Archive for October, 2009

Taxing pollution not people


Andrew Curry writes:

I was fortunate enough to be invited earlier this week to the launch of the UK Green Fiscal Commission‘s report in London, on shifting to taxes  on pollution – and in particular on carbon emissions – while reducing at the same time taxes on people (income tax and national insurance). The Commission proposed a substantial shift, increasing ‘environmental’ taxes from 5% to 20% of the tax base over 10 years, although the overall effect would be neutral in terms of total government revenues.

The report‘s been two years in the making, directed by the environmental economist Paul Ekins, and had the support of some heavyweight commissioners, including Lord Turner, who spoke at the launch. Our former colleague Michelle Harrison, now at TNS-BMRB, was a member.

The conclusions can be spelt out in a few lines. Environmental taxes are effective in changing behaviour, and efficient to administer. They create jobs (around half a million to 2020) at only a fractional cost to economic growth, and they are also, almost certainly, essential if we are to have a hope of meeting the tough carbon reduction targets in the Climate Change Act.

Size – or at least scale – matters. In his comments Lord Turner argued that only “a radical change” would work, both because it meant that people would be able to see the reductions in their income tax bills, and so that there were sufficient long-term incentives for people and businesses to think it worth changing their behaviour and purchase decisions.

The technicalities of such taxes are fairly well understood. Their implementation is more about political will (which is why the panel also included a cross-party array of politicians). So I was also struck by the public opinion data (polling by BMRB), which was largely in line with our research into environmental and ethical attitudes, but was more positive than some would expect. 51% were in support of “green taxes”, and 32% against, but these percentages changed sharply, to 77% in favour and only 9% against, when people were asked about “green taxes” which were offset by other tax reductions.

But some deliberative research, also carried out by BMRB, identified some of the barriers. People were more likely to advocate environmental taxes if they believed that climate change will effect them personally, and there are still significant levels of scepticism in the UK. There was, unsurprisingly, little faith that overall tax bills would not increase – even before the current ‘race to the bottom’ on tax and public expenditure. And although neutrality should mean that there are likely to be as many winners as losers, most people – with an ingrained sense of pessimism about paying tax – thought they would be worse off personally after the tax shift. But fairness also mattered.

The politics of tax are notoriously difficult: “winners nod, while losers scream”. And from the window tax onwards, tax changes are littered with unintended consequences. The Treasury is generally sceptical about them. But if there is an opportunity, it is in the early days of a new government. And all of the politicians on the panel were optimistic that a new Chancellor of the Exchequer of their particular stripe would be keen on the idea – despite the risks. We’ll find out next year.

The picture is from Flickr user JustUptown, and is used under a Creative Commons licence with thanks.

29 October 2009 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment


Bassets Soft and Chewy

Sophie Stringer writes:

Stepping through Waterloo Station on my way to work the other day a sprightly looking girl in luminous green leggings and a white t-shirt passed me a sample for Bassetts ‘Soft and Chewy’ – as seen in the picture.

These energisers, the packaging tells me, are ‘delicious citrus flavour pastilles with B vitamins and CoQ10’.  The packaging looks pretty feminine (and the sample pack  – as someone pointed out – bears an unfortunate resemblance to a packet of condoms), and the pastilles themselves are in a blister pack, Strepsils-style.  The instructions are to pop one a day, or up to three if you’re in need of an extra boost. There’s theory as well as method: the associated leaflet advises that ‘avoiding the slump’ is ‘not about a quick fix, it’s all about maintenance’.

Bassetts already makes a range of chewy vitamins for different ages, and for ‘all the family’. But this is the first time I’ve seen a specific product for adults, and also the first time I’ve seen fortification for energy promoted with a vitamin product.  The inclusion of Coenzyme Q10 is also a novelty.

So why launch this now?  The product certainly responds to our burgeoning desire for peak performance, along with concerns about the health effects of pick-me-ups like cola or coffee. It also speaks to the resurgence of time-pressured consumers in the wake of the financial crisis. It’s not enough any longer for supplements just to be good for us; they need to work hard and be focused about the needs they are addressing, it seems. But at the same time, there’s some pleasure to be had in the eating, unlike the yeasty smelling vitamin C tablets of yesteryear.

They are probably better for you than mopping up the spare biscuits as you leave a meeting, but I’m a bit suspicious about the proposition: things which sound quite similar to confectionery promising an energy boost might be treading close to a sugar rush, and Bassetts’ efforts to dissuade us of this – with box and blister pack – make them feel oddly medical.  And Bassetts can’t help but evoke Trebor Bassett, and as it happens the Bassetts’ parent company, like Trebor Bassett, is part of the Cadbury group.

Will it take off? The trends are on its side, but it may take time to persuade consumers of the value of this particular solution. The jury’s still out.

15 October 2009 at 11:03 am Leave a comment

The last place to go


Andrew Curry writes:

We’ve been having a bit of an argument in the London office about advertising which has been running on the London underground. The picture, above, captures the flavour; lots of text in which a trip to an identifiable department store to look at some upmarket consumer electronics is descibed quite affectionately, with the final line, in Dixons’ branding, “then go to to buy it.”

The argument is about the ad’s effectiveness. On the one hand, it’s right on trend. Work we did for AOL a couple of years ago identified the way in which consumers shift between online and offline channels increasingly seamlessly as their customer journey develops from awareness to purchase and maintenance. And our post-recession research shows an increase in ‘savvy shopping‘.

On another hand, the copywriting about the department store experience is sufficiently warm that it reminds you of the service such stores offer – and not everyone is as transactional as the ad tries to suggest, even in a recession.

And on another: the argument is about the effectiveness of this for Dixon’s. Its own stores, now closed or rolled into the Curry’s Digital brand (full disclosure: absolutely no relation), were a byword for customer indifference. And online, Dixon’s is not the cheapest supplier.

In fact the ad polarised office opinion – an impromptu survey showed that half the people who responded liked it, and half didn’t. The half that didn’t tended to be older and better-off.

And I have to say that I’m in the second category. The ad’s strapline, “Dixon’s; the last place to go”, is clever, but it’s too clever for its own good. For me it taps in, almost too precisely, to a whole lot of brand associations which – were if I Dixons – I’d have preferred to leave dormant.

7 October 2009 at 1:07 pm 1 comment

The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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