Friday, 26 October 2012

Have we all been "Brand"ed?

Before you jump to conclusions I haven’t got a burnt image on my bottom like a cow’s hide in the Wild West or succumbed to the effects of Russell like many a female starlet, but I’m marvelling at the pull of big market brands on us all.

I heard yesterday that the town of Totnes in Devon had successfully fought off an application from Costa Coffee to set up a branch in their high street.  “In yer face big soulless corporation!”  They wanted to preserve the independent businesses culture found in the town and, for once, the corporation listened and retracted the bid.  It must have been a hard fight for they succeeded where so many have failed; I am sure Tesco wouldn’t have been so humble, they seem happy to jump into the empty grave of a pub with tactless haste.

I like to think that I am all for local businesses and independent traders; I recently found a stunning local cafe in Twickenham called LuLu'z (@LuluzTwickenham) and will thwart bigger chains on the high street for their comfortable sofas and epic cake selection.  But I have to hold my hands up and say that this has not always been the case and I can’t promise I will never be seen holding a Starbucks Chocolate Chunk Shortbread again, (to the detriment of local business and my hips.)  For no matter how much tax certain companies get out of paying, a trip to a coffee chain is like going home for your Mum’s roast; it is familiar, comforting and you know what you’re going to get.

We have become creatures of habit blinded by brands and scared to go out of our comfort zone.  I have previously joked that the touring cast of Avenue Q should have been given shares in Marks & Spencer’s Food Hall but the same can be said for any touring actor; despite our meagre wages we rely on Fuller for Longer microwave meals and ready to eat prawns.  We all gravitate like Lemmings to the Starbucks or Costa in any town and are quick to label certain towns as “dumps” if they have yet to open a recognisable coffee house, “Oh how I miss London,” we lament.  As much as I spent hours trying to explore each town and find spots of local interest, I would collapse in a recognisable chair full of crumbs in a franchise brand and drink green tea because it was familiar. 

When you are working away anything that is recognisable becomes a comfort and lessens the miles between you and home.  I shamefully remember sitting in a Starbucks in every German town I visited on the Mamma Mia! tour instead of sampling the local cafe culture, but perhaps the fact that I was fake-tanned like a tangerine in deepest winter is the more shameful part of that memory. 
Or as they say in Germany "Ich liebe es!"
Another tangerine dancer friend was worse; he would screech “The Golden Arches!” in his Glaswegian drawl as our coach drove through a new town, because seeing a MacDonald’s meant he could eat for the next 14 days.  Was he a heathen sucked in by corporation brands or just homesick and unable to swallow any more Kartofflen and sauerkraut?

Like it or not, we have all succumbed to branding and I think it would be an interesting experiment to see if we could last a week without having any brands in our life at all.  I am not sure if I could – my friends would certainly miss the fake name game that is the current trend when visiting a Starbucks.  Could we be as angelic as the inhabitants of Totnes and really fight for local culture instead of just chat about our gripes over a Costa cappuccino?  Or are we allowed to have this modern human weakness for soulless but safe beverages that always taste the same from Tyneside to Truro?

But what about poor Martin from Totnes?  He contacted a radio programme discussing the fight against Costa and said, “I would have quite liked to have a Costa here, I like their coffee!”  Spare a thought for that lemming who will have to get on a bus to Newton Abbott for his caramel latte.

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