Never mind the mendacity, feel the Greenness

Earlier in the summer, while we were in France, I got a bill from Orange. It announced that there wouldn’t be any more paper bills from Orange, because now Orange had decided that this was bad for the environment, and so all bills would be seen online, and prelevements automatiques (sort of direct debits) from my bank would pay for me, to make life easier and give me one less thing to remember.

Now unless you just arrived at this post fresh from a 1937 Disney movie about elves, you know that the reasons Orange gave for doing those things were complete fabrication. They did it to cut costs and improve cash flow. Nothing wrong with that, other than the use of fabrication that insults the average customer’s intelligence.

In the UK now, Kleenex has a New Slimmer Pack. Very nice it is too: sleek, light, and it takes up much less space in the shopping bag. But Kleenex too gave environmental concerns about packaging as the reason for doing it, and here again it’s obvious the cost-cutting accountant is involved. Kleenex does not have a Commissar of Environmental Packaging, it has a problem with margins. The pack said on the rear, ‘Same number of tissues as before’, which is interesting but evasive: the tissues are smaller, and the formulation makes them less thick.

Budweiser was pumping out PR last month about reducing its alcohol level to 4.8% ‘in the interests of being Drink Aware’. That’s cobblers as well: they’re doing it to save money on duty; and we, by the way, are paying the same price for less alcohol content.

When it comes to fmcg markets at both manufacturer and multiple retail level, casual mendacity is today near-universal. You could argue that it always was, but I’d contest that. Hyperbole and spin were always there, but in 2012 it’s almost as if brand owners and distributors would rather tell a lie even when it isn’t ‘necessary’….however their ethics might define that word. Most commercial concerns are looking to shave costs in the current environment, but the biggest difference on the contemporary scene is marketing colluding in the process, by exploiting MSM drivel about the environment, or good behaviour, or health or some other spurious corporate motivation.

They do this kind of thing because those in prominent public life lie all the time too, and so the signal is “Hoodwink the punter…everyone’s doing it”. But what makes it easier for brands to get into trying to sound goody-two-shoes is the vast number of bogus socio-environmental concerns around in our anally monitored world. Someone who should know told me last month that across the UK’s print news media, every week there are over 700 snippets about correlations between things on the one hand, and longer life, illness or death on the other.

It is thus rapidly becoming the norm for bright young things in marketing departments to look for things in their products, the easier to claim that they’re in there to stop you getting things and having more better things. The future possibilities don’t bear thinking about.

“We’ve put more carbon tetrachloride into our environmentally friendly kitchen-surface cleaner to ensure you don’t die of listeria. We also took out the bleach because babies drink it by mistake, and replaced it with 0% fat water. But because we care about hernias caused by carrying heavy shopping bags, we’ve put the cleaner into a new wafer-thin polygluwein 10% more recyclable container just so you can more easily get the maxiumum cleaning power per squirt, and not clog up your local plastic bank”.

Or:

“Bungla tea comes in a loose-leave format to save 1100 trees a year and costs a whole 30% more than other ozone-hole inducing teabags, while giving us the freedom to save workers from beri-beri, and bringing you Fair Trade tea varieties in recycled tissue-paper packs and the chance to sponsor an Indian village pharmacy to purify the water so the kids don’t die and can carry on working in our sweat-shops go on to further education and a better life.”

Fair Trade as a concept remains an excellent thing, but there is no such thing as a free lunch: it all has to be paid for in the end, and it’s far more often the customer coughing up than the shareholders. Equally, barely a month goes by without yet another press undercover team proving that the Indian workers have 28-hour days and 10-day weeks.

As I noted earlier, they get their permission to fib from the likes of Ed Miliband (“We were just passing this café and thought we’d pop in and try a warm pastie”) Lord Mandelson (“I think it’s important to give people five more years in which to work, society is far too ageist and we want to tackle that problem”) and Rupert Murdoch (“I think it’s important to let your employees get on with running the paper, and I never use editorial to push other Newscorp products”). And here too, things are going to get more brazen and silly as things get worse:

“We want Greece to abolish Saturdays as a free day, because when young people have nothing to do, they get up to all kinds of mischief”.

“I’m not going to show you my tax returns, because the Democratic Party has tainted the People’s judgement by actively encouraging the politics of envy”.

“If we don’t build ten zillion more houses, foreigners will see all that grass sitting there doing nothing, and think we’re not open for business”.

This sort of condescending claptrap is, I suspect, merely a step on from those notices one sees everywhere that clearly assume we all have the mental age of a three-week old kangaroo joey. ‘Warning very hot water may contain nuts use extreme care not tripping over yellow cone that says warning wet floor but beware automatic door containing see-through glass made in factory next door to Nabisco may contain wheat allergen traces’.

Michael Bywater wrote about such things at length in his hilarious book Big Babies, reasoning along the way that we all get the notices we deserve because of our unthinking, infantile behaviour. But in reality, the reason for those notices is much easier to discern: ambulance-chasing lawyers encouraging careless people to be litigious. They appeal to the self-pitying victim in all of us, and have been helped by the “Err, I’m ‘titled inneye?” culture. Marcoms nitwits do the same thing in a way: they cater for the remaining fluffies desperate to believe that what they’re buying is something healthy and caring made by nice people.

The rest of us know it’s bollocks, and choose the family-size own label version. Then put it back again, having spotted that it’s more expensive per litre than the individual bottles.