Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Are you Marmite or Vegemite?

So this is what my republican politics have ultimately boiled down to: a choice between Marmite and Vegemite. I’ll explain. But basically think of it as a new version of the age-old question: are you a Roundhead or a Cavalier?
I took a trip down to my Sainsbury’s Local the other day to stock up on a few essentials including a jar of my favourite spread. Love It Or Hate It is the Marmite slogan and I love it. Or rather I loved it. Past tense. If I’m honest my taste buds will probably still tell me that I love it. But for me, in a split second, I went from thinking Marmite had a great brand to thinking it had a woeful brand.
I’m unlikely to buy it again. Or wear again my previously cherished “Marmite - I Hate Jams” cycling jersey. The reason for my ire? Marmite has become one of the latest brands to jump on the Diamond Jubilee Bandwagon. The familiar name and yellow logo has been replaced by the name Ma’amite emblazoned on a Union Jack with slogan “Toasting the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee”. Why? What’s the connection? 

The old Marmite I knew and loved

The new fawning Marmite I hate

Are they saying there’s nothing more British than Marmite? Maybe there’s not. But that’s still not got anything to do with Ma’am in my view.
But that seems to be the basis of this rather ill-judged bandwagon. In its collective view the nation is united in celebration of 60 years of the same unelected head of state. And there’s MONEY to be made out of association with this celebration. Apparently. Would a ‘jubilee’ rebranding really sway the floating shopper or voter as it were? I find it unlikely yet putting myself in the royalist mindset is a tough call.
In this case it has lost a brand custom. I’m not foolish enough to believe that Marmite bosses will lose too much sleep over this and I’m not suggesting I’ve got nothing better to do than start a consumer campaign against Marmite or indeed Duchy Originals (though they seem to be having a pretty awful time of it all by themselves). But the consumer is all-powerful and while I believe that few sales will be gained from the jubilee association (despite the odd nut putting a pot of Marmite on Ebay for eight quid) there’s 20-25 per cent of the population that’s going to be pretty put off by what looks like rather naked opportunism. 
Some cases of bandwagon jumping are more egregious than others and that’s why I’ve seized on Marmite. Because its makers have in recent times made a point of emphasising their lack of political affiliation. Announcing its intention to issue legal proceedings against Nick Griffin and the BNP in 2010 for using the Marmite logo in a party election broadcast, Unilever said: “We want to make it absolutely clear that Marmite did not give permission to use a pack shot of our product in their broadcast. Neither Marmite nor any other Unilever brand are aligned to any political party.”
Interesting that. Because what Marmite have done with their re-branding is place a dirty great boot in a political minefield. Monarchy is a highly anachronistic and increasingly disputed institution, which fails in any way I understand to represent the modern character of Britain. And if Unilever/Marmite and others are insisting on monarchy being synonymous with British identity, then I would suggest to them that what they are really insisting upon is that identity being about lauding brutal dictators like King Hamad of Bahrain and King Mswati of Swaziland. For they were among the dinner guests of our Queen and head of state in London last week. And they were there at the personal invitation of Elizabeth Windsor to help her celebrate her 60 years of unelected rule.
So I say down with the Crown. And down with all those brands which have jumped on the Diamond Jubilee Bandwagon. Down with Abel and Cole and Riverford, purveyors of organic fruit and veg, for their ‘fun’ jubilee hamper offerings. Down with the once venerable  British Museum for its shop full of jubilee tat, bearing no relevance to any exhibit past or present. Down with Interflora for its limited edition Jubilee Bouquet featuring seven red Piano roses, three Flash Night spray roses, seven purple veronica and salal leaves. Down with Queensmill bread, formerly Kingsmill. Down with the BBC for being the official jubilee broadcaster in everything but name (surely only a matter of time before it goes from being the official Olympic broadcaster to official Jubilympic broadcaster?) And down with all those brands which carry the “By Royal Appointment” mark. And good luck to anyone trying to detoxify your cupboards!
Luckily for me, next to the Ma’amite, there was a shelf of Vegemite, product of resurgent republican Australia. Here’s to Vegemite!

My new favourite concentrated yeast extract

Twitter: @andrewjchild

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