Freedom of marketing and brands remains vital in the 21st century

EURACTIV:  When consumers make decisions in the marketplace, they are voting with their wallets, writes Yaël Ossowski.

Ossowski is the deputy director for the Consumer Choice Center. He wrote this op-ed ahead of the Brand Freedom Day conference on 6 June in Brussels.

 

In a system of voluntary exchange, only consumers can decide if a company fails or thrives. Companies are reliant on consumers to buy their goods and “vote” to determine the best product and best company.

The freedom for companies and organisations to market themselves and create a brand is therefore essential to our markets and economic relationships.

Brands matter because they help inform consumers, help companies differentiate themselves, and ultimately “signal” quality and effectiveness.

They convey much more than what you can see or read: it’s about feeling and emotion, as well. That’s why the Red Cross is seen as a “go-to” after natural disasters, and why Amazon is now one of the largest companies in the world. People trust those brands and are willing to enter into financial relationships with them.

But what if those brands weren’t able to be formed in the first place?

Unfortunately, there is a global movement that seeks to restrict certain brands: alcohol, tobacco, cannabis (where it is legal), sugar, sodas, and many other consumer products.

Many of these products aren’t healthy. Especially in excess. That’s certainly the case with tobacco, alcohol, and sugar. There is a plethora of information available to consumers on the harmful effects of all of them, either from national health agencies or general health education in public schools.

But that doesn’t mean that consumers can’t choose from particular brands to better inform themselves on what they want to consume or use.

Consumers need brands in order to make the right decisions. What if one company uses a completely GMO-free process, or another is a process of fair trade? Don’t consumers deserve to know this information, and shouldn’t companies be free to let their customers know?

Without this information, the biggest and most well-known brand is best situated to gain dominant market power. Limiting branding is tantamount to limiting consumer choice.

If we want to ensure a robust competitive environment for products and ideas, then we must support brand freedom. Otherwise, large companies have a natural advantage and small entrepreneurs are left out in the dust.

Throughout the European Union, the most well-known bans on branding are in the sphere of tobacco and alcohol, in places such as France, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. In the UK, the current marketing restrictions ban cartoon characters in TV food adverts addressed to children.

Many politicians want to go further, banning cartoon characters from all ads and boxes. The logic of not allowing companies to have logos or branding is that consumers will be dissuaded from buying them.

But is this the right approach?

No doubt, safeguarding children and educating consumers on health options is a noble goal. But what consequences would come from restricting a company’s freedom to market and brand themselves?

A recent survey by the analytics company Sprout Social entitled “Championing Change in the Age of Social Media” reveals that nearly two-thirds of consumers say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues. That shows that brands are as important to societal life as economic life.

What contribution, therefore, would companies be able to make without the freedom create their own brand? When Coca-Cola cut ties with South Africa during the regime of Apartheid in 1986, they were championed as a steward of corporate responsibility.

Would the soda maker be where it is today without that bold political move affecting its brand? The same can be said today for a myriad of companies who are awakening to the necessity of responsible actions.

If companies and entrepreneurs are not free to create brands and market themselves, then consumers are the ones who pay the price. Not only are they not able to learn about which products are the best for their needs, but they also have their choices limited. That’s bad for freedom of choice and bad for market economies.

If there is one thing that’s worth fighting for even more in the current age, it’s the freedom of brands.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Consumer Choice Center applauds Colorado’s steps to legalize cannabis tasting rooms

MG RETAILER: Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, calls the motion a “historic” step in providing establishments for safe and legal cannabis use, much like taprooms for beer and wine lounges for wine.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Do credit unions still warrant a tax exemption?

AMERICAN BANKER MAGAZINE: Yael Ossowski, the deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center in Washington, D.C., said he began to pay more attention to credit union taxation after being struck by the presence of several large credit unions in his home state of North Carolina.

“The huge footprint with a lot of these credit unions sparked my curiosity,” Ossowski said. “I wanted to know what the difference between banks and credit unions is and I discovered there isn’t much anymore.”

He made his views public in September, publishing an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer urging elimination of the tax exemption.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

EPA Controversy Is Politics, Polluted

In all the humdrum surrounding public expenses in President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, there is certainly a case to be made that there was waste.

First-class travel, a $43,000 secure phone line, and poor judgment for failure to prevent an appearance of impropriety for renting a bedroom from a lobbyist all deserve scrutiny. Anyone in public office should think twice before spending taxpayer dollars. This administration, which promised to cut waste and drain the swamp, should be held to the highest standard.

But for those currently crusading to oust EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, their newfound zeal for taxpayer protection and swamp-draining reeks of partisan politics. Administrator Pruitt has been perhaps the most effective cabinet-level official in terms of implementing policies that President Trump promised in the campaign. And those promises reflected a sharp ideological divide about the size and scope of the regulatory state. Even during Republican administrations, the EPA has been the holy of holies in the church of big government.

Let’s be honest. There’s a clash between the left and right on nearly every policy issue — for good reason. The disagreements usually stem from differing schools of thought in areas such as economics, foreign policy and yes, even environmental policy.

