being woven into the narrative), it’s typically nauseating.

In any case, Dexter has always featured a good amount of product integration. This season, the advertising technique has become even more pervasive– and, yes, intrusive.

The season premiere featured the passive appearance of several products. In these cases, the products were prominently showcased in the frame without being directly addressed or discussed.

In this scene, two bags of Doritos flank the frame as a sleep-deprived Dexter orders some coffee.

Dexter owns an Apple laptop, and the Apple logo is prominently displayed throughout the show.

The police department uses HP desktop computers, and the HP logo appears whenever a scene takes place there. In this particular scene, the logo remains in the frame, uninterrupted by other shots or camera movements, for over ten seconds.

I don’t mind this sort of product placement as much. The products fill inevitable object positions (cops need to use computers, food vendors sell chips) or decorate the frame in a sense. Unbranded items are least distracting from a narrative standpoint, but I might even prefer to see actual logos than labels from made-up products. The Apple logo is less distracting then, say, a glowing pear– or any obvious Apple rip-off.

Dexter probably made deals with Apple and Hewlett-Packard because their products– their computers– can be seamlessly inserted into the show. They need to have computers in the police department, so why not make them Macs or HPs? These product placements may not be as noticeable or memorable, but they are also less disruptive than more egregious product placements. I’m not sure if they make a large impression on the viewer, but they at least refresh your conscious of these products and their logos.

The “more egregious” product placements I am referring to are those that have a strong, active presence in the actual narrative. The focus of the frame might be devoted to a product and its logo. Specific commercial products might play a role in the development of a plot. Occasionally, and most annoyingly in my opinion, the actors themselves will reference a specific product. In these cases, the line between narrative program and commercial is completely blurred.

In one scene, the licentious lab guy Masuka (bald, on the left) asks around the department for someone to go with him to a bar to blow off some steam after work. Detective Batista (hatted, on the right) obliges.

“You know what, Vince. I could use a Cuervo– or ten.”

The scene is incidental to the plot, and the alluded Cuervo-drinking marathon is not shown. The moment is purposeless if not for the reference to Jose Cuervo tequila. Dexter does sometimes have scenes set in a bar or club, and I’ve seen the Jose Cuervo logo featured in shots before. Perhaps the product was mentioned because there was no other opportunity to include it in this episode.

I recognize how unnecessary the reference is and am therefore turned off by this type of product integration. However, I am more likely to recall the appearance of Jose Cuervo in this episode in some form or another over the Doritos passively featured in a previously described scene. Effective? Maybe. Obnoxious? Definitely.

But it doesn’t end there…

During a morning roll in the sack, Debra, Dexter’s sister and co-worker, engages in some pseudo-witty banter with her boyfriend Anton. Anton “comes up for air” (if you catch my drift…) to ask Debra a question:

“Hey um, do you think you can TiVo Jon Stewart for me?”

Because what better way to set the mood than to talk about electronic devices and political satire? Debra playfully responds:

“You’re thinking about Jon Stewart, huh?”

I would be more concerned, maybe insulted, if I were her. But to each his (or her) own. Anton explains:

“Well he is handsome– and funny.”

Completely unexpected. Completely uncalled for. Completely irrelevant to anything going on in the show. And Showtime scores not one, but two product placements in one fell swoop. I can see why Showtime would offer the commercial-crushing TiVo ad-space: they don’t run commercials during their programs. TiVo isn’t much of a threat to Showtime– though it is to other networks owned by National Amusements within the CBS Corporation and Viacom conglomerates.

The random show of support for Jon Stewart, a cable personality completely unrelated to anything associated with Dexter, is more puzzling. But it’s not so surprising after a little investigating. Stewart hosts The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which airs on the cable TV network Comedy Central, which is controlled by Viacom Inc., which is owned by National Amusements, which also owns the CBS Corporation, which controls the Showtime network, which produces and broadcasts Dexter. It’s cross-promotion at its most self-indulgent, and casual viewers will not make the connection.

Personally, I feel less inclined to watch either The Daily Show OR Dexter after this sort of eye-rolling power play from National Amusements. Then again, I was reminded of Jon Stewart while watching the scene and remembered the endorsement after the fact: the mention has a high recall value. Is it effective? Probably. Is it obnoxious? And then some.

But none of this compares to the “iPod saga” that continued throughout the episode. Astor, Dexter’s step-daughter, is scolded by her mother/Dexter’s wife Rita several times for playing her music too loud.

“If I had an iPod, you wouldn’t have to listen to my stuff.”

