One of my favorites in the blogosphere is Brand Autopsy. Great stuff, consistently presented. A recent article, “Bad Profits Dissected“, discussed the difference between “good profits”, which come from delighting your customers, and “bad profits”, which come from dinging them for not reading the fine print. Recent headlines suggest a third option: heinous profits.
“I’m for freedom of speech but… Grand Theft Auto is heinous. The people who put it together should be stoned in the street.” This, from Michael Wilbon on Pardon the Interruption, the show he shares with Tony Kornheiser. Michael defined heinous pretty well in context here.
If OJ is being paid for doing a televised blow-by-blow of how he (may have) killed his wife and her friend in support of his soon-to-be-released book on the same subject, this qualifies as “heinous profits”. I won’t delve into the legalities of double indemnity or the ability of plaintiffs to seize profits, because I’m not a lawyer. But this raises a marketing issue and thus is something that I feel qualified and compelled to discuss.
So here’s my question: what role should the business community play in matters of right and wrong? Said another way, what do we owe our customers? A publishing house is profiting from the sale of this book. They are paying money to a man found liable in court of killing two people. Did I hear $3.5 million? Fox News is broadcasting an interview about the book as a special and is collecting advertising revenues for doing so.
What flavor does this leave with you with? Squirm all you want, but Bill O’Reilly is right — if this happens, we as a culture are one Ryan Seacrest-hosted televised execution away from the fall of the Roman empire.
If you were a bookseller, how would you react to this? Would you sell this book and say, “let the market decide”? Would you take a stand and say, “of the thousands of titles we’re going to sell this year, this one isn’t something we want to associate ourselves with.” Would you sell the book and donate profits to any one of many different victim’s rights groups? Would you pull the book quietly and simply duck the issue entirely?
If you were a local Fox affiliate, would you air the special? Or would you run “It’s a Wonderful Life” a few times instead?
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> YOU MAY NEVER HAVE TO FACE THIS ISSUE. BUT PROFITING FROM THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS AND REWARDING THE PERPETRATORS HAS CONSEQUENCES FOR YOUR BRAND AND YOUR CAREER. I’LL LEAVE ALL METAPHYSICAL REFERENCES OUT FOR NOT, BUT CHECK WITH JUDITH REGAN LATER.
> ARE YOU LICENSING, PAYING FOR RIGHTS, PROMOTING, OR EVEN SUPPORTING SOMEONE FOR MUTUAL FINANCIAL GAIN PURELY BASED ON THE LOUSY THINGS THEY’VE DONE IN THEIR LIVES? WATCH OUT. THIS THING CALLED ‘THE INTERNET’ WILL FIND YOU.
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I don’t know where you, dear CMO, stand on issues like these, but avoiding the bad kind of controversy and keeping your brand in your market’s good graces probably fall high on your priority list.
If this were my decision, I’d choose not to sell this book and I’d be vocal to my shareholders, partners and customers as to why. I’d wouldn’t rant or rave about right or wrong; I’d just be postive and upbeat and say, “hey, we have hundreds — thousands! –of great new books out this week, from Le Carre to Michael Critchton to Stephen King, but we’re not selling this one. We hope you understand. And get free shipping this week on orders of $50 or more!”
Yes, this begs the question of where you draw the line as a content distributor — if OJ is no good to sell, are you OK with any of the current spate of rappers who have long histories of violence and time spent behind bars? Are you OK with the memoirs of porn stars and others on the less glamorous side of our culture? In this case, yes — I’m OK with all these things, but not OJ. But show me a rapper producing an album describing how he murdered someone after being acquitted in an exceptionally poorly managed prosecution and then profiting from it while refusing to pay the civil penalties awarded to the survivors in a court of law, and bam — you can park that album next to OJ’s book in the dumpster.
I’m all for letting the market decide what to do, but I don’t cede my judgement to others. I’ll let the market buy it elsewhere, thanks. You may disagree. Call me old fashioned. But that’s just me.
Copyright (c) 2006 Stephen Denny
[You know, it’s interesting that since first penning this piece a week ago, Drudge has come out with a round-up of what’s happening in the ecosystem surrounding this televised program and the book, itself. I understand that a large number of Fox affiliates — not owned by Fox — have opted not to show the special. I haven’t heard anything from the channel but notice that Amazon has the book on pre-order at present. I’d really like to know what, if any, conversations took place internally about this. Who knows.
