Using Media With Mindfulness

Update Jan. 14, 2016 Fame focus…don’t bite the hook!

Adding this excellent post by Ryan Holiday of the NY Observer calling out the recent Rolling Stone ratings raunch along with a slough of infamous examples of “shamelessness.”

It has a “spot on” tenor and a downright visceral headline: “This is the Hollowed-Out World That Outrage Culture Has Created” Yes. Yes, it has.

Baiting Outrage:

Periodic Updates to Original Article, “Push Up Bras For Tots”

Update May 11, 2015 Thankful to see the Game of 72 rhetoric quelled before being parlayed into a full social media parental panic, rightfully called out as a hypefest by the ever-balanced vigilance of NetFamilyNews and this time also the Global News in Canada! (hurray for media literacy curbing the outrage baiting!) But now I have another timely marketing ponderable…

Is the Disney/Marvel wipe-n-swipe of female superheroes a purposeful gender deletion for marketing buzz-bait to respond in ‘ok, we’ve listened’ merchandising maneuvers, or is this really a bunch of tools and fools making lousy decisions and being caught short and called out for them? See #IncludeTheGirls hashtag for a gazillion more examples of invisibility. Hmn…thoughts? 

Oct. 23, 2014 It’s Halloween season, so media will no doubt scare up some frighteningly surreal drug references in the toy aisle, like…I dunno…a meth lab Walter White Breaking Bad Doll at Toys R Us? Sheesh. Predictably now on ‘hiatus’ it was certainly not ‘the first gaffe’ in drug paraphernalia accoutrement…corporate gaffes are a dime bag a dozen…Remember Hersheys IceBreakers crack packs? The Cocaine in a Can concoction? Strawberry Quick? The Bratz dolls powdered candy wand and mirror? 

Don’t bite the hook, right?

Like a petulant child, marketing execs will keep ‘acting out’ to test limits as long as we indulge them.

Baiting outrage as a marketing strategy continues to succeed as long as the media blitz feeds the belly of the beast like a Little Shop of Horrors plant.

We MUST be mindful and flip the messages so that the ‘odds may be in our favor.’

Feb. 12, 2014  For all who have asked for ‘comments’ on the Barbie Sports Illustrated brand buzz boondoggle for baiting outrage, “follow the money trail.” (radio silence ensues)

Dec. 7, 2013 Extending the outrage baiting into a full blown ‘genre,’ authors Sarah Sobieraj and Jeffrey Barry share excellent views in Salon on how melodrama, mockery and misrepresentation play out in the journalism sphere with politics. Fabulous excerpts from their book “The Outrage Industry, Political Opinion, Media and the New Incivility”

Sept. 8, 2013 Here we go again: Outrage baiting for small biz sales via tacky PR blitz now abuzz on Jezebel and the interwebs. I suggest we all redirect the gender violence harm away from PR for this biz and toward productive use calling for any/all profits made from these products to be channeled to organizations like Pixel Project preventing violence against women (or children, men, anyone!) Shock schlock must end…

Aug. 26, 2013 Other than the intelligent conversations about race bubbling up from the sludge of the Video Music Awards/Miley mess, and the snarktastic media literacy satire so accurate it was surreal, it seems time to go radio silent to halt the hoopla on pop culture’s stranglehold on the public’s attention. Just sayin’…

Jan. 11, 2013 Ta-da! Journalists and media outlets are starting to boycott coverage of firms baiting outrage like the absurd ‘fembot’ objectification at Consumer Electronics Show 2013! The “NotBuyingIt” hashtag shows consumers/industry will triumph by cutting off coverage to stop this insanity. Progress on media mindfulness!

June 25, 2012 Why do corporations insist on bringing toxic products to market, then pull them due to public outrage or revise via monstrous attempts at goodwashing rather than do the upfront new product dev research to begin with? Think on that for awhile…

Original Post: April 5, 2011

“Amy, can you comment on this?”  That depends.

“I’m doing a follow up to the story about the padded push-up bikini tops for 7 year olds, do you know of any new-ish harmful products for girls?”

Um, yes I do.

“Will you send me a list of the worst ones you’ve seen lately?”

Nope, sure won’t.

In the first few seconds of outreach I can tell by the tonality of an inquiry whether someone is interested in reasoned analysis and in-depth coverage or Henny Penny “Sky is Falling” sensationalism simply to fan the flames of hype and hysteria and amp ratings/readership.

