Is “to be seen to…” a valid reason to do something?

There is a story on the front page of The Telegraph today about ITV “…suspending all broadcasting for the first time for an hour on Saturday” in order to “encourage people to get outside and play sports as part of the official celebrations of Team GB’s Olympics success.”

One channel (or a few if you include the likes of ITV2 &3) going blank rather than running a repeat of Dr Martin will of course result in viewers (that presumably want to watch TV) simply changing to one of the hundreds of alternative channels – but then that’s not the real point of this “blackout”…

ITV is front page news as it’s seen to support sport and fitness, getting people outside, the fight against childhood obesity and generally everything that is universally agreed to be quite good.

To me, this seems like a highly transparent publicity stunt, where the public objective of physically getting people out for that specific hour has little to do with the actual reason for doing it. But then again, who am I to complain if it’s getting a company to support a positive message?

Publicity stunts are certainly not rare of course but what is unusual in this case is that The Daily Telegraph has run with it so predominantly.

BUT, after all, I’m a PR person and it’s occurred to me that many readers may not have looked at this story with such scepticism… maybe the Telegraph’s editors (shock horror) knows their audience better than I!

This then got me reflecting on a Radio 4 interview from yesterday; the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had banned a ‘misleading’ Walkers crisps competition advert after the competition (and ads) had ended. The interviewer put it to the ASA spokesperson that Walkers had got away scot-free. To this, the spokesperson replied something to the effect of “we’re talking about Walkers misleading consumers on national broadcast radio…” as if Walkers ‘being seen’  to mislead was punishment enough. It’s a fair point! But this may not always be obvious to audiences. BBC Radio 4 could hardly report “ASA punishes Walkers by coming on our radio programme to tell you” and it can come off as “Walkers gets away scot-free”.

I guess sometimes “being seen” to do something can be enough, just as long as we – as a society – pretend it’s not the point in of itself.

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