Phwoar, Get a Load of those Sales Figures!

The political arguments around government and business are well understood. At one extreme are people who despise profit-making businesses, considering them a necessary evil at best, and who’d prefer to see governments take more action to protect their and society’s interests. At the other are those who’d prefer to see governments scaled down significantly and businesses given more freedom.

People with my political opinions often make arguments for the latter based on either practical or moral arguments. Richard and I had a online discussion about this recently. But maybe there’s another, more silly, question that’s missing: which is sexier: business or government? A quick look at the primary US government portal compared to Wal-Mart’s homepage leaves me in no doubt who hired the better web designer, at any rate (and Wal-Mart is hardly an example of glamour). Which corporate body makes you want to interact with them? Anybody who’s spent any time at a UK local council, with their cuppa-and-rich-tea-biscuit image, will know what I mean (that’s an example of non-sexiness, if it’s not clear: not that I have anything against rich tea).

I’m semi-serious, actually - this does matter - it’s an issue of marketing. Clearly a company cannot actually be sexy - only people can be that. But the Virgin family of companies gets pretty close - and not just because of the suggestive naming. It’s an image that has been carefully cultivated by the folk at Virgin. Virgin is a company that you want to like (well, I do, anyway), irrespective of the fact that their trains don’t run on time.

I think the reasoning behind this is simple. Companies have to be sexy - or at least, they have to project an image which is aligned with values their customers want them to have. Sometimes this is sexiness - and Virgin is a prime example of a brand that’s attacked several markets with that technique and won some new custom. Sometimes, to be fair, there’s another image to be conveyed (UPS brown vans and brown uniforms are not alluring; but they do project an image of reliability). Conversely, government has no such motivation to project an image of anything - or at least the vast majority of unelected officials don’t. There’s no requirement to improve, no motivation to act like a marketer, because there’s no competition. Thus, government will always continue to project an image of dull and incompetent, whether that be the case or not. As Seth says, ‘[people] lose their jobs because of boring marketing’ - except in government they don’t, because they rarely lose them at all.

It’s probably not the most pressing problem the world faces right now, but wouldn’t it be nice to stop worrying about global warming for five minutes and think about how to make the institutions we deal with on a daily basis more appealing?


Good point, Gillian Anderson does indeed do a good job of portraying the sexier side of government ;) I tend to agree with you, though: I'm often suspicious of conspiracy theories simply because I doubt any government agency is competent enough to keep one for long. Of course, I may be revealing a little bias in my judgement here.
I think that shows like the X-Files and various other 'secret government research' or 'evil government project' probably increase the sexiness of government (althought I doubt it's an image that the government would want) because they're doing all this cool, secret stuff. But then you remember that our government and doubt that anything big could be kept secret by the attention-whores, I mean politicians.