Social Media for a brand, why bother?

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Modern Brands in Perspective

The domination of brands in modern consumer society is not a new thing. Since the early 20th Century, stalwart companies like Coca-Cola, Colgate and Hoover have played an active role in our daily lives. They’ve all encountered various challenges over the years, going through peaks and troughs, but the strongest brands have always survived, and often thrived, through times of adversity and relentless competition. These companies, along with thousands of other household names, have strengthened as brands over the years by knowing their customers, and always moving with the times.

Although each era has brought its own set of challenges, it could be argued that the current climate, where access to information is almost unlimited, could prove to be the trickiest off all. It is for this reason that social media, in all its guises, has become not only a useful, but a necessary PR tool for modern brands to establish, enhance and ultimately define themselves.

The importance of the customer

Never before in history have the general public been more influential on how brands operate. The endless growth of social media has empowered the consumer to the point that brands, big and small, have essentially been forced to take a back seat when it comes to designing, promoting and distributing their products, often resigned to acting more as observers than controllers. With this in mind, social media has become a fundamental part of brands’ PR and marketing strategies, not only in promotion and acquisition, but also in maintaining relationships with customers. As stated by author and motivational speaker Erik Qualman, “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.” [2]. In recent times there have been a number of successes, and failures, for brands in protecting their reputations online, as a result of online campaigns, PR, or customer service. The one constant in all this however is the consumer, and with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter now acting as public forums for all sorts of opinions, it’s essential that brands are constantly monitoring, managing situations and responding decisively. In order to continue doing this effectively they have to not only maintain control of the situation, but also to recognise the needs of their customers.

Customer Personas and brands

According to research, it is five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one [3]. Bearing this in mind, it is imperative that brands know their customers inside and out, identify behaviours, anticipate their actions and understand their connection with their products. This is where the creation of unique customer personas can help brands tremendously. This practice involves dividing consumers into different segments based around their demographics, behaviour patterns, technical acumen, motivations, and goals. [4] In doing this, brands gain a valuable insight into how their customers behave, what platforms they use, and how and when they are most likely to engage with their marketing content. This information can then be used in conjunction with social media, giving brands a real advantage in promoting their ideas to a mass digital audience, while also as an important tool to help them cater for their customer’s needs.

A company like Dove for example, are known for promoting an idea of luxury, comfort and, most recently, female empowerment. One of their most successful online marketing campaigns to date was their ‘Real Beauty Sketches’. This campaign targeted women’s insecurities in how they view themselves compared to how others see them, bringing these insecurities to the surface in the form of forensic sketches [5].

0610p13DoveSketches10Dove’s hugely successful ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ campaign

This message actively appealed to Dove’s customer base, young and old, with the viral advertising video gaining over 114 million views, reaching customers in more than 110 countries, and generating close to 3.8 million shares in its first month online [5]. Campaigns like this demonstrate Dove’s strong awareness of how to engage with their customers, while the 15,000 new subscribers added to their YouTube channel thereafter [5], shows a huge generation of new interest in the brand.

Pepsi, meanwhile is a brand with a far less defined customer base, although a number of their campaigns in recent years have been specifically aimed at a younger customer persona. Targeting such a segment may be straightforward in terms of distribution, with most young people very active online and on social media, but as many are not brand-loyal, the message is important. An example of a campaign that Pepsi Max headed that engaged with young people was their video campaign featuring NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon taking unsuspecting car dealers for wild test drives. This campaign appealed to a sense of fun and thrill-seeking and with over 25 million views on YouTube views [7], worked extremely well for Pepsi Max’s brand awareness.


Still of Pepsi Max’s prank test drive campaign

It’s worth noting that the above campaign was initially derided as being fake by a number of online bloggers. Pepsi’s emphatic response was for Gordon to surprise one of the Bloggers in question with another scary test drive.

This resulted in additional exposure for the company, contributing to a strengthening of their brand.

Online Reputation Management

While Social Media can offer an incredible advantage to brands when it comes to promoting their products and attracting new customers via online, social and video campaigns, it can also present a huge challenge when it comes to monitoring, managing, and protecting their brand image. This is where Online Reputation Management (ORM) becomes so important. As stated by Dan Virgillito, Content Strategist for ORM specialists Massive PR, “Good online reputation management is not only about reacting well to what people say about you, your brand, or your products and services, but also about whether to react at all and, if so, when” [9] Considering that social media is an outlet for people’s opinions, this is an issue brands must confront daily while they maintain their presence online. In the digital era, if a tweet, photo or even a misplaced Like on Facebook goes up that people disapprove of, there’s usually no going back. While all issues can never be resolved, the key lies in how brands determine the situations they find themselves in, and, sometimes even more crucially, how they respond. Using the same companies highlighted in the above paragraph, here are two examples of PR challenges those respective brands have encountered with their most recent ad campaigns.

Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ Campaign

As previously mentioned, Dove’s marketing message of luxury and empowerment, has proved very popular with their customer base, with variations of this message portrayed in their ad campaigns over the years. However, the company’s recent ‘Real Beauty’ campaign sparked a huge backlash when it was labelled as being racist soon after its online launch. While the campaign itself seemed to adhere to Dove’s brand values, with its use of women of all races embracing their beauty, the 13-second clip used on Facebook depicted what many people saw as a “racially insensitive” montage of a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman underneath [10]. Although this wasn’t Dove’s intention whatsoever, the brand had inadvertently opened up a can of worms, with members of the public threatening to boycott their products as a result.


Dove’s controversial ‘Real Beauty’ ad 

Luckily Dove acted quickly and accordingly, promptly pulling the ad and apologising for any offence caused. While their quick, and necessary reaction may not heal the immediate wounds of the unfortunate campaign, Dove have at least acknowledged the public response to their campaign and issued an apology before the situation was allowed to deteriorate. It’s too early to tell, but their action may well have prevented further damage.

Pepsi ‘Live for Now’ Campaign

Unlike Dove’s ad, that was launched recently and dealt with in a short timeframe, the fallout from Pepsi’s unfortunate ‘Live For Now’ campaign is still being felt months after the ad first aired back in April. The now infamous $40 million ad featuring supermodel Kendall Jenner appeasing a police officer at a protest by offering him a can of pepsi resulted, by all accounts, in a PR disaster. Considering the ad was aired amid an ongoing civil rights crisis in the US many found Pepsi’s ad more than a little tasteless.


Pepsi’s now infamous Kendall Jenner ad 

Unlike Dove, who instantly pulled their ad and apologised, Pepsi took the stance to defend their campaign, claiming that they ‘thought it was an important message to convey’ [12]. The company eventually bowed to pressure and removed the ad from YouTube, although their CEO has continued to stand by it [13].

Overall, from the campaign’s inception, to its execution, to its management, it is clear that Pepsi did not implement good Social Media PR. Had they effectively monitored the social climate beforehand they would have judged that the timing of their ad was insensitive and could cause controversy. Even after this however, they still could have exercised caution in their handling of a bad situation by acknowledging their mistake and apologising. Instead Pepsi let the issue fester and now risk potential long-term damage to their brand.


From the above examples of two brands with two very different marketing strategies and customer personas, it is evident how important social media PR has become within this sphere. While brands like Dove and Pepsi have remained strong over the years through understanding their customers and implementing the message that appeals to them, the popularisation of social media as a platform for social opinion has altered the marketing environment hugely.  It undoubtedly presents them with enormous opportunities, in terms of product promotion and awareness, giving them access to new markets and simplifying their distribution. However, it also presents a new set of challenges when it comes to monitoring and defending their brand’s reputation, an endeavour that has become all the more difficult the more popular social media becomes. In conclusion, brands continued use of Social Media for PR is not only an important practice, but an imperative one, which may well go on to define those brands’ respective places in history.


Why the Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice debate has to stop

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The arguments of either camp are deemed irrelevant when faced with the relative facts.


Ever since the tragedy of the Savita Halappanavar case last year intense debate has raged throughout the country as to the implications of the legislation of the X-case motion. Amid all the clamor however, how many people have actually considered that the debate, as sensitive as it may be, is nothing more than a moot point when put in context to the overall situation.

