COLUMN: June 27, 2013

I STOOD in front of the chiller cabinet and sighed. I wanted a carbonated beverage, but there was far too much choice. How was I supposed to decide between the people’s names printed on the side of the bottles?

Obviously it is a marketing ploy – and to some extent it’s worked because here I am devoting space on the media outlet of your choice to talking about it – but the motive behind it baffles me.

For all I can see is that it divides the fizzy pop company’s customers in an unnecessary way. For there are three types of people in this world.

Firstly, there are the people who just pick up a bottle and walk away, giving the matter of the name printed on the side no thought at all.

These are the worst people in the world. These are the people who don’t care which government is in power “because they’re all the same”.

The people who don’t have books in their houses.

The people who will sit in the seat above the driver on the bus just because it was the first seat they saw when they walked upstairs, and for no other reason.

Secondly, there are the people who will look for a specific name among the bottles in the chiller cabinet and if they do not find it will go to another shop and another, until they find the elusive bottle with the name Veruca on it.

These people are mostly harmless – and at least they care – but I don’t think I’d like to be stuck next to them at a parents’ evening, or paired up with them in an ice-breaking session at the beginning of a seminar in Harrogate.

Thirdly, there are the people who don’t want the people around them to judge them, based on the name they choose.

Those who will look for the most neutral name they can find to avoid revealing their social class or anything else about themselves.
People who would die if they believed strangers in a Tesco Express thought they knew somebody called Jayde-Marie, Kyle or Hilary.

They are the best, most well-adjusted, and, I have to say, most sexually attractive sort of people.

I am happy to admit I am in Category 3.

But it seems to me that there is a reduced likelihood that people in the second and third camps will buy a bottle of the manufacturer’s fizzy pop on a specific occasion, because they cannot find a suitable name.

And that was the position in which I found myself at the chiller cabinet. I didn’t fancy any of the names presented to me. I looked hard, trying to find a Michael or a Claire, the sort of name which, if you said you’d given it to your child, would make normal people think, “Ah, that’s nice”, and not, “Good grief, that child will be an adult one day and walking around with that name. This is a borderline social services job”.

But I could not see a decent, unremarkable name among the bottles.

And then I became aware of the people standing just behind me.

They were waiting for me to make my decision. And I was paralysed. I had been there too long. If I picked a bottle at random, the people behind me would assume I were a Category 2 customer who had been specifically looking for that bottle, like an Eddie Stobart lorry spotter.

I would be judged as wanting on several levels. What could I do , , , ?

It occurred to me afterwards that there could be only one reason for the frankly destructive naming of bottles. And this is it . . .

A 7am MEETING BETWEEN THE MD OF THE SMASHING BEVERAGE Co. AND FIGGIS AT AN AIRCRAFT HANGAR SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH-EAST OF ENGLAND.
MD: Figgis, we’re getting out of the fizzy drink game.
FIGGIS: But why?
MD: They’re awful for teeth. I heard only last week that a man in his early 40s broke an actual molar on a soft onion ring.
FIGGIS: That’s ridiculous and also pathetic.
MD: Nevertheless, we have to shut down production.
FIGGIS: We can’t! We have contracts with the bottling plants. We’ll be ruined.
MD: Gah! All right, then we must make people much less inclined to drink our beverages of doom. Ideas?
FIGGIS: How about we print names on the sides of bottles, and use people’s own inherent prejudices to prevent them from buying individual bottles?
MD: Brilliant. Get to it.
FIGGIS: Just one question – why are we meeting in a hangar at 7am?
MD: Been watching The Apprentice, innit?

Back at the chiller cabinet, I found the solution. I scrabbled among the bottles and found one labelled “Drink with friends”.

I walked away, well aware that the people behind me were thinking: “Friends? A likely story.”

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