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Update on ‘Gig in the Sky’- Comic Relief and British Airways – Clever marketing, hypocrisy or paradox of consumer capitalism?

I wrote a few weeks ago now about a paradox surrounding a Comic Relief initiative which was undertaken on Saturday by British Airways called the Gig in the Sky. You can read that post here. My concern surrounded the apparently hypocritical fundraising initiative which sought to raise money for multiple causes, including climate change, by holding an exclusive and Guinness Book of World Records shattering comedy Gig in the sky.

Acting on these concerns I contacted both Comic Relief and BA. In my correspondence with Comic Relief they were courteous but insistent that this was an issue that they were not to comment on and that I should contact British Airways.

While I can provide full correspondence to interested parties, my query to Comic Relief was as follows:


It is my understanding that one of the causes that Comic Relief gives particular attention to is Climate Change… My query revolves around the creation of a ‘pseudo event’ – an unnecessary flight to break a pointless record – as a means to generate media attention. By undertaking this promotion is Comic Relief together with British Airways not holding an event which inevitably contributes to climate change in order to raise money for climate change (and, of course other causes)? How should this be understood? As hypocrisy? A necessary evil?In an age when individuals are encourage to mind their carbon footprint and cut down on travel is it not paradoxical that a ‘prize’ being offered as part of an official  Comic Relief initiative is antithetical to this?

Recognising Comic Relief’s support of climate change initiatives I am curious how this charitable commitment fit in with the Guinness Record attempt?  Is this something that was thought about in designing the promotion?

The response from Corporate Fundraising at Comic Relief was professional but noncommittal:

Thank you for your enquiry and interest in Red Nose Day.

British Airways is a valued partner of Comic Relief and with support from their customers and staff aims to raise millions of pounds for Comic Relief to transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the UK and some of the world’s poorest countries.

The ‘Gig in the Sky’ event is one of many activities being organised and managed by British Airways to raise money for Red Nose Day.

For more information please contact British Airways directly.

I followed up this email with Comic Relief trying to push further as to their stance on the project but instead was given the same line but, this time, information on how to lodge a complaint:

‘For more information about how we handle complaints, you can find our complaints policy at http://www.comicrelief.com/contact_us/complaints

I wrote back again saying that I did not see my query as a ‘complaint’ but intended it as a query in order to understand Comic Relief’s perspective on this specific initiative. And asked if Comic Relief comments on specific initiatives or perhaps signoff/approve of initiatives of this scale or is this something that British Airways would do on its own without the need for the approval of Comic Relief. Unfortunately, this email brought me back full circle to being asked to contact BA. So, in this instance, Comic Relief has done the equivalent of a ‘no comment‘ but did give me an email at BA to contact which was consumerpr.

I emailed BA and their response reiterated their commitment to pay the carbon off set charge for the flight in question but nothing more. In fact, it effectively asked me to stop emailing them as the email I was using (and was given) was an address ‘dedicated to press enquiries’. Kind of like busying the emergency line I guess?  At any rate, I wrote them back again saying that I  could not tell from the email address (consumerpr) that it was, in fact, a press office (I assumed press office would have a press office email). However, I pointed out that my query had still not been answered.

Throughout my email correspondence with BA ConsumerPR I had been referred to the Terms & Conditions around my query into the flight and its more general policy on carbon offsetting. Yet, as I informed BA in subsequent emails, from my reading of the Terms & Conditions on Facebook, it does not seem mention that BA will pay the carbon offsetting charge. Moreover, I was curious how this policy was decided – it is, after all an easy and swift PR move to retroactively pay the charge – but I was curious if British Airways had an official policy that for any contest or promotion that it engages in, that it will pay the equivalent carbon offset charge for any seat/ticket/travel that is given away? Thus, I was curious to know when BA agrees to pay these charges and when does it not?

As per my original post, I have multiple misgivings around the carbon trading scheme and am keen not to turn this into an opportunity to flout a carbon offsetting; changes in lifestyle and changes by all industries involved are far more important. Still, I am curious to see BA’s response through. As ConsumerPR have shoved me off into the black hole that is customer comments via their website, I have sent a message to BA and will need to wait and see what, if anything, comes back (I will continue to follow up with them).

For now, reflecting on the title of my original post, it seems the Gig in the Sky  is all three: clever marketing, certainly hypocrisy and a paradox of consumer capitalism. More to come I hope…

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Ohhh we like Joaquin Phoenix now? Brilliant.

Context changes everything and while many people thought the joke was on Joaquin Phoenix, the tables have been turned with Phoenix and Affleck hoodwinking many in the media, film reviewers and audiences too.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Youtube comments posted around Phoenix’s appearance last year on David Letterman. Whereas some comments were fairly adamant that this was a stunt, especially given the extra information that a ‘documentary’ was being made, many comments viewed Phoenix’s performance as genuine and thus in need of a serious reality check. The following remark captures the spirit of comments posted

‘This interview was disturbing to watch. Looks like the old boy is strung out on drugs or he’s having mental problems. I hope he’s just putting on an act. He’s one of the best actors out there and I’d to lose him like his brother’.

However a fresh wave of posts on the Youtube video of Phoenix’s Letterman interview are now appearing in the wake of the news that Phoenix’s interview was what Casey Affleck called in the New York Times, “a terrific performance, it’s the performance of his career”. So now the news is out, people are reassessing the interview as ‘A classic performance’. However, the joke seemed to be lost on many film reviewers where Dana Steven from Slate for example wrote (in a review I imagine she will be eventually embarrassed about), “The worst thing about I’m Still Here (Magnolia Pictures) is the fact that it exists.” In writing this review, and there are others like it (see Metacritic) Stevens is, though perhaps unintentionally, part of the story. Sucked into scheme created by Phoenix and Affleck and good on them for being able to do that. Without having seen the movie (though I really would like to), it is difficult to comment on its purpose though it seems pretty clear that one of its goals is to actively subvert  the media and our preoccupation with celebrity.

Of course, this has been done before and on David Letterman no less. One only needs to watch the master Andy Kaufman on the David Letterman show to see where Joaquin Phoenix obviously got some inspiration.

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