The Observer, Sunday 11 April 2010
Bart Becht grew rich on our stupidity
And so a warm round of applause for Bart Becht, the chief executive who last week took home a pay packet of £92.3m. How cheering it is that even in these straitened times it's still possible to make gazillions of money out of us, the people too stupid to know any better.
Mr Becht works for Reckitt Benckiser, a company that, as even he has pointed out in the past, makes some "very stupid products". And yet, dumb as they are – and this is the company that gave the world Cillit Bang – we have been proven to be even dumber.
It's not just that Cillit Bang is routinely voted the least popular brand in Britain and yet still flies off the shelves. Or even that it contains the kind of chemicals considered handy for cleaning up plutonium stains (a discovery workers at Dounreay nuclear power station made last year).
It's that there are few finer examples of how capitalism works than the Reckitt Benckiser model: make something people don't really need, charge them a lot of money for it, then, and – this is the truly brilliant twist – change the name slightly and put the price up. I give you: Finish QuantuMatic or what always used to be called "detergent". And Nurofen Express Liquid Capsules, which we pedants call "ibruprofen".
Except that a packet of 16 Tesco ibruprofen costs 28p and 16 Nurofen Express Capsules costs £3.68. I'd really like to say that anyone who is stupid enough to buy Nurofen deserves to be £3.40 out of pocket and Bart Becht to be paid £92.3m a year. But it's been clinically proved that if you believe Nurofen is better than ibruprofen, it will work better on you. Dammit. It's a refinement of the placebo effect so brilliant it's positively Bechtian. When even our headaches obey the implacable logic of the market, what chance do we have?
Nurofen: the analgesic of the masses. As Marx never said.