The Future Of Town Planning...
Posted: Jan 18, 2008
from icWales newspaper
So, are you Cardiff’s biggest shopper?
THE hunt is on for South Wales’ biggest shopaholics! A group of super shoppers is being sought to help decide the shopping future of the capital. The people behind the St David’s 2 development are hoping to make the city one of the UK’s shopping hotspots. They are working hard to bring in all the best shops to the new centre, but need a team of 10 super shoppers to tell them which new stores people really want to see in the development. The lucky shoppers will be among the first to know which shops have signed up for St David’s 2 and will get sneak previews of what the centre will look like.
The super shoppers team will be made up of people of all ages and from all walks of life. The 10 will be treated as VIPs and will be taken to all the centre’s exclusive events. They will be given a £100 gift card to be spent in the St David’s Centre as well as gifts and goodie bags along the way. St David’s 2 project director Simon Armstrong said: “We are looking for people who love shopping, from teenagers to grandparents, who want to be involved with the city’s most exciting new development and who can give us their valued opinions as we move forward.
“This development will become a big part of Cardiff city centre and we want to involve its future customers as it starts to take shape. We’ll be asking them for their views over the next two years. They are, after all, the people who will be shopping in the new stores and eating in the new restaurants.”
Beyond The Factory Gates
Posted: Jan 8, 2008
Sifting through the rubble of the post Christmas slump can be a gruesome business. The pile of unwanted gifts, the undignified scrum of the sales, and the looming horror of January’s credit card bills are enough to weaken the resolve of the most dedicated consumer (unless you’re in the market for a half price leather sofa or bathroom suite, in which case your time has come). But this year’s comedown is especially grim, rounding off as it does a twelve months consumer guilt trip. From killer plastic bags to sweat shop T-shirts, almost every item on our shopping bill has been red flagged. Perhaps the nagging has been justified, but it’s a curious state of affairs when consumers are shamed into ethical self-audits but the industries that produce the stuff remain free to do business as usual.
During this year’s dogfight for share of the UK broadband market, Carphone Warehouse offered a free Dell laptop to every new customer. Punters snapped up the deal in droves, regardless if they needed a new computer or not. This kind of retailing, one might argue, is competitive supply to healthy consumer demand. But in an age when the UK dumps two million working PC’s into landfills each year, the practice is really nothing short of reckless. Companies that flood the market with disposable produce take no responsibility beyond the factory gates. In clearing up the mess that's left behind, it is currently the role of the consumer to bare the financial cost and the ethical blame. Why are the companies that profit from these transactions not made to help out?
The notion of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) isn’t new – it’s just taken an eternity to become law. EPR was born in the mid ‘90s, a policy between OECD nations with which to tackle wasteful disposability in consumer products. If manufacturers were required to take back and recycle end of life goods, so the thinking went, the enormous reprocessing costs would encourage companies to produce and market goods with a longer life span. EPR is taken seriously in some parts of the EU; in Ireland, suppliers are forced to take back and recycle old fridges whenever they deliver new ones.
Seventeen years on, this directive has finally become law in the UK. Since August 2007, manufacturers and suppliers of electrical goods have been legally obliged to take back products from customers, and reprocess the materials responsibly. In theory, the price that you pay for a product includes its safe disposal when you’re done. All you have to do is return it to the shop from which it was bought. Companies that supply electrical goods are legally obliged to inform the consumer of their EPR schemes. Non-compliance is subject to an unlimited fine from the Crown Court. If all this comes as news to you, it is because the Government has failed spectacularly to publicise this law. Unsurprisingly, British business isn’t in any hurry to promote EPR itself.
Try taking one of your unwanted Christmas gadgets back to the store it was bought from, and ask an assistant about their Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment scheme. They won’t have a clue what you’re on about. There will be no signage within the shop to help. If you do find a store willing to take it off your hands, it will most likely end up in the waste bin. The DTI’s virtual non-policing of this law renders EPR a voluntary scheme at best. And so the UK remains on course to dump another 2 million tones of electrical equipment this coming year.