Ever since the wheels for the legislation were put in motion following the Savita tragedy of October last year, it seems that the whole world and his wife have an opinion on the matter, with some parties arguing intensely, and even aggressively over what action must be taken. Since that fateful day there have have been insults and insinuations, demonstrations and confrontations, political stand-offs and social discourse relating to the matter with the the latest in this chain of events being this morning’s hacking of the anti-abortion Youth Defence website, by an as-of-yet unknown party. And with the dust of the parliamentary vote on the proposed bill still settling do not expect an end to the mayhem just yet.

Nevertheless, whatever political compromises have been made on this bill, whatever fine tuning has been done so it will appear in its most inoffensive form, the legislation is merely a means of preventing the Savita incident of ever happening in this country again. It’s not a green light for abortion on demand, it’s not a defilement of the rights of the unborn, it’s a merely a code of conduct for doctors and medical institutions around the country for what should be done when confronted with a similar situation in the future.

As regards to the larger debate of whether it’s right to terminate a pregnancy in any case, as delicate an issue as this is, with regard to the overall picture it is simply not a relevant argument for the simple fact that, whether people like it or not, abortion is available to Irish women. The fact that Irish law outlines a clear protection of life stance that stipulates that the termination of a pregnancy will only be carried out in cases of a threat to the mother’s life, this is not the case on the shore of our nearest neighbors the UK where the practice is very much a legal one. Regardless of our policies on this side of the Irish Sea, it is a cold, hard fact that over 150,000 women have given Republic of Ireland addresses when registering at abortion clinics in Britain since 1980, a process that is only going to continue in the face of our own restrictive laws. And why wouldn’t it? Along with Malta, Ireland is the only European Union country that outrightly outlaws abortion, and that’s coming from list that includes traditionalist Catholic nations such as Spain, Austria, and Poland, as well as I might add, the country of the Pope’s residence, Italy. Whether people like to confront these facts or not, the truth is evident. Should an Irish woman find herself in the unfortunate situation of having to make the most difficult of choices, the option is always available to her, she just has to make the necessary travel arrangements.

Of course I understand that this is highly delicate issue, and have the utmost respect for people’s own opinions on the matter, but I think we’ll all agree that in the vast majority of cases these difficult decisions are certainly not taken lightly by those involved, and in many cases are an absolute necessity. That is why we must all think of them first before we continue such an incendiary discourse, and acknowledge that their choice and theirs alone, is the only one that matters.

Embracing the Stereotypes

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As an Irish national I know how proud we are of the image we present of ourselves abroad, whilst at the same time being highly defensive of the outside use of any negative Irish stereotypes. The all too familiar notion of the drunken Irish oaf, or of the over-zealous Roman Catholic come to mind, characteristics that, although we sometimes have a hard time convincing certain people, are not inherently indicative of Irish culture. It was to my great surprise then, that in the light of two recent news items, our over-cliched image appears to be alive and well.

The first was the sight of as many as 25,000 people descending upon Merrion Square on Saturday last for what was labelled a ‘Pro-Life Vigil’. What I found interesting about this mass gathering of people was that much of them had traveled to Dublin via the many free buses that had been laid down by the 200 or so parishes around the country in order to reinforce what is essentially the Church’s own position on the rights of unborn children. Regardless of one’s stance on the matter, do we as a people really want to be seen continuing to carry out the Church’s bidding after their legacy of state interference and child abuse?

The other worrying story was that of the truly preposterous motion tabled by the infamous Healy-Rae family and since granted by the Kerry County Council that supports the creation of a permit to allow rural drink-driving. It is claimed that this measure was introduced to help reduce the rate of depression and suicide in these these rural areas, and as the residents in question are only travelling minor distances in little or no traffic they are hence more unlikely to kill people. This of course comes after the most recent RSA statistics which show that indeed the highest number of road deaths actually occur in these very areas.

Now call me a cynic, but to an outsider looking in do we not seem to be living up to our reputations as staunch, indoctrinated Catholics with an unhealthy alcohol dependency. And taking this recent activity into account are we really justifiable in our defence against negative Irish stereotypes such as these when events like continue to transpire around us? One does have to wonder…

So there is still life after 30?

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After first watching a magnificent Spanish team rightfully entering their names into the history books last Sunday with what was a ‘complete’ footballing performance, it was with great privilege that I witnessed the old master of centre court, Roger Federer, return to winning ways this weekend.

