Flipping through a New York Times style piece on the proliferation of satirical news sources (The Onion, The Daily Show) this weekend, I found myself thinking about a mid-’90s trend my friend and erstwhile prof Doug Rushkoff wrote about extensively at the time. “Wink Marketing,” which seems to have faded somewhat, though not entirely, was an attempt to adapt to an increasingly media savvy audience that would be more likely to be amused or insulted than persuaded by conventional advertising tactics. The idea behind wink marketing was for the advertisers to make fun of themselves—for instance, by having a basketball player “hawk” their soft drink while a cash register noise tallied up the endorsement money he was raking in. The message, in short, was: “Hey, we know you’re too clever for this BS; see, we can poke fun of these heavy-handed ad pitches too… and by the way, now that we’re having a good ironic chuckle together, buy our product.”
I don’t know how effective it was, though the tactic’s decline suggests that it can’t have been wildly successful. Still, I got to thinking about it because one of the reasons the Times article mentions for the growing popularity of fake or satirical news is the growing sense of disaffection (confirmed by Pew polls) with mainstream media. We don’t trust the Times or Ted Koppel to give it to us straight anymore, so we invite the news satirists to sit beside us as our chuckling Beavises to poke at the fallen idols of the newsroom.
It should be obvious enough where I’m going with this: Could satire news be the new Wink Marketing? Are we more apt to let down our guard against news bias when we’re laughing along to news bias in other fora? Maybe not, but probably worth thinking about.