The lead up to the 2017 Geneva Motor Show had more leaks than a Russian diplomat’s Google Calendar, and with those leaks came the requests from automakers to this humble publication to pull those posts and photos down until they are “officially” released. Now is a good time to remind all involved that you cannot take back leaks now because that is not How The Internet Works.
Over the past few weeks I have been contacted by PR reps from not one but four automakers requesting Jalopnik take down leaked photos of cars that made it to our internet-pages before they wanted them to.
Mind you, these are not photos we leaked ourselves through secret sources or by having a laptop-toting Jason Torchinsky rappel into their headquarters in a Mission: Impossible (the first one, the long one)-esque heist of images and data. These were also not embargoed images we agreed to and then broke early in violation of that agreement.
No, these were images that leaked through other means, which I’ll address momentarily, then published elsewhere and republished by us afterward. We did not take them down because that is stupid, and asking to do so is a waste of everyone’s time.
It all starts with embargoes. Companies want everyone talking about their products at the same time, so they send pre-release information and photos to outlets and ask them not to release that information until a specified, agreed-upon date. Many outlets agree to embargoes; Jalopnik generally does not, although we do make exceptions for scoops exclusive to us.
We do this because when someone screws up and a photo or piece of information leaks, we can run it without having to go to Automaker X and ask “Hey, uh, this is out, can we publish it?” and run the risk of a delayed response or a straight-up no. It’s a competitive advantage for us.
And people will screw up. They always do. That’s important.
TV networks or websites run embargoed images too soon; magazine covers with photos of the car end up online by accident; some blog editor hit the publish button before they should have; images from a brochure or promotional materials find their way to social media somehow; an employee of the automaker who hates the way the car looks intentionally leaks a photo in an unflattering light; automakers themselves publish a press release too soon by accident; some mysterious shit happens on a Chinese or Russian website that no one really understands; someone tasked with handling the images internally does something dumb like send it to their favorite forum; or, increasingly, some jamoke bystander with a cell phone and an Instagram account gets lucky at an “exclusive” event where the car is displayed before its “official” debut.
Those are all actual and real situations that have led to leaks we’ve dealt with. I am not making any of them up. And this, finally, brings me to my main point: you can’t take leaks back. You can’t.
Let’s say you do PR for an automaker. As not to pick on anyone specific, we’ll call it MMC. You know, the ‘Murican Motors Corporation, established by German immigrants in 1912 and today owned by a large and handsomely profitable Japanese land mine manufacturer.
You and your team at MMC are so thrilled to unveil your latest model, the all-new 2018 MMC Muskrat. You know Muskrat fans across the world can’t wait. They’re salivating for official pics and info, but you have a schedule to keep, and so you make them wait. You send the embargoed information about the Muskrat to the magazines, the blogs, the TV networks and whomever else you work with.
You pray nothing will leak, even though it does every single fucking time.
When images of the new Muskrat get leaked to the Muskrat6GSource forum—the largest Muskrat owner community, besides the one that also happens to be a state prison in Louisiana—let’s say a publication finds them. We’ll call that publication Auto Motor and Shrimp.
Maybe Auto Motor and Shrimp agreed to the embargo, maybe it did not. In either case let’s say it publishes these leaked images on their website, then decides to ask for forgiveness later. So because you do PR for MMC and it’s your job, you call or email an editor at Auto Motor and Shrimp and ask them to take the pics off their site.
Auto Motor and Shrimp has a decision to make! It can pull down the images and keep their source at MMC happy, but they’ll look like assholes in front of their readers who will obviously wonder where the post and photos went. Auto Motor and Shrimp will look like shills, and even though they are, they don’t like looking like it. So they leave the pics and post up and deal with any blowback later.
Conversely, if Auto Motor and Shrimp decides to pull the pics or post, their competitor down the street—Car and Buffet Line—may decide to leave them up after getting the same request. Then Auto Motor and Shrimp really looks like assholes, the ones who kowtowed to the automaker when the other guy didn’t.
And here’s the biggest problem beyond the two magazines: since hitting the forums, the photos of the 2018 Muskrat are all over Twitter. They’re on people’s Facebook pages and all over their Instagrams. They’ve been Snapchatted countless times. They have spread like wildfire because that is How The Internet Works. Asking the publications to pull the pics down doesn’t fix a thing because it can’t anymore.
Besides, go look at any story, about anything, that a publication has pulled down. Can you find a copy of it somewhere? Of course you can because that is also How The Internet Works. Things stay. They don’t leave.
Automakers have had years now to figure out How The Internet Works—or to realize that in a few days once people see all of the 2018 MMC Muskrat, they won’t remember or care how it got there.