Astor baits the hook (and plugs the iPod). Rita doesn’t bite (but she does plug the iPod again):

“If you want an iPod– earn one!”

Later, Astor’s loud music wakes up Rita and Dexter’s newborn son Harrison. Rita isn’t pleased.

“This is not how you go about getting an iPod!”

Rita punishes her daughter by making her responsible for putting the baby back to bed (parenting at its finest on the Showtime network).

Astor takes Harrison and makes her way out of the frame:

“You’d like an iPod, wouldn’t you, little Harrison?”

Dexter isn’t the most astute when it comes to parenting skills. He wonders:

“Why not just end the terror and give her an iPod?”

I say how about just end the terror and stop talking about iPods already! Apple’s iPod gets five mentions in the script from three different actors, plus its own side-plot to boot. It’s not “product integration” at this point: it’s product domination. The writers are trying to show that Astor is growing up and starting to get into expected adolescent arguments with her caretakers. But why does it have to feature an iPod? What’s more, the solution to the conflict isn’t entirely though-out, either. Surely there are other ways to silence the cacophony of pre-teen pop music. How about tell her to turn the music down? Or tell her to use headphones?

From a marketing standpoint, I think this is the most effective type of product integration: where actors essentially become spokespeople for a product. The iPod is desired by Astor. Rita acknowledges that it’s a special item– not something given to disorderly daughters. Dexter sees it as the solution to stress within the family unit. The iPod wouldn’t just please Astor: it would bring peace to the entire house.

Personally, this type of product placement makes me wretch. I would rather have an advertisement pop up in the corner of the screen, or cut to a commercial in the middle of a scene. It completely dispels the momentum of the narrative and impedes the escapist fictional intrigue of the show. I would feel compelled to cancel any subscription to Showtime if I weren’t afforded free access as a media critic.

Product placement is a necessary evil, but it really rubs me the wrong way. If film and television is seen as an art form, then a product placement is an Apple logo painted onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or a Doritos bag carved into the hands of the statue of David. As a creator and appreciator of art, I find it offensive.

But many don’t seem nearly as bothered. Are others just as disgusted by blatant product placements as I am? Or am I getting lost in the details here? Or am I more disgruntled because I’m more aware of its presence? Or do most people just not care all that much? I can’t be sure, but I would honestly rather watch more commercials and get rid of product placements entirely. I know this is an impossible proposition, but I can dream, right?

Or maybe I should get my head out of those clouds on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling.

Deep {Literary} Impact – Blog Assignment #6

•October 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth speaks these infamous words after the death of his wife, the conniving Lady Macbeth, as he considers the insignificance of human existence. Though it was not Shakespeare’s Macbeth that has proven most influential in my life– it was the novel christened in the spirit of this existential soliloquy.

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is a masterpiece and remains, without question, the most powerful literary work I have ever encountered. The novel is a painstakingly thorough and beautiful depiction of life. It is often, as MacBeth describes, “a tale told by an idiot”– indeed, the fictional narrative is portrayed through the eyes of characters both feckless and dreadful–though its vast influence in my life is hardly a consequence “signifying nothing.”

It was the faculty adviser for the Drama Club at my high school who first alerted me to the brilliance of the novel. I had always respected the word of Mrs. Walsh, who was also the head of the school’s English department. She was unfalteringly fair and honest– not one ever to sugar coat her opinion. Such lavish praise coming from her was a rarity. I knew this must be a truly special work.

I did not immediately run off to the bookstore: a deluge of scholastic and extra-curricular obligations provided little time to breathe, let alone tackle a novel. But Mrs. Walsh’s recommendation left a kernel in my memory. A year later, I found myself wandering through the labyrinth of bookshelves in Barnes & Noble when the title caught my eye.

“The Sound and the Fury” was painted in white calligraphic text between a towering proclamation of its author–“FAULKER”–above, and a mass of blue-gray and pink clouds below. I had not been looking for this book or any other book in particular. It was an informal stroll through the bookstore, vanilla latte in hand, turned into pure kismet.

soundandfury

Books had begun to frustrate me. I was finding their impacts to be slight in relation to the time and energy required to read them. Perhaps this impatience stems from my preference for film, a mostly passive visual experience that can aptly penetrate the depths of the human condition in a mere two hours or so. Or maybe I am just another product of the “Twitter generation,” expecting instant results from the weakest of efforts.

