Beware the ‘Fluffy’ Story

When you read a newspaper it is important to remember not just to be cynical about the scaremongering, or disgusted at the lies on immigration, but also to question the fluffy stories. Take, for example, the lovely story of Cinders the pig, which – according to the Daily Mail – is ‘The world’s only porker who is afraid of mud‘. It is a charming story complete with a picture of a sweet little piggy in four small green wellies:

You can’t get much happier than a pig in muck, or so we are told.

But when this little piggy arrived in the farmyard she showed a marked reluctance to get her trotters dirty.

While her six brothers and sisters messed around in the mire, she stayed on the edge shaking. It is thought she might have mysophobia – a fear of dirt.

Owners Debbie and Andrew Keeble were at a loss, until they remembered the four miniature wellies used as pen and pencil holders in their office. They slipped them on the piglet’s feet – and into the mud she happily ploughed.

Now she runs over to Mr Keeble so he can put them on for her in the morning.

What a heartwarming story of how a pig overcame their fear of mud – not just a fear but a suspected phobia as if pigs have all the same everyday problems that humans do, look, it’s even wearing boots, made for humans. The whole story is silly, this pig (like all others I suspect) does not have a phobia about mud and its owners do not put wellies on it. The whole story – including the quotes from the pigs owners – is a complete lie, it is completely made up.

How do I know this?

Well, I simply consulted the PR agency that created the story, because said agency is now proudly using this story as a testimonial to advertise its services:

Emma Cantrill from Intelligent Profile says: “We asked Ross Parry Agency to help raise the profile of Debbie and Andrew Keeble’s sausage manufacturing business and to highlight their ongoing lobbying work to pay a fairer price for British Pork. While we knew that that it would create interest within the local media, we wanted a national story to really kick the campaign off.

“We approached Ross Parry Agency, a photographic agency in Leeds with a successful track record of syndicating stories. Ross Parry Agency provided brainstorming ideas and a number of angles.

“Debbie and Andrew had suggested that we use one of their pedigree pigs for the campaign, as she had a distinct personality and was slightly more fastidious than her colleagues. Ross Parry Agency took this one step further and created the ‘pig in boots’ shot.

“The story took us all by surprise and achieved worldwide coverage including:

  • 25 UK radio stations (Including 5 Live and Radio 1)
  • National and global TV (Including GMTV, C5 The Wright Stuff, Reuters, CNN, BBC The One Show)
  • Every national newspaper and various magazines
  • All international news and entertainment web feeds (including BBC Online, ITN, Yahoo)
  • “For an investment of £250 we gained £250,000 worth of coverage.

    “Debbie and Andrew recorded a 30% sausage sales uplift in Asda after Pig in Boots story.

    “The advertising equivalent for Pig in Boots would have cost £451,630 in coverage.”

To be fair to the Daily Mail they were clearly not alone in running this story – all news outlets are guilty of printing PR-created story as ‘news’ or ‘light relief’. The truth is this manufactured story is neither news or light entertainment, but a cynical ploy to secure advertising at minimal cost. As the testimonial clearly demonstrates, the pig was selected for being slightly cleaner than the rest, the agency then decided to shove some wellies on it because they knew the press love a cute photo.

That any media outlet seriously printed this as real news – just look at that Daily Mail article, they really think they have uncovered a spectacularly unusual pig, and even suggest it might have a phobia of mud – is laughable. It also brings into sharp focus that journalists and editors just don’t care what is news, anymore than they care about misleading headlines or the dividing line between comment and news, or the accurate reporting of risk – the recent scaremongering of pregnant women over absolutely minimal or in some cases non-existent risk is hypocritically matched by another Littlejohn column today criticising health and safety for focusing on providing solutions to what he considers absolutely minimal or non-existent risks.

The only thing an editor does care about is circulation and advertising revenue, sadly the only newspaper an editor would consider laughable in this instance would be the one that didn’t publish the cute photo of the pig. It’s a sad reflection of the majority of the UK press.

