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.

23 April, 2015

Business was so much easier when your word was your bond

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 23, 2015

Walk through the City any day of the working week and you will notice how many of the countless little cafes have pairs or clusters of people with their laptops and smartphones, doing business. And funny enough, this takes us back to the very origins of modern business practice - to the turn of the 18th century when the newly-discovered drink was enjoyed in what became known as "coffee shops".

In these warm smoky shops, consignments of goods were sold and traded, ships laden with the output of the new manufacturing industries were insured against bad weather or pirates. Office and legal facilities were cramped so a standard of contract was agreed: "My word is my bond". In other words, when I make a promise I guarantee it.

For three centuries this oath was scrupulously kept. If only because, if it became known that a trader had shaken hands and then broken his promise, he would be so shamed and blackballed that his business would die.

So what happened to that simple form of business? These days, it feels, agreements have to be checked by teams of lawyers on each side, thick documents cover every possible contingency for error or duplicity. Lengthy contracts are signed and everyone looks for the flaws.

But basically a deal is, do you want to buy it or not? Do you want to pay this price or not? If the answer to both questions is 'yes', then shake hands and you have a deal. Who needs a lawyer?

The problem occurs in day to day dealings. We've all said "yes" when we should have said "maybe"; we've said "maybe" when we should have said "no".

"Can you get this to us by Tuesday?" "Yes." (Background thought: "This Tuesday - will it have left the factory yet...?") "So you've had experience with this type of engine?" "Oh yes." (Background: "Never seen one in my life, but they can't be that hard...") So a lie is born, not maliciously but because you want to please.

That of course is where so many politicians gather reputations for lying. They so desperately want to please, to win your approval and your vote - and they're pretty sure they can deliver on the promise, if something else doesn't get in the way. And it does.

Funny enough, the most honest place to look is in commercial advertising. Oh sure they have "puffery". Some product is "the best," "fastest," "tastiest," "freshest," all said with a sincere face. But you know you are not deceived, so do they. It's a puff of opinion, not a lie.

Real lies are tightly controlled by advertising ethics. There is a stack of regulations about what you can say about alcohol, medicines, cars, children, food and beverages, financial institutions. They are controlled by the Australian Association of National Advertisers, supervised by the Advertising Standards Board.

Any complaints are considered by the Board and rulings published. Most are trivial, a few are serious and widely publicised. But there is very little decline in ethics here.

The ethics that count, and can make a real difference in the way business is conducted, take us back to the beginning. The ability to do trade with another and feel totally confident that they will live up to the obligation they have taken on. That they will pay you on time, in full. That they will not recklessly squander the goods or money you have entrusted to them, so they come back to you saying, "Sorry I've gone bankrupt, your money is gone".

Worst still, then setting up a month later under a new name, with someone else's money, with never any attempt to pay you back yours. This seems to be a common event in business, some even think it's smart. I don't, it's dishonest. Good business should be able to take your hand and when you say "My word is my bond," you know it's the truth.

17 April, 2015

Help me, I'm stuffocating!

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 15, 2015

James Wallman is travelling the world promoting his stirring new book, Stuffocation. Wherever he goes - New York, London - people ask him what the title means. He looks at them, "What do you think it is?"

"That we're suffocating with too much stuff?" "You've got it."

We've all been there: the wardrobe that's stuffed with clothes but nothing to wear. When you dig through stuff that's "too valuable" to throw away.

It reminded me of one period when I rented a self storage locker for five years, then decided to take out what was valuable and throw the rest away. I got one office chair and a filing cabinet, the rest I dumped - it had cost me $6,000 in storage. I'd been stuffocated.

In his book Wallman points out that "more" was not the norm in the past. Up until the end of WWII, we had, hopefully, sufficient - if the depression hadn't wiped out the family's meagre possessions. Things were so much dearer too. If you calculated labour and material costs by today's standards, in the early 1700s a shirt would have cost $3,500.

Now we can all afford a new shirt - $10 at the market if necessary. Or we can flaunt our wealth and spend a thousand dollars at a prestige name boutique at Crown.

Furniture was handed down through generations. Now a few flat packs from IKEA and your new home is furnished.

