Monday, April 25, 2005
New Coke vs Time Magazine Marketing Blunders
April 23rd 1985: Coca Cola introduces New Coke, the world's greatest marketing disaster of all time.
April 25, 2005 Vol. 165 No. 17: Time magazine puts Ann Coulter on the cover of the magazine:
Might the Time Magazine Ann Coulter cover be the 2nd greatest marketing disaster of all time?
Quite a few people have been cancelling their Time subscriptions, if we are to go by Altercation's email. It would be ironic if this Time magazine cover issue is looked at in the future as the media equivalent of New Coke -- the world's worst marketing blunder. The introduction of New Coke celebrates its 20th anniversary, just about the very same week of the Time Magazine Coulter cover.
Its ironic that two examples of incredibly bad corporate thinking will share an anniversary.
The poor thought process at Time magazine is very similar to the mistake Coke made: Time can never out-right wing Fox News, The Washington Times, Andrew Sullivan or Drudge. The viewers/readers of those outlets are looking for a very specific flavor, a unique slant. They are less news sources than opinion, philosophy, political cheerleading and energy.
Time magazine, on the other hand, is primarily a weekly news gathering organization. (We will save the issue of problems the internet causes the dead tree set for another time). Time's appeal is to people who want mainstream media news from a centrist perspective. Almost by definition, they pick up the Center Left, people who aren't interested in a blunt right perspective.
But if you are involved in Media, you cannot help buy notice the spectacular rise of Right oriented press. Not neccessarily a vast right wing conspiracy, but rather the surge of a particular type of media outlet appealing (some would say pandering) to a hard right perspective.
Like Coca Cola 20 years ago, Time Magazine blinked. They fell for the hype, alienated a substantial percentage of their audience, and played right into the hands of their competition. Pepsi beat Coke in taste tests, because the sweeter Pepsi tested better in small servings. After a full can, however, the Pepsi Challenge gave a decisive edge to Coke. (Go figure -- the test was rigged!)
Similarly, the cyclical nature of News and Politics oscillates to and fro. What's hot one year fades and is replaced eventually by the nexxt new thing. That the editors may not know that is truly astounding.
The first rule of business: Know thy customer. Time clearly has forgotten that. Don't be surprised if the penalty ends up being rather severe.
We have looked at the magazine cover indicator in the past as a contrary indicator. Its been a solid tell on politics, technology, currency, even specific stocks (i.e, Apple). And, this is not the first instance of Time Magazine's displaying exemplary timing. Recall the Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com's founder and CEO) in December 1999 pretty much top ticked both that stock and the entire dotcom bubble.
The right side of the political ledger ahs been in ascendence for nearly 25 years. It would be both fascinating and ironic if Time Magazine, and their wonderful sense of timing, managed to top tick yet another trend.
Time (not the magazine) will tell . . .
Altercation email cancelling Time subscriptions:
Name: Jim Gerow
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NY
Bravo for your pointed rebuttal of John Cloud's rantings against you and other critics of his awful Time cover story on Ann Coulter. Fortunately there are still some members of the "reality-based community" in journalism who are willing to check the facts. The SCLM hit a new low this week with the Time piece, so it will be interesting to see how Time deals with its critics in the Letters section next week. Does anyone doubt that the real issues will be completely ignored in favor of sensational name-calling?
In response to Anonymous who urged a consumer boycott of everything TimeWarner-related, by all means shut off CNN and cancel those subscriptions, but as a classic film lover, please don't ask me to sacrifice Turner Classic Movies, the one thing TimeWarner does right. For those thinking of switching from cable to satellite TV, Dish Network is far superior to the Murdoch-owned DirecTV. Don't dump the Time empire only to get in bed with Fox! My service from Dish has been excellent and there's no minimum contract requirement.
Name: Marie Malicki
Hometown: Glendora, CA
Thank you! I received that issue of Time magazine and threw it in the trash and canceled my subscription. That woman has no business on the cover of any respectable news magazine. She does nothing but spew hatred.
Name: Rick Perlstein
Hometown: Chicago, IL
...sent to Cloud under the subject heading "you must be overwhelmed right now, but..."
...please read this.
I've been thinking of nothing else but you, your article, Coulter, and Time the last few days, and I think I have something to well-informed and useful to contribute that might rise above the dreck you must be getting bombarded with.
I have a pretty decent understanding of the right. That's why, I humbly submit, when I wrote my book about Barry Goldwater, it got glowing reviews in every right-wing publication, from the Weekly Standard to a white-supremecist quarterly.
