Catholics Media and Culture

On October 11th MSNBC will launch a new ad campaign with the slogan Lean Forward. You can view two of the planned spots here. They may as well just replace the word “Forward” with “Progressive” because that’s the not-so-subtle message.

The first spot, particularly, is built around a secular progressive paraphrasing of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self evident.
that all men and women have certain unalienable rights – life, liberty, pursuit of happiness
And the freedom to believe that, while history has gotten us this far, the best days are still ahead.
We are the United States of “Come As You Are,”
Our differences are what unite us.
So, starting today, may the ideas that advance our country, no matter who or where they come from, win

Not surprisingly, the rewording of the Declaration omits any reference to our Creator and, in the imagery celebrating America’s diversity, does not include single shot of a church, synagogue, temple or mosque.      

In announcing the new campaign, Sharon Otterman, the network’s chief marketing officer, said “We’re not just creating advertisements. We are building a stronger consumer
brand that differentiates us from the competition and prepares us for future

There was a time when a purportedly mainstream news organization would prefer its “consumer brand” to be one of fair and unbiased reporting of the news, not leaning in any direction at all. Apparently those days are gone — at least at MSNBC.

While it’s true that Fox News has found great success positioning itself on the other side of the political ledger, there are important differences in the two networks’ approaches.

For one thing, Fox’s famous “Fair & Balanced” slogan at least embraces the ideal of being, well, fair and balanced. With it’s new slogan, MSNBC is throwing that ideal under the marketing bus.

Secondly, at least when I worked there about ten years ago, there’s a genuine attempt at Fox News to erect firewalls between its news reporting and its opinion programs (i.e. The O’Reilly Factor).  Though, to be honest, that firewall, it seems to me, has eroded a bit in the past couple of years. The new MSNBC slogan, however, suggests that such firewalls are all but eviscerated at the network.  

A third difference is that the right-leaning perspective of Fox News actually does differentiate it from the rest of the television news landscape. CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS all tilt to the left (to varying degrees). Polls show that Americans believe the media as a whole to be biased toward the left. So, while Fox News fulfilled an actual need for a different perspective, MSNBC simply doesn’t. It’s chief differentiating factor is that it’s just more “out there” with its bias.

Bottom line, I believe the strategy will backfire. It’s simply a marketing mistake for a mainstream media outlet to brand itself as politically biased. I think Kelsey Grammer’s new Right Network is making the same mistake from the conservative side of the spectrum.

People are smart enough to figure out a network’s perspective and biases by themselves. They want to feel that a network “gets” their point of view but they also want to believe that at least some effort is made toward fairness. Ordinary Americans know its important to hear all sides of an issue. All Sides. Hmm. A slogan for CNN?

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus