Exploiting Brand Jamaica

“So wat we a get outa it?” That’s the question I was asked by a rather sceptical Rastaman, Raymond, who sells in Papine Market.  He seemed to think that VW of America, Inc. owed Jamaicans something for the viral super bowl ad which has gotten two million more hits since play day.  Well over twelve million in all!  “How yu mean?”, I asked.  “We can’t stop people from trying to talk like us!”  The man just kiss im teeth.  Obviously, I was a big eedyat.

The more I thought about the vendor’s penetrating question I realised that it wasn’t limited to the specific case of the VW ad.  He was actually raising the much broader issue of whether or not Jamaicans can, in fact, benefit from the global appeal of our culture.  Who defines ‘Brand Jamaica’?  Who ‘owns’ the brand?  And how can this brand be best exploited in the interest of the masses of the Jamaican people?

92983.gifThere’s a big difference between brand identity and brand image. Identity is who we really are; image is how others see us.  So they attempt to construct an alternative image that suits their own needs.

On the other hand, the very people who embody ‘Brand Jamaica’, like that market vendor, are usually left out of the process of defining and marketing the brand. They are not entitled to interrogate the ‘experts’. All the same, Jamaica’s distinctive identity is not ‘uptown’; it’s ‘downtown’.  And, at the risk of offending our minority racial groups who do not wish to be seen as ‘minority’, it’s obvious that ‘Brand Jamaica’ is the black majority.

“Proper-proper Language”

Even though some of us consistently refuse to see ourselves as we actually are, non-Jamaicans find it relatively easy to immediately recognise some of the key components of our identity: for example, our distinctive language.  And some of them make a big effort to try to learn it.  They want to be in the know.

GlobalReggaeCoverI recently telephoned a European embassy about the launch of the Global Reggae book I edited, which takes place today at 6:00 at PULS8.  The diplomat I spoke to said he’d been planning to contact me.  Several of his colleagues want to take a course in ‘patwa’.  I couldn’t resist saying ‘Jamaican’.  And I put him in touch with Professor Hubert Devonish who heads the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies.

How do we see Jamaican?  It’s not even a language.  It’s nothing but a ‘corrupt’, ‘broken’ version of English, with absolutely no social status.  After all, “is black people mek it up”.  You can bet your last devalued dollar that if Europeans had created ‘patwa’ it would now be accepted as a ‘proper-proper’ language.

Counterfeit Jamaicans

bolt_to_di_world_jamaican_flag_hat-p148359947895250901en80o_216I think it’s a great idea for everybody in the whole world to learn Jamaican.  It’s a global language of athletic prowess, musical genius, dutty winery, business acumen and innovation in so many other fields.  The real problem is the counterfeiting of Jamaican products in global markets; and the exploitation of the name ‘Jamaica’.

The Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) has been valiantly negotiating for the recognition of “nation branding as a development tool”.  In a major report to the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), a very strong case was made for protecting Brand Jamaica.  The report documents “the extent of use of Jamaica’s country name in trade marks that are registered by persons or entities which have no association with Jamaica in relation to good and services which do not originate in Jamaica”.

4000304_f260A classic example is the “Jamaica energy drink” which was actually made in Croatia.  Turning Jamaica’s superlative Olympic performance into a marketable commodity, Croatians just decided to ‘try a ting’.  And talking of ‘ting’, remember how hard it was for the Ting soft drink to enter the US market.  It was argued that ‘Ting’ was too similar to ‘Tang’, the U.S. fruit-flavoured drink.  I can’t recall all the details of the case but I do remember being asked to write a statement confirming that ‘ting’ was a Jamaican word.

Thanks to the expertise of JIPO, the bogus “Jamaica energy drink” was yanked from the shelves.  We haven’t been so lucky with the “all natural Jamaican style ginger ale” which has not a shred of Jamaican ginger in its ingredients.  Well, the label does say “style”.  It doesn’t claim to be the real thing.  So the product is still on the market.

Paying to get happy

imagesI was quite disappointed to find out that, in a not-so-surprising twist, Sandals has had to pull their ‘Germaican’ spoof of the VW ad.  Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals Resorts International, told me that the Partridge Family, copyright holders of “Come On Get Happy”, were insisting on payment of a “sizeable sum” for its use.

I suppose if Adam had anticipated that his version of the ad would have become so visible, he wouldn’t have used the copyrighted song.  He would have taken a leaf out the uncopyrightable proverbial book of Dr. Michael Abrahams, who uses a basic riddim as the sound track for his own wicked version of the ad, “Miserable Jamaican”.

We’re a ‘brand name’ nation.  But if we really intend to get anything out of the high visibility of our culture, we will have to consolidate our efforts.  JIPO, the JTB, JAMPRO and all of us in Papine and other markets and sectors, just have to come on and get really serious about it.


Superpower Jamaican Accent for the Super Bowl

       images-11Don’t mind the IMF.  Thanks to Volkswagen of America, Inc., we’re been reminded yet again that Jamaica is a cultural superpower.   According to Wikipedia, “A superpower is a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests”.

