01 October, 2015

How VW turned from most loved to most hated in a day. And what to do.

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday October 1, 2015

In the past I've discussed handling the PR when someone shoots themselves in the foot. A sexist comment on a footy programme, a politician drunk in a strip club, or taking a helicopter to a barbecue. There are basic steps of openness, apology, fast response, a practised routine. But what do you do when your client treads on a land-mine that blows its legs off?

This is the situation of Volkswagen, gone overnight from rooster of the motor industry to despised feather duster. Their PR agency is Edelman, the biggest in the world with 5000 consultants in 65 countries. And you can bet that every one of them has been burning the midnight oil for the past two weeks, finally earning their fat retainers.

The error was supreme hubris. VW believed that they were so smart, no-one would suss that their emissions software was nobbled. And in fact all around the world, nobody did notice. Until a small body at West Virginia University wanted to prove how clean diesel had become. But their tests disagreed with all the official results from regulators.

When the testers asked the Environmental Protection Agency to examine their findings, the truth came out. In the software was a secret toggle that switched on when it recognised test condition, and off once the car was back on the road.

In this modern world, how anyone could believe they could keep secrets covered up for ever, is beyond me. Of course it will come out eventually. And American regulators do not like to be duped. Their anger can be measured in millions and billions of dollars, just wait and see. And every other regulator around the world is suffering the same indignation.

So what do you do? They admitted and apologised, as their PRs would have insisted. The CEO was dragged out and shot. No doubt there are purges coming that will make Stalin look like a softie. But they won't solve the problem of regaining the public's trust - even love - for Volkswagen.

Already there are campaigns being formulated that portray VW as green and good and a lifelong friend. The trouble is, every viewer will think, "Yes but - they're the ones who were willing to secretly pollute me". That 's going to take a long time forgetting.

There are in fact ways to improve efficiency and lower emissions, and they were considered. But, I have heard, they would have added some $500 to the cost of the car. A lot, in a very competitive market. But when you start looking at the penalties the Americans are talking about - $25 billion in fines, class actions by 11 million diesel users, prosecutions by France, UK, South Korea, Canada, not to mention Germany - it would have been cheap at twice the price.

They have to fix the problem, handle the recalls, swiftly and politely. Tell the truth on their web site and social media. Write humble letters to every VW owner, yes even the petrol ones. Here in Australia as in every other market, each CEO must face the public and explain. Yes they knew nothing about it but probably neither did big boss Martin Winterkorn but he still had to carry the blame. And until an awful lot of repair work is done, it will no longer be Das Auto but Das Betrüger (a very Germanic word for cheater).

25 September, 2015

Horrible is what the public wants to watch

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday September 24, 2015

It's horrible, horrible. For someone who has spent a lifetime trying to create beautiful, stylish images and well-crafted words and messages - to discover that what the world really wants, and hugely embraces - is garbage.

I'm talking here about Web Stars. You know what they are? The rambling spouters of grating speeches and opinions on every subject, from fashion and cosmetics, to bad jokes and worse recipes, all shown with shaky camerawork.

The US gives us personalities like Jenna Marbles, whose rambling concerns about her makeup have won her 15 million subscribers. (Not just lookers - all these have signed on.)

The Fine Bros, who make videos of varied events like kids reacting to "The Harlem Shake", or their recounting the entire Harry Potter tale (all the movies) in 11 minutes. This particular feat won 3.6 million views.

In Australia we have the likes of Jai Brooks, a pimply teenager who wants to be our answer to Justin Bieber - and just might. He's had 100 million views and his records have now been hits in 21 countries.

Australia's number one YouTuber makes how-to videos with a difference: they don't teach you anything. HowToBasic "shows" its viewers how to twerk like Miley Cyrus or rap like Eminem, aided by revolting props such as chicken carcasses, bubble gum and urine. It's ghastly but claims 4 million subscribers - and is said to bring in $1 million a year.

The list is endless, the numbers are baffling. But of course there are those who see the money in them. Up front is Google which owns YouTube and manages the streams of ads you see each time you make a click. The advertisers have learned that this promotion works, so they willingly spend for it out of the advertising budget. Each view of their ad, costs an average ranging between ten and thirty cents. Not a lot - till you see sites with millions of views.

Advertisers can target viewers by age, gender, location or by what types of videos they like to watch. The number of brands running video ads has increased by more than 40% year-over-year, and YouTube's top 100 advertisers have increased in their average spend per brand by more than 60%.

Agencies have emerged, in response to this market. In Sydney, Boom Video has seen enormous growth in five years. They manage a range of vloggers and blogs, from the serious adult categories to the just plain stupid ones. But they all find an audience, as co-founder Spiro Pissam explained: "These videos are authentic, they're varied. Search YouTube in your own time, and you'll find someone you relate to."

They are lively sites, "The key to success is to keep creating new content," says Pissam. They establish feedback with the viewers. He pointed to Michelle Phan, who started giving advice on hair and makeup. She became first with 1 billion views, and 8 million followers - and is now said to be worth $100 million. She has published a book and has her own L'Oriel makeup line.

Google are pouring money into their Web Stars with the kind of advertising you would see for TV and newspapers. A year ago they put one of their heavyweight "foundation team" into the job. Susan Wojcicki is CEO of YouTube and talks the language of the TV executives. In fact that's where she's headed: to pull in a big slice of the world's $300 billion global TV ad market.

22 September, 2015

Is the Apple Watch a Winner or a Harbinger?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday August 13, 2015

After the fabulous, hugely rewarding success of the iPhone and iPad, at first glance the Apple watch seemed an obvious step to take outside of Apples’s computer space. The clever little wrist accessory is in effect a tiny computer with many of the bigger machines’ capabilities. And it is an Apple so how could the passionati resist. Sure enough they were queuing outside the Apple shops the days before it was launched late in April.

If 4.2 million sales in three months looks successful you’d be right. But the question becomes one of sustainable growth versus "harbinger" sales. Remember my article last week about "harbingers of failure"? I’d been pondering the iWatch in the back of my mind as I wrote it. Now one of the world’s most celebrated marketers is saying it out loud.

Al Ries is author of the classic marketing book Positioning. The battle for your mind, for 43 years the central tenet of product development. His critical glance can stop major corporations in their tracks.

He sees four problems with the Watch (why do I always want to call it the iWatch? Perhaps because that's what it should have been called.) Firstly because it is an accessory, not an independent device.

It does not replace your phone - in fact you have to carry your iPhone in pocket for it to use its telephony features. Dick Tracy it ain't. Ries' advice is, "Instead of developing a new accessory to enhance the performance of the iPhone, develop a new brand for people who don't want to carry an iPhone."

Secondly they were not the first in the category - and not different enough to be able to create a whole new category for itself, the "smart watch". This would be the classic positioning move to make.

Thirdly, like me he's unhappy with the brand name, Apple watch. He sees it as a brand extension name that's likely to produce modest results. Like Heinz mustard, Campbell's tomato juice, or Red Bull cola. But perhaps there is some new advance yet to come from the secretive halls of Cupertino which will truly deserve a new name?

This brings us to the fourth problem. The range. Apple succeeded with one dazzling product at a time. Remember the excitement of that first iPod? The hysteria of the first iPhone in its sparkling ceramic whiteness? Or the blank simplicity of the iPad? "Less is more" Steve Jobs seemed to be saying.

But Tim Cook, the new God of Apple, thinks differently. The watch has 38 different models. Prices range from $499 in the Sports range, to $799 - $1679 for Apple Watch to over $14,000 in the Editions range. The likes of Beyoncé, Kanye West, and Karl Lagerfeld are seen prancing in the costly models.

