Sunday 20 May 2012

The Meal Is The Message

McDonalds, purveyors of fat and salt to the world, are "sponsoring" bloggers. Write nice things about chicken nuggets and they invite you to all-expenses-paid parties and give you free gifts. This is happening in the States and is apparently on its way to the UK.

They've obviously learned some lessons from their sad essay into Twitter land - "#McDStories When u make something w/pride, people can taste it". That got a wonderful reception, with many people pointing out all the things you can taste in a McMeal - including a finger if you're lucky. Better to get some seasoned bloggers (spot the joke) to step up to the plate as Jamie Oliver delivers another stinging pitch. Alas, many people will believe an unknown blogger before they'll credit an expert like Oliver, and so the dumbing-down and fattening-up can continue unchecked.

There can't be many people in the educated world, apart from those that call McDonalds their 'favorite restaurant', who don't know that a diet of fried meat and reconstituted potato isn't the greatest. Olympic sponsors yes, but can you imagine Usain Bolt wolfing down a happy meal before the final? Still, they do offer some healthy alternatives - wonderful if you like buying lettuce by the leaf.

However, let's not get sidetracked. Consider instead the point that this billionaire corporation's tentacles are oozing their way towards one of the web's great assets - bloggers. Bloggers write stuff - stuff they believe. It might be a belief that aliens have sussed out how to bypass the tin foil helmet I'm wearing and I'll soon be a breeding platform for space beasts. It might be a belief that a hundred days of pestilence will overcome the land if Miley Cyrus doesn't marry me as she promised (play her latest backwards at 78 rpm to hear this message and others from Satan). It may be a belief that honey cures all disease. It may be a belief that Ross Thomas was a great writer, or a recipe for edible crochet. Whatever, it's a sincere belief and most of us who blog can defend our stance. To our own satisfaction at least.

Some of you will be looking at this page and thinking "he has ads on his blog". I do indeed, and I get a few pennies when someone clicks and buys. I make a point of saying so at the bottom of every page, as the law prescribes. I hope that readers will recognise that my book reviews are honest, based on reading each book, not based on flogging any old tat.

What though if I blogged on cooking and cookery books (Delia was an exception)? What if I had a readership that trusted me when I said that Prue Leith's Vegetable Bible was brilliant? What if it was true? (It is, by the way.) What if the next blog was a subtle praise of McDonalds' gerbils in batter rodent meal? What if I slipped in the odd reference to a McD milk shake in a post about smoothies?

Newspapers have long blurred the lines between ads and editorial, movies rejoice in product placement; the Batman series is one of the best examples of both positive and negative product advertising ever seen, but few complain. Why should I care about my own honesty and that of a few others, whose writings are read only by a few friends and other people with tin foil helmets? Well, because if I don't care, nobody will care for me. Because I don't want the web completely strangled and constrained by big business. Because I don't want governments having excuses to impose draconian restrictions.

Pompous, self important? Perhaps - if you want to take it that way. I've published things on the internet, from Open Source software to user manuals, all free, and I've benefited hugely from other people's free publishing. We all have - just by using the web we're doing so. God preserve us from a world where WWW sees a letter turned upside down to display the golden arches!


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