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Branded!

by David Kenny

 

Years ago before Damon Alburn turned into a Brit Art fop and hung around the Groucho club listening to Icelandic trip hop with Damien Hirst, he once sang that “modern life was rubbish” and to honest with you, I have to agree with those sentiments. For every advancement the human race makes there always seems to be some niggling drawback. Some unexpected side effect, which brings us down another notch on the evolutionary ladder. For example, take your mobile. Mobile phones = good, annoying ring tunes and happy slapping = bad. And then there was Digital TV with more choice for the viewer = good, 200 channels showing nothing but endless episodes of ‘Real Footballers Wives go Dancing whilst locked in a house for 4 months Factor’ = bad.

 

But as usual it’s the small really insignificant things that truly annoy me. The kind of mundane, day-to-day realities of life that can rile me from my usual placid (I said Placid!!) self into a ranting loon. And one curse of modern living, that now seems to have permeated into the fabric of our society and seeped into our culture, that infuriates me the most is: Rebranding!

 

Yes, rebranding. The corporate con, the commercial sham, the advertising hoodwink…. The art of repackaging something, sticking a nice shiny new logo on it and calling it the best thing since sliced bread whilst in fact it’s the same old crap you were selling ten minutes ago. This, for some unknown reason seems to annoy me intensely. And more so the way normally intelligent and reasonable people fall for all of this without a flicker of cynicism (which in itself used to be what us Brits done best. Stiff Upper lips, Colonialism and Cynicism were our gift to the world. For over a decade our biggest export was sarcasm. Now I fear we will all turn into Tofu practising, Yoga eating Californians by 2020.)

 

This has been a sore point with me ever since I was 8 and some advertising whiz kid, probably with slick back hair, leather tie, red braces and a filofax, decided that Marathons were now to be called Snickers. I can still remember the rage boiling away inside me when I found out this was going to happen. No one had asked if they could do it. There wasn’t a vote or even a meeting. It was just decided for us. All my mind could do, albeit growling with murderous contempt, was think “How dare you!!” which was then quickly followed with, “What the bleeding hell is a Snicker anyway??”

 

And Snickers have not been the only casualty in the confectionary world. Oh no. Our beloved Opal Fruits have also been attacked. No longer are they “Made to make your mouth water”, instead now they’re called Starburst!! Bloody Starburst?? Starburst is the name for someone whose parents were Hippies and who was born outside the Dijeridoo tent at Glastonbury . It is not the name for fruit based snacks!

 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for rebranding. It’s vital that a company keeps changing and evolving in order for it to stay in business and if this means changing the company’s image then so be it. Skoda, for example, make very good cars, designed by Germans, engineered by more Germans, manufactured by even more Germans but yet you still wouldn’t be seen dead in one. It needs to rebrand itself.

 

But what’s not need is what happened to Captain Birdseye. This fictional sailor has been a British institution for decades, generations of children have grown up with him. Then all of a sudden this fatherly figure got rebranded. Suddenly this Sailing Santa Claus was turned into Jean Claude Van Damme and Arnie’s Love child fighting off hordes of sea monster terrorists. This is not what Captain Birdseye was about!! Captain Birdseye was about a man with a white beard, a Cornish accent and an unusual passion for fish fingers (Have you ever noticed that when you are having a meal that Fish Fingers are always on the kids menu but never on the adults menu??)

 

The closest Captains Birdseye ever got to violence was catching some inept pirates with a rudimentary man trap fashioned out a net and baited with a chicken Kiev , not shooting bazookas at the Sea Devil Liberation Front. Luckily the powers at be noticed that this wasn’t working and now we have the same old Captain Birdseye back, but now he comes on like Jamie Oliver on Ketamine, reassuring us that none of his food contains additives, colourings etc etc

 

Although Captain Birdseye does have his dark side. He keeps a terrible secret, which was suppressed by the Establishment for years… Did no one ever notice how his ship was always crewed by a motley bunch of Children?? Why were Social services not involved?? Why was he never charged under any Child Labour laws??

 

I’ll tell you why, because Captain Birdseye is actually a White Slave Trader. He has sailed from the Pacific to Zanzibar plying his trade. Where did you think he got the start up money for his frozen food empire eh?? The fish fingers are a front!!