It’s amazing that after all these years — I remember coming home from work so I could hear the verdict announced live on TV — how worked up I still get over this.]
thank YOU for penning this piece. This has been weighing on me for a week and you summmed up what’s wrong with it ethically and from a marketing angle.
Not to mention how we look to other countries who judge us by our business choices. Ugh. It shows such a desperate measure on the part of the publisher–and my hope is that it has tremendously poor consequences for them so as to provide a cautionary tale to others.
ck: thanks for your note. This is a polarizing question for many with whom I’ve spoken.
Our choices brand us — after all, one of the key issues we face when developing robust branding is, “who am I NOT?” and consequently, “what am I willing to walk away from”. I’m curious to know which brands will do what, as a result. Let’s stay tuned…
Hopefully, this will end up well. But I’m not optimistic.
I’ve been focusing a lot lately on “meaningful” income and this example just goes to unethical.
I never thought about it this way, as you say: “who am I NOT?”
Great thinking. I’m going to promote this over at my blog as I’d like more people to weigh in on this. Should be up in a couple hours. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting.
Thanks for a wonderfully written piece. I’m not sure I can say anything about the OJ spectacle that hasn’t been said before. In the long run I don’t think this will be good business. Right now people are intoxicated by morbid curiosity to the detriment of several suffering families.
The whole thing stinks. It makes me sad and angry. My only hope is that when all is said and done—PR firms, Marketers and Publishers (not to mention consumers) will look back at this and say “no—it wasn’t worth it. The profit wasn’t worth the damage.
Ugh. The human race has seen better days.
NEW YORK — News Corp., the parent company of book publisher HarperCollins and the FOX network, has canceled publication of the O.J. Simpson book and television special “If I Did It.”
“I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,” said Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. chairman. “We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.”
See? All you have to do is post a blog entry or two and everything figures itself out in short order… or something…
What great news.
I now know what I’m thankful for this week.
Hooray! Phew! My faith is restored in the voice of the public being heard again…and your thought leadership in Profiting Badly serves as a guide for many companies.
When you sent me the e-mail alerting me to the no-go decision my eyes just welled up with relief for the victim’s families.
Thank you for pushing this positive agenda. Leave blood money on the table folks–or face our ire.
“One of the nation’s largest superstore chains, Borders Group Inc., said last week it would donate any profits on the book to charity…”
“If I Did It” cracked the top 20 of Amazon.com last weekend, but by Monday afternoon, at the time its cancellation had been announced, the book had fallen to No. 51.”
Good for Borders.
Thank you for this post. This is excellent. Your post lead to CK’s post which lead to my comment there; (I hope you don’t mind that I cut and paste it here)
CK- Excellent post. It does prove that we have some small sphere of influence, though we are undoubtedly one small voice that has joined with a much larger chorus of voices. We’re part of the solution though and that counts for soemthing.
David- Interesting comments; “They should a) run Judith Regan out of town on a rail, b)make a BIG corporate donation to some battered women organization, and c) apologize to the American public for even thinking of doing what they almost did.”
But what would that prove? Nothing really. Fox isn’t sorry. Not one little bit. They are still profiting from this. They were talked about again and they stirred up more curiosity and controversy. They could spend the time and money to say they are sorry, but I would bet my entire ass that they aren’t sorry even the tiniest little bit. It’d just be insincere blood money. The problem is a much larger one that stems from our society’s insatiable appetite for sensationalist news. Tom and Katie getting married and having the entire world watch their every move is a prime example. It’s just a wedding people!
It is precisely books and TV deals like this that help to give marketers a bad name in the public eye. Somebody thought, “this is gonna be huge!” And they were right, just the wrong huge. I’m glad that so many of us are appalled by their actions. Hopefully we can help to steer ideas away.
As marketers, but also as a society, we all need to know when to turn the TV off and not watch or simply say, “no, I can’t and won’t do that.”
Thank God the whole thing worked itself out, to some degree. I just feel for the victim’s families. This isn’t over for them yet and they deserve for it to be.
Again Stephen, excellent post. Collectively, we can all make a difference and hopefully inact change.
and congrats to Tim “masiguy’s” 1-year blog b-day today:
Between birthdays and battling the good fight it’s a wonder any of us got any work done (I did meet my deadline…sorta).
Stephen: I look to you from here on out to keep our C-level Execs in line. Counting on ya.