Circuit City, Mad magazine and Streisand

About 10 days ago, someone at Circuit City spots a Mad magazine parody of his beleaguered company and dashes off an e-mail demanding that all copies of the periodical be purged from the electronics chain's shelves. I already know that you're thinking two things: Mad magazine still publishes? And it's sold at Circuit City?

Trust me, I'll connect the dots.

About 10 days ago, someone at Circuit City spots a Mad magazine parody of his beleaguered company and dashes off an e-mail demanding that all copies of the periodical be purged from the electronics chain's shelves.

I already know that you're thinking two things: Mad magazine still publishes? And it's sold at Circuit City?

Seems both are the case. The missive from corporate read: "Immediately remove all issues and copies of Mad Magazine from your sales floor. Destroy all copies and throw them away. They are not inventoried, and your store will not incur shrink. Thank you for your immediate attention to this."

Little did the exec know that the directive would wind up on a rat-out-the-rats Web site called The Consumerist. It did, which sent me to Circuit City public relations looking for an explanation. Here's what I received from company spokesman Jim Babb:Mad magazine. Speaking as an embarrassed corporate PR Guy, I apologized for the fact that some overly sensitive souls at our corporate headquarters ordered the removal of the August issue of Mad magazine from our stores. Please keep in mind that only 40 of our 700 stores sell magazines at all. We apologize for the knee-jerk reaction, and have issued a retraction order; the affected stores are being directed to put the magazines back on sale."

"I became aware of this situation only this morning, and I have sent a note today to the editors of

But Babb wasn't done there:

"As a gesture of our apology and deep respect for the folks at Mad magazine, we are creating a cross-departmental task force to study the importance of humor in the corporate workplace and expect the resulting Powerpoint presentation to top out at least 300 pages, chock full of charts, graphs and company action plans. … In addition I have offered to send the Mad magazine editor a $20 Circuit City Gift Card, toward the purchase of a Nintendo Wii ... if he can find one!"

That's about the best you can expect, as damage control goes.

Which brings us around to Barbara Streisand. Did you know there's a name for this phenomenon — increasingly common — of seeing the effort to suppress some bit of embarrassing or proprietary news backfire on the suppressor? It's called The Streisand Effect. (Yes, that was a new one on me, too.)

From Wikipedia: "The term Streisand effect originally referred to a 2003 incident in which Barbra Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for $50 million in an attempt to have the aerial photo of her house removed from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs, citing privacy concerns. Adelman claims he was photographing beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the California Coastal Records Project."

The most famous example of The Streisand Effect from the world of technology involved digital rights management code, HD DVD disks, and, thanks primarily to Digg, just about everybody on the Internet.

Finally, I have a question: Is there a name for people who make fun of other people for not knowing an Internet meme like The Streisand Effect? I ask because I anticipate being ridiculed for my admission that I didn't know this one and I'd like to be prepared with a snappy comeback since simply covering up the insults would only produce . . . well, you know.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Related:

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.