I vividly remember the first time I sat down to read The Sound and the Fury. It begins from the point of view of the mentally retarded Benjy, leaping without warning between past and present, offering a warped and jumbled view of the world, flitting from one distraction to the next.

I finished the first section, told entirely through Benjy’s eyes, and sat, flabbergasted. This was unlike anything I had ever read before. Faulkner developed a rich and provoking story of a family torn to shreds through the fragmented memories of a mentally disabled man-child. The emotional connection to Benjy, and even to the characters superficially depicted by Benjy, felt visceral and essential.

The narrative construction alone was boldly unique and fascinating; the layered and sumptuous plot woven through this context was simply miraculous. The remainder of the novel proved just as emotionally and intellectually stirring.

The Sound and the Fury showed me that literature can be at least as affecting as any other artistic medium. It inspired me to read more, to discover more prolific written works. I even revisited novels I had glossed over in middle school and high school, finding greater meaning and inspiration within them by my realigned literary compass. I discovered a similar profundity, for instance, in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a book I felt to be tedious and plodding as a naive eighth grader.

I have long been an advocate of exploring the world of film as an artistic expression. The heights of the cinematic experience can make you think, make you feel, prod into the deepest corners of your soul. Watching movies for entertainment value alone, as most theatergoers regrettably do, is akin to standing at the entrance of a cave and staring into the darkness before you. You fail to see the depths–the beautiful rock formations, the carved and angled walls, the captivating expansiveness of the interior.

I can now say that the same holds true for books. I had been standing at the mouth of a cave. With Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, I went spelunking.

Cross-Promoting True Blood – Blog Assignment #5

•October 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment
trueblood

The hit television series True Blood is a quirky, seductive vampire fantasy—ideal for a unique cross-promotion campaign. Such a campaign already exists to some degree: the most interesting approach is undoubtedly a real “Tru Blood” beverage modeled after the synthetic blood shake imbibed by the vamps on the show. But the unusual and expansive True Blood universe could allow for an even more immersive and impressive multi-media promotional campaign.

trublooddrink

According to IMDB, True Blood is produced by HBO and Your Face Goes Here Entertainment. The show airs in the US on the HBO pay-cable channel.

Your Face Goes Here Entertainment is the production company owned by the show’s Executive Producer and Creator Alan Ball. So the company in charge of marketing and distributing the show to US audiences is HBO.

HBO is owned by the massive media conglomerate Time Warner Inc. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Time Warner Inc. owns over 250 media companies, including cable television channels HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT, and TCM, film and television production and distribution companies under the Warner Bros., Picturehouse, New Line, and HBO Films labels, magazines including Time, Sports Illustrated, People, Life & Style, In Style, and Entertainment Weekly, online services such as AOL, Netscape, and part of Amazon.com, and even a baseball team with the Atlanta Braves.

timewarner

Because HBO is a subscription cable service, a marketing campaign for True Blood cannot focus solely on enticing more viewers. Even if interest spikes, those without HBO will still be unable to see the show. Therefore, the campaign must convince people to subscribe to HBO in order to watch True Blood.

This seems like a hefty task indeed. How can a show’s buzz and popularity grow to such heights that consumers will cough up a sizable monthly fee just to see it? How can Time Warner spin True Blood as something that cannot be substituted by anything offered via the major broadcast networks or even basic cable?

My campaign would take a four step approach:

  1. Heavy Promotion
  2. The Bait
  3. The Power Play
  4. The Switch

A “bait and switch” technique is typically regarded as a scam, but rest assured—in this campaign, all of the cards are on the table.


1. Heavy Promotion

ew_vamps

During this phase, True Blood is heavily promoted across the entire spectrum of Time Warner media holdings in order to generate massive interest and curiosity.

People tune in to True Blood for its supernatural escapism, boundary-pushing explicitness, sweeping Gothic romanticism, and provocative Vampire lore. The show crosses into tacky, campy, and tasteless territory, so a promotional effort with the same spirit would be appropriate.

The show is promoted using both classic and covert methods.

CLASSIC…

Commercials for the show play on Time Warner’s various TV holdings. On CNN, commercials are shown that would appeal to a more educated, culturally aware audience, emphasizing a liberal mindset, high intellect, and provocative intrigue. On TNT, the show’s dramatic intensity, supernatural suspense, action, and sweeping romantic overtones are highlighted. On TBS, emphasis is placed on the show’s streak of dark humor and abundance of quirk. TCM (Turner Classic Movies) runs commercials that portray a timeless Gothic romance, noir dramatics, and a sweeping epic Civil War-styled deep South setting and artistry. The trashier, explicit, party-animal wild side of the show is presented on the younger-skewing CW broadcast network.

