Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH — Media deploy advertising to promote journalism in fake news era

TODD SMITH — Media deploy advertising to promote journalism in fake news era


The proliferation of fake news – be that the insult lobbed at journalists and publications that President Donald Trump and his administration detest or the websites peddling false information across the web to make a quick buck – has unleashed a wave of advertising from news media organizations looking to promote the value of responsible journalism.

Earlier this month, Gannett became the latest publisher to release a campaign touting its publications’ efforts and showing how they had impacted the communities they cover.

“Media has gotten a lot of attention in the political cycle that we had in 2016,” Gannett CMO Andy Yost told Adweek. “It’s important for media organizations like ours to showcase the great work we’re doing and the importance of journalism.”

Gannett’s campaign, which highlights the work of local papers like The Tennessean or the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was created by its in-house marketing team and will run across Gannett’s digital network (the USA Today Network has 110 million unique visitors per month) and print properties (the company has in excess of 3 million print subscribers).

Gannett certainly isn’t alone: In recent months top media like The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair and WNYC AM/FM have advanced their own advertising campaigns.

“We’re in an environment where the press has been under attack and is reasserting the values that we provide people—the ability to hold power to account, that a free people require a free press, and that civil discourse is critical to a functioning democracy,” said Peter Weingard, WNYC’s CMO. “With free expression under attack, the press, including WNYC, is reasserting our mandate to report fearlessly and accurately.”

In March, WNYC released its latest ad campaign, from its creative agency Eyeball, which included lines like “Fake news is nothing new, but it’s still fake,” and “Tweets are not the whole story.” The effort is “purposely provocative, playful in tone and meant to attract attention to get people to listen in,” noted Weingard.

The latest ads, which were placed in subways and subway cars, bus shelters and even a Times Square billboard in New York, told consumers to “Wake up to Morning Edition for fact-based, independent journalism.” Listeners for WNYC’s combined AM/FM and digital streams are up 28 percent year to date, according to Weingard.

For some media, like The Atlantic, a branding campaign has been in the works for quite some time. Nearly three years ago, the 160-year-old publication tapped Pereira & O’Dell to develop a brand strategy, and early last year began working with Wieden + Kennedy in New York on its “Question Your Answers” campaign. In February, it released a short film, Am I Typecast, starring actor Michael K. Williams that has garnered more than 10.5 million views.

Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino Delivers Social Media Buzz

Starbucks’ new unicorn Frappuccino is delivering plenty of social-media buzz, thanks to bright pink and blue colors that look like something from a concert poster.

The colorful drink needs to do more than get people posting photos to Instagram, however. Limited-time drinks are increasingly a staple at Starbucks, which is rolling out new drinks and short-term offerings as a way to entice consumers into its stores. One of its earliest big hits was the autumnal pumpkin spice latte, which has been copied by other coffee outlets and food brands.

The unicorn Frappuccino, which was only available from April 19-23, is the company’s first new Frappuccino flavor this year, and was inspired by unicorn-themed food and drinks popular on social media. The new drink comes at a sensitive time for Starbucks, with a new chief executive at the helm and a sales slowdown in 2016 that came amidst an unpopular change in its loyal program. The coffee giant is also dealing with competition from smaller stores that appeal to younger consumers.

The drink’s colors and name are designed to appeal to generation Z, or consumers born after 1995, a group that grew up with social media, is poised to surpass the Millennial generation in size, and may be more influential than their slightly older peers.

That’s not to say that millennials, generation X, baby boomers and the silent generation wouldn’t buy a unicorn Frappuccino, however. The average Starbucks customer is an educated 42-year-old professional with household income of $90,000.

Getting those customers to return to its stores is key to boosting its bottom line. Its new CEO, Kevin Johnson, told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year innovation is key to its long-term growth.

Starbucks’ stock price could also use some unicorn magic. The shares have declined more than 3 percent over the past year, compared with a 12.6 percent jump in the S&P 500 index.

The bigger question for curious consumers is probably how the drink tastes. Starbucks bills the Frappuccino as containing flavors that “evolve from sweet and fruity to tangy and tart.” The drink is made with mango syrup and a “pleasantly sour” blue drizzle.

Will the drink prove to be mythical in popularity? So far, the early reviews appear mixed, with consumers describing the unicorn frappuccino’s taste as everything from “sour Skittles” to “magical.”

Assaulted Mic | O’Reilly Gets Boot at Fox, Latest Bill To Get Busted

In less than a year, Fox News’ three biggest stars have exited. First Roger Ailes. Then Megyn Kelly. And now, in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, Bill O’Reilly is out, which was first reported in The Wall Street Journal. This week, Tucker Carlson moved into O’Reilly’s time slot and “The Five” will appear following “The Factor.”

The changes come weeks after The New York Times reported that 21st Century Fox or O’Reilly settled with five women accusing him of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment. More than 50 advertisers responded by pulling their ads, and from there, pressure mounted. O’Reilly said Fox’s decision to part ways was based on “completely unfounded claims.”

In a memo to staffers, Fox Co-Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons emphasized their commitment to a “work environment built on the values of trust and respect,” while also praising O’Reilly as “one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news.” CNN’s Chris Cillizza summed up O’Reilly’s legacy, calling him the “front-facing spokesman” for modern conservatism who helped make populism and distrust of the mainstream media core tenets of the movement that eventually put Donald Trump in the White House.

The Times’ Jim Rutenberg echoed that theme and the ouster of O’Reilly will test the loyalties of Fox News viewers. 21st Century Fox and Journal parent News Corp share common ownership.

The ouster certainly didn’t hurt O’Reilly’s bank account – he will leave the network with $25 million — the equivalent of one year’s salary.

The Spin Cycle is ever so curious as to how this will affect two of the brightest – and boldest – brands in cable news. For now, O’Reilly gets a Assaulted Mic for getting caught with his pants down, much like another famous Bill, both of whom thought they were above the law and court of public opinion.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


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