Thai politics and green tea business warfare

opinion May 23, 2018 01:00

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

Politicians and makers of green tea have many things in common: They and their rivals are a lot more similar than they make the public believe; they resort to heavy advertising (or propaganda if you will) and populism to differentiate and promote sales; and their fierce competition is detrimental to both themselves and their enemies.



We have recently seen market statistics that confirm the inevitabile. Oishi and Ichitan are having their financial numbers weighed down significantly by promotions, expensive giveaways and spoiled consumers who are nonetheless retreating from the brands in great droves.

A few years ago, it was different, as people drank green tea like there was no tomorrow, the majority of them hoping to win a Mercedes or gold accessories.

Ethical questions were asked at that time, when green tea bottles were flying out of hyperstore shelves and convenient store refrigerators.

Do Oishi and Ichitan even care about excessive sugar intake among Thai people? What about too much caffeine consumption?

Why make buying soft drinks become like buying a lottery ticket? In other words, why make people become addicted to gambling in addition to caffeine?

Nothing mattered. All questions were warded off by Oishi, Ichitan and their defenders. It was a free market, they said. It was "red ocean" business, in fact, meaning anything that was not against the law was acceptable.

So, the makers of "similar" products went toe to toe. Since nothing differentiated their green tea, they tried to be "different" in their "generosities". If you give away cars, we will offer condominium units. Free overseas trips were offered, along with iPhones and simply gold. On and on it went.

Green tea drinkers consumed like crazy, many unaware or forgetting that Oishi and Ichitan originated from the same root. They risked their health, whereas the green tea producers risked their balance sheets and stock prices. Everyone was skating on thin ice.

The fierce, advertisement-based competition has taken its toll. Profits have dropped like stones for both Oishi and Ichitan, and their share prices have plunged, too. Consumers, meanwhile, have been spoiled to the point where they would not buy if they did not have a shot at some freebies, be it a great trip or luxury car. They stopped drinking green tea to cure thirst a long, long time ago.

In every zero-sum game, players cross the line easily. Everyone begins with what should be done and ends up doing everything that is needed to be done, regardless of morality or ethics.

As long as politics is all about winning and losing power, not sharing it, Thai voters will be like green tea consumers and the politicians, no matter what their "colours" are, will remain makers of the green tea.

Sugar or caffeine overdose, meanwhile, is the unwanted political circumstance, or "military intervention" to be more specific. It's the "consequence" of no-holds-barred, unethical competition between the producers and gullibility on the part of consumers.

Yes, this consequence is a bad one, but we can't expect something good to come out of a bad mix, can we?

Democracy is an advertisement-based endeavour. That means there are lines that are not supposed to be crossed, as too much of anything can lead to a propaganda slippery slope.

You can criticise your opponents but you shall not lie about them. You can give voters sweet promises but you have to make sure those pledges are achievable honestly and, if implemented, will not weaken the recipients in the long run.

Stubborn child

Green tea is good for health if consumed properly, but it also contains some bad side effects, especially when people have too much of it. Who are best placed to give consumers the advice and help them benefit from the drink? The green tea producers, of course.

So, where Thai politics is concerned, the onus is on the politicians, not the military.

To ask Thais to try to end a military rule is like green tea makers telling consumers, "Keep on buying us and we will fix the sugar and caffeine overdose." It's like the green tea makers telling buyers, "Your diabetes is very bad and it has nothing to do with us."

Some people say the military can't be reasoned with, hence democracy is better. Exactly. If we have to make a very stubborn child and a teachable one learn some values, to whom should we preach? Given a choice, should we pre-empt diabetes or undergo painful treatment that guarantees no success?

In a few months, national versions of green tea makers will hit the market again.

They have two choices: Do the very same thing from here on out and expect something different that definitely will never come, or advertise a little less and add a lot more integrity to their work, after which something different may happen.

It's their choice.