“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” Mark Twain
Some weeks are slow in the news business. You know it’s slow when the networks start eating their own kind. Usually they go after the weak, disabled, and stupid. This time it was Bill O’Reilly, known for his own form of cannibalism when the time is right. Fifty advertisers, including Mercedes-Benz, Advil and Coldwell Banker, pulled their advertising after learning Fox paid over $13 million to settle O’Reilly’s sexual harassment charges. He’s a hog, and journalists love hogs. Clients don’t, unfortunately, and that could cost O’Reilly.
The amazing thing is, according to Crowdtap CEO Matt Britton, this flight of clients wasn’t caused by boycotts. Nobody said a thing until the media showed signs of cannibalizing themselves and President Trump called O’Reilly “a good person.” Both men need serious counseling, even if one’s the president and the other generated over $116 million in ad revenue last year alone. Love may be blind, but so are networks. Blindness is second only to love when it comes to money—and, I guess, puppies.
Fox’s love for Bill remains strong, however, which is no surprise. “Fox’s audience is already built on resisting feminism and complaints,” said Jay Rosen, media critic and journalism professor at New York University. “Fox’s journalism is often reckless so its hosts can be, too.”
It’s amazing how loyal networks can be, even when the advertisers aren’t. Top CEOs don’t even fret about mistakes anymore. They hire people to make them go away. Public relations used to be about putting out good performance reports. Now they put out fires and hogs laugh hysterically.
Media experts say O’Reilly could survive all this. It’s not that he’s terribly skilled at deflection, he’s simply lucky. Just when you thought he was ready for the fryer, along comes Pepsi with the scabbiest commercial of all time. If the public relations folks were hands over heels trying to save O’Reilly, it was nothing compared to Pepsi. They went straight to atoning.
“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” Pepsi stated on Wednesday. “We didn’t intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
You have to wonder how something like this could happen. Pepsi is known for being very careful in the media. They even fired their spokesman, Ludacris, after O’Reilly accused the rapper of “degrading women.” O’Reilly took all the credit, calling it a morals beef, although he was in court not long after that on his own sexual harassment charge. Needless to say, Ludacris turned out a hit song called “Number One Spot,” with the words “…kiss the plaintiff and the wifey.”
So how could Pepsi earn the irk and ire of so many people? Probably the same way Bill O’Reilly did. Hogs stick together. Like Fox, Pepsi likes to stay in their own “globe.” They believe the world outside is exactly like them, meaning shallow and lacking any manner of social skills. What they think makes for good advertising is really a hog’s pen of misdirection.
Obviously, good taste went out the window right from the start. Pepsi was accused of “appropriating a nationwide protest movement” resulting in police shootings. Even worse, they used Kendall Jenner who once mistook a protest rally for her own fan club. Forget that she’s never been the slightest bit political. She’s still got 77 million Instagram followers and Pepsi figured that’s all it took. So there’s Kendall, throwing off her blonde wig, fist bumping an Indian cellist, and then handing a can of Pepsi to a cop.
Who could have a problem with that, other than a few million members of Black Lives Matter. “We don’t have ice buckets filled with Pepsi at our rallies,” one black woman pointed out. “And we don’t go handing out cans of pop to cops when they’re holding pepper spray.”
All good points, and certainly something Pepsi overlooked. Like I said, they live in their own “globe.” They even took their advertising in-house, a silly mistake in itself. When advertising goes in-house, it’s a sorority. Nobody’s going to tell you your commercial could start a race riot. They’re probably still wandering around their offices now, wondering why they lost their parking spots and executive washroom privileges.
You can imagine O’Reilly going on air, saying it’s a sad day when a “young, pure white girl like Kendall Jenner,” has to suffer scorn and ridicule. “What’s America come to when we can’t protect the rich and innocent? And who loves her Mercedes-Benz more than Kendall Jenner?”
Does Kendall Jenner actually have a Mercedes-Benz? It doesn’t matter. When the riot dust settles, O’Reilly will keep his time slot, and Pepsi will eventually clean up their mess. “Okay,” they’ll say, “I guess we’d better avoid protests and stuff. I still think Kendall Jenner was a good move. We’ve got seventy-seven million Instagram followers drinking Pepsi now.”
Well, maybe they do, but it’s more likely those followers are wondering why real protests don’t have buckets of Pepsi. Or, more importantly, why Kendall was interested in a cellist. Doesn’t she only go out with athletes and rappers like her sisters?
I think everyone’s confused at this point — including Kendall Jenner and most of the fist-bumping cast. It seems you can’t have a whitebread, tone-deaf, model-turned-protester commerical, without someone being offended. And they might have a point. We certainly didn’t have this kind of scrutiny back in the old days. Then again, we knew where to draw the line. Nobody ran commercials with Bill Cosby standing on the Washington Memorial steps saying, “I have a dream…” and holding up a Pepsi.
Then again, we didn’t have Bill O’Reilly back then, either. He came along when America needed him, when he promised to tell it like it is — only he didn’t. Maybe that’s the great thing about slow news weeks. You see who’s left at the trough. This time it was O’Reilly, Jenner and Pepsi. Fortunately, their troubles will go away with the summer releases. That’s when the happiest are blind, hogs laugh and sexual harassment cases are laid to rest.
We don’t stay mad for long.
Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details.