And remember, this ‘fluffy’ little story about the cute little pig we’d all love to cuddle ended up with a 30% increase in the sales of sausages…

32 thoughts on “Beware the ‘Fluffy’ Story

  1. Flat Earth News (the book) covers this sort of crap churnalism. It also points out that certain stories crop up annually.

    I expect that as the World Cup progresses we will hear tales of someone insuring themself against England being knocked out and some sort of complex bet which will net the punter millions regardless of the outcome.

  2. “Fortunately for five-week-old Cinders, she will not end up in one of their sausages. Although they were pig farmers for 20 years, the Keebles keep them only as pets nowadays”.

    I guess the 30% increase in sausage sales with ASDA was for vegetarian sausages.

  3. If you had quoted the full Mail story, you would see that it was the owners of the pigs, farmers of twenty years, who are the ones saying she has a phobia of mud and that she likes to wear boots. The papers and media outlets reported in good faith what they said. Nor does PR woman Emma Cantrill say they are making this up – as Angry Mob claims – she is simply pointing out how they found a good angle that as well as being a fun story also helped advertise her client. Come on Angry Mob – once you were a source of light in the dark, but mow you are spinning stories as much as exposing the spin.

  4. Sorry James, but you’re talking absolute rubbish here. The owners claimed – as I have clearly quoted above – that they ‘were at a loss, until they remembered the four miniature wellies used as pen and pencil holders in their office. They slipped them on the piglet’s feet – and into the mud she happily ploughed.’

    Yet, as I clearly point out and quote above: “Debbie and Andrew had suggested that we use one of their pedigree pigs for the campaign, as she had a distinct personality and was slightly more fastidious than her colleagues” – i.e. they picked a pig that was only slightly cleaner that the others – hardly sounds like a pig with a phobia of mud – and that: “Ross Parry Agency took this one step further and created the ‘pig in boots’ shot”.

    So, the agency had the boots idea, not the owners, which makes the owners liers and the press lazy churnalists. I claim they are making it up not because I am also ‘spinning’ as you claim, rather because the PR agency is admitting to making it up. This is not the case of the PR agency ‘finding a good’ as you suggest, but it is a PR agency creating an angle specifically to draw in lazy journalists who can never resist a cute animal photo.

    As for your suggestion that ‘the papers and media outlets reported in good faith what they said’, well, forgive me for having expectations that ‘journalists’ are paid precisely because they don’t just ‘report stuff in good faith’. Even some basic checking would have revealed this story to be absolute pants, but then I’m 100% certain that 90% of tabloid journalists wouldn’t even care about truth in this instance, because at the end of the day this story makes good, quick and cheap copy and you get a cute picture of a pig in the paper.

    Is this clear or am I spinning again?

  5. That is an excellent point – let’s see what the National Union of Journalists Code of Ethics has to say about reporting “in good faith” shall we?

    Members of the National Union of Journalists are expected to abide by the following professional principles:

    A journalist:
    (snip)
    2. Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair
    (snip)
    10. Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation

    11. Does not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of her/his own work or of the medium by which she/he is employed

    12. Avoids plagiarism.

    Can anyone provide me with any stories in the Mail that do not violate these?

  6. Leaving the ethics aside for a few moments – I mean it’s a bit iffy, but there’s far, far more reprehensible stuff going on in the media every day – I don’t think it really works that well as a PR stunt, and the calculation that it’s equivalent to a 450K ad spend looks optimistic at best.

    I remember the story very well, and yeah, I said “awwww” and circulated the cute pic. But I didn’t register at the time that the owners were sausage makers, and certainly didn’t clock the brand they were plugging. In fact, I don’t know that a connection between a funny, neurotic pig and a pack of sausages is a particularly attractive one for the notoriously squeamish British consumer. I wonder how the PR company can be so sure that the 30% uplift was down to its own efforts.

    In fact, the PR company has probably been more successful at plugging itself than plugging its clients.

  7. Either way, a company received free advertising via a made up news story. Why is it ok for journalists, editors and publishers to fool their readers into believing made-up stories?

  8. And why is it OK for newspaper journalists to willingly collude in robbing the ad department of potential sales at a time of plummeting revenue?

    Pretty short-sighted, really.

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