This is the point I want to convey. People who spew hate rhetoric, talk violence, and make things up have nothing to do with Michael Moore, Eric Alterman, and David Brock.
What they have to do with is this. The last time figures like Coulter were being mainstreamed for public consumption in this way was 1994-95. People like Gordon Liddy--who, recall, was "joking" to his listeners to shoot federal agents in the head.
This pushed the limits of the acceptable far to the right, and vulnerable, nutty people felt licensed to blow up buildings because of it.
There will be right-wing violence in the next year. Of that I have no doubt. And people who've served to push the limits of the acceptable far to the right by mainstreaming people who spew hate rhetoric, talk violence, and make things up will bear some measure of responsibility.
You've made a series of very grave lapses in moral, professional, and intellectual judgement. You have no idea what you're dealing with.
Name: Kathy Givner
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Thanks for another terrific column. I e-mailed Time yesterday, canceling my subscription. I hope many others did the same. Keep up the good work!
Name: Sam Hankins
Hometown: Austin, Texas
In case you're keeping track, my wife and I cancelled our subscription to TIME day before yesterday. I pledged to them that we would never, ever buy another copy of their magazine ever again.
Name: Jesse Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR
After reading about Time magazine's Coulter-love-fest on Tuesday, I liked seeing the Anonymous suggestions about canceling subscriptions. I quickly checked the list to make sure I wasn't giving them any money. I don't get Time, I don't get Sunset, I don't get Popular Mechanics or any snowboarding magazines. I don't own any stock either.
But then at the bottom, I'm reminded that Time/Warner owns DC comics, and its arty imprint, Vertigo. I've long since decided that Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman', which practically created the Vertigo imprint, is the best thing written in the last 25 years. No kidding. The series, which featured an embodiment of Dreams who looked like a Cure fan (and his older sister, Death, who looked like Crissy Hynde) has been over for nearly 10 years, but I will greedily snatch up any more side stories that Gaiman gets around to writing.
The point is that this is another crucial problem of media consolidation. I feel like the Southern Baptist who wanted to boycott Disney except for college basketball on ESPN. I am unable to vote with my dollars because they own too much of the market. It's probably the same for a number of snowboarders, home remodelers, amateur chefs, etc. who don't want to give up their specialty magazine because of Time, even if they loathe Coulter and the article. My favored comics are written by leftist Brits and the quasi-religious elements would earn damnation if they ever appeared on the Right-wing's radar. But dollars spent on those books goes into the same pool as dollars spent on Time. I'm scared to even do the research on who owns the publishers of books by Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc. because I'm afraid there will be even more things I feel guilty about buying. My passion is cinema, and I don't even want to THINK about refusing to see Warner Brothers films or DVDs.
If Anonymous can pull off his total Time/Warner boycott, more power to him. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it's practical when dealing with this kind of media Hydra.
April 23, 2005
New York, NY
Dear Mr. Cloud:
In your recent cover story on the fact-challenged and truth-bending contrastive writer Ann Coulter, you called attention to a film about her.
"A recent documentary, Is It True What They Say About Ann?—co-directed by a friend of Coulter’s, journalist Elinor Burkett—has played at film festivals and won some favorable notices," you wrote. (Source.)
Since I never heard of the film and fancy myself a movie-lover, I used Google to fact-check your claims about this documentary on Coulter.
First of all, the makers of the film have a web site to promote and sell it, www.AnnCoulterDoc.com. The site links to what appears to be all of the film festivals, three total, that screened the work in 2004. I couldn't find any evidence that the film has been shown this year.
Regarding two of the three festivals, the Liberty and the Renaissance film festivals, are put on by contrastive organizations, proud of their right-wing political bent. The third one was the Maryland Film Festival. Not exactly Cannes or Telluride, or mainstream film venues for the latest documentaries focusing on American politics and pundits. (Sources: 1, 2, 3.)
Second, where are the supposed favorable notices you claim exist for the documentary? The links to news clippings about the film aren't reviews, but articles about the filmmakers, their controversial subject or the conservative film festivals showing the film. (Sources.)
Does this excerpt from an essay by Bryan Curtis for Slate qualify as a rave in your opinion?
"Stranger still was Is It True What They Say About Ann?, a short film about the conservative provocateur Ann Coulter, who said of Muslim terrorists after 9/11 that we should 'invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.' The director, Patrick Wright, never attempts to answer the title question, preferring to let the camera gaze lovingly at Ann as she hawks her books and invades university campuses.
