Sunday, October 17, 2010

How to lose a customer

Since I'm working on a show about the Three Wise men of Kurow I was not pleased to see one of them attacked in recent ads by Dominion Breweries. Let's get the record straight. 

The same weekend that the Labour Party was holding it’s conference in Auckland Dominion Breweries ran full page ads in the Sunday Star Times under the headline “How to lose an Election.” The main image in the add is of past Labour Party leader Arnold Nordmeyer. The labour Party is referred to as “the killjoy Labour Government”. Nordmeyer is referred to as “an enemy of fun’ and “old gorse-pockets Nordmeyer”.
Morton Coutts 
The bathroom in the Morton Mansion 
cost more than a state house
The hero that these muddled adds are attempting to promote is Morton Coutts owner of Dominion Breweries. They try to present Coutts as the advocate for the working man, in fact Coutts lived in Morton’s Mansion which he had built next to his Waitemata brewery where the bathroom cost more that a state house.

Dave Shoemac, DB Export marketing manager, in a press release at the launch of this campaign of newspaper ads and associated five minute film describes Nordmeyer as a “‘puritanical bore’ who taxed the importation of the world’s best beers so heavily that no ordinary man could afford to drink them. After hearing news of the budget, the inventive Morton came up with a cunning plan to help average Kiwi beer drinkers who were outraged by the new tax,” Shoemack explains. “Morton quietly set about creating a beer that would not only avoid the import duty, but would also hold its own against the world’s best beers.

This is not correct. Coutts did not come up with his cunning plan after the tax on imported beers was introduced in 1959. It was collaborative research between Dominion Breweries and its largest competitor; New Zealand Breweries that led to the introduction of the Continuous Fermentation Process. This system was patented in 1956. The new process significantly reduced brewing times. Dominion breweries had been producing beer using this process for a year before the tax was introduced.

The newspaper ads describe Coutts as ‘visionary’. The real visionary was Arnold Nordmeyer.  Working in Kurow in North Otago during the depression he had witnessed real hardship at an unemployed workers camp known as the Willows where unemployed families lived through freezing winters in tents and shacks made out of beaten out fuel cans.  Nordmeyer would meet with the local schoolteacher Andrew Davidson and the town doctor Girvan McMillan and discuss solutions to the third world poverty they experienced at the Willows. It was at the doctor’s kitchen table that they wrote down the six simple points that were to become New Zealand’s future health system. By 1935 Nordmeyer was in Parliament where he was the architect of the 1938 social security act, which combined the introduction of a free-at-the-point-of-use health system with a comprehensive array of welfare benefits.

Shoemac and his confused storytellers simply ignore the fact that by taxing imported beer Nordmeyer was actually assisting the New Zealand owned brewery.

DB is no longer a New Zealand company. It is now owned by Singapore based Asia Pacific Breweries.

These ads are of course not really directed at the public. They are dog-whistle ads attempting to head off proposed changes in the drinking age or the price of alcohol, hence that strange headline ‘How to loose an election.’

Raise a glass to truth in advertising
An up-date by Mark Derby

The worlds of labour history and advertising seldom intersect but they have done so recently, and tumultuously.
As reported in the last (November 2010) issue of this journal, the Singapore-owned Dominion Breweries chose to rewrite NZ history in its new advertising campaign for DB Export beer. In a sly and pricey B&W ad for cinema, TV and its website, the company portrayed 1950s brewing magnate Morton Coutts as a hero of the working man and Labour Finance Minister Arnold Nordmeyer as a tax-and-ban Puritan. Nordmeyer’s 1958 ‘Black Budget’, the ad alleged, taxed imported beer out of the reach of thirsty workers. Street riots broke out, they claimed, until the noble Coutts invented an improved brewing process to supply top-shelf beer at a public bar price. 
The ad agency claimed it spent 16 months researching this ad. Evidently not time well spent since, as our last issue pointed out, almost none of their account was true. Coutts was no champion of the common drinker but an extremely wealthy and hard-nosed businessman. He didn’t develop his ‘continuous fermentation’ brewing process in response to Nordy’s budget, but two years earlier. And there were no riots against the beer tax.
To deliver this deeply dishonest and politically loaded message, DB mixed its own dramatised re-enactments with genuine archive footage, especially of the 1951 waterfront lockout. That decision proved to be the Achilles heel of their misinformation campaign. Several people, including Progressive Party MP Jim Anderton, laid complaints about the ad with the Advertising Standards Authority. And in February 2011 the ASA upheld those complaints, saying the ads “went too far and the likely consumer conclusion was that the account portrayed… was an accurate depiction of history, when it was no such thing”.
DB had to pull their ads with six weeks of the campaign still to run. Will they appeal the ASA decision? Apparently not. Instead, the company chose to recut the ad without the offending 1951 footage, and added a voiceover making it clear that they have rewritten history to suit their commercial ends. In a further blow, DB missed out on a shot at an Axis Award, the Oscar of the ad world. Ads that have complaints upheld against them aren’t eligible for this coveted trophy.
Jim Anderton told the LHP: “DB is entitled to depict Arnold Nordmeyer (wrongly, in my view) as a boring old wowser. In fact he was one of the architects of our welfare state and those who knew him say that he had a wicked sense of humour. But they are not entitled to depict situations which are simply untrue and that needs to be emphasised by complaints such as the one I made.
“But beyond that there was another consideration. The advertisements themselves carried the slogan: “How to lose an election”. That doesn’t seem to me to have much to do with selling beer. But it does make sense in a political context in which the Law Commission has issued a highly critical report on the way we regulate and advertise alcohol in this country.
“This may become both the subject of legislation and an election issue this year. The message from these ads couldn’t be clearer. If you tighten up the regulation of the sale of alcohol, then be prepared for political flak paid for by the liquor industry. Members of Parliament should be entitled to make decisions affecting the wellbeing of New Zealanders without fear or favour. They should not be doing so in the shadow of threats by sectional interests with a financial axe to grind. We can do without that sort of advertising in this country.”

Mark Derby is a Wellington writer who declines to drink DB

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bob
    I agree, taxing imported beer would assist the New Zealand owned breweries! A friend of mine has a Beer Blog, he had something to say about Morton too.