21st Century spin: sowing the seeds of a “good news” story

One of the phrases I hate most in a marketing, and a media, context is: content generation. It’s so soul-less. What’s wrong with “story telling”? Too analogue for you?

For my entire career I have been a reporter, telling people’s stories. I still love doing it. But over the years, I have seen journalism evolving, through necessity.

The most extreme manifestation of that, these days, is in the proliferation of “fake news”. Some of it is obvious, but some is very well put together (disinformation has been around since the 1800s – look at the Brits and the Boer War; Lenin and Trotsky and Hitler and Goebbels).

In the marketing sector, the “content generation” mantra has been king for a couple of years now, and particularly in cyberspace, where no-one can really hear you lie…

However, one of the phrases which has crept over from digital into print is “native advertising”. On the web, this tends to be out-and-out shameless promotion: content with a direct marketing plug for an advertiser, although not declared as such upfront.

Print has always been more subtle – and I, for one, think the concept can have a win-win result: good for advertiser and good for reader. When a brand allows a newspaper, for example, to tell its (the brand’s) stories in an honest, entertaining way, or whether it acts as the facilitator behind a good story, I do not see a problem.

It’s where the lines become blurred which worries me.

And that is what is happening at the moment with a programme on KykNet called “Nasie in Gesprek” – Nation in Conversation.

It is a comprehensive, professional and, I must say, interesting and entertaining show which focuses on the agricultural and related industries. It’s a great vehicle for sponsors and advertisers, so in a pure marketing sense, the creators of the concept, ad agency Brand Republic, do deserve an Orchid for doing top class story telling, which puts the sponsor brands in a good light.

However, I am uncomfortable that it may be a sophisticated “spin factory” for some controversial brands and industries.

On last week’s show, there was an insert on the sugar industry and the spokesman for that industry was given the softest ride I have ever seen anyone being allowed on an TV interview. He was allowed to go on – to approving nods from the presenter – to say the industry creates a lot of jobs and that there is no credible science linking sugar consumption to obesity. (That is simply not true and to allow him to get away with it shows the intention behind the programme, I think.)

It was interesting, too, that one of the sponsors is Monsanto, the company which sells Genetically Modified Organisms which are a massive part of our food industry. No doubt they would also be given a nice smooth ride by any presenter on Nasie in Gesprek.

The fact that Nedbank is a sponsor is interesting too, given its image as the “Green Bank”…does that mean it endorses Monsanto? Your clients might like to know, Nedbank…

Now, please understand, I have no position either way on GMOs, but I do know the sugar industry spokesman was allowed to get away with talking rubbish. So I worry about the rest of the content and how it may be nothing more than a platform for agri-business to burnish its sometimes tarnished image.

So, on a marketing level, a well-deserved Orchid for Brand Republic, because the concept is good. I don’t have enough evidence on the negative aspects of the programme, so I will hold off on handing out an Onion at this time, though. Mind you, I do find it interesting that, as far as I know, the programme is only in Afrikaans. Granted, the target market in the platteland and in the farm sector is mainly Afrikaans-speaking. But could it also perhaps be because most of our “Green activists” are English-speakers?

What do you think? Let me know – orchidsandonions4@gmail.com

Everybody seems to be gushing over the new Nedbank TV, “A Tale of Note”, which started flighting recently. By everybody, I mean all the news outlets which used the press release and the commentators who accepted the release’s premise that the ad was pushing new boundaries by portraying money in a whole new light.

And by everybody, I also mean everybody who would have been applauding the Emperor’s new clothes. The sort of people who love the sound of their own, echoing, opinions.

The point about the ad is that it jars because everybody involved seems to have gone out of their way to make it appear as the ad is set somewhere else, but not here. Maybe it is a sort of middle America – who knows?

But the story is interesting, although hardly the revolutionary concept the gushing PR-speak makes it out to be. It follows the life of a bank note as it goes through many different hands (and touches many different lives) – all inviting you to “see money differently’. I remember a very similar movie made for school kids back in the then Rhodesia…

What I do know is that, to the trained (or should I say cynical) eye, you can’t hide the fact that the ad was shot here in South Africa. I recgonise the decayed environs of the Turbine Hall in Joburg, I know what the main, grand staircase at the Rand Club in Joburg looks like (even if you tart it up with neon lights and sexy dancers); I know what the streets of Cape Town look like (even if your continuity people do an excellent job in putting in enough American vehicles and publications to make it look like New York.)

The simple question is – to Nedbank and to its agency, Joe Public: Why?

The bank’s main business and the customers it is trying to win are in South Africa. Why does it not tell an authentic South African story? Too afraid you’ll offend someone; too afraid you’ll not look sophisticated enough? Too difficult to tell a real South African story?

Whatever your reasoning, I find it downright silly. If you want South African customers for a South African product, then given them a South African-themed ad.

So Onions to Nedbank and Joe Public.

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