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Defending the Brand

A Case Study in Counterspin

by Joseph Jones

His Tweet is the Media's Command
His Tweet is the Media's Command

Also posted by Joseph Jones:


This case study is rife with contradictions. The upfront contradiction is the inadvisability of doing anything to call any more attention to Mark Brand and his designer signboard for Save-on-Meats. The offsetting hope is that critical readers will come to understand better what the Mark Brand enterprise actually is doing.

Playing the Victim Card

Toward the end of the third week of March 2013, mainstream media slathered Mark Brand and Save-on-Meats across lots of pages and screens. This on-command advertising for the center of his empire helped to divert attention from another embarrassing story. Ironically, regular news coverage of that far bigger story cropped up only in one more-honest-than-not piece that appeared in Business in Vancouver about one week earlier. Not a peep otherwise about the downside news.

On 20 March 2013 Mark Brand issued a single Instagram about alleged theft of the Save-on-Meats sidewalk signboard. The "reporting" industry immediately and dutifully swarmed in to wave the banner in sync. In essence, their task is to mask up the forces of gentrification in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside with a human face. To showcase a good-hearted hard-working risk-taking little guy. To background the big-money real-estate sharks that calculate each successive kill. To vilify those who oppose a naked greed that cares nothing about the existing social capital of a well-established local community in the Downtown Eastside.

Arguably, the main paid job of Mark Brand is to do PR. How else could he afford to spend nine straight hours peddling his latest tale? The contradiction overwhelms: a lauded "entrepreneur" who always seems to be scrounging for his next bailout. Government money. Reality TV money. A stream of business folk who pony up to keep his farce in production.

The real and neglected story is the shaky financial basis for Mark Brand's Save-on-Meats "business" — a business that Business in Vancouver openly called struggling. A detailed and documented account of that new financial situation went up at Vancouver Media Coop on Monday March 18. Two days after that Brand unleashed his Instagram. Yet his "news" only repeated a communiqué that had been out there for almost a week already.

Weak Media

An overworked media machine clearly feeds on itself. The signboard caper digs one inch deep to spread rumor a mile wide. How can "journalists" bring themselves to push this puffery about Save-on-Meats?

Compare (1) the importance of one allegedly stolen sidewalk signboard to (2) a recent major reorganization of a "business" that was said to control 22,000 sq ft of downtown floor space on a twenty-year lease.

Go for the sensation, of course. Anarchist with signboard. Vivid and easy and fast. No need even to send out a photographer to get a picture. Already provided.

Just interview Mark Brand. He knows all about it. It's his story and that's all that matters.

Every single outlet of the propaganda conglomerate should publish under Vancouver Inquirer as the common sensationalist masthead. Because they all retailed the same basic uncritical story. Wasn't that signboard born with two heads? Didn't the anarchist have three feet?

Specific Reporting Failures

  It would be cynical in the extreme to suppose that Mark Brand is B.Cat who stole his own signboard. Do notice, though, that the initial is B. With no hard evidence of who did what, if anything, the scam possibility cannot be ruled out. After all, Brand has capitalized on the situation to catalyze a mass of favorable and diversionary media at an opportune time.

  A great many of the news accounts have conflated three separate communiqués that appeared close together in time. Why let making responsible distinctions interfere with a more powerful story? There's a conspiracy going on here: "same website" … "latest victim in a campaign" … "string of protests and attacks." The united enemy is surely everywhere. And to be deplored in every manifestation.

  The location of the Save-on-Meats name goes back to 1957. But the operation was restarted as a different business under different management after the long-term owner of both building and business put his operation up for sale in 2009. Mark Brand, who has never owned the building, went for out-of-character expensive and fancy renovations. That's a hallmark of gentrification.

  The reporting on Brand's revitalization of the Downtown Eastside always seems more a matter of assertion than of scrutiny of metrics and evaluation of verifiable results. Ditto for the ninety jobs that one account attributes to Brand.

  An asserted "literal tonnes of food" handed out by Save-on-Meats could also stand some in-depth analysis and verification. Jerking reader heartstrings with a purported fan letter from one fed person is just not good enough to count as any kind of reporting.

Brand on Brand

From Brand himself — Twitter, Instagram, Save-on-Meats web site — come only flashes that it's all only ever getting better on the business side. That's called promo, and Brand is a pro.

it's getting bigger! adding seats, bigger community kitchen etc all details on our website!  (Mar 15 tweet)

consolidating onto one floor and maximizing space. Going to be amazing  (Mar 18 tweet)

no it [Save-on-Meats bldg] wasn't ever mine to sell. It belonged to a company who luckily sold it to someone who negotiated a better deal for us  (Mar 21 tweet)

You want to go to the web site and find all details about getting bigger? Good luck. Try this:

Recently, owner Mark Brand and Anthem Properties negotiated a long term rental deal, 20 years, that will secure our longevity and continued growth. … If you ask, we're sure the staff [at] our amazing diner and community service sandwich window … will fill you in on some of the new developments.

Those supposed details just cannot escape from the infinite regress that has them trapped somewhere unreachable. Somehow the February 2013 accounting in the Globe and Mail rings truer and sounds a lot tougher: paying one-third of current rent for one-quarter of the building on a five-year locked-in agreement.

