Products of the Year a pay-for-play PR trick parading as “People’s Choice” for art of selling

This week’s Parade magazine, in the Sunday issue of virtually every daily newspaper across the country, dedicated its cover and feature story to Products of the Year, which is an annual award given to new consumer products.

Supposedly the American people vote on these awards, but in fact, the final voters comprise 50,000 shoppers across the country, making the awards more of a survey than anything else. This year, 26 companies were honored in a variety of categories, e.g., food, beverages, personal care and household care. Parade found six trends in the products that won Product of the Year awards:

1. We’re nostalgic, meaning we (the American people as incarnated in the 50,000 fortunate survey participants) like reintroduction of old products.

2. We want no-hassle healthy food.

3. We’re spending more time outside.

4. People are interested in products for menopause

5. We see the value in green, meaning we want environmentally friendly products and packaging.

6. We’re sensitive about our mouths. In other words, there are a lot of new products for our mouths that the 50,000 liked.

As the Parade article notes, these are the awards that marketing mangers want because they can proudly display them on product labels. An award for the industry, perhaps, but our corrupt fascination with the process of process of buying—grand sacrament of the religion of consumerism—convinced Parade editors to make the centerpiece of one of its 52 issues.  But then again, most music, movies and televisions shows are carefully crafted (sometimes with the help of computers) products meant to be consumed as entertainment, and we seem to have an unending thirst for Grammies, Emmys, Oscars and dozens of other imitator awards that have popped over the past few decades.

And thus Parade asks us to stand proudly with the product manager of the 26 winners. Except for one thing: A trip through the instructions for nominating a new product for the prestigious award reveals that finalists have to make a payment of $7,000 and winners are expected to fork over $63,000 for the rights to use the Product of the Year logo. In mentioning these payments, the Products of the Year organization reminds us that “Considering that all Finalists receive the results of the nation’s largest study on innovation (an $80,000 value) and all Winners are included in the PR campaign (over $3Million of media exposure), entering for your chance to win the nation’s vote is, to put it bluntly, a no-brainer.” Rarely has the naked sell about a naked sell been so overtly—well—naked.

Let’s say that there are four finalists for each winner (we never find out), that’s a total kitty of about $2.33 million for the Product of the Year organization, unless it is getting some bucks from Parade; it wouldn’t surprise me which way the funds were flowing on this scam.

How can these people promise a $3.0 million PR campaign when their gross may be as little as $2.3 million? Don’t lose any sleep—these guys will make their car payments. When PR people say, “$3.0 million in media exposure, they usually mean the equivalent of placing $3.0 million in advertising which: 1) isn’t a lot; and 2) you can get with a $50,000 PR program with ease. As it seems these folks have done.

That this kind of organization prays on the ego needs of marketing managers and large companies is not surprising. Even if they have to pay for it, these large companies can smugly trot these awards out to Boards of Directors, securities analysts and shareholders. Perhaps the award can get them more shelf space in supermarkets and other retail outlets, a growing challenge for consumer goods companies.  They can also tell their customers, but why the consumer should care is beyond me.

And what do these companies do about the consumers who go to the Products of the Year website and see that it’s 100% dedicated to selling consumer companies on making an application for a pay-for-play PR opportunity. It seems to matter little that many people know the award is a pay-for-play that is little more than a survey by an entrepreneurial marketing company.

Pretty soon we’ll be able to have an entire calendar of holidays that are totally focused on shopping. Including those holidays created to sell more consumer products, we have a pretty full calendar:

  • Product of the Year celebration
  • Mother’s Day
  • Father’s Day
  • Back-to-School Saturday
  • Black Friday Eve (AKA Thanksgiving)
  • Black Friday
  • Small Business Saturday
  • Cyber Monday
  • Super Saturday
  • Day After Christmas

That’s 10 holidays dedicated to shopping, which aren’t quite as many days as the Catholics dedicate to saints, but remember that the American religion of consumerism is only about a century old. Give us time.

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