CORPORATE MESSAGING: When a News Item is Really Just More Promotional Junk

There was a news clip on the local ABC affiliate here in Dallas-Ft.Worth, WFAA, on their evening news yesterday that did something that infuriates me.  A segment was dedicated to an individual whose passion and current goal in life appeared to be claiming a title and some cash for eating chicken wings faster than anyone else.  His momma would be proud.

He had apparently been doing this for some time because he appeared to be about 6 feet tall, his weight was clearly twice what it should be and his body mass index (BMI) had to be off the charts.  He is the huge young man, 2nd from the end on the right in this clip, with the over-sized styrofoam cowboy hat. And get this ladies – he refers to himself  as Big Sexy.   Big, yes.  Sexy, ummm, … maybe for someone of equal proportion.

What’s not seen in this clip was an earlier interview I watched where Big Sexy told the interviewers that he could win up to $1000 from this Wingstop® Restaurants sponsored event for wolfing down these tasty portions of cholesterol, IF he wins 1st place.  There was no mention of a second or third place prize but clearly the health damage to his body is already beyond a point of no return and any deductible on any health insurance he may have been fortunate to get will consume that prize money and then some on his first emergency visit to the hospital.

There are a couple of things that are disturbing about this news clip.  The first is that it was selected by the station managers and editors to publish for the viewing audience.  In a day and age when obesity ranks as one of the most serious health risks for children the local media essentially high-fives these young people as they push their bodies to unhealthy extremes.

WFAA is really one of the better local news broadcasters in the area in my opinion.  Between them, the CBS, NBC and FOX affiliates here, they do a better job at in-depth reporting and even have a segment you seldom see on news stations anymore where editorials on critical issues are given air time.  These are commentaries that go beyond the fluff and false equivalents that all stations now engage in as if all sides have equal validity on important issues.

But WFAA is apparently guilty, as other local news broadcasters are, for presenting nothing more than glorified ads for local businesses as “news”.  This is the second concern I have with such “reports”.  Today it’s Wingstop® Restaurants, tomorrow it could be the Domino’s Pizza Making championships.  There’s hardly a day that goes by that these time-wasters are not aired.  They have no social value other than creating greater profits for the broadcast station as well as the corporate entity that gets the air time.  This is just another example of how corporate branding practices are deeply interwoven in our media and pop culture.

click on image to elarge

Movies now get revenue from brand name companies when their logos or companies are mentioned in a scene.  Clothes and caps for years have been free advertising for marketers as consumers are foolish enough to pay for the privilege to oblige them.  When did it become an honorable thing to proudly display commercial symbols?

It should not come as any surprise that great efforts and wealth have been expended to assimilate commercial messaging into everyday life, leaving many people to find solutions to social ills in snappy commercial statements like Nike’s “Just Do It” ad campaign or Coca-Cola’s ‘Open Happiness’ and Enjoy Life’s Simple Pleasures.  By incorporating the silly notion that a product’s use makes life more meaningful and rewarding, if only for a second, is a coup that other exploiters of the publics’ naivety have to be envious of.

It’s no wonder that corporations who pollute our air and water, use questionable chemicals to manufacture their products, send jobs overseas, keep wages flat and remove health benefits and then pay no taxes, are often seen as victims by some rather than as exploiters and manipulators of the public’s trust.  By painting themselves as people just like us, we tend to forget that they have created an income gap in this country that has grown to its largest level ever.

The warm and fuzzy ads that natural gas industries are saturating the media markets with today, like BP oil did a few years back, is nothing more than an attempt to offset the legitimate concern of people about their practices for extracting gas from shale rock with polluting chemicals that have damaged local water supplies.  But this is what large corporations do every day to keep the public off-balance to their questionable practices on the one hand, while on the other hand they are partnering with their media associates to pan their products in ways that make it look like a news worthy event.

These simple community interest stories like the WingStop championships are a sham and an insult to critical thinking Americans.  That perhaps though is the purpose behind them.  George Carlin warned us that big corporations do not want critical thinkers.  “You have no freedom of choice” Carlin tells us.  “You have owners.  They own you.  They own everything.  They own all of the land, the politicians and they have the judges in their back pocket.  And they own all the big media companies so they control just about all of the news and information you get to here.  They got you by the balls.”

So the next time you’re watching any news broadcast, local or national, and these “social interest” stories come on that just happen to incorporate a commercial product with them, you can be pretty sure this is a back door attempt by corporate America to use their media mouth pieces to do a little damage control or promotional side-show.

The undue influence their wealth allots them is not responsible citizenship now that the Roberts court has handed them their “human” status in the Citizens United case last year.  It is exploitative and manipulative and for any media outlet to stoop to this practice  is one more reason to see television as the wasteland Marshall McLuhan declared to be  in his critical book on this subject back in 1967, “The Medium is the Message”. This theme has been prevalent since George Orwell’s“1984” and later in François Truffaut’s version of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” .  We are becoming what we consume.  Sexy Boy is clear evidence of this.

Related Articles


Share this Post:

2 thoughts on “CORPORATE MESSAGING: When a News Item is Really Just More Promotional Junk”

  1. Excellent, L.B. We have these “news” stories too. I understand there are fun events, but it’s not news, and you are right in that glorifying these activities they do harm to those who watch the broadcasts. You would never see a newscast glorifying a physically dangerous activity. Yet, a story about overeating is considered cute fluff.

Comments are closed.