So are people becoming more mindful about their purchasing habits? Yes, says Wallman. "I think people will buy less, buy fewer but better. This is not the end of consumerism. This is not the end of spending money. We're humans and we all still want to buy shoes and cars and clothes and cellphones; it's not the end of stuff at all."

Speaking to Jessica Vaughn at JWT, he spelled out his vision of the clash between materialism and stuffocation: "This is going to be the defining problem of the 21st century."

Throughout our economies we see retreat from more. You don't need an encyclopaedia, Google's at your fingertips. A car? Call Uber. Need a girlfriend? Call eHarmony or a dozen other sites. You don't have to reject possessions - just be more thoughtful in choosing them.

James' preference he calls "experientialism". Getting the enjoyment and fun out of the experience rather than another car you can't find space to park.

The upcoming Generation Y is inclined that way. They aren't scared of a great depression or a world war. They are angry that their parents swept up most of the finance and houses. But they make up for that by staying home, living free and having fun. The experiential life style.

University of California Los Angeles carried out an anthropological survey - of 32 middle-class LA families with children. They photographed every space in the houses, catalogued every item, and were staggered. They took 20,000 photographs, every one packed from floor to ceiling with stuff.

Hey and these were people like you and me: teachers, firefighters, nurses, small-business owners, lawyers, tradesmen and contractors, among others.

The research found that we live in the most materially rich society in global history. That we have “light-years more possessions” than any preceding society. We’re coping with extraordinary clutter, we’re in a clutter crisis.

"My manifesto," says Wallman, " is that if you care about happiness, status, identity and meaning for yourself, you should be experiential, not materialistic. It will make you happier."

10 April, 2015

If it's not on TV can it be real?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 9, 2015

Remember that wonderful Leunig cartoon where a family sits riveted before a TV set watching a spectacular sunset, even as the real sun is setting outside their window?

A lot of sports fans are like this too. They travel and queue to get inside the stadium, then keep a radio plugged into their ear to listen to a commentator's description of what is going on before their eyes. In recent years small portable TVs have replaced the trannies, so if today's game is being televised you can watch it in life and then get the replay on TV. Perhaps we don't trust our own senses, or certainly we don't want to miss anything, and maybe we don't believe it if it's not on the telly.

The smart sports promoters are well aware of this and want to keep their fans happy. This human need has now been fully catered for at Etihad Stadium. A new $10 million upgrade has created an 'embracing experience' for the spectators wherever they sit.

Seven hundred wifi hotspots will make sure no Facebook or tweet will be left unnoticed; 1500 digital TVs will ensure that not one kick or fowl will not be replayed again and again. Embracing experience? Or suffocating? But that's how the fans want it, snapping up the AFL Live Official App for their smart phones so not a precious minute or fact of the sport need be missed.

I remember the first Aussie Rules game I saw. In Darwin, played by a mixed team - some of the boys preferred to play barefoot. I found the fast, high-scoring game thrilling after a youth spent with the somewhat quieter games of soccer and cricket. To me, Footy summarised Australia - quick, loud, daring and determined on success.

So maybe, like our once knock-about suburbs Carlton or Port Melbourne, sport has become expensive and gentrified. It's all a bit too proper because there's so much money riding on it.

The AFL has declared this to be "The Year of the Fans" and has loudly promoted its attention to its fan base after a year consumed by doping cases and rows over ticket pricing and costs. In response, they have given fans back the $3 pie.

The trouble is that there are matters so important that they take away attention from the fans. Like the broadcasting deal that promises to exceed last year's $1.258 billion. A lot of distraction - but you can understand why the broadcasters expect the clubs to dance to their tune.

So a test of "Year of the Fan" is whether matches will be timed to suit footy-loving families, or prime time television.

Of course, despite the grumbles, the Etihad stadium is doing the right thing. The AFL's general manager of media, Peter Campbell, calls it "data-tainment". Fans want more than fit young men running up and down a field. "Gone are the days when putting on a scarf and beanie was enough".

"It's not just what's going on on the ground anymore," said Campbell, reinforcing the stadium's thoughts.

"It's what's on the big screens, the perimeter hoardings; the music over the PA, a fan's engagement with their friends and other supporters on social. There's just as much uploading at games these days as there is downloading."