Baiting outrage (a marketing strategy that purposely ‘seeds’ cruddy cues, products, services, or political statements for a ‘bait-n-wait’ reaction) is becoming almost as ubiquitous as the lazy ‘sex sells’ lack of creativity coming out of advertising. In my ad agency days, that signaled an act of desperation and was a sure sign the creative was tanking and soon heading out the door…

We’re in such an attention economy with blaring headlines, competing media platforms, and Snookified tween trash-n-flash that it’s hard to snag a consumer’s attention for more than a nanosecond. (unless you’re Facebook, where folks linger to socialize; and the attention there should be ON Facebook, since they’re amidst Googlifying your ‘experience’ by serving you “real time” ads based on your word choice and conversations with friends, which puts the C in either creepy or convenient, depending on your mindset)

So what are some best practices for critical thinking and media mindfulness to ensure we’re not ‘aiding and abetting’ the very marketers disdained for ‘conduct unbecoming?’

Cathy Davidson of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and  Tech Advanced Collaboratory) wrote a great post based on some of the youth feedback at the Designing Learning Futures Conference and it rang very true for me…She’d asked one of the artists “What do you mean by ‘critical thinking’?” And this paraphrased definition is about the most eloquent, thoughtful articulation I’ve heard in all my media literacy days:

“It means being able to see where I am standing and also where you are.  It means having enough knowledge and research and discipline not to over-react if you disagree with me or if you dislike me or disrespect me but to pause, and think about who you are, and then help bridge the gap between us.”

Sublime. Defining critical thinking skills and then articulating why we need them in every arena of life, from technology and innovation to the various ways we interact in the digital sphere, has also helped me on the receiving end of media queries giving pause and using critical thinking too…The latter can pretty much be distilled into kidspeak as “stop, look and listen” when it comes to media, ensuring a relationship is synergistic and not a quick data dump that can be misconstrued and turned into a “use and lose” moment of regret.

Everytime I feel like media and marketing ploys are in my face with repeatedly surreal “Are you kidding me?” moments I try to take a deep breath and before I plunk down even a keystroke, I ask myself, “Who could be hurt/helped here? Will this draw attention away or toward my primary cause?”

Tufts’ new study on media and incivility confirms that the escalation of outrage, vitriol and shock tactics are not imagined (in politics there’s never been a shortage, but with new cases like the Gabby Giffords shooting, consequences are far too tragic not to be circumspect an err on the side of caution vs causation).

Parents and youth need to get in on the critical thinking skills too, since  entire campaigns have been launched with ‘bait and wait’ strategies using adults in the ‘OMG!’ role and teens in the ‘watch this reaction’ hook both playing their respective, predictable roles in the process.

Ironically, I find teens AND adults appear to remain almost alarmingly gullible and naive despite supposedly being “exposed to more media literacy channels” in this ‘always on’ age. But guess what? Some are completely incredulous, saying things like, “c’mon, companies wouldn’t do that.” Really?

From industry pros at AdFreak (Adweek’s blog)

“A mom’s disapproval has always been an accurate barometer of what is cool.”…

…”That’s the premise behind Electronic Arts’ new marketing campaign for the carnage-packed video game…The game’s promoters brought 200 mothers into a focus-group testing center and subjected them to the game’s goriest footage. The result is about what you’d expect, with much kvetching about “Who would make such a thing?”

Here’s another forum, with accolades of its brilliance and subheads that crow with self-satisfied glee:

“Watch conservative American mothers react to Visceral’s horror game”…

The EA concept is so transparent it manages to spoof the predictability of the dynamic itself in wink and nod microsites like “Your Mom Hates” for an extra snarky blow.

Baiting outrage IS a cynical sign of the times, and yet, sounding off is at least doing SOMEthing proactive, and sure beats silence or apathy in helpless, hopeless giveupitis.

Social media is a ready-made platform for change agents to backlash and counter-market, as long as we keep in mind the objectives and don’t fall into the traps of ‘winning the war and losing the battle’ or worse yet, ‘sleeping with the enemy.’ (ok, enough war terms, but the truth is, this does FEEL like we’re in the trenches, outgunned and under fire from questionable ethics and profiteering that compromises children’s health and familial peace)

The thought of “staying silent” or “ignoring it” is rarely if ever the answer.

