Blog : Posts tagged with 'advert'

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Greenwash

In which we consider how to package coffee sustainably


When I was growing up, back in the heyday of capitalism, “caring for the environment” was seen as a bit of a fringe activity. In school, we were all taught how important it was; but in the real world, nobody really paid much attention.

Fast forward to today: companies are falling over themselves to be Environmental, and to show that they Care with big green hugs, pretty flowers and all that. But in many cases this is pure greenwash: an attempt to look caring because they know that caring sells, because ticking the “environmental!” box makes their company look good. Look at the details, and there’s often no real benefit.

One advert that’s been out recently has been particularly annoying us. Kenco, who make reasonably tasty coffee, but whose advertising campaign is annoying, silly, and patronising. “We tried using 100% less packaging,” they lie, “but it didn’t work. So we’re using 97% less packaging instead.”

All well and good: less packaging equals less materials used equals less weight equals less fuel used in distribution. Sounds nice, on the surface. If you look at it with a longer-term eye, though, things aren’t quite so clear-cut. The traditional packaging, as you probably know,* was: glass jars. One of the oldest packaging forms there is, and one of the greenest. It’s so easy to recycle that we’ve been recycling it ever since it was first invented; all you do is clean it and melt it. OK, there was a period of 200 years or so when we didn’t bother; but glass recycling was one of the first forms of recycling to be widespread in this country in the modern period. Even back in the days when, as I said, I was growing up and nobody really worried too much about the environment, we would still take a trip to the village “bottle bank” once a week. I loved to take each jar from the bag, and jump up to get it in the hole, trying to get as loud a smash as I could.**

What have Kenco replaced their glass jars with? Plastic packets. What’s the recyclability of plastic packets in this country? Virtually nil. Can you reuse them for anything? Virtually nothing. So, we go from glass jars which can be easily reused or recycled, to plastic packets which are useless after you get them home, and have to go for landfill. Change in packaging weight: a 97% drop. Change in waste produced: an increase of enormous proportions. Not quite such a good-looking result. Moreover, glass is made from sand, of which there’s no great shortage; plastic is made from oil, which is getting harder and harder to find. Oh dear.

The big disadvantages of glass packaging, of course, are weight and bulk. Less packaging weight means lower transport costs, and less fuel used. Yes, true, this is a good thing for the environment. It’s even better for Kenco, though. I suspect there’s one single big purpose behind this change: cutting Kenco’s transport costs. Their purpose in the world, after all, isn’t to heal the environment, and it isn’t even to make reasonable-tasting coffee. It’s to make money for their owners, by a) selling more coffee and b) lowering the cost of producing that coffee. Trying to persuade us that their cost-cutting is good for the environment will, I assume, help them sell more coffee to some people. In the long run, though, it’s a much less sustainable way to package. It’s not really as good for the environment, as they’d like us to think.

* and still being produced, of course

** And that’s not counting glass milk bottles and fizzy drink bottles, sold on deposit and reused many times over by the manufacturers since, ooh, the railways first came along and made large-scale distribution practical.

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The Artist’s Dilemma

In which we discuss music and advertising


It’s a question that must come to every artist and musician who starts to get successful. Sell out, or not sell out? And what is “selling out” anyway? What about advertising? Do you license your music for use in advertising, knowing you’ll effectively lose control over how it’s presented?1 Maintain artistic integrity, or go for the money? There are some bands whose oeuvre will, forevermore, be thought of as “oh, it’s that song off that advert, you know, that one for thingy, that stuff.” – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra being a prime example.2

I was rather pleased when I was idly watching late-night telly the other month, and a bouncy Casiolike tune popped up in the ad-break. It was “Summer’s Gone”, an early track by a very good (and little-known) Scottish band, Aberfeldy. if you want to track it down, it’s on their first album, Young Forever, released by Rough Trade.3 Good to hear a little-known band on the telly; good to think they’ll be getting some money for it.

Less good, though, to see that it was being used to advertise an online gambling company. If I was Riley Briggs – the chap who formed the band and wrote the song – I’m not sure I’d be happy about that. I wouldn’t want my music to be used that way. I wouldn’t want to be associated with gambling; the only saving grace being, 99.3%4 of the people who see the advert will never have heard of the band.5 The song will seep into their memories without them really knowing it, until they hear it again by some offchance on the radio and think: hang on, don’t I know this from somewhere. It’s a hard call. Do you take the money and the airplay, or do you take the high moral stance? I’m glad it’s not a question I’ve had to face yet in life. What would you do?

1: Or, for that matter, for TV. Belle and Sebastian, another of my favourite bands, have been used many times over the years as TV and soundtrack filler material; most famously, the title track from their third album The Boy With The Arab Strap was used, without lyrics, as the theme music of the Bristol-set comedy-drama series Teachers. I’m sure I recall, when the band were asked, saying that they weren’t able to say yes or no to that or any other specific TV use of the music; they’d granted a blanket license and that was that. On the other hand, unsurprisingly for a band with a socialist and Presbyterian background, they don’t (I think) let their music be used in advertising.

2: PCO might have been helped slightly by the death of MFI, who used their well-known “Music For A Found Harmonium”; I doubt, though, that anyone now who hears their best-known track “Telephone And Rubber Band” thinks of the band first. The Jesus And Mary Chain might be heading this way – we’ve heard “Just Like Honey” an awful lot on TV lately, most strangely as incidental music on Hollyoaks.

