Jeff Bezos reportedly spent $20 million on an ad for his space exploration company Blue Origin that was intended to run during the Super Bowl--until he canceled it a week before the event. He may have been looking to avoid embarrassment because his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, was involved in making the ad. If so, his attempt to escape from negative publicity just led to more of it. He'd have been smarter to run the ad as planned.

You gotta figure Jeff Bezos wishes he owned the New York Post and not just the Washington Post. The world's richest man is a renowned extrovert--he even acted in one of the ads for the Amazon Echo that ran during the Super Bowl. But when it comes to his family life and his famously publicity-shy wife, MacKenzie, Bezos has always preferred a dignified reticence, doing his best to keep this part of his life out of the public eye.

For a while, it seemed the world's richest couple would continue that tradition with the highly civilized announcement of their upcoming divorce.

The whole look-how-mature-we-are vibe didn't last long. About eight hours late, the New York Post's gossip column Page Six tweeted this bit of news:

From the outside, Sanchez appears to be the anti-MacKenzie Bezos. As extroverted as MacKenzie Bezos is retiring, Sanchez is a TV personality who's worked as a news anchor and now runs her own aerial film and production company, using her skills as a pilot to obtain images from the sky. According to Page Six, she photographed Blue Origin's launch pad from a helicopter for the planned Super Bowl ad.

But then things got even more complicated.

Bezos's texts contained images of his genitals and bare chest according to the National Enquirer (which didn't actually publish those images). Bezos seems to have suspected that Sanchez's brother, a Donald Trump supporter who is friends with Roger Stone and others in Trump's circle, might have been the source of the leak. Trump has sharply criticized both Bezos and the Washington Post on Twitter.

With the investigation widening, Bezos and Sanchez apparently decided that they shouldn't be seen together in public for now. He went to the Oscars and the Super Bowl without her. But then there was the matter of the Blue Origin ad, which cost $15 million to $20 million to produce, an insider told Page Six.

Did Bezos cancel the ad in an attempt to avoid any further unpleasant headlines about himself and Sanchez? Neither he nor Blue Origin has commented publicly about this, so we can only speculate. But considering the couple has been careful to stay apart for the past month, it seems like a plausible explanation.

Predictably, it had the opposite effect.

That was just the beginning of the bad news.  Bezos now had an advertising spot in the Super Bowl--probably worth about $10 million--and nothing to fill it with. He could have used the spot for a repeat of one of the several Amazon ads that ran during the game. Or he could have donated the time to a non-profit organization. 

Instead, the Washington Post found itself with just one week to create a Super Bowl ad. (No one has confirmed that the slot that would have gone to Blue Origin is the one that the WaPo was suddenly hurrying to fill, but it seems like a logical inference.)

The new ad was a pretty impressive effort, for just a week's preparation. It was narrated by Tom Hanks, showed images of journalists imprisoned or killed for doing their jobs, and talked about the importance of a free press in our society. It ended on the Post's tagline: "Democracy Dies in Darkness."

Unfortunately, Bezos has been cutting back on benefits for the very journalists the ad praised. A union representative for reporters and Politico Magazine both noted that the $10 million or so it costs to buy 60 seconds during the Super Bowl could have been used to restore those benefits--and hire 10 more reporters for 10 years--either of which would have done more to keep democracy from dying in darkness than a Super Bowl ad ever could. One WaPo reporter tweeted that she'd been shot at and had to run from air strikes on the job but is now home caring for her newborn with no salary because the paper doesn't offer paid parental leave. It's hard to imagine that if Bezos had let the Blue Origin ad run as planned, things could have turned out any worse.

There's a lesson here for the world's richest human and anyone else hoping to avoid tabloid scrutiny of their private life. If you're a high-profile person, inevitably the press and everyone else will be interested in everything you do. So there are basically two choices. Either disappear completely from the public arena, as MacKenzie Bezos has done, or else go on about your business without reacting or responding to the media attention you get. But don't suddenly change plans or launch investigations because of media coverage. It will always have the opposite effect from what you want.

Published on: Feb 6, 2019
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