And turning the other cheek and dipping into ostrich mode with head in the sand is a no-win too. The question then becomes:

…Is there a way to counter-market the negative without giving precious attention and free publicity to the cruddy corporate cues?

How do we sound off without feeding the insatiably hungry media and marketing flytrap (kinda like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors…”Feeeeeed me.”)

Better yet, how do we de-pants the perpetrators in the process of a pre-planned attention-grab BEFORE businesses that lack a moral compass achieve sales boosts, buzz, or toss one division under the bus to “cannibalize their own brand” while boosting name recognition in another segment…

Anything goes, and as in the case with the swimsuit kerfluffle, it’s uncannily predictable watching how these SAME companies do the SAME slimy things. I discussed this a bit on author Peggy Orenstein’s blog, sounding off about the ‘baiting game’ as I have a few theories:

1.) Industry is hyper-sexualizing w/hellacious age compression which baits parental outrage, amps buzz, increases PR, and then one of two things flows forth:

  • a.) Marketers can “pullback” and end up looking like the corp. social responsibility poster child.
  • b.) As media fans the flames and undermined parents fume, tweens decide it’s the next ‘gotta have it’ item and start social norming w/coolhunting cred…
  • c.) Both.

This sort of ‘live litmus test’ has even greater implications when you factor in that retailers get to see “how far is too far” to bend toward that tipping point of toxicity…

The ol’ hate-n-bait strategy to fire up parental outrage is actually an ingenious move if they pull product as a result, since parents feel like they “won” and in the meantime the objects being sold are chatted up like crazy.

Recall last year?

After the Miley Cyrus/kid sister Noah lingerie kerfluffle, the exact same controversy (padded swimsuits for 7 year olds) took place at a UK/large retailer Primark (equiv to a mass market chain in USA)

Shaping Youth wrote, “The Commodification of Kids: The Backlash Has Begun!” citing the progress we as outspoken consumers have made into a movement (with books like Cinderella Ate My Daughter, and sites like —and yet as I considered the ‘news’ hitting the Today Show with our own body image correspondent Dr Robyn Silverman I kept thinking, “hmn…that ‘news’ was LAST year…that’s an AWFULLY huge coincidence”

Same song, second verse…step into the role of ‘consumer hero’ for retooling, renaming, reframing, relaunching, or even pulling a product altogether so that consumers feel like they ‘won?’ But DID we?

Can’t we do a better job of creating media mindfulness BEFORE the companies create an ‘incident?’ What other alternatives might be viable to turn outrage on itself to create a zeitgeist of positive practices?

There’s brand jamming, advocacy sites that band together en masse to create a larger collective “umpf!”—tight knit groups of “Actionists” that can rally in nanoseconds to support each other,  traditional avenues like letter writing directly to the brand, petitions (online and off) and…here’s my favorite of all, our own ‘counter-marketing’ practices where we ‘flip the outrage.’

Counter-marketing is kind of a loaded term for many, but I’m essentially saying to use those ‘lift and reveal’ the agenda moments by exposing ‘behind the scenes’ curtains of Oz to the youth being targeted and the parents being undermined.

This is one of the most effective tactics with kids because the moment of discovery comes from themselves, and trust me, they’re not at all pleased when they’ve been “had.” Example?

THIS one is about to Blast through the interwebson April 5…

As The Herald Sun summed, the company is launching its latest “monster piece,”Colt 45 Blast,” a 12% high octane malt liquor that comes in a variety of fruity flavors that would put the makers of Kool Aid to shame. The marketing scheme that Pabst is using is pretty much the same that the malt meisters of the past have used; grab a rapper with questionable morals and a bunch of video babes and, bingo, a match made in heaven (or some other place.)”

I saw it on Twitter via Paul Porter of the fabulous advocacy group promoting justice in the media, called Industry with a link posted by “FreeMind206” on YouTube bluntly stating the obvious,

“Watch as the corporate folk explain how they are going to pimp “urban” communities and use Hip Hop to do it! Promote, market and encourage underage drinking.”

When I see something this irksome that I wish would never even launch, much less succeed,  it takes every ounce of ‘outrage’ reined in to see how I can best let it ‘fly free’ both tactically and strategically to persuasively position the counter-marketing in MY own brain before I can even attempt to put it out there to be digested for youth to ‘flip the outrage’ and send it back in the right direction to show the ‘Emperor Has No Clothes.’

