February 27, 2020
A great Frenchman and Thinker Jacques Ellul once wrote – I have lost the exact reference - something to the effect that: “We find ourselves in a situation where we are constrained to produce more and better ways of doing things that save us time – in order that we have more time to produce more and better ways of doing things”
‘Added Value’ is a term used in the study of economics. It describes how marketing of goods and services can obtain ‘added value’ in the marketplace. In simple terms it is talking about in fact getting something for nothing. The economists would disagree with this simple analysis – but this is the topic of my subject this time around – so let’s see how you feel once you’ve read through with me.
I had a disagreement with a friend of mine when I questioned his claim that branding for the purpose of marketing of staple foods like potatoes, carrots, fruit and so on, was a likely development to occur. This was a few years back now.
My friend pooh-poohed my old fashioned stance that such staple goods were and always would be what the marketing people call ‘generic’ goods. And he was right. In UK we have now branded marketed potatoes and carrots and fruit – my friend had spotted the trend and the meaning behind that trend that makes as many items of product that the market can bear into marketed branded commodities.
Now why should this trend have become a bandwagon that everyone who sells anything tries to climb aboard? Is encouraged to climb aboard. The answer is in this term ‘added value’.
For a product or service to gain this added value in the marketplace in general it has to become a branded item. And that branding has to be registered as an Intellectual Property Right (in these cases this means to have the item’s branding registered as a Trade Mark). This might sound all to dull and boring – but bear with me, we get onto some more stirring stuff pretty soon.
A person with a branded item of produce s/he wants to market – via advertising and general publicity – that person is being lured by avarice, and by encouragements of government, that these goods will gain ‘added valure’ by having a Trade Mark registered for them.
The terms of registration create for the Trade Mark owner a de facto monopoly in goods bearing that branding. No-one else can do business with that brand of goods without having the permission of the Trade Mark owner.
This is where comes in the marketing – which is a kind of term that obscures its main action - which is to create demand. Having a small island of monopoly privilege – the Trade Marked brand – creates opportunity for the branded produce to be marketed. The brand is the Identifier – it is a sign or a signal to the consuming public that these goods come from this or that Trade Mark owner, and from no-one else. The technical name for this is that the Trade Mark is a ‘badge of origin’.
The marketing is of course an added expense for the Trade Mark owner, which s/he would not incur were the goods sold not as branded but as being generic items. So ask yourself how does ‘added value’ work here - when the costs for the owner of a branded product for it to be on the market is pound of for pound always higher than for its generic equivalent to be on the market? Because of huge advertising campaign costs
You might have noticed the satuarion advertising campaigns for products bearing new brand names – on your TV or Radio or in the newspapers and magazines, on hoardings and at bus shelters and telephone boxes etc. A great deal of money is spent – they call it ‘invested’ - in getting a new brand name into the heads of the buying public.
And this money is spent on persuading the public to become well-disposed towards that brand and this product. Many touchie-feelie soft sell sentiments and colourful, upbeat images, smiley people and young good looking people recommending it – sometimes celebrities or even retired Hollywood actors.
All this onslaught – for it is a calculated onslaught on your consciousness – is aimed to get you to at least ’try it’ and so ‘test the water’. Often some special offers that can appear attractive are rolled out round about the same time. The lure is to get you to buy it again; to get the idea of and a familarity with the product and the brand into your everyday routines. For buying the item to become your habit.
When things go well for such a launched marketing campaign it may set a trend going. Cuddly animals and soft toys being ‘given’ as ‘free gifts’ to ‘loyal’ customers for instance. A fuss and a lionising of a canny knowing slightly wry humoured set of adverts might ‘take off’ as a fad or following for the ‘characters’ in the adverts in the campaign. Most of us know what I mean here.
This is not – it is not – some kind-hearted well-disposed towards you set of persons offering you a ‘bit of fun’ or a ‘good laugh’ between parts of the main movie, or from the bus on the way to work.
