Trademarking Fodder Itself

From Robert Musil’s magnum opus I picked up the fact that late-Habsburg Vienna had a product called “Benger’s Food”. I later saw an old drawing of an imagined Kumasi in Ghana before and after colonialist enlightenment; instead of being almost naked and doing nothing in particular, almost the entire population stood in a long line wearing Western suits and bearing sandwich-boards. The foremost of these was for “Mollin’s Food”.

An immediate reaction to this might be to marvel at the assumption that Africans would be better off if all of them were advertising something to everybody else. Given that sandwich-boarding is not an excessively rewarding job, and an economy in which this is the primary industry seems most improbable, this idea remains weird. But there is also another angle of approach. I have no idea what either Benger’s Food or Mollin’s Food actually was, but I was deeply struck by the impudence of implying that the good folk of Kumasi had not been able to feed themselves until Mr. Mollin came along.

My own lifetime has been dominated by advertisers’ attempts to brand their over-refined and sugary rubbish in such a way as to imply that association, so that children ate their Corn Flakes or Rice Crispies instead of generic “cereal”. Even better, they ate Frosties or Cap’n Crunch, names that do not actually mention the underlying agricultural crop. This replacement attempt was never completely successful, however, in that the generic term “cereal” has survived to this day – even if no one remembers where the word originates.

Besides, none of this is as radical as calling the product “Somebody’s Food”. This can be taken two ways: one, that there is out there something called “food”, of which Benger and Mollin are offering versions in some way valuable. The other way is that in your location, “Food” is not something that exists other than in the form of the Benger or Mollin products. I am expecting this radical claim to resurface any moment now: a spot of diversification will give us “Bezos’ Food” or “iFood”.

(Fiddle date stamp to October 25, 2015)

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