Circuit City, Mad Magazine and Streisand

Trust me, I'll connect the dots.

Someone at Circuit City sees a too-true-to-be-really-funny Mad Magazine parody of their beleaguered company and dashes off an e-mail demanding that all copies of the periodical be purged from the chain's shelves.

(Major update, 2 p.m.: Circuit City apologizes, vows to put magazines back on shelves and teach employees to lighten up. Full response below.)

I already know that you're thinking two things?

"Mad Magazine still publishes?"

"And they sell it at Circuit City?"

The unequivocal answer to the first question is yes. I hesitate on the second only because comments on this item from The Consumerist raise an eyebrow or two on that point and my e-mail to Circuit City public relations has yet to yield a reply. However, the Circuit City e-mail cited by The Consumerist does have the ring of authenticity (absent any confirmation). It reads:

"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."

I'm trying to contact the purported author of the e-mail. Primary among my questions is this: "Do you regret sending that e-mail in light of the fact that publicity about the request to destroy the magazines will now dwarf any damage that might have been generated by the -- what? six or seven copies -- sold at Circuit City?"

Should I get a response, you'll be the first to know.

In the meantime, we can't forget about Barbara. 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, according to Wikipedia and few thousand online references. (New one on me.)

The term Streisand effect originally referred to a 2003 incident in which Barbra Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and 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. Paul Rogers of the San Jose Mercury News later noted that the picture of Streisand's house was popular on the Internet.

The most famous example 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, 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 and I'd like to be prepared with a snappy comeback since simply deleting the insults would only produce ... well, you know.

Major update, 2 p.m.: Here's the e-mail I just received from Circuit City spokesman Jim Babb:

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

The parody of our newspaper ad in the August MAD was very clever.  Most of us at Circuit City share a rich sense of humor and irony ... but there are occasional temporary lapses.

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.

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!

Jim Babb

Corporate Communications

Circuit City Stores, Inc.

Richmond, VA 

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

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