In a sublime performance that defied most bookies pre-tournament predictions, Federer re-conquered what he has always claimed to be his “favorite Grand Slam” when he stormed to a record-equalling 7th Wimbledon victory on Sunday evening. A man who prior to Sunday’s milestone had been widely revered as the greatest player of all time, produced the masterclass of technical play we all know he is capable of, to beat the much-improved home favorite Andy Murray in a little over three hours of grueling tennis. A truly fantastic achievement and one that was testament to what a magnificent champion he has remained over these past ten years.


Why were we all so surprised you ask? Well, despite his countless awe-inspiring performances and multiple accolades, it has taken Federer as long as two and a half years to win his now seventeenth Grand Slam title, three since his last Wimbeldon, which it’s safe to say is a very long time for a player who sets himself such high standards. Approaching his 31st birthday many people had suggested that his best days were behind him. That his mantle had now been taken over by the younger, stronger, and more athletic types of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and his much-fancied opponent final opponent on Sunday. That he just could not control games the way he used to and that his own fitness might be in doubt this time around. In fact, his previous Grand Slam form had indeed shown that Federer, although still worthy of his Number 3 World ranking,  did seem to be fading from the undeniable force he once was.  Fourteen days later that ridiculous notion was firmly put to bed in the most emphatic style with this true marvel of men’s single tennis once again producing the quality of play, showing us all that he had never left. His bravado display in the final, was indeed a microcosm of his tournament as a whole, starting out slowly and even slightly uncertain, yet improving from game to game. His magnificent Semi-Final victory over defending champion Djokovic was the stuff of legends, following on from what was a totally dominant performance in the Quarter-Finals, yet it was the final itself that really cemented his place as the greatest of all time. Up against the man with an entire nation behind him, a player who had just become the first British man to reach a Wimbledon final in 74 years, and who himself seemed to be ever-improving during the competition. Andy Murray was the man of the moment, the one who would surely, this time out, deliver the title that the All-England club had craved for so long. It seemed to have been written in the stars in the build-up to the match, and the outcome indeed proved that it was, but not for the man everyone expected. The mighty Federer overcame what was a shaky start against his confident opponent to rally late in the second set, and was back to his masterful best from that point on in. One could argue that Murray was affected by the closed court in the second half of the match, or that he was feeling the effects of a slight knee injury he had sustained during play, but once Federer started turning the screw in the third set the entire dynamic of the final changed and we were only left to admire a true master of his craft at work. He had finally found that extra level that had separated himself from the rest for so long, that supreme confidence to dig consecutive points out of the bag with his back against the wall, that desire that had previously made him a sixteen time Grand Slam winning Champion, Roger Federer was back to his best after a long absence, and all of us, including his opponent, could only watch on in awe.


So what now for the old maestro? Well, I must admit that I was secretly hoping that he had just enough left in the tank to claim one more Grand Slam title before hanging up his racket and calling it a day rather than enter into what will surely become a slow, downward spiral as his years eventually being to catch up with him. After all, any athlete would aim to exit their sport on a victorious high, leaving in place a firmly established legacy, and in this regard RF is pretty much untouchable. However, the evidence of Sunday’s final demonstrates that apart from his obvious technical ability and supreme tennis brain, Federer still has a tremendous hunger for the game, and who’s to say that regaining both the Wimbledon title and the World Number 1 ranking won’t spur him on even further. As Andy Murray found out on Sunday, on his day Federer is still the player to beat, even if his fitness levels may not be what they used to be, or the fact that an uncharacteristic error count has unfortunately crept into his game. Once again he showed that he is still the very best in the business at wearing even his toughest opponents down before delivering the killer blow when it matters most. No doubt Messrs Nadal and Djokovic will have something to say about this, and all three (including Murray) have the significant advantage of youth on their side, a fact that will not be lost on Federer. However, he has battled back before from near impossible situations before and emerged with flying colours, so who’s to say he can’t do it again? Heavy weighs the crown of the undisputed master of centre court and Sunday’s iconic win shows that the king isn’t ready to hand it over just yet.

