Monday, November 19, 2012
The Alan Jones Facebook experiment
He has a moderate but rusted-on audience - about 160 thousand people - or a low single-digit percentage of the population. This is not the the biggest audience by number - but it is the biggest audience by hours listened because the audience is rusted on. They turn the radio on and do not turn it off. He has the largest average audience. He probably also has the most swing because the audience hews so close to his view that he moves markets and votes.
Jones is after all fabulously persuasive with a microphone and an ability to drown out all opposing views. He is truly a "great communicator".
Whether you take offence at "Jonesey" depends partly on your personal politics. Jones does not offend my (avowed conservative/libertarian) business partner (though I doubt BP ever listens to him). He has always been (in a Rush Limbaugh sense) important to the conservative parties in Australia - he motivates right-wing voters in that swathe of outer-Sydney metropolitan seats which are crucial to electoral success in Australia. Conservatives (at least publicly) tend to like him. The conservative press rally around him.
Alan Jones unsurprisingly is opposed to our unmarried female, athiest and left-of-centre Prime Minister*. When he said that she (along with the Sydney Lord Mayor) should be sown in a chaff-bag and dumped at sea it was interpreted as a joke. The joke went too far though when he suggested at a closed dinner that the Prime Ministers father (who died that week) had died of shame. An anti-Jones sentiment that had been simmering below the surface for some years came ripping out.
Alan Jones has long been a master of vicious personal attack politics. He is frequently sued for defamation and in Sydney (sometimes even called Jonestown) getting on the wrong side of Alan Jones can be a career limiting move. He has a soapbox and an audience and he frequently attacks his enemies.
Many years of doing this and Jonesey has many enemies - rusted on enemies.
Now Jones is victim of personal attacks mostly organized through Facebook. The tactics that "Sack Alan Jones" with 21 thousand likes on Facebook use don't look that dissimilar to Alan Jones and watching Jones criticize their tactics has a touch of irony about it. The Anti-Jones-anti-mysogeny group Destroy the Joint** (also with about 20 thousand followers on Facebook) uses similar tactics.
There were also over 100 thousand signatures on an electronic "sack Alan Jones" petition.
Now every time someone advertises on the Alan Jones show I get Facebook feed naming the offending party. Advertisers are staying away in droves. Here is a picture presented by Destroy the Joint:
It is not looking good for Jonesey now.
But not so bad either. His audience has gone up prodded a little by controversy (although advertising revenue has plummeted). And the right-wing News Corp press have been relentlessly pro-Jonesey through the whole affair - with the press even saying that the campaign has turned Jonesy into a "free speech martyr". Even the left-wing radio host Phillip Adams tweeted that "media scandals seem to have the shelf-life of yoghurt... Jones has gone from dangling in the wind to back in full swing".
Moreover some advertisers have come back. Local restaurants - ones who do not care if 100 thousand people don't like them as long as a few thousand people do - were very fast to advertise. Indeed because nobody else was advertising they did so in quantity and with great success. (A paid endorsement on Alan Jones will fill any restaurant in Western Sydney...)
Sure, some major brands have advertised and retreated - cowered by hundreds (maybe thousands) of people hitting their complaint page. Personal-attack campaigning by the anti-Jones crowd still works at least on some advertisers.
The Apple Adverts
Strangely Alan Jones started doing straight-to-the-microphone adverts for Apple - the most powerful consumer brand of all. The message was clear - if Apple are not afraid to advertise on Jones show then the blockade must be over.
It turns out that Apple did not buy that advertising. Jones was just giving away free space. The anti-Jones crusaders would argue that the Apple adverts were just part of the Jones deception - a deception that Jones is back in business.
Here is the question: can a couple of Facebook groups with 20 thousand members each and a 100 thousand strong email list maintain the rage? Is social networking more powerful than a fabulous communicator-with-a-microphone and a rusted on audience? Can personal attack campaigning be sustained on Facebook? Note that the Murdoch press (which is very prominent in Australia) is - consistent with its political leanings - backing Alan Jones.
There is a direct stock market way of playing this. Macquarie Radio Networks - the company that controls the Jones show is listed. But honestly the Business Partner and I cannot decide.
So we just had a bet. It is only $50 (we are not big-swingers here) but I think the Jones show will be gone in six months and that social networks provide very high and sustainable advertising values and negative feedback from social networks is a major-corporation nightmare.
The Business Partner - he thinks that over time people will be civil - they can't "maintain the rage". Over time the anti-Jones groups will fade and Jones will come back - maybe a touch chastened and less strong on the personal attack. But he thinks the results of those attacks (by Jones as well as by his critics) is more likely to be temporary. [Besides BP accepts Jones' line that the attack on him is an attack on free speech.]
Five and a half months from now we will declare a winner and $50 will duly change hands.
It is the Facebook mob versus Radio demagogue - a powerful but admittedly uncontrolled experiment in social media versus traditional media. From an investing perspective from this we will learn a great deal about the power and the limits to that power of Facebook.
PS. We argue more generally about the value of Facebook. We own a small amount of that stock which I think is unjustifiably cheap - but again the Business Partner disagrees.
*Full disclosure: I don't like our Prime Minister either - but for other reasons.
**The name of "Destroy the Joint" comes from Jonesy's assertion that women (namely the Prime Minister and the Sydney Mayor and a female police chief) are destroying the joint.
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