Tomorrow’s Technology Today reports are “brought to you by Toyota” — but so is the news itself. A good half of the Boston radio station WBZ’s technology news segments are blatant advertisements for Toyota’s own progress “moving forward.”
The familiar intergalactic keyboard sound played most often before breaking news or traffic reports introduces each thirty-second segment. While the reports on weather satellites are pretty indistinguishable from any other kind of technology radio reporting, the segments on Toyota vehicles are straight from the PR department. “Most people know that Hybrid Synergy Drive vehicles get great mileage,” says the announcer, sounding no different than anyone WBZ would employ. “But what most people don’t know is they’ve got a lot of get-up-and-go.”
Wired and CNet have nothing to fear. The website headlines are not shy with exclamation marks (“Get-up-and-go with the quicker engines of Toyota H.S.D vehicles!”) and the content is slim. But is WBZ wrong to conflate editorials with advertising?
This isn’t the first time Toyota has been criticized for its marketing ploys. Marketing the Scion model, they heavily courted the hip-hop community, trying everything short of Courvoisier-tasting after a test drive. Prius, their much-ballyhooed hybrid car populates many a Whole Foods parking lot, but the environmentalists at the Bluewater Network have gone so far as to run ads in Mother Jones and the New York Times challenging its status-quo “gas guzzling” ways.
But Tomorrow’s Technology Today goes a step further in its deception. The point is to make the company appear above and beyond any other automobile innovators — by creating a news format around its press releases.
Then again, we’ve come to accept similar strategies in print media. Any time you find choppily written copy focusing on one product: look down. It’s an “Advertisement. The Views Expressed Do Not Represent the Magazine.” And payola scams never went out of fashion in women’s magazines. Does anyone really believe the beauty editors at Allure and Glamour have tried every $85 moisturizer they recommend?
Up until now, news radio has been virtually free of hybrid advertising, which is why the public is understandably alarmed. We’ve grown accustomed to the “brought to you by” format; corporate bodies that sponsor the news programming without controlling the content.
Understandably, WBZ will not comment on these advertisements. But this next generation of product placement could be a welcome change from annoying jingles and eerily insincere spokespersons. I hope they take it to TV. Wouldn’t you much rather learn about “anger-detecting software” and voiceprinting (albeit between Prius and Scion plugs,) than watch yet another attractive young white couple driving off into a sunset?
In any case, healthy skepticism is in order. If Diebold decides to bring you “Electronic Voting Today” or Burger King “The Week in TransFat,” trust your instinct. “Don’t believe everything you hear or read” is an adage now more important than ever.
Joanne McNeil is a writer in Boston, MA. Her website is joannemcneil.com.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire