Media Watch picks an odd target

I’ve got a nasty feeling I’ve finally gone native.

Much like Stockholm Syndrome where kidnap victims come to adore their captors, journalists have always been susceptible to a similar syndrome.  

It may be one reason sports hacks rarely break bad news about the players. And when I worked on a magazine for doctors, it was a regular conversation with colleagues who were thinking of retraining as medics. And there are too many examples to mention of journalists who write about marketing who then move agencyside.

But I never thought it would happen to me.

Until last night’s Media Watch, when I’ve found myself siding with the marketers against the journalists.

The piece – the main one on the program – was something of a kicking for The Conscience Organisation. Media Watch accused them of “unconscionable” conduct in creating a “cynical online advertising campaign”.

The subject of Media Watch’s investigation was a press release on behalf of Boost Mobile. It identified various types of texting disorders. And the campaign was underpinned by a social media campaign run by TCO. The “disorder” types – which the press release attributed to Boost Mobile – were Textophrenia, Textiety, Post Traumatic Text Disorder, and Binge Texting. It got excellent – from the client’s point of view – take up in the media.

Where TCO came into the equation was the creation of a Textaholics Facebook group and a series of virals, hosted on Boost’s YouTube channel along with working with the brand’s own marketing team on that strategy which was about getting out its cheap texts message.

Not really pretending to be something they’re not, are they? I suspect that very few members of the public would be fooled that these were real people. By now, I suspect the concept of advertising has probably sunk in with the public.

So what exactly did Media Watch have a problem with? It was the way the press reported the press release. They went further than the release and turned it into a bigger story than it in truth was.

That, by the way, is a bad thing. But it also happens every day. Several times a week, press releases come in promoting spurious studies that – surprise, surprise – highlight an issue that the funder of the study wants highlighted. The clue is often in the footnotes when you have a look at who paid for it.

When I then see them appear in the paper, I don’t sneer at the PR people who sent it out, but for the journos who bought it. The problem – and this is a big one for journalism – is that a lot of news content is driven by an unspoken conspiracy. If the PR content is entertaining then the newspaper won’t ask too many hard questions about whether it’s true – just whether it’s a good story.

But that responsibility lies with the journalists, not the spinners. They’re the ones who decide whether to publish. Unfortunately, entertaining readers, viewers or listeners come higher on the agenda than getting to The Truth.

A further wrinkle here is that Media Watch’s focus was on TCO. Boss Clive Burcham tells me he wasn’t approached for a comment (although he concedes that a message could have been left that didn’t get to him. Update: Media Watch tells me that they left messages with TCO’s Julian Cole but no comment was forthcoming). Normally Media Watch clearly states when people didn’t comment, but they said nothing either way on this occasion.

Yet SueMacMedia, the PR agency, didn’t get mentioned in the item at all. Sensibly, they did return Media Watch’s calls. If there is a problem (and I don’t think the release is anything out of the ordinary) then surely, the PR agency should have been the focus?

In this case the responsibility for running the story clearly lies with the media. Nobody was tricked into covering this and they all omitted giving their audience the true origins of the story. As host Jonathan Homes put it: “But none of those reports told us that the cute names had been dreamt up by a marketing man.”

(As an aside, Mr Holmes, that seems something of an assumption – women work in marketing too.)

Marketing agencies are an easy target. Often they deserve to be. But I’m not sure TCO did anything unconscionable here.

Tim Burrowes


  1. Joel Pearson
    13 Jul 10
    11:57 am

  2. Couldn’t agree more Tim

    My (much less eloquent) thoughts on the subject are here:

  3. Rat
    13 Jul 10
    11:58 am

  4. It was the lampooning of names given to actual mental disorders that gave me the shits. I felt it trivialised mental illness a lot. Of course, it was those ‘cute’ names that made it clear when I saw this story appear on the news that this was some kind of a stunt. So who am I to complain?

  5. mal damkar
    13 Jul 10
    11:58 am

  6. Yeah definitely agree with you on this Tim.

    It’s hardly the first time a journo has a seen a press release. The tone of the report should have perhaps been more light hearted, if they felt the need to run the piece. I think it highlights the fact there is too much air time devoted to news – and thus there is time to run this sort of story.

    Lets have some drama or comedy. Not drama about a comedy of errors in a news report.

  7. marcf
    13 Jul 10
    12:06 pm

  8. agreed. the focus of the story was off. waaaay off.

    though TCO is, and always has been, an atrocious name for the company.

  9. Tom
    13 Jul 10
    12:08 pm

  10. We have the chattering classes here, too. They mostly work at the ABC.

    (Ducking and running…)

  11. Ben S
    13 Jul 10
    12:11 pm

  12. This reminds of me of the witchery girl in a jacket thing.

    However when that happened EVERYONE took a shot at Naked accusing them of everything under the guise of ‘social media rules that can’t be broken by anyone’. Ultimately it was just something that was equal parts smug agency and cheeky client.

    I guess at the time no one had mates working at Naked hence why they were thrown under the bus so much.

  13. Joel Pearson
    13 Jul 10
    12:14 pm

  14. @Ben S

    I didn’t think was Naked did was wrong either.

  15. Joel Pearson
    13 Jul 10
    12:17 pm

  16. that should be “I didn’t think what Naked did was wrong either”

  17. Ben S
    13 Jul 10
    12:23 pm

  18. i know joel but plenty of people were outraged and used words like ‘conversations’, ‘dialogue’ and ‘transparency’.

    maybe these days the sm crew aren’t as sensitive as they used to be 😉

  19. Joel Pearson
    13 Jul 10
    12:24 pm

  20. They grow up so fast!

  21. Kimota
    13 Jul 10
    12:57 pm

  22. I agree with the point that the part of the campaign that Jonathan Holmes disliked so much – the media-baiting press release – was not produced by TCO and therefore TCO may have been wrongly chastised here. I guess it depends on how the dots were connected between the agencies in creating the strategy.

    However, I really am tired of the argument that the media should have checked, the media is gullible, the agency merely sent an entertaining release and the media bears all responsibility for running it. In my mind that is no better than saying the Nigerian email scammers are not really to blame because the people who send them the money should have checked first. It’s the fault of the gullible victim.

    PR agencies send these press releases fully aware that the media may just be gullible or desperate or cynical enough to run them. If the PR agency is aware they are sending out something with a questionable relationship to truth, they do so with their fingers crossed that the journo(s) will let it slip through in their push to get enough words past the editor in a given day.

    Responsibility lies on both sides of this – neither is blameless and both are only too aware that ethics are greyed over in favour of client exposure on the one hand and column inches on the other.

    And the consumer stuck in the middle is the loser by being misled.

    Yup, no sympathy here.

  23. TNM
    13 Jul 10
    1:09 pm

  24. Kimota,

    Below is the text of the press release. What’s misleading about it?

    Sydney, 30 June 2010; Textophrenia, Textiety, Post Traumatic Text Disorder, and Binge Texting…these are the four latest texting-related disorders to be identified by Boost Mobile.
    Following research by two of Australia‟s foremost academics on mobile phone trends, Dr Shari Walsh (QUT) and Associate Professor Jennie Carroll (RMIT), the disorders have been defined by Boost Mobile as:
    Textophrenia – Hearing texts when they are not actually there
    Textiety – Anxiety related to not receiving text or not being able to text
    Post Traumatic Text Disorder – Injuries physical or mental related to texting
    Binge Texting – Sending multiple texts out at once to make yourself feel good
    Australia‟s mobile phone addicted youth are developing this range of disorders as a result of their high texting habits.
    Some staggering statistics from Boost Mobile, the leaders in the teen pre-paid mobile market, reveal that the number of texts sent by Boost Mobile customers in the 14 -18 year old demographic have increased over 89% in the past two years. The Top 200 Boost Mobile texters send an average of 6000 texts per month on average and one teen in particular, recently sent over 4000 texts over a nine day period.
    Furthermore, with an Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) study** showing 75% of 12-14 year olds and 90% of 15-17 year olds own a mobile phone, the disorders are clearly an issue for a wide reaching and ever growing number of our youth.
    Focus groups run by Dr Walsh*** showcased the disorders:
    Textiety is exampled by:
    “I wake up and check my phone straight away… I‟ll have a shower, then I‟ll come back and I‟ll check the phone.” (Female, 16).
    “I always check my phone at work to see if anyone‟s messaged me.” (Female, 17).
    Binge Texting is exampled by:
    “I get excited like say if I have one message received I‟m like, yeah, sweet, check it. If there‟s like 2 or 3 messages I‟m like, YES, who‟s it from kind of thing, like I get excited because I‟ve got a lot of messages.” (Female, 17).
    Post Traumatic Text Disorder is exampled by:
    “If no-one has contacted me I get really depressed and I‟m like oh no-one loves me.” (Female, 17).
    Associate Professor Jennie Carroll says “Many young people have a fear of missing out on what is happening…young people say „No one loves me‟ when they check their phones and there are no new texts.”
    In regards to Post Traumatic Text Disorder Carroll goes on to say, “There were reports from Japan of ‘repetitive thumb syndrome’ and of young people’s thumbs growing in response to too much texting leading to ‘Monster Thumbs’. The upcoming generations will add lots more
    ‘disorders’ as they develop new communications practices with yet-to-be-released technologies.”
    *Access to the internet, broadband and mobile phones in family households. No 3. September 2008. Media and Communications in Australian Family series.
    **Over-connected? A qualitative exploration of the relationship between Australian youth and their mobile phones. Walsha, Whitea, & Youngb aSchool of Psychology and Counselling, Queensland University of Technology, bInstitute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology. Journal of Adolescence 31 (2008) 77–92
    For further information please contact SueMacMedia:
    Sue McAullay Rhiannon Haughee
    E: E:
    W: 02 9905 8811 M: 0402 144 413
    M: 0418 172 602
    About Boost Mobile
    Based in Sydney, Australia, Boost Mobile is a lifestyle-centric telecommunications company that focuses solely on developing and distributing communications products for the youth market. In 2010 Boost Mobile celebrates its 10 year anniversary, having launched in Australia in 2000, followed by New Zealand in 2001 and the USA in 2002 where they are now the highest connecting carrier.
    Boost Mobile are innovators in creating custom pre-paid mobile and data solutions that embrace the culture, values, and lifestyle, of this exciting category.
    Boost Mobile’s offerings include prepaid mobile phone services; ‘Re-Boost’ pre-paid recharge cards, international calling cards, a range of in demand mobile services available at Boost Mobile‟s WAP site, Boost Live, and „Boost Mobile Connect‟ a pre-paid wireless broadband service.
    In support of their adventurous and enthusiastic customer base, Boost Mobile’s marketing and sponsorship activities are centred on youth related events such as action sports, music, fashion and entertainment.