Previews for the show run before Warner Bros., New Line, and Picturehouse feature films. The previews take on a cinematic tone, focusing on the expansiveness and grandeur of the True Blood universe, creating a trailer indistinguishable from that of a movie.

Print ads are specifically tailored to appeal to the readers of each subsidiary publication. In Time, ads are more artistic and poetically designed with appealing imagery and the allurement of the unknown. Sports Illustrated focuses on the sexual appeal of the show’s female characters, especially the petite and dainty Anna Paquin in nearly-naked form—plus the insinuation of total exposure for those who tune in. The show’s decadent artistic palette, gorgeous set designs, and seductive sense of fashion are played up for In Style.

COVERT…

truebloodtriangle

Covert advertising is accomplished by manufacturing news and stories that shine a light on the show without directly promoting it.

Drum up some controversy– perhaps that espoused co-stars Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer are on the rocks, or that Anna Paquin is cheating with her other co-star Alexander Skarsgård. Who doesn’t love a good “showmance” love-triangle?

The rumors get front cover placement in subsidiary gossip magazines People and Life & Style.

Now for some more controversy. CNN runs a feature on conservative and religious groups opposing and protesting the series’ values. Word “leaks” that the new season will feature even more contentious topics– maybe a team of vampires offer abortion services to women and then feast on the unborn fetuses. Panels on CNN debate the right to free speech versus the values of censorship in relation to these topics.

Feature stories and programs run on other media outlets. TNT plays a half-hour “behind-the-scenes” look at the making of the True Blood world. TCM finds connections between the show’s central romance and Golden-Age Hollywood film pairings. Also on TCM, a history of the vampire in film and television and how True Blood compares.

New social networking technologies are used to spread celebrity endorsements. Famous figures looking for publicity for their own projects can “tweet” on Twitter or post a Facebook update about their enthusiasm and excitement for the show. In exchange, they get a well-placed mention in People magazine.

The stars of True Blood also make recognizable cameo appearances in Warner Bros. films. In these cameo moments, the present film characters allude to the fact that they appear on True Blood. For example, a character might ask Stephen Moyer if he should be standing in the sun. Moyer would wonder if the character thinks he’s a vampire and might catch on fire or something along those lines. The character then responds awkwardly with a warning about UV damage and the importance of sunscreen.

2. The Bait

dollars

Now that the show is garnering buzz on many fronts, it’s time to entice consumers to sign up for the HBO service. This is “the bait”– five weeks of full HBO service (one week before the premiere of True Blood‘s next season, plus four weeks into the season) at a ridiculously low price: $4.99, or less than $1.00 per week.

Those who show their support for True Blood elsewhere are offered the same package at only $.99. This discounted offer is available with the purchase of the “Tru Blood” beverage. “Fans” of the show’s Facebook page may submit entries into True Blood-themed contests (short stories, digital collages, teleplay segments, drawings, slogans, etc.), and the winners also nab the discounted rate.

One hundred HBO subscribers (new or old, as to not alienate longtime HBO supporters) will receive the chance to appear on an actual episode of True Blood. Winners will spend a day on the set and receive hair and makeup treatment to appear in a zombie mosh-pit. Travel arrangements will not be provided, though discounted rates from partnered airline and hotel companies will be available.

The $4.99 package and the various interactive opportunities are heavily promoted across all media fronts, integrated into advertisements already circulating. CNN runs a story on the unprecedented promotion and the anticipated growing resistance from conservative and religious demonstrators.

Celebrities who tweet or talk about the HBO subscription deal continue to receive favorable coverage in People and Life & Style magazines.

Two weeks before the service is set to be offered, the price of the package is increased to $6.99 to instill urgency and regret in those who did not take advantage of the cheaper initial price.

A few days before the show’s season premiere, rave reviews are printed in subsidiary publications: typical reviews in Entertainment Weekly, Life & Style, and People, a longer review examining the social implications of the series in Time, a more sexually-focused review in Sports Illustrated, and a spotlight on the fashion and artistic design for In Style.

CNN airs a negative review, and word “gets out” that the Time Warner brass are “furious” that their own subsidiary would turn on its parent company. The negative review places heavy focus on the explicitness and even depravity of the show and its themes. Other commentators more casually suggest that they saw it and quite liked it.

3. The Power Play

hbostuff

After HBO service is activated for new subscribers, the $6.99 price offer remains in effect (for increasingly fewer days of service) until the end of the promotion.