All very well, you can pay a lot more for a fancy watch. But will a Rolex or a Patek Philippe become obsolete in five years or less? Remember the mumblings coming from behind the walls at Cupertino. Who knows what's next on the agenda?

Is the new Apple watch going to be the harbinger of a whole new category of smart watches - or is it an ominous harbinger of failure?

If Al Ries is not so sure, I'd be getting nervous: "No one knows whether the Apple watch will become another iPod, iPhone or iPad. But if history is any guide, the odds are not good." And he warns the still-huge, still-wealthy company: "Tim Cook is not following the game plan devised by Steve Jobs."


17 September, 2015

The Marketeers Are On The Rise

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday, 17 September, 2015
For too long the stories have been about companies closing, amalgamating, reducing their marketing staff. You end up wondering where our marketeers will find work as the trend continues.

But wait! Now I can herald good news. That downward slide has bottomed out, and the prospects are now on the up. The forecast is that demand for marketers is strong - and will continue to grow for at least another five years.

In fact, marketing is one of the strongest job sectors and promises more to come. Eight out of ten marketing bosses say they will consolidate, or increase, their staff levels by the end of this year, according to a survey by headhunters Robert Walters.

This is supported by the government's own figures. Its Job Outlook Report says that the jobs for advertising and marketing professionals are expected to be high, greater than 71,000, by 2019.

But what are these jobs? Who is creating them at such a high rate? Alex Kenning is General Manager at Firebrand recruiters and he reeled off a long list of hirers: corporations, and small to medium enterprises; advertising and media agencies, digital studios, social hubs.

Some companies use their professional marketers to manage all their needs, while with others the marketer also manages the contribution of an agency. Companies that sell direct, through email or direct sales, have a constant need for promotion - either by web or "outside" - that needs a stream of advertising copy and bright selling ideas, new looks and promotions.

In fact, even as the high street shops and showrooms close, countless new "shops" and "showrooms" pop up on the Internet. Only now, instead of competing with their rivals in the suburb or the town, their competition is the world. And to stand out in that big arena you have to be very visible and very good.

The clients look for varying skills. The prospective employee must do more than write a product blurb or place a price tag on the screen. They want their marketer to contribute to the success of the business, to generate ideas, to manage the media.

But of course we are looking at a digital world today. The modern marketer has to understand it, and know how to keep ahead of the trends.

"They have to be creative in their use of technology," says Mr Kenning. They have to keep coming up with something new, a new expression or trend, "In a way that's going to be impactful for the business."

In other words, you have to keep on the ball. But if you do, your job will be pretty secure.

"It's encouraging that permanent hiring is projected to improve, indicating that employers are looking to strengthen marketing teams to help promote both new and existing services," said Morgane Martinez, Robert Walters Sydney Manager.

Of course this also then puts pressure on the firm to hold their staff and ensure that the permanence works both ways. Already marketing professionals tend to earn more than similarly placed middle-level executives. Also, 45 per cent of employers revealed that they are likely to give their staff a wage increase this year.

But another message that comes out clearly from these surveys is, that they seek interesting work and job satisfaction. They are more likely to look beyond the headline salary of any job offer, and then evaluate how happy they are with the job they find themselves in. So make sure you keep the work interesting if you want to hold them.


Blog: themarketeer-raybeatty.blogspot.com

10 September, 2015

Disruption: how the horses disappeared in 13 years.

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday September 10, 2015

The PowerPoint slide shows New York's 5th Avenue packed with horse cabs and carriages. Stanford University lecturer Tony Seba asks the audience to look closely at this shot from Easter 1900. "Where's the car?" he asks. None can be seen till Seba points to a blurry form that you eventually see is a horseless carriage.

"Now here is 5th Avenue, Easter 1913." This time the street is filled with automobiles and some buses and trucks. "Where's the horse?" he asks. There is none to be seen.

"To go from all horse to all cars took about 13 years," said Seba, "That's history, that's disruption."

In the past decade you're seen such a disruption. Where's your Instamatic? Where's the world's greatest photographic film company? Fragmented and sold, the giant of your childhood, Kodak, is long gone.

Seba's talk asks us to see that such a disruption is happening right now - and by 2030, just 15 years from now, our world will be completely changed. "Transport and energy will be nothing like we have today." He has the facts and data to back him up.

He points to electric vehicles. The current Tesla P85D has been judged by motoring experts as "The best car Consumer Reports has ever tested", equivalent in acceleration and handling with the Porsche Carrera 911. And similarly expensive.

But the fall in the cost of batteries is rapid; the intensity of research and design of new EVs, not just by Tesla but all the major car makers, is such that he confidently predicts prices will fall below $50,000: for a car that's as good as a Porsche, by 2018.

Then he points to solar panels, which have plummeted in price. His charts show them falling a further two-thirds by 2020, quite apart from their rapidly increasing efficiency.

You know all this talk of rising energy costs? They won't worry you because you'll make your own electricity. Oh and your electric car can fill its "tank" with 300 kilometres' energy for $8.

Here in Melbourne there's research at Monash University's Nanoscale Science Lab that's creating super-capacitors which can give batteries much greater capacity and faster charging to expand the range of EVs even further.

Stretching amazement further he reminds us that self-drive vehicles are almost here. They can now gauge distances and speeds on the road, self-park, observe traffic. Already several manufacturers are creating cars that drive themselves and use ACC - Adaptive Cruise Control - which makes them far more controlled and accurate than you could ever be. So yes, your car will be a better driver than you.

With this computer control they can communicate with each other and drive much tighter formations, observing lanes and pedestrians. So eventually we'll need less space, less roads. No more need to expand highways - there will be plenty of room. Can you imagine how much that could save?

As it is, right now all the research and development is producing technical and price competition that are pulling costs down.

Seba raises several more facts, and has written books on the subject, but the end message is simple. We are now in a period of historic disruption that by 2030 will have disposed of the need for petrol, gas, or coal. Looking back, that's the time between now and 2000 millennium. Wasn't so long ago was it?

If you think I'm exaggerating, judge for yourself: www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBkND76J91k .

03 September, 2015

When men grow beards, what happens to the blades?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday September 3, 2015

A holiday is always a good time to try something different and this year on my European break I grew a beard. I had a bruise on my chin that I wanted to cover (a bump, not a punch) which it did very quickly. But then I started to notice the other men who had beards - I hadn't realised there were so many. In fact a goodly portion of middle aged males drape fur on their lips and chins.

The immediate question of course was: what does that do to marketing? All around us we have advertising for new exotic razor blades, innovative electric shavers, gifts from the Shaver Shop. Can this hairy trend be harming these businesses? This seemed a good time to find out, with Father's Day coming this weekend.

The prominent company in this market is Procter and Gamble which owns Gillette on the razor and soap side, and Braun on the electric shaver and trimmer side.

The problem is, both these businesses are suffering from too much hair. Even when he is not fully bearded, you rarely seem to see a handsome tv hero without a five-day stubble on his face. (How do they always manage to keep it at that same stubble length? Do they cut it with nail scissors?)

Last month P&G complained that its grooming division sales had dropped by 18 per cent, and profits by 32 per cent in the fiscal quarter. That's painful for a business that has enjoyed over a century of pretty steady growth. The reason for the decline was easy to pinpoint. As a P&G spokeswoman stated, "The number of times some men are shaving is decreasing."

The same report admitted it was the worse outcome for any of P&G's myriad divisions. The grooming segment's quarterly organic net sales and volume each declined by 7per cent . Sales in developed markets dropped by a high-single-digit percentage, and by a mid-single-digit percentage in developing markets.

