My letter first, then the far-better-written editorial:
It's sad to hear Prime Minister John Key comparing New Zealand's “Clean, Green” brand with McDonald's advertising, saying that both need to be taken with a grain of salt and weren't really to be believed.
Surely the prime minister has a responsibility to ensure that our environment is clean, rather than saying we should instead think of it as something Ronald McDonald might have dreamed-up.
It does make it easier to understand why his claim that we'd have a brighter future turned out to be nonsense – when he promised it, he wasn't actually expecting us to believe it!
Scientist Mike Joy has committed the sin of impure thoughts.
At time when the admiring eyes of the world are to be trained on our fair Shire and our marketers have agreed that we should be touting our "100% Pure" brand, Dr Joy had muddied the waters by getting all nitpicky about "facts" and "truth" when what really matters is perception.
For this he has suffered the irritations - and they are probably on a par with each other - of being called a traitor and having advertising hyperbole patronisingly explained to him.
In marketing, it's often OK to be fearlessly extravagant; like saying your gumdrops are the best in the universe. Nobody expects you to have ventured to the impenetrable reaches of space to test your claim. It's understood that this isn't literally true. Just like we needn't really be concerned on behalf of some of the yappier advertisers who keep assuring us their low low prices are the result of mental illness.
Prime Minister John Key has issued a particularly populist comparison. It's like the "I'm loving it" McDonald's slogan, see? People understand that not everyone necessarily does love it. Mr Key needs to be careful how blithely he defends assertions that don't stand up to scrutiny. He's only going to be reminded of those remarks the next time he needs to say, "but this time we really mean it".
Peter Jackson's The Hobbit is a story woven with special effects to invoke what has been called "the suspension of disbelief". Ditto the marketing campaign, apparently. Just another special effect, really, and one that we are being reminded with a quiet hiss could do without spoilsports shattering the illusion.
Mr Key even reached for the fatuous argument that a cavemen's campfire would fail to live up to the 100 per cent pure standard that Dr Joy wanted. The scientist never said he wanted us shivering in Stone Age cold. He simply pointed to a compelling catalogue of data that backed up his contention that the reality was far from the picture-postcard portrayals of the marketers. His fellow scientists back him on that one. And seriously, on a per capita basis we have one of the world's highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions and our water quality is declining.
Shush, though. The rest of the world might hear you.
Well, look - our environment is not a Weta Studios special effect. Compared with the rest of the world we do have a wondrous landscape, but for all its spectacular beauty it is not pristine. We understand that it comes down to balance, not perfection, but by those standards the scientific message and our own experiences tell us we seriously need to put the brakes on the rate of degradation.
How about we market ourselves a tad more truthfully? We have much in which we can legitimately exult without gratuitously extending into falsehood. And if anyone asks we can say in the same breath that we have a great deal of work ahead of us to protect our environment and that we're fighting the good fight in our own Hobbity way. After all, Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings dispensed with one of the more downbeat aspects of the final book of the trilogy. When the Hobbits returned to the Shire, it was a miserable place, ravaged by misgovernment. Samwise and company had a lot of fixing to do and they needed to draw on their heroism once again to set about it.
The 100%Pure campaign does over-reach to an extent that suggests either dishonesty or self-denial. We shouldn't inflate our image with flat-out falsities. We shouldn't be deceiving others, or even worse, ourselves.