Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dickhead Smith

Every country has “colourful” characters, folks who say outrageous, over-the-top things and sometimes get in trouble for it. Often these irascible eccentrics are strangely endearing, other times just strange. But sometimes they also go too far.

One of Australia’s many such people is Dick Smith, who founded the eponymous electronics store chain in Australia (and later New Zealand). He’s been an adventurer, sometime activist on somewhat quixotic campaigns and, well, colourful.

He sold the chain of stores that bears his name some 30 years ago. Nowadays, he has Dick Smith Foods a company he founded to produce “iconic” Australian food products in Australia after the brands had been acquired by foreign—usually American—conglomerates.

One of the products, “Ozemite”, is a version of Australian standard Vegemite, now owned by USA’s Kraft Foods. But his chutzpah and cheek has gotten him into trouble. In 2003. Arnott’s Biscuits (owned by USA’s Campbell Soup Company) sued Smith because his “Temptin” chocolate biscuits, they said, “diluted” their brand “Tim Tam”, in part because the packaging was too similar. An out of court settlement resulted in Smith making the “p” in the name bigger—and hiring a member of the Arnott’s family to appear in one of his commercials for “Temptins”.

Now, Smith is in trouble again. Wattie’s (owned by USA’s H.J. Heinz Foods) is threatening to sue Smith over his labelling of tinned beetroot (what Americans call beets). The labels say: "When American-owned Heinz decided to move its beetroot processing facility from Australia to New Zealand causing hundreds of lost jobs, we decided enough is enough. So we are fighting back against poor quality imported product."

Heinz says that it’s not true that there were “hundreds of lost jobs” and took exception to Smith’s characterising New Zealand produce as “poor quality”. You’d think Kiwis would object to that characterisation as well, but most probably didn’t even know the corporate intrigue was going on.

Until today.

Today it was reported that Dick Smith lashed out at Heinz AND New Zealand. NewstalkZB reported Smith said:
"New Zealand beetroot—I mean what would the New Zealanders know about beetroot? They're bloody hopeless at everything. We've got more immigrants coming here than ever before because they don't like the taste of their own food."
Smith is a showman, like the old-time carnival barker, well-known for his stunts and practical jokes. Maybe he said such outrageous things simply to get attention for himself. Or, maybe he’s just a dickhead. Whatever the case may be, he should apologise to New Zealand.

I get that he’s built a business model on attacking the foreign ownership of food products (for which I have great sympathy), and also that his whole shtick is that Australia is better than any other country in the world. But his fight is with multinationals, not New Zealanders, and when he attacked hard-working Kiwi farmers to score political points against those multinationals, he went too far.

So I decided I won’t shop at any Dick Smith store in New Zealand until the man Dick Smith apologises. Yes, I know that he has no connection to the stores, but they still bear his name. Maybe if the retailer here feels some heat over Smith’s remarks, and maybe after having Dick Smith the man tarnish Dick Smith the brand, they’ll have a quiet word to him.

I don’t care whether anyone does as I do or not—this is a personal choice. It’s the only tangible way to retaliate in New Zealand, since his food products aren’t sold here—perhaps we reject “poor quality imported product”?

Maybe as a result of all this he’ll think better of his remarks all on his own. Maybe he’ll think twice about dragging innocent people—and nations—into his personal vendettas. I don’t really care—as long as he apologises.

No comments: