Leroy Stick, the man behind the very funny satire twitter profile, BPGlobalPR, has finally spoken out about his motivations, in Gizmodo. Reads great…and has some very valid points about PR’s degeneration into utter bullshit in the name of corporate brand building.
But, here’s a question – why single PR alone?
If BP goes for an advertising campaign to set their image right – I’m sure they plan to – will Leroy Stick start a spoof twitter profile to lampoon that too?
Why does it seem that the outrage over bullshit advertising (yes, there is outrage over false or stupid advertising – I do not deny that) is brand-specific, while bullshit PR is made out to be a broader PR’esque malaise? In other words, bad advertising is blamed on the brand, while bullshit PR seems to be blamed on the PR industry. Why – just because the brand pays for the advertising and the advertising agency is only the creative intermediary, armed with creative license? And PR is not paid and PR agencies are supposed to play the role of knowledgeable counsels and advise clients on best course of PR action?
In both cases, brands take onus, I hope, for bad advertising and bullshit PR – so why blame the brand alone for advertising and an entire industry, for the other?
Back off a little.
Who is impacted by bullshit PR? Media? Journalists? Largely?
Is the media…or journalists…influenced by bullshit PR? If it is a paid placement, that is obviously bad since bullshit spreading in any form is bad. But otherwise, most media houses and journalists are evolved enough to smell bullshit PR and jargon-loaded press releases. They in fact aim to demystify all that jargon and communicate in a way that it makes sense for their readers.
So, the group that may be complaining about bullshit PR is fairly evolved in understanding that it is indeed bullshit and also have the ability to either clean it or ignore it. If I may compare it – this could be the equivalent of the multiple spam calls from a telecom service provider – you can ignore it, complain about it..but it continues, unabated.
If you refer to other forms of PR besides media relations – influencer relations, direct outreach and so on, agencies know that they are only as effective as the content that is created and as comprehensible as that content is. Take the example of the official BP account on twitter – it is not as popular for a reason. It is uninteresting, not entirely useful for a large spectrum of people and may not be as funny as the satire version. In short – corporate claptrap.
Now, let us move to the other major communication mode – advertising.
You see breakfast cereal spots on TV. They make your existing morning breakfast items smaller to indicate that the nutrition they offer isn’t enough. Next shot: extreme close-up of the best breakfast cereal in the planet. All nutrition gained and everybody lived happily ever after.
Cooking oil and teatime biscuits make you active. Hyperactive.
Household cleaning solutions bring broken families together.
Cars and deo sprays make you sexy, whatever sexy means.
Why isn’t anybody calling the bullshit on these? These hyperbole ads are usually accompanied by a minute fine print at the footer that is unreadable for a reason – they explain why the ad running is bullshit and that it should be taken with a massive crate of salt. But, the fact they exist in unreadable fine print doesn’t bother anybody.
The radio equivalent of it is brilliantly captured in mutual fund ads. They are usually read in one breath and some brand even made an entire ad out of reading it slowly and steadily, some time back!
Are these bullshit too? Or, should they be treated as ‘creative license’ and ‘creativity’?
Park that thought – think about who they reach out to?
Definitely not the educated, evolved media and journalists alone. It also reaches millions of gullible people.
I hear ‘caveat emptor’. Yes, I do.
But why shouldn’t it apply to bullshit PR materials too? Let those who are consuming those bullshit PR materials beware too. I’m sure they already know it and can smell bullshit from a mile given the amount of time PR guys have been bullshitting.
My only concern here is that we perhaps are jumping the gun in portraying PR as the sole owner of bullshit.
From a reach and impact point of view, I suppose advertising is far more harmful, when it comes to bullshit communication. Worse, it is paid and usually, brands get away with cold murder.
I heard an ad on radio today, for a bike manufacturer in India – the husband calls cops and says that there is a bomb in the central business district. The wife asks him why he hasn’t left for work yet. He says the phone call was part of getting to work. The jubilantly amused voiceover asks, ‘Tried of making bizarre excuses to avoid peak hour traffic? Switch to our blah bike’.
Would this have worked as a story in PR? Of course not – the PR guy would have been ridiculed for being stupid and insensitive. In advertising, it is paid by the brand – so, anything goes (almost).
Now tell me – is bullshit PR worse? Or is it bullshit advertising? I’m waiting for BP’s advertising campaign about the oil spill. And Leroy’s satire of it. Chances are that it may not catch the fancy of the world as it did with PR – in advertising, it will be BP alone that is lampooned – not the agency or the industry. BP’s bullshit PR has larger wings, since an industry too is being lampooned.