So now it's an immersive, emotional, communal, multi-media, socially communicative experience. And you thought it was just a day at the footy.


03 April, 2015

We've lost Paris but let's keep Palace

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 2, 2015

Back in the early 70s I worked in "the Paris end of Collins Street", and it really did have the feel of the great European city. Out of my office window - next door to the Melbourne Club - I watched elegantly dressed ladies take coffee at pavement tables, and men in office suits slipping into the Ross Hotel for "a quick one".

But it seemed no sooner was I there than the excavator of progress moved in and I watched them dig the deepest hole you've ever seen. It seemed to take for ever, the beautiful 19th century buildings - housing the elite of Melbourne's medical consultants, it seemed - were gone.

Eventually the twin towers of the ANZ building took over much of the block down to Exhibition Street and I have never forgiven IM Pei, the great architect, for turning my patch into the Chicago end of Collins Street.

So much of Melbourne's character was wrecked by the indiscriminate constructions of the 60s and 70s. The brake was thrown when the public rose up to defend the Regent Theatre which, along with the Plaza Ballroom underneath, was threatened with the wrecking ball. Ironically the ones we have to thank for stopping the madness are the Builders' Labourers Federation. Inspired by Jack Mundey in Sydney and his "green bans", the Victorian branch responded to the Save the Regent Committee, and stopped all demolition.

The resolution of these stand-offs took years but we can be thankful to have a city with some superb theatres. Except that they are always under threat.

That energetic conductor-come-entrepreneur Greg Hocking pointed me to what was happening to the Palace Theatre in Bourke Street. The case is being fought in VCAT right now, with Melbourne City Council and crowds of supporters once again fighting to save a theatre from developers.

"Melbourne doesn't have many venues with that 1000 to 1500 capacity," he explained. "Nobody would pay the money needed to build theatres of that quality and size these days." So if they go, they are gone. He pointed to St Kilda's Palais, Flinders Street's Forum - all periodically under threat. We have to stay vigilant.

When I visit Paris or Rome it isn't swish new office blocks I want to see. Fortunately, through good management or the inability to ever agree, those cities retain much of their hearts intact. You can walk, after midnight up the Champs Elysees and feel the city as it had been more than a century ago.

Rome by night is a parade of delights. Every street is crowded with art and statues; circle around the Colosseum and you feel yourself transported back a millennium or two.

Melbourne of course does not have anything like this history. Which to my mind is a good reason for retaining what little we do have. This city does retain its old charms, in its lanes and cobbled alleys, its packed shops and varied buskers (last night I passed a concert pianist busking in Swanston Street. Wow.)

But the grand streets and boulevards that are the signature of this town have succumbed too much to glass and steel for my liking. My office is in Collins Street, in the building where General Douglas MacArthur ran the Pacific War. It's a beautiful sturdy place filled with brown wood furniture and the well-worn comfort of a century's habitation.

A few metres up the street, however, there's a building that's falling apart and in the process of demotion. The old National Mutual House, built in 1965.


26 March, 2015

What to do when the smoothie hits the fan

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday March 26, 2015

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about how to handle the PR when some disaster hits your company.

Well it seemed no time after the ink dried (which on a computer is a very short time), your morning berry smoothie turned very sour. Four cases of Hepatitis A were traced, ostensibly, to packets of Nana's Frozen Mixed Berries. They were imports from China and somehow had been infected.

For parent company Patties Foods it was a grenade tossed into a smoothly growing year. Suddenly they were under orders to recall the berries, and to their credit they also pulled out any of their similar products, like frozen raspberries.

But they had to act swiftly and decisively - at stake was their other range of more important products like Four 'n' Twenty pies and Herbert Adams pastries - pillars of the supermarket food aisles.

Remember my advice previously, about speaking quietly and honestly to explain what is happening? Because usually the truth is not as catastrophic as the media make out. But it is also difficult to admit there is a problem when already, behind you, is the sound of lawyers' knives sharpening. A lawyer's advice is always, as we know from the TV crime shows, to "say nothing". Because there's always another lawyer waiting to pounce on the words as a confession of guilt.

So we see these chief executives putting out a tortured, non-admitting statement that sounds like an apology, and then standing mute before customers or relatives. Like we've seen in the two recent Malaysian Airline crashes. You can't help feeling sorry for managers blamed for disasters they did not cause - and forced to wear the abuse.