The grooming segment made up about 10 per cent of P&G's annual sales in fiscal 2015, but 20 per cent of its profits, reflecting the high margins on razors and blades. Five years ago a British Office of Fair Trading investigation revealed that the five-bladed Fusion shave blades which can cost around $5 each, are manufactured for 10 cents. So yes, that's a healthy mark-up.

One bright light for the razor gang, though, is also fashion related. Men are shaving other parts of their bodies, more. Think of all the men who have swapped their natural monk's tonsure for a totally bald head a la Yul Brynner. Not to mention all the chest and arm hair that must be removed in order to show off the large, expensive tattoos.
Also declining is the number of women shaving. No doubt the number of Brazilian and laser hair-removal stores in every shopping centre explains much of this. I thought this must be the height of self-inflicted pain, until, in a bulk store, I saw an electric hair plucker. I'm afraid I had to walk away, my tummy churning at the thought of it.

However the folks from P&G have a few good days ahead. IBISWorld researchers have reported rises in the amounts spent for Father's Day. While still only half of what is spent for Mother's Day, now 35 per cent of gifts come under the category of "personal care". Which must contain a good few boxes of razors, blades and trimmers.


28 August, 2015

The music industry was simple but then....

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday August 27, 2015

In 1999 the music industry as relatively simple. An artist or band found a manager who persuaded a record label of their worth. Money was invested in producing an album and if it hit the spot millions of copies were sold making everybody rich.

But then along came Napster. Suddenly artists found that everyone was playing their music but noone was paying for it. Needless to say they were upset. Prophesies went out about the death of the industry. Not just the artist but the disk pressers, producers, album designers, promoters.

Big music studios shrank once every musician could run a full, multi-channel production board from their lap top and mix and prep their own music. The whole industry had to find a way to adapt, or die.

The legal battle with Napster was lengthy and intriguing. While some like Dr Dre and Metallica claimed their work was being stolen, others like Dispatch sold out three nights at Madison Square Gardens, and had world-wide success even though they had not been picked up or promoted by a major label. They claimed it was all thanks to Napster.

Eventually Napster was defeated and went bankrupt. But it severely dented the "make an album" pattern of music launching. So has the music industry really died? Well open your ears and you'll hear an awful lot of music that puts a lie to this.

In fact around the world anxious surveys have been carried out and figures analysed. It seems those faring the best are the creatives. Performers, musicians and writers have found their income today is much in line with the past, allowing some growth for inflation.

Taking US Census data, musicians are earning more for themselves than average. Much of this comes from the growth of live music. Performers are spending less and less time in dark studios recording, and much more out on stage playing.

Songkick books live concerts world-wide and they have calculated that between 1999 and 2014 live music income has risen from $14 billion world-wide to $42 billion. Today, touring provides artists with 80 per cent of their income.

The splintering of the record companies has seen a huge growth in musicians' self-employment. This group has grown by almost 40 per cent, while their total revenue has grown by 60 per cent. Taking an overhead snapshot, this shows that the industry itself has not changed a great deal in finance flow, including inflation. What is changing is who gets it and how.

The major capital requirement was always cash for the pressings and marketing. This required a big company, factories, sales force, distribution trucks.
But technology has blown this necessity away. Sure you can have a huge production with a symphony orchestra and Quincey Jones and massive expenses. But at the other end of the scale I can look at my own daughter, Justine Electra, an indie musician covering Europe and the US from her home base in Berlin. While the kids eat their dinner she's in the home office / studio surrounded by instruments and computers, compiling her next album.

From the same computers it goes out to a world-wide fan base on the internet. Recording, manufacture and distribution from a Berlin apartment.
The big EMI stores have gone, replaced by iTunes and streaming. But there are still talented people out there creating the music and playing to a vast world audience, including you and me.


19 August, 2015

Can you be creative in committee?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday August 20, 2015

To resume photography I bought a nice simple, quality camera I could point and click. After a long spell of terrible results I decided to bite the bullet. I read the manual. And there I discovered what an incredibly clever and complex miniature machine I held in my hands. It can interpret the most varied lighting situations, change its lens width and length, overlay multiple images, smooth camera shake, scan panoramas, shoot films.

It must have taken hundreds of engineers, designers, programmers and optical scientists to create this device the size of a cigarette pack. It's a huge job of teamwork.

But can a team create the ads that eventually sell the product? Or is it a different process?

Every ad agency swears its briefing process is the most thorough or effective or stimulating. But too many agencies get sloppy about insisting on the client brief and the information it carries. It should display the client's marketing thoughts, knowledge of the target customer, thorough research, history and competition, and a sensible marketing budget.

Too often inadequate briefs leave the agency team guessing. And of course many times they guess wrong. A few misses and before long the client starts to wonder if another agency could do a better job, without wondering whether the fault could be in the brief. In fact I have a 40-question briefing form with which I would question new clients, because sometimes the only way to get properly briefed is to insist on it.

There is a move in the US to what they call visual creative briefs. In these, rather than the client sending out their document and waiting for the submission, the client and agency sit together in a room, for a day or more if necessary, and swap visual thoughts and ideas, building the brief and the solution together.

The method is certainly attractive, developing the rapport with the client, letting them see the thinking that went behind the development. But how does it deliver great advertising? Yes you want the client to understand what you are doing; to feel part of the creative process. But hopefully they understand that they are not the creative advertising people - otherwise why would they need the expense of an agency anyway?

Through this system I see lots of valuable information and insight, lots of pretty pictures, white boards and butcher's paper. People will start to talk each other into what they see as great ideas and they will emerge convinced they have solved the problem.

Looking into the room I don't see a great campaign. How can a committee create a space for the development of a Big Idea, for the Creative Spark, the flash of midnight genius? Look at the history of advertising (or any other creative endeavour for that matter) and you will see how many of the earth-moving thoughts have emerged from a single mind, sitting silently and juggling the widely differing ideas flitting through.

"Visual creative briefs" sounds to me too much like advertising by committee. Which is exactly what's wrong with current advertising and why so few great ads have been created in the past 20 years. Show me some earth-shaking campaigns that were created by committees. I remain very sceptical, the creative mind needs its solitude.

09 August, 2015

Are there harbingers of failure in every market?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday August 6, 2015

I’ve always had a leaning to orphans. I’m not alone in this - you may even recognise yourself here (or swear you are the exact opposite) - but I hate buying things just because everybody else does. For example I still drive my old Mazda Eunos. Is there anyone else still drives that marvellous car? I’m sure you could count them on your fingers and toes. But I love it and cling on even as the age becomes increasingly obvious.

But then I’m not one of those who queue for days for the latest Apple. I don’t even possess an iPhone or an iPad.

But I find there’s a whole marketing category that shares my oddness. They seem to unerringly find the product that nobody else wants, in the long run. They were pinpointed in a report in the American Marketing Association’s Journal under the title Harbingers of Failure. In other words, those who keep taking the road less travelled and can be a ready indicator of disaster.

The researchers, Eric Anderson of Northwestern University and three colleagues from MIT, claim that they found, “Some customers systematically purchase new products that flop. Their early adoption of a new product is a strong signal that a product will fail - the more they buy, the less likely the product will succeed.

“Firms can identify these customers either through past purchases of new products that failed, or through past purchases of existing products that few other customers purchase.”

To put a positive spin on it, he adds: “We discuss how these insights can be readily incorporated into the new product development process. Our findings challenge the conventional wisdom that positive customer feedback is always a signal of future success.”

This is a real torment for a marketer. Usually we carefully watch for early sales and then jump up and down and party when they materialise. But this can be quite the wrong reaction. If our vastly expensive new product launch depends on its success on the word of these Harbingers, we are marching our baby into the valley of Little Big Horn.

