I think we'd prefer companies with a sense of humour

One of the UK's favourite advertising campaigns is that used by Marmite. For those not from the UK, Marmite is one of the most ingenious products ever. Beer production leaves behind a brown sludge of yeast remains and other good stuff. Most would throw this away, or at best use it as fertiliser. But someone had the idea of turning it into a spread to be put on toast and the like. This is Marmite or in Australia, (though they would claim their version is much better) its competitor Vegemite.

Marmite is one of those things you love or hate (I'm in the hate camp), so much so that it has become something of an adjective - if you describe something as marmite, it's something that polarizes opinion. Now the clever thing about the ad campaign is that Marmite's makers picked up on this and run ads in which some people find their product absolutely disgusting. This gained them a lot of admiration because it seems to show a genuine sense of humour. They can laugh at the adverse reaction to their own product. This ability to share a joke about your product is considered a good thing, at least in the UK.

In other companies, however, this ability is profoundly absent. Many, particularly dare I say US companies, are entirely po-faced about their product. I have never seen a better example than Apple's reaction to the iPood. Apparently an Australian company makes rather dinky (and stylish) little shovels for disposing of your, ahem, bodily waste while camping. They came up with the very witty name iPood for this product. But low and behold, the Apple lawyers dumped a ton of bricks on them from a great height (as it were). And now the Perth company Sea to Summit are renaming their product the Pocket Trowel.

Thanks, Apple, for taking a wonderful joke and turning it sour. I suppose the only consolation is that Sea to Summit will have got a lot of publicity out of this. We now all know where to turn when we need to shovel... IT company press releases.

Thanks to the Register for alerting me to this story


  1. I love Marmite. It is a relic of Empire. It was vital when doing fieldwork in Kenya because you could leave it hanging around in the tropical heat and nothing would eat it - not even decay bacteria or fungi - so it never went 'off'. - and it was an excellent source of salt and vitamin B. I think that Englishmen (or white Kenyans, the scions of Empire) are the only forms of life capable of eating it.


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