We’re buying into cheap marketing ploys

ONCE, at a football match in Thurles, I saw the future of rock ‘n’ roll, and it shook me to my core.

A lorry had been set up in Liberty Square. A young band was belting out tunes for the assembled Kerry and Dublin supporters. They looked and sounded like any young band, full of energy and attitude. The music wasn’t bad. But then I had a second take and I nearly choked on my sparkling water.

Emblazoned across the chest of each of these purveyors of rock ‘n’ roll was the type of rebellious slogan that echoes down generations of disaffected youth. It read: “Bank of Ireland”.

The financial institution was sponsoring the event, and these Keith Richards wannabes were obliged to perform as singing, dancing advertisement-boards. Oh, poor benighted soul of rock ‘n’ roll. Woodstock, turn your eyes now, for the betrayal is complete.

That was all of 10 years ago. In the intervening period, the insidious nature of corporate marketing has reached new heights. My own favourite from the construction bubble was the manner in which a company attempted to flog a development of new apartments in north Dublin in 2006. The development was a place called Belmayne.

The brochures depicted willowy models draped seductively across kitchen work-stations and couches. The message was clear and targeted at young men, in particular; buy one of these apartments and catwalk queens will be breaking down the door to have sex with you in every conceivable position, while your Marks & Sparks TV dinner bubbles away in the oven. A 100% mortgage guaranteed.

Belmayne is now largely unoccupied, the models have moved on, and a few chumps who bought the dream are probably at home alone, surviving on boiled potatoes and negative equity.

The world has changed since those heady days, but marketing gets more insidious. No longer do celebrities earn a few bob by endorsing products. Now, they are transmogrified into “brand ambassadors”. The title lends an air of propriety to the grubby business they are engaged in, as if they are representing a state, or even the UN, whose ambassadors lend their celebrity to alleviating hunger and pestilence.

The manner in which corporate marketing has inveigled itself into culture is obvious in the renaming of Lansdowne Road. In the two years since it has reopened, the history and passion evoked by the name of that corner of Dublin 4 has disappeared.

In its place, we have the Aviva Stadium. An insurance company has ownership rights over what is hallowed turf for rugby followers the country over.

But while these corporations inveigle themselves into national culture, they don’t have the same respect for other facets of the nation.

Last week, it was announced that Aviva will be laying off up to 500 staff whenever a review of its operation is complete.

Having moved its head office operation here in 2009 — around the time Lansdowne Road expired — Aviva is now heading back to London.

While the jobs disappear, we are stuck with the stadium.

Bad and all as that stuff is, nothing compares to Arthur’s Day. On Thursday, we were subjected to the third annual Arthur’s Day. The message reaches new heights of cynicism.

Ostensibly, the day is a celebration of the foundation of the Guinness brewery by Arthur Guinness, he who one day hit on the concept of stout while burning hops.

In reality, it is a cynical marketing ploy by the international drinks firm, Diageo, which owns Guinness.

The first Arthur’s Day was declared in 2009, the 250th anniversary of the establishment of the brewery. The ploy involved thousands of punters raising their pints of Guinness to salute the man at one minute to six, just before the Angelus booms out. This was represented as 17.59 hours, as the lease was signed in 1759.

Conveniently, the appointed time also ensures that most who engage in the lark will probably stay out for the rest of the night, loading up Diagio’s coffers and getting tanked. If the appointed time was, say, 9pm, some revellers might just stroll out for a couple of pints and head home. Kicking off the evening at six ensures that there is plenty of time to get plastered, puke up and maybe even start a fight.

And it’s not even Arthur’s Day.

It isn’t the date of Arthur Guinness’ birthday. It isn’t even the date of any event in the history of the brewery. In 2009, the celebrations took place on September 24. Last year, the day was moved forward to the 23, and this year it was on the 22.

It is entirely possible that old Arthur was half cut when he hit upon the pint of stout, but one presumes he had some idea of when exactly he signed the lease.

Central to the celebration is music. At dozens of venues around the country, international and domestic acts did their thing, many of them raising a pint now and then to celebrate the fees being paid for the performance, courtesy of Diageo. At least the lads on the back of the lorry in Thurles were young and desperate to take whatever was going. These musicians have reduced themselves to acting as temporary brand ambassadors for a multinational corporation.

Public bodies also succumbed. There were road closures in Dublin to facilitate the marketing wheeze. RTÉ showed highlights from Arthur’s Day on Thursday night.

Dublin City Council belatedly showed some cop-on.

After last year, the council said it would no longer be associated with the event on the basis that it promoted alcohol. The product was irrelevant. No public body should be involved in co-operating with a cynical corporate exercise like this.

What would the man himself have made of it? Poor old Arthur had a reputation for being a good employer and a philanthropist. In his day, he even had houses built for his workers.

Diageo is not Arthur Guinness. While it may be a good employer, its attitude to workers differs little from that of any major corporation.

Last May, a few weeks after it received huge free marketing when Barack Obama sipped a pint in Moneygall, the company showed the nation its gratitude by announcing that 250 Irish workers were to be laid off. Nothing personal you Irish, just business. Poor old Arthur must have been turning in his grave.

Diageo can’t be blamed for employing its cynical marketing ploy. Multinational firms, the world over, will do anything to improve the bottom line. That’s what they are in business for.

But why public bodies and punters are willing to go along with the fiction that this is an occasion to celebrate is beyond all sense. At the rate we’re going, somebody will one day come up with the bright idea of selling the rights to St Patrick’s Day. That would see March 17 celebrations facilitate the birth of Toyota Day, or maybe Ikea Day, or even Microsoft Day. At least it would be more honest than robbing the grave of poor old Arthur Guinness.

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