Got A Mac Attack? Would You Like Some Publicity With That?

I am a Maccas girl from way back. During my formative years, I spent more than a decade working under the Golden Arches. McDonald’s or Maccas as we Aussies refer to it, was a fun place to work. It Big MAcprovided an education that supplmented my book learning through school. It taught me about processes, structure and team work, suggestive selling and the six steps to great customer service.

During my stint at Maccas I was regularly called upon to do “window”. This was the name that we gave to the job of serving customers. At various points in my fast food career, Maccas ran a promotion

where the customer would have to recite the Big Mac Chant in 30 seconds or less to receive a free soft drink. As a window girl I would have to listen to endless customers chanting about the ingredients in a Big Mac. What people will do for for a free drink! For those of you who don’t know the Big Mac Chant goes something like this:

Two All Beef Patties Special Sauce Lettuce Cheese Pickles Onions On A Sesame Seed Bun

except if you say it fast it sounds more like:

twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun

You might be asking what this has to do with social media. Glad you asked.

A couple of days ago, McDonald’s launched its Big Mac Chant promotion. The idea of the promotion is to have Big Mac lovers make a video of the Big Mac Chant and upload it to the website. Visitors to the website then vote on the videos. The mysterious McDonald’s panel then determines the best video to award the grand prize of an overseas trip for 7 people and of course, a Big Mac.

This week in our course material we studied the habits of audiences in the online world. And Big Mac Chant campaign embodies much of what we talked about.

Phot courtesy of freedigitalphots.net

Phot courtesy of freedigitalphots.net

Audiences are not the passive recipients they used to be. Shock horror, we now want to participate, engage and be part of the discussion. Brands and news organisations have recognised and leveraged off this desire to various degrees. Some welcome audience participation, others do not. In what to me is a clever move, McDonald’s is playing the social media audience at its own game in what should be a win/win situation for both. The reward for a great Big Mac Chant is no longer just a soft drink and let’s face it, that just would not cut it in today’s world. The prize is now free publicity, validation and fifteen minutes of fame. The potential for likes and comments and possible retweets and linkages is huge. So, not only is McDonald’s harnessing the creative power of its Big Mac fans at little or no cost, it also feeds into their desire to show off and delivers to them a ready-made audience of fellow Big Mac lovers. Not to mention the odd video producer or advertising agency or two.

The cost of all of this involvement will be the need to moderate its community. The issue for McDonald’s will be that videos and comments left on its website by others will become in effect owned by it. This leads to issues both from a reputation or brand standpoint and a legal standpoint.

I want to focus on the later for the balance of this post.

Over the last few years, the Australian legal system has provided some guidance on responsibility for the activities of others in the online space.

Through a series of Court decisions and decisions of the Advertising Standards Bureau * it is now clear in Australia that:

  • a page or wall owner can be responsible for publication of content on its pages by others when it knows of that publication and does nothing to remove it
  • the Facebook page of a business is a marketing communication tool over which the owner has a reasonable degree of control, and therefore an advertising or marketing communication on that page is covered by the Australian Advertising Code. This is because Facebook provides the tools to effectively moderate the page
  • The Code not only covers material published by the brand, but also to comments and material published on the page by friends or fans of the brand
  • whilst the tone and the audience of the page and brand will be taken into account, it will not be fully determinative of the standards that will apply in that community. Comments which are offensive, such as anti-women or anti-homosexual even for a brand whose marketing is tongue in cheek and full of larrikinism, will still be considered offensive and the brand responsible for them
  • brands need to monitor and moderate their online spaces regularly and remove any offensive material within a reasonable time.

The lesson for brands and businesses is that they must manage the user generated content (UGC) that appears on their pages as actively as they manage their own. Traditionally, big corporates have compliance teams vetting their content before publication. The rise of UGC adds a whole different dimension as the brands don’t know about it until after publication. Vigilance and pro activity is the key to staying on the right side of the legal and reputational line. Online moderation is now a profession and is not for the faint hearted or those short of time.

Now, all this talk of legal liability has made me hungry. Surely, it’s time for a Big Mac.

* See Australian Consumer and Competition Commission v Allergy Pathway Pty Limited (No.2) [2011] FCA 74 and

Advertising Standards Bureau Case Report, Case Number 0271/12, Advertiser: Foster’s Australia, Asia  & Pacific (11 July 2012)

This blog post is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please see a legal professional to obtain specific advice in relation to your individual circumstances.

