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Under The Radar – 17 December

This week, we discuss:

  1. Sinn Fein’s continued rise

  2. Time magazine names Elon Musk person of the year

  3. Peloton bounces back from Sex and the City PR disaster

Ourselves Alone: Sinn Fein’s continued rise in both the Republic and Northern Ireland

What Happened?

In the Republic of Ireland, Sinn Fein has seen its polling numbers continue to rise. The left-wing party recently polled at 35%, 15% ahead of its closest rivals.

What does it mean?

Sinn Fein’s leader, Mary Lou Macdonald, has firmly put the controversial party in Ireland’s political shop window as a vessel for change through popular policies on social housing, increased spending, and taxing the rich.

Yet the two parties in the coalition government, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, still command 40% support, meaning a future Sinn Fein government is far from inevitable. What this does show is that Sinn Fein is moving past its roots of militant radicalism and cannot be ignored as a legitimate political force.

The Northern Irish arm of Sinn Fein, which abstains from sitting in Westminster, has also enjoyed major growth in support. Should the two arms of Sinn Fein eventually command an electoral majority in both states, this will lead to a concerted campaign for a united Ireland, much like the Scottish Independence movement.

The UK government would have to be cautious in its response should the issue of unification relight. A return to violence would be catastrophic, ruining over twenty years of peace, whilst inflammatory international responses would deeply damage the Brexit project. After all, the effervescent Northern Ireland Protocol has seen continued tension between the EU and the UK, whilst U.S. President Biden has also stepped in to warn the Prime Minister against playing with fire when it comes to Northern Ireland.

There is still a 54-46 majority in favour of remaining in the UK in Northern Ireland, but Brexit complications and flirtatious advances from its Southern neighbour could tip the scales further.  

Time magazine criticized for naming Elon Musk person of the year

What happened? Time magazine’s decision to name the world’s richest person, Elon Musk, as their person of the year has drawn sharp criticism. What does this mean?

Time magazine’s annual person of the year has typically been used to distinguish those who have achieved remarkable feats. The award has previously been bestowed upon those who have made valuable contributions to society, such as Ebola healthcare workers, the MeToo movement, and Greta Thunberg.

The decision to honor Elon Musk with this award has certainly raised eyebrows. Musk is a controversial figure in the US for many reasons, especially due to his attitudes towards tax. According to a Propublic investigation, Musk only pays a “real” rate of tax at 3.2%, despite his $267 billion net worth.

This sparked a strong reaction from Senator Elizabeth Warren, a passionate advocate of raising taxes and cracking down on big tech, who accused Musk of “freeloading off everyone else”. Given that Tesla depended on government subsidies (i.e. taxpayer money) for many years whilst it struggled to disrupt the automotive industry, she does have a point. Critics also pointed to other controversies. Robert Reich, who served as Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration, highlighted Musk’s opposition to unions, including how he allegedly threatened to take away stock options if employees unionised. With the Biden administration repeatedly offering its support to unions, especially those organising for better working conditions at big tech companies like Amazon, Uber and Tesla, this is another example of Time’s failure to capture the public mood. In a year where scientists have created life-saving vaccines whilst wealth inequality hit new highs, the decision to select the world’s richest man – and Covid sceptic – as person of year is worthy of criticism.

But don’t dwell on it. After all, who buys magazines anymore? 

Peloton bounces back from Sex and the City reboot PR disaster

What happened?

Peloton’s shares plummeted following the death of a lead character using their exercise bike in the reboot of Sex and the City.

But after shares fell by 16.1%, Peloton were able to bounce back just as quickly, following a bold advertising campaign showing Mr Big alive and well. What does it mean? The story is interesting for multiple reasons – it is a cautionary tale concerning the power of social media and television when a PR stunt goes awry, whilst also shining light on the emergence of the subscription economy in marketing & PR, which will aid companies seeking to react to crisis situations rapidly. Peloton’s initial reaction after the episode aired was one of panic – accusing HBO of misleading them. But the blame game did not prove to be effective and led to a seemingly even more desperate but ultimately impactful solution. Instead, Peloton produced a new social media advertisement, showing the character to be alive and well, ready for another ride with his instructor in a cheeky Christmas video.

As Sky News reported, the quick response by Peloton was made possible by the fact that they participated in a new Creative-As-A-Subscription service by software company MNTN. The ad itself was produced by marketing agency Maximum Effort, founded by Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds, who also provided the voiceover in a video that took a single weekend to produce.

Whilst this is an amusing story, it points to a promising and potentially lucrative future for creatives in marketing & PR, especially those working with clients who are prone to crisis. 

This week’s must reads

  1. “Labour now look like the adults in the room” by David Aaronovitch for The Times

  2. “Biden’s democracy summit must deliver on its aims to beat authoritarianism” by Elise Labott for The Guardian

  3. “Even under Dominic Raab’s ‘British Bill of Rights’, Strasbourg reigns supreme” by Yuan Yi Zhu for The Telegraph

  4. “The limits of US sanctions in dealing with Russia are becoming clear” by Megan Greene for The Financial Times

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