Product recalls are easier to handle. If you look at the ACCC Product Safety Recalls site you'll be amazed at how many car recalls there are. Every make you can think of from Mercedes to Ford to Nissan has recalls - and that's only this year.

At least car dealers have records of their customers, tightly controlled so recall is swift and clean. Nevertheless it can be an expensive exercise. Five year ago Toyota's sticky accelerator pedals hit a whole range of cars in the US - including Corolla, Prius, RAV4 and various Lexus models. The eventual cost (it hasn't ended yet) is expected to hit $6 billion. What would that do to your bottom line?

Because of their vast variety of products, stores and supermarkets are regularly in the recall news and mostly they have developed effective procedures they call "crisis management". A lot of the money they pay PR firms is to have experts on hand whenever a boiler bursts.

They develop "crisis and issues manuals" for the client - lengthy wordy documents which in brief repeat what I told you the other week. Don't be sneaky, don't think you can hide anything, be frank and friendly but try not to admit blame. Not in a legal sense anyway.
Make your top executive readily available to the media.

In the case of Patties, they have not been as open as they might - their web site is perhaps too defensive and sounds more concerned with the well-being of Patties rather than the customer. But on the whole they have been open-faced so I'd give them eight out of ten. Fortunately the outbreak has been quickly stopped and nobody died. So there is not too much the lawyers can sink their teeth into.


19 March, 2015

When only the best is a girl called Nicole

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday March 19, 2015

When the world's richest people needed a spokesperson for their re-positioned airline, someone smart, elegant, sincere - they picked an Australian, Nicole Kidman. And all this week you will have seen her praising the magnificent new Airbus A380 fleet of Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways.

Richest, you ask? Well try this rough calculation: native population one million. Sovereign wealth fund - the piggy bank under the bed - one trillion dollars. So on that basis alone every native Emariti is worth one million dollars.

Etihad is described as the world's fastest-growing airline, being only 12 years old but currently in the process of increasing its fleet from 100 to 200 brand new aircraft. It has chosen the high road of marketing, featuring the quality and style of its operations.

At its helm is CEO James Hogan, a boy from Coburg and Ivanhoe Grammar. It also holds 24 per cent of Virgin Australia so you could say the bonds with Australia are pretty strong.

Hogan started his career on the ground floor at Ansett forty years ago, so he's your typical Aussie self-made man. Nicole, as we all know, was a Sydney schoolgirl when she first ventured onto the screen in Bush Christmas. So she's the self-made girl, though I have no idea if anybody thought of it when they were casting the commercial.

What I do know is how fiercely competitive the world aviation market is, and how important to carve a solid position for your brand.

The major brands are clearly stamped with their identity - Qantas, British Airways, Singapore (girl), American, Air France, Lufthansa - you know exactly what you are buying, have known them all your life.

Then there are the bargain carriers, Jetstar, Air Asia, Air China, Garuda, Brunei, Cathay - dozens of them. How can you make your new airline stand out?

Hogan has used the opportunity of his new fleet of planes to create an upper level of luxury. So the new planes have a seat called The Apartment - a room which contains a full-length bed and immaculate service; or The Residence, a three-room private apartment on your plane.

Aren't they expensive? Of course! The Residence from Abu Dhabi to London is $24,000. But then, this isn't made for us hoi polloi, this is for the flyer making a choice between the suite and his private jet. With its own butler and chefs, you're probably more comfortable on the big plane.

But by promoting itself as the classy airline Etihad will attract the business travellers, who don't pay their own fares anyway, and who are much more profitable than the penny-pinching rabble in economy. In fact I wouldn't mind betting they get a better class of economy passenger anyway, willing to pay a little extra for the perceived luxury of the new fleet.

Just last week we lost Stuart Wagstaff, who epitomised the line, "when only the best will do". All right, he was talking about fags, but the words ring true in marketing.

This is the strategy that Etihad are running. So they have put their name on our Docklands stadium, Twickenham rugby, and Manchester City's soccer ground. They put their name on the best to create an identity up against established airlines like Qantas and BA. They should be on a safe bet with Nicole, too.


