While corner shops around the UK endured the chaos caused by new plain-pack rules for tobacco, the Independent newspaper took its time about commenting. But a fortnight after the draconian regime’s introduction, the old bird has flapped down from her perch – and delivered a damning verdict.
The Indy’s heraldic emblem is an eagle but, from the tone of the article, a vulture would be a better fit. For according to author Oliver Bennett, the new regulations are the first step on a slippery slope that will lead to plain packaging for all goods, services and products – and with it, the death of western democratic consumer capitalism.
How so? Because branding is the means by which the system operates. Manufacturers make products that they identify and differentiate with copyrighted names, graphics and design – and these are an informal guarantee that the products will reach expected standards of quality.
Take that away from manufacturers and what’s left? Lists of ingredients and components presented in standard sizes. And a reduction of that most human element: the trust that brings together producer, retailer and customer.
There are other implications, too. As Bennett points out, the goodwill that attaches to a brand can represent a huge proportion of its maker’s valuation. To upset that understanding would not only fly in the face of WDCC, but make us all poorer. (Remember how much the ‘sin industries’ do for your pension fund.)
What’s more, as over-regulation crept from tobacco and baby milk to chocolate, booze and cars, it would sabotage new launches and innovations – and of course it would devastate the applied creative industries, such as design, marketing and advertising (not to mention all the media that rely on ads for revenue). And in the process, says Bennett, something even more important would die: our culture.
It’s a big claim, but Bennett has a big name to back it up: the original ‘design guru’ Stephen Bayley, who is publishing a book on the subject later this year. The great arbiter comes up with a wonderful image for what’s at stake in a world where, say, air travel is demonised and holiday ads are banned: you’re going through some turbulence and the seat belt signs are on. You glance out of the window and notice you’re over the wing. What would you prefer to see emblazoned on the engines: a Rolls Royce decal or a government health warning?
We rest our case. This over-regulation of business will never fly.