Subliminal propaganda from the Gates Foundation
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/04/03
Long ago, there was a fuss about the possibility of “subliminal advertising”. Some PR guru or entrepreneurial academic had the bright idea that flashing messages or images onto TV programs at rates too fast, for times too brief for the conscious mind to register them, might nevertheless subconsciously exert the influence desired by the advertiser. Apparently it didn’t work, and the scheme faded away — so far as we know 😉
What hasn’t faded away is that, in TV programs and feature films, particular products are matter-of-factly used — after bribes to do so have been paid by the products’ makers to the film or TV producers. Now we learn that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is using this technique to spread the messages it wishes to have spread, and going even further by initiating whole programs:
April 2, 2009
Messages With a Mission, Embedded in TV Shows
By TIM ARANGO and BRIAN STELTER
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. . . helped develop the script for a recent episode of “ER” that featured the return of George Clooney. The huge foundation, brimming with billions of dollars from Mr. Gates and Warren Buffett, is well known for its myriad projects around the world to promote health and education. It is less well known as a behind-the-scenes influencer of public attitudes toward these issues by helping to shape story lines and insert messages into popular entertainment like the television shows “ER,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “Private Practice.” The foundation’s messages on H.I.V. prevention, surgical safety and the spread of infectious diseases have found their way into these shows.
Now the Gates Foundation is set to expand its involvement and spend more money on influencing popular culture through a deal with Viacom, the parent company of MTV and its sister networks VH1, Nickelodeon and BET. It could be called “message placement”: the social or philanthropic corollary to product placement deals in which marketers pay to feature products in shows and movies. Instead of selling Coca-Cola or G.M. cars, they promote education and healthy living.
Last week in New York Mr. Gates met with Philippe P. Dauman, the chief executive of Viacom, to go over a long-in-the-works initiative that would give Mr. Gates’s philanthropic organization something any nonprofit would cherish: an enormous megaphone. The new partnership, titled Get Schooled, involves consultation between Gates Foundation experts and executives at all Viacom networks that make programming decisions. . . .
The efforts of philanthropies to influence entertainment programming is not new, although viewers are probably less aware of it then obvious marketing tie-ins in which, for example, a can of Coca-Cola shows up in a character’s hands. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health issues, has been doing such work for a dozen years. It has worked story lines about H.I.V. and AIDS into programs on CBS and UPN (now known as the CWnetwork), including the reality show “America’s Next Top Model.”
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, but it’s only more recently that we’ve begun to see more foundations and nonprofits work with this approach,” said Tina Hoff, vice president and director for entertainment media partnerships at the Kaiser Foundation.
James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, which promotes family-oriented entertainment, said foundations typically seek to mold television programs with just advice and prodding.
“The difference here is the Gates Foundation is paying for this, that they are actually willing to pay for programming,” Mr. Steyer said.
Last year, for example, the foundation awarded a $1.37 million, three-year grant to the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, where academics have organized meetings between writers and producers of those shows and experts in H.I.V. and surgical practices.
. . . . Ms. Hoff, who said Gates Foundation officials had sought her out for advice, said the main reason for such efforts was to combat inaccurate information about health issues that crop up in popular culture. “It’s not about planting a message,” she said. “We start from the vantage point of ensuring accuracy.”
Officials who have used these methods said they had been effective in influencing public views and behavior. . . .
Last fall the plot of an episode of “Law & Order: SVU,” about mother-to-child transmission of H.I.V., stemmed from a meeting that Mr. Kaplan set up between an AIDS expert and writers from the show. “Our view is you don’t have to sacrifice entertainment value to be accurate,” Mr. Kaplan said.