Perhaps some truth leaks through in the text of a March 19 eastvanbrand Instagram: 7 years. 11 builds. I've got a problem.

The Pete McMartin adulation uncorks a March 24 Instagram spew about roller coaster month … new landlords … massive renovation … larger diner and community kitchen … attacked by Internet heros with amazing made up facts … us in the news for a full week.

If This Pig Don't Fly made up any facts, there has been no refutation whatsoever. Just this vague blather.

Lots of positive hype has been swirling around lately. Remember that the vortex of a fluid tends to center over the drain hole.


Ten comments in Backchat in the Province on March 22 included this one under the caption All About Publicity: "Why give them any coverage? All they want is publicity." (The them refers to the anarchist(s) who posted the communiqué.)

The answer to the question might run something like this. Nobody paid any attention to this maybe-it-happened event until Mark Brand rounded up a posse of media. Why did Brand do that? More important, why did so many mainstream media outlets fall all over a story they usually would scorn? Why has no for-profit newsmonger besides Business in Vancouver carried a story about the finances of Save-on-Meats?

The local journalist "profession" seem to shy away from digging into numbers, and it seems to lack the competence for doing that job. PR is easier and pays better?

What this particular shortcoming brings to mind, in the local context, is how long that infamous footnote in City of Vancouver annual reports remained overlooked. Overlooked, that is, until Olympic Village financing went into overt meltdown.

By the way, how is it going now with all that new social housing at the rebranded False Village on Up the Creek?

•   •   •   •   •   •

[ Reading list last updated on 4 April 2013 ]

Saturday February 16

Kerry Gold. Gastown restaurateur cooks up a deal. Globe and Mail (16 Feb 2013) S7

Thursday March 14

Nelson Bennett. Property group buys historic Save On Meats building, plans to renovate. Business in Vancouver (14 Mar 2013)

B.Cat. A sign of the times. Vancouver Media Coop (14 Mar 2013)

Monday March 18

Joseph Jones. This pig don't fly: Losing it at Save-on-Meats. Vancouver Media Coop (18 Mar 2013)

Wednesday March 20

Mark Brand. [Instagram] (20 Mar 2013)

Mike Hager. Save On Meats hit by vandals; owner suspects anti-gentrification 'anarchists'. Vancouver Sun (20 Mar 2013)

Thursday March 21

John Ackermann. Save On Meats being targeted by anarchists: Owner Mark Brand says they stole a sandwich board sign. News 1130 (21 Mar 2013)

Stephanie Ip. Save On Meats owner seeks help to save iconic sign stolen by anarchists. Province (21 Mar 2013)

Cassidy Olivier. Hold the vandalism, pizzeria owner implores. Province (21 Mar 2013) A10

Save on Meats sandwich sign allegedly stolen by anarchists. CBC News (21 Mar 2013)

Darcy Wintonyk. Save on Meats targeted by anarchists against Downtown Eastside gentrification. CTV British Columbia (21 Mar 2013)

Friday March 22

Backchat [10 comments]. Province (22 Mar 2013) A17

Daniel Bitonti. Anarchists claim butcher's sign. Globe and Mail (22 Mar 2013) S1, S4

Sam Cooper. 'Enraged' neighbourhood vows to meet threat. Province (22 Mar 2013) A13

Andrew Fleming. 'Anti-gentrification' vandals targeting more restaurants. Vancouver Courier (22 Mar 2013) EW9

Jeff Lee. Sandwich-board theft shows depth of debate. Vancouver Sun (22 Mar 2013) A6

Jeremy Nuttall. Activists hit beloved shop; Save On Meats latest victim in anti-gentrification fight. 24 Hours (22 Mar 2013) 1,3

Restaurant's vandals are pea-brained pests [editorial]. Province (22 Mar 2013) A16

Save On Meats hunting for sign-stealing "anarchists" as group targets Vancouver's "capitalists." National Post (22 Mar 2013)

Kate Webb. 'Anarchist' strikes again; stolen sign; Save-On Meats targeted this time. Metro Vancouver (22-24 Mar 2013) 8

Kate Webb. Leaders denounce ‘anarchist’ vandals while online, others poke fun. Metro Vancouver (22 Mar 2013)

Saturday March 23

Tristin Hopper. A place where the rich and the poor rub elbows. National Post (23 Mar 2013) A12-A13

Pete McMartin. Another kind of meal from Save-On-Meats. Vancouver Sun (23 Mar 2013) A4

Sunday March 24

Voices rise up against anti-gentrification protesters. CBC News (24 Mar 2013)

Wednesday March 27

Rebirth does not call for a class war: Downtown Eastside anarchism [editorial]. Globe and Mail (28 Mar 2013) A10  [Online title: Anarchist crime does not serve the Downtown Eastside]

Tuesday April 2

The gentrification war in East Vancouver. Macleans (2 Apr 2013)

Wednesday April 3

Andrew Fleming. Save on Meats photo op raises money for women's shelter. Vancouver Courier (3 Apr 2013)

Thursday April 4

Stephanie Ip. Save on Meats’ new sign sticks it to anarchist thieves. GlobalBC (4 Apr 2013)

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bring it!

fantastic Joe!


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