Don Imus: The dark side of citizen marketing?


Let me cut to the chase.

I have never listened to Don Imus.  I could care less what he says.  I could care less if he got to keep his job or not.  Do I think he’s a boorish pig, based on what he said about the Rutgers basketball team?  Sure.  But he certainly does not hold exclusive rights to that label. 

To me, all of that is irrelevant.

Because the issue isn’t Don Imus.  It isn’t racism.  Or political correctness.  Or respecting women.  If it were about those issues, most of the shock jocks and reality TV producers would also have lost their jobs yesterday.

Imus isn’t the worst of them…he’s just one of them.

What matters in the Imus firing is who fired the fatal shot.  And why.

We’re experiencing the birth of a new era – Citizen Marketing. We’ve all celebrated it.  But perhaps that is only half the story.

In the old days, the power rested in the hands of a few.  The zookeepers, or the sellers, ran the zoo.  They decided what the animals ate, which animals were in the petting zoo and what the hours of operation were.  It was at best, a very paternal relationship.  At worst, it was a one-sided dictatorship.

But today, the chimpanzees have the keys.  And in this early phase of this marketplace shift, where the buyers are actually the ones in power, it’s more than a little chaotic.  There are no rules.  Bananas on tap 24 hours a day! 

On the good side – the chimpanzees’ exuberance can be very contagious and they can encourage/force the zookeepers to be better at their job, just to keep up with them. 

But because there are no rules, the chimpanzees can also just as easily decide to pick on a particular zookeeper and fling feces at him.  And because there are so many of them and because human nature says, "join the crowd," once a few of the chimpanzees start tossing poop, many of the other chimpanzees join in.  Without really stopping to understand why. Mob mentality flashes hot and bright. And reason rarely has a starring role.  That doesn’t mean the mob is always wrong.  But it does suggest that the firestorm doesn’t allow for a lot of introspection or consideration.

Let’s face it.  Don Imus earned ratings and advertisers because he was a boorish pig.  And the chimpanzees (in this case…advertisers and the target audiences of those advertisers) rewarded him by buying more advertising, giving him a more prestigious time slot, more guest appearances, more fame, etc. etc.

I am also quite sure that the Rutgers comment was not Don’s first racist or sexist comment.  I’m even willing to bet that some things he has said in the past were even more hurtful and offensive to some.   But the chimpanzees screeched and hooted, loving his antics.

Until one day, a few chimpanzees didn’t like what he said.  Who knows why.  He was shooting off his mouth saying vulgar things, like they had trained him to do.  But for whatever reason, this particular statement got everyone’s attention.  And the chimpanzees started making a different kind of noise.  And throwing feces.  Pretty soon, they were making enough noise that others noticed.  And joined in.  And pretty soon, the only way to calm the chimpanzees was to get the zookeeper out of there.

And its not just Imus.

A story about an American Girl store and a 6 year-old’s Target doll garners over 409,000 Google results in less than a month. 

A story about a blogger who received death threats now has an excess of 553,000 Google results, A CNN appearance, and professional and personal lives altered forever. 

Mob mentality.  Good or bad.  Right or wrong.  Who knows?

Who will the chimpanzees go after next? A good guy?  A bad guy? Your favorite brand?  Your company?

Should Don Imus have been fired?  I have no idea.  The truth is, he’ll have another gig in less than a month and we’ll chalk this up to, "well, that’s Imus."  And he’ll still be a boorish pig.

It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that we need to understand that just like there was a good and a bad side to the zookeepers being in charge, there’s a dark side to citizen-driven marketing as well.  It’s a glorious day at the zoo until the chimpanzees start tossing the feces in your direction.

We are the citizens of citizen marketing.  We’re going to set the course. 

Unless of course, we get swept up into the mob.

Flickr photo courtesy of jj_mac

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12 comments on “Don Imus: The dark side of citizen marketing?

  1. Janet Green says:

    Oh Drew, where to start with Imus. LOL You’re right, Imus the man is not the issue. He is the same person he has been for his entire professional life, and if we didn’t like what he had to say, why in the heck did we keep listening? As for the sponsors, my thought is just this: a radio program is a commercial endeavor and as such, the sponsors have the right to say “We don’t want our name attached to this hateful crap.” It would have felt a lot more honest, though, if they all (including CBS Radio) had just pulled the plug out of a true sense of moral outrage, on the day the remarks were made – instead of waiting a week to see how much controversy (i.e. loss of listenership and therefore money) was stirred up before making a decision. Every aspect of this whole situation – from the remarks themselves to the posturing of individuals who clearly have a bigger agenda than just punishing Don Imus, just feels icky.

  2. David Reich says:

    I love your chimpnazee analogy.

    I was never an Imus fan. What he said was offensive and it’s good that there was a reaction to it. Should he have been fired? I’m not sure, but that’s another discussion.

    An underlying factor here is that such offensive and demeaning language seems to be common and accepted among young people in the black community. Many call each other names that my mother would still wash my mouth with soap were I to utter them, which I wouldn’t. I think Imus, whether he is racist or not, was trying to be cool by using terminology from within the black community.

    Hopefully this situation will put some focus on changing how young black people talk about themselves. Self-respect will eventually spread outward and it won’t be “cool” for anyone — black or white — to use such demeaning words.

  3. Imus has been part of the radio scene for almost 40 years and was considered one of the original shock jocks.

    In an increasingly coarse society, our shock jocks get coarser, as well.

    What Imus did this time, as opposed to a career’s worth of previous times, is bully a bunch of hard-working kids, lower and middle class mostly African-American girls, who enjoyed an amazing season.

    We’re not talking about skewering celebrities, politicians, and folks who live in the public eye who have to take a grin and bear it approach to Imus-type spewings.

    Nope, he went after a bunch of kids. THAT, to my mind, was the tipping point and ultimately did him in. No tears for Imus frome me. I always thought he was fitfully amusing, always disgusting.

    No question we live in coarser, more uncivil times. Imus is only a reflection of what we tolerate as open discourse in an open society.

    And, as another blogger somewhere pointed out, Imus got nailed (as opposed to another hate&stupidity-monger because it was a slow news day. (And now that we know who Anna Nicole Smith’s baby daddy is, we need another news distraction from global warming, suicide bombing, etc.)

  4. This firing was the last stop in a snowball effect. It began when the basketball players were given a press conference and their story was spread. People felt sympathy.

    Imus having his show syndicated by MSNBC gave a face to the man, quoted by Laura Ries in her recent blog post – “On TV he looks like a cold, mean, old, rich, elitist white man.”
    This only helps build a bigger negative image.

    All in all, Imus could have handled the situation better by reacting faster. Laura has an excellent writeup from a PR perspective.

  5. Drew,

    EXCELLENT write up! I don’t have a lot to add since you did a truly well-thought out and insightful job of summing up the state of things.

    I will help to spread the word about the chimpanzees, however, but adding you to next week’s Link Love post.

    The animals over in my zoo will probably love it. 🙂

  6. Janet,

    As I said, this has little to do with Imus. I truly believe he’s a victim of “wrong place, wrong time.” Which is not to say that I don’t think what he said was deplorable. But, I’m sure it isn’t the first time.

    I think it is a much more telling study when we look at it from a bigger point of view, which is what I tried to do here.

    It’s a brave new world. I hope we develop it wisely.


  7. David,

    I agree but it isn’t just the black kids. When I walk through my daughter’s middle class, mostly white school, I am appalled at the language they use.

    Let’s listen to the music the kids are drawn to or the TV shows they watch. We are allowing an entire generation become desensitized to hurtful, vulgar language. It would be interesting to put together a focus group of teens and see how they’d react to Imus’ comments.


  8. Roberta,

    You make some very valid points. He didn’t make a sweeping generality — he aimed it at specific kids.

    And he aimed it at kids.

    Like I said, the Imus specifics of this news story are the ones I have the least opinion about. I think it’s a much more interesting “lab experiment” in terms of this new era of consumer driven and owned communication in the marketplace.

    Interesting times ahead!


  9. Mario,

    Good point. Do you think Imus would have his job today if he had only been a radio personality?


  10. Aaron,

    Thanks for your good words. I’d love to welcome your readers here. And I’m enjoying your blog as well — watch for me over there more often!


  11. Bob Glaza says:

    Love it Drew – bananas on tap 24 hours a day. Your imagery is terrific. Thanks for speaking up and furthering the conversation.

  12. Bob,

    Thank you for the compliment. I thought yours and David’s posts took the conversation in some interesting directions.

    I’m going to update this post with links to both, so readers can get their fill!


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