Thursday, July 08, 2010

Score One for the Good Folk

Seed Media is not going to allow PepsiCo to have a blog on ScienceBlogs after all. This is a minor victory in the war against complete corporate dominance, but an important one at least for that little corner of the internet.

This SCIENCE® Brought To You By PepsiCo, Purveyors of Fine Foods Everywhere!

So apparently PepsiCo, in an apparent attempt to leech reputation and gain blog traffic by proxy, has bought its way into ScienceBlogs, where I spend a fair amount of time hanging out. I think this stinks for several reasons:

a) It seems like an attempt at greenwashing, like by blogging about food science and nutrition, PepsiCo is trying to make out that they're a "good corporate citizen"1 in that they care about nutrition and stopping the so-called obesity epidemic and so on and so forth. This strikes me as akin to Wal-Mart's CF lightbulb initiative and their subsequent trumpeting of their environmental friendliness, 100 000 s.f. mega-box rainflow-distorting, hectares-of-land-buried-under-concrete, air-conditioned big box grotesqueries notwithstanding.

b) It seems as though PepsiCo is trying to grab reputation and traffic by proxy. ScienceBlogs itself is the biggest, most well-trafficked science blogging site on the whole Internet. It's the place to be to read interesting writing on science, as well as a variety of other topics including religion or the lack of it, medicine, current events, and politics. It's a great place to be, and I can understand PepsiCo's PR department wanting to grab a piece of that shine for themselves. On the other hand, in terms of getting traffic for themselves, what, do they really think that the Pharynguloid Hordes or the Respectfully Insolent are going to storm their blog en masse to do anything other than give them the Sadly, No! snark and awe treatment? Either corporate drones are really stupid, or they just don't really get this internet thingy, despite its being in its second decade of wide popular currency...

c) That said, what the fuck is PepsiCo doing trying to buy its way into ScienceBlogs, anyway?! PepsiCo is a giant transnational corporation with more money than Croesus, King Midas, and Scrooge McDuck put together, so to speak. It can afford to put a blog on its own corporate site (or one of them), and apparently has already done so, but wants to "syndicate" the blog onto ScienceBlogs. Or it could create its very own "experiential marketing" site, at trivial expense to a corporation of that size, to put the blog and whatever other suit-approved content it wants to put there, without making the ScienceBloggers look like a bunch of shills for swill.

d) It's a huge conflict of interest. I don't want to read a blog on nutrition put out by PepsiCo (or Coca-Cola, or Archer-Daniels-Midland, or Monsanto, or McDonalds, or or or) any more than I want to read a blog on mass transit put out by General Motors, Ford, or Chrysler, or a blog on sustainable energy put out by BP or Shell or even Petro-Canada. They have no credibility on the subject at all because they're a corporation, which exists strictly to make money, and these particular corporations make their money by selling people products and/or services that are antithetical to those topics. If you don't get why this could be a problem, picture a blog about steak written by PETA.

e) There's no delicate way to say this: Corporations lie. They lie and they lie and they lie and they lie some more. Whether it's tobacco industry denialism and stonewalling, Wal-Mart lying about the origins of its products and projecting a wholesome folksy image while squeezing its suppliers to death and mistreating its workers in a variety of ways, or the industry-funded bullshit and propaganda that has been put out regarding biofuels, or the assisted demise of the rail transit system in North America, or the various propaganda-fests documented in Fast Food Nation, or the egregious abuses documented by J. Patrick Wright from John De Lorean's notes in On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors, or the outright denials of any wrongdoing or liability by Curragh Resources2 in the Westray mine disaster, or even the existence of birthstones, which seems to have been made up out of the whole cloth so that Tiffany's could sell more jewellery to credulous dupes; it's wise to assume that since corporations exist for no other purpose than to make money, if a corporation can make money by lying, it will. Therefore it's really only justified to assume, prima facie that a corporation is lying. Or, as your mother used to say, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Also, given a) through e), yeah, let's just give a billion-dollar corporation another platform on which to put its corporate message. It's not as though there aren't practically already billboards on the backs of people's eyelids, for fuck's sake.3

So I think this is a dumb move by Seed Media, and will ultimately either corrode ScienceBlogs' credibility, or it will backfire on them when the blog sinks like a stone and the revenue goes away.

1 I refer you to Murray Dobbin's book The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen.

2 Note the line "the explosion was a terrible tragedy which could not have been foreseen"; this about an explosion in a notoriously gassy and deadly coal seam, in a mine where stonedusting was done intermittently if at all (the extent to which this is true is documented in the Westray Inquiry transcripts), but hoocuddanode?! Gassy, coal-dusty mines tend to blow up! I dunno about you, but I'm damn tired of flacks using "Nobody could have foreseen..." as their all-purpose Get-Out-Of-Jail/Stupid/Trouble-Free Card, especially when the thing they're feigning ignorance of is so transparently obvious the chorus of "WE DID, YOU FUCKING IDIOT!" should be deafening.

3 But, thanks to NAFTA et al, corporations now have more rights than natural persons, so we're not actually allowed to have ad-free public or personal space anymore, in our brave new world of dutifully, humbly, and gratefully serving our corporate overlords.