Kanye, Selfie Sticks, and McDonald’s signs. Thanks, Obama.

2 min read

Screenshot 2015-02-16 11.54.35Since this is Presidents Day, let’s start by considering President Obama’s recent “selfie stick” video for BuzzFeed, which he made to raise awareness of a February 15th open enrollment deadline.

In the video, “Things Everybody Does but Doesn’t Talk About,” Obama takes a selfie (using a selfie stick), does that shooting-at-himself-with-his-fingers-while-wearing-sunglasses thing, plays air basketball, and makes fun of the #thanksobama meme. All in service of getting millennials to visit HealthCare.gov.

With 22.8 million views in its first twenty-four hours, the video seems to have been a success. Whether or not it has truly diminished the presidency (this tongue-in-cheek appreciation counts the ways), you can’t help but admire how it draws its own detractors into the marketing effort. Even when they attempt to take it out of context, they can’t help adding to the buzz.

And all at the end of a week that had seemed destined to be mostly about Kanye West and, to a lesser extent, John Stewart.

Although indignation over Kanye’s Grammy remarks was widespread, a week later we find both Kanye and Beck better off in terms of the publicity generated. Beck’s Spotify plays are up by 524%, and Kanye’s single “FourFiveSeconds” with Paul McCartney and Rihanna is number one on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. One can scarcely imagine that Beyoncé hasn’t benefitted from the exposure as well.

Is there such a thing as bad publicity? Sure. Take McDonald’s. The viral McRib photo of 2013 wasn’t press they could use, though they took pains to correct it. Even McDonald’s own ads have sometimes worked against them. Whether or not the recent “Signs” commercial was truly a commercial misstep, it seems doubtful that McDonald’s intended it to be as polarizing as it was. Did this explain their “Pay With Lovin’’’ ad, which drowned our cynicism in confusion? Or was that merely a happy coincidence?

The year 2015 is barely into its second month, but already it seems rife with “big” stories (both important and unimportant) that excite the public interest for a moment, only to be replaced with the next “big” (or even stupid) thing. Welcome to the future. Fifteen minutes? Andy, we’ll be lucky to get fifteen seconds.

So here’s how things stand: Publicity, of any kind, is in limited supply. The real show doesn’t actually happen on TV anymore, but rather the next day on the Internet. And lovin’ may get you a burger, if you’re lucky. But if you want sustained attention, it probably helps to have cash. Or at least someone who can book you on Saturday Night Live.

Well played, Ye.

Kanye Lollapalooza Chile 2011 photo by rodrigoferrari (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKanye_West_Lollapalooza_Chile_2011_1.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.