Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Booze peddler to spin democracy down the toilet

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Doug McKay was appointed Supercity CEO. Photo / Natalie Slade
Doug McKay was appointed Supercity CEO. Photo / Natalie Slade

Would you believe it? We now have a guy who peddles alcohol to the youth market in charge of the new Super City. If this doesn't get your alarm bells going, nothing will.

It was extraordinary the Auckland Transition Authority, appointed by Act's Rodney Hide, got to decide who the next chief executive of the Supercity will be.

But after that, it was no surprise to learn the new city boss, Doug McKay, is from a corporate.

McKay's CV makes no mention of his ever having run a non-profit organisation or having any experience at managing a community service, let alone a city council.

But that's not what he's employed to do, is it?

Hide and his ilk don't want any pesky council with a democratic mandate from Auckland's citizens having any real say.

They have already transferred three-quarters of our assets to unelected corporate suits to do what they will.

But just in case our elected city leaders after October start thinking they have any say at all, Transition Authority boss Mark Ford has imposed a former booze peddler to run everything that's left over.

The spin is that our new city boss is a wonderful fellow.

We should all be over the moon that he's willing to be our new boss for only three times the salary of our country's Prime Minister.

I don't know McKay personally. But I have had some experience of his management style in his last job as chief executive of Independent Liquor.

That company has an infamous union-busting reputation. When McKay took over, many of his workers were on minimum wages and many joined our union.

We wrote to him asking him to stop his managers bullying the staff and offer his workers a modest wage increase. He wrote back declining both requests. The union members have all since left the company.

The company is the most profitable in the industry but its workers are still the lowest-paid. My advice to current council employees is join your union - fast.

During the time I was helping Independent Liquor workers, I got to speak to many of their managers and staff and found out why this company was so successful.

Independent Liquor makes hundreds of millions of dollars each year by deliberately marketing alcohol to the youth market.

Their innovation is they promote spirits mixed with soft drink and give them trendy names and designs to appeal to younger drinkers.

They market their lollipop-bottled alcohol as RTDs (ready to drink) in four-packs.

Their marketing strategy is awesomely calculated.

They scan the web identifying trends in culture. Based on what they find, they design a brand such as Woodstock, KGB, Pulse or Cruiser.

Not a product at all. They design the labels and promotional materials first.

After that, they then make up an alcoholic drink with lots of sugary additives and flavourings.

They make a batch and trial it at parties where young trendsetters hang out. They sponsor huge music events at which their products are given out freely.

The latest ploy is to find emerging bands and massively blanket market their product wherever that band goes.

The booze is guzzled down like lollywater by mainly young girls.

The biggest sellers are Woodstock - bourbon and coke - and KGB - vodka and tonic. There are 40 varieties of Cruiser.

Now, the master puppeteer of this product's marketing has been appointed to be the guardian of our community's wellbeing.

The two leading contenders for super mayor, John Banks and Len Brown, couldn't wait to fall over themselves praising the appointment.

I don't think the strategists behind the corporate strategy to take over our city need feel threatened by these two, it seems.

Maybe I'll pop down to my local store and pick up some of McKay's product to drown my sorrows.

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