Phony 2012

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  Why the latest viral social media campaign promoting awareness is not quite all it’s cracked up to be. I am sure that by now a great many people out there have borne witness to the latest social media campaign brewing up a storm of support across our browsers. I am of course referring to film maker Jason Russell’s now viral 30-minute documentary feature, Kony 2012.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the video on the other hand, and without going into too much detail, the film essentially aims to draw further attention, or notoriety in this case, to renegade Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony and his ruthless Lords Resistance Army (LRA), a large part of which is made up of abducted child soldiers. The video has already amazed over 75 million user views over social media applications such as facebook and youtube, and is apparently being endorsed by some of the planet’s most influential people. Incredible you may say, but just before we begin to heap lavish praise on Mr. Russell, I would like to highlight a few problems with his film and its subsequent online campaign. Bearing in mind that I have no doubt that Mr. Russell had the best of intentions when starting this project, and foregoing my own personal criticisms of the sensationalist style of his so-called documentary, I must still contest the overall authenticity of the viral campaign for what I see to be two over-riding problems. Firstly, the video’s aim to bring about global awareness of Joseph Kony in order for him to be caught and arrested, carried out in this case by slapping his face over every internet forum, raising the discussion over every platform, enlisting the help of celebrities and political heavy weights to universally condemn him, and even assembling action kits that include campaign buttons, posters, bracelets, and stickers to help spread awareness, is a problematic one in itself. By his own admittance in the film, Russell decided upon the campaign as long as eight years ago whilst he was still based in Uganda. At that time, Kony’s LRA were a significant force, active in up to four countries and financed and supported by the Sudanese government. Since then however, following on from his indictment by the International Criminal Court in 2005, Kony’s forces and support have seriously diminished, with several of his high-ranking LRA commanders being either arrested or killed by Ugandan security forces. Kony himself remains in a permanent state of exile somewhere around the Central African Republic border whilst there has been no recorded LRA presence in their once stronghold town of Gulu in six years. Is now the best time to draw attention to an admittedly very dangerous but nonetheless rapidly fading exiled rebel commander whose days are surely numbered anyway? What if his new-found global fame were to have the opposite effect, essentially popularising him to the masses and, in turn, gaining him a cult hero status to boot. Is there a chance that he could potentially thrive on publicity the way Colombian drug lord Pabol Escobar did in the late 1980s? Could this new mainstream recognition succeed in galvanising his support once more, essentially making him much stronger and more feared than even before? The film’s other notable failing is that, after all its Hollywood melodramatics, naive assumptions, and essential over-simplifications of a very broad modern conflict, it fails to answer the fundamental question posed, ‘Who exactly is Joseph Kony?’  I am afraid if you are looking for the answer within this 30-minute video you are not going to find it, notwithstanding the fact that it’s stated aim is to raise awareness of the subject. Apart from a few minute references to Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army, and what is essentially a 25 year African conflict, we, the audience, are effectively left wondering. Essentially we are told that there is this really, really bad guy out there, who has managed to evade capture for the last seven or eight years and is now in hiding, somewhere in Africa, but no one knows who he is. True, the intention of the video is to promote global awareness, but are we to be left completely unsure as to what we are now aware of? Can anyone really truly say that after watching Kony 2012 that they now feel a great deal more enlightened as to who Joseph Kony is, what he is doing, and how he can be caught? Need I stress that the ICC issued an arrest warrant for this man in 2006 and it is beyond doubt that there has also been a sizable reward issued for his capture, dead or alive. Why do Mr. Russell and his friends think that a few celebrities passionately preaching about someone in Africa they’ve never heard of is going to suddenly change the situation and immediately lead to his inevitable capture? And why, it must be said, do they all think that the elimination of one man from the equation would make any difference to the overall situation, namely the presence of violent armed rebel groups, that make a hobby out of rape, torture, and the abduction of children for use as soldiers, throughout the entire African continent. In fact what bothers me most about this project is the fact that there is such a general feeling of apathy and blissful ignorance in Western attitudes towards the plights of the Third World in general, one which the naiveties of this video only highlight further.  How many of Mr. Russell’s supporters for instance would be able to enlighten us on the ongoing Kivu conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the never ending Civil War in Somalia, the recent election crises in Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya and Zimbabwe, or the continued fighting of Islamic insurgencies in both Algeria and Nigeria. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine too many. Ultimately though, despite all the good intentions, dynamic campaigning  and global popularity behind Jason Russell’s Kony 2012, its a story thats been covered before, and in a much more informative, enlightening fashion for that matter. In fact Brian Single’s documentary on the same subject, Children of War, won the Cinema For Peace Justice Award in 2010 and was selected to be the first ever film to be screened at the headquarters of the ICC in the Hague. I admit that underestimating the power of viral campaigns is very unwise, especially  given recent events, but it has to be said that, in these instances, a distinct lack of both vital information and a strong sense of purpose can overwhelmingly affect a project’s credibility, which I believe to be the case this time round. I understand that the said purpose of the video is to raise awareness, and if the people behind Kony 2012 do ultimately succeed in their objective then I will be the first to congratulate them. However, I am a firm believer that not all of life’s conflicts can be treated with this level of simplicity and solved from the comfort of people’s own homes, especially considering that conflicts of this nature are a lot more common across the globe than the makers of this film might like to admit, and hence conveniently forgotten about. Ironically, there is a scene in Kony 2012 wherein Russell, upon witnessing the plight of the children of Uganda, remarks, “If this happened for even one night in America it would be on the cover of Newsweek’. Unfortunately, this time I agree with him.

