Wednesday, August 14, 2013

There are effects, and there are effects - the Oprah effect on Bahnhofstrasse

When a famous or powerful person makes a statement, it can have seismic repurcussions. There are two types of "effects" that are associated with celebrity statements.

One type of effect is typified by the "Streisand effect." In this case, a statement by the celebrity (such as "don't post this picture of my house") results in the exact opposite of what the celebrity intended.

Another type of effect is typified by the "Scoble effect." In this case, a statement by the celebrity (such as "join this exciting new social media site") will result in exactly what the celebrity requested - but at an order of magnitude greater than what was envisioned. In Robert Scoble's heyday as a trend-setter, he could mention Service X, and this would result in so many people flocking to Service X that the site would crash. "You should have been ready for the Scoble effect," people would then say.

Oprah Winfrey clearly falls in the latter category of "effects," even today after her on-air presence has diminished on free TV. If Oprah likes something, people will rush out to get it. If Oprah doesn't like something, much anger will be generated toward the offending entity.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about Oprah's visit to a high-end store on the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich. (Incidentally, I should point out that all three effects listed in THIS post are named after Americans. I haven't seen a lot of people talking about the Angela Merkel effect.) When she talked about the poor service that she received at a particular store, Winfrey did not name the store, but she did name the country in which the store was located. (People figured out what store was being discussed anyway.)

All of a sudden, an issue in a particular store was elevated by the crowds and became a discussion of an entire country. It's a wonder that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn't call for a boycott (I mean a personcott) on Swiss cheese. However, what did happen is that the country of Switzerland ended up apologizing. (Actually, the country was more apologetic than the store owner.)

At which point Oprah said, whoops!

“I think that incident in Switzerland was just an incident in Switzerland. I’m really sorry that it got blown up. I purposefully did not mention the name of the store. I’m sorry that I said it was Switzerland."...

“It’s not an indictment against the country or even that store,” she continued. “It was just one person who didn’t want to offer me the opportunity to see the bag. So no apologies necessary from the country of Switzerland. If somebody makes a mistake in the United States do we apologize in front of the whole country? No!”

Actually, sometimes we do - you'll know that I quote Jim Bakker often - but the point was made. A single incident with a single salesperson in a single store was, because of Winfrey's global reach, magnified into something huge.

This can sometimes be a good thing. One could argue that the death of Rock Hudson was just a single illness affecting a single actor, but publicity of that one incident galvanized the fight against AIDS and HIV.

At other times, this can be a bad thing. I tend to believe that Winfrey did not want her rabid fans to jet off to Switzerland and kill every Italian-speaking salesperson there. (People who are not fans of Winfrey may think otherwise.)

The weird thing to consider is that although I don't have the global reach of Barbra Streisand, Oprah Winfrey, or Robert Scoble, there are (for whatever insane reason) people who consider me influential - and I'm not just talking about a click on a Klout page.

I need to remember this and act accordingly.
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