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Print Media – A Matter of Life And Death

This week’s course materials sent us down the rabbit hole of how the digital environment is changing the delivery of news. It was a timely journey with word that Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, was to purchase the Washington Post and related mastheads for a cool US$250million. As reported by the Post, the vendor initially approached the sale as unthinkable but went on to justify the deal as being necessary to ensure continued growth for the Post as opposed to merely survival. Bezos was apparently chosen as the anointed buyer due to his technical brilliance.

It is not beyond the realm to suggest that other high profile newspapers will go the same way in the shorter to medium term. The financial troubles of print or “old school media” (OSM) in grappling with unsuccessful paywalls, fragmentation of audiences across multiple platforms and the pressures to retain quality in their journalistic endeavours are well chronicled. The fact that these topics make for interesting reading is highlighted by the recent release of two books providing commentary on the decline of the Fairfax empire *. Perhaps if readers are reluctant to pay to go behind Fairfax’s paywall, they will be less reluctant to pay to get perspectives on how a once robust and powerful media empire now finds itself losing relevance. The books, Fairfax: The Rise And Fall by Colleen Ryan and Killing Fairfax: Packer, Murdoch & the Ultimate Revenge by Pamela Williams , both of which have shades of the ’80s TV series, Dallas, are ironically being heralded as examples of professional independent journalism.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The demise of Fairfax is being played out against the backdrop of convergence and divergence. Convergence generally refers to the notion of integration between different platforms. For example, your computer is no longer just a computer, it can also double as a television, newspaper and a telecommunications device. Translated into the media space, this means that the same news story can be delivered through multiple platforms and people are tending to rely more and more on online news sources. Online news is generally categorized by the notions of automation, personalisation and participation and news production, once the sole province of big business is being shared with cottage industry players. OSM has generally been seen to be slow to respond to the new converged environment, losing their main sources of advertising revenue, namely classified advertising, to online players and initially providing online news for free as a supplement to their mainstream print activities. All of this leads to a fragmentation, if not a complete erosion, of audiences who are generally now reluctant to pay for news content that they can obtain free from other sources. This is where divergence becomes relevant, because in the new digital world, news production has now become decentralized and instead of the one to many news dissementation model, we have moved to the many to many or many to few model, leading to financial impacts for OSM stables and their journalists.

It is certainly an interesting time to be watching the news media space as the latest newspaper circulation figures released today attest. Should this be a time of fear or a time of opportunity? Will traditional journalists be able to rise to the challenge of the digital media world and share their public writing space with all of us?

You might be looking at the cover of the last magazine I will ever buy

You might be looking at the cover of the last magazine I will ever buy

In an interesting juxtaposition, the changing way I receive news was recently brought home to me by the birth of Prince George. This was a wonderful feel-good story involving the giving of life and the birth of a new royal generation to a smart looking prince and his beautiful princess. I, along with millions of others around the world eagerly awaited news of the royal birth. And where were we looking for it? It wasn’t in the newspapers or TV, it was where we could get realtime news, the Internet. We marvelled at Kate’s poise and real world post-pregnancy figure and we watched in wonder as Prince William doted on his new son and looked just as awkward carrying him as every first time father. In the following week after the birth, the traditional 10 page magazine spread appeared on newsstands. What was different though was that they now carried the same pictures that we had already seen online days before. In what was probably a slightly nostalgic move, I bought a copy as a keepsake as looking through Internet archives does not have the same feel as flipping through glossies as a reminder of a major world event. Not yet anyway.

But what this signaled to me was that my weekly news entertainment magazine habit had died a sad death. Magazine publication day used to be a highlight of my week, now magazines were reserved for special events or overseas travel. As an asside, there is nothing like catching up on celebrity gossip and leisurely rereading the same article three times on a long haul flight.

The funny thing was, I had not really noticed that my magazine buying habits had changed until these life and death events. I had effortlessly slipped into reading entertainment news online along with most everyone else and was reshaping news culture.

Are you still prepared to pay for news? Are you worried about what will happen to the quality of journalism in the digital world? Do you still buy magazines?

* For my overseas readers, Fairfax is a long standing media group in Australia and is the main competitor of the Murdoch lead News Media group. It controls several of the capital city major newspapers, such as the Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review (being the Wall Street Journal equivalent). Australia has one of the most concentrated media ownership markets in the world.

