One of the strange things about this is that we cannot keep from talking about it as “PR Disaster,” both in terms of the incident itself, and the poor initial response of the management.

It is indeed a PR disaster but this just shows how deeply “The System” has incised itself into our minds.

Public Relations is an invention of Edward Bernays, who adopted his uncle Sigmund Freud’s theories to corporate ends. There is one particular incident, well worn to be sure, which I think illustrative.

One of his early clients, the giant American Tobacco Company—maker of dozens of brands including Lucky Strikes—came to him with a problem: women did not smoke. It was considered vulgar and mannish. In the cinema of the 20s, for instance if a woman character smoked it was to telegraph that she was (cough) no paragon of virtue. But the champions of Industry lusted for the revenue and so Bernays cooked up a bogus feminist movement called ‘torches for freedom’ and staged a women’s rights march with mostly hired ‘activists.’

The media went gaga. The photos went around the world.

The feminists fell for it, too.

The spectre of this may be perhaps seen in the Kendall Jenner Pepsi fiasco. The world is not so innocent now.

But this I think shows the substitutionary nature of PR. The difference between advertising and PR is that advertising lies to you outright whereas PR casts you into a hall of mirrors and subtly, slowly persuades you to substitute a premanufactured irreality for the real one. But, fundamentally, what is happening is a shell game of sign and symbol: this brings about a kind of strange deadlock.

We ‘know’ that ‘everything’ we see is manipulated and fake. But sometimes it isn’t, sometimes it is really happening but we cannot help but think of it in the way that we think about the fake things.

The link between action and consequence is broken. We only THINK we are undertaking action. We keep filling out online petitions, we keep regurgitating hashtags, we keep dancing the semiotics-polka yet nothing seems to change.

These are false.

PR thinking has completely subverted our response. It has subverted democracy. Nothing can change. We are pilots of an airliner with a fly-by-wire system that has been disconnected.

Now we want Virtual Reality. We want to strap on a helmet and see the imaginary made so real because the real has come to seem so imaginary. This is the true shape of power.


iPhone Ads

The new iPhone 6s ads are horrible. Truly execrable. What happened?

Go back and look at the circa 10-years-ago iPod ad with the sillhouettes. It is un-believable. It may be the best ad ever, so cool it was lethal.

The ethos of the 6s ads (“the only thing that’s changed is everything”) is like a vicious, snotty, unfunny parody of an Apple ad. The first time I saw it I checked to make sure it wasn’t the time-slot for SNL.

The one with the guy signing up for the scam* e-mail via Siri is even worse. What on earth were they thinking? How was this approved? What does this say about the current culture within Apple that it was?

Both ads commit the cardinal sin in advertising: they talk down at you like Regina George from Mean Girls. They are smug, sarcastic, self-superior and directly mock the people who appear in the ads and so by extension the consumer.

If I had to describe the campaign in a nutshell it would be “Apple thinks you are a shmuck.” This may of course be true but that is not the point.

* So Apple has spam-filter quality from 1997? Hmm, is that really the best message for a technology company to send in advertising?

New Coke

Here is an alternative perspective on “New Coke.” Typically it is understood as a marketing failure, however the truth is that in the time “New Coke” rolled out the company was in disarray and market share was sinking.

The very thing that fatally undermined “New Coke” was that all along Coca-Cola had traded on authenticity, heritage. It wasn’t a brand of a category of beverage like “Tropicana” is a brand of “orange juice.” Coke was the category itself, Coke was not a brand of cola, Coke WAS cola, symbol and the thing symbolized.

This is encapsulated in the all-time classic marketing slogans “The Real Thing” and “Coke is It.” And now, Coke wasn’t the “Real” thing any more!

Ironically this rejuvenated the value of the “real” Coke. People were inspired to value “Coca Cola Classic” (as absolutely nobody at all ever outside the Coca Cola Company called it) all the more. Peter Jennings broke into scheduled programming on ABC to report when “Classic” Coke was reintroduced and by the end of the ‘debacle’ the company and the product both more than recovered.

Coca Cola “Classic” It soon trounced Pepsi in market share, the company’s stock rose to a 16 year high and everyone gleefully bathed in the hyperreality of the indefinable “Real” something that Coca Cola represented, again.

Even “New Coke” wasn’t all bad. A few years after the affair the Wall Street Journal reported that in a blind taste test of mostly self-identified Pepsi drinkers, New Coke still slightly edged out Pepsi.


Looking at Marriott’s new “Travel Brilliantly” Ad campaign, it’s striking how much emphasis is placed on using an app. The ads are full of people gazing at glass screens, oblivious to their surroundings. I guess the point of travelling is to look at apps now. Also, the final shot in the ad is a topo map superimposed onto a defocussed shot of a highway. I don’t have anything clever to say about that, I just think it’s stupid.