Monty the Penguin and paper - is it right to be cynical about commercial claims?

7th November 2014

Picture © John Lewis

Follow the Fairies sounds magical, but is really a new advertisement for Marks and Spencer. Soft toy versions of lovelorn Monty the penguin have apparently already sold out at John Lewis. Elsewhere a remote-controlled dinosaur and a toy parrot in a cage which repeats what you say are supposedly the “must have” toys. Yes, it’s the run up to Christmas, and it all started even before fireworks on bonfire night had taken off.

I do love Christmas, but like many, do find I have a kernel of cynicism for the overly commercial elements that have crept in. And I think that is the same when it comes to paper bills.

Everyone used to receive a paper bill or statement before the internet as a matter of course, and no-one ever queried the cost of postage, effect on the environment or whether it was safe to receive them. Yet suddenly all these are being trotted out as arguments for moving everyone online.

Yes, there is a cost of physical postage – though nowhere near the cost that companies would have you believe. Yes there is an effect on the environment – but paper is one of the most widely recycled goods, with the paper industry using 70% of recovered fibres. And there are fears that the amount of people upgrading smartphones, laptops and tablets almost every year to get better online access will lead to a mountain of technology that just goes into landfill. Then there is the security element. A very small proportion of fraud is committed through the post compared to that carried out online.

So when people are charged to receive their own bills and statements, I can only conclude that it’s not in the interests of the consumer, but more a blatant act of money making on the part of the companies involved. They may not persuade you to buy a cuddly penguin, but they can be persuasive enough with their use of spurious care for the consumer that you think twice about giving up your paper bill, even though you may find it easier to manage your money with that paper.  There is one saving grace - those who need paper because they are not online won’t yet have been coaxed into coveting a furry penguin, as the advert is currently only online. It will hit TV screens imminently though – you have been warned!

Judith Donovan