We have a new car show season. With it come new car releases, and with them comes a contagion that is as tiring and headache-inducing as a Cobo Hall flu on top of an after party hangover. The disease goes by the name of embargo, and it comes with the embargo breach as a secondary infection.
In case you have studied Pol.Sci. instead of HTML, you might be thinking that we are talking about real embargoes, such as those of Iran or Cuba. We don’t. In our biz, an embargo is when an OEM sends a blog a picture or a story, and then asks not to “print” it until later. If you think that the outcome is both predictable and inevitable, then you are absolutely correct. We could put the matter right to sleep without wasting (ha!) precious HTML column inches, would the new car season not also be marked by an excited chattering, twittering, OMG+1000ering over busted embargoes in what goes as the automotive media these days.
So let’s do what we rarely do, let’s talk about embargoes.
In the funky world of car blogs, embargoes are treated with the fascination otherwise reserved for an older sister’s first period, for our first pubic hair, or, OMG!, stained linen. Likewise, a broken embargo is treated with the enthrallment, or faux outrage caused by school buddies who purportedly went to “third base” without going blind.
Whenever an OEM tells me that “kids have lost their interest in car”, I say: “Wrong, look at Jalopnik.” Jalopnik is the epicenter of youthful eruptions caused by titillating embargoes. Jalopnik even has a special section for “Embargo News, Videos, Reviews and Gossip.” Currently, the section crucifies Cycle World (yes, Cycle World) for blowing an embargo. I was unable to find out which one. I had to withstand attempts of the Jalopnik section to lure me into other Gawker assets that promise me “Orgasm-Free Casual Sex.” No thanks. In my advanced age, one is grateful for any orgasm one can achieve during casual sex. (Speaking of age, things got a little better at Jalopnik after Ray Wert was replaced by a more youthful looking, but far more mature Matt Hardigree. As mature men, they talk less, and do it more.)
However, I am looking forward to the promised reviews of embargoes. Car reviews: Tired. Embargo reviews: Wired. Can we hope for five star embargoes? Three thumbs down for halfhearted embargo breaches? A “Meh” for indignant reports of embargo breaches, illustrated with the embargoed picture? +1000 for the intrepid reporter who can’t be cowed by the OEM machine, and who hits “Publish” a day before he is allowed to? Best upskirt picture during car reveals? Endless opportunities for a blogging biz that always should be on the look-out for distinction at the lowest cost.
Bad boys they are, Jalopnik is a bad influence on other adolescent automotive authors, who try to be a Jalop, even when writing for a site that makes its money by selling contact data of car buyers to car-dealing sharks. Oh, the excitement when they hold their first embargoed picture in their shaking hands! The temptation to jerk off to it usually overcomes the best of them. Kimberly-Clark, always on the lookout for new niches for its tissues, should look into the matter. EmbarGoezAwayz® perhaps? I mean, I invented Sneezies® for them in the 80s, why not continue on the road to success? You know where to find me, I’m sure.
With that rant off my chest, here the Truth About Embargoes.
What is an embargo? In real life, an embargo is close to a blockade, and some say it’s an act of war. If we stop Iranian oil, it’s God’s work. If the Arabs stop Arabian oil, it’s an outrage. In the unreal life of the motor media, an embargo is a request not to publish something before a set date. Blogs know how to design, make, market and even recycle cars, why should they listen to silly pleas to delay their orgasms until a later date?
How binding is an embargo? It is not binding at all. Usually, an embargo is an appeal to professional courtesy. Lack of which renders the matter void.
What happens after a breach? Nothing, except for the excited chattering and twittering that provides added media exposure. In most serious cases, the sanction may be that the reporter is not invited back. This rarely happens, and only with the most stringent types of embargoes as listed below.
What is the sense of embargoes? Purportedly, it is to give journalists time to get their heads and printing machines around a topic. In reality, an embargo acts as a timer that sets off a cluster bomb strike of stories, timed just right for maximum impact for the OEM, while delivering useless crapitation on the part of the individual news outlet. An embargo usually contravenes the interest of the publication, and the stage is set for trouble.
Types of embargoes
The buff-book embargo: This is a throwback to the times when pictures of rare pre-production models were shot with large format cameras, on (OMG!) film, where color seps were made, and where cylinders needed etching. This took at least a month, and led to the strange custom, still observed on occasion, that reporters congregate in a room a month before the launch, where they are presented with a top-secret car, and a piece of paper on which they have to promise that they won’t say anything until the embargo lifts. Unless the paper is a hard and fast Non Disclosure Agreement, in which clear sanctions, such as loss of your firstborn, or $250,000 for each breach, are agreed upon, that paper only has symbolic value. The buff books stick to the embargo, because they want to be invited back, and they need the month anyway. They also do on-line, and a day after the meeting, renders appear that come close to the actual car. Those, wink-wink, do not count as a breach of embargo. I observe the buff-book embargo, even if it leads to a conversation like this one: “As you know, no photography allowed today, Mr. Schmitt.” “I know.” “Where is your camera?” “At home, you told me not to bring one.” “Oh. You brought your phone, did you?” “Sure.” “Good. Keep it in your pocket.” “Sure thing.” Wink. Wink.
The individual embargo: Trusted reporters sometimes receive individual access to car, inside information, executives, production sites etc. before the launch, with the understanding that the story is held back until the launch. This usually is in form of a handshake agreement, sometimes on a piece of paper. This embargo is rarely breached, because it gives reporter and publication a better story, and a leg up on the riff-raff that has to quote from the press release. I observe the individual embargo. I am old-fashioned and I believe in handshakes.
The common embargo: Sometimes, press releases, even those published on publicly accessible websites, or sent out via mass emails have “Embargoed until ….” on them. This is regarded as effective as appeals for chastity until marriage, and it is as commonly ignored. When I was young, pubescent kids used to get thrilled about chastity and we tried to get our hands and more as deep into other pants as possible. These days, kids excitedly twitter and chatter about (OMG!) breaches of embargo. I ignore this kind of embargo, I would laugh at complaints and never receive any.
The come-on embargo: The industry, fascinated with the social media thing, has caught on to the stirring in loins and keyboards caused by a titillating embargo. As the slow reveal loses its efficacy, nothing punches better through the clutter of pre-car-show press releases than a big “EMBARGOED UNTIL …” on the email. In a world where real tits have given way to titillations, this assures attention, just like adolescent sex was exciting, because it was verboten. High fives in the PR departments of the OEMs are triggered by the secondary explosions in blogs that feign outrage over embargo breaches by colleagues who dared to go to third base first (“AutoWeek’s Phil Floraday Breaks Embargo On Buick Enclave!!!” OMG!)
Expect large-scale farming of these genetically modified forbidden fruit, and expect them to taste as bland as GM produce usually tastes. A blogger who gets excited, or worse, who observes the come-on embargo is a lost cause, and really should look for other employment.