These remarkable findings were revealed after the analysis of tens of millions of purchases by 127,000 customers in 111 US stores. The criterion was that a product should be launched and eventually disappear from the major purchases section within three years. We have long known that 40 per cent of products will fail this test - and only a small number will survive into the future. But how could they pass through the thorough market reseach tests before then?

It could be that these Harbingers are a reason. They respond enthusiastically at the newness, the creativity, the niche placement of the product - whether it be a grocery item or a major piece of software - and the marketers rub their hands with glee. We’re on a winner! Yes, but, the rest of the market quickly climbs off this wagon and the expected triumph never happens.

What’s lost is not just the flopped product, but the precious shelf space it held through its death cycle - hugely valuable and denied to some other product in the queue that might have been a hit.

The good news is, say the researchers, that by identifying products that appeal to the Harbingers, you can avoid them and find more of the future winners.

30 July, 2015

Between couch and cruise there are a million holidays waiting for you

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday July 30, 2015

In the depth of winter there's no better recreation than planning the summer holiday. As the chilly wind blows outside, a sunny stack of brochures, magazine articles and maps create a certain glow.

The hotel and travel trade are well aware of the season and now is the time for a deluge of advertising for cruises, sandy beaches, German river tours or Asian adventures. The world's travel and hospitality industry is a trillion-dollar business where competition is intense.

As a rough split, you get the Baby Boomers - well heeled with mortgages paid, nests empty, and either well-paying senior jobs or fat super income. They're the ones who fill those massive floating palaces that sail the Mediterranean - and have dwarfed Station Pier in Port Melbourne.

Mums and dads with kids are a lower price category. I can still remember when colleagues of mine would pack the tribe off to Rosebud for the summer, and drive down to join in at the weekends. Do they still do that? These days they are more likely to buy a packaged fortnight in Bali or Vietnam.

But the group that has most recently attracted attention from the travel world is the millennials. Born in the 80s and 90s, they are now financially into their stride. Like the boomers, they make good money and have no kids or mortgages (surprising how many still live with mum and dad). One thing they love is to spend and have fun. Exactly what the travel industry exists for.

So take a look at hotels and you will see a lot of them working on their decor. Making them trendier, putting in contemporary restaurants, opening their bars late-night with powerful loudspeakers; they're extending gym facilities and even giving yoga classes.

These tech-savvy guests naturally expect free wi-fi, but also use apps on their smartphones to check-in, open doors, order room service and concierge bookings. They scour Facebook, Instagram, and the social media for opinions and reviews. Consequently, all the big hotels and chains have their own media specialists making sure that opinions stay nice.

The millennials have now started to overtake the baby boomers in numbers world-wide. Here in Australia Morgans counted their numbers at 26 versus 23 per cent. And of course the millennials are on a growth curve, while the boomers are beginning to shuffle off the page.

You get cheaper holidays at the younger end of the scale. Airbnb is only seven years old yet it has more than 1,000,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. Current evaluation is $20 billion. Not bad for a business started in 2008 with three air mattresses in Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia's San Francisco apartment. Airbnb can cost from $80 a night.

But what about a holiday where the accommodation is free? Another post-millennium phenomenon, Couchsurfing International was formed in 2003. Ten years later it numbered 5.5 million registered members and you can suppose that growth has been exponential since then.
Here you (often literally) sleep on the host's couch, enjoying their friendship and hospitality - and hopefully making them delighted with their new friend from Australia. In my twenties I surfed many couches as I travelled India and south-east Asia, making some wonderful friends and discovering life in a foreign world from the inside. It was one of life's founding experiences - yes, I'd recommend it.

23 July, 2015

Which washes whiter, advertising or journalism?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday, 23 July, 2015

I'm asked how I find the difference between working in advertising and journalism. Don't I find that advertising is much more deceitful, that you have to lie for a living? My response is, actually it's the other way round. In advertising you are much more tightly bound in what you can say or do and what you can get away with.

When journalists are dragged before a tribunal it's usually for a pretty serious business. With advertisers, it's so often for a ridiculously petty business.

For example, last month the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) tried Publicis Mojo for a Nestle Condensed Milk ad which showed a man in a kitchen cooking up a table full of cakes and biscuits. He's only wearing an apron which is just as well as he's making an awful mess of the kitchen around him. The cakes look good though.

The accusation was that the ad was "very sexist". It was using a man in a sexual manner to promote a product, which, had the roles been reversed, "would not be acceptable". Now wait a minute, because this was a bloke cooking in an apron, he's doing what we would never show a girl doing ...d'you think? And this is politically incorrect. Well I would have said it was fun, or silly - but sexism wouldn't enter my mind. Fortunately the tribunal were equally pure-minded and dismissed the case.

To be dragged before the Press Council you must by accused of much more serious issues than a man making cakes in an apron. If you look through adjudications over the past year you will find some truly serious questions. Like The Weekend Australian being taken to task over a front page photo from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17.

This is always a difficult question for editors. You want to register the seriousness of the tragedy. But can you show bodies in the picture? In this case there were two or three clothed figures in the foreground. One was apparently female and lying on her side with an elbow in the air. Another figure appeared to be partially covered by plane wreckage, but the nature and colour of their clothing was distinct.

It reported: "The Council considered the graphic depiction of bodies was likely to cause substantial offence and distress to a significant number of people, especially as many victims were Australian.

"It also considered, however, that the nature and scale of the disaster, including many Australian fatalities and the controversy about its cause, provided a very strong justification in the public interest for powerfully conveying the tragic consequences.

You can understand the difficult choice and why, "the Council did not consider there was a clear breach of its Standards."

Advertising to children is on a particularly tight leash these days. Coca Cola have just fought a battle over a campaign which compared drinking Fanta to an "awesome ride", a "bubble explosion" and "busting out to my favourite beats".

The ASB found that the commercial breached industry guidelines by advertising the fizzy drink to children. Coke responded that no, these aren't kids they are 17 year olds. "The Fanta Crew are visually depicted as older teens by their body shapes, hairstyles ...body language, gestures, accessories and ‘tools of play' (such as electric guitars and skateboards). They have 15 – 17 year old appeal."

The ASB didn't buy this and the commercials were pulled. There's no wriggle room for deceit in advertising.

16 July, 2015

Touch up Helen Mirren at your peril

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday July 16, 2015

Helen Mirren is a beauty who has been admired since she first started acting, in her teens. From the early days at the Royal Shakespeare Company to the West End and countless movies like Excalibur and Gosford Park, even as the grim Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, and more recently as the Queen on stage and screen - she always carried herself glamorously.

Then she made some commercials and ads for L'Oreal's Age Perfect moisturising cream - and was accused of being retouched. She was unhappy with the call, her employer even more so. They insisted that it is the real Helen there, but skilfully made up by a top make-up artist as you would expect for any photo shoot.

A viewer complained to Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the actress's wrinkles, specifically around her mouth, had been airbrushed. L'Oreal responded with four red carpet images, demonstrating that Dame Helen's appearance was consistent with the commercial; and said no post-production techniques had been applied.

The advertising watchdog upheld the company's claims: "We considered that the ads had not altered Ms Mirren's appearance in a way that would exaggerate the likely effect that could be achieved by consumers' use of the product, and concluded that the ads were not misleading," they said.

It comes as a nice birthday gift for next week, when she turns 70.

In the ad she strides the streets in a leather bikie jacket and cool blonde bob, even sliding a sly look at a much younger man at the parapet. This girl sure ain't shuffling to Centrelink.

Her attitude is reflected in the consistent growth of the $4 billion Australian cosmetics market, and the rapid emergence of "anti-aging" products like the Age Perfect range.

A recent Roy Morgan survey found 13 per cent of respondents searched out anti-aging properties, and as you would expect, the interest starts with the over 35s. And of course the competition can be harder for women.