During the True Blood season premiere, repeat programming runs on CNN, TNT, TBS, TCM, the CW, and other Time Warner-owned and controlled networks to reduce competition.

Advertising now shifts focus from True Blood to HBO as an entire network. All HBO original programming receives massive exposure on Time Warner television channels, publications, and films. New subscribers are urged to take advantage of the entire HBO experience– original shows, exclusive movies, online content, behind-the-scenes looks at upcoming theatrical releases, and half-priced tickets to HBO, Warner Bros., Picturehouse, and New Line films released in theaters.

4. The Switch

In accordance with the terms of the original offer, after five weeks, all new subscribers are converted to regular HBO subscribers. The price of the service increases to regularly reduced prices, and service is maintained for all who subscribed during the True Blood promotion. Unless the consumer calls to specifically cancel HBO service, they are now full HBO subscribers.

Advertising efforts are reduced to more typical levels, while HBO continues to offer a slate of original programming opportunities (and, not to mention, the remainder of the new season of True Blood) to convince consumers to continue their subscriptions.


With this campaign, not only does True Blood become “must-see” television, but the entire HBO network becomes a “must-have” service.

And all of this under the umbrella of the massive Time Warner Inc. media conglomerate.

The Impact of Social Networks – Blog Assignment #4

•October 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

socialnetworking

Social networks have been around since the early stages of man, when individuals traveled around in small hunting and gathering groups. In the current Digital Age, social networks can easily be built, defined, and tracked thanks to social networking technologies such as MySpace and Facebook.

In a recent CNN article titled “Obesity, politics, STDs flow in social networks,” author Elizabeth Landau explores how these new social networking technologies contribute to ideas and values in society. Through social networking sites, we readily share our preferences and opinions with the world, which in turn shape the preferences and opinions of others.

According to a study by Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard University, and James Fowler, an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, humans within three degrees of separation in social networks have a profound effect on each other’s behavior. Preferences expressed in social networks help establish “norms,” or expectations shared by all members within the network. Through “behavioral imitation,” we copy the behaviors of those in our social networks, further establishing the network’s “norms.”

Because of new social networking technologies, “norms” are more quickly defined and readily spread. The study found that if one person in a social network is obese, those closely connected to that person are three times more likely to also become obese. Obesity, in this case, becomes a part of the “norm.” The study also determined, however, that dumping the obese friend only increases the odds of also become obese, indicating that humans need many different types of friends with different preferences and world views to live happily and healthfully.

The authors of the study propose using the spread of ideas through social networks in vaccinating against diseases. Instead of vaccinating randomly, it may prove more effective to vaccinate one person and then a few more within their social network. This method is more likely to hit those that are more active and less isolated in social networks, protecting the many people with whom they come into contact. Studying social networks as defined by MySpace and Facebook may help identify the centers, or “hubs,” of social networks, allowing us to prevent the spread of disease via those who come into contact with the most people.

The ability to spread information quickly has also proven powerful in a political setting. Following the dubious outcome of the most recent elections in Iran, civilian unrest spread quickly through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, leading to full-blown uprisings. Disapproval became an established “norm,” and physical upheavals developed as people adopted the ideas of those in their social networks—through “behavioral imitation.”

Without the freedom of expression afforded by new social networking technologies, public outcries in Iran may have been completely quashed by the suppressive atmosphere and governmental tactics that prevent free speech.

This article describes phenomena that I find most fascinating: those unforeseen consequences and broader implications of new technologies—that is, effects that are not obvious to the casual observer. Specifically, the article shows how social networking leads to the establishment of “norms” within a society, the spread of ideas and even physical entities (including disease), and the reflection of cultural sentiments such as disapproval or unrest. New technologies allow these tendencies to occur much more quickly and easily. It is remarkable that something as seemingly innocent and benign as a “tweet” on Twitter could contribute to such massive change.

I can see how social networking technologies were in a very large part responsible for civilian uprisings after the elections in Iran. It also seems like an interesting (though very complicated) idea to target the centers or “hubs” of social networks in attempting to eradicate disease. However, I must take issue with the conclusion that having an obese friend increases your own chances for obesity—or in a broader sense, that we readily adopt the ideas and behaviors of those who are closest to us.

chickenegg

To me, this seems like a “chicken-or-the-egg” conundrum. Do we really mimic those in our social networks, or do we establish our social networks around those who already share the same values as we do? Social networks do not develop automatically; we choose which people in our lives with whom we want to interact.

