Estrogen Mafia Training (6): Deception in Media Operations

Let’s hear about some classic, basic and widely used methods of “light” media deception. The motivations of authors are different: business success, promotion of artistic creations, to become or to remain a celebrity, everlasting desire to be seen and heard, to leave a trace in cultural history… well, media business has some strange rules, hard to understand for a common person. But why not to widen your perspective?

1) VIP Relationships: Love and Hate

Love: Recent top-secret report indicates, that more than half of publicly known love relationships, affairs and romances showbusiness have artifical origin. In other words, they are manufactured purely for publicity.

If two clever celebrities join forces, one can support other with news he/she participates, to the mutual benefit. They cover their backs each other, and it helps them to stay in the attention of media and to grow in fame. Readers have a gossip to talk about, magazines have interesting content. Everybody is satisfied, it seems – only the truth and sincerity disappear. But people need fun and distraction to forget their own misery, to survive in present complicated world, so it’s maybe OK.

Hate: manufactured conflicts and feuds works the same way. It is very common that fashion models, politicians, boxers, wrestlers and hip-hop artists deliberately slander their colleagues, and he/she fights back. Tabloid magazines are happy to write about this clash, and readers love it too, to watch the strong words, declarations of media wars and eternal malice.

Sometimes, both sides have an agreement in advance, and they stay friends, even when the whole world thinks how much they hate each other. Or one side wants to get up, and there is a classical rule: attack the king, if you want to rise in the ranks quickly.

When it went too far: if we are speaking of kings… every fan of bodybuilding can remember the most controversial top competition of all times: Mr. Olympia 1980. Five years before, the famous bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger retired after very successful career, and then he came to Sydney, where the competition took place, allegedly as a commentator only. But to the shock of the world, he announced his direct, competitive participation just hours before start!

Some colleagues complained, that basic rules were broken (you have to register to the competition 30 days in advance, you have to qualify in a previous event). There was almost a fist fight in the backstage. But the clever promoters deliberately allowed this exception.

Arnold was not in his best shape – he only trained for six weeks. Many experts say, that he should be 3rd or 4th. And still – he was declared victorious by the jury, where he had many business and friendship connections. Many people thought, that it was forged, unlawful victory, that it was a fraud.

Can you imagine, what media attention and publicity this controversy started? The discussions about this event continue even to this day – 35 years later! So you can agree, that this was a PR masterpiece, most probably carefully staged.

Was it right to allow Arnold to compete? No! Was it fair? No! Was it righteous? No! But it attracted so many publicity to the still developing sport of bodybuilding! It promoted the higher interest, we could say.

But the price of this extraordinary promotion was high. Not everybody understood the noble intention, not everybody was able to took it lightly. This event had serious consequences for several people, who were unable to accept the circumstances and the outcome. Some participants were completely destroyed by it and never recovered. You know, if you become Mr. Olympia once, you become a part of history, you are the best, you are crowned forever, your name will stay in the hall of fame. You prepare for this competition for years, concentrated, you invest money, you train, sleep and eat the right way… and then, some ruthless, lawless king comes, and he steals your dreams forever.

2) Music industry: banned videos

What is the best way to promote your song, if the music competition is immense, and you don’t want to pay dearly for “friendly articles” and promotion? Of course, if you are Sting or Rihanna for example, every TV/radio station will be pleased to promote your new song and play it every day. But this good position has only 1% of top artists – and other have to use alternative ways of promotion.

So, they deliberately add a controversial part to the video, they announce it was banned from a famous music television, and people will be greedy to see it and hear it, because forbidden things always attract! Every magazine and website will write about it, there will be wide discussion of media censorship…. and the author of this deception is most satisfied. The Wikipedia entry is certain, and the fame will last forever! Controversy always sells records.

3) Alleged leaks of content

Simple version: Very clever way of promotion is to manufacture a leak of anticipated media, software or another material. For example, famous hip-hop artist “50 Cent”, well-known user of advanced media techniques and even military strategy, announced an alleged leak of his highly anticipated album to the Internet. Media witnessed his spectacular fury, anger and threats of heavy revenge to the culprit…

But it was only show. Later, he allegedly confessed that he personally uploaded the data to sharing sites, to secure good promotion. And he succeeded – all media published juicy articles about this leak, cyber criminality and his feelings.

Buying advertisements, he would have to pay 100.000 USD to editors and PR people. This way, it was free! Of course, some listeners downloaded the album, but the majority still paid money for the record, because 50 Cent cleverly announced, that this leaked version is not finished and the final record will have more songs and features. So no financial loss occured at all.

Complex version: In 2003, a hacker allegedly stealed playable version of very anticipated computer game “Half-Life 2”. The developer, Valve Corporation, was also furious, and they even asked the community of fans to help FBI to catch the thief.

But let’s ask – “qui bono?” Or, to whose benefit this affair was, eventually?

Did this incident hurt sales of Half-Life 2, one of the most successful games in history, released 2004? Definitely not: 12 million copies was sold to this day. So we can consider it as a great, although unusual promotion for the upcoming game.

Did Valve gain from this affair? Definitely. A million of unpaid articles was published worldwide about the affair, and in every of them was the magic word “Half-Life 2”. Before, the players were complaining and tired of waiting, but after the leak, the world could see clearly, that the game exists and will be finished and released. So everybody could prepare for this event, save money for collector’s edition… and as a bonus, they got a story with drama, treason, money, FBI and a ruthless hacker. Readers love this!

Later, there were wide rumors in PR and marketing community, that somebody inside Valve could allegedly help this leak. But the truth will be never found out and questions remain: was it a real leak? Was it staged? Or did Valve just use this opportunity, by deploying advanced crisis communication? What do you think?

The basic rule for balanced perception of media is, to take them lightly, to have fun and no hard feelings or negative emotions. We all are deceived every day, and nothing changes that: advertisement, marketing… and media, of course. Any truth is relative, and some theories say, it doesn’t even exist. And there is yet another point of view: what if those manufactured and “enhanced” stories are for our good, so we can have more fun, deeper emotions, issues to talk about with friends?

So, enjoy the media, and have fun reading articles in your favorite magazine!

Alan Svejk -