Holding my MP to account on the Recall issue

I don’t tend to get involved in direct democracy very much but I think the issue of recalling MPs is important. In the modern slacktivist style, I picked up and sent a templated 38Degrees letter to my MP, Roger Godsiff. I must confess I know nothing about him and his general political outlook. It may be that we agree on some things, probably not all. I probably agree with him on more than I would typically agree with Zac Goldsmith – but I believe strongly in Zac Goldsmith’s amendments to the recall bill. They strike me as reasonable including sensible safeguards and as being completely democratic which the current proposed bill certainly is not. You can read about Goldsmith’s tabled amendments here – I think you will find them hard to disagree with.

The Rt. Hon. Mr Godsiff MP replied to with a mail  I suspect was every bit as templated as my own. I can’t really blame him for that given I’d not made the effort to author something unique myself. What I can blame him for is the fact that his letter was patronising and deflective. It talked about the complexity of the issue but dealt with none of it. Worst of all, it failed to tackle the key issue at hand – that what this fundamentally comes down to is whether you believe the people are trustworthy enough to decide the circumstances in which their representative should be recalled or whether the circumstances within which this is acceptable should be determined by the MPs themselves. Or, it did tackle it in a way, by suggesting lots of occasions where he felt it might be dangerous to allow people the power of recall – that is, situations where he disagreed with the reasons he ascribed the people to give.

This is important so I felt I would share my arguments. I would also share Mr Godsiff’s note, but it does have a confidentiality clause in the disclaimer at its foot so I won’t share it in the interests of respecting that.

Mr Godsiff,

Thank you for kindly for your reply but I do not find that your response adequately deals with the matter at hand, rather it deals in a series of irrelevant deflections related to the US system.
The fundamental question is whether you believe that, in a democracy, the people should have the power to hold their elected representative to account and remove them from office where the people believe they are no longer fit to hold that office. Mr Goldsmith’s proposed amendments are intended to ensure it is up to the people to decide what being no longer fit for office means, not that the very people supposedly being held to account limit this in such a narrow way as to be meaningless and to return no power at all to the people.
Let me deal with each or your deflections in turn.
  • No other European countries offer similar powers – I see no relevance for this point whatsoever. Just because democracy is deficient in comparable nations and they have a similarly entrenched political elite that does not want to hand power to its people, does not mean that we should follow that lead.
  • Recall in California – the implication here seems to be that you don’t believe the people of California were well enough informed to decide whether or not their Governor was at fault in his managing of the state’s energy prices. That they were too stupid to identify the real issue at hand and took it out on a powerless Governor. Rank elitism. Do you not see that what you think about the specific policy issue here is not the question? The question is not whether or not you feel Mr Gray Davis had erred sufficiently from his duty as to be recalled, the question is whether a sufficient proportion of the Californian electorate felt that he had.
  • Issues of moral/personal standing – just as I do not personally believe that energy companies should ride roughshod over people and those in public office seeking to prevent that should be held to some account, nor do I believe that an affair is sensible reason to recall an MP. But, again, this misses the point – should a reasonable proportion of the electorate (and I believe the proportions in Mr Goldsmith’s amendments are reasonable) be sufficiently offended or morally outraged by the behaviours of their representative as to believe they can no longer properly represent them, then yes, why should they not be recalled?
  • Special interest groups – I’m starting to feel a little like a broken record here, but here goes. I couldn’t have less sympathy for the views of America’s religious right, but again, whether I agree with them or not (or whether you do) is separate to the issue at hand. Campaigning organisations have every right to try to push for recall ballots – but Mr Goldsmith’s amendments actually make it less likely that minority interests such as these would be able to push through a recall because of 20% threshold to trigger a referendum and the requirement for a majority of the electorate to vote for recall in that referendum. Yes, they may be able to trigger the 5% of of the electorate required to create a recall petition in the first place – but to even make the 20% threshold at the next level seems unlikely for most minority groups. If they can achieve the threshold and can then win the subsequent election then, no matter how abhorrent you or I think their views, they are entitled to recall their representative and it’s clearly unfair to call them a minority group. That, surely, is the very essence of a properly functioning democracy.
So, I agree that it is a more complex issue than is typically being portrayed, but I don’t accept that your response deals with that complexity, it seeks to deflect from it. In your next reply, I’d appreciate it if you could deal explicitly with the following areas:
  • Why is it that you apparently believe the people of your constituency are not equipped to decide for themselves whether their representative should be recalled and that it is better for Westminster to decide a narrow set of criteria within which it is acceptable for recall to happen?
  • Do you agree that the criteria set out in the bill are correct? My view is that the only criterion should be the view of the people, that’s democracy. You may not be willing to go that far, but if you at least believe the current criteria laid out are too narrow – what, in your view, should they be?
  • Do you agree that, once these criteria for recall decided by Westminster are met, a by-election should be triggered on the basis of a petition signed by just 10% of the electorate, a figure so low that it is hard to conceive a circumstance where it will not be achieved? If you don’t believe this is an appropriate proportion then what level would you set it at?
  • Do you agree with me that is preferable that any system of recall should insist that a majority of the electorate in that constituency have the final say on whether an MP is recalled or not?
  • Do you agree with me that the checks and balances set out in Mr Goldsmith’s proposed amendments are sufficient that opportunistic, frivolous or vexatious petitions for recall are unlikely to pass even the first stage requiring 5% of the electorate to be petitioned, almost certain to fail at the second stage where 20% is required and would without question fail to win a majority in a recall referendum? If you feel these checks and balances are insufficient and would like to argue for the existing bill or something different, I’d be interested to hear your view.
This is a complex issue – but fundamentally it comes down to one thing –  do you trust the electorate to decide for themselves whether an MP should be recalled or do you believe MPs themselves should dictate the circumstances within which that is seen to be appropriate.
I look forward to your reply.
Sincerely,
Andrew Jerina

Google Search: The Reunion

This Indian ad from Google is REALLY good. Parts of it are in Hindi but you won’t have any trouble understanding what’s going on provided you’re familiar with India’s partition.

This is a fantastically emotive subject, but I think Google treat it with respect here. And as a brand integration case study it’s fabulous. Google has a good track record for making emotionally resonant ads, Dear Hollie perhaps being the best known example. But for me, they’ve often tried to cram too much in, tried too hard to say WE’RE GOOGLE AND WE DO EVERYTING – gmail, Youtube, Chrome, search etc. This makes the ads feel crowded and you’re not really sure what they’re for or what they’re trying to say about why each tool is important to your life. In focussing on search here there is much greater clarity around the brand’s involvement in the story and, perhaps paradoxically, by talking about one thing rather than everything that idea of Google penetrating all aspects of our lives comes through much more cleanly.

Google search is absolutely integral to the story here. In my day job, we have always said that if you can describe what happens in the ad in a sentence without mentioning the brand then it is probably not well branded. I think you’d struggle to do that here.

Of course, it’s 3 and a half minutes long so there’s plenty of space for the story here and perhaps it seems odd to be congratulating such a long ad on its focus. But it also had a big subject to deal with in a respectful way. It achieves that rare thing of being a powerful film in its own right, but still having the brand at its heart in a way that does nothing to cheapen the subject matter.

I’m also certain shorter versions are possible and that this story can be developed across a longer campaign – perhaps bringing in other elements of Google’s portfolio as they go.

I believe Ogilvy India are the people to whom the credit belongs.

David Bailey on Advertising

Over on my new blog, Life Lessons from Desert Island Discs, I have just written my second proper entry on the photographer David Bailey. Bailey has also successfully directed a number of ads, including the classic one for Greenpeace shown above. In his Desert Island Discs, he also reflects a little on advertising. So to cross promote two of my blogs and also because what he says is interesting but not really an important lesson on life, I thought I’d share what he says about ads (specifically, how directing them is different from shooting stills) with you all here.

In a way it’s a luxury. Most of my life has been spent trying to tell a story in a 125th of a second so 30 seconds is quite a luxury and 60 seconds feels like War and Peace to me. Being a still photographer is a bit like being a sniper up a tree, all alone, very lonely. Being a director is a bit like being a General – with all the people around you as catalysts trying to bring things together.

So, next time you think you’re having a hard time squeezing it all into 30 seconds, think of that lonely sniper in a tree, trying to squeeze the trigger on the right 125th of a second.

Big Mac – Think with your mouth

I’m a Burger King man myself, I hate Big Macs, disgusting sauce. I was quite partial to a Chicken Maharajah Mac during my spell in the colonies, but I didn’t have Burger King to fall back on there. I was recently rather critical of one of their recent UK efforts so by way of redressing the balance I’d like to say that I really like these new Big Mac ads from over in that America.

An iconic product given the treatment it deserves – space to speak for itself and be the hero. You don’t need to make claims about something like the Big Mac (if you do about very much at all.) You just need to celebrate it in an interesting way. Also, 15 seconds each. Brilliant. You don’t need 90 seconds to make interesting ads. Don’t let anyone tell you that you do. Not to say, of course, that you can’t also make blinding long ads. Horses for courses (beef/horse substitution pun entirely intended.)

They put me in mind of MTV idents from back in the days when the ‘M’ in MTV actually meant something. A cynic might add that ‘Think with your mouth’ is a sensible way for McDonald’s to go given that thinking with anything else would lead you to avoid Big Macs altogether, but obviously I would never say such a thing.

The murder of a 16 year old girl

The murder of a 16 year old girl, apparently unprovoked, should be equally affecting regardless of the circumstance. The truth is, that’s not the case. Today was a stark reminder to me of how locally our lives are lived. Regardless of how worldly you believe your outlook to be, how well travelled you believe you are – events near home, in places you have lived your own life, shake you in a way that any number of horrors elsewhere in the world do not. This isn’t to say horrors further afield are not upsetting, tragic or infuriating, they very often are, but they are necessarily more abstract than events occuring in your immediate frame of experience. Emotionally distant as much as geographically.

Today, Christina Edkins was stabbed to death on a number 9 bus on the Hagley Road near the centre of Birmingham. I did not know her, but I feel strangely like I did.

I grew up in Halesowen. The number 9 was my bus route. Into Halesowen from our house on the Abbeyfields or up Manor Lane to friends houses at first. As I got older into and out of Birmingham for work and for play. I must have ridden this bus route hundreds of times and I would have ridden it most frequently when I was Christine’s age. We all know there are bus routes best avoided (if you are fortunate enough to have the choice), whilst it has its share of unusual characters as all routes do, the 9 is not one of them. Sadness for those close to Christina was mixed with no little shock.

Later the news emerged that Christina was on her way to school at Leasowes High School. Leasowes was my school. I am now too far removed  from the school and the community around it to know her, her friends or her family. But 15 years ago I would have done. 15 years ago she would have been my classmate. We may not have been friends, but we would have been classmates. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to see a young life of your acquaintance snatched away so viciously when you too are so very young. I think back to my classmates, I imagine how each would have reacted to a death of one of us, how each would have coped. Some would pretend they weren’t but I can’t think of anyone who would not have been affected. Many would have been affected so deeply that their whole life’s course may change.

The school made statements of condolence to the family and talked of support offered to the pupils. Eloquently leading the school response was the Head Teacher, Neil Shaw. Mr Shaw was my English teacher. If you are a regular reader of this blog you presumably believe there is at least some small merit in my writing. That is due, in no small measure, to Mr Shaw’s teaching. He was my favourite and best teacher. No Head Teacher should have to deal with this but few could be better equipped to do so. It is a strange and moving thing to see a man who so inspired you in the words of Heaney and Shakespeare delivering, with calm solemnity, such simple but difficult words of condolence.

I don’t visit Halesowen much these days. My parents have moved away. But by coincidence I was going there today to visit a friend, a former classmate, who was recently run off his bike not all that far from the school. I drove there in the pounding rain listening to the latest news. The suspected killer had been arrested. To get to my friends house I had to drive up Kent Road past the school. The rain still poured as I drove past the huddle of young figures  stood in the dark outside the firmly-closed school gates, hoods up to protect from the rain and shield from the world’s harshness. Leaving flowers,  messages, reading what others had written, comforting each other. 15 years ago, we could have been stood there.

