Blog : Posts tagged with 'publicity'

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Oversized and overpublicised

In which we get annoyed by the media and press releases


The other day, various news media carried the story that Ryanair, the world’s most controversial airline, was planning to charge fat people extra. Because that was, apparently, what its customers wanted. They’d been polling and everything.

Personally, I was surprised they hadn’t done it earlier. After all, they’ve already charged the physically disabled extra, so one more act of discrimination is hardly a surprise. It’s a small step, too, from charging per pound of luggage to charging per pound of flesh. I’ve never flown with them; and, because of policies like this, I’m never going to, so I don’t particularly care what they try to charge people. At least, until the day that other airlines start to think: “well, Ryanair can get away with it, why don’t we?”

What annoyed me, though, was the media’s reaction to what is, as yet, nothing more than a press release and a publicity stunt. The Guardian said as much in its article linked above; the rest of the media didn’t seem to care. BBC News was inviting people to phone in and text with their reactions; I wanted to say: “why are you giving them the publicity?” It’s nothing but cheap advertising for a firm who doesn’t really deserve it.

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The Artist’s Dilemma

In which we discuss music and advertising


It’s a question that must come to every artist and musician who starts to get successful. Sell out, or not sell out? And what is “selling out” anyway? What about advertising? Do you license your music for use in advertising, knowing you’ll effectively lose control over how it’s presented?1 Maintain artistic integrity, or go for the money? There are some bands whose oeuvre will, forevermore, be thought of as “oh, it’s that song off that advert, you know, that one for thingy, that stuff.” – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra being a prime example.2

I was rather pleased when I was idly watching late-night telly the other month, and a bouncy Casiolike tune popped up in the ad-break. It was “Summer’s Gone”, an early track by a very good (and little-known) Scottish band, Aberfeldy. if you want to track it down, it’s on their first album, Young Forever, released by Rough Trade.3 Good to hear a little-known band on the telly; good to think they’ll be getting some money for it.

Less good, though, to see that it was being used to advertise an online gambling company. If I was Riley Briggs – the chap who formed the band and wrote the song – I’m not sure I’d be happy about that. I wouldn’t want my music to be used that way. I wouldn’t want to be associated with gambling; the only saving grace being, 99.3%4 of the people who see the advert will never have heard of the band.5 The song will seep into their memories without them really knowing it, until they hear it again by some offchance on the radio and think: hang on, don’t I know this from somewhere. It’s a hard call. Do you take the money and the airplay, or do you take the high moral stance? I’m glad it’s not a question I’ve had to face yet in life. What would you do?

1: Or, for that matter, for TV. Belle and Sebastian, another of my favourite bands, have been used many times over the years as TV and soundtrack filler material; most famously, the title track from their third album The Boy With The Arab Strap was used, without lyrics, as the theme music of the Bristol-set comedy-drama series Teachers. I’m sure I recall, when the band were asked, saying that they weren’t able to say yes or no to that or any other specific TV use of the music; they’d granted a blanket license and that was that. On the other hand, unsurprisingly for a band with a socialist and Presbyterian background, they don’t (I think) let their music be used in advertising.

2: PCO might have been helped slightly by the death of MFI, who used their well-known “Music For A Found Harmonium”; I doubt, though, that anyone now who hears their best-known track “Telephone And Rubber Band” thinks of the band first. The Jesus And Mary Chain might be heading this way – we’ve heard “Just Like Honey” an awful lot on TV lately, most strangely as incidental music on Hollyoaks.

3: and it must have come out a long, long time ago now, going by where I lived when I bought it. For that matter, their second album – released just before Rough Trade dropped them – must also be a few years old, because I picked it up in Avalanche Records on my last trip to Glasgow.

4: If there’s one thing I learned from the vegetarian food roadshow we went to, it’s to use invented and ridiculously precise statistics with panache and confidence.

5: According to that famous encyclopaedia, the same song has been used to advertise Diet Coke in the USA. So I’d bet that by far the vast majority of people worldwide who have heard an Aberfeldy song, have heard that song, on an advert.

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It’s Only Natural

In which we are careful not to confuse “natural” and “beneficial”


Two things struck me about the coverage yesterday of Patricia Tabram‘s drugs conviction. Tabram, in case you didn’t see the news, is the Northumberland woman convicted of growing cannabis for medical reasons. She likes to claim that her conviction is part of a grand struggle for rights, like the right of everyone to vote, which is over-egging her pudding a little. She’s certainly been using her conviction as part of a broad political campaign,* but that’s about as far as the similarities go.

Anyway, interviewed on Radio 4 last night, she said something along the lines of: cannabis is good medicine because it’s natural. Prescription drugs are not because they’re full of chemicals.** Which, of course, is a load of nonsense. Some people like to use the word “chemicals” as if it’s some dark, lurking evil, and like to imply that anything grown on a plant is healthy and implicitly Good For You. Despite this, you rarely find them tucking into a nice meal of potato fruit and yew berries.*** How many different chemicals are in your average pill? A handful. How many different chemicals are in a marijuana leaf? Thousands.