12 March, 2015

Crowdfunding has become the mighty beanstalk

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday March 12, 2015

Three years ago I introduced my readers to the new concept called "crowdfunding". This was a novel way to raise funds for small projects and products. Well, what a surprise - this little idea is growing like Jack's beanstalk and is now looking at some very serious money indeed as it knocks on the giant's window.

One of the most popular funders is Kickstarter, which originally helped designer Scott Wilson market the idea of a wrist strap which would turn an Apple Nano iPod into a trendy watch. He put his designs on the web and in a day had raised $1 million.

Seeing a few more examples like this, thousands who had a good idea but would be ignored by the banks, followed this method.

The early enthusiasts had small investments for projects like music albums, painting exhibitions, independent movies and concerts. But it quickly grew beyond this to become a source of small-scale financing. There are now several hundred crowdfunder sites on the internet, which all need to be studied with care: Gofundme, Indiegogo, Teespring, YouCaring; Crowdrise and more, all slightly different.

At the start there is always an idea. The originator persuades his immediate circle about its merits and persuades them to invest a little of their savings in it. He or she then builds a prototype and promotes it on the web. They nominate a base amount of money needed to make it work. Hopefully others like the idea and invest a little of their cash in it.

If the donations hit the target, the project is launched. If not, the funds are usually returned (every source has different rules. It's important to read them first.)

The donors are paid in different ways. Sometimes they receive a copy of the product when it is finally made; other times they share the profits of a successful venture. Sellaband raises fans' money to pay for professional recording or manufacture or marketing of their adored artist. With the decline of music labels and their rivers of vinyl gold, bands have had to fend for themselves - not their strong point. But the enthusiasm and investment of their fans make possible that new album or big-city tour.

All the little contributions mount up. In 2013 the crowdfunding economy exceeded $5 billion and is rapidly growing. Just last week smart-watch maker Pebble launched its Time model on Kickstarter and raised $1 million in 30 minutes, $8 million in 12 hours.

In the UK, The Crowdfunding Centre promotes a diverse range of projects and targets like $140,000 to create a hand-held Geiger counter, to $2,000 to support a Green MP for Bristol.

Computer games are also favourite clients. An online game Star Citizen claimed to have raised $90,000,000, a world record so far.

But you ain't seen nothin' yet. The Chinese have discovered it. With 1.4 billion in their middle class - as canny a bunch of money managers as you'll ever find - they are taking to it like ducks to water. So much so that their government is already worrying.

So is the government of Brazil, where the crowdfunding ecosystem has planted roots. Both for the same reason - it is drawing people and money away from the carefully managed bureaucratic paths and setting them free in cyberspace.

Banks, governments, institutions, hierarchies - so much freedom threatens them all. Which is a good reason to applaud it.

06 March, 2015

The end of Australian cars

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday March 6, 2015

We have two years till the end of car manufacturing in Australia, completing a hundred-year history that is part of our national identity.

It is a painful, drawn-out loss as first Ford, then Holden, finally Toyota lock their gates. Countless schemes have attempted to save the industry but the end was, in hindsight, inevitable. Just in the past seven years some $10 billion in subsidies from state and federal governments failed to revitalise the industry. How much was it costing each of us tax payers so that a dwindling number of enthusiasts could drive their favourite Holden or Ford?

In fact we have always paid high taxes to support the industry. For much of the last century it was in the form of tariffs, reaching nearly 60 per cent. As we are reminded regularly, call it what you like but in the end it is a tax.

But let's remember: even if we don't weld our cars any more, all the other functions are performed locally. They are imported, marketed, sold, fuelled and serviced as much as ever, so don't take off your marketing jacket.

In fact, if you are involved in selling cars, you'll be busier than ever. Australia offers 64 brands, more new cars than anywhere else in the world. Even the US only has about 50. They will be coming from Europe, America, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand - as they have been for years.

Such a crowded choice makes marketing a nightmare. How do you differentiate your model from all the rest? They all look so shiny, fast, desirable, driven by sexy girls and hunky men.

The iconic labels will remain; Holden is planning to bring in Germany's Opel Insignia and there is much debate about whether to badge it "Commodore". You can be sure similar arguments can be heard in the Ford and Toyota offices.