  25. HSR
    13 Jul 10
    1:17 pm

  26. Media watch to be included in the case study :)

  27. franksting
    13 Jul 10
    1:30 pm

  28. What Joel says,
    As I posted over on his blog ( The responsibility lies with all parties.
    I think having now read Tim’s piece and Mal’s comment, perhaps the sheer amount of ‘airtime’ in so many media is making it very difficult for Journalists and editors to objectively view pieces which come across their desk.
    Saying that Tim, you mention ‘Journalists’ a lot in your piece. And while they are the ones doing the news gathering (or in too many cases it appears these days trawling the PR pitches), isn’t the Editor the one ultimately responsible?

  29. Rick
    13 Jul 10
    1:55 pm

  30. SAVE TCO!

  31. EM
    13 Jul 10
    2:00 pm

  32. TNM – Where’s the reference to the 1c texts? Every company has something to promote, why not be transparent about what it is your promoting? These disorders are the crux of an advertising campaign, not the crux of a social phenomenon.

    It seems that these ‘disorders’ were created first, turned into an ad campaign, then supported through academia then a story was woven to support the advertising campaign. I don’t think it’s ethical to create ‘disorders’ and then promote them in the media. Consumers BELIEVE what they read in the media – which is why editorial media is considered so powerful. You can see it is tongue and cheek when it is associated with the ad campaign – but what about if it’s stand alone news?

    No where in the release did it let the media know that what they were reporting on disorders created for an ad campaign. That is misleading. Remembering that you can lie by omission.

    Those who say ‘journalists should check their facts’, know this: Most journalists work with PRs they TRUST. Without it, PR cannot exist. And nor should it. The PR agency should have been upfront about the tie in with the ad campaign. And FYI – good advertising campaigns should be promoted to trade media, not mainstream.

    PR and journalists should be on the same team. Counting on ‘tricking’ a journalist, is absurd. PRs that work like this, work against media, and hence should get into advertising. That’s where you can BUY space, rather than EARN it.

  33. Kimota
    13 Jul 10
    2:01 pm

  34. Granted, on reading the complete press release it does seem pretty clear we’re being marketed to – and the media conveniently dropped all of that in reporting the release. No deception there, then. Media Watch certainly overstated that.

    Not comfortable with the appropriation of Professor Walsh’s study as it does imply more of a scientific basis than there actually is (syntax and wording is everything, innit?)

    Interesting reading the comments here and on Twitter to see how many people also assumed some misinformation had taken place but were okay with it as somehow part of the game and I think that has more to do with my need to rant.

    So why do I still have a funny feeling about this?

  35. mumbrella
    13 Jul 10
    2:01 pm

  36. Hi Franksting…

    You’ve stumbled upon many journalists’ pet peeve. I once watched a junior reporter nearly get smacked by a chief sub when he asked why he’d given up journalism.

    Editors and subs (and indeed reporters) all think of themselves as journalists.

    But if what you’re asking is: are both editors and reporters responsible?, I’d agree.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  37. Scott Rhodie
    13 Jul 10
    2:03 pm

  38. TNM,

    I think this part of the release is the misleading bit:
    “Following research by two of Australia‟s foremost academics on mobile phone trends, Dr Shari Walsh (QUT) and Associate Professor Jennie Carroll (RMIT), the disorders have been defined by Boost Mobile as”

    You are linking the research to the conditions making it sound like Boost Mobile has worked in conjunction with the two academics to come up with the terms when in actual fact only Boost Mobile has created the “medically-sounding” terms.

  39. Athan
    13 Jul 10
    2:11 pm

  40. I believe @Kimota has hit the nail on the head.

    I’m not one to judge seeing as those very techniques are what get your content exposed beyond paid media and your facebook page. I try and utilise them myself as much as possible.

    However one must question our responsibility in promoting certain content to certain audiences. It’s not hard to find research on the social issues of texting ( ), and it’s equally not hard to find current youth mental health disorders ( ). For problems that are such common knowledge, and as demonstrated if they’re not common knowledge they’re easily searchable, there should be an element of ownership if those issues are being toyed with. Could you argue that it is acceptable to promote smoking via press release as long as it was slightly possible to be identifiable as marketing material and a little entertaining? It’s democratic, but is it acceptable?

