Brands Are Made of Ideas. Tires Are Made of Rubber.

L.A. Times has a story about a multinational brand caught in the middle of a larger story about crime, nature, globalization, history, imperialism and poverty. The setting is Liberia, the African nation emerging from 14 years of civil war. The brand is Japanese-owned Bridgestone.
Bridgestone is in Liberia for its natural resources. Rubber is Liberia’s biggest export and Bridgestone’s Firestone plantation, which is on 200 square miles, is the country’s biggest employer, with 6,000 workers. It exports concentrated latex and dried crumb rubber from Liberia. Bridgestone pays local tappers $3.38 a day for their skilled manual labor.
The problem for Bridgestone is iIllicit tapping, part of a wave of criminality driven by an 80% poverty rate and high unemployment, particularly among ex-combatants. Liberia’s police force, in the process of being restructured and professionalized, cannot cope with the crime wave. Renegade tappers come in broad daylight, with guns, machetes, knives and buckets of acid. Hence, Bridgestone’s employees are frightened to work. It’s almost enough to make one concerned about the poor multinational.
But a quick jump over to Stop Firestone ought to cure that soft sentiment. The activists’ argument goes like this, “Firestone has extracted rubber and exploited the Liberian people since 1926.”
We in Adlandia spend our days working to make brands look good. We spend next to no time thinking about what might lie under the surface of our manufactured gloss, good, bad or otherwise.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.