Studies have found that we choose our friends and even our lovers based on our own values and characteristics. Linda Roberts, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, recently explained to the website The Why Files that humans are drawn to those of similar age, race, and socioeconomic class. In addition, we tend to be attracted to those that have the same physical features that we do.

So are we more likely to become obese if we have obese friends, or do we have obese friends because we ourselves value that characteristic somewhere in our subconscious? Do we adopt the values and behaviors of those around us, or do we choose to be around those people because we approve of and agree with their values and behaviors?

Regardless, social networking technologies allow us to more easily and more quickly communicate with those in our social networks. This will, no doubt, continue to facilitate the spread of ideas and information, reshaping the social and political landscape as we know it.

2035 – Blog Assignment #3

•October 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

2035

Part 1: The Information Utopia

quasar

The answer to any question, the solution to any problem, the means to any end is literally at your fingertips. The technological leaps encountered during the digital age have finally come together from their various perspectives to form the ultimate model of media convergence.

Welcome to the world of QUASAR: the “Quantum Universal Activated Supercellular Application Receiver.” A quasar is the most powerful, luminous, and energetic object known to exist in our universe. Applied to this technology, the name is fitting.

QUASAR uses quantum-derived supercellular frequencies that are capable of transmitting large amounts of information in milliseconds, providing nearly unlimited access to digitally-based content. QUASAR contains no on-board information; it provides a window into the limitless wealth of knowledge and content that is the Universal Data Matrix (UDM).

Preceded by the World Wide Web, the UDM—commonly called the “Unitrix”— is an ever-increasing host of information that has an infinite storage capacity. Anyone can contribute content to the Unitrix. When information is requested by a Unitrix user, QUASAR algorithms receive this information and relay it to the user on a personalized interface.

For example, should you seek information on the first manned spaceflight to Mars in 2026, the Unitrix will gather this information, which will then be reassembled and relayed to you by QUASAR. Should you seek the UPS (Universal Positioning System) coordinates of the first man-made footprint on Mars’ surface, QUASAR and the Unitrix will deliver this information just as readily.

Knowledge is no longer a commercial entity. Gone are the days when specific websites and servers hosted information exclusively. Gone are the days when news organizations controlled the quantity and quality of the information available to the public. The Unitrix needs no distinction between sources of information. All information from millions of sources is pooled together to create one universal information resource available to all users.

Copyrighted material is also free to access in most cases. Companies upload their content, be it movies, television shows, video games, books, magazines, newspapers, or anything else in between, and receive indirect payments from advertisements attached to these entities. Thanks to the highly personalized QUASAR interface, even advertisements can be tailored specifically to each individual based on their location and general media and information consumption habits. As a very basic example, if you repeatedly query the Unitrix for anti-gravity hovershoes, you might receive an advertisement for Nike Neptunes with your download of the newly-released horror film Saw 32.

Most companies have found highly specialized advertising to be extremely profitable, though a few media vendors rely on subscription services for revenue. Information offered by subscription-only content is also found in the public domain as required by law (the Universal Information Act of 2026, enacted by President Matthew Harding). However, these companies do offer collections of opinions and nuanced pieces that are exclusive to their publications.

That’s not to say opinion and nuance are missing from the unrestricted reaches of the Unitrix. Individuals may freely offer their own work to the public domain, and with the specialized advertising model used by larger corporations, they can even make money based on their contributions. Independent writers and other artists have made tremendous livings by offering their work on the Unitrix. This sort of incentive has attracted the most prolific creators, allowing the Unitrix to amass a wealth of proficient and eloquent perspectives.

Accessing the Unitrix requires a QUASAR capable device and absolutely nothing more. At the very least, these devices may feature a touch-screen interface and projectable holographic keyboard for as low as ninety-nine cents. The most advanced models use three dimensional data storage techniques and emulsion holographic technology in a physical device as small as a sugar cube. The most popular of these devices, Apple’s Holo-Pod, operates through customizable voice commands. The interface can become nearly any size and shape desired by the user, projected onto an extemporized surface of free-floating holographic-based particulates.

All devices maintain power through wireless electrical networks (“Witricity”), which are carried and maintained by the devices themselves. Access to the Unitrix via supercellular frequencies are also carried and maintained by QUASAR devices. In essence, the proliferation of QUASAR-based devices, currently just below 97% of the US population, has simultaneously built the wireless infrastructure for the operation of these devices.