It is in fact wholly orchestrated and highly choreographed and methodised – it has been thought out beforehand to an intensive and minute amount of detail. The numbers have been crunched from terrabytes of sales data and shopping habits; the psychologists and the academic specialists in what is called psychology but which in fact is economic propaganda, have been commissioned and paid handsomely for their inputs on what hits people’s buttons in regard to this their likings and dislikings for this or that type of product etc etc.
You would not believe the size of this vast industry which lies behind and supports the advertising industry. You would be shocked to learn the depth and amounts of nasty detail into which their anaylses go to have you ‘all worked out’ and ‘handed on a plate’ to the brand owners and the marketers.
This kind of mass management of people is what has brought the present US and UK heads of state and their governments to power – it is only in the past decade or two that politicians have realised the power and potential for marketing and branding campaigns during election campaigns - and of their power that they have used to willfully aim to delude by persuasions their electorates. But this is another written article to be written and is not this one.
This ‘added value’ then; where is it? Well the hard sell tells the Trade Mark owner of the branding that it is they who get the ‘added value’. I think however this is not the whole truth by any means.
The brand owner is able to hike her/his prices for the branded items. One the branding has obtained, via a saturation advertising and marketing campaign, a household repuation – which can be done these days in the course of just a few months – the monopoly privilege on the branded goods allows a price to be asked which is a premium; and shoppers who have ‘bought into’ the brand and the adverts and are become ‘loyal’ users; these people if they are to buy the branded product then they have no option but to pay that premium price for it. Hence it’s a kind of monopoly
And so we have in the UK now branded goods being sold which cost pennies to manufacture a box or packet of them, and a few pennies to transport that packet to the retailers, and the asking price which has become normal begins at about £10 and rises to astronomical amounts sometimes.
At present the whole of the over the counter pharmaceutical and personal care sectors are in the frame – for their 15 minutes – for revilement and holding up as a (bad?) example for all the others who follow.
In part this markup has to be so high so as to pay for the huge marketing bills – this is that ‘added value’ for the Trade Mark owner of the brand; but alas it is as usual, as always, the consumer who pays, and foots the bills.
So everything is trending towards inflationary prices. What’s the good of all this? Well the economist ‘experts’ would say that the extra levels of economic activity generated in the marketing and advertising industries in particular, but elsewhere also, are ‘good for us all’ and that they in fact (?) raise everyone’s standards of living. I believe this is not true at all.
Since sales via marketing are a prime mover in inflationary trends under this bizarre model of exchange; and consumers wages have been tending to struggle to keep up with price hikes now for twenty or more years here in UK – this all means that finding other ways to make a bigger share of profit is always hard pressing upon many, maybe most, makers and sellers of goods and services.
Let’s look at food – its a very good exemplar of what is and has been for years going on here in UK. Waitrose is the UK’s most prestigious Supermarket Chain – it carries stock from Highgrove which is Prince Charles Trade Marked brand of food.
One can buy 250g of butter in a greasproof paper packet in Waitrose and open it at home and, lo, the butter is vareigated in colour and streaked with butterfat. Its taste is richer and more perfect than the 250g packet that the other 85% of the UK population makes do with from the lesser status Supermarket chains.
One can see laid out on a cold stone slab in Waitrose meats, cuts and joints, of beef, mutton (always we call it lamb these days!! - ah, words…) and pork. These meats – and I know this is true because I’ve been around a long time – it is not some wishful dream about ‘the good old days’ - it is not – these Waitrose meats are the colour and texture of meats as they were in every butchers’ shop when I went with my mother shopping on a Saturday morning in Tottenham High Road when I was eight or nine.
There were then no other meats to be had, or offered for sale. These meats had a hue and aspect not hectically pillar box red, not dry without blood seeping from the cuts, not in film with the label placed over the fatty parts to hide them. Waitrose meats are of the better kind; they look feel and taste like meats of sixty years back that everyone once bought, and was able to buy.