I’m not sure why I’m writing this really. I’m certainly not trying to make this about me. I think what I’m trying to say is that every young person who is stabbed, assaulted, shot, glassed, bottled, raped – whatever, is on somebody’s childhood bus route. Somebody’s English teacher is now the Head and has to try and comfort the family and the kids. And of course, most important of all, they are somebody’s daughter, sister, niece, granddaughter. They will never have the chance to be someone’s mother or grandmother.

Whilst it might not be possible to feel as deeply about deaths such as this when they are further from home, we should at the very least try and remember that every single one is close to home for somebody. Indeed, for many.

My thoughts tonight are with all those who knew Christine and will miss her.

The Andrex Puppy wants to know how you wipe your arse

So, there’s this. An ad about how people wipe their arses in which you are asked to submit a vote to a cuddly advertising icon stating how you, the viewer, prefer to wipe your own arse. My initial reaction to this was the same combination of shock and despair that you are probably feeling now if it’s the first time you have seen it – this excellent take down in The Vice about sums most of that up. But, for me, this ad was also revelatory. I hadn’t the slightest conception that anyone would ever do anything other than fold. If an Englishman’s home is his castle, his toilet is the Keep, where none shall surely pass except in the very gravest of circumstances. Our reservedness ensures that we keep life’s great pleasures such as having a lovely poo tightly locked away from any conversation. For the most part, that’s probably for the best but it has meant that I have spent my 31 years and some months entirely in the dark about “scrunching”. Scrunchies are 90s female hair accessories, not bum-wiping material.

I am a scruffy man. I do not iron my clothes, my house is fairly untidy – but I cannot imagine for a moment wiping my arse with a randomly scrunched up ball of toilet paper. The uneven surface, the variable thickness and the lack of a uniform size and shape seem to carry with them all kinds of risks that I prefer not to even countenance, let alone bring into play.

In the uncomfortable afterglow of this revelatory experience I thought I would open The Keep to my colleagues and explore further (I don’t mean I actually invited them into my bog, I just decided to discuss it with them.) The findings were really quite interesting (and of course entirely unscientific.) There does not seem to be a gender bias – at first it seemed girls were (unexpectedly? I don’t know) more likely to scrunch, but the more we asked it seemed to be about 50/50. More of my male colleagues were folders, but not to a degree sufficient to deduce a genuine skew given the sample size involved. Personality and outward physical appearance also seemed to be poor indicators. You might expect the scruffy buggers such as I (there are plenty of us in the Global team, we don’t get let out in public much so we can let ourselves go) to over-index on scrunching but they were as likely to be neat, tidy folders in the privacy of the smallest room in the house as anyone. Those with pristine, matching houses who iron their bed linen could very well be untidy (disgusting and risky in my view) scrunchers. There were some mad bastards who would do either, apparently willy-nilly with no clear criteria as to when they would change tack.

I was greatly relieved to discover that my wonderful girlfriend is also a folder, hopefully guaranteeing that our future children will also fold. But is there any guarantee? There seems to be no gender or personality pattern to all this. Who’s to say whether there’s anything genetic? But I can only hope that the combination of nature and nurture will see my unborn children right.

So, on reflection, maybe Kimberley Clark are on to something here. Maybe they will breakthrough our reticence to talk about wiping turd from our anuses and get us all debating the relative merits of the two leading approaches. Maybe people will vote in their droves. Maybe folders will ally with folders and seek to bring down the despicable practice of scrunching? Maybe all these years of toilet roll being a dull, low-interest category are over. I think there is more to talk about – optimum number of sheets, softness, quilted versus smooth, that tracing paper stuff from primary school. LET’S ALL ENGAGE AT INTERACT ON THE SUBJECT OF BOG ROLL.

Or, you know, maybe not.

