What Makes a Cartel Newsworthy?

German Sausages

The mainstream UK news media has today been gleefully reporting the large fines imposed by the Bundeskartellamt in the German Sausage cartel. What struck me as interesting is why that cartel, above so many others has broken out of the financial press and made the headlines?

In many ways the Sausage cartel is an odd one for the UK Media to pick up. In terms of absolute size of fines it’s a large but not spectacular case. Also there is very little chance that many UK nationals would have been impacted by the cartel itself. A much more important UK cartel has also had newsworthy development in the last few weeks. The criminal cases against several members of the UK Galvanised Steel Tank cartel have been proceeding through Southwark Crown Court. This is only the second successful prosecution of the cartel offence in the UK – with Peter Nigel Snee admitting guilt, with two other charges remaining outstanding. This, of course, received little media interest (apart from in the FT).

So what has driven the media interest in the sausage cartel?

A quick perusal of the reporting suggests that there are two factors that have led to the disproportionate impact of this case. First, or should I say ‘wurst’, is the inherent entertainment value of the humble sausage. It is the ubiquity of the product, or the potential for a smutty innuendo? Who knows, but the pun of potential of the sausage has set UK newsrooms alight. The second factor is the ability to shoe-horn a few well-worn German stereotypes into your copy you have a perfect UK media storm. I give you a few examples:

From the BBC: ‘German sausage makers in meaty fine over price-fixing’

From the Guardian: ‘German sausage cartel caught bangers to rights’
with the splendid sub-head ‘Wurst-case scenario for sausage makers after anti-cartel watchdog slaps down record €338m fine for price-fixing’.

From the FT: ‘What’s the wurst that could happen?’

Even Forbes and the NY Post got into the punning action.

The lesson the CMA can take from this is – if you want to get your cases reported in the mainstream media look for markets that have decent comedy potential. And if there’s the prospect for a little bit of gentle xenophobia; it won’t do any harm. I’m afraid with material like Galvanised Steel tanks there’s no chance of catching the public eye.



P.S. my blogging has been a little sparse over the last few months. That’s because I’ve been heavily involved in the Exams process at Lancaster, and then has the proofs for the 5th ed of my textbook to finalise. That’s all done now, but sadly the Sausage Cartel was just too late to make the book. If news had broken a few days earlier I might have been able to sneak a ‘wurst’ pun in myself …

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