Now in those days sixty years ago we didn’t have meat more than once or twice a week. Butter was a bit of a luxury. But it was meat and it was butter.
So in most food outlets, the vast majority in our present times, the food is compromised. You maybe able to eat meat every day and to use butter exclusively as your spread of choice; but what meat and what butter? The stuff just doesn’t taste so good. It doesn’t look right (unless you were born after 1970, since then you’d know no different).
Right now we have an ‘organic’ movement in food; again such foods usually branded and sold at premium prices. But this organic movement is fuzzy and not at all clear what it covers and does not cover. Nor even exactly what it is – except it being a way to convince people to part with more of their money.
The trends then which have arisen to counteract these inflationary pressures arising out of ‘added value’ and its hothouse marketing etc; are ruses such as reducing the size of a packet and the weight and volume of its contents yet the price of the item remains the same. The tabloids have named this ‘shrinkflation’ and it is a common and well known ruse.
The added value inflationary pressures force down value and quality of goods and services; they have to be diminished because the heavy costs of added overheads (transport, marketing, utilities) cannot allow it to be anyother way. One has budget ranges of food in many chain supermarkets – the saddest of which I’ve seen is a frozen chicken-pieces value Christmas dinner for one!!
We have a range of foods labelled ‘processed’ - these can be cheese or chicken based, or peas or canned goods, ready meal dinners are among these, as are several meat based slices like hazlit and luncheon meats. These processed foods one would think to be more expensive since they’ve been through more preparations than non processed foods – but no - ‘processed’ is the badge of cheap and nasty foods.
‘Processed’ generally indicates with meats that offal and what is nicely termed ‘connective tissue’ have been processed. With cheese it means attenuated cheese with added fats and a rubbery slippery texture. Oven ready meals are generaly microwave oven ready meals, but the microwave word is missed off the splash of the packaging.
The chicken in these too often is like uncooked squid in texture; and tasteless. Fish remainders are now packaged or put in potatoe pies and sold that way; items which would likely once have been thrown or sent to pet food manufacturers are salvaged, sometimes by machine, and sold disguised.
The same ‘shrinkflationary’ trends and the same shaving off the edges of quality here and there wherever they can be gotten away with, or pass hardly noticed, grade by grade stealth by stealth, are being shorn in most aspects of commerce and industry - but as the Scots say ‘many a mickle makes a muckle’ - and over time and continued erosions of size amounts and quality we the mass of consumers are left with a very sorry selection of produce for our digestions.
Houses, or as they are marketed ‘homes’ newly built are smaller rooms lower ceilings, higher prices, cheaper materials, uglier, and often jerrybuilt – but their ‘housing estates’ are christened with names like ‘Manor Chase’ and ‘Twin Oaks’ etc – the sound of aristocracy in a two up two down confinement.
Just as printed matter in most of its forms – nearly all of that printed for popular consumption – is less well presented, and the paper of lesser quality, the content more ephemeral and for quick throwaway – one pays a ridiculous price for even a small paperpack or a weekly magaizine. It’s as if it just doesn’t matter the sheer amount pulped daily and churned out daily – it keeps the wheels of commerce turning; and us like Oliver and Company pacing the treadmills that allow this.
There comes a point we have passed long ago when economic activity for its own sake becomes a burden, a diminution of life, of standards and quality.
Only the few in the boardrooms actualy get the benefits of any ‘added value’ created. I sometimes think that all this economic theory is simply their hyped propaganda directed at us. We certainly are impressionable and so many of us just absorb accept and believe, as if we should trust what we hear and not question why it is being said, who is saying it, and what business is it of theirs to say it.
Again this is why our food our way of life and our political masters have all become debased and corrupted; because we have listened to the programme written for us by the persons who want to exploit us – and we still listen.
We have right now a coterie in government of ministers who have offshore investments galore and hedge funds and tax dogdes galore; and whom people seem to see totally differently to how they actually are. The coterie shop at Waitrose, so to speak, and don’t really lose sleep over us.