Thursday, November 13, 2008

Does media “shape” our lives?

There is nothing more humbling for a writer than reviewing their own inscription and saying, “I stand corrected today.” Okay, before the post gets anymore esoteric, let the confessions begin.

When I was doing my masters at Columbia University, in one of the classes, we discussed the role of media in our day-to-day lives. One of the debates was whether media and fast food chains had conspired together to add to the growing obesity epidemic. The common belief was that enticing people with scrumptious food, was the sinister teams’ collaborative, insidious effort and essentially immoral.

At that time, as a marketer, I thought the accusation was blasphemous. We, as humans, need to take responsibility for our own actions. Media does its job of spreading the word; we need to take the messages with a pinch of salt and do ours. Just because the Burger King Ad make fries look like food of the Gods and the zesty salad from Taco Bell shows lettuce crisper than a cotton sari, doesn’t mean you have to go out and get some. How about the resolve to refrain from it? Also, in the larger scheme of things, both media and the fast food chain are trying to make a buck. Aren’t we all, so why this brouhaha about morality?

I attributed the problem of portliness to change in lifestyle: frankly, kids these days are couch potatoes with an insatiable desire for junk; with both parents working, there isn’t always time to cook a fresh meal (fast food is still quick and inexpensive); and, there is the culpability factor, where working parents try to compensate for their absence by fulfilling their kids’ demands--however inane they might be. All the sanctimonious souls, who blame the media for being the wrongful influencer, need to toughen up and act like adults.

Two and a half years later, with the outcome of the US elections, I stand corrected. I think differently about the role of media in our lives. We saw history being made and don’t tell me media didn’t have a hand in it. The 44th President-elect, Barack Obama, the nation’s heartthrob literally, was the first African American to get elected as the President of the United States of America.

As a marketer, I feel, Obama did a magnificent job of reaching out to his target audience. His positioning and messaging were impeccable. Like the Apple brand (by the way, I am a proud member of the Apple cult), Obama found out what people wanted and where they were. He then strategically used the media as his messenger. Obama’s campaign promised change. Even though change means different things to different people, change is what significant number of Americans and the world wanted. One of the political gurus on Anderson Cooper’s Show said, “Obama married the Internet.” He hit the nail on the head. Every time I went online, be it Facebook or email or a news website, there he was, promising change.

My nine-year old precocious niece in Singapore, who has one of the most beautiful minds, was ecstatic with Obama’s triumph. Apparently, even prior to November 4th, US elections were what she and her friends discussed. She knows Obama’s children’s names and age. Well, she also knows why Elvis meant the world to Hawaiians, but we’ll let that be for now (remember, astuteness is her middle name). I was shocked! Seriously? Politics? But, what happened to playing with Barbie or nurse-doctor? Anyway, when I told her that Obama was a Columbia alumni, I sensed pride in her tone. I said, “Why are you pro-Obama?” Her response, “I don’t know. I just like him.”

Sure she likes him. The biased media portrayed Obama as a messiah of change, and boom, he had a global fan following. Even my parents and friends in India can’t stop raving about Obama’s warm smile and personality even though his foreign policies might actually hurt them. Obama strategically used the right media to reach the right audience for the right purposes. Media did influence people’s decision-making capabilities. Was that moral? If I am not wrong, didn’t Washington Post get heat for its biased reporting?

If I revere Obama’s marketing capabilities and the role of media in his success, how can I reject how powerful media is in encouraging that walk to the fast food store when you are hungry or bored? Children and adults alike are impressionable. The degrees may vary. How much moral liability should media take, is a whole other question.

What do you think? Do you believe in Graham Greene’s, “Media is just a word that has come to mean bad journalism?” or “Advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century,” Marshall Mcluhan.

More until next time.

Copyright © 11.13.2008

“There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe... the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here”--Mark Twain


Pradeep said...

This is an excellent post! The media is run by human beings and wherever there are human beings, there is bound to be some subjectivity, some politics, some personal agenda and the like. Expecting 100% objectivity would be unrealistic. Also, we need to recognize that comedy shows, like SNL and The Daily Show have as much influence on people as do the news outlets. One of the main reasons Obama won was because of the financial meltdown about two months before the election. It was more a referendum on the failed policies of eight years of George Bush than anything else. Obama was not doing so well in the polls before the financial meltdown occurred and the fact that McCain said dumb things like, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong" helped seal the deal for Obama.

Anonymous said...

“Advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century,” Marshall Mcluhan.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I enjoy how you have the "perfect" quote after each post... thanks!