Category Archives: Branding

Brand’s voting values

Russell Brand has never shirked controversy.

Now, having gone head-to-head with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC’s Newsnight show, he’s really put the cat amongst the establishment pigeons.

Interviewed by Paxman, he had the temerity to suggest that “democracy is irrelevant” and to inform him that he never votes. In a follow-up piece in The Guardian, he said: “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change”.

Lambasting the entire establishment – politicians, bankers, big business, the police and the church – for its disengagement from real life, he believes that all of us can “contribute ideas as to how to change the world”.

As an example, he cites his friend’s teenage son who, in a school essay, said he prefers the idea of spoiling ballot papers rather than not voting, because it shows the politicians that “we do care”, that we think the political system has no meaning or relevance to our everyday lives.

Suzanne Moore, writing again in The Guardian, backs Brand for his approach to what she describes as “a nexus of politicians, media and police” that currently dominates political debate in the UK, and for stimulating that debate.

She also points out that “it took a comic to do this”, going on to say that comedians often function as “our public intellectuals, wise and witty speakers of truth”.

No joke

Brand may be a comedian, but there’s nothing jokey or stupid about his basic stance.

He may very well have called for the impossible: a utopian ideal in which everyone’s voice can be heard.

But his point about the closed society of the establishment is well made.

The question is: How can we encourage ourselves to take more interest in politics; to give ourselves a chance of making the difference Brand endorses?

How can we break down the walls of the establishment citadel so that its occupants can see the world beyond their limited horizons?

Make us vote

One solution would be to make voting compulsory.

But what if we don’t want to vote for any of the parties on offer?

I don’t believe the teenager’s spoiled ballot paper is the answer.

Spoiled ballot papers don’t amount to anything. So far as the establishment is concerned, they’re just rubbish. Not worth the paper they’re printed on and certainly not worth counting.

Which is why, for years now, I’ve held that – not only should voting be compulsory – we should be given a slot on the ballot paper where we can put an X against NO CONFIDENCE.

Faced with a recognisable percentage of the population who have NO CONFIDENCE in any of the political parties or independent candidates, rather than a vague idea of the people’s disaffection based how many spoiled their ballot papers, the establishment would have to pay attention.

If nothing else, they would have a clear idea of how many of us they’ve alienated.

They think they know now, and that we can be disregarded, but the facts would take some refuting.

Anarchy or empowerment

The present system of voluntary voting and spoiled papers leads only to a deluded level of amateur anarchy.

Compulsory voting, and a guaranteed opportunity for expressing a resounding thumbs-down to the whole system, would lead to a greater engagement in politics in general, and – as Brand has suggested – an increased feeling that we could do something that might, just might change the world.

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From Sainsbury’s, by mistake

These days, branding seems to have become one of the black arts.

A century or so ago it was – and still is in some parts – the cowboy’s art. Get John Wayne to sear a steer with the Double B and you knew where it came from, and who owned it.

Nowadays, things are a little different. All manner of products are branded with company names. But – as we all know – that doesn’t mean the companies who mark them actually make them.

Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the practice of branding goods produced by others. Indeed, without it – and if they didn’t allow them to be labelled by major stores and supermarkets – many food producers would find it hard to sell their products in profitable volumes.

What’s at issue – for me, at least – is the tricky business of how the branding is presented.

Many companies make no particular claims for a food product and simply brand it with their name: Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Marks & Spencer, Selfridges and so on. And that’s fine.

Sainsbury’s, on the other hand, have tried to take the idea one step further. For some time now they’ve been describing their own-label products as “by Sainsbury’s”.

How can this be?

Everyone who shops at Sainsbury’s must know the company simply cannot be the ‘author’ of every product that bears its name. So how can all these products be said to be “by Sainsbury’s”?

A sauce might be “by Sainsbury’s”, if Sainsbury’s developed its recipe. A range of biscuits might also qualify.

Surely …. from the vine?

But a bag of potatoes? A head of broccoli? Vine grown tomatoes?

Surely it would be more appropriate for the supermarket chain to describe their own-label products as “from Sainsbury’s”.

Not only would this be true – the product was bought in a Sainsbury’s store and so it came from Sainsbury’s – it would also suggest a degree of corporate responsibility, even generosity. “At Sainsbury’s, we think this product is so good we’d like you to have it. It’s not really a gift, but it comes from us to you. So, enjoy!”

As it is, “by Sainsbury’s” simply provokes mild incredulity tinged with low level cynicism. “Nah … they didn’t make it. They couldn’t. They just stuck their name on it.”

Call me a pedant – and many have and will – but I think the difference between the use of “by” and “from” matters.

An orange from Sainsbury’s may well be superior to one from a corner shop that cannot afford to buy and sell totally fresh, top-quality fruit.

But an orange by Sainsbury’s is faintly ludicrous.

Last year the supermarket dropped its strapline urging customers to “Try something new today”.

This year, I suggest, it should try something new itself: try “from” not “by”. That way they might convert the cynics and win a few more friends – to say nothing of some extra customers.

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