Negative campaigning and a fixation with Middle England

Monday, 18 November 2019

Negative campaigning and a fixation with Middle England

Could the News Quiz or The Now Show survive without the tabloids?

Topical comedy The News Quiz has been back on Fridays on Radio 4 for a few weeks now. And I'm disappointed, frankly. I view this show the way I anticipate England football games. I know I shouldn’t but I always convince myself that those on the News Quiz team are world-beaters and that they’ll slaughter the opposition. On their day they could be as good as anyone. Come on Hugh Dennis!

However, the sad fact is that, as with the England team, they never seem to produce the goods, even up against duff opponents. Come Friday evening at 19:30, you’ll find me as disappointed as ever. But I’ll be back to my radio the next week, anxious for another try. I can cope with the despair, as Adrian Chiles often says, it’s the hope that kills me.

Like England, the News Quiz team often makes the opposition look good. The problem with the News Quiz and its youth team The Now Show, is they seem to lack confidence. That’s the only explanation I can make for the obsession with tabloid newspapers.

The Now Show team has got a really bad case of middle England fixation. The presenters are so obsessed with The Daily Mail that their show sounds like a 30 minute infomercial for the mid-market tabloid. Kevin Beatty, the group-managing director of Associated Newspapers, must be cock-a-hoop with all the free marketing work his product benefits from every week. Less than one per cent of the population buys the Daily Mail but, judging by the polls, there are at least 40 times as many people whose opinions it echoes. So there is a massive target market for them and The Now Show, with its constant plugs and reminders, is probably making converts on a daily basis. Who needs adverts?

Negative campaigning works against you. Neuroscientists at research firm Buyology discovered that even the most hideous anti smoking adverts actually make people want a cigarette. Why would a picture of a fat man sucking a fag as it grows ulcers make anyone want to run out and buy twenty Bensons? Apparently, the picture stimulates a pleasure centre in the brain that’s already built up an association with smoking. So the reminder, however awful, merely awakens the dormant smoker in so many of the population.

Surely we could make use of this phenomenon. I’ll let you try it first, though. Maybe there’s potential for a brave PR strategist to build a marketing campaign around a foundation of negative stories. Journalists love a negative story, because they’re so much more newsworthy – bad news always makes the front page. More often than not news is a truth that someone, somewhere wants kept quiet – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

If the satirists really wanted to hurt any newspaper, they could ignore it. That would hurt the Daily Mail more than any lame repetitive predictable rants by important Home Counties kidults. But could the News Quiz or The Now Show survive without the tabloids? They’d have to work a lot harder and show some imagination. But if they did, they could be world-beaters.

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