21 June 2013

Coco Pops and contemporary culture

On Triple R FM's Breakfasters this morning, Stew Farrell was lightly ridiculing a newspaper story about advertising targeted to children when something curious happened. His co-presenters, Fee B-Squared and Lorin Clarke, seemed to become quite uncomfortable at Stew's repeated naming of the breakfast cereal brand Coco Pops (which was the subject of the story) and effectively truncated the discussion, even though it was absolutely clear that he was responding to a news item and this was in no way a case of "cash for comment".

The idea that mentioning brand names is somehow unpleasant or distasteful in non-commercial media is quite widespread. I've written here before about the ABC's unworkable and, at times, hypocritical "no brands" policy. But I haven't previously detected the same attitude among public broadcasters.

Let's be sensible about this: brands are a cultural reality. Like it or not, brands are one of the ways in which we make sense of contemporary Western life. It's almost impossible to discuss anything important or meaningful in our lives without mentioning a brand or, usually, numerous brands. Our memories are often linked to, and activated by, brands, brand names and advertising jingles. We don't do it consciously and we certainly don't do it in expectation of a commercial reward. Notwithstanding often valid critiques in works like "No Logo", brands are here to stay.

And just because it's a breakfast cereal or an unhealthy product doesn't mean a brand is unworthy of discussion on public radio. 3CR's Health Show was very actively involved in fighting - and ending - Marlboro's sponsorship of the Australian Open Tennis Championships in the early 1980s.

After all, Triple R is a brand, too. Its pivotal role in Melbourne culture over nearly 40 years is inextricably linked to numerous commercial brands: music venues, record labels, bands, festivals, cafes, TV shows. Silencing brands would be doing a disservice to the culture of the city Triple R serves so well.

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