No one cares about media self-righteousness

Anna Rawhiti-Connell tells media bosses to get a grip - no one cares if an advertisement took a dig at you

I’m re-watching one of the greatest TV shows of all time, The Sopranos, and it’s reintroduced all that delicious New Jersey mob family language into my vernacular. I’ve been scouting the horizon for turf wars so I can talk about people having ‘beef’.

I got more than I bargained for this week with a media-on-media beef. As with all media news, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to have no idea what I’m talking about. For the sake of this column, I’ll briefly outline it: RNZ has been running some advertising that has made some other media outlets angry and disappointed.

The ads, running in outdoor spots and online, imply you can find premium journalism at RNZ without having to encounter ads, or pay for it via a subscription.

It’s an attempt to point out the unique selling point of publicly funded media. It’s also a clear bop on the nose aimed at commercial media, and it’s prompted commercial media to cry foul. Loudly and very dramatically. The advertising campaign has been described as "vicious", "wrong-headed", an "attack" and the "opening salvo in a war".

In. A. War.

I say this with love and understanding, but please, get a grip.

The only reason I’m holding this bit of meat to the flame some more is because it highlights an introspection and sense of entitlement within the media that’s hampering its ability to convince people of its value. And that is a problem.

Both the RNZ ads and the strategically mounted offensive against them are predicated on the mistaken belief that the majority of people are interested in media as a topic and that the old pre-internet, paternalistic arguments about why the media is extremely, incredibly important still hold sway.

If the job of the RNZ ads was to piss off executives at other media companies, job done. If the job of the response to them was to try and position commercial media as the poor cousin to the merged TVNZ/RNZ entity in the eyes of government, box maybe half ticked.

If both were meant to ‘convince more people of the value of what we do in an environment where our output could be considered ubiquitous and we can’t just assume people care or need us’ then they both fail on those counts.

The ads in question assume too much about what the public know about the media landscape. Any ad campaign that takes aim at your competitors is risky because it relies on the audience having enough knowledge of both you and your competitors to make sense of the ads. The reference to ‘premium’ as a dig at the NZ Herald’s paywall in one of the ads is a reference I imagine would be lost on most people.

When your product is ubiquitous or similar to that of your competitors’, your marketing either needs to build a lot of love for you, (something competitor attack ads seldom achieve because they have negative connotations), or you’ve got to convince people that there is added value or utility in your offering. Ultimately the new RNZ ads don’t tell me why I should tune in or switch stations. They don’t tell me how my life will be better if I do. They don’t convince me of their value.

As for the response to the ads, I can understand the levels of passion, but the ability the media have to make news about themselves is not always a good thing as far as the long-term interests of the industry go.

Try for a moment and imagine any other industry where there would be this volume of jargon-heavy, righteously entitled public slanging about some ads.

Try and objectively think about whether you’d have sympathy for the players in this kind of public fight if it were any other industry. Whether this type of spat would engender any warm feelings towards the players involved. Any future loyalty or support.

Try and think about any other massively disrupted industry that’s figured out they’re not automatically entitled to people’s attention and money anymore, that their value to people and their position as ‘trustworthy’ is not just assumed or given, and that the world has changed and so, too, must they.

It’s hard to imagine that in any other industry, part of this strategy would be ‘starting and parading public spats’.

Imagine them then trying to engender sympathy, win hearts and minds, get people to choose them over others and grow alternative and long-term revenue streams.

Imagine if they stopped telling you this was because they were dying and instead told you why what they do is valuable. To you. To every single person. Every single day.

That you and your contribution to their alternative and long-term revenue streams mattered to them.

Imagine if they stopped operating like they were entitled to your attention and your money and started showing you why they deserved it.

Imagine if they stopped to think about what their customers might think of them before tracking industry fights through your newsfeed.

Imagine if they didn’t assume you had any cares to spare about the media landscape or Facebook or Google or any of the other poisonous evil forces you use on a daily basis.

Imagine if they stopped using words like ‘war’ to describe minor competitor beef.

Nobody wants to see media punching each other out. Very few people are interested in the in-fighting. None of that is relevant to the everyday news consumer.

You know what is relevant? News.

Focus on that, instead of serving up more beef. I know I’ve rather lost my appetite for it.

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