Alongside electrical gadgets, the UK collectively threw out 900 million items of clothing last year, but the flow of cheap disposable clothes isn’t being managed - if anything it’s becoming a free for all. On Jan 1st 2008, the EU will lift the import quotas currently placed on Chinese textiles. A new wave of impossibly cheap jeans and t-shirts is about to flood our high streets, the scale of which we have never seen before.
If you caught your child buying drugs in the school playground, you’d naturally want to reprimand him or her for being so stupid. But you’d also seek due justice for the dealer - you certainly wouldn’t allow him to carry on supplying at the school gates. It’s high time that the public - titillated into consuming, then chastised for doing so – demand compensation from the dealers. Consumer goods mountains don’t pile up by themselves.
I'm better than the average person because I own an Authentic Louis Vuitton
Posted: Sep 9, 2007
The above title is the name of a user group I found on Facebook today. And below is the group's manifesto:
FACT : We are better than the average human being because we own either or all of Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Gucci, etc...
FACT : We are superior humans for owning any of those brands.
FACT : We are hot
FACT : People should look up to us.
FACT : GLAMOROUS
Other Facebook groups of a jaw-droppingly materialistic nature are 'It's Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada or NADA!', 'All I Need Is My Louis Vuitton', 'Addicted to Adidas Superstars' and 'Addicted to SHOPPING!!!'
Here's a snippet from Addicted To Shopping....
Sarita (Finland) wrote
Shopping is a lifestyle - I'd rather buy a pair of fancy boots than food for the next two weeks. ;) Literally boots to die for, right? ;)
shopping makes me feel grrrrrrrrreat!!! super-fab!! once in the holidays...i went to the same mall 4 days in a row!!! i shop atleast once every 2weeks...even if i get summing small
its a real therapy! shopping always makes me feel better even if i leave broke! and i wait to do it again!
Myths Of Branding No 5: Bad Science
Posted: Aug 29, 2007
There is an episode of the Simpsons where TV muscle guy Rainier Wolfcastle mentors Homer to become a bodybuilder. Homer's secret weapons in the quest for fitness are Powersauce Energy Bars ("A bushel of apples packed in every bar, plus a secret ingredient that unleashes the awesome power of apples!!!") Homer later finds out that they are in fact made of apple cores and old Chinese newspapers.
There's a whole lot of bad science going on in branding, and not just in the murky world of bodybuilding. In fact, dodgy ingredients and phony clinical trials have been stalwarts of manufacturers ever since doctors were hired to endorse brands of healthy cigarettes. Surely, in 2007, us media savvy consumers wouldn't fall for such nonsense?
I give you Nivea Energy Fresh Deodorant - bursting with the awesome power of lemongrass! The visibly energized women in the advert would seem to imply that lemongrass has natural energy giving properties. However, a quick whiz around the net provides no evidence that lemon grass (Cymbolapogon flexuosus) is not commonly used as a stimulant. In fact a number of sources note that Lemongrass can be used as a mild depressant for the central nervous system.
And look again at the poster. The lady's not encircled by clumps of lemongrass, but halves of lemons. Now I'm no botanist, but even I know that lemon trees have no relation to lemongrass plants.
This campaign is rolling out all over the UK at the moment. It's accompanied by a poster for a new Nivea Visage Power range, which promises to revitalise the skin with an ingredient so valuable and scarce that only a manufactured cream can unleash its awesome potential. The ingredient? Oxygen.
Not Long Now
Posted: Aug 25, 2007
Not long now before the book is out. Twenty years of brand shopping, eight months of therapy, one and a half years of writing and one public bonfire compressed into this small book - doesn't seem like much to show for it all really. I can't quite bring myself to read the thing yet, but the missus is half way through. 'I never knew you were quite so shallow' she said after the second chapter.
Anyway, the blog is back up and running, and I'm out and about doing some talks in the next few weeks if you have time to kill. First up is 'The Call Of The Wild' at the ICA on 3rd September. I'm joining Jay Griffiths, author of 'Wild: An Elemental Journey', Joanna Kavenna, author of 'Inglorious' and Tom Hodgkinson of The Idler and 'How To Be Free' in a talk to discuss 'the possibilities of un-tethering ourselves from the modern world'. Tom wanted to call the talk 'Smash The State', but the ICA had other ideas, which is handy, as I'm not entirely sold on state smashing.