 

But rebranding doesn’t only happen to food. People rebrand themselves, more so than ever. Do any of you remember Darius?? No I thought not…

 Most of us will remember him as that annoying div from Popstars (Those of us with Digital TV will also remember him from Popstars Extra, Popstars Exposed, Popstars Reunited and Celebrity Sperm Bank) who was  kicked out after a his ‘unique’ take on Britney Spears Hit Me Baby One More Time, which was so unintentionally funny it was worth that years entire TV License alone (that’s if I actually ever paid mine). Here was a man to be ridiculed and heckled if ever encountered in the street! But then he left it six months, came back with a new “Image” and his own, distinctive brand of bland, insipid pop. It’s amazing what a haircut and a shave can do for your career. After a few hit records he’s now off around the world knobbing Hollywood actresses so fair play to him…

 

Then there is the fickle world of fashion where rebranding is a way of life. I’ve forgotten how many “New Blacks” there has been but its been plenty. And if you walk into any fashion store now you can see the evidence of rebranding everywhere. In the last few years such fashion crimes as Dunlop Green Flashes and Gola have become popular with both your average spiky haired, Hollyoaks stunt doubles and your garden-variety indie kid with drainpipe jeans and suit jacket. (WHY?? Looking like Status Quo on Wogan is NOT cool!!!)

 

In my day, wearing jimmies like these were bound to get you a good hiding, now you’re seen as the coolest cat in Kitty town (another reason to despair!!) This trend worries me so much that I now walk around town in a pair of Hi Tech Silver Shadows in protest at this madness. It’s my sartorial equivalent of the Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in protest of the Vietnam war.

 

Possibly one of the biggest examples of rebranding is one that can be seen up and down the country every Saturday. Football got rebranded. Saying you were a football fan pre Euro 96 was a little like telling someone that you were a knuckle dragging, baby eating skinhead. But somebody somewhere spied the potential for a lot of money to be made and so a Rebranding was called for.

 

Euro 96 changed all that. The media hype began early and the grounds had been cleaned up and made safe after the Taylor report. Some grounds allegedly even had women’s toilets installed! The fact  is that in some grounds you can now buy a Garlic bread to accompany your dodgy pie and luke warm Bovril. The “New Fan” had arrived. People now went to the football with their faces painted, wearing their muggy strips and all of things singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot in Wembley. Blasphemy!

 

After Euro 96, all sorts happened. Celebrities professed their love for football. And it wasn’t just the miserable bassist from some dirgey Indie band from Wigan but everybody was at it. Zoë Ball changed her team as often as she changed her blokes and the Spice Girls sang the Englands team song for France 98. Football had suddenly became the family game and the corporate directors of clubs were looking for the 2.4 kids, prawn sandwich, live in the city but drive a 4 x 4 brigade and in doing so made watching Football the new Tennis.

 

But by far and away the worst aspect of Rebranding is when it came into British politics. And with it came New Labour, The Socialist party with a corporate image.

This sort of thing had been present in the USA for decades. They called it Presidential politics. But surely the British were too savvy for tactics like this?? Well think again.

 

The sight of old Labour Stalwarts stood around dancing and singing to “Things can only get better” on election night still has the power to make me projectile vomit today. But for all the spin and crony-ism and scandals that were set to follow, people lapped it up. For a brief moment in the summer of 1997, the British lost there sense of cynicism, we were willing to believe that Things really could only get better.

 

Rebranding, that most capitalistic of ideals, had come and helped sweep the Labour party to power. Before it was seen as a lumbering old beast of a political party, split by internal divisions and squabbles between factions. Somehow the party that represented the ‘average working man’ had been unified and given a slick new Publicity machine, oiled to great affect by the Spin Doctors such as Darling and Mandelson.

The term Cool Britannia was bandied about everywhere even though all the best parts of it had happen 3 years previously under a Tory Government, It was as if Britain itself was receiving an exercise in cultural Rebranding.

The Prime Minister now partied with Oasis and liked football etc etc. He really was like the trendy vicar who had a motorbike, wore a leather jacket and could play the opening chords to Stairway to Heaven.

 

It opened a Pandora’s box of moments, which make you squirm. Moments like David Cameron doing a web cast whilst pretending to do the dishes or Gordon Brown telling you he has the Kaiser Monkeys LP on his I-pod or any time whenever John Prescott is allowed in front of a TV camera!

 

However, as long as people are willing to accept style over substance and good marketing over the truth, then Rebranding is here to stay. So it looks like we can look forward to seeing the same old TV shows from 20 years ago but with the word celebrity stuck in front of it, an eternity of buying “New and Improved” washing powder and more embarrassing moments of MPs being down with the kids!

 

So, ill leave you with the words of Public Enemy;

“Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t believe the Hype!!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
   
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