    This is a problem that goes beyond Boost and TCO, to issues that were lightly addressed by Adam Ferrier in B&T “YOUNG ARE NOT MARKETING SAVVY: THEY’RE SUCKERS” ( )**. Take from it what you will, but the question remains, as marketers how responsible are we?

    Tim, while you may think that TCO didn’t do any marketing wrong, understand that they didn’t do anything socially right either.

    ** I am well aware of the personal connection between mUmbrella, Adam Ferrier, and Julian Cole from TCO.

  41. Brumo
    13 Jul 10
    2:28 pm

  42. Did much of the coverage actually name check the brand?

  43. Pedro
    13 Jul 10
    2:30 pm

  44. Viva Espana! Campeones 2010!

  45. Rob
    13 Jul 10
    2:37 pm

  46. Tim,

    The problem, as I see it, is that TCO incorrectly associated the so-called disorders with geniune scholarly article in a journal with less frivilous human goals than flogging texts.

    I don’t think it’s more complex than that.

  47. Belinda
    13 Jul 10
    2:46 pm

  48. As I watched this story last night, I said to my husband, “I can’t help thinking, from my PR agency perspective, what a fantastic coup for the people behind it – so much great coverage for such a stupid story.” I really couldn’t see where the ‘evil’ was being done. Great strategy and execution – they know that journalists and editors will run this type of infotainment, because the public wants it.

  49. shamwow
    13 Jul 10
    2:46 pm

  50. Rob, you’ve nailed it.

    On a side note…

    “They went further than the release and turned it into a bigger story than it in truth was.”

    Tim, I’d be willing to bet my ass that this was the primary aim of whoever wrote the release. To connected academic research to some bullshit disorders that made up around a conference table. It’s deceptive.

  51. mumbrella
    13 Jul 10
    2:55 pm

  52. Rob/ Shamwow,

    It looks to me like the association with the scholarly article came in the press release, from the PR agency, not in the content created by TCO.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  53. Gordon
    13 Jul 10
    2:58 pm

  54. Jonathan Holmes said no journalists mentioned that the “cute names” of the “disorders” were made up by the marketing agency? I did. Even used the word “cute”:

    I think Media Watch went OTT on this. Of course journos should not present unquestioning promo of anything as “news”. Anyone who read the release as identifying real disorders needs to brush up their English. You can blame the marketing mob for diminishing the importance of real disorders, but don’t blame the PR company for a press release misread and overstated by journalists.

    By the way, Holmes said the ” ‘serious’ physical and mental disorder were identified by Boost Mobile”. In fact, the media release makes it clear that the conditions (texting problems do exist among teens) “have been defined by Boost Mobile as …”. That is, they’ve made up some names for existing behavioural issues.

    Also, Tim, when I spoke to Sue from SueMacMedia before writing my blog she confirmed that the names of the disorders were concocted by someone of the male persuasion. MW got that right.

  55. Scott Taylor
    13 Jul 10
    3:01 pm

  56. @belinda

    Are you absolutely sure the public want this?

    Entertaining news-lite stories? Maybe. News stories with little if any factual basis designed purely to sell a cheap text service? Well, maybe as well, I haven’t asked them. But I think it’s a bit of a stretch to just assume they do because of some lazy journalists.

  57. Jonathan Holmes
    13 Jul 10
    3:03 pm

  58. Tim
    Obviously I didn’t make myself as clear as I thought I had.
    The problem I had with TCO was NOT the media release or the way it was treated by the media – I entirely agree that it’s up to journalists to check these things out. (We had to cut a brief tribute to The Age’s Gordon Farrer, who did point out that the fancy names for ‘texting disorders’ were part of a marketing ploy by Boost Mobile – but he was the only one who did).
    What I thought was cynical was the accompanying viral campaign. Maybe everyone was supposed to treat these alleged disorders as a joke – but though a lot of people had fun with them, a lot of the media called them ‘serious mental and physical disorders’. The media release called them disorders and justified them by reference to the work of two academics, at least one of whom is a psychologist.
    But in parallel Boost’s Facebook campaign ‘textaholics’ is offering ‘sufferers’ from these ‘disorders’ some ‘help’ – texts for 1c each from Boost Mobile.
    To me this is like putting out a press release about new problems associated with too much grog, and in parallel running a viral campaign designed to attract alcoholics and offering to help by selling them vodka at 1 dollar a bottle.
    I think that’s unconscionable and cynical. Don’t you?
    Maybe I’m just lacking a sense of humour…

  59. John Johnston
    13 Jul 10
    3:05 pm

  60. It seems to me that, on reading the media release, the tone doesn’t match TCO’s videos. The videos are very obviously fake while the press release takes a bit more of a serious tone, quoting The Australian Comms and Media Authority study and Dr Walsh etc.

    Obviously some journos were fooled by it. Shame on them form not digging a little deeper, but it does seem that the press release did set out to trick. If not, they miscalculated there and should have made it REALLY obvious is was a fake. If you are going to lie, make it REALLY obvious, then it’s fine. There’s no link to the Facebook page on the press realease but if you went to the Boost site you’d be able to work it out. Some journos obviously didn’t go even that far.

