Election Reminder: How TV Builds Brands
by Alex Cosper (10-28-16)

Elections almost bring the masses to an awareness level that TV controls mass consciousness. People tend to know after following a series of presidential elections that only the two big party candidates get most of the media attention. There might be other names on the ballot, but those names are usually ignored by big media.

Coincidentally, big media makes its money from big advertisers, which describes both the Democratic and Republican parties. Third parties usually lack the funds necessary to advertise through big media channels.

So most people mildly know why third party candidates can't win - they don't get the media coverage. And the more people echo this concept that a third party candidate cannot win - the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Big media works as a giant echo chamber that commands a monkey-see/monkey-do culture. Most people are conscious that television sets social norms - and provides a visual soundtrack to an escape into a dream world that rewards chasers of materialism.

Evidence of TV's Influence

Television, like radio, sells people on lifestyles. The musical lifestyle has been a part of televised marketing since the fifties, starting with Dick Clark's American Bandstand, then TV shows in the sixties about musical groups such as The Monkees and The Partridge Family. Happy Days played a role in marketing nostalgia and rock and roll music as a continuum with a social history. The arrival of MTV in the eighties had a profound effect on the way music was written, produced and marketed from then on.

It really doesn't take much evidence to prove that things on television are well known and that things that are never on television tend to not be well known. As far as influence, consider cigarettes. Tobacco ads in the 1950s that made false statements about doctors recommending certain brands, were allowed to flood family living rooms.

By the sixties with warning labels were finally put on cigarette packaging, nearly half the adult population smoked. It was as if Hollywood's portrayal of the product as glamourous had more impact than the warning label. After tobacco products were banned from television advertising in the early seventies, tobacco use dropped by over half.

While not everyone is brainwashed by everything they see on TV, many people still regard it as a credible source for news. Even though network news has fallen in credibility with millennials, it still shapes what many people perceive as the real world. Unfortunately, many of these same people perceive "reality TV shows" to be the real world as well, which is how American Idol was able to place several mediocre recordings at the top of the charts.

How Mass Mediocrity Works

Mass mediocrity is the end result of mass marketing of the biggest spenders when art or purpose are lost in the mix. When someone gets to sing their song on TV it's because someone invested heavily in the programming. There's no such thing as a show with millions of viewers that has no money behind it. Those viewers developed after plenty of research, experimentation and social conditioning.

When you consider that only so many slots can be filled in the finite world of top 40 music, it raises the question: what makes a product more deserving of exposure than the millions of songs that will never be heard by the masses? Usually the most successful music is the most reactive through a filtering process that begins with radio, but sometimes television as well.

Once videos became a necessary marketing expense for the music industry starting in the eighties, the quality of the video became part of the filtering process. Although the music industry did not have a plan for recouping the money spent on video, other than to charge it back to the artist, video did help a certain amount of artists rise to the top of music sales. To a degree, this meant more artists with better looks and moves, but not necessarily better songwriters or musical performers.

By the end of the nineties it was clear that not only did music marketing not pay off for the music industry in many ways, it helped drive the industry deep in debt. Yet the average viewer had no idea of the expense involved with video and its impact on music, both in terms of commerce and art. A watering down of vision and expectations has occurred, thanks to the over-emphasis on marketing over crafting creative products.

Clues From the Bernie Revolution

In the early part of 2016, Bernie Sanders made a huge impact on pop culture. Even though he did not get nearly as much media coverage as Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, he was covered enough to get the attention of nearly half of democratic voters. His message was very progressive with an emphasis on cracking down on Wall Street manipulators, funding education and keeping the United States out of wars. Polls showed that a majority of Americans agreed with Bernie's pro-middle class views.

Ultimately, however, Bernie was not able to convince enough of the TV audience that an underdog (as determined by big media) can win sometimes. The self fulfilling prophecy that underdogs can't win - the message of big media throughout the election - carried over into the general election campaign.

Big media went right to wark and reinforced the notion that neither Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson nor Green candidate Jill Stein had any chance - simply because television news journalists said so. Obviously, the issues were not an issue at all. Otherwise, Stein would be leading, based on how Americans respond on issues.

Can TV Make Music Better?

About the only way TV could improve the state of the music industry would be if creative musicians were in control of it. Shows like X Factor that were controlled by obvious non-musicians, never resonated with true music lovers - the ones who make it out of sheer love for the artform. It's not hard to figure out why reality TV shows have not helped with the evolution of music and have even damaged the reputation of the music business. The crowd of zombies willing to accept anything TV gives them is certainly in the millions.

It's important to draw a distinction between what the masses want and what they settle for. Many times the masses do want quality art at the highest levels. But since they are more often bombarded with mediocre art - which can be objectively defined as art that mainly exists for commercial purposes - the masses become numb to mediocrity. It's easier to just accept what is delivered to them than to hunt for their own gems.

Yes, TV can make music better, but often misses the opportunity since it's too busy being controlled by marketers mimicking other marketers. TV also pays much more money than radio to songwriters and artists who are fortunate enough to get exposure in movies or TV shows. So the model exists for TV to be the backbone of music careers.

TV could help strengthen music by putting the spotlight on real artists who are making unique contributions. It usually takes people with artistic vision to help create excitement and interest in art. What's missing from the current landscape is a big media outlet willing to invest in making a well filtered list of independent music familiar to the masses.

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