Jon Reed Goes Off On... January 2006
Tuesday, January, 17 2006
SONY, Keeping it Real
It's too hard to get a consumer's attention these days. Companies are frustrated with the conventional options in the age of TiVo. The solution? Embedded or "stealth advertising" - cutting edge stuff that allows companies to blur the lines between art, culture, and commerce. One classic example "ripped from the headlines" involves urban Philly, where political leaders have been leading a "clean up the city" campaign that involves erasing unwanted graffiti. But the Philly "grafitti wars" are not about to let up. Graffiti artists are determined to make their mark, and even the city's own leaders are trying to protect and maintain the murals that have been painted over some of the city's worst graffiti. Into the battle for urban renewal (awkwardly) steps SONY, which decides to use this city as a place to launch a "stealth marketing" campaign using urban graffiti. So SONY hires some graffiti artists (and pays some business owners) to paint and display graffiti that has that classic "edgy" feel. But with this exception: all the graffiti includes prominent images of SONY products like PlayStations. The quotes from city leaders are funny because they seem so genuinely shocked at the lengths SONY was willing to go to..."It's appalling," said Mary Tracy, director of an anti-graffiti group. "SONY seems to have a sense of entitlement - that they can festoon our neighborhoods with branding anywhere they want." Meantime, SONY appears to have given careful thought to how this campaign (which was conducted in at least six other cities) can improve neighborhood morale. According to a SONY spokeswoman, the ads are aimed at "urban nomads, people who are on the go constantly." So there you have it. SONY is targeting indifferent, amoral losers with money they probably got from questionable means. They're doing it by appealing to the same urban decay that many neighborhoods are fighting. With this kind of cooperation, is there any doubt that the increased privatization of social services is a good idea? Why bother fixing the problems when companies like SONY are ready to step in and provide a hip, branded solution? To be fair, the final word should go to the homeboy in the picture I found in the Boston Globe, who thinks that that the graffiti behind him promoting SONY PlayStation Portables looks "sharp." That's what I love about this generation of iPod nomads: they can stay one step ahead of The Man while worshiping and consuming all of his products and services. It's great that companies and urban nomads can get paid and keep it real at the same time. I always had more of a problem with that. I guess I just don't know how to paint for corporate America.
Yahoo, You're Going to Jail
Thanks to Yahoo, Chinese journalist Shi Tao is in jail. Shi made the reprehensible mistake of sending instructions his newspaper had received from the Chinese propaganda department to a New York-based web site. The directive, supposedly "secret," told the newspaper how the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre should be covered. Shi is now serving a ten year jail sentence for "sending state secrets" abroad. How did the Chinese government determine where the leak came from? Because Yahoo's Hong Kong affiliate was more than willing to reveal Shi's identity. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang has the perfect convenient defense: "To be doing business in China, or anywhere else in the world, we have to comply with local law." One writer asked the question: what if that local law pertained to rounding up a particular race of people - would Yahoo be glad to comply with that ordinance also? I would approach it from another direction: what if Yahoo's shareholders passed a resolution prohibiting Yahoo from revealing information that could be used to limit a person's freedom of speech as protected by the U.S. constitution? I can't speak for all American consumers, but I'd be willing to pay Yahoo $5 a month to provide them with enough of a profit margin that they could walk away from business that resulted in journalists pissing in a jail cell hole. Yahoo was not legally obligated to do anything but protect their bottom line, which is what they did. So, we have a decision to make: either Yahoo did something wrong, or there's something wrong with big business. What do you think? I would suggest that since Yahoo's amoral loyalty to its shareholders is the norm, that the problem runs deeper than the leakage of a name to the Chinese government. Yahoo is certainly not the only company that swallows the human rights whistle to get its hands on so-called "emerging markets." They are the rule, not the exception. You can construct a legal and economic defense for Yahoo's behavior, but can you construct an ethical one? Forgive Shi if he doesn't laugh at "Do you Yahoo?" jokes these days.