I can’t write a negative review? Then no sale

Consumers can take immediate action: If a business won’t allow you to write an honest (potentially negative) review, don’t do business with them.

A man with tape over his mouth. The word "Silence" is written on the tape
“Silence” by David Pacey, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

If you haven’t heard of “gag clauses”at the consumer level, they are becoming a reality that we need to be aware of and stand up against.

Essentially, businesses are writing into their contracts and terms of service that you, as the consumer, can’t write a negative review about them.

For example (from USA Today):

John and Jen Palmer, an Oregon couple, learned about this the hard way. It started with a $20 purchase from online retailer KlearGear.com in 2008. The Palmers never got the merchandise, Jen Palmer told a Senate panel last month, and she lambasted KlearGear online.

Three years later, KlearGear demanded that the Palmers remove the review or pay $3,500 for violating a “non-disparagement” clause. When the review wasn’t removed, an unpaid $3,500 debt showed up on John Palmer’s credit report.

I definitely understand the argument of protecting businesses from false/vindictive negative reviews  but at the same time, many consumers rely on both positive and negative reviews to make better purchasing decisions.

While our legal and regulatory agencies continue to hash-out how to handle consumer “gag clauses,” we can take immediate action: If a business won’t allow you to write an honest (potentially negative) review, don’t do business with them. 

For example, I  hire professional photographers from time-to-time. I can’t imagine if one of these photographers asked me to sign a “gag clause.” I wouldn’t do business with them.

First, as someone who does look at references and online reviews for photographers, I would immediately question how good and professional they really are. I would have to assume that everyone else has also signed a “gag clause” which means I really don’t have a good understanding of how good they are.

Second, what if it goes badly? I believe heavily in writing honest reviews to inform other customers and I want to be able to warn others of a bad experience.

Third, I don’t make a habit of limiting my free speech and wouldn’t respect or trust a business that asked me to.

Sadly, this also means being more careful, as consumers, to read those pesky, long terms of service before doing business with an organization.

 

Don’t trust the crowd, it’s most likely hired/manipulated

The point of adding this to the film (in my opinion) is, “Look at the political corruption and manipulation! Isn’t it shocking?”

But the reality is, this is now happening regularly in the United States as well.

A large group of people rallying
“Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” by Cliff, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

During the documentary “The Act of Killing” about the horrors that took place in Indonesia, one of the subjects of the film decides to run for office. He goes around handing-out business cards and the people respond with renditions of “that’s it?” because they are so used to being bribed with more. They also make a point to talk about how the political rallies are filled with paid people. The point of adding this to the film (in my opinion) is, “Look at the political corruption and manipulation! Isn’t it shocking?”

But the reality is, this is now happening regularly in the United States as well.

  • Political campaigns hire fake crowds
  • The Pentagon has been paying sports teams for patriotism
  • Photography is regularly used to make crowds seem larger than they are
  • Colleges and other organizations utilize rent-a-crowds too
  • Television shows (I know this from personal experience) sort audience members to ensure the people sitting closest to the actors are diverse and meet the demographic they want to watch the show.
  • Some people argue that police may be using riot gear to make a crowd look more violent than it is.
  • A couple of years ago, I went to a talk by a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Myself and two young men were escorted to the very front row. After we were seated, one of the young men looked at the crowd, mostly age 50+ and said to me something like “I don’t think we should be in the front row. I’d prefer some of these older folks get a better view.” I told him, while I agreed with him, we were seated there intentionally. They wanted us within camera shots to show that the younger generation was there, even if the reality was, there were only three of us out of 350.

Why is this happening?

For this, I turn to Social Norms Theory. People go along with what the social norm is, and crowds often signal social approval. Think about this as an illustration: You and a friend are walking to a concert. You’re positive you know the way to the concert. But you keep seeing tons of people, who also seem to be going to the concert walking the opposite way. What do you do? At the very least, you start to second-guess yourself. And, most likely, you will determine the crowd is most likely right, you’ve mistaken, and turn and follow them.

How do you combat this?

The best response is identification; whenever you see a crowd, just assume that it’s manipulated in some way. If it helps, do a quick mental exercise, using the examples above and others, to think through what possible ways the crowd could be manipulated to serve a purpose. This will keep you from thinking the crowd is the norm and falling into the subconscious social norms patterns of thinking the crowd is right.

Marketing music via the Internet, an ongoing evolution

My friend and I spent our Friday evening this past week at a Straight No Chaser concert in Houston, TX.  Their performance opened with a video of how to enjoy the concert. During that video, they made a point, at least twice, to encourage people to take photos and videos of the performance and post them online (tagging, hashtagging, etc. them of course).  Then, during the performance, they took photos of the crowd and asked us to go on their Facebook page and tag ourselves They explained that they had a limited marketing budget and social media was an effective way to get their message out.

Considering that the popularity of Straight No Chaser began when one of their members posted a video of them on YouTube and it went viral (see video above), it’s not shocking that this group has embraced social media and the online world as they have, but it is quite unusual.  Over the years, I’ve watched with great interest as the music world struggles to find the perfect balance with the online world. As it stands now, most musicians seem to tolerate online videos and photos of their concerts and some will even ask you to tweet your experience using a hashtag. But Straight No Chaser has taken it a step further by asking fans to actively post videos of their performances online.

Do I think it’s a good idea? Yes. People go to the concerts for the experience and to hear the music live. No video is going to overcome that thirst for the experience.  But is it good for all musicians? I’d say yes, but would love to hear your thoughts.

On another note, I chose NOT to take photos and videos during the concert because I wanted to just sit back and enjoy the experience. For more on my thoughts about this, read: Put down the camera and enjoy the moment.

Put down the camera and enjoy the moment

A male pointing his camera at an object that we can't see
From flickr ginnerobot

Not too long ago, I read an article by Clifford Pugh on Culture Map titled, How Instagram is ruining New York fashion week: Shows are meant to be savored, not shot and it got me thinking. I like fashion, but what intrigued me more was what he had to say about how our incessant need to photograph every little thing and how doing so was robbing us of those moments that we should be enjoying.

This may not be true for everyone, but it is for me: The more photography, videography and visual imagery becomes part of my job, the more obsessed I’ve become with obtaining the “perfect shot.” I will wander around looking for the perfect lighting, the perfect person to represent what I need, etc. and then take hundreds of photos in a single hour. Obviously, if it’s for my work, that’s what I do, but this obsession has crept into my personal life as well.

So, last week, while I was on vacation, I tried to put down the camera. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didn’t. And, admittedly, my obsession and her talent led one of my friends to take one of the best portrait shots I’ve seen in a very long time. But, there were a few times during the week that I was able to stop myself, put down the camera, and just soak the image in.

Reading Clifford’s article reminded me that sometimes the true beauty of something cannot be captured in a photograph, it can only be captured in a memory.