“Nah, yer alright”, McDonald’s

I don’t have a TV in my house, or at least not one connected to any TV service, so it’s usually via twitter or some other means that I come across new ads. That does tend to mean that I only see ads that are either brilliant or terrible as these tend to be the ones people tweet about online. Last night, however, I tuned in to some live TV on TVCatchup, the UK’s live streaming service for all free-to-air channels. Between the endless re-runs of Big Bang Theory I came across this ad for McDonald’s which doesn’t really fall into either of those categories. It certainly isn’t terrible, but it did annoy me (in fairness to McDonald’s, this isn’t hard to achieve.)

Having never seen it before I didn’t know what brand it was for to begin with. I think the narrative is good, the family dynamic portrayed is familiar to many and the rainy northern setting is well observed. The family members are all portrayed well. You get a good feel for the friction. From the perspective of advertising craft  it is all very nicely put together.

Then we come to McDonald’s role in all of this. This is the point at which I get annoyed. The idea of McDonald’s bringing people together is a perfectly reasonable one, not an especially original platform for a brand, but reasonable nonetheless. But what this ad boils down to to me is, if you’re having family problems, buy your kids a Big Mac and everything will be ok. That is, of course, an over simplification but it’s certainly what’s at the nub. You don’t need to actually tackle difficult family tensions, you can just bribe your kids’ (or step-kids’) into your affections by taking them to McDonald’s. Really, McDonald’s? REALLY? That’s the best way you could come up with of demonstrating that McDonald’s is a universal bringer of happiness that we all have in common?

Am I being too harsh? It just feels wrong to me to use this kind of family tension in this way.

Some Ramblings on the Creeping Demise of Things

HMV

I was quite dismissive on twitter of the demise of HMV but I stand by the fact that it was no surprise. Today’s news that Blockbuster is also to go into administration leads me to reflect more widely on things, physical, hold-in-your-hand things. I don’t really have a point to make here, these are just some various thoughts that I haven’t really organised or refined. Feel free to shout them down if they’re nonsensical.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that what I’m about to pontificate on is essentially of little or no importance compared to the 9,000 or so people whose jobs are at risk as a result of these two firms going into administration. This too on the back of the recent Jessops news. That’s what really matters.

That point made, I wasn’t sad to hear about HMV’s likely collapse because to me it has long been dead. It played a pretty significant role in my musical youth, I would often stop at the Pallasades store at the top of the ramp in Birmingham on my way to work at Pizza Hut and stop back in again with my tips on my way home. I used to love the ‘GREATEST EVER SALE’ that happened every year (though was dubious about how it could be greater each year than the last) with its 3 for £10 albums. If I was lucky and I’d made £20 in tips (and not spent it on beer and buckets of chicken wings in the pub) I could get six. The great thing being, after leafing through everything on the offer racks for some time, I would only ever find four or five that I really knew that I wanted. The fifth or the sixth would be a wild card or two. I certainly would have come later to records like Screamadelica and Harvest had it not been for this offer.

I also spent a lot of time in the flagship Oxford Street store when I was a student in London. They actually had a really great vinyl selection at the time. I also recall the first time I stumbled into the Jazz and Blues section on the very top floor. Cordoned off through a glass partition to keep the pop and rock lightweights at bay, it was like visiting a specialist indie shop within the country’s biggest music supermarket. The staff in there (I could probably safely say the guys in there as they were uniformly male) had genuine expertise, they could really tell you which of the myriad Son House or Howlin’ Wolf compilations was the one that you really wanted. People with knowledge should be treasured.

I went into HMV in the Bull Ring at Christmas. I left without buying anything. What music they had was shoe-horned in to the back of the store. Best-selling DVDs were stacked head-high on the floor everywhere you turned. I’m sure there was plenty of staff there whose knowledge should also be treasured, but there was nothing of interest in the store to ask them about. It was Christmas so it was busy, but it was clear that this store was already dead.

In a round about way, this brings me to the first point I want to make about things and that is their intrinsic relationship with people.

People

The thing about actual physical objects is that they rely on people in a large number of ways. Yes, CDs are mass-produced in largely automated factories, but they still have to be made and there are people who have to do that. There is something important about taking one thing, putting it together with something else and producing something new. With music this happens in a number of ways – there’s the actual physical production of the CD or record from the various raw materials but there’s also the combination of that physical object with the recorded sound itself. You can argue the recorded sound (or the words of a book) is what’s really important but there is something about the human role in making these into enduring objects, into things, that is important. You can also create something greater than the recorded sound alone – a record is for playing, but a gatefold sleeve or limited edition white vinyl may have greater meaning than the song alone. A chair is for sitting on, but how does it look in your room?