       Of course, the meaning of ‘power’ in that definition is, essentially, political, economic and military.   Superpowers are the big guns of the world.  The British Empire in the bad old days of in-your-face colonisation was the first ‘modern’ superpower.  Britannia ruled the waves, captured lands far and wide and now evades reparations.  After all, Britons never, never, never shall be slaves – not even to fundamental principles of natural justice.

cold-war  Eventually, all across the globe, exploited colonies demanded independence and the sun finally set on the British Empire.  The Soviet Union and the United States of America both inherited the superpower mantle and aggressively fought for supremacy in the Cold War.  These days, China, India, Brazil and the European Union are all ready to claim superpower status.

Clearly, Jamaica is not in this big league. We’re not in the ‘Group of Eight’: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia the U.K. and the United States.  We’re not in the ‘Plus Five’:  Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.  We’re in no group.  We’re in a class by ourselves.


Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson image

Long ago, Marcus Garvey gave us the formula for our greatness:  “God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be.  Follow always that great law.  Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement”.

Garvey also wickedly said, “The whole world is run on bluff”.  But he certainly wasn’t bluffing when he conceived the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL).  Garvey had a grand vision of what black people could achieve.  Although he was born on a small island, Garvey was not insular. His consciousness was continental.

Peter Phillips and Miss Mattie

Like Garvey, Louise Bennett celebrated the unlimited potential of the Jamaican people.  In one of her most amusing poems, “Independance” – yes, “dance” – Miss Lou creates a raucous character, Miss Mattie, who gives a most entertaining account of what independence means to her.  It’s not the song and dance of constitutional arrangements.  It’s much more primal:

Mattie seh it mean we facety

Stan up pon we dignity.

An we don’t allow nobody

Fi teck liberty wid we.


Independence is we nature

Born an bred in all we do

An she glad fi see dat Government

Tun independant to.

Peter Phillips

Peter Phillips

Miss Lou here wittily suggests that so-called ‘ordinary’ people like Miss Mattie are way ahead of politicians in their understanding of power dynamics.  Perhaps Peter Phillips should ask Miss Mattie to come along to the IMF negotiations.  She would not be afraid of proposing her own conditionalities.

Indeed, Miss Mattie has a rather expansive view of Jamaica’s geopolitical location:

She hope dem caution worl-map

Fi stop draw Jamaica small,

For de lickle speck cyaan show

We independantness at all!


Moresomever we must tell map dat

We don’t like we position –

Please kindly tek we out a sea

An draw we in de ocean


Turning History Upside Down

black_britain   Miss Mattie shows up in another humorous poem by Miss Lou, “Colonization in Reverse”:

What a joyful news, Miss Mattie

Ah feel like me heart gwine burs –

Jamaica people colonizin

Englan in reverse

Taking our cultural “bag an baggage” to the stepmother country, Jamaicans turned history upside down, reversing the flow of influence.

These days, our distinctive Jamaican ‘Patwa’ is the preferred language of youth culture in England.  Last summer, in a moment of deranged grief as the embers of widespread riot died down, the British historian David Starkey lamented the success of Jamaica’s reverse colonisation of England:  “black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.”


It’s not only England that’s been colonised by Jamaican culture.  It’s the whole world, as Miss Mattie would say.  Which brings us to the VW Super Bowl ad that had 4.6 million hits by Friday morning.

Why does it feature a white man from Minnesota speaking with a stilted Jamaican accent?


a)   The man was born in Jamaica, migrated as a ‘yute’ and hasn’t been back in a very long time.  But he tries his best to sound Jamaican.

b)   The man was born in the US to Jamaican parents and has never visited Jamaica.  But he tries his best to sound Jamaican.

c)   The man was born in Minnesota, went to Jamaica on vacation, fell in love with the language and tries his best to sound Jamaican.

d)   The man was born in the U.S., has never been to Jamaica except on the Internet, fell in love with the culture and tries his best to sound Jamaican.

e)   The man is a pretty good actor who was coached by a Jamaican and tried his best to sound Jamaican.

In an excellent interview with Jamaican blogger Corve DaCosta, the star of the VW ad, Erik Nicolaisen, said, “I have been a lifelong reggae fan, and as a voice actor I have tried to put a little patois into my repertoire”.  Jamaican popular music has been a potent medium for spreading our language across the globe. As Miss Mattie confidently asserts, Jamaica is not in the Caribbean Sea; we’re in every ocean of the world.

Adam Stewart

Adam Stewart

As was to be expected, some very clever Jamaicans have produced a brilliant spoof on the VW ad.  It was Adam Stewart’s bright idea.  As CEO of Sandals Resorts International, he knows a thing or two about VWs.  The brand is in the family of companies.  The creative team at Sandals ran with Adam’s idea.  The satirical remake features a happy-go-lucky black man speaking English with a German accent. He dances off-beat and gets everybody in the nightclub to follow suit; he eats jerk chicken with sauerkraut and inspires the jerk man to do the same; he arrives to work seven minutes early and, when he is chided by his boss, cheerfully promises to return in ten minutes.

The Jamaican dub version of the VW ad slyly mocks German efficiency.  It also takes a crack at our own willingness to follow fashion. We often copy others who are copying us.  But since the inspiration for the original ad appears to be the perception that Jamaicans set standards that the whole world can imitate – whether it’s exceptional happiness or inventive language – it’s all in good fun.

The Jamaican presence at the Super Bowl wasn’t just the VW ad.  It was Beyoncé doing the dutty wine, to the invigorating beat of Sean Paul.  And to makes things even more like home, there was that nicely orchestrated power cut!  Jamaica is a superpower. Be happy about it. Yeah, mon!