I’m an Alien….An Irishman in New York

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How my perceptions of Irish/American relations changed with a recent trip to the Big Apple.

New York City. The Capital of the World, The Empire City or The City that Never Sleeps. All common aliases identified with this, most famous of all places. I must admit however, that being an Irish man traveling to NYC for the first time last week, I had no idea what to expect upon my arrival.  Obviously I had my list of references, and, as you would expect, had heard more than a few great things about this immense metropolis. However, throughout my week-long stay, I was more than just a little taken aback by just how different it is from any place I’d ever been previously. Not to mention, by being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, in the city that we as people played such a significant role in shaping.  Exciting is an understatement, but what interested me the most was how little I understood about what Irish identity meant to the people of New York, and I was never more happy to disprove my earlier opinions.

Standing there, at what surely must be the biggest Paddy’s Day parade on earth, running for up to 7 hours for the distance of almost 40 city blocks and encompassing hundreds upon hundreds of marching bands, brigades and divisions, I was amazed to see the extent of the celebrations outside my own country. At home, the national parade aside, St. Patrick’s Day over the years has gained the reputation of being little more than an excuse for people to get excessively inebriated. Here, although there were more than a fair share of drinks consumed, the contrast could not have been more stark. People were behaved, joyful, and above all, immensely proud of their heritage, something that has been forgotten in some quarters here. Of course there were a few rowdy customers, and a bit of tack, but the over-all message was one of national and historical pride as well as jubilant celebration.

The sheer extent of the parade was frightening, with an enormous fraction of the city closed to a stand still to allow this, 250th Anniversary parade to sweep through New York’s famous 5th Avenue, all the way from 42nd street to its conclusion over a kilometer down the road at 79th. We, of course, made sure to get front rows spots for the spectacle, squeezing in fittingly by the city’s well-known St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Passing us by were marching battalions from just about every public service sector you could think of including the US army, the NYPD, and the New York Fire Department, who, as you’d expect, got quite an exultant cheer from the crowd. These were followed by County by County Irish Associations, as well as High School and College Brass Bands and Cheerleaders from all around the country. Quite simply put, the festivities were overwhelming, and I for one found myself a most welcome spectator.

The big thing that struck me however, was that all these people gathered at the parade, most of which must have taken a day of work to join in the celebrations, were not just merely celebrating being Irish, they were celebrating being Irish Americans. These days, in this country anyway, being Irish can often not be seen as a cause for celebration, particularly considering the position we find ourselves in at the moment. Most of the crowd at the New York Parade, on the other hand, were commemorating something of far greater importance to them, the plight of their own ancestors dating all the way back to their arrival in this promised land. Back then, America, was of course the ‘Land of the Free’, and although some of us may be reluctant to admit it, was there for our people as a place of refuge and opportunity when they needed it most. The hardships experienced by many Irish immigrants on their arrival in the States have been well documented, and the fact that so many of them emerged from such desolation to become some of the most important members of the nation, is certainly a historical feat worth remembering. The very fact that this particular St. Patrick’s Day parade, in its 250th year, was initiated 14 years before the American Declaration of Independence, just shows the importance of the Irish as a social class and ethnic identity in the formation of the state.

