Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 05.03.21

NFTs | Rishi's Mexican Coke | Creme Egg Beer | Scotrail Trumpian Tactics

This week’s audio debrief features Mark Borkowski’s breakdown of the upcoming Harry & Meghan interview with Oprah. Thanks for listening!


Life isn’t all beer & Creme Eggs

[after sipping a pint] Hmmm, that’s delicious. Do you know what would compliment this? A Creme Egg….

Yes, you guessed correctly - this is a sentence that has never been said out loud. So, it may shock and appal you that Cadbury’s announced a “Limited Eggdition Creme Egg beer” to mark their 50th anniversary.

The beer is rumoured to taste and smell like a very rich Guinness, but these sorts of collaborations aren’t really about the product’s end result. Popular brands can get away these bizarre collabs, and even thrive off them. Think Travis Scott x McDonald’s or Snoop Dogg x Just Eat, they can work so well that they even become a meme (free publicity).

This collaboration is more Walker’s unusual crisp flavour collection – bizarre over anything else but the stunt generates publicity with ease. They tend to become immediately collectable and incredibly difficult to purchase. Whether it’s a product review, a reaction piece or a standalone feature, it is such an easy win for these household brands. You can’t help but ask yourself, was the strategy to become a meme and win the internet for the day? Who knows, but it’s a trend that will never go away.

The future of the aura?

It was the week we saw an artwork in the form of a 10-second video clip sell for $6.6 million, all thanks to a new blockchain technology that can authenticate digital content as one-of-a-kind.

This development overcomes the issue that the art world has grappled with ever since it became possible to digitally reproduce images, and then latterly to share them online. The ability to mass-reproduce pictures of art-objects has seen the value of those images plummet (whilst the value of the original art objects rise - as their image gets shared and gains fame). This technology means that it is now possible for a digital object to be unique in the way that a physical one is, and amass value in the same way too.

This is major news, although it may only signify a fad for the art world. The unique qualities of physical art (texture, form, presence) cannot be recreated digitally, so it’s a stretch to suggest people might start getting pleasure from digital art in the same way they do physical.

But whoever paid $6.6 million for this video was right to. Its value lies in the fact it represents a new frontier in technology - proof that we are on our way to a future where some digital images and videos might be unreproducible.

This would be revolutionary for meme creators – who have long battled over theft and plagiarism. It could also mark a significant move towards outing deep-fakes, which currently threaten to supercharge the proliferation of fake news.

When you think that this technology could revolutionise the way we see digital content, helping us find truth in the internet's increasingly murky waters, $6.6 million feels pretty modest.

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The sugar cane myth and MISRISHFORMATION

Fizzy drink misinformation has penetrated the highest rungs of government. It is now perpetuated not by troll farms and foreign actors, but by regular chancellors with signature signatures. And what better target for an influencer chancellor clearly in chrysalis of primeministerdom than that old chestnut that Mexican coke is the only true coke.

Indeed, it has long been a favourite of online conspiracists and bugbear of Pepsi stans that Mexican Coke is superior to the normal version. Here, we see the minister himself trying out this old myth (that Coca-Cola has neither confirmed nor denied) on some unsuspecting schoolchildren. Are there any lengths his PR machine won’t go to? Is the currency of truth really so inflated that he will sacrifice the powerful high fructose corn syrup industry to secure a favourable trade agreement with Peña Nieto?

Worries about the post-COVID information economy aside, this stumble endears us to Silly Rishi in a way that makes it hard to take him as seriously as his handlers at Clerkenwell Bros intend. His ‘One Man’s Journey to a Budget’ video was so overblown that opposition leader Keir Starmer took the opportunity to rib not just the budget but the expensive production that promoted it, and led others wondering about his fame strategy, just whom he is trying to influence?

And though the dish of a minister is sufficiently PR-aware to catch himself when he hears himself say ‘I’m a Coke addict’, one can’t help but feeling the loss of innocence that comes when—for example—a child excuses himself for making an innuendo about something that you didn’t know he knew about. These cracks in the Rishçade as devised by man-behind-the-brand Cass Horowitz, show a chancellor not, to my ears, more Partridgean, but more thoroughly mediatised than one would guess from the quietly self-effacing figure that—despite the Hollywood gloss—his handlers have been crafting. Farewell to Nova Scotia and all that.

Scotrail takes Trumpian approach to Customer Service

A creative, or even just nice (remember that??) approach to social media community management has improved so many companies’ reputations that a quirky tone of voice has almost become a prerequisite for famous brands.

Occasionally there’s a cringey swing and miss but on the whole the strategy is successful in its aim of humanising these faceless corporations and making them more accessible.

Except, that is, for rail operator Scotrail. In recent weeks the company responsible for all of Scotland’s internal trains has shot to infamy for its unique approach to public-facing customer service, an approach generally perceived as a Trumpian blend of ‘fight fire with fire’, ‘kill or be killed’ and ‘dog eat dog’.

It’s a bold and distinctive strategy. The reason brands without the comfort of a national monopoly on a major utility don’t follow a similar path is that this particular brand of combative defensiveness is seen by many as aggressive, callous and demeaning to its customers.

On the other hand, there’s a bleak logic to it; if you know by reputation that a company’s customer service department is going to angrily bulldoze your complaint, you are probably less likely to pursue a contestable refund than if it’s a company whose warm, cuddly team of wannabe kids’ tv presenters are going to roll over compliantly at the slightest hint of trouble.

Then there are the memes. We’ve talked before about how memes can actually sand the rough edges off quite a serious comms crisis by turning it into a big laugh for everyone. For now, that’s exactly how it’s working out for Scotrail, but in the age of the online mob they are walking a tightrope with their unashamedly condescending approach to their customers.