I’ve been ploughing into some Norwegian smoked salmon tonight – purchased recently from Lidl. On the outer wrapper it says ‘hand salted’.
It’s one of those ‘ears pierced while you wait’ claims this one: why in God’s name is hand-salting likely to increase my enjoyment, or be better for me? Isn’t machine-salted smoked salmon likely to be (if nothing else) free of the slight background worry that the Norwegian hand-salter might not have washed his hands after salmon-gutting and before salting?
As a former adman, I am more aware than most of brand-communication bollocks. I remember that years ago, Delta Airlines ads used the strapline “We’ll get you there”. I mean, what was the alternative – we crash and all die?
This is the point: when is a promise a promise, and when is it a vaguely threatening case of protesting too much? For example:
“My name’s Lord Mandelson, and there’s nothing to be afraid of”.
Sixty odd years ago, Cambridge researchers wired up some volunteers with sensory receptors, and showed them the headline “Don’t panic”. 100% of the sample immediately showed signs of stress. “Why do I not need to panic? Is there something to panic about I’m not aware of? OhmyGodohmyGod.”
We see this syndrome every day in contemporary British life, and the media rendition of it. Over and over, opinion-leader columnists tell us that the economy is getting better, the banking crisis has been overplayed, bankers are very nice really, 18-25 year segment binge drinking is on the wane, regulating newspapers will make life safer for all of us, and enquiries will get to the bottom of things. But actually, fewer and fewer of us believe it.
I think the Establishment’s DON’T WORRY bollocks is misconceived. I’m happy about this, because it will find them out sooner rather than later….which must be all to the good. But the communicator in me feels obliged to point out where they’re going wrong.
So many nutters over so many years have predicted Armageddon, we have become immune to the warnings. Asteroid hits, planetary pandemics, global warming, radioactive sunlight, overpopulation, nuclear conflagration….we are so inured to all of it, if the BBCNews website ran a banner headline tomorrow saying ‘JUPITER COLLIDES WITH SATURN – RINGS HEADED STRAIGHT FOR EARTH,’ we’d all smile, order another pint, and check out the price of Amalgamated Tungsten. But if the headline read ‘BANK OF ENGLAND CONVINCED THAT CURRENCY VALUE SAFE’, we’d all form unruly queues at the nearest bank to demand the complete withdrawal of our overdrafts.
Negative hyperbole is the only remaining method of keeping the British population calm. And in that context, the double-failsafe way to achieve total electoral reassurance is via the judicious use of a slightly dodgy source for the hype.
Were I the resident of Number 11 Downing Street tonight, I would be working on spin such as ‘Anglia University says euro collapse will leave 90% of Britain underwater’. Other alternatives might include, ‘Osborne “is economically clueless paedophile” says Balls’, or even ‘Louise Mensch warns of imminent hyperinflation’.
Driving from Kent to Dorset today, I tuned into the wonderful Kirsty Young interviewing Dustin Hoffman on Desert Island Discs. She asked the veteran film actor about his father, and Hoffman movingly described the somewhat scratchy relationship he’d had with his Dad. The two men shared the same birthday, so when Hoffman Sr was 80, his son was 50. “So Dad,” the son said as they strolled along the beach on that auspicious anniversary, “do you have any words of wisdom for me today?”
His father replied, “Sure I do: it’s all bullshit”.
I have a good and close friend who keeps saying “It’s all bollocks and that’s official”. He’s right: but the awareness of this is now so widespread among the chatterati, government spinners need to take note. If you are unfortunate enough to be George Osborne, the way to get people on your side in 2012 is to tell them that David Icke thinks the Chancellor’s austerity strategy has not a hope in Hell of working.