Last thursday, Giorgio Armani edited the british newspaper The Independent as part of his involvement with Project RED. As the second issue in the RED series – the first was edited by Bono- the newspaper took a look at issues which are of concern to those seeking to help Africa. While the newspaper had some good articles about “Africa’s gifts to the world” from art to science, celebrity weigh-ins on Africa’s problems, and African Women’s rights, those were all overshadowed by the cover picture of a black-faced Kate Moss. Major backlash ensued at yet another attempt to connect Africans to white celebrities and in this case the fashion world. You would think that after the backlash over the Gwyneth Paltrow “I am African” ad Mr. Armani would have paid special care to provide a better context for the image and not just rely on the resurrected supermodel’s notoriety.
A major part of the failure of such campaigns is the media not realizing that today’s consumer has become smarter and is exposed to a lot more global messages than before. It’s true that we’re still enamored with celebrity and for the most part are still sleep when it comes to politics, but with advertising, even the sheep think of themselves as wolves. The images and associations don’t carry the same weight they used to because they have not been defined in the new society. With reality TV and the internet we are more independent in our information gathering. Today’s consumer is exposed to a lot more, and has new points of references. As Julie of Coutorture proved in her attempts at covering New York Fashion Week, the old media is out of touch with the rise and needs of the new breed of consumers and they prove this constantly with images such as the one on The Independent. While many charities are seeking to involve the public in their causes they are still employing the old media communicate with a new consumer who rebels against it. Some would say that the controversy from both the Kate Moss and Gwyneth Paltrow images helped to bring attention to the causes, but I would argue that most people could not tell you what issues those images were trying to bring to light. The old media has not done it’s homework on what Africa means to the new consumers. And like a parent, the old media’s message gets lost in it’s arrogance.