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How Does Tech Companies Manipulate the Media

Tech companies have figured out how to squeeze the most positive favourable coverage out of Youtubers, Bloggers and Journalists and to be honest I think it's time you knew about it. So today we will talk about the five key ways that these tech companies manipulate the media.

manipulation by tech companies

The Giveaway Trap

Now one thing that seems to be increasing at an alarming rate is giveaways, with the launch of reviews. Now don't get me wrong, giveaways can be a great thing; but companies have quickly realized that by partnering up with influencers like us, to make giveaways as part of our review videos, they can massively reduce the negativity surrounding their product.

Couple of weeks back, a earphone company send me a pair of their new product. As part of their hype generation strategy, they did exactly this. They even asked me and it's tempting because like how often does a company say to you, they're going to make you 100 custom versions of their product for you to give to your audience. But then I really thought about it and I realized, I've got no idea how these earphones sound, I've not tested them yet, but if I'm going to be giving away 100 pairs of them in my post, I'm going to look like a right idiot, if I then say I don't like them.

Can you imagine, don't buy these earphones, they suck; By the way I'm launching a massive giveaway of them, please like share and subscribe to enter!

Also Read: The Samsung Smartphone Scandal Explained

Like if I'm organizing a giveaway on my own terms, that's fine but if a company is saying to me, let us send you 50 or 100 units to give away as part of your review post immediately. What they're trying to do with that is, turn my organic content into a promotional post without needing to pay or write up contracts or even make it officially sponsored!

The Coming Soon Feature

Okay so the next version of this that I've seen is what I'll call the “Coming Soon Feature”, the feature that gets announced on stage and makes a lot of headlines and it gets people very excited and it's super impressive, but it's not ready yet, It's coming soon later. But this thing was announced on stage and now you're holding it in your hand and it it's not here yet, so you kind of just have to include maybe a sentence or two about it, about what it's supposed to do. So an example of this would be when the iPhone 11 came out and that deep fusion feature was also announced on stage as one of the new camera features. So every written review and every video review had something in there that was basically at this point a quote from Apple about what Apple said deep fusion would do, but then it didn't come out for a while and then of course as you can imagine weeks later when it did show up it, wasn't all that great, It didn't make a huge difference. But now all of those reviews you know the written reviews you can go back and add a couple sentences, but the video reviews, you can't really go back and change and those impressions of those quotes from Apple are stuck in people's heads rather than what the feature actually was.

The Embargo

It gets worse, because number three is the absolute fiasco that is embargoes. Now an embargo is not in itself a bad thing, it's just basically when a company says don't publish your posts or videos before this particular time, on this particular date. That's why you see like 20 videos and 20 Writtern Reviews all at once when a product launches. Every reviewer has been given the same embargo time but a lot of the time, companies abuse this system with something called a “Dual Embargo”. They tell reviewers, “okay when we announce the product, the only videos you can make are first impressions videos; If you want to do any kind of in-depth coverage or any kind of comparison, then you have to wait for the full embargo which is a week or two weeks later”. They come up with some sort of excuse like, “oh we need to issue an important software update in that one week period”  and They'll use this to give you a whole list of things that in your first video you just can't say or show.

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This happens a lot and it's pretty clear why companies do it. Two Embargoes basically forces the media to split what could have been one article or one video into two, to give the company two separate waves of coverage. One set when the product launches, but then also one set a couple of weeks later which often just so happens to be when that product is coming up for pre-order. This also make the launch coverage videos that most people will actually watch artificially positive.

See the restrictions given to reviewers for their first review posts and videos, they're often so tight that you can't really say what you actually think. There was a recent launch where I was told the first impressions post must focus on the hands-on experience of the device. No benchmarks, no camera judgment, no camera samples. You're welcome to talk about the design and specifications!

embargo tech companies manipulation

Design and specifications, if that's what someone wants, that's what ads are for! People don't read my posts to find out design specifications. They want opinions, they want judgment and companies know this. They know that if they restrict reviewers from giving opinions, then all they really can talk about are all the new features they've added; which naturally gives the viewers the impression that this is a complete no-brainer product that has no negatives.

The Dual Embargo Restrictions

You might remember this happening pretty recently and very clearly intentionally with the Microsoft Surface Duo. I mean this was one where obviously a lot of people were interested in it's Dual screen Android Phone collaboration between Google and Microsoft and yeah us reviewers, all got two embargoes. So when embargo number one hits, you're allowed to show anything you want as much as you want as long as it's just the hardware. You can't show the software. It's not done yet or whatever, it's not finished, it's not ready so you're not allowed to turn it on in your first video. But you can show as much hardware as you want. They literally said that and some people actually repeated it including me. In our posts we weren't allowed to turn it on and review the software and so this was maybe the most obvious biggest red flag of all time. Because yeah of course the Surface Duo had some really nice hardware, it had this super sleek thin beautiful design; one of the best hinges I've ever seen and that stuff was all very broadly painted beautifully in this first impression and that's everyone's biggest impression. But the second you turn it on, you encounter a not great software experience and Microsoft knew that. That's what eventually showed up.

