Diageo Day

So the feast of Saint Diageo, Arthur’s Day, is upon us. What started as an event to celebrate the 250th anniversary of an iconic brand has become an annual pseudo-festival. As part of it, Diageo have popular music acts playing in pubs across Dublin, and cheap pints are dispensed, and it is enjoyed immensely by many people.

Some of us however approach it with a bit more caution. Every year I post online about Diageo closing down the Harp Lager brewery in Dundalk with the loss of hundreds of jobs, and sign it “To Arthur!”. This year I also threw in the story about Diageo shamelessly trying to screw over independent punk rock brewers BrewDog. To be honest I mainly do it out of curmudgeonly mischief, but also to make a minor, understated point about the perils of celebrating such a brand too familiarly. I drink Guinness. Not so much as I used to, but I can’t sit here and claim otherwise, but, I’m not a fan of the day or of the parent company. I had no problem with the first event, but its continued presence seems amusing to me. And i’m not alone, as each year passes the chorus of dissenting voices grows louder. People I know who used to argue with me about it are also tired of it.

As is inevitable, there is a backlash to the backlash. A refrain of “stop whining about it, it’s just a marketing event which brands always do, no ones forcing you to attend”. My first retort would be that I guess my problem isn’t actually necessarily with Diageo or its marketing but with its embrace by the public. By turning “Arthur’s Day” into a thing, we’ve aided a massive multinational company turn an advertisement into a legitimate holiday. That is dangerous. It also humanises an entity which acts less than humane. I wonder, would we permit Vodafone to do similar?

The other problem is the inference that “It’s just a brand doing marketing, stop complaining” as if this is something totally natural that we should not question and simply tolerate. This immediately made me think of this famous misattributed-to-Banksy quote (that was actually by Sean Tejaratchi)

Banksy on Advertising

“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are ‘The Advertisers’ and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you noise choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”

I’ve seen comments along the lines of “they are perfectly entitled to do it”. Yes, they are, and we are perfectly entitled to say “no, enough is enough”. If they are entitled to promote it, we are entitled to “bitch about it”. They fill our public space. We are allowed respond.

Finally, there is the line of argument that goes “but! if you complain about this why not complain about {X}!” The inference is that if you don’t like one thing, you must not like ALL THE THINGS. That is the same line of Louise Mensch argument that says “if you criticise capitalism then you cannot engage at all with capitalism even though it completely dominates and permeates all expects of modern society”. It demands that you take your argument to the extreme (where you can conveniently be dismissed as a crackpot). The end result would be that no one would complain about anything. To those people I say: Don’t ever complain about a company, brand, bank or government again.