Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Oprah Phenomenon

Australia has been well and truly besieged by the Oprah fever. From screaming teens to crying mid-lifers, it seems few have escaped the grip of the most popular, if not also the most powerful, woman in the world.

Oprah Winfrey didn’t inherit her fortune and she wasn’t born into a privileged family. A classic rags to riches story, she is where she is today largely through her own merit. And it seems to be this which appeals to so many. And of course there’s something totally unique about a talk show host who is more powerful than the celebrities she interviews.

But watching the “Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things” show last night, one might be forgiven for thinking she is really just a brand. And anything with the O-branded seal of approval is something worth buying. Oprah is a marketer and those Favorite Things shows smack of a Danoz ad from the 90s.

The Favorite Things episodes feature throngs of audience members falling all over themselves, crying with joy over the new (heavily over-priced) kitchen knives they will walk away with, while home viewers quickly write down the names of all the products. Everything about this facet of the Oprah franchise feeds the consumerist culture of modern day America, and increasingly the rest of the world. What Oprah has, we must have. If Oprah says it’s good, it must be. Never mind that multi-million dollar international companies just paid well to have their product endorsed by her.

In a clever marketing ploy by our country’s tourism industry, Oprah’s latest “favorite” thing is Australia. Considering that companies like Nike and P&N Cruises probably pay well into the millions for product endorsement, 5 million dollars to endorse a country probably isn’t too bad.

In a media conference during her visit, Oprah promised to repay the Australian taxpayer’s 5 million dollar investment in her, describing her impact on tourism to Australia as “immeasurable”.

Here’s hoping.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

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