Thursday, January 29, 2009

Birds of a feather...

I'm struggling to work out a sensible rationale for the media's fawning coverage of Naked's duplicitous advertising. Were I more cynical, I'd guess that any tactic that boosts advertising is seen in a positive light by old-media struggling in financial circumstances. Equally likely, is the fact that it's just good copy.

The latest angle is reports, by Naked, that their analysis of the feedback confirms it's ok to lie to consumers. Too harsh? I don't think so. I wonder if the media would be so forgiving if an oil company was lying to consumers? A tobacco company? Would the news media be so forgiving if government misled them?

Apologists for this approach rely on the argument that no one cares or is harmed, but I think that's simply not true (and Naked's arguments to the contrary can be easily dismissed as partial) even if it's true in this instance. What of the efficacy of journalism, news media and advertising, are they not harmed (the latter may be beyond repair)? What of the fact that, at least prima facie, a breach of the Fair Trading Act has occurred? Can this be excused simply because YouTube commenters say it's ok? That's a flimsy and convenient argument.

If this deceitful tactic is tolerated, expect more and more faux-news and less and less critical and independent journalism. The incentives are clear; why pay for an advertisement if you can get free news media coverage. Are the media complicit? I'm certainly aware that smaller papers will offer news coverage as part of an advertising package. Small beer though it might be, it is neverthless an insidious erosion of consumer rights and should be opposed as such.

The flippant and dismissive attitude of Naked and its supporters could be either plain naivety or a quite deliberate attempt to obfuscate. Again, I'm not sure which.

Let's see what MediaWatch make of this as I've sent this 'tip-off':

Is the news media's fawning coverage of Naked's deceitful campaign to promote Witchery's clothing a sign that consumer standards are under new threat? Could the media coverage be linked to a favourable advertising deal? As we now know Heidi's lost love is a Disney-inspired fabrication, have Naked and Witchery not breached section 42 (1) of the Fair Trading Act which forbids "misleading or deceptive" practice?

This kind of astro-turfing erodes consumer confidence and undermines the efficacy of consumer protection laws. It appears to be tolerated because it's fun and not intended to harm. I wonder if Country Road feel so ambivalent?

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