Next up is book launch event on September 6th. We've set up a debate between myself, the BBC documentary maker Adam Curtis, Peter York and an account planner from Mother, whose name escapes me right now. And it's chaired by Ekow Eshun. There'll also be a bit of audience participation with ESP - a psychometric brand consultancy - who'll demonstrate some of the psychological practices currently used in advertising. Should be fascinating.
Then the Soho theatre on October 2nd - a talk with Lucy Siegle. Lucy is a wonderful writer who produces absolutely essential features on ethical consumerism and the environment for the Observer. I should really be interviewing her.
I sincerely hope these events go better than the Edinburgh Festival talk I gave this past week. My debate with writer Tobias Jones descended into class war very quickly; 'I think the trouble is people like you Neil, don't have the vocabulary to fully express the current human condition' said Toby. 'I might have had that vocabulary if I had the privilage of attending Jesus College like you did, Toby.' The crowd gave a pantomime hiss and it all went downhill from there.
Posted: Apr 3, 2007
This blog is temporarily dormant while I complete my book, but it should return to life by the end April 07. Since starting the site over a year ago, the novelty of Blogging does seem to have worn thin, clogged up as they are by anonymous angry letters and porn spam. To that end, I'll be building a full reference website in the run up to the book release in September 07, which should be infinitely more useful and entertaining.
Posted: Nov 21, 2006
I get out of bed in the morning and watch a bus roll past the window. It has a huge poster for the new James Bond film on the side. I log on to an online newspaper; an advert for the Bond film pops up into the centre of the screen. On the tube to work I see several passengers reading free newspapers, the entire front and back pages of which are devoted to an advert for Bond. As I leave the station, a passenger's mobile rings to the tune of the famous Bond theme. Passing a newsagents, I see one can buy James Bond National Lottery scratch cards. A schoolboy at the bus stop is stuffing his hand into a bag of crisps with a promotion for Bond on the side. I turn on my radio* and hear Cubby Broccoli's (the Bond producer) daughter talking about feminism on Radio 4's Woman's hour. In a café at lunchtime, I browse through a broadsheet newspaper; a double page spread tells me how I can get the James Bond body with a new fitness routine. Later at work, I overhear colleagues discussing the new Aston Martin that Bond drives. On the way home, I am handed a flyer advertising 'Bond's London', a tour of the city's sights as seen in the movie. I call a friend to ask what he's doing tonight, and he is, or course off to see the new Bond film.
The spin surrounding Casino Royale is like nothing I have seen since George Lucas took marketing advice from Bernard Matthews in selling his second trilogy turkey. Such is the pervasiveness of a full-spend marketing campaign, that for the average guy in the street, there really is no avoiding a major 'event' like the release of a blockbuster movie. As I am sure you have guessed, I'm not interested in James Bond. Yet I know that there is a new actor playing the role, that he wears an Omega watch, drives a Ford and an Aston Martin, he uses a Sony Ericsson phone, his femme fatale is called Eva Green, the story is from one of the original Ian Fleming books, the new Bond is more muscular, more gritty and more, er, blonde than before… all this I know, and not once have I made a conscious decision to learn this information. Somehow, I just know.
Now I begin to worry. Am I missing out on something here? If it's in the newspapers the critics must think the film is worth seeing. If my friends are talking about it, it must be worth seeing. Is this film an essential part of the zeitgeist, of which I must keep abreast or risk being labelled a laggard? Now I'm thinking that I should go and see the thing, that I ought to see the thing, even though I find the clichéd one-liners, the macho posturing, the stone age gender politics, the CGI action and the schmaltzy direction more than a little, well, shit. I know deep down that if I do go see the film, that I'll walk out feeling just as unsatisfied as I would eating the £5 bag of M&M's from the kiosk. And yet I'm thinking about going anyway.
