Andrew Vine: It’s a turn-off to insult my intelligence

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AS stating the blindingly obvious goes, a helpful piece of energy-saving advice that arrived unsolicited takes some beating. “You could turn your heating down by one degree and off completely in the summer,” it informed me, with an excited exclamation mark at the end of the sentence, just to underline what an innovative idea this is.

Well, I never. Fancy it not crossing my mind that there’s no need to have the central heating on full blast during the height of summer when the sun is cracking the paving flags and an ice cream van’s chimes can be heard outside.

There was another gem of advice for all of us to bear in mind on laundry days. “On dry days use your washing line instead of a tumble dryer.” Get away with you. Really? I’d never thought of hanging the shirts and socks out to dry. “Turn the lights off when leaving a room,” was another dazzling insight, prodding householders to abandon the familiar practice of illuminating their homes as brightly as the Eiffel Tower. And when you fancy a pot of tea, “only fill the kettle with the amount of water you need”, as opposed to routinely boiling half a gallon in order to brew a single cup.

Now I’m all for saving energy, and money. The most predictable wince points during the course of any year are the arrival of gas and electricity bills, especially those that turn up like an unwelcome visitor after the winter months. Opening the envelope with that familiar air of trepidation, and then seeing the figure due in bold lettering inevitably produces a mental “Ouch”, followed by some sums about what can be cut back if the household budget is to remain in the black.

All of which means I was very receptive to the leaflet that arrived from my energy supplier trumpeting what it said were “top tips” for saving money and energy. Until I opened it to find that it viewed my fellow customers and myself as being dimmer than a low-wattage lightbulb. Telling us we don’t need heating on when it’s warm, or that washing will flutter dry in the breeze of a sunny day are not top tips for saving energy.

This is talking down to us, a ridiculous degree of condescension that implies perfectly sensible people don’t have an ounce of common sense – our time-honoured Yorkshire virtue of gumption – and it’s an attitude gradually becoming more widespread.

The rest of the leaflet did not quite plumb the same depths of inanity, but it was still pretty redundant. Advising us to fit low-energy bulbs, insulate the loft and lag water pipes is unlikely to provide a eureka moment to the probable majority of householders who did all those things years ago.

A friend who has a different energy supplier received a similarly useless leaflet, and since both companies are among the so-called “big six” players in the domestic market that means that millions of these things have gone out.

This gives rise to a very obvious top tip for the energy firms – save money and energy by not wasting them on leaflets destined to be hurled towards the recycling bin with a snort of derision. In fairness, they’re not alone in the poker-faced proffering of the blindingly obvious as useful advice.

Whilst dropping a pack of cashew nuts into the trolley in the supermarket, my eye was caught by a label in capital letters on the bag: “Warning: contains nuts.” There was a frozen pizza in the trolley as well, which also carries a warning: “The topping on this product will be particularly hot after cooking.”

Are consumers really to be taken as fools like this? Warnings about nuts for those who suffer allergies have a right and proper place on food that may not at first glance appear to contain them, but placing it on a bag of nuts itself?

And if anybody really needs to be told that food will be hot when it comes out of the oven, it’s probably not a good idea to let them anywhere near a cooker in the first place. Or a lawnmower for that matter, if the label on my shiny new model is to be taken at face value, informing me as it does that if I insert my fingers into spinning blades, I’m likely to suffer an injury.

Whether it’s energy-saving advice, frozen pizzas or lawnmowers, this modern mania for insulting the intelligence of the vast majority of the public whose native common sense guides them through keeping bills down or avoiding hazards achieves exactly the opposite of what it sets out to achieve.

Stop treating us as fools. Give us credit for our intelligence, don’t talk down to us, and we’ll take much more notice.