Michael Shaw: Reading the Pictures: Obama the Double Agent?

What can be done about the growing terrorism hysteria spreading like a virus in Washington and through the corporate media? Far from a sober conversation about security, the issue is being tossed around like a political football with large swaths of the media playing it up because, frankly, fear and drama are good for business.

As an obvious lightening rod, a good deal of the visual spin revolves around Obama.

Consider the latest cover of Foreign Policy, for example, in which Obama is framed as not just being soft, but for being an out-and-out wimp equating him (in a double slam) with Jimmy Carter. And then, because FP started it, the NYT Opinion Section somehow felt obliged to lead off it's Week in Review yesterday by relaying the same meme, warning repeatedly of Obama's vulnerability to the "w" word while also dangling terms like "weakling" and "cream puff".

More concerning than that, however, was this quarter-page tall illustration in the same section embedded in an article titled "The Spies Who Got Left in the Cold." The op-ed, written by Robert Grenier, a business consultant who spent 27 years with the undercover arm of the C.I.A., is an angry rebuttal to criticism of the agency, and represents his perception that the intelligence establishment has become the whipping boy of Obama, as well as Bush before him, for setbacks in combatting terrorism, specifically the suicide bombing that killed seven C.I.A. officers in Afghanistan and the bombing attempt over Detroit.

Presumably, the drawing illustrates a long story at the beginning of the article in which a case officer, trusting a boyhood friend, ends up getting killed for it. That link, though, seems to mask an even more chilling and obvious connection. ...And just to make sure it wasn't just me, I showed the drawing to four different people asking each who they thought the mask was. In each case, the immediate response was: "Barack Obama."

Given how often the Teabaggers and the extreme right have associated Obama with Islam and also likened him to a terrorist (to cite a more recent and distant example), the connection here isn't that great a leap. One of the people I questioned, in fact, even asked if the figure in the mask was supposed to be the young underwear bomber, Umar Abdulmutallab!

And what, I wonder, was going on in the creative process of this illustrator? Could the author's enmity toward Obama perhaps have gotten into the mix? And then, was it unusual at all for the editors of the Times Opinion section not to notice, let alone, head off even the possible association of Obama to the evil doers?

By the way, I sent an email to Clark Hoyt, the NYT Public Editor, to see if he could lend his take on these questions. I'll amend this post if I get a reply.

(illustration: Ruth Gwily)

Why The Future Of Game-Related Advertising Looks Like EA’s Dr. Pepper Deal

Dr. Pepper and EA promo

By many accounts, 2009 was the first year that interactive advertising budgets actually shrank. Stats for display were dismal, and even search struggled to show the kind of growth the industry has become accustomed to. Then there’s in-game advertising. Judging from the layoffs at Microsoft’s Massive and the pending sale of IGA Worldwide, you’d think that the whole industry died last year.

And in some ways, the hype and unrealistic expectations around dynamic in-game ads (the specialty ad units that run in console games played on networks like Xbox LIVE) needed to die. Per Matt Story, a director at Publicis’ Denuo: “I don’t think dynamic in-game advertising will grow the way we speculated it would a few years ago. The creative is dynamic, but the features—what a brand is actually able to do—aren’t. And they’re starting to see more opportunity outside of the core game experience.”

Case in point, Dr. Pepper’s newly-launched, year-long deal with Electronic Arts (NSDQ: ERTS). The campaign will seed 500 million Dr. Pepper bottles and fountain drink cups with special codes that let players download content like virtual clothes or weapons for EA games. The deal starts with five games, including The Sims 3 and the upcoming Mass Effect 2, with more titles to come later this year.

This follows Dr. Pepper’s 2008 deal with Major League Gaming (MLG) that put the MLG logo and star player Tom “TSquared” Taylor on over 175 million bottles of soda. No financial details on either of Dr. Pepper’s game-related buys, but MLG has inked a similar deal with new sponsor Hot Pockets; it says that campaign payout was in the “seven-figure” range. We can expect an influx of deals like this—that equate a brand with a tangible reward for the player—as opposed to a glut of purely promotional in-game ads.

Still, both Story and fellow game ad exec Jay Krihak say some advertisers will leave room for dynamic in-game ad buys in the media plan: “If you’ve created an experience or an arcade game on Xbox LIVE or the PSN, then you need something in-game to support that,” said Krihak, who serves as senior partner, group director & gaming innovation at WPP’s MEC Interaction. “Sports titles are a no-brainer, too.” Meanwhile, Story said movie studios would continue to use in-game ads to promote upcoming releases, as they still see the channel as delivering “a great ROI.”

As for in-game ad sales reps, the outlook is murky at best. “On some levels, it’s a failed business model more than a deterioration of advertiser interest,” Krihak said. “You have companies like EA that have taken their inventory back from the in-game ad firms, because they can package it with around-game experiences [like the Dr. Pepper deal] better than a third-party.”

And despite a partnership with comScore to measure the effectiveness of in-game ads—and there have been a few studies from the likes of IGA, Double Fusion, Nielsen, etc.—there’s also the big question of why Massive’s team is separate from the rest of Microsoft’s interactive ad division. The company’s Advertising Business Group is responsible for the rich media ads that can run on Xbox LIVE, and the 1 vs. 100 game show that has attracted advertisers like Sprint and Honda. “Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) still needs to figure out why there are two separate groups,” Krihak said. “And if there’s no justification, then they just need to collapse them.”


Marvin Sapp Sings “He Saw the Best in Me” (and Google Sees The Best in Him)

Last night Marvin Sapp joined numerous gospel greats on BET’s Celebration of Gospel 2010, its tenth annual such show — and Google noticed. Sapp’s performance of “He Saw The Best In Me” (below) ended up in the #2 spot (at least) on Google’s Hot Searches and, according to results that subsequently turned up in said Google searches, was clearly a highlight of the night. Hip-hop entertainment site DimeWars.com said that Sapp’s performace “was the highlight of the show that had host Steve Harvey near tears.” Sapp, who won 7 Stellar Awards last year, including Artist of the Year. (The Stellar Awards for 2010 are coming up on Saturday but he’s not nominated this time; his next album, Here I Am, comes out in in March 2010.)

The song is quite poignant, especially when he sings about “when Mama said that you would never be nothing, when aunties and uncles said you would never amount when Daddy don’t come home no more, he didn’t look at you and say that you were gonna make it – God looked at you, and what did he see?” You can see the answer coming from a mile away (hint: see song title) but it’s pretty moving to think of this song giving hope to people in that situation. It certainly moved people to their Google search box.
Marvin Sapp’s ‘He Saw The Best In Me’ Rocked BET Celebration Of Gospel 2010 [Dime Wars]
Marvin Sapp: Celebration of Gospel 2010 [InEntertainment UK]