Once you have made a thing, you have to move it around. People have to do that too. A person has to choose how to display it, how to organise it relative other things (more on this later) and so on. There is skill and knowledge involved in all of this. Knowledge of how best to do it from a functional point of view of navigating the things, but also knowledge of what the things contain and therefore how they should logically be ordered. People interested in the things can pick them up, interact with them, feel them and, importantly, ask other people about them. People may see you picking them up and ask you about them.

Now I recognise that to produce an e-book or a new type of codec for a music file there are people involved, but it’s not the same as physically producing things. I also understand that the reason what I’m listening to on Spotify is pushed to facebook is so that people can interact with that in the same way they might if they were Keith Richards seeing Mick Jagger clutching a load of Blues LP’s on that fateful morning on Dartford station. But I do feel like there’s something missing versus a physical connection between a person and a thing bringing about a connection between someone else who relates to that thing.

Ownership

When you buy a thing, let’s stick to the theme and say it’s a CD from HMV (or even from Amazon for that matter) you take it away and it’s yours to do with as you please. Being overly concerned about your ability to possess things is probably not all that healthy a trait, but it is important to note that many of the substitutes for things are far less ownable. Much has been written about this in the wake of stories like that of a Norwegian woman whose Kindle was wiped for breaching Amazon’s terms and conditions so it’s ground that may not be worth covering again, but suffice it so say that whilst my children will inherit all of my CDs and records, they may well not inherit your iTunes library.

Relationship with other things

First and foremost, physical things take up space. If the number of things we possess declines then the space we have increases. That is potentially a large positive in an increasingly cramped world but let us take an example through to its conclusion just so we can understand the other implications. If you no longer buy or own books, you will no longer need a bookcase. Many bookcases are beautifully crafted, some are just from Ikea. Either way it is likely you have chosen your bookcase(s) to fit in a specific space in your house. It is likely you have positioned them relative to other furniture. It is likely you have sought to match them to other furniture – you may have sought to match other furniture to them. There will be gaps in homes which have for hundreds of years been filled with bookcases. Some homes may even have been designed with spaces for bookcases specifically in mind. Where you place other furniture, even how we build our homes may change as we have fewer physical objects. I am not placing any value judgement on this, I am simply trying to highlight that there is cultural significance to the demise of things beyond simply the thing itself. Things exist in a system in which they are intimately related not just to us as their owners or users but to the other things around them. Culture is liquid and something will expand to fill these gaps, but for now they will exist.

Display

I have heard it said that you should not trust someone whose TV is bigger than their bookcase. Even if you subscribe to such cultural elitism, this is no longer a particularly useful benchmark as many of the most avid readers now have all of their books, not on display but stored neatly in their Kindles. This too is significant. I’m sure I’m not alone in studying the spines of books and CDs in people’s homes and forming judgements on the basis of what I see. I’m sure I’m also not alone in knowing others do this and selecting which books or CDs I might choose to display more prominently in order that people draw the best conclusions about me that I can engineer. Our old friend Baudrillard would call this is the sign value of things – how they relate to one another with in a complex system and in so doing signify certain meanings – one record is not functionally better than an other, but it signifies something very different. But if our things are no longer on display and are no longer directly and physically related to one another then that sign value perhaps becomes harder to determine and harder to form judgements upon. That may well be a good thing, Baudrillard would certainly have thought so – but again, I like the discovery angle that is attached to other people’s things. Discovering new things, but also discovering things about the people who own them. I understand Baudrillard’s argument that this tangled system of objects is one of the things that ensares us into consumerism – but I like things, I like them in and of themselves but I like them as enduring cultural artefacts too.

I have rambled on long enough and as I warned at the outset, I’m not sure I’ve made a coherent point about anything, but I suppose that’s what blogging is all about, isn’t it?

