There seems no point to rush to judgement and speculate on how long the media and marketing community are going to focus on the I am A Celebrity Crowd. Perhaps I will revisit all my rash predictions in a month or so to see if their true potential has been capalized upon. Watch as their so called tabloid mates feast on any failings when the stopwatch of opportunity passes the allotted 15minutes. Its smash and grab time for all their agents and listen very carefully as the whine of their re- discovered zeal drowns all objections on the road to plunder the sacred 20 per cent.
More interestingly it’s time to reflect on the fall out of now infamous Nipplegate! A discharge more dirty than the nuclear debris post Chernobyl.
Janet and Justin? PR-world-weary 13 year olds emerge from their Media Studies classes and say big deal, it was just a stunt and a pretty crass one at that. This is the “yeah, whatever” generation and this excellently expressive cynical linguistic shrug is the only response that the two Js’ tits-out number actually warrants. We all know what they’re up to, and we’re not interested. Which is very bad news for any artist’s career. Time to wake up and smell the low-fat decaff latte.
The image did the rounds, predictably, and generated outrage, predictably. I received an e-missive from a liberal American pal who thought that the whole stunt – note, the stunt – stank. In a more naïve age the press (whether guileless or complicit, it doesn’t matter) would have reported it all with wide-eyed, innocent excitement. Then it would have been “what a terrible accident, how unfortunate for the stars”. Now it’s “what a cynical stunt, how stupid of these celebs and who do they think they are?” For anyone who thinks there’s a future in alienating the public, this is the way to go.
It might have been a nice idea in some other context, but half time in the Super-bowl in front of an audience of 140 million clean-living honest-to-goodness upright American citizens was a strategic clanger of the highest order. Elsewhere (say the MTV Awards) it might have been welcomed as a bit of a laugh, and an ironically obvious, wink wink, this-is-the-business-of-rock-and-roll type moment – like Britney and Madonna’s live lesbian sex action. But a large proportion of the audience it hit wasn’t particularly party to this knowing, self-referential rock culture. It was shocking for them, just as it was pretty unremarkable (or even a little silly and demeaning) from the point of view of Justin’s and Janet’s usual music audience. In short, they achieved an emphatic lose-lose, compounded subsequently by a meek apology (who’s the rock maverick now?) which comprehensively junked any illusion that all PR is good PR.
We’re living in an era of time-compression. Tomorrow’s stunt is already yesterday’s news before it’s even happened. The 24 hour news agenda is relentless and insatiable. It never stops. It demands constant refreshment, and sad old PR ways and ideas aren’t smart enough to work the system to the client’s advantage. At the same time our comprehension of the workings of the media and corporate worlds, and the relations between the two is increasingly subtle. In this environment, and with advertising’s influence heavily in decline because the public knows the game too well, it’s imperative that record companies, the entertainments industry, and anyone who wants to sell anything to anyone seeks out entirely new communications solutions.
The upshot is good news for thinking PRs and the public, and bad news for idle publicists without the energy, inclination or vision to think things through to their logical conclusion. In the Timberlake/Jackson context, it’s good news because we’ve now moved into an automatic “Live minus five” world (the delay button that enables broadcasters to pull the plug). This is an absolute barricade against lazy PR route 1 (pop out a private part as if by accident: shock, horror, and look at the tits on that). The only PR stunts that now stand any chance of prevailing are those that marry great creativity with a strategic understanding of their audience and a comprehensive understanding of the media opportunity – where the story’s going, who’s going to see it, how they’re going to respond. Then, even if our savvy audience spots the stunt, it will celebrate the art and artistry involved, to the lasting benefit of the performer.
Far too much PR is dull, outdated, uninspired and in danger of foundering on a whingeing rock of its own making. It needs to be swift of foot, inventive, and dynamic, and it needs to expand its field of vision to embrace a diversity of tactics, disciplines and approaches. It’s time for artists and brands to think ahead and move ahead, or the public will simply leave them behind. It’s time to invoke a more sophisticated kind of PR that treats its audience with the respect it deserves, offers its clients the creativity they require, and totally understands the media mindset so that it can manage the media to serve the needs of all three.