Today at the public health conference I felt a bit like Paul Revere, figuring this was a great opportunity to outreach to key youth ‘urban public health educators’ in communities across the nation (puhleeeze, I’m not trying to be ‘race baiting’ either, but this is patently absurd opportunism that needs exposed and deconstructed for its blatant intention and malicious undermining of an entire youth demographic)

I’ll obviously be forwarding updates to our industry watchdog friends at Marin (who are painfully aware of this repeated ‘alcopops’ battle) and a few hiphop scholars and youth orgs where we have deep ties, and…well…let’s just say that the more you educate consumers about the PROCESS and use media to do it, the more they’re forearmed with invisible cloaks and shields in the battle for kids hearts and minds.

I already showed the clip to some suburban teens who are hiphop fans, (yes, including my daughter) and the first thing she said? “That is sooooo messed up!— Hearing them calculate every single move right down to where it goes on the store shelves…wow.”

It was sad to see their faces turn pensive, morphing to furrowed brows, then intense frowns and a final segue to total disgust and anger…but what we trade for loss of innocence and faith in corporate social responsibility is media literacy and consumer spending power, with the opportunity to turn this tanker around by getting the word out not to buy (or buy into!) this drek.

One of the teens said, “I don’t get it, why would SnoopDog sellout like that? What a dawg…” Again, writer Paul Scott in the Herald Sun nails it well, citing the middle class LACK of outrage. I agree wholeheartedly that outrage appears ‘selective’ by mainstream media when regionally contained. (in other words, the NIMBY principle as applied science) I highly recommend you read the whole piece, along with his call to action:

“What is also problematic is the liquor industry’s uncanny ability to buy off voices of dissent within the African American community. Any time you start cutting checks to Hip Hop radio stations, Hip Hop magazines and start sponsoring (Black) cultural festivals, you can almost guarantee that your favorite Civil Rights leaders won’t say a mumblin’ word.

So, where does that leave the community activists who are going to be the ones picking up the pieces when the Colt 45 Tsunami floods the hood with alcohol? What can be done?

Community activists must demand that the neighborhood stores where their children go every morning, before school, to pick up honey buns and orange juice for lunch not stock the product in their establishments. We must also ask our local Hip Hop radio stations not to take the blood money that will have our children dancing down the road of destruction all summer long.

Also, black organizations must not accept the 30 pieces of silver to have a malt liquor company sponsor “cultural” events that are supposed to be promoting the health and the well being of the community.

Finally, Hip Hop fans must stand up and tell Snoop Dogg and the legion of other rappers who will come behind him not to be “Pabst Blue Ribbon Pimps” putting poison in the ‘hood.  

We must not look for politicians nor underage drinking organizations to solve this problem. No one is going to save us but us . ..”


Cue Cabaret soundtrack with Joel Grey piping in “Money makes the world go around”…

sigh. You can bet your bippy that it won’t take waiting for the frat rat set of Biffy and Buffy to express ‘outrage’ at their peers being thrown under the bus with strategic precision…Yes, it may initially be an ‘urban community’ public health/substance abuse escalation problem, but those were pretty angry SUBURBAN youth that looked like bucking broncos, lathered up about the injustice and ready to tell anyone who will listen…

I dare say if they see any of their peers trying to hype the stuff as ‘ubercool’ packaging they’ll have a story to tell. And I trust when they hear the song on the airwaves by the same name and the social media hype that’s about to hit the circuit, they’ll be spreading a different viral word about the corporate underbelly and dark side of marketing.

This is how baiting outrage can be flipped productively with kids as foot soldiers and social media protecting the flanks of their peers.  The (reverse) baiting of outrage has been set…Let’s hope teens ‘virally warn’ their peers like “The Truth campaign” redux.

Talk back. Take back. The streets, the ‘hood’…the rights of youth.

Update: Marin Institute has a petition on this issue, please take action!



  1. I was shocked to read about the padded bikini tops for 7 year olds! You had a lot of good points.

  2. Thanks for this article. I thought it was funny when you said the accurate barometer for what is cool has always been mom’s disapproval- often true though. It can be tricky to give something bad press when press is good in and of itself!