I believe this is the modern manufacture of consent. Telling the public what they want, as opposed to providing what they need. How many people would really pay to go see an aging movie franchise like Bond, if it were not supported by an advertising campaign that overwhelms any negative thought about the product? Why would the producers spend the millions on advertising if the audience didn't need pushing into the cinema? Media tie-ins ensure any criticism of the product is edited out, or drowned out by the din of the ads (turn the page of every Bond newspaper feature and you'll see an advert that paid for it). If our homes and our streets and our stores become saturated with the branding of a product, it must be because the product is important in some way, it is a 'must see/ buy event'. Very few people seem to complain that their environment is being flooded with this stuff. Of course, we are free to go watch something else at the cinema and we are free to criticise Casino Royale among each other. But take it from someone who is making a point of avoiding mass marketing; we are not free to look away from the ads.
Posted: Oct 30, 2006
Apologies for the delay in posting; I am embedded in the British Library, knocking out a chapter per month up to Christmas, when the book is due. I'll be re-starting this site in the new year, turning it into a proper resource on matters branded.
I sit each day in the area of the library known to staff as 'laptop alley'; a long hallway lined with sofas and 'workstations' crammed with people and their laptops. A good few people come on a regular basis and sit in the same seat each day. Too British to say hello, I have no idea what their names are or what they do. But I do know which brand of laptop they have, and I have begun to know them by these labels (The Sony Vaio guy who thinks he's way-cool, the studious looking girl with the MacBook)
I recently had a psychometric test done on me, a series of psychological interviews and hypnosis sessions which determine the type of consumer that I am. During the tests, it was explained to me that people who buy PC's such as IBM or Dell do so because they are practical people… you buy an IBM for what's inside the box (Pentium processors etc etc). In contrast, people who buy Macs are 'big picture' consumers, people who have creative imaginations who buy for meaning as opposed to practicalities. I wonder if these assumptions would bear out if I interviewed the regulars on laptop alley?
Months ago, I noted on this blog a conversation I had with a brand manager at Adidas; he believed in treating people according to the stereotypes of their brands, that this system of values saves us time in selecting friends and partners. According to this law, there would be no point in making friends with the attractive Asian women who sits beside me each day, because she has a clunky old Hewlett Packard. Nor the friendly looking middle-aged guy who sits opposite me with his Toshiba.
I have no idea what these people think about me… my de-branded laptop, together with my brand-free clothes/ bag/ water bottle/ packed lunch say little or nothing about the person I might be… except maybe that I am too poor to buy the good things in life. They are most likely getting on with their work and not staring at those around them… something I should learn to do if I'm to get this damn book finished.
Posted: Oct 10, 2006
So in a bid to reclaim my sanity, I finally connected with The Phone Co-operative, who are a small, ethically run mobile phone service provider outside Oxford. I have to admit that when I first contacted them, I was put off by the apparently small scale of the business, compared to the warehouse-sized call centres of Orange or o2. On my first enquiry to the company, the line was engaged. On the second attempt I got an answer phone. I began to wonder if the Phone Co-Op's network was built with string and tin cans.
However my confidence was fully restored when I did finally engage with an employee. Helpful, knowledgeable, courteous and professional are not words I would normally use to describe the drones on the end of the phone at Orange, but these folks were; almost to their discredit (what kind of company treats their customers with respect these days?).
Within five days I had a new number, a new sim card and a recycled, de-branded, unlocked handset, which cost me £20 from recyclemymobile.com (complete with the previous owner's address book, a Mr Rizwan from Bolton, as far as I can make out). Yes it is a Nokia. Believe me, I searched all corners of the earth for a generic non-branded phone, but to the best of my knowledge, there is none. To compensate, I chose the cheapest, nastiest, most basic phone on the website; as a status symbol, this phone says I have the aspirations of a nomadic goat farmer. An object of pure utility, this is not something that draws admiring comments when left on the table of a pub, and when I walk past gangs of young hooded phone robbers on the street, they pay me no attention whatsoever.
If you have a mobile (who doesn't) and are fed up with impersonal service, endless call queues and stupid marketing gimmicks (Orange's call packages are now called squirrel and elk, I believe) then wriggle out of your contract and speak to the Phone Co-Operative. I'd keep your polyphonic colour screen walkman camera phone though, as this stone age brick ain't much fun.