Remember: Language is not Free
Recently, my ISP, Irational.Org, received a solicitors letter threatening legal action if my website was not removed from the server within 8 days to protect the interests of a certain 'Tesco Plc.' Tesco is the most successful supermarket chain store in the UK outstripping all competitors in the food retailing business. It is a supermarket giant, a Zeus in the chain store pantheon, an icon among consumer brand names.
Tescos introduction of a loyalty card in 1995 ensured an advantage in the UK supermarket wars where the major players were being out-priced and undercut by smaller, cheaper chainstores. A pioneering marketing strategy was required which concentrated on an existing customer base, a persuasive strategy that offered incentives to remain loyal to Tesco despite higher prices etc.
The loyalty card system rewards customers for shopping at Tesco. Customers relinquish their personal details in exchange for an in-store smartcard. They can then collect points for every 10 pounds spent and cash in their points claiming vouchers or discounts. This card will help Tesco monitor the shopping habits of individual customers and to stock accordingly. Its the old stamp collecting system with database marketing added.
Feedback monitoring technologies and techniques allows companies to analyse and exploit data held on individuals and to target their market with militaristic precision. It also allows the full implementation of the marketing trend for building 'interactive' or 'personalised' relationships between brands and individual customers.
Building Relationships With Brands
Corporates rely very heavily on brand identity and relationships. The penetration of brand presence has to be overwhelming. Tesco branding colonises public space in the high street and my private space in the kitchen. Tescos is synonymous with the everyday language of food - I submit to their language because it has become indispensable to me and like many others I am unavoidably dependent on it.
Compounding this relationship with consumers, the Clubcard encourages the idea that customers are joining a 'club'.
However, the members of this club exist in separate datafields and remain, to all intents and purposes, alienated from each other. The 'club' only defines a relationship between the individual Clubcard holder and Tescos superstore, with little contact encouraged between other members. Some club!.
The project I created on the Web sought to
The web project creates a system which allows you to earn points when you surf. Using Tesco clubcards that I had obtained from various Tesco stores in London, it provides the holder of the pirate card a 'reward' incentive to visit selected websites. I have asked several website owners to display the Clubcard logo on their pages. These websites form the TM Clubcard catalogue. Visitors to these sites who click on the Clubcard logo can order a card through an Irational webform, or, if I have already sent them one, they can register their visit to the host site with their PIN no.and earn reward points. The webform asks for names and addresses which I retain in a database, so that any PIN registered visits to the catalogue of sites is tracked and points allocated.
The unique PIN numbers on the plastic clubcards mean that I can effectively parasite an existing network of individual data-carriers and apply it to the Net. Also, my web site contained direct lifts of logos and layouts from the real Tesco Plc easily facilitates. Here, all identities, including those cultivated by big companies, are unstable, insecure, providing the opportunity, for those with the desire, to change/intercept the relationship with a brand name or distort its meaning. I was intrigued to see how the Net provides marketing with controlled feedback mechanisms, further intensifying and abstracting the relationships between brand and consumer.
I imagined a threading of websites all displaying the Tesco Clubcard logo which referred not to a supermarket food giant, but to a wwweb club, illicitly created from the machinery of a monstrous incorporated presence.
Shit into Gold - Datatrash into Datatreasure - Points Into Prizes
Already the Net is overstuffed with excess data, with more data than anyone can possibly need, creating a devaluation of data- a data garbage dump.Part of the most laudable processes of Net.Art is, I believe, to reconstitute all this data, to reframe it or redirect it. A previous Net Art project, Gold Medal Award, done in collaboration with MoscowWWWarts, demonstrated the significance of this. In the tradition of Duchamps 'Readymades', Found Web Pages were reframed, literally in a design sense, and by linking them to Found Art Criticism and the Gold Medal award provided an Art context. I used the phrase 'turning shit into gold' to describe this endeavour but because peoples evaluations of 'shit' and 'gold' differ there is an obvious paradox.
The marketer has a similar 'artistic' task in transforming mundane product or brand into gold(capital), endowing it with magical properties, for instance the accumulation of 'points' for some future reward. Merely by redirecting the 'points' incentive of the loyalty card schemes towards a non-commercial end undermines the original context and becomes more sociable. Recycling data as an ecological exercise remains a key practice in maintaining the health of the Net or any data-filled environments.
