What led me to create letslookagain.com?
From an early age I had a curiosity about brands and companies. I would pester adults with questions, “why do Shell operate more petrol stations than BP?” and “Why are McDonald’s more successful than Burger King?”
I assumed that because I cared about the answers to these questions that other people did to. I soon realised that mine was a rather minority interest. I tried to find answers to my questions, but largely in vain. Reading newspapers such as The Economist and the Financial Times sated some interest, but still left me unfulfilled.
There was no widespread internet access back then. The books that could help me were only to be found in university libraries, none of which I had access to. The books about business that were available tended to have a left-wing slant, such as No Logo (1999) by Naomi Klein and Fast Food Nation (2001) by Eric Schlosser. Disappointed, I instead turned to regular history, which was much easier to get my hands on. Niall Ferguson highlighted for me the value of approaching history from an economic perspective.
I was later encouraged by journalists such as Adam Curtis and Malcolm Gladwell. They were innately curious about the world, and explored this with a sense of playfulness. Curtis chronicled advertising and brand management in The Century of the Self (2002), and Gladwell’s 2004 essay, ‘The Ketchup Conundrum‘, explored how Heinz developed the leading tomato ketchup in the world. I had found people who were interested in what I was interested in, and furthermore, Curtis and Gladwell demonstrated that business history could be engaging.
With increasing internet access, I was able to delve more deeply into business history. I quickly became jaded by official company websites, where “company histories” were often demonstrably incorrect, or highly biased. Wikipedia and Grace’s Guides were helpful references, but they had glaring gaps in their coverage, and often hosted inaccuracies.
A huge inspiration was the blogs of Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson. Cornell and Pattinson focused on the history of brewing, and by concentrating on primary sources were able to demonstrate that many oft-repeated historical claims were inaccurate.
I became a dedicated Wikipedia editor, but eventually grew frustrated by the lack of control over my contribution. I therefore decided to create a blog of my own. Cornell and Pattinson and others already had beer pretty well covered, so I decided to focus more broadly on food and drink.
So to answer the original remit of this short essay, an innate curiosity about the world of business and brands is why I created and continue to develop this blog. As I have myself been able to learn from others, I am glad to be able to help to educate others in the same way.