3: and it must have come out a long, long time ago now, going by where I lived when I bought it. For that matter, their second album – released just before Rough Trade dropped them – must also be a few years old, because I picked it up in Avalanche Records on my last trip to Glasgow.

4: If there’s one thing I learned from the vegetarian food roadshow we went to, it’s to use invented and ridiculously precise statistics with panache and confidence.

5: According to that famous encyclopaedia, the same song has been used to advertise Diet Coke in the USA. So I’d bet that by far the vast majority of people worldwide who have heard an Aberfeldy song, have heard that song, on an advert.

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Going Up In The World

In which we note someone’s spreading fame


The band Camera Obscura are clearly going up in the world. I noted, a few months ago, that one of their songs had popped up on a Tesco advert. Never mind about that, though: today, they were on the front page of The Guardian, up above the masthead. Admittedly, only because a Guardian reader had written in with: why weren’t Camera Obscura listed in your recent “1000 albums to hear before you die”* list? It’s better than not being there at all, though.

True Camera Obscura fans, of course, will be spending next weeked at the Midland Railway Centre, in Derbyshire. Their bass player, Mr Gav “King of Partick” Dunbar, is doing a DJ set there, in a heated marquee at Butterley railway station. Now, to my mind, that’s how you judge you’re doing well. Never mind the Guardian front page; once you’ve got your marquee heated, you know you’re on the up and up.

* not to be confused with the entirely unrelated book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, of course.

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Commerciality

In which we recognise some music


I was pleased and slightly surprised the first time I heard the band Camera Obscura on the radio. I was even more surprised the first time I turned on the radio at random and heard a Camera Obscura song playing.*

We were sat, lazing about watching telly, the other night, and the adverts came on. There was an advert for Tesco clothes. With, I was rather amazed to realise, a Camera Obscura song as its backing. “Bloody hell,” I said, fainting slightly. However famous they keep on getting, I’m not sure I’m ever going to get used to it.

* it was on Radio Two, at about 4am on a Sunday morning; I was driving home from a certain Theatrical And Social Club and had just dropped a friend off at her house.

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Speedy

In which we spot some truth in advertising


At the office, we often get random pieces of promotional crap sent to us by companies touting for business. The best so far: an “emergency phone kit” from O2.* The latest: a pen from Openreach. If you’ve not heard of Openreach yet: they’re the chunk of British Telecom that actually gets to play with wiring and hardware, and ends up doing all the manual work.

Openreach’s PR people clearly aren’t as imaginative as O2’s, because they’ve sent us a ballpoint pen. One of those pens with a moving picture inside, that slides from one end to the other when the pen’s tilted. Rather than go for the classic “woman whose bra and knickers disappear” design, their pen has a background of terraced houses, and an Openreach van chugging from one end to the other.

So far, so boring. This pen, though, is ideal to represent BT.** Because of the speed the van moves: chug chug chug, dead slow along the line of houses. Perfectly representing the speed it takes BT to do pretty much anything.*** Ideal publicity material!

* A piece of string, and a capped cardboard tube marked with a “cut here” line around the middle.

** Or, “Openreach, a part of the BT group”, as it says on their promotional bumpf

*** To be honest, I have found one part of BT that does what you ask, quickly, and gets it right first time: whatever office it is sets up reverse DNS information for ADSL lines with static IP addresses. If you do not know what this means, rest assured you will never need to get in touch with them. Oh, and if you know anyone who works for BT: they have a special staff-only customer service number which allegedly gets better service than the ordinary one, and if you have a problem they can call it up on your behalf.

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Not a meme

In which we see what Google thinks of our correspondance


An Unreliable Witness recently wrote something that definitely isn’t a meme: scanning the adverts Gmail throws up after reading all your email for you. As I have nothing better to write about tonight, I thought I’d do the same thing. Here’s a selection of things that, apparently, go with my email.

Organic Rice Syrup
Physical Immortality Is Possible
Looking For An Essay?
Secrets To Understanding Men
How To Stop Sweating Now

So, according to Gmail: I’m a student who needs to find a spiritual side, cooks a lot, doesn’t understand men, and is a bit sweaty. There you have it!

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People you bump into in the post office

In which FP recognises someone


In case you were wondering: last week, I was away in Wales. I was staying in the small, snowy town of Aros Heddlu,* Merioneth, doing some volunteer work.** Of course, I came back from my holiday needing another one to recover from it.

I managed to come across as a bit of a mad English tourist, whilst I was there, whilst I was in the local post office. The post office’s Lottery machine, you see, had a cardboard advertising hoarding on top of it. “Do you have a spare one?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” said the shopkeeper. She started to hunt around. “I’m sure we have one somewhere.”

“I don’t mean to be any trouble,” I said, “but if you had one handy – I’ve been looking for one of those.”

“I’m sure we did have another,” she said, wondering what the hell this mad English tourist wanted with a cardboard Lottery advert. “I’ll have a look for it and put it to one side for you.”

“Oh no no I don’t want to be a nuisance,” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed. “I just wanted one because that” – I pointed at the picture on the advert – “is my friend W, and it would be nice to have one. Well, um, thank you anyway. I really don’t want to put you to any bother.” And I left the shop, leaving me feeling embarrassed for causing a fuss, and her baffled at these strange tourists with friends off the adverts.

* Not its real name, as people with Roadsign Welsh vocab will probably realise.

** “…with the mentally ill,” as one of the other people there said. I think it was The Goon, who may well be reading.

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