Taking credit where it isn’t due.

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”.


“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.

30 thoughts on “Taking credit where it isn’t due.

  1. Read some time back that the CEO of Fairtrade was being paid £750 k ,if my memory serves me.

    Now I call that a fair trade for the CEO.


  2. My two favourites are: On a set of kitchen knives ‘Do not stick in children’ and from M&S a pot of something which said on the bottom, ‘Do not turn upside down’!


  3. I tried to research the CEO’s salary but drew a blank. However, I did discover that Paul Rice is the President and CEO, Fair Trade USA.

    There is a rather apt an old Confucian saving: “pat on back does not fill rice bowl….”


  4. I too have met that M&S pot……and the one that said “Heating instructions on the back.” If you are one step ahead of them and have already pierced the plastic membrain, turning it over to read instructions is not a good idea. I find myself holding it up in the horizontal above my head to get a peek.
    I recently bought a small ‘hearing aid ‘ battery for an old calculator and that said on the pack – “Do not insert into ear.”
    God help us.


  5. As a long term practitioner and advocate of dromedary urine therapy for both beauty and medicinal products, I can state categorically that Budweiser is not an approved supplier.


  6. Mr Ward you are having a fine day today :-).

    “Doubletalk if persisted long enough begets doubletalk.”

    The double talk and this will be good for you concept, sold this way only for the truth to be the exact opposite and the truth never told. I actually feel that we have reached the monumentous moment in mankinds history when all current truth now measured in previous doubletalk so all truths are now justified by doubletalk.

    As you get close to it though sometimes and you do then you will be promptly condemned for rocking the boat.

    I advise all people now to read articles like this then go listen to what is said and then realise having heard all the doubletalk but not the truth you can fathom the truth. Its the one missing :-) For this example profits are down how to boost them.

    It may not be exact but so close then look out of the window and see if it is about right “because ya can’t deceive reality”.


  7. I’ve noticed you can now buy a caramel mars bar which is basically a mars bar minus the soft nougat bottom. For around the same price! That to me is like flogging a car without seats!


  8. You are so completely right here John! What really pisses me off however is that those of us who are aware and alert don’t fall for these scams while those who do often get rewarded for their stupidity.


  9. It reminds me of a story someone told me which involved a dumb blonde who had bought a roll on anti-perspirant which displayed the instruction – To use, push up bottom.

    Some supermarket magic :


  10. I wonder if any of you have read “trust – the economic value of trust and cooperation” by Francis Fukuyama, it describes just where a society with decreasing levels of trust is heading – to the bottom of the pile.

    High trust societies are prosperous societies because the transaction costs are low when you deal with someone you can trust and are very very high when you try to deal with someone you cannot trust because you have to try and protect yourself from malevolent intent.

    Ultimately you reach a point where even necessary and good things cannot be done at all as anyone who has ever visited a Third world country will have observed.

    It has been argued that the British industrial revolution was successful because the society of the day made it possible to mobilise capital – and this was not possible to the same extent in France, arguably a wealthier country, let alone Russia or Germany.

    So that’s the problem folks; lying scheming politicians not held to account by media and society will invariably corrupt the public service and business world more than it already has, and that behaviour will trickle down to all levels of society, leaving all of you poorer.


  11. A litigious society is a society that has succumbed to envy of those who have. Not a surprising reaction in a society in which those who have a shrinking little and see the few have plenty without having earned it honestly and fairly.

    Marketing speak has invaded our very souls. As Orwell said “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Just like Winston Smith most thinking people can see through the mendacity of the corporate overlords that are in the process of taking over the human race. My only consolation is that, like all totalitarian philosophies, they collapse into themselves because of their greed and corruption.

    Don’t let them grind you down!


  12. There is a serious side to “3” telling me – unilaterally – “We are moving you to e-billing”. Aside from the greater likelihood of not noticing the gradual increase in the cost of the services, I have found it absolutely necessary to ensure that at least one bill is paper.

    If you do not do this, then due to the “money-laundering legislation”, you will have issues trying to open a new account or collect a parcel if ID and proof of address is required. “We need to see a Gas bill” says he behind-the-counter. Make sure that at least one authorised ID-eligible bill is paper.


  13. I will never buy Fair Trade until they can show accounts that demonstrate that some of this money actually does go to the farmers. Have you actually compared the price of “Fair Trade” with the own brands? It’s the same scam as Organically-produced whatnots.


  14. Recently bought a Beko cooker to serve whilst the kitchen was being refurbed, it had a warning” This appliance may get hot”!!! – it didn’t.


  15. Interesting.
    It seems that entrenching tools were issued to both sides in this so called debate. There 2 simple facts which have a bearing. One is that only time will tell who was correct and who wasn’t. Two you will never stop China, India or any other large populous nation from burning more fossil fuels than we could ever imagine in their desperate attempts to have silicon tits and botox lips.

    Conclusion: If the climate is changing due to anthropogenic global warming -then we’re fcuked.
    If it isn’t changing due to anthropogenic global warming then we’ll be OK.
    In the meantime we’ve been and are being ripped off not only by our lying politicians -for sure taxing 60million into penury is going to stop global warming- but by an ever increasing number of corporations doing what John says above.


  16. I once received a letter from my bank informing me that the closure of my local branch was an improvement in customer service. Somehow, I was supposed to believe that this closure would be more than compensated for by the opening of an extra teller window or two in the already-existing branch in the next town. I closed my account the following Monday.


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