Island Life by David Slack

Take a load off

A couple of weeks ago, we learned that Donna Awatere-Huata was "likely to be housed in a chalet equipped with her own television and La-Z-Boy armchair". No word, though, on who might have been assigned the task of peeling her grapes.

Then a few days later, we learned that a supervisor in charge of the 111 calls for Wellington Free Ambulance had fallen asleep on the job, sitting in…her La-Z-Boy.

Talk about furniture of notoriety. I don't know when I last saw an advertisement for a La-Z-Boy, and I wonder if they even need to run any. So successful has their marketing been that La-Z-Boy is evidently a byword for all that is pampered and luxurious. You've got yourself a La-Z-Boy, you're ass-deep in the good life.

Ah yes, the good life. Another expression that rolls off the autocue whenever a 60 Minutes reporter goes hunting down some shyster or ratbag like the late unlamented Christopher Skase.

But while his victims begin the long and painful process of piecing their shattered lives back together, Llewellyn is half a world away in Sardinia, living the good life.

Not that you'll see many La-Z-Boy recliner rockers in the home of your average high-net-worth-individual. There was a bit of royalty porn on Prime the other night that took you on a tour of Windsor Castle. We must have seen at least a thousand chairs, and not a La-Z-Boy among them.

So what is it that's imagined to make the La-Z-Boy such an object of envy? I think it's all to do with putting the feet up. This is a right that's earned by the most noble of toilers. At the Auckland Cup each year, they have one sitting there on the podium as a prize for the jockey. The winner gets the cash and the cup, the jockey gets to take a load off. But you have to ride a horse two miles, faster than anyone else, to earn the privilege.

One of the reasons I so enjoy being my own employer is that I quite like putting my feet up at my desk. Especially when I'm on the phone. It was my experience in my younger life as someone else's employee that bosses really don't like that spectacle.

For all that, though, I don't possess a La-Z-Boy and neither do I covet one. I can think of few more homely pieces of furniture. So kudos and mad props and all that to the makers of these things for working their product so deeply into the consumer consciousness.

It is surely a mark of marketing prowess whenever your brand name is deployed in preference to the generic, and it's often instructive to see the media making that preference.

For example, in the news reports you arrive at court in your "BMW", otherwise you arrive at court in your "car." You never arrive in your "Hyundai".

All manner of news stories get these little tangential status labels dropped into them, and it's not only a matter of brands.

If you're an attractive young woman who falls victim to a crime, that fact is scrupulously mentioned in every report. The appearance of other victims doesn't seem to rate the same pertinence. And then there's the matter of the victim's vocation. Model, prostitute, or anything else with sexual overtone, you'll hear about it. If they're a claims administrator, well…what's that got to do with it?

I've been thinking about all this since I read a couple of days ago that our venerable advertising man of letters Kevin Roberts has been mentioned in War on Terror dispatches this week.

According to the marketing magazine Brandweek he was invited by the United States Department of Defence to address various "US defence intelligence agencies" at a conference in New York earlier this year.

In his speech, "Loyal Beyond Reason", he reportedly recommended that the war on terror might be more productively styled "the Fight for a Better World".

His theme, which was apparently derived from his book, Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands was that America had to change the way potential terrorists feel emotionally about the US, and that the current way American officials describe the war is hurting, not helping, matters. "The War on Terror doesn't have a lot of positive equity going for it," he told them.

Well, yes. Where would we be without positive equity? Kevin, the fact that Donald Rumsfeld subsequently deployed the phrase, "the global struggle against violent extremism", to wide ridicule should not discourage you. He didn't use the exact phrase and that's what made all the difference.

Mark Twain was right on the money:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Stick to your guns, Kev, I say. Brand power is strong, and clearly strong enough to corrode the clear thinking of reporters. If Rummy would only use the words the way you suggested them, we could begin the journey towards the sunlit uplands of peace and harmony.

Just say the words, Mr Secretary and the Fight for a Better World will join its rightful place in the pantheon alongside BMW, La-Z-Boy and prostitute.