A Tale of Two Editorials

Brands are worth more than companies and, going after the brand may be the best way to get the unchangeable to change.

Sebastian Mallaby, the Washington Post columnist, is the go-to guy for
subjects slightly off the mainstream and, while I don’t always agree
with him, the man has a brilliant mind. Today he’s writing about
company brands
and how (in this multinational culture of global markets) they’ve
become the most valuable corporate asset. Off the books, that is.
They’re not found on the balance sheet.
When a company gets bought or sold for way more than its book-value, branding
is what they used to call ‘good-will.’ The main point Mallaby makes is
that the old template of supporting Coca Cola or Nike by vast
advertising campaigns is now vulnerable, as never before, to blogs.
Public opinion, actually, but blogs are how public opinion flashes
across time and space. Make a misstep public-relations wise and the net
will kill you.
The blistering speed with which Mel Gibson was strung-up for his
drunken rant is evidence. Mel dares not lie low. Neither do companies
that abuse customers. Not any more. The old days of painting LEMON across the side of your car are gone.
Which is very powerful and, in its best examples, a shortcut to progress. As Mallaby points out,

has promised to double the efficiency of its vehicle fleet and achieve
a 30 percent cut in its stores’ energy usage. Its motive is not
complicated. Internet-enabled critics have assaulted Wal-Mart, and the
firm’s polling has suggested that 8 percent of shoppers have quit
visiting its outlets because of its stance on social issues. An
environmental makeover was essential to the brand.

The second editorial on WaPo’s pages today outlines the massive
destruction that’s being done by commercial fishermen outside
territorial waters. Outside the waters
usually defined by a 200 mile distance to the nearest land, is pretty
much no-man’s land. It may be subject to international rules and
regulations, but for the most part policing is nonexistent.
‘Fishermen’ is in itself a misnomer, as we think of the word. Fisherman
conjures up visions of two or three hardy souls in a thirty or
forty-foot boat, with families to feed and limited capital as well as
Silvia Earle, marine biologist and the chair for Conservation International in Washington, in her article points out that

trawl gear with names such as “canyon buster” indicate the colossal
scale of the assault and the damage inflicted. In an action akin to
bulldozing forests to catch songbirds and squirrels, nets mounted on
massive rollers are dragged across the seabed, strip-mining everything
in their paths. Sometimes a single trawl tears away as much as 10,000
pounds of sponges, corals, fish and other life from the sea floor,
leaving a stark, sterile undersea desert.

The U.N. Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea has released a report, and that report yaks about the problems being faced and the need for action. Urgent needs and moratoriums are spelled out, as well as critical habitats and conservation.
Earle accurately points out that the United Nations is in a unique
position to act before irreparable damage is done and that the
moratorium is opposed chiefly by a handful of countries with fleets of
very large fishing vessels.
That’s it, Sylvia, case closed. Nothing, absolutely nothing, short
of the United States Navy firing a few shots over the bow, is going to
stop fleets of very large fishing vessels. Very large fishing vessels are very large investments, with very large crews and very large
profits. Today’s fishing fleets are the national equivalent of the
seafaring nations that became world powers off the spice-trade of
centuries ago.
Unless, of course, Sebastian Mallaby is right.
The way to go after the environmental chaos created by canyon buster
ships is to trace down the brand names that benefit from their catch
and get on the net. Not the fish-net, the Internet. In a slightly
different incarnation of follow the money, what we need to do is follow the catch, to see what brands from that catch end up on Aisle 7 of the supermarket chains.

According to Mallaby,
Wendy’s has stopped frying its food in trans fats, which have also been
banished from Oreo cookies and Frito-Lay snacks; General Mills makes
its Cheerios and Wheaties out of whole grain. In all these cases,
companies have responded to public sentiment before regulators
compelled them to do so.

Enter commercial fishermen in Google Blog Search and you’ll come up with 10,056 entries. Wal-Mart
fetches 759,479 individual blogs that mention the merchandizing giant
by name. You can pretty well bet that if a Wal-Mart brand of seafood
traced back to canyon busters and that link was made public, whole fishery practices would change.
Something’s going on here. It seems to me that it may be more powerful than the United Nations.

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