"After a protester disrupts one of her speeches, she quips, 'You really develop your analytical skills here at Johns Hopkins. At Harvard, they had questions.' When an olive-skinned girl asks her to sign a book later, Coulter asks, 'Are you a Sikh?' No, I'm Hindu, the woman replies. 'Oh, I've got a lot of Sikh friends for some reason,' Coulter says. 'You're my first Hindu.'
"And that's the way the festival unfolded. The films were pleasantly amateurish and the sermons were, too." (Source.)
If that's a favorable notice, what were the unfavorable ones like?
The closest thumbs-up review I could find, none too surprisingly, appeared in Human Events in December 2004. As you know, Coulter is the legal correspondent for this publication, but nevertheless, you can read her colleague's review of the movie at [here].
The only other review of the film, again using Google, to come up was an outright slam, written by a film buff living in Maryland.
This is about the kindest thing he had to say. "Unfortunately, the film has no real ambition other than to rehash old clips, interview segments, and dull-as-dishwater book tours in order to present a side of Ann that actually harms her image, despite the fact that this is alleged to be a puff piece. Having been screened during at least one conservative film festival this past year, Is It True What They Say About Ann? is the Right's answer to Al Franken and Michael Moore, only without the entertainment value, humor, or insight. And my loathing of Coulter is beside the point: this is simply poor filmmaking, as it randomly cuts and pans without direction or purpose." (Source.)
Since you omitted any adjectives when describing the film festivals, readers may have been left with the false impression the venues were politically neutral or of high cinematic caliber.
Then again, there are much larger issues overall in your profile on Coulter for Time, and you've been taken to task for what many media critics see as sloppy reporting. To your credit, you answered some of the criticism leveled against you in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review's daily blog.
As you admitted to the review, your "job in this story was not to be a fact-checker." (Source.)
Truer words could not have been spoken by you.
San Francisco, CA
April 23, 2005
New York, NY
Dear Mr. Cloud:
In my earlier letter to you I erred when I said there was no evidence the documentary on Ann Coulter, which you alleged has "won some favorable notices," had not been screened publicly this year.
The direct-to-video film was shown earlier this month in Massachusetts by the College Republicans at Brandeis University as part of a political conference, according the release that follows.
The conference was not a film festival.
San Francisco, CA
Name: J. Dougherty
Hometown: Ann Arbor, MI
Add me to the list of those who have cancelled Time subscriptions because of the Coulter issue. I think a boycott of Time-Warner properties over Time's decision to stop pretending at journalism is overbroad, though. On the other hand, such a boycott does not burden me--Time was the only part of the empire getting any of my money.
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Hey Eric, not to jump on the bandwagon but my subscription to Time is done for. A complete boycott is most likely unachievable and probably unnecessary, but if everyone who reads here just makes sure that they and everyone they know cancels their Time subscription it could make a noticeable dent. I mean seriously....that was one of the shi**iest articles I have ever read .
Name: Jane Leffler
Hometown: Sanborn, NY
As a long-time reader of but first-time poster to your column I just wanted to add my voice to the cancel-Time-subscription choir.
I have read Time magazine since I was a kid reading my parents' subscription (more years ago than I care to say), but the Coulter issue really was the straw that broke the camel's back. The magazine arrived in Tuesday's mail and our subscription was cancelled that afternoon.
My only regret is that having cancelled, I may not have the opportunity to read any of the flood of letters the magazine must be receiving as a result of this issue. I would also be interested to see some statistics regarding the number of subscriptions cancelled. Think Time will run an article about that?
Name: Don Paule
Hometown: York, Pennsylvania
Here is a letter I sent to Time Magazine. I hope it helps the effort a little bit.
I have been a subscriber to Time Magazine since 1971, uninterrupted for some thirty-four years. Countless times I have eagerly anticipated the next issue of Time, to read its coverage of current events, with its unique prose and perspective.
It is therefore with great sadness that I ask that you cancel my subscription to Time. Your recent issue, with Ann Coulter on the cover, was so far afield from what I have come to expect from your magazine that I can no longer in good conscience support its publication, and worse, believe its reporting any longer.
Miss Coulter is a hate monger. She traffics in meanness, arrogance and deceit. Her sweeping pronouncements are unsupported by fact, history or common sense. Why Time Magazine, TIME MAGAZINE, would give legitimacy to this minor provocateur with a cover story is incomprehensible to me.
The conservative movement has many decent, capable and thoughtful representatives to articulate and advance its positions. To suggest that Miss Coulter is one of its leading spokespersons is both bizarre and untrue.
Genuine public discourse demands some level of accountability. Ann Coulter long ago abandoned any responsibility to be accurate or reasoned or fair. Last week, Time Magazine did so as well.
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