Capitalism, like most things, is good and bad (Part Three)

A case study: Mackenzie Bread

Mackenzie is brand of bread.  It’s quite nice.  It comes in brown paper bags, and is a very wide, rustic looking loaf.  When it was initially released I bought it and enjoyed it, I bought it because it looked like good bread and because I have a fondness for the Mackenzie Country.  I was naive enough to believe that the bread itself must somehow be connected with that place.  There’s a sucker born every minute.

I stopped buying Mackenzie bread because of their latest advertising campaign which made me more aware of precisely how I was being manipulated by their marketing team.  The advertising campaign had the tag line, “keep lunch special”.  Here is what they say about the campaign on their website:

At MacKenzie, we believe in lunch like it used to be. When bread was handmade, generous in size, full of abundant goodness and rewarded a well-earned and hearty appetite with a generous portion. But things have changed. When did skipping lunch or having lunch at a desk become the norm?  We believe that lunch is a tradition and that weekday lunch is being slowly eroded and marginalised by modern life and workplace pressures.  We believe everyone has a right to lunch and that you should be allowed to stop and enjoy it – unbothered by ringing phones and interruptions.

In addition to this they have advertisements in bus stops around town with pictures of sandwiches bursting at the seams with exotic fillings and tag lines such as: “lunch like it used to be“.

My first reaction to these signs was to blandly agree with their claims about lunches of the past, but after driving past the ad for a few days I recalled that I had  taken a lot of lunches to school when I was growing up, and many of them had been very nice, but that none of them had looked like the sandwich in the sign.  In fact, if you wanted a sandwich like this in New Zealand in the 1970s you probably would have needed to leave the country to get it.

This began to bother me so much that I went and looked at their website, and found the blurb that starts this post.  It annoyed me some more.  Lies about the place called “used to be” that annoy me:

  1. the bread was handmade
  2. the sandwiches were full of abundant goodness
  3. they came in a generous portion, and
  4. everyone stopped for a leisurely lunch break

This is funny, because when I was a kid I can remember that every cafeteria in New Zealand had the same sandwiches.  They were all made with thin slices of slightly curling white bread, and the fillings were either a thin slice of warm ham, a thin slice of processed cheese, or some kind of thing with egg in it.  I also seem to recall that brown bread was looked upon as some kind of slightly weird health fad – ok if you were, say, a bizarre, lesbian freak, but not ok for “real” people.

At this point you may be wondering why I am so bothered by a brand of bread and an advertising campaign.  Well, it’s personal.  

 The picture to the left is of me sitting on Mt. John looking back over the town of Tekapo in the heart of the Mackenzie Country.  This photo is actually quite strange because I am not wearing glasses.  The fact that I am sitting on a mountain admiring the view but that I am not wearing glasses tends to suggest that I am being a bit of a poseur in this picture.  Perhaps I had been watching too many Bon Jovi videos of dudes with long hair and jeans standing on the edges of canyons.  Whatever, I love the Mackenzie Country and I have been going there since I was a kid, and my mother and father were going there for skiing holidays before I was even thought about.

I suppose the main thing I like about that landscape is its feeling of vast emptiness.  The plains and the hills are all stubbled shades of brown with cloud shadows drifting across them, and mountains pitching up at the edges.  It is not a comfortable feeling being there.  Because of this sense of scale and grand indifference to man I think it is a spiritual landscape.  I know how silly that sounds, but there is a fairly long tradition of associating the spiritual with arid or barren places, and I feel that the landscape of the Mackenzie country fits with that tradition.  It is, therefore, very hard to imagine someone wanting to build huge cattle sheds in the middle of that place as has recently been proposed.  However it was a lot easier for me to be sucked in by a marketing campaign that associates a bread product with the high country farms in the area.

Baked in the "spirit" of the high country

Putting aside the current campaign to make us buy bread, here is the general pitch for the product:

MacKenzie High Country Bread is baked in the spirit and traditions of high country New Zealand.  A legacy forged in the most remote parts of the country.  There, bread was handmade, took time, was generous in size and full of abundant goodness. 

The weird thing about this kind of nostalgia for the “authentic” manly past of New Zealand is that it seems to be directed at white collar, office workers with fancy degrees.  Check out the language in the blurb from the top of the page: the “weekday lunch is being slowly eroded and marginalised by modern life and workplace pressures”.  Eroded and marginalised?  Sounds like the language of the farm to me.

Should you wish to tell the people who make this bread how wonderful they are you will need to contact Goodman Fielder.  I believe that this is an Australian company.  Probably someone told the guys in the Auckland Head Office to come up with a product that would make New Zealanders feel some kind of affinity to this company’s bread.

What else does this company make? They are responsible for Edmonds, Irvines, Champion, Quality Bakers, Meadow Lea, Olivani, Diamond, Ernest Adams, Tararua, Meadow Fresh, Puhoi Cheese, Kiwi Meats and Huttons (among others).  Which makes you realise that the idea that capitalism presents the consumer with choice based on healthy competition between competing companies is really not much more than an idea.  Especially when you consider that a company as big as Goodman Fielder has itself been bought up, broken up, and sold back to itself quite a few times in the last twenty years.  Uncle Tobys snack range for example used to be owned by Goodman Fielder, but was sold to Nestle, and then to Pepsico.

So what?  Firstly, it’s not competition.  Competition is a talismanic word of the right.  It makes everyting better.  If we consider that the baking products of Ernest Adams, or Edmonds, or Irvines or Champion are all from the same company then genuine choice appears to be illusory.  Secondly, the marketing campaigns these companies run are much more of a lie than they appear on the surface.  That’s fine.  I get that advertising is the art of creating false emotional attachments, but that these false emotional attachments are deliberately developed towards commodities without meaning (it’s just industrial quantities of dough mass baked into bread, not hand made bread from the farm kitchen) that are bought and sold by conglomerates who don’t give a monkeys seems grossly wrong somehow.  Especially when it is manipulating personal spaces in your own heart and memory.

I said it was personal.  Advertisers like to make it personal.  There was a book released by Saatchi and Saatchi last year called Love Marks and it was all about creating love between a consumer and a brand.  It is a book that:

shows how Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy can be used to track the secrets of success that create the ultimate shopping experiences.

If we change the love metaphor to one of lust, I think this works.  Advertising seeks to incite the lust to spend and accumulate within us.  It tries to push buttons.  Mackenzie bread has certainly pushed mine.

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2 thoughts on “Capitalism, like most things, is good and bad (Part Three)

  1. The thing that annoyed me about this bread was that it claimed to be harking back to the good old days, yet they charge five dollars a loaf.

    (at this point I feel the need to put lots of exclamation marks and question marks after the ‘loaf’ to get my point across, but I’m going to restrain myself and go for the subtle approach).

  2. Subtle is good.

    Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s like how rap music is bought mainly by middle class white people; this bread is bought (I guess) mainly by affluent middle class white people who think the high country is a big SUV trail.

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