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Archive for the ‘MoveOn.org’ Category

Human methane release and the accompanying sonic vibrations normally invoke embarassment, joviality and good-natured finger-pointing. However, every culture also has certain places or circumstances where cutting the cheese violates strict social norms. In Finland, that place would be the sauna when others are present.

The equivalent behavior in the print media world would be discussing publicly the mechanisms and conditions under which a publisher grants discounts to buyers of ad space.

The GOP attack on MoveOn.org’s ad knocking four-star Army General David Petraeus inadvertantly (at least at first) wanders into what is normally a safe space in publishing. After all, there is no problem, First Amendment or otherwise, with asking whether the ad constitutes a malicious attack that defames a public figure. What is inappropriate is that the KooKoo People have made MoveOn.org’s receipt of a discount for placing the ad an issue. If we start public attacks on sacred business secrets we could we see a deconstructionist fad that exposes the core trade practices of everybody from tax lawyers to defense contractors.

 Every magazine and newspaper, including the NY Times, publishes a rate card. These are the magazine’s official retail rates for space (and they are rarely cheap).  A 15% part of that rate is typically shared with larger ad agencies, who may in turn keep that part of the ad buy or refund a part of the provision to the customer if there is an agreement. Customers that pay the full retail price typically get treated very well and usually are automatically given other perks. Otherwise, the rate card simply sets the ground rules in the battle to buy and sell media space. Smaller buyers often turn to media buyers who consolidate large blocks of advertising to get a special rate. The big buyer may get, say, a 50% discount, then turn around and share 20% with their clients. That is exercise of the same volume buying power Wal-Mart uses on its suppliers. There is also opportunistic buying. Here, and for some reason this business is often conducted by under-30 females, the seller and buyer first nonverbally communicate by providing evidence of ownership or control of certain commodity and production capital fetishes, then the buyer conditions the offer with a question like “Can I get that for less?” Then the horse-trade is on to see who blinks first on ad placement and price on campaigns that may span TV, radio and print in multiple markets. Finally, there are companies that are so big they have an in-house ad department that negotiates ads directly with each magazine. As they are the lifeblood of the publisher, they will simply hammer on price and placement until they get what they want. My sense is that MoveOn.org has become a large enough media buyer to be able to negotiate an ad buy with the NY Times without outside help.

Despite the fantasy that NY Times advertising sales department is in cahoots with MoveOn.org to get Petraeus, the reality is that the content of the ad likely never entered into the negotiation. Unfortunately, the NY Times editorial staff cannot really respond honestly to the sheer silliness of the attack as it they’d have to reveal how the sausage is made. Instead, NY Times editor Clark Hoyt gives the rather feeble response that:

The Times bends over backward to accommodate advocacy ads, including ads from groups with which the newspaper disagrees editorially. 

 The editorial department probably never even knew the ad had been bought until they saw the printed paper. However, the NY Times detractors surely sensed they’d hit a sore point when they mentioned ad rates, demonstrating in the process they have no idea how media works. Everybody is now going to expect a “discount” when they buy as space from the NY Times, which will hurt ad agencies, advertisers and readers alike.  The publisher, unfortunately, will just have to bear this sauna fart.

Update: The House today also took time to condemn the ad. Interestingly, John Armor, a conservative lawyer, argues the ad discount constituted a “gift” to MoveOn, which must have made publishers everywhere wince yet again. In fact, there is absolutely no evidence that the paper had a political motive in granting a discount for the ad. The claim is simply another iteration of the conservative sentiment that the paper has a liberal bias. Indeed, the discount was based on a condition that MoveOn to accept that the ad would run on the nearest day to their desired run-day when space came available. Now MoveOn has belatedly paid the full price for the ad — a real gift to the NY Times as it dispells the notion that a discount should be expected for any political ad.

Yet now we have an large majorities in Congress supporting a false linkage; here that political content motivated a discount. Heaven forbid that Congress put their weight behind other false linkages.

The NY Times obviously would have refused the ad if they thought it defamatory and opened them to republisher liability. But we all know nobody will ever file a libel suit against MoveOn for the ad because it is not defamatory. And we also know Congress will never spend a second condemning the much harsher critique of General Petraeus by his boss, US Central Command head Admiral Bill Fallon

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George Orwell’s advice that writers “kill their darlings” to keep their writing fresh and honest applies doubly to advertising copywriters. This week, the US Senate, which will do just about anything to avoid dealing with serious matters at hand, like say, education, healthcare, or, I dunno, that Iraq thingy, was given nearly an entire day of free-for-all fun with MoveOn.org’s ad in the New York Times “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?, which in the end resulted in a non-binding resolution, introduced by class clown John Cornyn, condemning the ad. Good job, guys. Still, the real bad guy here was the copywriter. In his brief for the ad, he was undoubtedly told to keep hitting the “betrayal of trust” meme. Not surprisingly, two or three neuron bursts later, the headline had written itself. Brilliant! At that point, experience should have told the copywriter it was time to push “delete” and kill that darling. It wasn’t even a cheap pun; that would have simply read “General Betray-Us?” Instead, it was a labored pun.

No mo’ Shillin’ fo’ da Koalishun of da Willin’

Like Gen. William C. Westmoreland , who debased himself to prop up Nixon’s policy 40 years earlier, Petraeus is smart military confused as to where his loyalties belong. He understands he’s being sacrificed on the pyre of political expediency by his masters. Perhaps that is why he was honest enough to admit his masters expect to continue the occupation for at least another decade. (Although, I kid you not, there is a strand of conspiracy talk at the moment that Petraeus is being groomed for a 2012 White House run and this has his handlers are royally pissed he’s catching image flack so early on in the product roll-out. There is also the challenge to political copywriters of finding something that rhymes with “ass-kissing chickenshit”).

A Permanent State of War? Now there’s a headline that resurrects the ghost of Trotsky’s permanent revolution.

Besides, the headline could have been treated differently, say, in the form of a question to the General. If we need to spin the win, is it worth it? Or, what is it that 71% of Americans is not getting about this war?  

Or simply use an Army recruiting slogan. “It’s Army Strong, not Army Wrong.”  or “Army Strong … but not for long. Gen. Petraeus please don’t break our Army.”

Or some Dylan, “Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”
On the other hand, Americans love the infantile. Perhaps the next MoveOn.org ad will read: “Hey Cornyn, bite me!”

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