Wednesday, April 29, 2015

the streisand effect

‘There's no such thing as bad publicity", as the saying goes.

Because when people are publicly (and conspicuously) outraged about how some piece of media is offensive in some way - and the greater and more amplified the outrage becomes - so it draws disproportionate attention and chatter, increasing the fame of the thing itself, and furthermore arousing the natural curiosity of bystanders who want to know why this thing is deemed so offensive.

A close relative of this phenomenon has been coined the Streisand effect.

Roughly, this effect describes how when it becomes publicly known that someone famous or powerful/influential is using strong measures to try to suppress or hide a piece of information then many more people will start to want to know what it is, even if they never cared before.

When the California Coastal Records Project - a government-commissioned photographic study of the entire California coast – included a pic of Barbara Streisand’s Malibu home in their 2003 report Babs tried to sue the photographer and force him to take the pic off of his website.

Of course this quickly backfired, the internet (albeit pre-Twitter etc) went off on one and now everybody wanted to see the picture that Babs didn't want us to see, wondering why she didn't want us to see it.

Turns out there was nothing much to see, it was a picture of a big house. 

Except now it was a picture of a big house reposted on hundreds of websites and the 'problem' (that was never really a problem) was a thousand time worse.

In ye olden times, a decent tactic for a singer or group trying to have a hit record would be to attempt to get the record banned by as many radio stations as possible. Frankie Goes To Hollywood managed to make a decent career on minimal talent this way.

So when the internet kicked off this week around the 'Are you beach body ready?' campaign for the weight-loss brand Protein World my guess is the brand couldn’t believe their luck.

The protests – apparently the campaign promotes negative body issues - are reported to be culminating in a 40,000strong demonstration in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday.

As a card-carrying fatty myself, perhaps I should be joining them.

However Protein World themselves claim that the campaign – and the unexpected associated kerfuffle – has brought them in 20,000 new customers and a million quid’s worth of new revenue in under 4 days.

It's also reasonable to argue Dove's semi-real time response mimicking the Protein World branding and creative treatment simply helped amplify 'recognition' value for the original, given the almost invisible nature of the Dove branding. For the distracted and indifferent consumer (ie just about everyone) the 'parody' could, for al intents and purposes, be just another extension of that 'beach body' thing that they vaguely remember hearing something about.

[*UPDATE 10.23am* It's been pointed out to me that the Dove parody was not an official Dove communication, but was still widely shared so the point is still valid]

What is unclear is why this particular campaign has particularly irked those who find these things irksome.

A cursory Google search on Beach Body or Bikini Body even, throws up thousands of articles, diets, sports nutrition and fitness DVDs all illustrated in a similar manner, and presented by brands like Cosmopolitan, Womens Health mag and suchlike.

The kerfuffle is especially surprising given that 'Beach Body' as an advertising 'idea' itself is almost banal, such is it's unoriginality and ordinariness.

Protein World will perhaps just accept their good fortune, in having caught this week's wave of conspicuous outrage - or what James Bartholemew in the Spectator this week called virtue signalling.

‘I hate 4x4s!’ you declare. This is an assertion that, unlike others, you care about the environment.
It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are.'

Not exactly the Streisand Effect, but enough is enough.

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