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Home > Culture and Society

Ellen MacArthur: Giant advert returns triumphant

11 February 2005

It's hard to know what to make of Ellen MacArthur's record-breaking circumnavigational triumph. On the one hand, all she's really managed to do is subject herself to unnecessary misery and hardship. If we at TFT decided to, say, be welded inside an oil drum full of piss for six weeks, would we expect plaudits when we emerged?

Not really. On the other hand, it seems churlish to unfavourably compare her with less high-tech yachtspeople, who subjected themselves not only to unnecessary misery and hardship but also a much higher chance of being unnecessarily dead. It's like asking 'Who was best at suffering?' out of Christ and Sisyphus. (We'd say Sisyphus because saving mankind and sitting at God's right hand for all eternity sort of makes the Crucifixion all worthwhile.)

But Ellen MacArthur differs from Christ and Sisyphus in that she had massive corporate sponsorship from B&Q. Which is somehow unfair because the crucifixion not only involved wood and nails, but also, in dragging the cross to Calvary, 'do-it-yourself'. Imagine that - instead of a sneery sign saying 'King of the Jews' on the cross, Jesus could have had 'You can do it if you B&Q it'.

Imagine. Just imagine.

But to return to the real world, MacArthur's trip inadvertently highlighted the sheer extent to which corporate PR shit has infected real life. In a statement on B&Q's website we are informed:

'The sponsorship of Ellen is a real asset to B&Q as she fits the 'You Can Do It' brand perfectly.'

Hmm. Actually, 'sponsorship' is just a roundabout way of saying 'advertising'. Ellen MacArthur basically circumnavigated the globe in a giant advert. On one level, corporate sponsorship is a good thing, because it provides funding that probably wouldn't otherwise have existed. But there's still something cheapening about being constantly reminded of brands in every walk of life.

But the real horror here, amply demonstrated by B&Q's statement, is the way we're being expected to believe in a plethora of nonsense statements.

According to B&Q, MacArthur 'demonstrates amazing 'can do' spirit
in the challenges she sets herself. She's the embodiment of diy (sic) - not just in the way that she sails solo but also in the way she has to tackle on-board maintenance and repairs during a challenge.'

Yes, solo sailing is JUST like DIY. In the same way squirrels are like space shuttles.

David Roth, B&Q Marketing Director, goes on to say: 'It couldn't be better than having Ellen as our global ambassador as she sails around the world.'

'Global ambassador'? This is a DIY chain, not the United Nations.

Roth continues: 'Anyone who comes into contact with Ellen knows how much she inspires people, whether they work for B&Q, whether they're keen sports enthusiasts or the person on the street.'

OK, we concede that Ellen MacArthur does inspire people. But not all people. She bores some people, ie. us. It's also a bit of an odd claim that B&Q staff are likely to be particularly inspired, just because their marketing bods at head office have secured a choice sponsorship deal. And imagine the B&Q employee who is a keen sports enthusiast and happens to be standing on the street. He must be cock-a-hoop!

Can you imagine if you made these bizarre statements in everyday life? People would soon think you were mental if you started saying things like:

'My foot is a perfect fit with my shoe - and all thanks to the craftsmanship of Nike. If my trainers represent one thing, it's that sports footwear is no longer confined to the playing field. It's a message we can all learn from - irrespective of class, creed or colour.'

('He's off again,' your friends and co-workers would say, before beating you soundly with the nearest hard object to hand.)

The problem seems to be that *everyone* is getting in on this kind of nonsense. Readers of Private Eye will have noticed that Pseuds Corner, previously devoted mainly to the ramblings of arty types in the Sunday supps, now includes Pseud's Corporate. It includes choice bits of pretension from companies and local authorities, but it barely needs to be spotted by Eye readers because this rubbish can now be found attached, remora-like, to almost any organisation.

The problem is that as more of this junk thought is produced, the more it becomes normalised. Much has been written about modern society's love of jargon and buzzwords, but, boy, do people love meaningless concepts too.

On this note, perhaps the last word should go to B&Q, which insightfully points out:

'B&Q's own brand power tools from the Performance Power range were used to build the B&Q trimaran. This has proven that the tools have been challenged to extreme limits and demonstrates to our customers that if they can help protect the B&Q trimaran against the dramas of the high seas, they can be trusted to improve the comfort of their homes!'


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