Timing is crucial in politics, and last week would have been the perfect moment for anyone wishing to become Dictator of the UK to seize power and tear up whatever is left of the British constitution.
No one would have noticed them doing it. The British media are obsessed with the X Factor and half the population are talking of nothing else – the other half are losing the will to live.
Far from despising it, those of us in business ought to study the X Factor because it is a masterclass in marketing. In particular, it shows how to use “free” publicity to magnify the effects of direct promotion, and how, in the modern world, style trumps substance every time.
The X Factor is no more than an old-style talent competition like The Gong Show, Opportunity Knocks, or New Faces. It was a format considered defunct as show business became slicker and more professional, but which has been revived by the ironically-named Idol and ...Got Talent franchises. The X Factor has become a cultural phenomenon in Britain. An American version is on its way, as is a new Australian version with Natalie Imbruglia as a judge.
However, the original British version shows signs of getting tired. Every year it gets harder to find genuine undiscovered talent. This season, several contestants are rejects from previous years.
Only one act generated much excitement in the first selection round, a heart-breakingly pretty singer from Zimbabwe, Gamu Nhengu. Ratings were dropping. They improved in the third round, a “sudden death” show in which over half the remaining contestants were to be dropped.
The judges’ decisions were bizarre. Nearly all the interesting acts, including Gamu, were dropped. There was outrage on the internet and threats of a boycott. The media picked up on the story – dubbed, inevitably, “Gamu-gate”.
As if the producers saw the backlash coming, it was announced immediately that there would be a “twist” in the next show. The rumour was spread that some of the axed contestants, including Gamu, might be brought back after all.
This had a positive effect on ratings. Millions tuned in to see several contestants brought back – but Gamu was not among them. Once again, the chat-rooms are filled with threats of boycotts – but to threaten a boycott at least shows interest, and interest means ratings. The fact that even blogs like this have noticed the story says it all.
Is all this due to marketing genius or a panic reaction to a bad decision?