If the New York Times and Washington Post were truly concerned about wasteful spending at the EPA, there was plenty of it to cover for years. Yet never has there been this degree of outrage about this type of business-as-usual waste in Washington. The breathless headlines, the gotcha-politics from members of Congress, and the perpetual outrage coming from hard-core environmentalists are rooted in the fact that this EPA administrator has a target on his back because he’s instituting the major policy changes that the administration was elected to make.

None of this is a reason to give Administrator Pruitt a pass on the mini-controversies for which he alone is responsible. But they should each be considered in context.

Consider the security spending, which included first-class travel. They came at the same time Administrator Pruitt was the target of vile threats from enraged environmental activists. Threats against the EPA administrator are nothing new. But they used to come in the form of letters from law firms, threatening only litigation. Now, they come not only from crazed people on Twitter, but in the form of hard-to-trace postcards sent to the EPA. In March, 2017, one of the more genteel cards told Pruitt to “Get out while you still can, Scott.” As the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board wrote last November, “reform in Washington is always difficult, but at the Environmental Protection Agency it’s also dangerous.”

Now, Democrat Senators so blinded by their campaign to oust Pruitt are dismissing the seriousness of the threats, even putting the word “threat” in scare quotes. They suggest the EPA shouldn’t have taken the security precautions it did in June, 2017 because the threats were not specific and credible, as if they were examples of harmless venting coming from people upset by Pruitt’s politics. How quickly they forget the most obvious lesson from the June, 2017 targeting of Republican members of Congress which included the shooting of Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others by James Hodgkinson, who, according to CNN, “defined himself publicly by his firm support of Bernie Sanders’ progressive politics — and his hatred of conservatives and President Donald Trump.”

Pruitt’s approach, which at once protects consumers, business, and the environment, makes him public enemy #1 to the small but dangerous minority of people like Hodgkinson. But this type of context is sorely missing from reporting. And the reason for it is clear. Since Pruitt’s appointment last year, he’s instituted reversals of Obama-era policies, giving more clarity to landowners, simplified rules for businesses, and empowered consumers to make more environmentally friendly decisions.

In just the last year, the EPA was successful in repealing 22 regulations that could save up to $1 billion, according to the agency’s yearly report card. And 44 more are due to be revised in the next year.

For one, the fuel standards set by the Obama Administration, achieving a fleetwide 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, have been halted, and Pruitt has promised nationwide fuel standard. That has given carmakers more flexibility in delivering cleaner and more efficient vehicles, and empowered consumers to choose which vehicles they prefer.

One of the most important tasks taken up by Pruitt’s EPA was revision of Clean Power Plan, a 2014 rule mandating carbon emission reductions at coal-fired power plants by 32 percent by 2030. The goal of the plan was to use governmental policy to force adoption of cleaner renewable sources of energy. Industry critics, however, viewed the plan as heavy handed regulation costing energy jobs today for an uncertain energy future.

Supporters such as tech giant Apple believe repealing the law will upend investments they’ve made in renewable energies, and have since come out against it, according to Reuters. But considering the company is already using 100 percent renewable energy, isn’t it safe to say the company didn’t need government regulation in order to achieve this outcome?

Another crucial reform by Pruitt’s EPA has been the two-year delay of the “Waters of the U.S. Rule,” an Obama-era policy that gave the EPA jurisdiction over small waterways and ponds, threatening the livelihood of many farmers and landowners. For now, the rule will only be adopted in 2022, if Pruitt and his agency are not able to abolish it all together before then.

To be sure, Administrator Pruitt and his team are upsetting the environmentalist applecart. Pushback should be expected. But we believe our country, environment, and even our society would be better-served if we returned to a debate about the merits of the issues.

Here, the merits of the precautionary principle, proper risk assessment tools, and the risk of unintended consequences are underlying issues that form the basis for many of our most pressing environmental disagreements. But instead of doing the hard work of debating the issues, administration opponents are, at least figuratively, attacking people, not the issues. They are playing the man, not the ball.

The measure of success for an agency dedicated to protecting the environment should not be in the numbers of regulations and harm it causes to businesses and consumers.

Rather, it should be in whether our environment is improving, our water is getting cleaner, and whether people are better off today than they were yesterday. By any effective measure, that answer is yes. The Trump Administration should keep that in mind as it continues to pursue its agenda to help consumers and the environment with Pruitt at the helm.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.
Jeff Stier is senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

N.C. alcohol rules should join the 21st century

CHARLOTTE OBSERVER: Due to strict N.C. alcohol laws, online merchants such as Amazon can’t stock your favorite wines, craft beers or liquors unless they follow a very strict line of regulations.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Eyesore Marijuana Packaging Isn’t Healthy For Canadians Or Competition

HUFFINGTON POST CANADA: Last Monday, Health Canada unveiled its proposed guidance on how cannabis should be regulated, marketed and sold once it is fully legalized in later this year, likely in July or August.

While the rules incorporate important and necessary standards, the restrictions on branding and logos, as well as the exhaustive warning requirements are, quite literally, an eyesore.