To give you another example, the Nothing earphones. Again do you know how these guys had initially planned to do their launch. Two embargoes and if you wanted to release a post or video for the first embargo when everyone's gonna be paying attention, you weren't allowed to talk about fit or sound. Let me get this very clear, you want me to make a post about a pair of earphones without talking about how they feel or sound in the ears! What do you expect me to write throughout the post ? Start knitting, “hey guys this is my review of the Nothing Ear One, they're really, oh I quite like how they're” What can I actually say? I would have felt guilty posting a review with such little information on this site! But thankfully, after we pushed back, the company eventually did agree to change it to just one embargo where you could say everything. So fair play to them for listening, most companies don't.

Also Read: Why are Apple products so Expensive?

The biggest thing that annoys me about these embargoes is that companies only enforce them when it suits them. So last year for the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I was asked to travel to London in the middle of a pandemic to review the new smartphone in the company's shared space. Okay fine and then I spent a full week scripting that post to try and make the best possible most detailed piece of content I could and the second the phone launched, I posted it. I was so relieved, the post was doing well only then the company emailed me to say take it down!

Excuse me! “take the post down because it violates our first impressions embargo. Because you compared this phone to a different model, we think this post counts as too in depth” Okay so what Samsung's basically saying is that they deem any kind of comparison as too much information to give for your first impressions post, fine. But I had made almost exactly the same comparison for their previous launch and presumably because that was a more positive video for that launch they didn't just not say anything but they actually actively reached out to me to ask if they could promote that post. But also in all these phone launch presentations, they are already making comparisons.

Samsung had already told people that this new phone was like 20% faster than the last one and that the new camera had better autofocus and that the S Pen was more responsive etc. These are all inherently comparisons and so what they really meant was not no comparisons allowed in your first posts, but in fact only the comparisons that we want to be allowed in your first posts and Samsung are not the only company who do this. Yeah that sounds about right. Actually the point is dual embargoes are gross and they prevent journalists from doing their job.

Exclusives and Interviews

So another one and this one's kind of interesting actually. Exclusives and interviews and things like that. It's sort of along the same lines as companies trying to turn organic impressions and evaluation into promotion for free. So you might have noticed on our site, we've done a fair amount of interviews and really fun. Sometimes even world exclusives that are amazing posts. They make for a great experience both for the viewer and for myself. But at some point, the light bulb went off and people at these companies started to realize they could use these interviews as a sort of mask or just to use them to offset any negative PR. They could use them in orchestration alongside a product launch to minimize negativity. So now these have become like a really interesting, delicate dance to walk. Because companies will approach you with an interview they want to do.

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I remember an example would be what Oneplus did with the Nord. When they were first going to announce this super hyped Ultra budget phone, the Oneplus Nord. Oneplus came to me and said all right we have a world exclusive, we'll let you interview Carl Pay, co-founder and you guys can talk all about this stuff. What they wanted was a you know let's talk about the history of Oneplus and let's talk about why we're launching a new product line and this promo and that promo and this talking point and So behind the scenes, I had to do a lot of twisting and a lot of messing with that plan in order to make a different post where it was still a fun exclusive interview but we got to talk about the actual process of making a budget phone in general.

interviews tech manipulation

We got real prices for different parts of a phone and how much they cost the manufacturer. But that was a far twist from what they were planning on making which would have been an ad. So this is the type of thing that's evolved a lot lately and we ended up still making something that was pretty great for the viewer and great to show people but it's definitely changing.

Out of Context Quoting

When I make a review of a product, I spend a long time crafting that script. I try to make a really tight structured storyline that is meant to be watched from start to finish and I'd like to think that this makes them useful posts to engage with. But it also means that if you just take one sentence out in isolation, it is not at all going to summarize the subtlety of what I'm trying to say.

I'll give you an example. Late last year, I made a full review about that Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and I titled this post the perfect Samsung and what I meant by that which I explained in the content itself was that this was a brilliant phone but it was let down by some of the fundamental problems that Samsung phones in general have. So I was kind of surprised to see that a week later this title was sitting on Samsung's homepage! “The perfect Samsung” those are my words, but when taken out of context they mean something different. I spent a long time digging and as far as I can see they didn't tell me they were going to use that quote. But even at the very least if they did, I would have expected them to at least link the full post from there, so people could understand what I meant by it. Nope. There's plenty of other examples of this one. Of the major ones being the mashup videos, the 30 second or so quick fire cuts from various reviewers. It's very clear why they make these videos. They're short, they're sharp and they leverage the trust that people have in these reviewers. But they chop out all the caveats. They'll cut videos mid-sentence to exclude any negatives, any buts. They might mention to make it seem like they've just created the perfect phone. If you chop out the caveats, you could make the Red Hydrogen One, a phone that was universally regarded as a miserable fail seem like an incredible device.

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Now don't get me wrong, companies do sometimes ask for permission before using our content like this. They sometimes purchase licenses, but they often don't and they never tell you that they're going to use it in a way that alters your message. So they have it pre-launched giveaways, features coming soon, dual embargoes, exclusives interviews and out of context quoting. Now you know. Hope you liked this post and if you did, do share it with your friends and family as well.

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