From the customer point of view, the next few years will be a good time to buy a car, with the many manufacturers juggling for market share, putting downward pressure on price and sugaring the benefits.

Car companies will need to pay much more attention to each brand's positioning and message. There will no longer be the "buy local" urge among drivers or fleets. Pricing and status will be focal points.

As brands are forced to develop personalities, let's hope we see a resurgence in creative advertising - the clever, witty ads of the Bernbach and Ogilvy era, to make the ads stand up and be noticed.

They will need it - a whole new market will explode on top of this. The electric cars are queuing up to enter.

Ford will have its Focus at $43,000 with 122 kms range; the BMW i3 at $75,000 with 190 kms in its batteries. But crowning them all, Tesla claims a range of up to 500 kms, though its car costs over $100,000.

At the moment electric car sales are hampered by availability and price, but these are being resolved. New technology for batteries is also emerging from the university labs, which will transform the major drag on EV sales: the fear of running out of juice.

In a year or two we'll see a competitive petrol versus electric car market so let me reassure you, though the mammoth factories may be no more, you have not see the last of shiny-suited car salesmen spruiking on your telly.

Blog: themarketeer-raybeatty.blogspot.com

26 February, 2015

Whatever you say, they'll call you a liar

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday 26, 2015

If you tell your audience that you are not what they think you are, they will continue to believe what they think - but now know you to be a liar, too. This is a public relations lesson many politicians have had to learn. The more you deny, the more they think you are lying. In the end, like the Cultural Revolution show trials, the only way out is mea culpa. "Yes I did it and I'm sorry."
Not just politicians, companies have had to learn this too. For 40 years Nestle has fought constant battles of accusation and denial over the marketing of its formula in the third world. The whole infant milk business has been hit by protests, boycotts, letters to the editor, parliamentary votes. It still hasn't ended. You wonder how this could be - now if you visit the Nestle mothers' web page you are greeted by the headline: "Breastfeeding is best". They promote breastfeeding for the first six months, with gradual introduction of "complementary" food.

This multinational must have spent millions over the past 40 years fighting protests and defamation cases. In fact they won a case fought internationally for over two years - their opponents were fined $400.

But a group called IBFAN UK continues to fight from a tiny office in Cambridge. Hundreds of volunteer groups around the world ban Nestle products from chocolate bars to Perrier mineral water. Nestle claims it complies with every WHO provision. But the more they plead innocence, the more they're called guilty.

So you think oil companies don't believe in climate change? Not so. See what ExxonMobil has to say: "A variety of policy strategies can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions reductions, such as cap-and-trade rules...and carbon taxes. ExxonMobil participates in greenhouse gas emissions trading when cost-effective, in areas of our operations where regulated trading schemes exist."

In fact they boast at length about the many measures they take to reduce carbon emissions and their research into clean energy. So where are these climate deniers? A few provincial politicians and Republicans. All the rest of the world is cleaning up its act - including the oil majors.

The same goes with tightening the belt. McDonalds gave up denying its responsibility for Australia's expanding girth. Now you will find it offering "healthier" foods through its McCafe. It has a Nutrition section to its web site and even offers a 14 page pdf book of information on nutrition, ingredients, and allergens. It will even help you find Halal restaurants.

Willie Wonka is in retreat. Cadbury will no longer make big rich chocolate bars. It has taken the pledge in the British government's anti-obesity drive and put a cap of 250 calories on all its single chocolate bars. In Australia, however, they blame the shrinkage on cocoa costs. The price, of course, remains the same.
Its new owners, Mondelez International of Chicago, is the latest food giant, having swallowed Kraft, Cadbury, Oreos, Nabisco, Toblerone, even Vegemite. The last thing they can afford is a Nestle-style boycott on their $46 billion world cash-flow. Especially when so much of it is centred on those little shelves around the cash registers.

So if you are faced with a PR disaster about your product, don't instinctively deny it. Find out the truth. Tell it, fix it, and face the world with a clean pair of hands. And hope that the truth will speak up for itself.

