Finweek English Edition - - Advertising & marketing -

IN ANY FULLY func­tional democ­racy, with a strong op­po­si­tion that amounts to a gov­ern­ment in wait­ing, Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki’s off­hand dis­missal of the na­tional crime cri­sis as a “per­cep­tion” would be an elec­tion-win­ning is­sue. Mbeki would be forced to re­sign and call an elec­tion that he would prob­a­bly lose.

With­out that kind of op­po­si­tion, how­ever, it’s left to the me­dia to ex­er­cise their watch­dog role as the Fourth Es­tate. The me­dia have be­come the most pow­er­ful op­po­si­tion we have. And in the mod­ern era, there’s a new kind of un­con­trol­lable, uncheck­able and ram­pant medium called word of mouth. Ac­tu­ally, it’s the old­est medium of all, but given a new lease of life by tech­nol­ogy, word of mouth be­comes word of mouse. And, of course, it’s no longer con­fined to the In­ter­net. Mar­keters call it vi­ral mar­ket­ing, be­cause it spreads like a virus. A mon­ster.

The fact that over 400 000 sms mes­sages were sent in the first day af­ter Mbeki’s ap­pear­ance on a TV pro­gramme – sup­port­ing the con­tention that crime is out of con­trol – is a pow­er­ful demon­stra­tion of pub­lic out­rage. Fur­ther out­rage is sig­ni­fied by the mas­sive cam­paign against crime launched by First Na­tional Bank this week­end.

If it stays true to form, the Gov­ern­ment will prob­a­bly ig­nore them, but Mbeki just might re­ceive a les­son in mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions and the tsunami of the em­pow­ered con­sumer.

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