(Continued from here; hardly a self-contained unit.)
iv. Where’s Natasha?
The bromide “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is probably false—falsely so-called gnosis, one might say. Few people long to be on the receiving end of an internet shame mob. But there might well be no such thing as a bad commercial.
I’m trying to choose an antiquated example so I don’t fall into the trap of promoting a product while trying to talk about it merely. In 2014 (you may recall) Guardians of the Galaxy 2 toys contained, in some instances, no Gamora merchadise. WomenYouShouldKnow reported this with the headline: “Um…Where’s Gamora? Guardians Of The Galaxy Action Figure Set Leaves Out The Woman Hero,” which gets the point across. The article starts: “Guardians Of The Galaxy, Marvel’s action-packed, epic space adventure, opened this past weekend and broke box office records. The film centers on…[blah blah etc.]” Clearly, this (“action-packed, epic space adventure”) is a commercial. At the top of the article is an awesome product shot of a GotG action figure set. This is evidence, or course, but it is also a commercial. “We are mad at this product,” WYSK says, while also saying, accidentally, “buy this product.”
And we all advertised! I worked in a comic book store in 2014, and I saw more GotG action figures in my social media feed, posted by people furious at GotG, than I did at the register.
Here’s the thing, though: WYSK chose to open their article with the words “action-packed, epic space adventure” and “ broke box office records” but they could have said “Guardians Of The Galaxy, yet another tribute to Marvel’s mediocrity, opened this past weekend” and it would make no difference. It would still have, it will always have, the title (GotG) the franchise (Marvel) and the relevance (now playing!). It will still have the product shot. It will still be a commercial.
I’m not saying Hasbro or Marvel planned this out this way, but note that in many cases we shilled for them twice, once when they did not have the action figure we wanted, and once when they did. We shared this DailyDot rundown of sexist merchadise we can buy that lack Black Widow representation, and then we shared (“at last!” enthuses the writer) this Gizmodo article celebrating Black Widow merchandise when it comes. That’s two commercials!
It’s important to stress that I’m not calling anyone out for sharing the commercials. It’s not like a Gizmodo writer’s job is not to move products. It may at times be worth it to us to list “products you shouldn’t buy” to make a point. It’s just that if an article that celebrates a petition to “dump sexist T-shirts” also includes a link to the store where the sexist T-shirts are sold…isn’t it weird that no one thought twice about that?
When a handful of racist sf fans started a hate-themed Lovecraft award in 2015, I only knew about it because everyone I knew hate-linked to them (I’m trying to avoid the same mistake; perhaps you can trust me that I’m not making this up). It seems strange, but many, many people I knew essentially wrote: “Everyone! Here’s information on a group whose website is mostly a collection of white nationalist propaganda essays. Whatever you do, don’t look at it!”
This happens time and again. Hey, I’ve hate-linked too. We’ve all done it, and maybe there are times when it’s a fine idea. But mostly it’s playing into someone else’s hands.
Similarly: Pamela’s boycott of Minneapolis’s Saloon probably did not go the way she wanted it to go.
v. It’s a Gay Bar, Pamela
Here’s the thing: The Saloon doesn’t want Pamela not to boycott them. I mean, it doesn’t care if Pamela boycotts them. I mean, it doesn’t want Pamela as a customer. A gay bar full of straight women is a really bad gay bar.
Why don’t clothing lines make plus sizes? They say it’s because of logistical difficulty, but actually it’s because they don’t want “certain people” to wear their clothes. Commercials are generally designed to attract the right clientele and repel the wrong clientele. If a teenager’s parents start wearing the teen’s brand of clothes, the teenager is going to switch brand loyalty. This is why your parents hate your music; if the music was for them, it wouldn’t be for you.
I’m not supposed to smoke Virginia Slims, and if I start, someone at Virginia Slims’ marketing dept. screwed up (I’m male).
We often think of products as aiming for the widest possible base. Coca-Cola wants to “teach the world to sing.” The whole world. This is a perfectly valid marketing plan, and I’m not saying no one will ever use it; but note that when this was the most popular marketing plan, it’s because the alternatives were very difficult to achieve. Spoiler: They are no longer difficult to achieve.
If you get your news from the New York Times or the Washington Post or something, you see ads for one set of products; Fox News advertises a different set of products. Everyone knows this. I grew up with this model: Saturday morning cartoons advertised toys; Murder She Wrote advertised Centrum Silver. The promise of the internet is that advertisers can target narrower and narrower marketing demographics. Your web browser is just a comprehensive marketing survey. This is so obvious and boring, and I apologize for even bringing it up.
Because this is not an essay about marketers marketing to us. This is an essay about us marketing to us. To our friends of course (buy Gamora! don’t buy ethnonationlist Lovecraft-themed paraphernalia!); but also to ourselves.
Or something like that. (To be continued.)