20 February, 2015

There's gold in them silver locks

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday February 19, 2015

There's a new chap at the video library. He looks at my DVD and my silver hair and slowly points out: "You realise this is Blue-Ray 3D, so you need special equipment to see it?" I give him a stern look and describe my 3D Sony 5.1 theatre system and say I know perfectly well what it will play.
Here's another marketer who does not realise what he sees in an over-50 customer. He's looking at someone who is probably still working, has no kids to feed and clothe, no school fees, no mortgage to pay, no lavish lifestyle to show off, who has hopefully grown out of his expensive habits. In other words, a big disposable income.

But he's not alone in this error. In Britain they estimate that only five percent of advertising money is targeted at the over 50s. No doubt if you took out the funeral plans and aged care homes there would be even less. Yet in this survey the 50-69s were 29 per cent of the population and accounted for 80 per cent of the wealth.

Marie Stafford is Research Director at the J Walter Thompson agency in London. She saw the problem up close last year, doing research on baby boomers. So many brands got it wrong. "They have no empathy with the generation," she observed. They did not distinguish between a 50 or 60 year old, fit, working and engaged with the world - and someone who's 80 or 90.

The problem is, nobody is willing to be old any more. Marie saw this. "They are of the baby boomer generation, which has been used to being very vocal, setting the pace and making change."

"It's almost like, now they've gotten to this age and they're changing the status quo yet again. They're not going to do it how their parents did it, and they're not going to do it how we expect them to do it either. It feels completely new, a new generation we haven't seen before."

Well this is a generation where the Rolling Stones are still demanding Satisfaction, and this year we have concerts by septuagenarians Neil Diamond and Paul Simon in town. They're a far cry from the white haired couples shuffling along the foreshore, in the superannuation commercials.

Of course for many of the over 50s, super is a sore point. The GFC of 2007-8 smashed their nest eggs and left behind a rotten smell. Now there is no longer the trust in banks and institutions to look after one's old age. So they pick up their shovels and go back to the mine. But they are not going to play the "old" game any more.

Marie ran focus groups. She found people of that age exhilarating. "Half of them, I thought were in the wrong room," she said. "They were very youthful in terms of what they were doing with their time and how active they were—so not like the generation we’re presented with culturally in advertising and the media."

Is it that agencies are full of young people? "It shouldn’t be the problem—it’s our job to put ourselves in other people’s shoes regardless of age differences - but I think it is. If there’s no one internally who understands what it’s like to be 50 or 60, then it is an issue."

So when that still-active rocker Paul McCartney asks "Will you still need me, will you still feed me?" You'd better answer "Yes".

12 February, 2015

Women at the top

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday February 12, 2015

Sheryl Sandberg is beautiful, brilliant, a billionaire, and chief operating officer of Facebook. Last year her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead was a best-seller for months and she is popular for her TED talks and speeches to women's groups. She's also happily married with three small children.
So she believes a woman can have it all? Not really. She can point to the Fortune 500, the list of America's top CEOs, and 24 of them are women. Barely 5 per cent. When we look at Australia's Top 100 we find four women - close enough in percentage terms, except that with this month's departure of Gail Kelly from Westpac, that number will dwindle to three.

What is controversial about Sandberg's talks is - sure there are elements of sexism and testosterone involved, but more of the questions need to be sheeted to women themselves.

"We women don’t take enough risk in our careers," she has stated. In her articles and books she writes about warning her female staff: “Don’t Leave Before You Leave.”

She sees this at Facebook, and in her previous job, that made her reputation, with Google. “I offer promotions and opportunities to these young women, and they tell me, ‘I want to get pregnant in three years, so I can’t do that.'" And then they mark time, at a stage when the most ambitious job advancement should be made.

Pattie Sellers compiles Fortune's Most Powerful Women in Business list. She has seen a change in the types of companies or industries that have adopted female leaders. She reports in wonder: "Who would have imagined that two of the biggest defence contractors would have female leaders? And IBM and HP? It’s kind of amazing—America’s two biggest tech companies."

She would have responded equally to Australia's situation - that dominion of male engineers, Telstra, with a female chairman Catherine Livingstone; or our most masculine reserve, the mining industry, dominated by Gina Rinehart.

There is a lot of talk about opportunities and quotas, and women don't have the same roadblocks in their path that they had half a century ago. It's not so long ago that a woman was sacked when she married, or if they were both teachers, the woman would automatically lose her job. Now, at least, they are free to continue their career path.

