Oprah and the Ethics of Enticement

By Karissa Bursch

As one of the most recognizable and influential women in the world, Oprah Winfrey appears to be everywhere. She is a self-employed philanthropist, a TV personality, an actress and a producer. She has her own highly successful talk show, magazine, radio channel and an up-and-coming television network. How does this one woman do it all while still maintaining a pristine image and a consistent level of success? Is it just an uncanny sense of great PR or is it something else?

I began thinking about this question when I saw an Entertainment Weekly headline reading, “Oprah promises to reveal family secrets.” Upon further Google research I discovered that today, Jan. 24, Oprah promised to announce on her talk show “something so shocking and groundbreaking about her family life that not even she was in on it until somewhat recently.” She was quoted as saying in a promo for the episode, “[I] was given some news that literally shook me to my core. This time, I’m the one being reunited. I was keeping a family secret for months, and on Monday you’re going to hear it straight from me.”

When I saw this I was somewhat shocked. Is this what needs to be done to continue obtaining large viewership? I will admit I am just as intrigued as anybody else at the prospect of getting to hear a celebrity’s family gossip, but I have to wonder at the ethical implications of this kind of PR.

I think it is her right to share or not share any information about her personal life, but when such information is used as a PR angle, that’s when I think you toe the ethical line.

Has Oprah used this tactic in the past? I feel like she has not. I think that a more positive type of PR can be achieved by proactive action and person-to-person audience communication instead of just giving away “family secrets.” She’s shown she can achieve this. Oprah should look to herself as an example and, instead of using cheap tricks for her talk show, use a more professional PR tactic.

In the sports and entertainment field it can be easy to use sensational news to garner attention for a client. However, there are different, more positive ways like fundraising and political activism that can potentially be just as successful.

Do you think it is a smart move using family secrets as an enticement for viewers? Do you think this calls into question any PR ethics?

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4 Comments

Filed under Ethics

4 responses to “Oprah and the Ethics of Enticement

  1. Oprah’s tactic of utilizing her “family secrets” to potentially draw in more viewers isn’t necessarily a ploy on her part just to attract more viewers and keep her brand rolling, but I also think it is a type of give and take move. Her talk show has garnered praise and has stirred up controversy for all the number of years that she has successfully been on the air. The people that come on her show have shared personal secrets, family secrets, and have even shed light on unexpected behaviors that have never really been seen before. Is that not the point of a talk show? To give the consumer a sense of this interpersonal communication that they [the viewer] are having this intimate, one on one conversation with another human being? I feel that because this is Oprah’s final season of her critically acclaimed talk show that she feels she owes it to her audience, that she has built up over so many years, to let them know a little bit more about herself.

  2. Oprah’s tactic of utilizing her “family secrets” to potentially draw in more viewers isn’t necessarily a ploy on her part just to attract more viewers and keep her brand rolling, but I also think it is a type of “give and take” move. Her talk show has garnered praise and has stirred up controversy for all the number of years that she has successfully been on the air. The people that come on her show have shared personal secrets, family secrets, and have even shed light on unexpected behaviors that have never really been seen before. Is that not the point of a talk show? To give the consumer a sense of this interpersonal communication that they [the viewer] are having this intimate, one on one conversation with another human being? I feel that because this is Oprah’s final season of her critically acclaimed talk show that she feels she owes it to her audience, that she has built up over so many years, to let them know a little bit more about herself. She may or may not be hindering on some certain ethical lines, but afterall, this is her television show, and she may feel she owes it to her longtime fans for a story of this caliber to solidify the trust between her and her consumers.

    • platformadmin

      Thanks for your feedback. Walking this line is something a lot of personalities are struggling with these days. How do you maintain the excitement of a show that relies so heavily on emotional stories, yet maintain the image of being a respectable show? Oprah has always done this well and we definitely acknowledge that. Do you think she is trying to remain relevant as her show begins the countdown its last episode?

  3. The Huffington Post recently feature a write-up about Bill O’Reilly’s comments made in an interview with “The Insider,” saying that there was something odd about the timing of Oprah’s discovery that she had a half-sister, Patricia, who she never knew existed.
    “That was timed pretty interesting. …This is show biz. If you find a half brother or sister, you time it for ratings,” said O’Reilly.
    Some people are questioning his judgement. I think that there is some truth to his comments. It is a bit ironic that after many years of hosting a popular talk show, she is about to make the transition to her own network and this news breaks. Was it a way to “enticement” the media?
    I’m sure Oprah did not save the announcement for years just to gain media attention, but the situation was probably somewhat manipulated to gain media attention.

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