Digital Culture: It is All About YOU!

We hear the term “digital culture” everyday. Usually it is used with a negative connotation, describing a counter-revolution to traditional media delivery and consumption and the death of reading and writing as we know it. But what does the expression really mean and what is our place in this so-called “culture”?

Digital CultureLet me start by outlining what it is not. Digital culture is not the same as being digitally cultured. There is no doubt, our children are growing up more exposed to digital devices than ever before and at an ever earlier age. My children were born before the smartphone/tablet revolution, so it always intrigues me when I see toddlers out with their parents at restaurants with smartphone or tablet in hand. They have replaced books and plastic keys as the distraction devices of the new millennium. And from what I have observed, the practice is almost universal. In fact, just yesterday at the supermarket, a four year old was being pushed around in a trolley playing on his tablet allowing his mother the time to shop. I pass no judgement on this practice other than to use it as an example of children becoming more and more familiar with the use of digital devices, in other words becoming digitally cultured. You can read more about the possible impacts in this UK Telegraph article .

The concept of digitally cultured therefore connotes an ever increasing computerization and digitizatilation of society. It is as a result, that digital culture emerges. In his article, Participation, Remediation, Bricolage: Considering Principal Components of Digital Culture, Mark Deuze notes the main components of a digital culture as:

    • Participation – we have all become active agents in the content creation process
    • Remediation – we build on, modify, amplify and recreate what has come before
    • Bricolage – we assemble and disseminate our version of reality

Whilst to Deuze, this may not be quite so radical as it sounds, to some of us it is a huge change in the way we relate to and engage with news and information. We may never have written a letter to a newspaper editor, done a stint on community radio or complained to the Publications and Media Ombudsmen in the past, but we are now blogging, tweeting and linking. Web 2.0 has brought us an easy and low cost way to do it all. And this not only impacts journalism and the way we consume news, but also impacts on product development, marketing, public relations, corporate communication and many other sectors of the economy.

Let’s have a closer look at blogging and see how that fits in with Deuze’s three components.

Examples of news and political blogs abound in the Australian context. In late 2011, Greg Jericho, the author of the Rise of the Fifth Estate and pro blogger at Grog’s Gamut, compiled this list of Australian political blogs. The 2013 winner of the Best Australian Blogs competition in the commentary section was AusVotes 2013, a compilation blog. Clearly, Australians who are not journalists are participating in political commentary by running and contributing to blogs. However, far from replacing traditional media sources, they act as a supplement to it. Would these bloggers or blogs have survived this long if traditional media sources were giving the public all they want in news delivery? They lend another voice to the debate, sometimes that voice is objective, sometimes not, sometimes that voice is in pursuit of a personal agenda, sometimes not. An Internet connection, a point of view and some very basic technical skill is all that participation requires.

According to Deuze, remediation:

does not necessarily mean different from or in radical opposition to, the mainstream or dominant ways of doing things, but rather an expression of a distinctly private enactment of human agency in the omnipresent computer-mediated reality.

What this means is that blogs sit alongside traditional media where public journalism is still practiced in corporate news groups. Blogs however rely more on Netiquette or a loose consesual way of reader and producer interaction whilst still building on notions of quality journalistic practice, such as credibility and legitimacy. They often address the experiences of people in a more meaningful way, taking the news story and targeting its relevance towards readers rather than to a demographic.

And finally, bricolage. This refers to the act of creating something new out of what is existing. Think remix, think tweaking and reassembly. Because of Netiquette, bloggers understand the interconnectivity of the world in which they operate. Linking to mainstream media stories, other blogs and refashioning blog posts to apply across different sites and platforms so as to reach different audiences are all part of the blogger’s tool box. Bloggers of value always however add their own opinions and analysis and as such appear to be talking to us.

Created through Tagxedo

Created through Tagxedo

Every time we post a blog, pass a comment on a new item, take a story and post a link to it whilst adding our own viewpoints we are engaging in digital culture. Every time we follow a Titter news feed, retweet, video an event and upload a YouTube video or add to a Wiki we shape digital culture. It is all about YOU and it is all about ME.

Digital culture gives us the freedom to create and publish, but requires us to live up to the responsibility of being discerning and ethical readers. It is indeed a brave, new world.

In what ways do you participate in digital culture? Are you a blogger? Do you prefer other ways of participation, such as microblogging on Twitter or news dissemination on Facebook?