Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 12.02.21

Weetabix x Heinz Baked Beans | Japan Olympics Scandal | Priyanka Chopra Jonas and journalists vs publicists

Weetabix x Heinz Baked Beans

It may not quite have done enough to be named PR Week’s Campaign of the Week (ahem) but a certain food wheeze set Twitter alight this week…

Bringing some much-needed silliness to the table, Weetabix set Twitter alight this week with a picture of two ‘bix covered in baked beans. It was part of a series of posts on Weetabix’s Twitter account showing the breakfast cereal paired with staple British brands (Marmite and an Innocent smoothie featured the other two), ostensibly to demonstrate the versatility of the humble wheat biscuit.

Except this apparent serving suggestion was far from innocent. The image of beans atop crunchy bricks of wheat on an ordinary looking dining table was hugely evocative – due to the unavoidable familiarity of the two foodstuffs to every British citizen – and thus was perfectly pitched to cause maximum uproar. That the tweet feigned nonchalance only fuelled the outrage. Cue the “SURELY THEY HAVE TO BE JOKING”s.

Other brand Twitter accounts quickly weighed in: “This is not a match…” said @Tinder, “U ok hun?” said @Nandos. Specsavers arguably won out with this brilliant reaction. The scramble by other household names to get a bite of conversation bordered on cringeworthy: brands have identified the opportunity to maximise brand trust by crafting witty social media personas, designed to build on consumers’ feelings of familiarity. It’s a feel-good strategy, and it works. But this example may signal the peak of this trend.

Back to Weetabix though, and good job well done. A simple activation that perfectly straddles the provocative and the mundane, thus promoting an emotional response in (almost) every UK citizen. It says it all that the day after the tweet, both Weetabix and Heinz were trending on Waitrose & Partners (via Deliveroo). Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind some beans for dinner…

Is the Sun Rising on a new era in Japan?

Following derogatory comments about women from its chief executive, the Tokyo Olympics committee is navigating yet another crisis, after doubts were raised, in January, about whether the games would be able to proceed at all, amid concerns about another coronavirus outbreak. The former prime minister’s apology and subsequent resignation marks a significant shift in the country’s work culture, which, some young professionals have claimed, remains discriminatory against women, despite former PM Shinzo Abe’s ‘womenomics’, the push for more women in the workforce. 

The significant fallout caused a sharp reversal. Before the resignation of octogenarian Yoshiro Mori as head, almost 400 people withdrew applications to volunteer at the Olympic games, and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she would not attend a meeting of Olympic officials in protest. Athletes, meanwhile, called Mori’s statements outdated and sexist. 

The reputational damage to the Olympic Committee takes places against the backdrop of changing cultural currents both abroad and in Japan. Within the country, the pandemic has brought about a new conversation about the relation between men and women (particularly, about how domestic labour is divided up) and brought new light to the fact that less than 10 per cent of Japan’s listed companies have a single female member on their board.  

 Whether or not Mori’s resignation heralds a significant change for Japan’s national work culture, it at least establishes that those representing international bodies will be held to the most progressive standards for equality set by big, global entities like the U.N. and the World Economic Forum. Mori, who reports being ‘scolded’ by his wife and daughters, provides an opportunity to think about how the push for gender equality might manifest differently across different cultural contexts. Recall that the Japanese have typically taken American products and done them better than America itself: think blue jeans, jazz, and bourbon. It is interesting to consider how another American export, the #MeToo movement, will be taken up and modified by a culture whose primary differences— as cultural anthropologists have argued—lie in its emphasis on ‘shame’ rather than ‘guilt’. Crisis managers, keep your ears to the ground.   

Celebrity Publicists are forgetting Comms #101 and becoming the story

As the commercial clout of traditional media wanes in comparison to the flourishing world of brand and individual-owned channels, the power balance between the gatekeepers of said powerful brands and individuals – agents, managers, publicists- and the journalists they no longer rely on exclusively for their public profile has shifted in favour of the former.

This was the subject of a recent blog by Telegraph music and culture journalist Eleanor Mills in which she recounted creeping growth in the proportion of a profile article celebrity publicists feel it’s their right to control.

It’s easy to understand the rationale behind it; if their client has a social media following in the tens of millions who will lap up their every stage-managed, ghost-written corporate message, then they just don’t need the publicity of traditional outlets unless reassured they’ll get a certain level of benefit from it.

But journalists, at least at the level we’re talking about, are a canny, principled and stubborn bunch, and they have means of keeping the PR machine in line.

However much some publicists may think themselves the senior partners nowadays, journalists possess a nuclear switch we never will. If a publicist blacklists a journalist, that journalist’s career generally goes on – often bolstered by their bold defence of editorial independence. However, if a publicist ends up ‘becoming the story’ in a way that reflects badly on their client, then they are a goner.

Real life showbiz isn’t like ‘Call My Agent’ where the heart-of-gold celebrity good-naturedly shrugs off your misstep and drags you out to drink commiseratory pastis until earlier hours. If you mess up a major profile for your client by getting too involved – however much you were following orders or attempting to save them from themselves- you have an excellent chance of getting fired.

Spare a thought then for Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ publicists who, blatantly against the wishes of formidable interviewer Simon Hattenstone, sat in on the film star’s Guardian profile and attempted to deflect a series of difficult questions about how Chopra Jonas reconciled certain apparently conflicting values. Their interventions were duly written into the piece along with subtle but firm hints of defensive diva behaviour on the part of the interviewee.

It wasn’t a total hatchet job – one of the agencies apparently involved even shared the coverage on Twitter- but Simon Hattenstone’s profiles have been launching, relaunching, and occasionally saving careers recently. Suffice it to say this one won’t do that for Chopra Jonas and she certainly didn’t share the piece on Twitter.  The balance of power may be shifting, but it occasionally does us folks on this side of the fence some good to remember who’s boss…