According to Health Canada’s guidelines, each package must contain a large red warning sign with an image of a cannabis leaf and the word THC, the main potent chemical in cannabis. Added to that, the package must come with a yellow label warning that it must not be used by children or pregnant women.

Any brand or logo must, therefore, be visibly smaller than the THC warning sign, and any use of italics or bold font to accentuate any text is prohibited. That means a brand or logo will have minimal placement on a package.

What this guideline proposes is that cannabis companies be incredibly restricted in how they’re allowed to brand and market their products. That won’t help consumers make informed choices, and may even threaten consumer safety. And it certainly won’t bring breed any creativity for entrepreneurs and marketers.

It’s safe to say cannabis will be as heavily regulated as tobacco, but much less than alcohol. Is that fair?

For one, with such limited packaging space to market their products, how can companies differentiate themselves from competing brands? What if one company uses a completely GMO-free process, or another is from a First Nations reserve? Don’t consumers deserve to know this information, and shouldn’t companies be free to let their customers know? Without this information, the biggest and most well-known brand is best situated to gain dominant market power. Limiting branding is tantamount to limiting consumer choice.

Added to that, these restrictions will hurt consumer safety. As Health Canada recognized, the plain packaging of tobacco in countries like Australia and the United Kingdom has led to the growth of contraband tobacco products on the black market. Criminal dealers are emboldened to create fake labels on products and pass it off as another brand. In Australia, which implemented plain packaging of tobacco in 2012, close to 15 per cent of all tobacco consumed in 2016 was purchased in the illicit market.

Illicit markets aren’t regulated and transactions take place outside our legal and financial system. That isn’t good for Canadians’ safety.

HEALTH CANADA

Considering these are just the federal requirements, and we have yet to see the final plans by each province, it’s safe to say cannabis will be as heavily regulated as tobacco, but much less than alcohol. Is that fair?

The question becomes, should the government treat legal cannabis users, a drug less harmful than alcohol and many opiates, like children who cannot make their own decisions?

Answering that will be key to determining whether this succeeds. Especially considering Canada is due to become the largest industrialized country to legalize cannabis. The world will be watching.

Are there alternatives?

For an informed look at alternatives, we need only cite the examples of Washington State, Oregon and Colorado — U.S. states that have already legalized cannabis and proposed some common-sense rules.

In these states, the most onerous regulations are applied to media and billboard advertising, rather than the packages themselves.

And this approach works.

ELIJAH NOUVELAGE / REUTERS
Different strains of marijuana are seen for sale in California.

I ventured into various Washington State dispensaries last year and was taken aback by the number of competing brands present inside. There is a plethora of magazines and websites dedicated to comparing each strain and product, discussing the various tastes and promised effects for responsible users. Entire companies have sprung up to promote safe and enjoyable experiences for consumers. That’s what its laws allow for.

As successful cannabis companies such as Weedmaps, Leafly and Ganjapreneur prove, entrepreneurs can actually fill the space left by government when it comes to safety and information. They can provide better guidance on how much to take, where to buy it and which companies have the most ethical practices. We don’t need government branding restrictions to do that for us.

By restricting brands, we as Canadians are completely outsourcing the imagination of cannabis to an overzealous crowd of public health regulators.

Rather than our current path, we should follow the Washington-Oregon-Colorado (WOC) model. One that embraces brands and logos, information and entrepreneurship.

The fact remains: brands matter. Much like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2015 election, or the Canadian flag abroad, a strong brand tied to good information will ultimately make for better and happier consumers.

British design critic Stephen Bayley said it best:

“A war against branding is a war against people. Brands are, quite literally, signs of life, or, at least, popular expressions of it. They are culture, art, design, value, belief.”

If Canada wants to be an example to the world when it comes to the legalization of cannabis, we’d be wise to follow his words.

Yaël Ossowski, a Montreal-area native, is deputy director of Consumer Choice Center.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Boeing proves protectionism doesn’t pay

COMMENT CENTRAL: Consumer Choice Center’s Yaël Ossowski argues that the Boeing-Bombardier affair shows that waging trade wars isn’t to anyone’s benefit, certainly not consumers, workers, and citizens who have the most at stake.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Sugar subsidies are anything but sweet

WASHINGTON EXAMINER: For far too long, domestic producers of sugar have gotten a sweet deal from the federal government.

Thanks to the U.S. sugar program, sugar beet and sugar cane farmers have had the advantage of minimum prices, cheap loans, and tariffs to keep out competitors — all at taxpayer expense

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

California’s proposed public pot bank is a disaster waiting to happen

CAL COAST NEWS: Opening the banking sector for cannabis-based businesses is necessary, but a government-owned and operated bank in California will only invite more problems and prove disastrous to California’s residents and taxpayers.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

California eyeing State-run bank for marijuana

NOQ: “For a state that is already plagued with so many economic problems, despite its recent budget surplus, the idea of the state running its own bank should worry every person in California,” said Yaël Ossowski, the Deputy Director for the Consumer Choice Center in Washington, D.C.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.