P-ART: Quality of thinking behind PR and marketing

Homer defends his honour from an aggressive sexual advance from the Cerne Abass Chalk Giant

Public Relations and Marketing are much maligned businesses – Practitioners probably rank, at least from a public perception, alongside estate agents or politicians as people you could not entrust with such a delicate bauble as the truth. The term ‘spin’ is almost definitely the next word your average Joe or Jo would contemptuously spit out in a game of word association in which the previous word or phrase was PR!

A good friend of mine, the editor of a major woman’s glossy who shall remain nameless for fear of reprisal, says the modern PR is intellectually limited, celebrity obsessed and shallow. Wow! That is pretty damning!

Yet there are many examples of PR work in which the quality of thinking and execution have been elevated into an art like form. A form that could be called P-Art. Okay, as a piece of terminology it’s perhaps a title clumsy, you can see where I have gaffer taped over the join, but this is my blog!

Homer takes the high ground in The Telegraph.

Referring you to the pictured chalk giant publicity stunt.

There is a definite and deliberate narrative arc in the visual. Firstly the image depicts Homer practically naked cowering from a sexually aggressive advance by the chalk giant. The fact that the giant sports an erection and is brandishing a giant club above his head as the set up to a joke. The punch-line is that Homer defends himself in the only way he knows how: By protecting himself, and his honour with his own giant donut. The resulting imagery is funny; therefore irresistible to picture editors, and caption writers alike: The narrative arc was not lost on for instance, The Sun, who ran with the story under the caption Homer Sexual – a very blunt joke but entirely in keeping with brand Simpsons.

However, to land such a work as this at media as more than just a picture with associated caption comment, or in fact to land any coverage at all, the practitioner has to ensure depth of story to provide compelling reasons for editors to run with it – which is where the art of PR comes in: Homer is a classic American pop culture icon, the chalk giant is a classic world heritage icon: The juxtaposition of one against the other in this way could be seen as an act of cultural vandalism. The argument was made that it may well be vandalism, BUT… if you left Homer on there for a 1000 years then he too would become a heritage icon as potent as the chalk giant. This is hard to argue against. Particularly when you consider that the origins of the giant are actually lost to history, and there is a significant school of thought that the giant was actually an early form of graffiti – a crude caricature of Oliver Cromwell in fact! Again an act of vandalism becoming a heritage icon with the passage of time. All these angles were used in the intense debate that built up online to provide depth and a solid rationale to the work. It didn’t stop there…

Never offend a Pagan.

The giant is also interpreted as a fertility symbol by Pagan groups. Some tongue in cheek controversy was courted with these special interest groups; the Dorset Pagans, whose home turf included the land the giant is carved upon were most offended and denounced the work to all media as an affront to the ancient fertility symbol. They held a rain dance in an attempt to wash Homer away from the sacred site. This was capitalised on at media and rolled out as part of the development of the story – it is the sort of thing you could actually imagine happening in an episode of The Simpsons – life imitating art. The media lapped it up. £18 million of coverage in the UK alone. Every tabloid, every broadsheet and every terrestrial broadcast news show featured the work. P-art!