Liars, cheats and fools

So, an astonishing (but not that surprising) string of news this week.

The record industry sued a “little old lady” named Sarah Ward. She’s not that old, but she’s little and she’s not a pirate. She’s never even downloaded the software you need to download the music. The RIAA has dropped the suit, but Amy Weiss, their spokesman, says, “We have chosen to give her the benefit of the doubt and are continuing to look into the facts… This is the only case of its kind.”

Now, regardless of how you feel about litigation as a business strategy, refusing to apologize is just a bad idea. This is clearly NOT the only case of its kind. Instead of stonewalling, why doesn’t the RIAA say, “This is terrific! She’s an honest citizen and we’re proud of her. We made a mistake and we apologize. We’re sending Ms. Ward a hundred CDs to apologize for bothering her. If there are any other cases like this one, we’ll drop them immediately.”

Moving on, the Wall Street Journal today has a tiny item about Clorox. It seems they ran an ad featuring slimy water mains and pipes, encouraging New Yorkers to use a Brita water filter. New York complained, calling it “a blatant mischaracterization of the world’s safest, purest water supply.”

Mary O’Connell, our next waffling spokesman, speaking on behalf of Clorox said, “The ad was never intending (sic) to be critical of the (sic) New York City’s water system. It was more about the pipes that carry the water in apartment buildings.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if these foiks are intending to be caricatures, or if it just turns out that way. OF COURSE the ad was criticizing the water system… if it wasn’t, why would I need a Brita water filter? Why don’t they just tell the truth?

Moving on to one of my favorite organizations, the Motion Picture Association of America (yay Jack Valenti!) has a two-pronged approach to fighting the future piracy of movies. The first is a low-budget ad campaign designed to teach us that, “Movies, they’re worth it”. According to the Times, it profiles, “among others, a set painter, stuntman and make up artist.”

The second prong? A lesson plan (including crossword puzzles featuring phrases like ‘digital theft’ and ‘Movielink’) created in conjunction with Junior Achievement. The plan is designed to indoctrinate teenagers with the ‘downloading is bad’ mantra.

Well, other than the huge success rate that advertising campaigns have had in reducing things like tobacco use [intentional use of sarcasm], do they really think that this is the answer? And when did Junior Achievement start acting as a spokesperson for maintaining entrenched industries? (Movielink is a business run by the studios.)

The reason that the ads feature the relatively low-paid craftspeople is that, of course, people don’t really care if Arnold or J. Lo. make another few bucks. The problem, of course, is that ads like this never work, and even if they did, the idea that you should pay $30 to go out to the movies to support a make-up artist you’ve never met is an awfully hard sell.

No, I don’t think downloading movies is right or legal or even convenient. I do believe, however, that it’s going to happen more and more, and people in the industry ought to tell the truth–to each other and to us. The only thing that will save the existing infrastructure is an out-of-house experience that really and truly IS worth paying for. That, and an in-house experience that is super-easy and very cheap. The music industry could have killed Napster with a $10 a month all you can eat plan (which would have easily tripled their profits) and Hollywood could do the same. But they won’t.