Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 01-04-21

'Voltswagen' | Lil Nas X | Suez Canal

If you want to hear more in-depth analysis of this week’s trends check out episode 5 of our companion podcast (also live on Spotify soon):

‘Voltswagen’ stunt is less than electrifying

I’m about to say five words that might trigger you: corporate April Fool’s day joke. It’s a high-risk game with uncertain rewards, that brands love. And as any April Fool’s Day consultant worth her fee will tell you, one of the key tenets is *actually doing it on April Fool’s Day*. That’s where Volkswagen made it’s first blunder.

Not only is it a relatively unfunny prank (since it has none of the preposterousness that it should have), they also missed the timing in what they described as a ‘pre-April fools Day joke,’ announcing the change on Tuesday (30 March). Innocent mix-up? Volkswagen is a company with a history of making honest mistakes, and if, for example, for the 66 years of the company’s existence they forgot to change their clocks forward each Spring, they could very easily have thought that last Tuesday was April 1st.

However the timing snafu happened, they leaned in. No doubt the key to a good prank is keeping a straight face, and several company execs managed to suppress their giggles with journalists from the AP, USA Today, and CNBC, lest they ruin the joke. They have since been accused of manipulating their share price by misleading the press.

Meanwhile, Google is once again billing itself as the image of corporate responsibility (is that the prank?) saying that they have suspended April Fools’ Day out of respect for ‘a world grappling with serious challenges.’ Microsoft similarly donned its superhero cape while marketing chief Chris Capossela reported, in an internal memo, "data tells us these stunts have limited positive impact and can actually result in unwanted news cycles."

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Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X sparked a week-long Twitter storm after releasing MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), which features the popstar lap dancing on the devil in his descent to hell, causing similar levels of controversy to Cardi B’s x Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP. He also used the video to launch a brand of trainers - an unlicensed Nike rip-off containing a drop of human blood that sold out instantly and stoked further outrage.

The bulk of the criticism came from conservative politicians and commentators, but also triggered a lawsuit from Nike and claims of copying fellow artists FKA Twigs.

Instead of burying his head in the sand, Lil Nas X (aka Montero Lamar Hill) quadrupled down responding to most of the ‘high profile’ criticism on home turf - social media. Having grown up on the internet and leveraged it for commercial success as well as anyone, Lil Nas X is well accustomed to viral attention and had a host of tricks up his sleeve to ensure maximum publicity from fueling the fire of right-wing outrage with his twitter responses to an ingeniously ambiguous promotional hashtag #satanshoes to promote a competition to win the 666th pair.

It’s ingenious stunt practice, brilliant, but the one danger is that a potentially important and profound song is now defined by controversy. At its core MONTERO isn’t for the likes of Candice Owens or Fox News, it’s an attempt to normalise queerness, which Montero himself hopes will “open doors for many other queer people to simply exist”.

Yet many internet demagogues have leveraged this outrage to chase clout and if you can manipulate these trolls, it can be hugely successful for your brand. Lil Nas X knows this and has used the wave of publicity to hint at a debut LP, scheduled for Summer. His ability to rule the internet is an excellent case study for any budding popstar.

Microsoft shows En-Suez-iasm for trapped ship

The Suez Canal blockage may have had a doomsday impact on global trade for a week but that image of the tiny digger attempting to free the beached behemoth was too good for the meme community to overlook whatever the sensitivities.

Where memes go, brands (often slowly and clumsily) follow but we’ve seen a rapid and full-throated commitment to the Suez meme from software giants Microsoft.

Often overlooked amongst its contributions to the world of information technology is the fact that Microsoft created one of the greatest and most enduring video games of all time, Flight Simulator. The synergies are evident: both the Suez Kerfuffle (‘Crisis’ was taken apparently) and Flight Simulator are about awkward steering manoeuvres with little chance of success, so it was no surprise to see the stuck freighter immortalised in Flight Simulator before the week was out.

But Microsoft didn’t finish there and yesterday announced the impending launch of Suezmax Simulator, a new game that allows wannabe cargo ship captains to navigate exact replicas of some of the biggest ships on the planet on global journies before dropping them off in tight spots.

It might sound like a mundane concept, but vehicle simulators – such as Euro Trucker 2- have enjoyed a revival in recent years thanks to platforms like Twitch and society’s constant thirst for nostalgia. Tapping into this vein while also satisfying the internet’s insatiable greed for ever-more-complex and multi-layered memes is a brilliant move from Microsoft, almost too good to be true…

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