Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bad Sports: A Marketing Story

CBS Sports broadcast man Greg Gumbel (brother of the more famous Bryant of NBC, CBS, and HBO fame) alleges that he was tricked into making intros for infomercials under false pretenses. This a rather bold scam, swindling a celebrity into making what he thinks is a series of internet educational videos to cobble into direct marketing advertisements. The alleged culprit, Paul Douglas Scott (owner of 'Encore Television Group Inc'), is innocent until proven guilty, as far as the law is concerned, of course. Please forgive that O'Riley-esque turn of phrase, but I am strongly inclined to believe Gumbel in this case. Gumbel is suing over the alleged fraud, and the main thrust of his suit (though unspecified monetary damages are mentioned as well) is simply getting the offending material out of circulation.

Normally I rail against the kind of fraud and exploitation committed by big corporations, rather than little incidents like this. However, the stones involved in perpetrating a fraud like this takes me by surprise. Nor is this inconsistent with my one of my chief indictments of our modern pseudocapitalism... this kind of behavior is an attempt to use trickery to gain an advantage in manipulating the allegedly 'free' market. Celebrity endorsers are one part of a core component of the corporate-commercialist economy: the huge industry in deliberately manipulating consumers to continue to consume regardless of their genuine best interests. This, in the form of the commercial media, is perhaps the biggest industry in the nation and it produces nothing, creates no wealth. It is perhaps only the natural extension of an industry based on varying degrees of deceit that such frauds should occur. It could even be called inevitable. After all, an endorser will be so much more sincere in his deception of the target audience if he himself is deceived into believing he is doing something 'sincere.'

I hope that Gumbel wins his lawsuit, but it is likely that (despite the apparently obvious elaborate fraud of this incident) Scott has not broken any criminal codes. This may be shocking, as Greg Gumbel was clearly defrauded of his self-respect and his confidence in his integrity, but criminal fraud generally requires a monetary profit from the swindle. Damages in the lawsuit may be very minimal, if a judge decides that the damage done to Mr. Gumbel does not justify significant monetary compensation. So Paul could get off very near 'Scott' free even if Gumbel wins his lawsuit. It is, of course, also possible that the judge could decide the damage to Gumbel's reputation justifies punitive damages... but Scott has already pulled the phone number from his company website and I am betting the company website will disappear too if this continues. Even with a judgement in his favor, Gumbel may not be able to collect anything.

This will serve as one more proof that, in modern American culture, the truth matters very little. Paul Scott's actions may have been unethical, by the standards of the advertising industry, but hardly shocking in an entire industry based on the notion of fungible truth. What is more, in many ways the commercial media (of which Scott represents a distinctly bent cog, small he may be) has been instilling a culture based on fungible truth. Political and business ethics are eroding, journalism is being subverted to just another means of marketing, and conspiratorial fantasy about education, race relations, and poverty (from both the socialist left and the libertarian right) can appear all too plausible set against our corporate commercialist society. One doesn't have to believe John Taylor Gatto's conspiracy theories on education are genuinely based on fact to see how they are frighteningly convincing they can be. Nor does one really have to wonder why some give credence to the 9/11 Truth Movement. The media tries to program us in so many ways every day, to make a buck, that paranoid fantasy becomes so very plausible. The deep, dark conspiracies may not be real... but many of the motives and goals ascribed to those conspiracies can be found without a great deal of difficulty. Schools may not be in horrid shape because of conspiracy, but people clearly benefit from the poor shape American education is in. Dick Cheney may not have orchestrated 9/11, but he clearly used it for maximum advantage.

We need to start putting a value on genuine facts, at every level of our society, or things will only get worse.

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