Twin sisters Lexie and Lyndsay Kite are both PhDs and they run a Web program called "Beauty Redefined". They talk about "Invisible Women Over 40", the age when women can disappear from view. Those age problems like wrinkles and sags and spots are so important to them, but not to men, it seems. Grey hair that looks "distinguished" in a man is vetoed in women by cosmetics companies, they say, because "Grey hair doesn't make anyone any money".

Hollywood clearly makes this distinction. Digital magazine Vulture.com surveyed ten top stars and their movies. For example, when Liam Neeson was 18, in a movie Darkman, his love interest was Frances McDormand aged 33. At 42 he had Jessica Lang and Meryl Streep, both 46 (in Rob Roy and Before and After). Then just this year - he's 63 - his lover is Olivia Wilde, aged 29, in Third Person.

Virtually the same graph is repeated for the other stars: Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Richard Gere, Steve Carell, and Brad Pitt. Most are 10 to 20 years older than the girl. Tom Cruise had three early years as the young ingenue to be seduced by an older woman but by the time he met Nicole the Hollywood balance was reasserted. In Far and Away he was 29, she was 24.

So let's be grateful that there is a stable of strong female stars and entertainers who still command audiences though they are over 40. Salute Meryl, Nicole, Gwyneth, Julia, Cameron, Madonna, Kylie, Cate, Toni. And of course, "Happy Birthday Helen".

09 July, 2015

Sunny Australian causes commuter protests - how the world has changed

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday July 9, 2015

If you happened to have travelled the London tube in recent months you would have been confronted by an outstanding example of Australian beauty. Wearing a teeny yellow bikini, against a yellow background, the head to knees image of Renee Somerfield asks, "Are you beach body ready?" Lined next to her is the Weight Loss Collection by Protein World.

You would have thought that the Aussie girl's fresh looks would brighten up the morning of Londoners in the cool early Spring. But not all of them. An angry campaign developed on social media protesting against the ad for its showing an "unhealthy" female body.

The case went to Britain's Advertising Standards Authority, which received 378 complaints on a range of issues including that she was a “very slim, toned” model. They called the headline controversial because it implied other body shapes were inferior, and called the image promoting a slimming product as "socially irresponsible".

The Authority dismissed the claims, though not totally approving the ad. But already the campaign had moved to the US and caused another grand protest when the poster displayed on Times Square. Once again there was an outcry and demands that it be pulled down.

The image brought back another photo that you will remember whatever your age, even though it appeared 53 years ago. Statuesque Swiss actress Ursula Andress stepping out of the Caribbean surf in a white bikini, in the first James Bond movie, Dr No. Way back then, the image helped make the movie such a huge success. Ursula became a world star and the poster went up on every schoolboy's bedroom wall.

Side by side the two shots could be identical. Yet one was praised, the new one is loathed - what has changed in the world?

Ursula was an icon of her age: the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Carnaby Street, Haight-Ashbury, free love and youth power. Today it's more yoga and vitamins, whole foods and organics. Metaphorically we have circled from the cavaliers to the puritans.

I'm afraid I can't see what is offensive about a beautiful girl on a billboard. Handsome young men in a poster don't leave me feeling upset or inadequate. I feel no urge to cover their pecs. I decided many years ago that I'd never make a candidate for the Chippendales, so there Is no void in my heart.

I enjoy the Dove "real women" campaigns, but not to the exclusion of ads that show aspirations for perfection. In the big world of advertising there is room for both.

Some of the American protest tweets get very aggressive. "Get your sharpies out. Deface the ads you see on the subway." says one blogger.

This is the thinking of the ISIS terrorists destroying Syrian monuments, or the Afghan Taliban blowing up the Buddhas at Bamiyan. Would the protesters take their hammers to the Venus de Milo or boxcutters to Botticelli's Birth of Venus?

Let's get real. Some people are born more beautiful than others, and are a joy to watch and admire. Enough of the bitch slaps!

Of course advertising always wins in the end. The controversy has raised months of media visibility and Protein World sales have soared around the world. In fact the company claimed that the UK controversy made them enough to pay for the US campaign. As PT Barnum has been credited: "There is no such thing as bad publicity."

02 July, 2015

Too much TV can turn your tummy

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday July 2, 2015

Not a day goes by when you are not dazzled by a billboard or commercial or magazine insert or newspaper wrap-around promoting the show-biz joys of the pay TV and video channels.

From Stan and Foxtel, Netflix and Presto, the services are growing in number, offering more, and charging less. The new season's shows and movies are dangled at us, the magazines filled with gossip about the stars, the release dates of shows, the romantic entanglements - it's all full-on.

The choice is overwhelming. So many programs, these days featuring stars you would have only seen at the movies, like Kevin Spacey or Danny de Vito, or Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. In fact the new season of House of Cards has just been released on Netflix, available complete - so you could binge on it all in one session. Better make that a long weekend, though, there are 13 episodes.

Actually the thought of watching a whole series in one go makes my tummy twitch. Too rich, too rich.

However, this is a growing trend in the US which is now becoming available here with the advent of new broadcasters.

The TV folks are clever, though. They watched on the sidelines as the music industry was torn apart by piracy and failed attempts to control it. Millions were spent in the law courts against Napster and the multitude of pirates, yet the industry is still crippled and artists too poorly compensated.

Piracy is rife in TV as well of course. But for the most part, the broadcasters have played it smartly. They looked at their customers. What do they want, rather than what do we want to give them?

They want to see the TV shows here at the same time as in the US. OK that can be done. They want to be able to binge. All right, that's the way it is moving now. They do appreciate that content must be paid for - the actors have to eat - but at affordable prices.

This is why you are now seeing Stan at $10 a month, Foxtel offering bargain basement deals, Netflix putting out high quality, freshly minted shows with star actors for $8.99.

Pay TV has changed considerably in recent times. No longer do you have a score of channels with nothing worth watching. You don't just have The Brady Bunch and M.A.S.H (though they're still there) but fresh new content that people actually watch and in classic TV-speak, "talk about around the water cooler".

Of course there is a reason why they have lifted their game. Last week saw Parliament pass its anti-piracy law, forcing the eventual blockage of the popular pirating sites like Pirate Bay and KickAss Torrents. ISPs like Telstra and iiNet will be stopped from allowing their customers to access the sites.

As, gradually, more pirate doors are shut, the broadcasters are waiting with open arms for the customers to turn to them. And the sharp programming and affordable pricing should make it a painless conversion.

Of course, not having much faith in our regulators, I expect that some sites will be excluded which are perfectly legitimate and there will be lots of shouting over the borderline cases.

But I do believe our creative industries should be protected, and like the ad says at the start of the DVD movies, our actors and program makers deserve to be paid for what they produce.

25 June, 2015

I coulda bin a contender!

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday Jun4 25, 2015

Do you have a neglected, half-forgotten skill littering the attic of your mind, long ago discarded but still there? Perhaps once you were a hot shot at the bowling alley, or a crowd-stopper on the dance floor? Maybe there were a couple of summers when no-one in the family could beat you at table tennis or you held all the top scores in the beach cafe's Space Invaders machine. That brief time when you were the king or the queen in one ability.

Then life and studies and home building got in the way and those skills passed into neglect. But you look back and think: "Gee, I coulda bin a contender!"

I was reminded of this while I was trawling the internet and came across a Pitman's Shorthand site. I struggled to read the first few lines written in the dashes and curves and squiggles, but quickly it came back to me and I started to read it fairly easily. Some of the short forms and contractions slowed things down, but even those I began to remember.

So I should. I have certificates in it from the time when you couldn't do your journalism cadetship till you'd achieved at least 80 words a minute shorthand. For several years I covered courts and lord help you if you ever miss-quoted a statement. But where did it go?