Nike, Lance Armstrong and Moral Relativism

This is a post I wrote for MB’s internal intranet thingy. Whilst I’ve edited it a bit, for that reason it may have a slightly different tone to my usual Research Geek posts and doesn’t have any swearing in it. But I thought, as I’d written it, I might as well share it in case there are any readers out there that still remember this blog exists:

So, Nike have dropped Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong has also resigned as head of his Livestrong Foundation.

I don’t think Nike had much choice here. Not only is Armstrong a proven cheat but it seems he was also involved in encouraging (or “bullying” according to the testimony) his team mates into doing the same. It seems he may well have been encouraging his team mates to “Just Do It” in a rather different context from that which Nike intends. Armstrong and US Postal were far from alone in their cheating though. I saw a stat recently which said that the fastest up the Alpe d’Huez (the Tour de France’s most notorious and difficult climb) this year would have been 41st fastest in 2001. [EDIT, I had read this stat but hadn’t checked, it isn’t quite right, but it’s not far off – the fastest in 2011, Pierre Rolland would have been 40th in 2001.] Doping was rife, it seems Armstrong was just much better at it than everyone else. I suppose there’s some achievement there at least.

There are also those questioning whether Nike knew more than they are letting on at the time and, indeed, whether they were even involved in covering up the doping. Whether that’s true or not, they would not want any further attention drawn to those accusations which would be unavoidable as the story continues to unravel. A continued association with him would have made the regular resurfacing of these allegations unavoidable.

What’s interesting here from a brand point of view is the decision that his reputation is beyond repair and a continued association with Nike could only be negative for the brand. Contrast that with their handling of the Tiger Woods fall from grace and the difference is palpable (they also stuck by Kobe Bryant when he was accused of rape.) Indeed, Nike trumpeted the fact they were sticking with Woods with a controversial ad.

Many commentators thought this was a mistake and was in bad taste and that Woods should be dropped. Until recently, they seemed to be taking the same approach with Armstrong. Indeed, in 2001 they had explicitly supported him in their ‘What am I on?’ ad. At that time I can’t imagine Nike knew what was going on. If they did, it was a spectacularly risky route to go down.

I think there are three important differences between Armstrong and Woods that encouraged Nike to stick with him. First of all, Woods admitted he was in the wrong and apologised. Granted he only did so after being caught out, but at least he did so. Armstrong, as far as I’m aware, has yet to explicitly admit his guilt and apologise for misleading people. Up until very recently he was still clinging to the “never had a negative test” line and pushing that over and over again. Secondly, Woods’ indiscretions were, shall we say, extracurricular – he was not accused of cheating at the sport for which he was famed. Sure, his clean cut image took a big whack, but his achievements as a sportsman, his ability to ‘Just Do It’ was unaffected. Arguably, one of Tiger’s weaknesses as a brand property was that he apparently had no weaknesses – his continued success was machine-like. The rehabilitation after the fall of which Nike was making themselves an explicit part could make the partnership stronger, the Tiger was human after all. And that brings me to the third difference, that Woods is still playing and still at the top of the game. Of course, it’s a long while since he’s won a major and he doesn’t dominate the sport as he did before, but he’s still easily its biggest name. Perhaps this, in part, motivated Armstrong’s most recent comeback?

All of this raises an issue of moral relativism for brands – when is an indiscretion sufficient to cut your ties with a celebrity? Is an indiscretion against your sport really a worse thing than one against your wife? Morally, of course not. Do I care about that one way or the other, or am I simply worried about the continuing credibility of a celebrity to endorse my brand? I suspect the latter is true, though few would admit it. There is no moral judgement, simply a brand value judgement. For many brands, their values would determine that the call may be seen from outside as having been made on moral grounds but the cynic in me suspects that, in reality, that’s not the case.

I was dubious about Nike’s strategy with Woods. I didn’t like the way is father was used in the ad above. But in the long term I think they were right to stick with him. I think brands are usually too quick to pull the trigger when their endorsers fall from grace. Celebrities are human. Providing they acknowledge their mistakes and apologise in an appropriate way, they can often come back stronger. But you do need to be brave to stick by them.