Oprah & media blind spots

Oprah Winfrey, being an immensely popular gazillionaire media mogul and all, isn’t usually thought of as flying below the radar. But she’s been up to some really interesting stuff the last few weeks that no one seems to be talking much about.

The latest book being promoted and discussed in her famous book club is Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth” – a spiritual treatise on being conscious and present, quieting the chattering of the mind, and losing our association with the ego to become connected with the energy of the world around us. It’s heady, new-agey stuff, and as Tolle himself says in the book it will either change your life or you’ll find it a pretentious, aimless ramble (personally, I’m a fan of his stuff). As with most of Oprah’s previous book selections, it’s shot to the top of the best seller lists for the past month.

But what’s interesting is that Oprah’s taken a new turn with the book club and is hosting a series of 10 weekly webinars with Tolle to discuss, chapter by chapter, the contents of the book. They’re 4 weeks into it now, and each one has drawn as many as a million people live, from around the world, making them the largest webcasts in history. A further 1.5 million people a week have been downloading the webcasts afterwards on iTunes and from Oprah’s site.


The series has also garnered some big-name sponsors such as Chevy, 3M, and Skype. In addition to “sponsored by” credits, brands are further integrated into the series in various natural ways – Skype provides some of the conferencing capabilities allowing viewers around the world to ask questions live, and Borders Books are hosting book study clubs around the US that Oprah periodically throws to for questions. And it’s all been pretty seamless and tastefully handled.

So it’s clearly breaking some new ground: organizing the largest live webcasts in history, not just once but over 10 successive weeks, is a pretty big deal. And yet no one seems to be talking about it. The media, both mainstream and marketing trade press, has mostly ignored it – by comparison Oprah’s new reality show “The Big Give” has garnered much more coverage. What little coverage has been given to these webcasts seems to often be skeptical and mocking of its “new age” content.

So do we have a blind spot about this kind of thing? Do our marketing minds not know what to make of something a bit more spiritual? Do we just not care as much when there’s less selling going on?

Published by jasonoke

Global Client Leader, WPP Married to @meredithoke. I have some kids. I travel. I eat. I internet.

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