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.]