I was in a Cooperative supermarket a few days ago looking for some wine for Ustane and myself. In the good old days in Portering I could afford to be a bit choosy, but nowadays I look for one thing and one thing only: the cheapest bottle on the shelf. I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw two shelves of wine on special offer: £2.99 each; this is almost unbelievably cheap! The shelves were on the same aisle as the regular beers and wines, the bottle came with an attractive white and silver label and the wine inside looked dark and tempting; see the photos above. I was halfway to the checkout when some instinct made me pick up the bottle and look at it more closely. I then realized to my outrage and embarrassment that I had been fooled. This product I had put in my trolley was not wine at all, it was a wine-flavoured alcopop. I thought that the price looked too good to be true; why did I forget the second half of that old maxim?: “So what made you think it would not be?”
At least I rumbled the trick before I got to the till and didn’t actually buy it, but I still felt humiliated and violated. I was about to complain to the manager, but then I realized that the manufacturers of First Cape are not actually breaking any rules. As you can see from the photos I took of the label, at no point does it state that the product is real wine. It is very carefully described as an “aromatized wine-product cocktail”. You can bet that they had it thoroughly checked by a lawyer before selling it. However this is one of those all too familiar cases in our society in which something bad is done, while holding itself away from the borderline beyond which things are officially labeled “bad”, by using legal loopholes. Red tape and acres of Byzantine small print turn black into white and up into down. So let’s cut the crap!: The marketing aim of First Cape is to make their product look like wine. They’re counting on getting in a lot of sales they would not otherwise make from people buying a bottle under the misapprehension that they are buying a bottle of wine, and patting themselves on the back for picking one up so cheaply, no doubt. A lot of those people are going to be much more vulnerable than a certain big, tough old ex-Hospital Porter you might have heard of.
I suppose the answer a lot of people will give me is: “Serve them right for not being on their guard! They should have checked the label. More fool them! They’ll know better next time.” I must be in a minority in that I’m concerned that trickery seems to be the normal way to do business nowadays. It shows a great deal of contempt for their potential customers for First Cape to do what they did. “But so what? It’s a dog-eat-dog world, Man!”, as we’re so often told. It also worries me that the ethics of conventional society are changing; the victims of trickery are more likely to be blamed than the perpetrators. If some old lady or another vulnerable person buys a bottle of First Cape thinking that it’s wine then they are to blame for allowing themselves to be fooled. The one doing the fooling is morally A-OK! This is a similar ethical equation that allows the rapist to say: “She was asking for it!” I find it sad that fairness, trust, honest trade and respect for human dignity and sovereignty have become so marginalized and outmoded. These lamented attitudes are seen by most people as rather quaint and naïve. To believe in them marks you out as weak and sentimental. That’s a shame I think.