In January there was a discussion in Iceland about whether H&M would set up shop in Reykjavík or not. Here are some thoughts.
Let’s start with an excerpt from a recent Financial Times column: “Last week, for the first time ever, the mob on Twitter and Facebook forced the management of a big company into defeat. This victory of democracy over autocracy was scored over something people feel strongly about: whether three letters belong inside or outside a box.
For the past 20 years, the letters G-A-P have resided in a dark blue square, but two weeks ago the management of the clothing company announced that the letters had escaped and that a smaller blue square would henceforth sit above the P. All hell then broke loose. Thousands of people protested online and, a week later, Gap backed down. The big box was going to stay.” (‘Listening To Customers Can Be Bad Business’ – Lucy Kellaway)
Note that the opposing sides are “the management” vs. “the mob” (GAP is an “autocracy” where the workers are irrelevant).
GAP is not the only company doing this: Starbucks is deleting the words “Starbucks” and “coffee” from its logo. When the going gets tough, the tough change their name to “going”.
In a similar vein, an infamous debt collecting firm in Iceland, Intrum, has changed its name to “Motus”. According to a spokesperson, this is done (my paraphrase) “to ensure the company’s independence and efficiency going forward to be able to meet the needs of the market at each time.” Whatever that means, it cannot be done with the same old name (though Motus will supposedly do its best to associate itself with the old name, let’s see how that goes).
Alex Carey (‘Taking the Risk out of Democracy’, 1995), citing a study, lists some “Business Strategies” to be used if a company is doing poorly:
“1. Do not change performance, but change public perception of business performance through education and information.
2. If changes in public perception are not possible, change the symbols used to describe business performance, thereby making it congruent with public perception. Note that no change in actual performance is called for.
3. In case both (1) and (2) are ineffective, bring about changes in business performance, thereby closely matching it with society’s expectations.”
Sidenote: Kellaway thinks that “when a company panics and surrenders”, as in GAP’s case, it is “not progress”. “It is feeble.” One is reminded of Chomsky comparing governments to corporations (which he often calls totalitarian institutions): “The government has a defect: it’s potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect. They are pure tyrannies.” One person’s tyranny is another’s autocracy.
In January, it was also announced that a Chinese company, Blue Star, had acquired a Norwegian company, Orkla, that runs a factory at Grundartangi. It is reported that Orkla’s owners will be paid handsomely for the company. Not too long ago, people were wondering whether they wanted the Chinese investing in Iceland. Well, this announcement renders any such discussion irrelevant (I suppose one can be for the Chinese or against Grundartangi, if we keep to the common standard of discussion in this country).
Who knows. Maybe we’ll get our precious H&M. If they are “feeble” enough, we might have a say in how they use symbols “to describe business performance”. Then the Chinese might acquire H&M and get a bit of smelting going downtown. By then, I will hopefully have moved to Mallorca, where (if Halldór Laxness has his facts straight) they’re not at all stingy with their rum.