    Maybe TCO and the PR agency didn’t work together well enough on this one? Just blaming the journos for putting the story out there is not quite the whole story imho.

  61. Peter
    13 Jul 10
    3:11 pm

  62. I thought Media Watch was extremely fair in its treatment of the story. This is not the first time, obviously, that MW has commented on reporters and news departments existing in echo chambers that provide ample hunting grounds for advertising agencies.

    In each case, MW has in fact apportioned blame in a way that reflects the conflicting areas where blame should be placed. MW has often criticised journalists for failing to check their facts, failing to go to the source and failing to do background research in relation to these marketing techniques. It already did so in at least one episode earlier this year, and has followed up on such journalistic failures over several years now. So the notion that Holmes just lets somnolent journos off scot-free is absurd: by no means did this story leave MW’s viewers with a favourable impression of the journalists who were taken in hook, line and sinker by these claims.

    But the idea that TCO was unfairly targeted just for doing its job is off-base on your part, Tim. As MW pointed out, and as has been remarked upon by other commenters, TCO didn’t just issue a quirky press release with some amusing findings to attract attention. They attempted to increase the odds by linking it in with academic findings and implying that these cutesy labels had some basic level of veracity beyond merely being used in some faux-advertisements. We can quibble over whether “unconscionable” is the correct word to use, but TCO is not a guiltless party here. Should journalists be more inclined to do background research instead of relying on churn-alism? Most certainly. Does that validate TCO’s tactics? No.

  63. glen
    13 Jul 10
    3:19 pm

  64. I agree with shamwow and Rob.

    The research is from 2008 lol and not really that strong!!

    The researchers asked the research participants whether they believed mobile phone addiction could occur (page 88). WTF? Why would a group of young adults have the expertise to be able to properly diagnose addiction? Crowd sourcing research? Right. “Future research, then, could attempt to identify the specific symptoms that differentiate addictive and non-addictive mobile phone use” (88). Isn’t this what the research was about?!?!?!

    The discussion of ‘euphoria’ (page 89) over being contacted via a mobile phone is problematic to say the least.

    Surely there needs to be a discussion in their research regarding the difference between the mobile as an object and the mobile as a tool/enabler. Emilie Gomart and Antoine Hennion’s work on a sociology of attachment and drug addicts is probably relevant.

    Two problems: firstly, is the medicalisation of academic social research and, secondly, the willingness of marketing types to produce a pseudo moral panic for PR purposes.

  65. mumbrella
    13 Jul 10
    3:23 pm

  66. Thanks for joining the conversation, Jonathan.

    To use your grog example, As far as TCO goes, I guess it comes down to whether they are taking advantage of people joining the group because they genuinely believe they have a problem.

    I don’t think there’s been much evidence of that occurring.

    It sounds like you might not have a problem with the digital stuff if it wasn’t for the faux academic PR positioning. It looks to me like the video content (the bit from TCO) came first and the press release slightly later in the process.

    Surely it’s hard to justify then hammering TCO in particular. If anyone’s at fault, surely then it’s the client Boost Mobile who got the two agencies doing the two different parts of the project for them?


    Tim – Mumbrella

  67. mumbrella
    13 Jul 10
    3:26 pm

  68. Hi Peter,

    TCO didn’t issue the press release. That was from the PR agency.

    And by the way, I don’t think the journos were taken in hook, line & sinker. I think they knew what they were doing and chose to run with it because they saw it as an entertaining story.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  69. Atlas
    13 Jul 10
    3:35 pm

  70. I agree 100% with you, Tim. Their are numerous examples of similar stuff out there.

    Plus, the idea sucks.

  71. Realsp33k
    13 Jul 10
    3:36 pm

  72. I agree with @athan, it was hardly in good taste.

    And the arguement of the journalists’ fault is really a tired trodden path. It’s common knowledge most journalist are overworked, TCO exploited this, nothing new there, but that’s not what lives a bad taste in my mouth.

    It’s that TCO made light of youth mental issues to make their client some money which is really hard to swallow.

  73. Josh
    13 Jul 10
    3:39 pm

  74. The host of that program is so smug it pains me to watch it even for a minute. Damn him!

    Even if I think it’s a good show to have on, calling media for accountability….

    Can they PLEASE ask someone to read the text sound bites in a measured voice. Not one dripping with the sentiment they are projecting on those poor little words! It makes me feel sick. I sound a bit sensitive, don’t I?

    cue VO 1 – utter this with dread, please.

    “…text disorder and….(wait for it)….BINGE texting.”

  75. Rei
    13 Jul 10
    3:39 pm

  76. What the PR agency has done is a little bit grey but nothing the industry hasn’t seen or done before, although perhaps us PR types need to remember that a lot of the public are not as cynical and savvy as we are when dissecting news sources…

    My main criticism is with the strategy itself, considering TCO “speak directly to your intended audience.” How many 14-18 year olds listen to 2GB or ABC Radio Hobart? Which teenage “textaholic” wants to be nagged by their parents about “binge texting” or “textophrenia”?
    I would’ve thought 1 cent text messages sold themselves, without having to come up with tenuous names for fake disorders.

  77. Kimota
    13 Jul 10
    3:41 pm

  78. OK, so I’m not the only one uncomfortable with the press release. Even though it does make it clear that Boost created the terms, a few of us have expressed that linking the terms with carefully worded passages with academic research provides more ‘weight’ and newsworthiness than was actually valid.

    As for TCO’s innocence or otherwise – sure, the PR agency is responsible for the release, but I doubt the release and the viral existed entirely independently of each other, let’s be fair. People sat around the table; the client, the PR agency and the digital agency and designed a joined-up strategy. So although TCO didn’t produce the release, I am almost positive they would have been aware of the release and are complicit in it by tying their components into it.

    Or is the real story that TCO and the PR agency (I could scroll up to remind myself who they were… or not) never WERE around the same table with the client? Did they both deliver independent solutions to two different ends of a brief that when viewed together created a bad association and seemed like poking fun at mental disorders? Weirder things have happened.

    Either way, there is a #fail in here somewhere – I’m just not sure where.

  79. Realsp33k
    13 Jul 10
    3:43 pm

  80. Correction – the PR agency mislead the media with the press release, which is all common practice. To me, it’s more of a question of taste with the campaign itself considering there are genuine conditions associated with addictive behaviours and mobile phones. Why not use alcoholism to sell VB? Where do you draw the line?

  81. Rob
    13 Jul 10
    4:23 pm

  82. Tim,

    I’ll admit I’m not clear on the relationship between Boost and TCO but I’m assuming that they came up with the copy for the release. I think it’s splitting hairs to try to make distinctions on who specifically had executive discretion to link the articles to the punny invented disorders.



  83. inq
    13 Jul 10
    4:27 pm

  84. Twats in blieving Press Release shocker. Top PR work there!

  85. Jonathan Holmes
    13 Jul 10
    4:27 pm

  86. Sorry Gordon didn’t notice your comment above. And it really is true that we had to cut a tribute to your piece to get under 13 and a half minutes. But I said ‘none of those reports mentioned…’ not ‘no journalist mentioned’, because we did know about your piece.

    But I suspect even you weren’t aware of the online marketing campaign when you wrote it – you didn’t mention it anyway. Journos shouldn’t fall for media ploys like this. If they do, it’s their fault. And you didn’t.

    If it’s true that TCO’s campaign was entirely separate from the mainstream media ploy, I guess I might have been a bit harsh.

    But TCO’s videos are still making fun of what may well be some quite serious problems (fake therapy sessions, ‘help is at hand’ etc) to sell a cheap product which will make the problems (assuming they exist at all) worse. At the very least, there’s an ethical vacuum where The Conscience Organisation’s consience should be, it seems to me. I doubt Boost Mobile has one.

    As for the media release, if we weren’t supposed to be taking these ‘disorders’ seriously at all, then Boost Mobile really shouldn’t be quoting the research of serious academics like Dr Walsh.

  87. Misha Ketchell
    13 Jul 10
    4:30 pm

  88. “As host Jonathan Homes put it: “But none of those reports told us that the cute names had been dreamt up by a marketing man.” (As an aside, Mr Holmes, that seems something of an assumption – women work in marketing too.)

    Sorry Tim but there was no assumption made. Media Watch was told by the PR agency before going to air that the names were the work of Julian Cole. This was confirmed by Cole himself. He also agreed to provide an email statement (which never materialised). But that’s why Jonathan said it was dreamt up by a marketing man — because it was a man.

  89. Jonathan Holmes
    13 Jul 10
    4:32 pm

  90. And by the way, when I said ‘serious mental and physical disorders’ I made the quote-mark gesture – I was quoting the Telegraph’s report, not endorsing it.

  91. Rob
    13 Jul 10
    4:33 pm

  92. @Jonathan Holmes

    I’m a little confused.

    If you had no such problem with TCO then why did you ironically draw attention to the expanded acronym – The Conscience Organisation -…

    (“outfit called – seriously – ‘The Conscience Organisation’,” MW site)

    ..if not to cast them in some sort of sinister light?

  93. Mental As Anything
    13 Jul 10
    4:45 pm

  94. If I was a savvy thirteen year old I’d be asking for time off school to get over my texting disorder/s – lowering the price to 1c per text should keep me there :)
    Very irresponsible.

  95. Gordon
    13 Jul 10
    4:56 pm

  96. @Jonathan
    Thanks for the acknowledgment, even if after the event.
    By the way, I put quote marks around ‘serious’ when quoting you because I noticed your air quotes in the clip.
    Last: I wasn’t aware of the online marketing campaign but wouldn’t have mentioned it if even I had been. I was using the Boost texting disorders stuff to lead to another point about some research that suggests social media such as Twitter and texting might have positive effects on the tweeter/texter by boosting their feel-good hormone oxytocin levels in the same way physical interaction/face-to-face socialising can.
    No, that pun was not intentional.

  97. Sam G
    13 Jul 10
    4:57 pm

  98. When you (Boost) command < 1% of market share – any publicity is good publicity.

    Well done Boost & TCO.

    Jonathan Holmes is a bore.

  99. Kimota
    13 Jul 10
    5:01 pm

  100. Oh how I hate the ‘any PR is good PR’ justification.

  101. Realsp33k
    13 Jul 10
    5:01 pm

  102. “some research that suggests social media such as Twitter and texting might have positive effects on the tweeter/texter by boosting their feel-good hormone oxytocin levels ”

    Perhaps this would have been a better angle that TCO/Boost could have used to sell 1cents. It would have certainly made most young heavy text users feel better about what is a normal practice to them, and made more sense when linking in the sales pitch.

  103. Rod
    13 Jul 10
    5:08 pm

  104. @Jonathan Holmes

    Sorry my last post was non-sensical.

  105. Jonathan Holmes
    13 Jul 10
    5:10 pm

  106. Yes, but Gordon, I wasn’t saying you SHOULD have mentioned the online campaign. I’m trying to explain (and seem to have trouble getting through) that I was aiming at two separate targets. 1) Sloppy journos who fall for media releases and bang on about ‘serious mental and physical disorders’ which a phone company has ‘identified’ and 2) Cynical marketing companies which, having ‘identified’ these ‘disorders’ then use them as a ploy to sell the very article they are claiming is causing the ‘problems’. If there had been no 1 cent marketing campaign, I wouldn’t have had a go at TCO.

    So when you say Media Watch was OTT, I don’t think you’re taking account of the online marketing campaign. I wasn’t JUST talking about the media release.

    Ah well, time to move on.

  107. mumbrella
    13 Jul 10
    5:46 pm

  108. Sam G (comment 49),

    Let’s try to keep the tone civilised between participants in the conversation if we can please.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  109. mumbrella
    13 Jul 10
    5:47 pm

  110. And Misha,

    Thanks for clarifiying that. You could say that I made an assumption about an assumption.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  111. Mahia
    13 Jul 10
    6:50 pm

  112. While it is true that the journalists should be accountable to source their material. TCO has to share the blame. As the media release and devices used for the campaign to work, relied on the holes and lack of professionalism.
    It is one thing to understand the dynamics of bullshit, yet quite another to have so little insight into the devices used to advertise and market to not admit you are the bullshitter.

  113. Cat
    13 Jul 10
    8:04 pm

  114. So who paid the RMIT researcher?

    Julian Cole’s Twitter might provide a clue..

  115. Jack
    13 Jul 10
    8:40 pm

  116. 1. It must have been a VERY quiet week for Media Watch, not only to bother with this yarn at all but to have devoted so much time to it.

    2. The media outlets that MW targeted include ACA, talk radio and assorted News Ltd tabloids – not exactly outlets known for (nor expected to be) exhaustive in their own fact-finding, legwork and due diligence. They are all about ‘churnalism’ at its best.

    3. Daily Telegraph’s Steve Fenech was the byline under the News stories, and little wonder at that, he rarely does anything more than lazily rehash someone’s press release and two their company line, especially when it’s Apple (or anybody else whose sent him on a junket to play with new gadgets).

  117. ben chod
    14 Jul 10
    12:39 am

  118. Just keep ads out of the news thanks. Credible medical information only Ch9 News/ACA.

  119. Julian Cole
    14 Jul 10
    9:32 am

  120. (Moderated at the request of Julian Cole)

  121. Julian's Mum
    14 Jul 10
    9:46 am

  122. Julian you move to Sydney and look at the trouble you’ve caused. Please apologise for deceiving everyone. Imagine! Texting Disorders? You have such a wild imagination.

  123. Julian's mate from Melbourne
    14 Jul 10
    10:01 am

  124. Sit down mum

  125. Mental As Anything
    14 Jul 10
    2:24 pm

  126. Fact – a medical or psychological disorder isn’t a recognised disorder unless it is scientifically acknowledged/published.

    Fact – In contrast with how they presented the research (as being factually correct) the journalistseditorssubeditors didn’t investigate the (bogus?) research well enough.

    Isn’t rest just noise?

  127. Andrew
    14 Jul 10
    2:51 pm

  128. A ridiculous analogy Jonathan. Alcoholism is a real condition with potentially fatal consequences. “Textiety” on the other hand is what people call MAKE BELIEVE.

  129. Kimota
    15 Jul 10
    12:51 pm

  130. Ummm, Andrew, I think that is sort of the point as if it is put forward as news backed by researchers, the inference is that it ISN’T make believe.

  131. bored
    15 Jul 10
    4:30 pm

  132. @ comment 54 “Let’s try to keep the tone civilised between participants in the conversation if we can please.


    wow.. saying that you consider someone a bore warrants a ticking off? just wow.

  133. dante
    15 Jul 10
    6:16 pm

  134. Whilst the media is obviously stupid for having bought this story hook line and sinker. It is worth noting to all those rushing to Julian Cole/TCOs defence that Julian himself lays claim to being the brains behind the campaign on his blog:

    “The latest campaign that I have done for Boost Mobile, I have been the creative lead on the project. I have loved every minute of this it. The ability to come up with the ideas and then lay out the whole plan and channels is definitely something that really interests me. I guess I could see myself as a Creative Director for Engagement Campaigns. ” (http://adspace-pioneers.blogsp.....psule.html)

    I have to agree with Ben S that there seems to be a notable reluctance in this case to criticise or jump on the Media lynchmob against Cole/TCO as opposed to the Naked incident. Wouldn’t want to upset our mates when we have to see them down at the pub now would we…

  135. Luci Temple
    15 Jul 10
    6:25 pm

  136. I’m all for Media Watch keeping an eye on bad journalism, false advertising claims, misrepresentation etc…

    The problem is that in cases like this Media Watch themselves are partially misrepresenting the truth. Yes they have a time limit, can’t tell the whole story, etc – however these are excuses that can also be applied to other media. Media Watch quickly becomes a hypocrite, going after a good ‘story’ for their show, while burying the “tell” signs that the campaign was tongue in cheek and the public would quickly see through it.

    Yes, some low quality media organisations ran the story as if it were real, losing the sense of the ridiculous along the way – and that *is* a *worthy* story. So call the journo’s who ran with it and ask why they took it seriously, why they put the story on air, when it was so obviously a silly/funny marketing strategy.

    But Media Watch doesn’t do that.

    Instead Media Watch reports the story as if the marketers were trying to deceive people (which is pretty crazy, since the implication would be for people to cut down on texting, exactly the opposite of what the brand wanted), and portrays the journos as almost hapless victims.

    This reminds me of Media Watch’s slam of Hungry Beast when they pulled a press release stunt to point out poor journalistic standards . Media Watch seems to miss the point, acts self superior at all times (really annoying!), and lacking of anything resembling a funny bone.

  137. mumbrella
    15 Jul 10
    6:45 pm

  138. Hi Bored (66),

    It is when they’re taking part in the conversation. You can say it, but it doesn’t add weight to what has been a pretty informative debate.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  139. mahia
    16 Jul 10
    9:36 am

  140. I work in the industry of advertising and media. And I did not come away from the Media Watch coverage of this campaign as ill-aimed. Again, there is nothing worse than those who spin that do not admit to spinning.

    While TCO’s campaign is clever. There is no denying that part of the direction PR/Journalist based advertising takes is using the weakness of central-hub-plagarism based news media. It makes sense to utilize any weakness in the media for major exposure for a campaign. I get that. Trust me.
    But with it comes the responsibility of being accountable to that exploitation. So taking this “Media Watch is picking on us when others do it” and “we don’t deceive” is absurd.

    Joke or not, clever or not, the campaign relied on that weakness. And with that spin comes the bashing from Media Watch. Take it like a man.

  141. Michael
    20 Jul 10
    8:01 am

  142. I realise I’m late to this conversation (so this will probably never be read..) but I wanted to say that I’m glad I read all the way to the bottom.

    @Mahia (comment 70): that is without a doubt the most honest, plain spoken, nail-on-the-head comment in this entire thread. Kudos to you.

    All parties in this knew exactly what they were doing when they put this together (from the client, to the PR firm to TCO). They all have their agendas and the crocodile tears of theirs, and those belonging to their supporters in the advertising/PR industry, fool none of us. Well, hopefully none of us.

    I’m confident that all parties were congratulating themselves on a job well done when the campaign went viral and hit the national media. If they are going to take the money and handshakes, man up and take the criticism of what is (was?) a fairly cynical take on mental disorders.

  143. deco
    20 Jul 10
    10:04 am

  144. Is Mumbrella against PR & marketing professionals? You criticise marketing & PR yet your brand strapline states “everything under Australia’s media & marketing umbrella”.

    PR is not just about spin. Publicity is only one aspect of PR (the dark side even within PR circles) & is a legitimate communications profession.

    This is an excellent example of campaign execution, well thought through & considered. Absolutely it is the journalist’s role to check facts & develop an article with objectivity. However in the days of tight news desk budgets & ever shrinking deadlines, PR instigated articles can comprise up to 70% of news, at times. PR is providing content, journalists need to go further & research/interview.

    I don’t work for any of these companies. My point is, why put down half your target audience Tim? Spin isn’t what many PR professionals aspire to & is an outdated view of the PR profession.

  145. mumbrella
    20 Jul 10
    10:31 am

  146. Um, Deco… this article is in defence of the people involved in the campaign.

    Why not have a read of it? You may find me using words like “I’ve found myself siding with the marketers against the journalists.”

    That’s a clue on where I stand on this subject.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  147. deco
    20 Jul 10
    10:39 am

  148. Hi Tim,

    I understand you are siding with the marketing side this time & that’s fabulous.

    It’s the use of “spinners” that is offensive to many PR professionals : ” But that responsibility lies with the journalists, not the spinners.”

    That being said, it’s a great article.