Perhaps you spent years trudging through all weathers to piano lessons, or ballet classes. Perhaps you developed a passion for photography and spent hours in darkened rooms processing and printing film. That knowledge is still within you, just jammed into a trunk and covered in dust.

Like my shorthand. I've always used scrappy bits of it when in meetings or taking notes at a client's table but I could never cover a full court case as I used to do easily when I was 20.

Your skill is an old love that has faded away, and maybe it's a symptom of the things that aren't going right in your life. Have you lost touch with the basics that used to make you happy?

Tell you what I've done. Followed it up on the internet - all the answers are somewhere there - to bring myself up to date with the shorthand world. I haven't seen my stenographer's pen for 30 years so I bought a new one, and am delighting in fiddling with it. The internet sites have hours of dictation practice and an on-line Pitman's dictionary. So with any spare minutes I'll put in a bit of practice.

What about you? It might be too late for break-dancing but how about zumba? Or visit Allens and find some modern pieces of piano music you'd like to learn and could impress the kids. Visit some of the thousands of photography sites on the web and learn how to shoot great portraits, or sports, with the thousand-dollar camera you never really leaned how to use.

Maybe in the back of a wardrobe there's a half-finished Spanish galleon that never got completed or painted. Probably the tiny paint pots, half of them never opened. Or the forgotten sewing machine and that bag of fabric that was the start of a new dress. The skill's still there in the back of your head and depth of your fingers - why not revisit them to pass the long winter nights?

18 June, 2015

The world's most complex problems can have simple solutions

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday 18 June, 2015

Many of the world's greatest problems don't need vast investments to solve them. Sometimes relatively simpler, cheaper solutions are faster and more effective.

Take communications in the third world. If you've travelled some of the backblocks of Asia you will know how unreliable the phones can be. The rich world spent a century and countless billions in cash creating the telephone network we have grown up with. It's a world grid built from telecom pits and billions of tons of copper, to satellites and trans-ocean cables. How are the poorest countries in the world, like Haiti or Samoa, ever going to catch up?

Well I wrote about the answer seven years ago, and now I've taken another look to see whether the ideas have proved as brilliant as they appeared. Yes, they are working.

Fourteen years ago controversial Irish communications entrepreneur Denis O'Brien bought the mobile phone rights for Jamaica. He immediately built hundreds of phone towers throughout the island and virtually gave away mobile phones to any peddler or farmer who asked. In 100 days he had distributed 100,000 phones. He then played the same routine on Haiti, Grenada, Barbados and most of the Caribbean islands, then Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific.

All these countries could never afford a conventional telephone system. Yet mobiles jump right over the copper mountains and now every yam farmer or reef fisherman could afford the few dollars a month for their phone cards. They are now in modern business.

Take this unconventional attitude to our many other pressing problems. How is the world going to defeat deadly carbon pollution and climate change? Well a few months ago I started writing about Elon Musk and his better battery. Suddenly the other papers and TV stations have picked up the news. Eventually even our politicians may listen. You don't need millions in nuclear power plants or coal generators. Panels on the roof, windmills on the hills and batteries in the homes and sub-stations, will do the job. It just needed time for science to notch up the capacities, but that's happening now.

More public transport is the answer to our slow traffic and jammed roads. We don't want diesel buses or more freeways creating pollution. But solar roofs and Tesla-type battery technology can simplify trains, trams and buses and get rid of the smog and those overhead wires.

Just a couple of years ago, my colleagues would be ringing the funny farm, for writing such science fiction in a serious newspaper. But already you have seen so much rapid progress and development that you know you can't laugh it off any more.
Stand in the supermarket queue. Do you realise that less than half the customers ever pull out any cash? And by the way, the card they flick across the terminal has a chip on it that will - before long - carry your biometric identity (eyes or fingerprints), all your club, credit, and computer cards, your Medicare including your full health history, your blood group and foot size and passport - oh and it already has your financial history. All in one little plastic card.

In your business, look out for the simple solutions. Like the changes that Uber and its like have made to the taxi industry. Or the way that Airbnb has transformed the travel-and-hotel business. They are spin-offs from the computer and mobile phone advances - simple. Yet revolutionary.

12 June, 2015

How to use being famous to make yourself even richer

Melbourne Herald Sun, June 11, 2015

In our competitive marketplace it's so hard to give your product a strong identity, so that customers will recognise it immediately, even seek it out. How much easier if you are already known by the public.

Which is why some of our very smart entertainers are also first-class business brains. Launching a coffee brand is as competitive as it gets. When Hugh Jackman met coffee grower Dukale in Ethiopia he was moved by the quality of the coffee - and the back-breaking work and small reward the farmer earned. So in New York he started a company, Laughing Man Coffee, and a café in the Tribeca quarter which has become hugely popular.

Now Jackman has taken it a step further and partnered coffee company Keurig to sell the products world-wide.

Aussies have proved particularly good at parlaying celebrity for business success. Look at Elle Macpherson (it's hard not to). Quite apart from the huge earnings as a supermodel for 34 years, her Elle Macpherson Inc controls calendars, TV programs, workout videos, her world-ranking Intimates range, cosmetics, sun creams, and when she was breast-feeding her second baby she designed maternity bras.

Last year saw the end of her 25 years' partnership with Bendon Ltd, including chief marketing officer and creative director. She's not just The Body - when she started modelling she was studying law.

Another successful businesswoman in her own right is Gwen Stefani. Apart from her three-decade career on stage, she put her knowledge of brilliant costumes to good use, creating the clothing label L.A.M.B. She also became a spokesperson for L'Oréal Paris after creating a successful perfume range, and licenses toys to Mattel. The last Forbes income list put her at over $30 million.

I've previously marvelled at the marketing powers of Simon Cowell, and his numerous Midas-touch adventures like One Direction and Il Divo, spin-offs from the X-Factor franchise he created, besides the America/ Britain/ Australia's Got Talent spins. He's a money machine on legs.

But the star entrepreneur is not a recent phenomenon. At the end of the war, Herb Alpert created his Tijuana Brass and made millions, which he used to create A&M Records.

Robert de Niro looks always comfortable in a restaurant (except when the Mob's coming for him). Maybe that's why he has been so successful with his Nobu sushi restaurants - there are now 24 of them around the world.

Another to combine work and play is Clint Eastwood. He created his luxurious Mission Ranch Hotel in Carmel California. And later proceeded to become mayor. Amongst many other business interests, he also owns two golf courses and makes an income of $40 million a year.

But ultimately there's no beating the velvet crooner Bing Crosby. As the fee for making radio commercials for Minute Mail Frozen Orange Juice, he took shares - which eventually were worth millions, and he became distributor for the entire western United States.

Having an interest in sound technology he followed the Americans' work on magnetic tape inventions taken from the defeated Germans. Soon he was distributor for Ampex Corporation. This led him to explore the development of tape - so he was an early investor in 3M.

He bought into television stations, real estate, oil exploration. Even his ranch in Nevada turned out to have oil in it. All those quips Bob Hope makes about Crosby's huge fortune? They weren't jokes; when he died in 1977 he was said to be worth close to $100 million.

04 June, 2015

FIFA soccer girls play in real life and on screen

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday June 4, 2015

FIFA, the International Football Federation, is grabbing the front page headlines right now, with 14 of its committee members and sports marketing executives indicted by the FBI. Then there has been the storm over the re-election of Sepp Blatter as president, against the votes of the association's biggest backers - and his subsequent resignation.

Yet in the midst of this comes a ray of positive news. At last we will have women in the EA FIFA 16 computer game. Even an Australian women's team.