QUASAR is the ultimate navigator on the seas of the Unitrix. Information and content is freely available on the Unitrix, and QUASAR receives this content and delivers it to us in an organized and meaningful way tailored to our individual desires. Access is extremely portable and nearly ubiquitous, creating a society in which virtually no piece of information is ever out of reach.


Part 2: The Content Chasm

chasm

There used to be books– books, and movies, and music, and pictures. Reflections of our culture, art and information, were available to all. It’s hard to imagine such a time when all we have now is a jumbled display of tidbits and footprints left behind by a world all but forgotten.

The breakdown began in 2012—or so internet sources say. Whether this fact can be trusted is anyone’s guess. In any case, emerging digital technologies allowed us to more easily share more information with more people at faster speeds. The entire world became connected through the internet, and its potentials seemed boundless.

Freedom of information and network neutrality became focal issues in governments across the globe. Eventually, accessibility became so widespread that legislation seemed irrelevant. Access to the internet was a universal entity that was inherently open to anyone with a connection. In 2019, US President Sarah Palin admitted the logistical impossibility of limiting access to the internet, comparing the inevitably of wireless connections to the very air we breathe.

The speech set off a worldwide public celebration. At once, we all felt intertwined. One human’s importance, in the eyes of the technological movement, was no less or greater than another human’s. The internet officially felt like a democracy, and the entire world seemed dedicated to maintaining this democracy.

In 2020, the Neutral Enterprise of Wireless Technology (NEWT) was established. NEWT was a publicly-run organization that aimed to keep the internet open and free to everyone. In the spotlight, NEWT members joined together to build wireless technological infrastructures across the globe, providing access to more and more people. Off the record, NEWT supported measures to undermine any attempt at digitally-based commerce.

Because the sharing of information over the internet was so difficult to control, companies producing digitally-based content found it increasingly difficult to generate revenue. What’s more, the democratic spirit in the air lent to marked increases in piracy and other illegal methods of distributing and downloading copyrighted content. We wanted the internet and every aspect of the internet to be free for everyone.

Ad-supported content failed to produce any profits, partially because many were using pirated ad-free versions instead, and partially because NEWT quickly created and distributed programs that would block advertisements for consumers. A tug of war proceeded between media companies and consumers: the companies trying to make profits off of their content, the consumers trying to gain unrestricted access.

Subscription and vendor-based models failed just as quickly. NEWT began to buy single copies of paid content, deconstruct the security built to protect this content, and then distribute the content over its own networks for free. Copyright owners cried foul, but NEWT proved impossible to define and track down. The organization was purposefully fragmented and its most active members hidden to protect against lawsuits and prosecution.

In the meantime, public anthologies of information and content began to grow, creating an unparalleled internet-based free library. The emphasis on democracy started to cause issues, however, as users added dubious or even purposefully inaccurate facts to the collection. On October 8, 2025, the dwindling Walt Disney Company realized this Achilles’ heel and orchestrated a global attack on public-based information systems with inaccurate information and corrupt content files. “Mickey’s Massacre,” or so the event would be called, ignited a persistent downward spiral in the quality of content readily available to the public. Media companies built entire departments of workers whose sole job was to continuously invalidate the public record.

By 2027, many media corporations were now defunct, while those left standing were forced to drastically downsize. Objective information was now part of the public domain, though it was cluttered by irrelevant tidbits, annotations, and inaccuracies. The battle for content became increasingly polarized, the enterprising producers versus the free-spirited consumers, until both sides became entirely separated.

On April 15, 2028, the digital media shut down. In a cooperative effort, the remaining media production companies stopped producing content all at once. The world went into a panic. Television stations stopped broadcasting. Websites were completely stripped down. Movies were pulled from all theaters. Suddenly, full responsibility of information production and proliferation was is in the hands of the public. Democratically-based and open-source efforts, disorganized and rife with inaccuracy, were all that remained.

Behind the scenes, media organizations were restructuring on a new network developed by German military computer scientists. It was called the Universal Data Matrix (UDM) and operated on quantum-based supercellular frequencies that were incompatible with the current structure of the internet and the World-Wide Web. In a last-ditch effort to preserve their corporations, individual media moguls dipped into their personal fortunes to purchase the technology from the Germans. American legislators signed contracts to allow media companies to circumvent antitrust laws, as doing otherwise seemed to assuredly guarantee the complete demise of the media.

Within a month after shutting down, media companies were up on the UDM and began offering subscription access at steep prices to those who wished to escape the scatterbrained and intensely shallow World-Wide Web. Having tasted the sour of a completely decentralized information network, wealthier members of higher socioeconomic classes were quick to sign up. The UDM promised an Eden-esque alternative to the slums of the web.