TradeMark Infringement - BAKERS FINEST
Beautifully and coherently documented, descriptions of my site and Tescos site arrived courtesy of Willoughby & Partners pointing out the severe crimes that had been committed.
These included Copyright Infringement, Trademark Infringement and Passing Off. The absurdity of a major corporation defending itself from the actions of a small net project was evident in this instance: Tescos have trademarked the words BAKERS FINEST for selling breads and cakes. I had used the words BAKERS FINEST on my site to publicise a second-hand jumble sale of all my finest clothing (special offers to Clubcard holders). Since my surname is Baker, and I was not selling bread or cakes, their allegations of Trademark Infringement would not, on advice, have stood up in court.
As we get nearer to the situation whereby phrases,words, names are proprietised into commercial use, the TradeMark issue becomes increasingly insane. Property in relation to abstract signs as opposed to physical objects and borders throws up a whole new contest, particularly in the digital realm of the Net. Shoplifting products from Tescos is much less of a threat than shoplifting their signs and symbols. The ultimate contest for me is to steal the meaning away from the TM trademark sign itself, so prevalent on the pages of the WWW
The most serious criminal allegation stated that I had deceptively obtained confidential information from users by passing off as Tesco Plc. It was evident to Tesco's solicitors that people had sent personal details because I had published the database on a webpage called Personal Data Fairy. However this database is dysfunctional. All the information had been confused. I occasionally send erroneous junk mail to TM Clubcard holders. Members receive communication addressing other members on the database, or the database reveals itself with programming mistakes printed on the mailout. This strategy ensures that recipients know that they are on a database, that it is dysfunctional, and, more importantly, that there are other members of the club with whom potential contact is possible. I had emailed all 45 members of the database asking if they had assumed I was the real Tescos. 3 replied that they had. Most people realised the context of the project.
After the site became 'hot' it raised several ideas about how to circumvent the Tescos solicitors and the legalities of Copyright and Trademark on the Net. These issues contain much unmarked legal terrain as yet, and the dynamics of the Net lends itself to many tactics of escape and transformation. The most popular solution was to evacuate the pages from Irational and send them to a series of 'safe sites' on different international servers. They would move on as soon as Tesco Plc caught up with it. Effectively it would became a site on the run, appearing and disappearing along chains in the datasphere. However, since it is not a self-contained site and dependent on links to the various catalogue sites, the maintainence involved in this tactic would be problematic.
I settled on a strategy inspired by Alexei Shulgin of Moscowwwarts (one of the Clubcard catalogue sites) whereby the site remains on Irational but changes its trademark target. Any big company company with a loyalty card scheme is eligible for parasitical treatment. The project s trajectory could be a series of solicitors letters each telling a story of a different loyalty card hijack and trademark transference.
J Sainsbury Plc
So the TM clubcard is no longer called Tescos. Currently it has chosen J Sainsbury, Tesco's main supermarket rival, as its host, with all the accompanying branding lifted straight from the official J Sainsbury website.
Something that became apparent in the standoff between Irational and Tescos was the potential benefits a big company like Tesco would have in being 'sponsored' on the Net by a cutting-edge net.art name like Irational. In a climate of competing brand presence (with art competing in the same environment as commerce), and with artists increasingly obliged to depend on commercial sponsorship, a reversal of this relationship of patronage would make an interesting 'cross-marketing' project. Anyone interested?
For the last few weeks Irational server statistics have revealed ongoing visits from our friends Tesco and Sainsbury. (The Sainsbury visitor has the email address <firstname.lastname@example.org> - lachesis is a snake that kills its prey by constriction). On 2nd July, as anticipated, Sainsburys sent a solicitors letter to Irational expressing similar grievances as Tescos i.e the unofficial awarding of Reward points over the Internet. Again, they have provided me with full documentation of my site. But they have gone one step further than Tesco in demanding that I hand over printouts of the data I've collected through the webforms. This presents another question - who owns the database? Before we agree to their terms we have demanded some of our own. (see the reaction of Irational here )
In the meantime, the project site is displaying another Clubcard.
The archived Tesco Project
tm (Rachel Baker)