In case you are not aware at how earth-shattering this is: over 13,000 petitions have bombarded FIFA from all over the world. The EA Sports soccer is one of the most successful video games of all time. It has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, in 51 countries and 18 languages.

The video game industry is bigger than the music industry. It is also pretty pirate-proof because to play a game like FIFA on your Xbox, PlayStation or smartphone, you need to be constantly in the flow of the game as you trade players and challenge other teams. It's a very complex world and if you want to fully participate, you have to play straight.

The FIFA Women's World Cup - the one played by real live girls - starts this Saturday 6th in Canada, while our virtual computer girls will launch in September along with the newest FIFA16 edition of the game which is expected to sell 20 million units.

If you have never played this game you would be stunned by the detail and reality of its animation. The characters, and their moves, are created using the most modern digital graphic techniques. Actual moves are shot with key points on the body marked by reference lights mounted on black costumes. These enable the animators to capture the utmost subtlety of movement as the player runs, kicks, saves, tackles, dribbles, shoots.

From each team the players have digitally-mapped faces that shout, call, smile, groan - in response to the action. The Matildas' superstars, Samantha Kerr, Lisa De Vanna and Kyah Simon, have spent hours in front of cameras being digitally recorded to make near-perfect avatars.

If you remember my piece on "run like a girl" - well the way these girls run, you can only wish you had the energy. The release will feature 12 women's national teams, including the US, Canada, Germany, UK and of course Australia.

While the women can play against each other, and players can be moved to create "world's best players" teams, they cannot play against the men. Why not? "Keeping in line with how women’s football is played in real life at this level, women’s national teams can only compete against each other," said an EA Sports spokesman.

This opening to girls was inevitable. The fact is, gaming is no longer the sport of teenage boys avoiding their homework. The Entertainment Software Association has stated that 47 per cent of players are women - twice as many as boys aged 17 or under. In the US, 40 percent of soccer players are girls. It's a preferred sport in many schools, being perceived as less physical than grid-iron.

So it is being hailed: "Bringing some of the best women's players and teams in the world to our franchise is a massive event for us," said David Rutter, vice president of EA Sports.

28 May, 2015

The market generations keep moving on

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday May 28, 2015

So you're having problems connecting your product to your market. Everything you try doesn't quite seem to make the link, what's wrong with you?

Well the problem I'm afraid, is not you. It's the market. Or the diffuse nature of it.

Remember all the stuff I talk about generation this and generation that? And how you have to alter your message, and the medium, accordingly? Well if you think it's complicated - yes it is. It's not just a matter of one approach for the kids and one for the adults; one for the men, one for the women; one for the affluent, one for the battlers.
Nowadays all these categories are fractured too, and it's all the fault of our modern world. It's moving too quickly and every time you think you have a fix, blink and you'll be wrong.

Once you could control things. By the TV station or newspaper you chose to broadcast in. Then along came the internet which carved up what used to be predictable "linear" time: any night of the week you knew which programs were coming and whether they would appeal to your market. Well that simplicity has long gone.

Google and Facebook have carved up a great quantity of this time too. Generation Xs are not so easily caught by TV, but you can find them on the social media. But wait a minute - "the Millennials" have arrived, those born a couple of years before and after 2000 and they have already moved on. You'll find them on Instagram, Snapchat or now Periscope. And they are totally different to their older siblings. (Not to mention their parents - they're not even visible over the horizon.)

They dress more exotically, eat more adventurously, shop by their phones as much as the shops, treat life as a moving feast. Just wait till they grow some more and start having real spending power, then you will see movement.

The smart marketers are already starting to accommodate their exotic tastes. Brands like H & M and Zara turn over their stock fast. If you don't grab it this week, probably next week it won't be there. But nor will the customer. They are used to instant action and if they don't get it, they will just turn away and call up your competitor on the mobile that lives in their hand.
Don't ask me why but they've taken to spice. Have you noticed Pizza Hut, these days promoting "El Scorcho" and "Blazing Pepperoni"? Nandos have built their empire on chillies. Now the spices of Szechuan, the tom yum of Thailand, the jalapenos of Mexico have created a passion for flame throwers. Even McDonalds have a jalapeno burger now.

Our Millennials have a new set of heroes. Some months ago I wrote about "vloggers". Well these stars of YouTube and Blogger are the touchstone of this generation. Their influence is very strong but if you can link through them, the effect is exponential. Through their constant social interaction, there is no such thing as telling just one person. If they like it, the news is broadcast to their wide circle of friends. But of course, it can also work the other way round - bad news also travels fast.

Sorry to make life harder for you, but if you want to be successful you'll have to keep up with your fast-moving, ever-changing customers.

21 May, 2015

Even downunder, we knew the Madness

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday, May 21, 2015

Who would have thought, eight years ago, that viewers could be enthralled by the doings of an advertising agency? Sure, for years we watched dramatisations of cop shops, newspaper and TV empires, even law firms. But an advertising agency?

Well this show put the spotlight on the renaissance in advertising of the late 60s, especially at its spiritual heart, Madison Avenue. The home of the Mad Men.

As a young blood in a colonial outpost, New York did not feel so far away to me. Besides, the thrills and spills of Mad Men the TV show, that played its final episode this week, were more than matched in distant Oz.

Remember the time when Stirling Cooper won the John Deere account, and celebrated by driving a mini tractor through the office? It took me back to a day at the all-conquering Masius Wynn Williams, Melbourne, when a motor bike was offered as a competition prize. It was brought in for photography, shiny and new, and our most ardent motor bike lover, the chief writer, jumped on and roared around the agency office corridors. He could get away with it because he was our star writer - Peter Carey, now a New York professor and two-time Booker Prize winner.

They joked you could become a passive smoker just by watching a few episodes of the TV show. Well that's how it was. Every typewriter and drawing board had a spent volcano of cigarette buts beside it and I could name (but won't) some agencies where the smoke was more exotic.

Mad Men conveyed well the feeling of the era. Compared to other young people on the business ladder, we were well paid, well dressed (suits for the 'suits', 'trendy' for the creatives) and could afford flash cars. All the beautiful girls wanted to go to the ad parties or be a secretary in front of an account executive's office just like Joan Harris. This was before Twiggy, and girls still had curves.

The serious fact was that agencies had many more major roles held by women. A smart girl could progress faster and further in advertising than in industry or banking. When faced by sexism, ad girls could hold their own.

Enormous time, effort and money went into 'the presentation'. You could spend much of your time working on speculative campaigns that would never see the public. Mock TV commercials were filmed, research was commissioned, elaborate strategies planned - only to have the client decide on your opponent's campaign, which of course you then told each other could not be as good as yours.

Mad Men captured this mood well - the disappointment of waiting for your campaign's approval only to read in the trade press that the opposition would be appointed. Or the ecstasy of getting that phone call telling your team 'we've won!'

A lot depended on the presenter. Someone like Don Draper could capture the client and thrill him into giving you the account on the spot. Remember when he invented 'Carousel' as the name for Kodak's new slide projector? The presentation and campaign almost ignored the technical features but homed in on the audience's emotional response to their family memories.

Here in Australia there were a number of creative chiefs as powerful with their images, and they were the winners in the advertising race. They were first and foremost salesmen - John Singleton, Philip Adams, John Clemenger, Bryce Courtenay. And they made themselves millionaires with the skill.

14 May, 2015

Keeping your work and life in balance

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday May 13, 2015

Do you think your working has become harder, that keeping a work-life balance has become more difficult? Well join the club - around the world 40 per cent of managers claim that they work over 40 hours a week, and their jobs are now harder than they were five years ago.

In fact, one third of full-time employees claim it is harder to manage their work and family lives, disclosed in a survey by EY - the umbrella organisation for the global giant you'll know better as Ernst & Young.

