Going native: Fosters Comedy Award

I missed this story from a couple of years ago but it nicely illustrates my issue with ‘Native Advertising’. Here, Stewart Lee raised an issue with a Foster’s Comedy Award which sought to celebrate the best act from the last 30 years at Edinburgh. Lee points out that this is so obviously designed to spread the Foster’s marketing message rather than celebrate hidden gems. Ironically, though, Lee’s own commentary went viral in precisely the way Foster’s would have wanted their award to go viral with respected comedians and industry players supporting Lee’s point (they call this ‘earned media’ – it is valuable). Foster’s changed the award and buried the announcement of the winners. As Lee explains on his website:

‘Without wishing to downplay the amount of effort thousands of heroic cyber-nerds all around the world put in, it was comparatively easy for the public to sabotage the stupid Foster’s poll. The kids had on their side a number of things that are an anathema to The Man, for it is he, in his world of inane corporate speak, his shit-trough of marketing disguised as philanthropy. In short, the kids had wit, intelligence, taste and honesty. And a communications network that bypasses the mediated information we are usually fed, the advertisers’ lies, the PR people’s spin, the news wank.’

I call this ‘going native’.

As we learn from the history of anthropology (ironically the business press tells us corporations are increasingly hiring anthropologists), going native involves either:

1. Tainting the precious thing you are trying to capture and repackage for another audience. In this case the researcher/brand ruins the community/art they are seeking to exploit

2. Losing your ability to speak with credibility to another audience. In this case, the community/art ruins the researcher/brand.