At a recent ‘Media meets Business’ event, a leading industrialist asked the editor of one of our grandest and most respected newspapers why his newspaper contained so many factual, grammatical and spelling errors.
“Because we no longer have the time to check these things,” he replied. He could have added that his organ, in common with most newspapers and magazines, no longer employs trained and immensely knowledgeable sub-editors to do this all-important job.
The industrialist concerned, who told me the story, confesses himself to be nonplussed.
“Imagine if we told our customers that we had no time to check that all the bolts were tight before we delivered new cars,” he commented. “We would swiftly have been out of business, and rightly so.”
Car company customer service departments are staffed by people who, whatever their personal beliefs, tend to make Zen Buddhists look hyper-active. Hour after hour, day after day, they politely listen to people who complain about real and imagined product failures to demand either a refund, or compensation, often both.
Now what, I wonder, would happen if newspapers and magazines were faced with the same rigorous customer scrutiny? In fact, why are they not?
Perhaps their products are too cheap and thus regarded as having little value beyond entertainment? Or perhaps readers subliminally get that they largely contain paid-for editorial and PR fluff?
In other words, it simply doesn’t matter that much to us. Public scrutiny delivered via social media, we hope, will eventually deliver the truth or at least a close enough approximation of it. But knowing what is, and is not, independent editorial remains a difficulty.
Private Eye (No.1414 18-31 March) illustrates the point.
Will this alleged lack of distinction between advertising and medium have any affect on What Car’s or VW’s credibility and sales? Almost certainly not.
In every commercial sphere, consumers prefer transparency in the communication they receive from brands and the people who work for them. Comment on social media – and as always in the Eye – is increasingly intolerant about unverifiable content, whether indirectly from brand leaders or directly from their customer service teams.
Is ‘blow smoke up our backsides and we’ll go elsewhere’ the new zeitgeist? Maybe sometime soon but not, I suspect, just yet.
*Humbert Wolfe 1885-1940