Access to new information, content, and technology proved advantageous to UDM users, and two large distinct cultural classes emerged: those with UDM access and those without it. The space between became known as the “Content Chasm.”

UDM users were able to send and receive unprecedented amounts of information over the new network at breakneck speeds. What’s more, they were part of an exclusive club of elites that gained new information and knowledge in a timely, organized manner well before its subordinates. New communities were built around UDM-users, and soon, media companies refused to provide UDM access outside of these established locales.

This is where we are now, in the year 2035. I am looking beyond a stucco wall at the rooftops of mini-mansions. I see a little boy playing fetch with a holographic dog on his patio. I wish I knew more about holograms. They look especially beautiful against the night sky, crisp in their details, encircled by a ghostly aura. I doubt I shall ever see a hologram up close. That is a technology offered only to UDM users. Me, I’m on the other side of this wall, trapped by a limitless fog of the unknown. I would read the news, but I wouldn’t trust it: I could have written the news just as easily. We fought so hard to preserve the boundless potential of the internet. Now, I’d much rather watch an ad or two over this ad infinitum any day.


Part 3: The Middle Ground

convergence

Technology is sure to advance at a rapid pace over the next 25 years, and the dramatically changing media and information landscape is set to face many difficult issues.

Producers of digital based content are already facing competition from open-source and user-generated models that can sustain without any element of commercialism. For example, Wikipedia typically proves to be a much more comprehensive source of information than Britannica Online. Commercially-driven digital content will be unable to survive against democratically-based alternatives.

Content that is offered digitally is also having trouble generating revenue both online and through its original medium. Television shows, long supported by advertisements during commercial breaks, are being watched on television by fewer and fewer people. Those who watch shows online or through cable streaming systems (e.g. OnDemand) are subjected to fewer, if any, advertisements and therefore bring in less revenue.

What’s more, as the internet becomes more accessible and larger amounts of information are able to be transferred more quickly and easily, media producers will face even greater difficulty preserving the ownership of their content. Right now, a high-definition copy of a forty minute television program can be downloaded at typical cable modem speeds in seven minutes. Decrease the file size and increase the download speed, and sharing an HD television episode will eventually be possible in mere seconds.

On the other hand, the public domain will not be able to replace the media industry either. Film production, for example, cannot occur without commercial interests in play. Individual users may be able to create and upload video content with ease, but it simply will not match the professional efforts of the movie industry.

Accuracy and quality will also become major issues. If everyone is contributing to the fountain of knowledge, who will be making sure that the information put forth is true and well-formed? In a commercial media enterprise, there is both the incentive and means to check facts and create a finished product of a higher quality. In an open-source model, there is no way to ensure accuracy or prescribe the creation of content to the most capable users.

Some startling examples of the issues created by a democratically maintained information source have already emerged. In 2006, a man created a fake page on Wikipedia describing himself as a decorated war hero. He then proceeded to work with charities to fraudulently collect money and attend private events. He was exposed by the UK’s Daily Record in an article from April, 2006.

In the end, producers and consumers will need to cooperate in order to arrive at a viable compromise. If consumers want free access to all forms of digital content, they may have to sacrifice privacy and time for advertisements. If producers want consumers to consider subscription services or paid-for content, they have to offer reasonable rates and products that cannot be replaced by open-source alternatives.

The media will continue to converge over the next 25 years, to the point where original media outlets may become completely irrelevant. Any content that can be digitally expressed—movies, television shows, video games, books, newspapers, music, etc.—will be a part of a free-flowing media landscape. Access to this media landscape will be impossible to restrict and accomplished by a single device. Technological industries will work to advance the capabilities of these devices (imagine being able to project both a cinema-sized movie screen and a theater-quality film from a device that you can carry in your pocket… yes, this technology is being developed), which will allow consumers to use content and information in various ways.

Eventually, everything in our lives that isn’t a physical, non-reproducible entity will be provided by digital technology and the internet. Or might the pendulum swing back in the opposite direction? Might we grow sick of LCD panels and touch screen interfaces, instead turning back to the pages of books and the crackles of record players? Technology will provide us the means to replace all physical forms of media, but will we want to? Or might we hold on to our past, to the roots of our new media landscape, just as a debutante collects vintage cocktail dresses? Because the potential of digital technology seems as vast as the universe itself, truly anything seems possible.