Life is (not) marketing


Two mutually unrelated events especially caught my attention in the last month of the now already last 2018.

The first one was on 15th of December when Nike posted on its Instagram a black-and-white photo of Manchester City football player Raheem Sterling with the following words across it “Speaking up does not always make life easier. But easy never changed anything”. Below this, was of course, the recognizable logo of this global sports brand. The whole design of this post is stylishly identical to the already well-known ad of the same company with the image of American football player Colin Kaepernick and the message “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

The occasion for this new campaign was an incident that had happened one week earlier during the Manchester City-Chelsea game, when Sterling, while cornering for his team, was insulted on a racial basis by several Chelsea fans who were near the corner line, which was recorded by cameras that broadcast the game. Raheem Sterling took this as the reason to publish a post in which he accused the media not to treat black and white football players equally in the reports, and thus encouraging racism among fans. It’s quite understandable that this post provoked a lively debate in the media and on social networks, and that Nike didn’t miss this opportunity, in the same way as in the case of Colin Kaepernick.

The second event was the release of a three-minute video by famous Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, and that was exactly on Christmas Eve, on the 24th of December. In this video, Spacey is standing in front of the cooker while cooking something, and addressing to the audience exactly in the same tone and voice, and in the same way as Frank Underwood, the character he played in one of the most popular Netflix series “House of Cards” from which was kicked out in the last season. The title of the video “Let me be Frank”  just emphasized and highlighted this connection.

This was the first public response of Kevin Spacey after a whole year of a scandal in which he was accused of repeatedly sexually exploiting young men, even underage boys, over a long period period of time. The first indictment against Spacey will soon be officially raised, and it is expected that it won’t be the only one.

And now this virtual-real old-new character sends a message: “If I didn’t bear responsibility for all the things I had done, as you and me both know, why would I be responsible for those I haven’t done.” This is how this video connects the characters of Frank Underwood and the real Spacey. “I’ve shown you what are people capable of doing. My honesty made you feel shocked, but most of all I made you think.” And then, there is the main message: “So this isn’t over… Above all, I know what you want. You want me back. “

Only in the first 24 hours this video was viewed over 4.5 million times, and the number of reviews has been growing rapidly since its release. In most of the media comments, this Spacey’s public addressing was rated as a bizarre and cheap attempt to defend himself from the charges. We won’t go into this debate here, because this is not our topic. The fact is that this is the first time to connect a real and fictitious character in such a way to become real in this modern media context. This is the question of what is the perspective of this Underwooded Kevin Spacey. Did Kevin Spacey bury that brutal sex predator, and gave birth to another man with a fresh start and a new life which gave himself a new chance? Will any of brands see the opportunity in this attention for the new character and use it to promote one of their products? Or will a production house see the chance for a new blockbuster series? Or will this whole episode of Kevin Spacey be forgotten tomorrow?

We’ll see. No need to rush with half cooked answers. Everything is possible. Even the Nike campaign with Kaepernick was initially perceived with much skepticism, due to its controversy, and now they are only waiting for the new incident and the act of individual revolt of an athlete that will cause great attention to be used and packed in their campaign.

At the time of dispersed attention, the greatest challenge of marketing is how to draw attention to the message and make somebody notice it in the first place. There was a time when you could buy this attention. Today it has become too expensive even for the largest brands, and Nike is one of the first that begun to hook up with events and situations where this attention has already been created as part of their communication strategy.

Viewed from that perspective, we can only conclude that Kevin Spacey did his part of the job. We are just waiting for someone to come up with an idea how to monetize that attention. I am not worried if this will happen. Moreover, I am even convinced that we won’t have to wait long for it to happen.

Following these two examples, I remembered one of the schlager songs “from here” made in the eighties, called “Life is a Masquerade” by Seid Memić Vajta. This is how the chorus goes: “Life is a masquerade, everyone is hiding / if they aren’t confident/ life is masquerading, people are guilty / life in disguise is easier to live”.

It seems that this song is more up-to-date today than it was back then. There is only one thing that should be changed in this 2.0 version – to replace the word “masquerade” by the word “marketing”. Try it yourself and sing it. Don’t you recognize yourself in it? Don’t worry, that’s normal, because we already do it and it works well. More and more we use masks & moods to post on Facebooks, Instagrams and Twitters of this world. Many of us have thus created their digital avatars who now live in the new world, more intense than ever before.”

So Kevin Spacey didn’t do anything new. He only started walking along a well-worn path. Perhaps, when he saw how much this video is being watched, he started to sing to himself “Life is a marketing, people are guilty / life in disguise is easier to live”.

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