They wanted to know if people were satisfied with their jobs, what they were seeking, what they weren't getting, what would keep them settled. So they questioned 9700 full-time workers in the US, UK, Germany, Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil and India. The survey has just been released. Even though Australia wasn't on the list, I'd be surprised if our results would be much different.

For instance, one of the main complaints: "My salary has not increased much but my expenses have," shortly followed by "my responsibilities at work have increased." Then of course, there is the added burden at home, working long hours - and having children. Parents definitely found keeping the balance was hardest.

As Millennials (aged 18-35) move into positions of responsibility as parents, workers and managers, they nudge their sibling X Generation and push the Baby Boomers towards the drop-off end of the working scale. So attitudes to work and gender have changed. Would you believe that in the US 67 per cent of men were willing to change jobs to achieve a better work-life balance, against just 57 per cent of women?

Women are also much less willing to change a career, give up a promotion or move to another location for the sake of the family. If they find a good job they stick to it, regardless. So much for "following the husband around the country". He'd better be ready to follow her.

As our workforce gets younger, the old nine to five attitudes break down. Both employees and managers are looking for flexibility. With modern technology and communications, it is perfectly possible to work without being in the office. And one of the major demands from the survey was the desire to work flexibly - without losing your place on the promotions ladder.

Three quarters of the respondents called for this, and for workers and bosses who would support them in this. The present kafuffle over parental leave plays right to the heart of these modern attitudes. Australians want a sensibly designed, politics-free system of parental leave. The attitude is global.

One in five employees encouraged their spouse or partner to return to work after childbirth. These days, an affluent lifestyle is quite easy - if you both work. For a single supporting parent the weight can be crushing. No wonder 25 per cent of partners agreed not to quit or reduce hours at work. In fact, 23 per cent of workers decided not to have more children while one in five delayed them.

Mutual support was essential for marriage to survive. One in six workers blamed the economy for their divorce or separation.

This has seen the rise of what Americans call "The Daddy Track". Father stepping back from his career to raise the family. Karyn Twaronite is EY’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Officer, she sums up the findings: “This is example of how traditional gender roles are shifting, with men and women taking on more equitable roles.”

07 May, 2015

You can't tweet an educated mind

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday May 7, 2015

Talking with an 18 year old I noted she had a Russian surname, and yes, her father's family came from Russian stock. "You must get the video of Dr Zhivago". Her look showed she had no idea what I was talking about. I explained the movie - Omar Sharif and Julie Christie meant nothing, either - and then gently probed whether she had read any of the great Russian literature.

She'd heard of War and Peace, though not read it, and vaguely recalled her father talking about Crime and Punishment. Her English literature was not a lot stronger, but she is an intelligent, educated girl. And much like so many of her age, has huge gaps in her general knowledge. So what has gone wrong?

Between the ages of 13 and 20 is a time when knowledge should have a huge expansion. There are all the school and exam topics of course, but also the child's self-discovery.

These are the years to discover Russian literature or fall in love with Bathsheba Everdene from Thomas Hardy's Far from the madding crowd. For the girls there are the romantics and rotters of Jane Austen and, currently, the scheming courtiers of Hilary Mantel.

For some it may be the awakening to the magic of numbers and mathematics, for others, discovering great artists nobody ever told you about before. Maybe it's pulling cars apart and rebuilding them, or getting to understand what makes a great cook, or discovering what's so special about Beethoven and Bach.

But can all this happen in the midst of a hundred tweets and Facebook postings a day? Is education now in two-minute grabs on YouTube? Or do we have any more need for general knowledge with Google constantly at our fingertips?

Kim Williams, former News Limited CEO, warns media that don't respond to the "on demand audience" of the digital age will not survive. None is more aware of that than those of us still working with ink on paper.

But to claim to have a rounded education, you need the knowledge to join the dots that come on demand. Otherwise the world is a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing.

Where does William the Conqueror join Magna Carta, join Parliament House Canberra? A thousand years separate the events, yet they are one history. How did the Boer War create the most monstrous event of World War II? How quickly can you multiply seven times eight (without a calculator)? How did David Copperfield affect insolvency laws (not the magician, either)?

A mind fed on ample general knowledge, a curious enquiring mind, will skip and hop to connect the facts quickly from the pool it carries. Too often the Google search can be tedious and confusing - unless you understand the context, facts alone won't format themselves.

Do occasionally point your kids or even employees, to "good books". Talk about them, get them to see a time when kids asked "why", not "wii". As for you - well War and Peace is nowhere near as daunting as people like to pretend. Read it on Kindle and it won't even bend your wrist.

In case you missed one, the answers are 1 The British Constitution; 2 the British invented concentration camps to hold Boers; 3 56 (remember your tables?) 4 Mr Micawber landed in debtor's prison, as had Charles Dickens' father, and the exposure of the cruelties of the system, in the book, pressured for change in the way bankruptcy was handled.

30 April, 2015

The end of fossil power is in sight

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 30, 2015

For some years now I have been rather relaxed about carbon targets and pollution measures promised or denied by industries and governments. These figures, "5 per cent", "20 per cent", "50 per cent" - what do they really mean when we need to change the entire globe's choking pollution?

No, I'm relaxed because the solution is on its way, more quickly than we think. Because in a few decades' time our greatest problem will be gone: we will no longer be burning fossil fuels for energy and power.

Coal will continue to burn for steel making and other industrial purposes, but not to generate electricity in the inefficient and polluting way it is now. Oil will be used to make engines run smoothly, but not burned for fuel. What a waste.

For decades, already, we have been generating power with solar cells and wind and waves. Water of course has provided power from waterfalls and dams for a century and more.

Photovoltaic cells are gaining in efficiency by leaps and bounds, with thousands of research and development groups around the world pushing the percentages ever higher.

But the weakest link has always been storage. How do you keep an ephemeral force like electric power, in a box until you need it?

Batteries are bulky, heavy, expensive and slow to recharge. For the power needed to run a car, lead-acid batteries are inadequate. But in the past decade a lot of work has been done with lithium-ion batteries for cars and mobile phones. Huge amounts of money are being poured into research which is progressing rapidly.

The most publicised of the new batteries are those coming from US car manufacturer Tesla. Just this week, they will launch two new domestic batteries. That's right, the famous Tesla li-ion batteries, adapted for your home. So if yours is a renewable energy house, the gaps in sun or wind can be filled by the powerful, long-lasting battery.

Is this a serious threat to fossil fuels? Well when it speculated, last month, about making an announcement soon - Tesla's market capitalisation jumped by more than one billion dollars, overnight. So yes, it's serious.

Together with allied panel-maker SolarCity, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk is building a vast US "gigafactory" set to open in 2017. Tesla's lithium-ion batteries will be manufactured here. Plus the new domestic units.

These are planned as a package, which will give your home the PV units and a storage battery for around $18 a month. Your home will be fully powered, 24/7. Who needs a coal-fired station and skies full of power lines?

The race to build a better battery is going full-tilt. Here in Australia, a Monash University team is working on microscopic capacitors mounted on atom-thick graphene sheets. These they predict, will be able to hold many times more energy than even the li-ion batteries. It's been predicted that these two battery types, working in tandem, could give a car 900K range.

If you've seen the Tesla, and its performance figures, you'll know that it is a long way from a golf buggy. In fact once you're moving all you'll miss is the roar of pistons and the plumes of exhaust smoke. Who needs petrol?

I clearly see a fossil-free future ahead. Maybe not in my lifetime, but not long after. Meanwhile the benefits will flow in, incrementally. My only worry is our modern-day Luddites, out to smash the machines and cripple the horses. Unfortunately a lot of them are in the government.