A ‘sobering’ thought is not a phrase you would usually hear in conjunction with a Paddy’s Day celebration but I think that is the best way to describe the moment my past perception of the in-your-face Irish American, living off the tell-tale stories of their great, great grandparents, changed for the better. Of course, I also admit that I probably wouldn’t even have thought otherwise had I not experienced this overwhelming, melting pot of ethnicity and identity for myself. Being an Irish American, even in these troubled times, is most certainly a thing of immense pride, as I saw in the colours of the 250th New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17th as well as on the faces of all the men, women and children that day.  It is also something that is very unique in itself and far different from what many of us Irish-born over here perceive it to be. I suppose the best way to describe the Paddy’s Day celebration I witnessed as a great advertisement for New York, a mighty city wherein every language is spoken, every faith is practiced, and just about every citizen wears his or her national identity on their sleeves. Essentially, it’s just like the message says on the postcard, “You have to see it, to believe it.”.

Don’t Forget to Leave Your Sense of Humour at the Door

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Do some of the angered responses to Ricky Gervais’ ‘risqué’ Golden Globe gig reflect how boring Hollywood has become?

Apparently it seems the legions of Tinseltown have forbidden known comedians to attempt to lighten the mood in their presentation of otherwise dull and predictable award shows. I am referring of course to the mixed reaction provoked by British comedian Ricky Gervais’ hosting of the 2011 Annual Golden Globes in LA just a couple of days ago, in which he poked fun at various topics surrounding the Film industry and it’s incumbents such as alcoholism, drug abuse, possible homosexuality, scientology, and the suggestion of Academy officials taking bribes. All in good humour you may say?  Well, apparently not, if you are to believe some of the press reports circulating the morning after the ceremony, some going as far as to suggest that Mr. Gervais had well and truly crossed the line and would ‘never work in this town again’ in reference to the old cliché.

A bit drastic one would think, especially seeing as that this was Gervais’ second Golden Globes’ ceremony in a row and that he himself is a comedian widely known for his mildly offensive, yet playful style of humour.  You would have to raise the question that the Academy must have known what they were getting themselves into when they hired Gervais for the job rather than some mild-mannered friendly face who would be less likely to go over board. Seeing as that humour has always played a big part in these dreary, fashion-show like proceedings, would the more grumpy, conservative elements of the Academy not be compelled to just quietly appease what was merely a funny man doing his usual comic routine instead of being so vocally defensive? All things considered, expecting a comedian to dampen down his act just so as everyone goes home happy is like expecting Keanu Reeves to win an Academy Award for best actor and director in the one night!

I must say that I, for one, have not been the biggest fan of Mr. Gervais’ work of late, particularly his recent foray into mainstream Hollywood pictures. In this case however, I just couldn’t help but giggle to myself when seeing him up on stage, shelling out abuse to his peers, (the jokes about the noticeably ageing cast of Sex and the City as well as the suggestion about certain Scientologists being the most memorable). To their credit, it also seemed that the majority of the audience took favourably to his quips, not resisting the urge to let their hair down for one night. However, no matter how popular Gervais may have been with certain sections of the crowd who know how to take a joke, there will always be more than a few people involved who end up taking the whole routine to heart. It is, after all, hardly surprising that members of the ‘PC Brigade’ will always be waiting in the wings for an opportunity to take the moral high ground in these situations, a fact of life that surely takes the gloss off trying to have a bit of fun, even if it’s at the expense of others. As the old saying goes, ‘You can’t please all of the people, all of the time’ and in this day in age I don’t think it’s unfair to request that a group of multimillion dollar earning actors, writers and directors, be able to take a joke. If this was to be Ricky Gervais’ last award ceremony then he certainly went out with a bang. No doubt when it comes around to Oscar time the Academy will have a suitably ‘tame’ comedian in place to host proceedings such as the likes of John Stewart, Ellen deGeneres or the well past his sell-by-date Steve Martin, who would all be loath to push the boundaries too much. In my mind however, comedy is all about provoking a reaction, which is why I will be personally campaigning for Gervais, or any other like-minded comedian, with the cheeky ability to question the Academy, in all its conservative glory, as well as, the most important thing, keep the crowd entertained! Do I have any signatories??

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