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crypto and public policy

Advertising in 2004: Using Social Mores to Steal Brain Cycles

Filed under: General February 2, 2004 @ 2:16 pm

Matt Haughey has the straight story on Janet Jackson’s Superbowl show-and-tell. Yes, clearly a staged controversy to hype Janet’s new album, to make Justin into a bad boy, to make CBS a bit “hipper” with the young crowd.

It’s cheap, but it gets people talking. And, after all, Janet’s not to blame, since it was Justin Timberlake who caused the “wardrobe malfunction.” Sure enough, everyone is talking about Janet, even those who criticize the stunt. A few cycles of everyone’s brain are focused on Janet. Janet Janet Janet. Oh look, Janet’s got a new album. Wow, everyone is talking about CBS, maybe I should watch their umpteenth Survivor.

Maybe all that matters these days is getting people’s attention, no matter what the means. You hear the words “Janet Jackson” and you forget why. So you buy the album.

Of course, this type of advertising stunt wouldn’t be possible if our social mores were a tad more realistic and consistent. It’s a bare breast. Most of it already appeared on the cover or Rolling Stone magazine a few years ago. The superbowl halftime show featured dozens of other scantily-clad women showing more skin than the average beach-goer. If we could all agree that it’s just a breast, there would be no stunt, there would be no chat by the water fountain, there would be no demand for Janet’s new album.

But instead, we choose to be offended. People make calls. The press goes wild. The FCC chooses to investigate. The people who planned this stunt (CBS, MTV, Justin and Janet) get what they want: a huge controversy that keeps their names on everyone’s lips long enough to watch the next CBS show, to visit the MTV web site, to buy Janet’s latest album.

The only way to really punish those who planned this manipulative stunt is to undestand their real motive (selling their products) and to not bite. Don’t make a big deal of it, and the stunt will fall flat on its face. But go ahead, Michael Powell, go investigate. I’m sure Janet is shaking at the mere thought of how many records you’ll help her sell.

1 Comment

  1. Aaron Swartz:

    More likely: Michael Powell is investigating at the request of Janet Jackson.

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