Women are more collaborative than men, so in a world where teams and work groups are all-important, their contributions shine. "But women think about power differently than men do," says Sellers. "Women think about power much more horizontally. Men think about power vertically."

She asked hundreds of women and men why they started their company. "Men tend to say to make a lot of money. Women want to create the company they would like to work for." Often, they have come from a big company and they don’t want to work that way any more.
Our universities turn out increasing numbers of highly qualified women. Will they forever fill the ranks of middle management without breasting the top? Sellers sees little chance of parity. "We might get 100 CEOs; eventually 150. But we're never going to get 250 Fortune 500s."

It comes down to the girls. Can they change the nature of business - or the nature of themselves?

05 February, 2015

We all suffer from collective memory loss.

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday February 5, 2015

It's almost pathological, what short-term collective memories we have. Look at the stock market. One day a share is a dollar, the next day $1.10, then it drops to 90c. The stocks rise and fall like bouncy balls but when you look closer, you find the listed companies are trading the way they were the week before, business much the same, profits much the same, so what is it that makes the stock so agitated?

To the outsider it seems like we can't remember how things were a week ago and certainly have little foresight on how they will be a week from now.

It's like rain. At the moment in Melbourne it has been raining. No matter that the west of this state is in the grip of drought. Down here we're ok and the grass is green, therefore our water is going to last forever, our dams will never empty.

Now wait a minute, if we stop and think we know that there is a major drought on its way. If not this year or the next, maybe the year after. 15 of the past 18 years have been drier than the Victorian average.

We know that once again we will be checking the levels of our dams in every morning's paper. Last drought everybody got so worried that we spent a fortune on a desalination plant that has never been used. After all, now it's raining. Does that mean that the plant will never be used? No, we know that it's only a matter of time, maybe in the future people will be saying what great foresight this had shown.

Until now Victoria has been Australia's greatest gas consumer. But new Queensland export contracts will triple gas demand, and push prices up to overseas levels. Our off-shore gas wells will find their contents sucked up - and their lives much reduced from the current 30 years.

In the United States they beat the shortage by opening up huge shale gas and oil deposits. Suddenly they are trumpeting about having fuel sufficiency for 100 years.

It turns out that Victoria also has huge shale beds capable of producing gas and oil, and enormous coal reserves for coal seam gas. These two areas obviously need urgent attention. But what happens? The last state government banned coal seam gas because of complaints from farmers and then, because they did not know the difference, they banned shale and even oil exploration.

The new government has come in and at the moment seem too scared by this dilemma to do anything about it. So they have allowed the prohibition to continue with no good scientific justification.

In fact, we are quite capable of extracting fuel in an environmentally careful way. We know how to drill oil without spillage, protect water tables from gas leaks. Gas can be released from shale like riffling a pack of cards.

Meanwhile, Australia imports 91 per cent of its fuel, and by 2030 we will be completely dependent on overseas fuel. The trouble is, what if some conflict closed off our sea access - as the Japanese did in WWII. We're an island, what do we do next?

In his NRMA report, Air Vice-Marshal John Blackburn insisted: "This is a national security, a national survival issue in the longer term."

Tighten the regulations, build in safeguards - and for once, show a little foresight.

29 January, 2015

The gadgets of the future are here and now

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday January 29, 2015

More than a decade ago I visited what is now called the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, and at the time I thought it was the biggest trade exhibition I'd ever seen in my life. Well this month the 2015 show was far bigger than before.

At 200,000 square metres with 3600 exhibitors you could never see it all. And as always, within it are the pointers to what our future world will look like.

Some are predictable: TVs are getting bigger, brighter, more intensely coloured, glasses-free 3D; 4K Blu-ray is coming as is sensational virtual reality.

There are little innovations like ear buds that measure your biometric and fitness information even as they play the music you're jogging to.

Nanotechnology is moving towards centre stage, making possible inventions of once-impossible tinyness with greater power and wide applications.

The heroes of the show were in fact the cars. Some technologies are already here, or will be in very short order. Self-parking cars. Continuous connection to the web. Noise cancellation speaker systems that allow four passengers to each hear their preferred music at the same time, without disturbing other passengers.
Mercedes-Benz wowed them all with its concept car. Dr. