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Thursday, February 12, 2004  

Reactions to Super Bowl stunt vary

More than a week after the exposure of part of a woman's breast during a televised American sports event, the wheels, they keep on turning.

But what about the bling bling?

Some public relations firms are applauding the Super Bowl stunt. They say, whether she intended to or not, Janet Jackson acquired what every 'brand' wants -- attention, more attention and the most attention.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For those in the business of masterminding public-relations stunts for marketers, Janet Jackson's big expose during CBS's airing of the Super Bowl Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson just before Ms. Jackson's breast covering was ripped off during the Super Bowl halftime show has raised a serious issue: how to top it.

For James LaForce, partner in New York PR agency LaForce & Stevens, the Jackson episode was "extremely successful. . . .We love stunts at our agency and she opened the door for more people to take risks," he added. "It raises the bar for all of us."

Whatever the impact on advertisers, CBS and the National Football League, few in the PR field think the stunt harmed Ms. Jackson. Desiree Gruber, president of Full Picture, a PR management company that counts Lisa Marie Presley and Arnold Schwarzenegger as clients, agreed it was a stunt gone right for Janet, and a stunt gone wrong for everyone else, but so what if she upstaged the advertisers?

"Janet is a brand, just as much as a Frito-Lay is," Ms. Gruber said. "Where does a brand begin and end? She sells and she sells directly to the public."

Mr. LaForce thinks that it will be discussed for years to come. In terms of coverage, Ms. Jackson certainly overshadowed the main event, both the game and the commercials. According to media research firm CARMA International, Washington D.C., Ms. Jackson garnered twice the number of U.S. press mentions as the commercials in the four days following the event, though much of that coverage was driven by the Federal Communications Commission investigation of the incident.

An exasperated music publicist, who did not wish to be named, said simply: "Boobs conquer everything from the networks to the media to corporate America."

One can see from her itinerary that Jackson is a good planner. The Super Bowl appearance was just two months before the release of her new album, Damita Jo. Her record company had already arranged to ship a single from the new CD to radio stations the day after before the stunt occurred. If she had not been dissed by the organizers of the Grammy Awards, she would have appeared on the nationally televised show the week after the football game. Upcoming events are also designed to raise her profile. There will be a world tour after the record release. Jackson will also star as Lena Horne in a made for TV movie.

Sometimes, I suspect I'm being naive not to realize everything in America, on some level, is about money. This is in a case in point. I had almost convinced myself Jackson is the loser in this episode -- what with the FCC investigation, sneers from some peers and being dumped by the Grammy people. But, if the Super Bowl stunt rejuvenates her career, as it appears it may, she will surely have won more than she has lost.

The kids are all right

Young Americans are not impressed with their elders often hypocritical response to the Super Bowl stunt. Blue Fusion, a marketing firm that surveys youths about national issues and consumer trends completed a poll Feb. 8.

In response to the question "Do you think CBS is overreacting about the Justin/Janet situation?" 74 percent of youths said "Yes," and 26 percent said "No."

In response to the question, "Do you think the media would have reacted the same to any other artist?" 61 percent of youths said "Yes", 29 percent said "No", and 10 percent said "Don't know."

"Our survey showed that kids don't feel that the "crime" was proportionate with the "sentence", said Morris L. Reid, managing director of Westin Rinehart and managing partner of Blue Fusion. "While 61 percent of the respondents felt that the media would have reacted the same way to any other artist, there was a strong feeling in the other 29 percent that this act was either a ploy to take attention off of the Michael Jackson situation or that it only got such heated attention because Janet is Michael's sister. Our respondents in general felt that a bare breast was too petty a situation to have gotten so much media coverage, in an election year.

The youths overwhelming opposed the barring of Jackson from the Grammy Awards. They also wondered why R. Kelly, who is accused of sexually exploiting teenage girls, was allowed to attend and Jackson wasn't.

I wonder why these kids are so much smarter than their parents.

Who you gonna call -- the FCC?

So, you are cruising down the freeway, balancing a tall double latte from Starbucks and listening to the radio when the disc jockey says, 'Well, piss on that." You are an easily disturbed sort of person, like that woman from Tennessee who sued over the Super Bowl stunt. You spill your coffee and rear end the car in front of you in the confusion. As the police leave and you head off to work late and peeved, you plot revenge. You decide to send an email complaining about radio personnel who say 'piss' to the FCC.

What will happen to your complaint? Most of the time . . . nothing will.

But even when the FCC does get complaints about radio programming it rarely does anything about them. According to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, the agency rejected 83 percent of more than 500 complaints received in 2002, while many of the others landed in limbo.

Some people think the GOP dominated commission's stasis is political.

"The Republicans are caught here between deregulation, which they always assume is better, and the notions of the Christian Right, which believes deregulation is better except when it comes to talking dirty or showing things that might be sexually overt," said Fritz Messere , a professor at the State University of New York at Oswego and former FCC assistant commissioner. "As a result the Republicans find themselves talking about deregulation out of one side of their mouth, and saying they need regulation on the other side of their mouth."

Another problem is the difficulty of defining "indecency" in a broadcast. What is considered acceptable language changes over time and by context. For example, though it is on the list of the infamous "seven dirty words," the FCC has decided that using 'fucking' in a non-sexual context is not indecency. You wouldn't have any luck with your complaint about 'piss,' either. The commission has deemed it acceptable when used to express disapproval.

I suspect the phony furor over the Super Bowl stunt has given people a false impression of the FCC. Chairman Michael Powell has growled over the supposedly outrageous conduct of Jackson and Jason Timberlake. But, when that growl is put to the test, it may become a purr.

6:30 PM