Point of Brew: Pepper-spraying the brand

By From page A5 | March 01, 2012

In Time magazine this week, the Lightbox image, just inside the front cover, is a beautiful photograph taken inside St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican; it shows Pope Benedict XVI at the papal altar under the magnificent Bernini canopy at a ceremony to elevate 22 clerics to the rank of cardinal.

In a glorious sea of red, set against the soaring spectacle of the Basilica, this is a monumental reaffirmation of the Roman Catholic and the papal brands.

The brand is the thing. One might say the brand is everything. The brand sends unmistakable messages to consumers in an instantly recognizable form.

The pope and Catholicism are the most ancient and powerful brands in Christendom. It is a credit to the power of the brand that it has survived egregious misbehavior by some priests and cover-up by some bishops and, more recently, aggressive re-assertion of the right of this all-male hierarchy to dictate on issues of women’s’ health.

Over the years, I’ve seen successful beer brands succumb to error; once the brand loses credibility the company may soon fail. Way back in 1965, the Dow Brewery in Quebec used a cobalt-based product to stabilize beer foam; some people died. The brand and brewery collapsed.

Similarly, the Schlitz Brewing Company changed the brewing formulation and methods of beer processing in aggressive ways that were not strictly ready for prime time. Beer quality suffered in the trade. The brand was compromised and the company went under.

It remains to be seen whether the recent takeover of Anheuser-Busch by Inbev, and the radical change in business practices that followed, will damage the ABI brand.

No brewer with a brand worth having, or one trying to build brand value, will do anything to jeopardize the integrity of the brand. If the brand be damaged, brewers will do almost anything to restore brand integrity. For example, Dow Brewery famously emptied into the St Lawrence River all its tanks of every drop of beer; unfortunately to no avail.

The UC Davis brand has been quietly and effectively nurtured over the years as the campus has built its intellectual reputation, expanded infrastructure and grown important programs. We have matured from a rural, safe, non-radical and non-confrontational alternative to the urban campuses at UC Berkeley and UCLA to a campus attractive to students for its own prestige, programs and intellectual prowess.

In Time magazine some months ago the Lightbox image, just inside the front cover, was The Davis Enterprise’s infamous photograph of UCD students being pepper-sprayed by a campus police officer. That, of course, did our UCD brand no good.

But I do not see the functional equivalent of dumping beer into the St Lawrence River to help restore brand integrity. That is why I am writing about this now, so long after the initial event happened, and upon which so much ink and so little light was spilled.

I am concerned that the faculty of UC Davis tacitly approved the pepper-spraying incident and therefore has further compromised the brand.

This is the only conclusion I can reach after the faculty defeated by a vote of two-to-one a mealy-mouthed, weepy-willie, ineffectual non-binding resolution of no confidence in the chancellor. One might say the piffling resolution was merely symbolic. Well, of course, it was symbolic, but symbols and principles are important here, as illustrated by dumping the beer into the St Lawrence River!

I thought the faculty would be as one with the students on this issue. The faculty preferred instead a resolution that accepted an apology and praised academic leadership that is slated to bring UCD into the top five of American research universities.

Well, the top five has been achieved: I put UCD well behind Kent State and Virginia Tech and just ahead of Penn State and Duke.

The resolution that the faculty favored puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the police officers at the scene where, doubtless, much blame belongs. But that blame is surely shared by the chief executive who put the police at the scene in the first place — deployed them, that is (a military term) — “Cry ‘Havoc’ and let slip the dogs of war,” one might say.

Though I am deeply suspicious and even alarmed at the urgency and vigor with which officials and police these days move to suppress the First Amendment right of assembly, I do have a certain sympathy with beat police officers who inevitably find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

There is an intrinsic conflict between keeping the peace and enforcing the law. They are in uniform, armed to the teeth in riot gear and full of testosterone and authority (a hard place) and faced by the intransigence of the protesters (a rock). Back off? Are you kidding?

They are now trapped between the expectation of the chief executive who sent them to the scene (a hard place) and completing the assigned mission, that is, in this case, a mandate to clear the campus (a rock). A wise initial decision could have avoided this perfect scenario for misadventure.

I guess we never fail to miss a good opportunity: The faculty vote to reject a non-binding resolution of no confidence — a mere slap on the wrist — failed in every way to restore some luster to our UC Davis brand. No dumping all our beer into the St Lawrence River for us!

However, I guess our brand is strong enough so that, like the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy, we shall smugly survive perhaps to make the same mistakes in the future.

— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Michael Lewis

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