Tabram also said that prescription medicine made her feel suicidal, but cannabis had no side-effects at all. That’s her experience, though. Everyone has different side-effects to any sort of drug, “natural” or otherwise; I’ve known several people who have had bad psychological reactions to cannabis. It may be relatively innocuous, but just because you’re fine with it doesn’t mean the person next to you will be. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.

* Standing against Peter Hain at the last general election, appearing on the telly a lot, trying to get people to call her “the cannabis gran”, that sort of thing. I had second thoughts about mentioning her here, because I don’t like giving publicity to publicity-seekers, but frankly this blog is a drop in the ocean.

** Not her exact words, but that was the message she was trying to give.

*** I shouldn’t need to say this, but potato fruit are rather poisonous, and yew seeds are very poisonous indeed.

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Piano, forte

In which music is found in a surprising place


In the news today: a piano has been found on top of Ben Nevis. Whether this is really news, and whether noone knew about it before now, is rather debatable,* but at least the mountain’s owners will be pleased with all the publicity.

Maybe the Ben Nevis litter-pickers should turn their attention to Snowdonia instead. There’s a rumour that some evil prankster dumped an ugly café near the summit of Snowdon in the distant past, but noone has ever managed to find it since.

* you have to read a long way down those links to get to the debatable and/or piano-related bits

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Torn curtain

In which we wonder about the motives behind sacrifice


As it’s Good Friday, good Christians everywhere should be eating fish and following the Stations Of The Cross. I’m not any sort of Christian, good or bad, but even so it’s a good day to think about self-sacrifice for The Cause, whatever that happens to be.

Of course, whether that’s what Jesus did is a moot point. It’s debatable whether the crucifixion even happened; even if you believe it did, was it more an act of self-sacrifice or self-promotion? An awful lot of Jesus’s acts in Scripture have an air of deliberate planning about them. The prophets had said: the Messiah will go out and do X; therefore, Jesus went ahead and did those things. He was like some modern evangelicals and millenarians, deliberately trying to push history into a sudden new phase by carrying out others’ prophecy.

So, self-sacrifice, self-advancement or self-promotion? You could ask the same question about Malcolm Kendall-Smith, dismissed from the RAF and sent to prison yesterday after he declared that as he thought the Iraq was illegal, he would not fight in it. The judges at his court-martial, however, ruled that by the time he received his orders the legality or otherwise of the original invasion was irrelevant.*

Kendall-Smith has sacrificed himself, and his career – he said himself that the RAF was one of the great loves of his life. The judge, however, accused him of being more interested in self-promotion: of trying to make himself into a martyr for the cause. I’m not in a position to judge this myself: my own best guess is that he wasn’t, but he should have realised that that accusation would be made. Whichever is closer to the truth, it’s a strangely apt story to appear in the headlines on Good Friday.

* The Guardian article suggests in one paragraph that the judge ruled that members of the services aren’t allowed to dispute something’s legality: if the government says something is legal, those orders must be followed. However, that wasn’t something that the ruling itself relied on.

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Crystal balls

In which Mario Reading tries to predict the future, and fails


Today, author Mario Reading is in the news. Lucky for Mario Reading, because it gives him a chance to plug advertise his new book, a new translation and interpretation of Nostradamus. It’s the book, in fact, that’s newsworthy. It claims that in a couple of years’ time, someone will try to assassinate George Bush, and if they are successful he will be succeeded by his brother, who will take revenge with terrible results. Reading’s American distributors are rather upset about the prophecy – you’d think he would have seen the fuss coming.*

Reading himself seems very concerned that people should realise that you can’t blame him for what Nostradamus wrote. Interviewed on More4 News about the death of George Bush, he said:

This is Nostradamus predicting this, not me, I hasten to add.

See, I can spot a possible flaw here right away. I haven’t read his book,** but there’s a long, proud history of reinterpreting Nostradamus. Most could be summarised as:

This is me predicting this, based on a wild reinterpretation of a rather vague stanza of verse.

Given that many people have gone before him and failed, I’m rather doubtful as to what Reading’s prediction hit rate will be. However, given the timescale here, we don’t have to wait too long. In three years’ time, hopefully I’ll remember writing this. And if nobody’s tried to kill George Bush by then, I’ll try to remember to post an update. A rather sardonic one.

* Sorry, that joke is compulsary in any piece of writing that mentions Nostradamus. If I hadn’t made it, I would have been tied down and spanked.

** Well, obviously: it hasn’t been published yet

Update, three years later: hah, when I wrote this, I almost certainly didn’t realise that the next presidential inauguration ceremony would be three years later to the day.

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