The horsemeat scandal and an aggressive piece by Mark Ritson in Marketing Week (Kill the Weak: It’s the Marketing Way) has again highlighted exactly what’s wrong with modern business practice. A basic lack of responsibility and morality which has enabled companies to build and abuse extraordinary levels of power.
I know Ritson loves to court controversy, but this time he’s stepped over the line. His ridiculous assertion, when we are knee deep in another breach of trust scandal, does our industry no favours.
This macho, Neanderthal attitude – it’s survival of the fittest! There can only be one player left in the game! – is exactly why we’re in this mess. At the risk of stating the obvious, if there’s only one player left, then it’s not a game anymore, is it?
“Weak brands must die, and strong brands must kill them”. Really? So competition is not in the customer’s interest? The supermarkets and Amazon destroyed the small (and not so small) businesses on the High Street and the Banks swallowed the building societies. That all worked out well, didn’t it?
This latest crisis was created by the supermarkets, especially Tesco, the very business Ritson applauds. Apparently, Tesco destroyed the local butcher ‘because the local butcher was crap’. Good grief. Funny how people are now returning to their local butcher in droves…
Personally, my 25 years in marketing has never been under-pinned by a desire to ‘kill the weak’. Being number one is not the same as being the only one.
The real issue here is that the horsemeat scandal is the latest in a long line of immoral practices. It’s another breach of trust in something fundamental – we can’t trust the bankers with our money, we can’t trust the hospitals to look after us and now we can’t trust the food industry with our dinner. The supermarkets created the climate that has allowed this to happen. Their race to the bottom has made the food chain so complex and opaque that no one knows what’s what, who’s to blame and whether the problems that occur are down to criminality, ignorance, laziness or sharp practice.
The root cause of so many of these evils is ‘outsourcing’. That innocent little word that has destroyed our economy; sending UK jobs abroad (from manufacturing to call centres) and devolving NHS care and key public sector services to third parties in an effort to drive costs down to an unrealistic and unsustainable low.
Outsourcing breaks the link between role and responsibility and creates so many steps in the process that in the end no one has ultimate accountability for the ‘whole’ (it wasn’t me! A big boy did it and ran away!).
So now we have a society run by big organisations that are anything but fit for purpose. Survival of the fittest? Don’t make me laugh.
If this latest crisis has one good outcome, it’s that the people who’ve been sleepwalking round the supermarkets thinking it’s great to be able to but a family-sized lasagne for £1 are starting to question how that price was achieved. Just how the suppliers, their employees, the animals and the environment were screwed in the process.
Perhaps this ultimate breach of trust will make everyone start to think about that previously middle class obsession – provenance. Or more simply, what the hell is in that ready meal? Wouldn’t it be great if this was the turning point that kicked off a High Street, and small business, revival?
This week, an Ipsos-MORI poll asked people to say who they trusted to tell the truth. Politicians, bankers and journalists came bottom of the table, trusted by around only 20% of the population. It’s a shame the survey didn’t include supermarkets, but ‘business leaders’ managed only 34%.
Honesty may seem like an old-fashioned word, but it is what consumers want, and is what marketers need to deliver. As for big business, how about you stop lining shareholder pockets and start ‘in-sourcing’ again?