  3. Update for all: Marin Institute has a ‘knock it off’ petition re: targeting youth on this, sign today!!!

  4. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April, 4, 2011
    CONTACT: Paul Porter

    Blast by Colt 45 on Blast for Targeting Youth
    Community groups protest fruity malt liquor with double the alcohol of regular Colt 45

    Rising concerns about Blast by Colt 45, a high alcohol, fruit flavored malt liquor officially launching during spring break and prom season, have mobilized communitybased
    organizations to call for the withdrawal of a product that they say encourages underage drinking.

    “Alcohol is a leading cause of death and injury for young people. In the US, an estimated 5,000 young people die each year from injuries caused by underage drinking. This
    product is putting gasoline on a burning problem in our communities,” says public health researcher Dr. Didra Brown Taylor.

    Groups have asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban ‘Blast’ as it did when the agency banned caffeinated alcoholic energy drinks late last year.

    Paul Porter of the Washington, DC based media watch group Industry Ears observes, “Colt 45 makers are raising the alcohol level from the already high 6 percent to the even higher 12 percent, and enticing young people with hip hop themes and lollipop flavors such as grape, strawberry lemonade in colorful packaging similar to energy drinks and soda. It appears as if Colt 45 hopes to expand its market with our children.”

    Blast by Colt 45 will officially launch April 5th, the day after the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The coincidence is
    disturbing for community groups as, according to Pabst’s new owners, the marketing campaign will specifically target “hip hop” and “urban” markets.

    The owners have tapped Calvin “Snoop” Broadus, a rapper with broad, multiracial youth appeal, to be ‘Blast’spokesperson as part of a multi media assault that will embed ‘Blast’ in Snoops’
    Twitter feeds, Facebook, radio DJ talking points and even the performer’s song lyrics.
    Says Dr. Taylor, “The FDA must step in to address the way marketing is changing.

    Parents can only do so much in the face of such a comprehensive assault.”

    Organizations and individuals are asked to call Pabst Blue Ribbon directly and share their
    concerns by calling (800) 935- BEER (2337).

    “This is similar to campaigns launched by tobacco companies several years ago to promote flavored cigarettes and the Kool Mixx campaign that specifically targeted ‘hip hop’ and ‘urban’ youth,” says Chicago based activist Kwesi Harris. “Our communities said no to these attacks then and we say no to Blast now. We must let Pabst know that
    this is simply unacceptable.”

    The coalition reports that several states are investigating potential regulatory actions regarding the fruity malt liquor including New York and Illinois.

  5. Amy, I love the ideas that you have here about teaching adolescents to be consumer activists. I’m going to share a link to this post on my blog today along with some of your ideas. Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information.

  6. None of this surprises me. But all of it disturbs me. The way I tend to address this is by speaking on concepts, and purposefully NOT mentioning the particular brand names. I refuse to give them “trackback” business.

    What we also must realize – kids (for the most part) don’t have their own money. Parents need to get back in touch with the fact that they have the right and responsibility to control where THEIR money is going.

    Angst-ridden pressure has always existed from child to parent. Parents must be willing to BE uncool, to BE looked at as a square. My parents were – and I gave them hell – and I am grateful that they did not give in.

    Many do not realize that teens aren’t quite as angry at your rules as you might think… They actually KNOW when parents are being overpermissive. They may fight your rules tooth and nail – but you are providing the foundation for the building.

  7. June Young says

    This is really alarming and for the most part unknown to a lot of parents. A business’ social responsibility is to always provide quality products that sell for their sake and are safe and convenient for our sake. Critical thinking, although very common to adults (but not all), is not totally inculcated in the young and that is why they become easy targets for these kinds of company neglect. The Blast product for example is foul. I mean, coloring beer to appeal to teens is not funny.

  8. No, it is not. But it’s also not uncommon…predecessors of alcopops before it have been around for ages too, the difference is in the hard core targeting of the youth demographic and utilization of media icons to obfuscate and ‘represent’ in very cynical, undermining marketing tactics akin to ‘Fiddy’ when he started hawking Vitamin Water to goodwash and backdoor his misogynistic pornified ‘music’ while parents took the sugar water capitalistic maneuver as an ‘improvement’ rather than the twisted PR backwash that it really was…As for touting his ‘biz acumen’ and rebranding as an ‘entrpreneur?’ Zero merit. Ad agency deal. Bleh. It all makes my skin crawl.

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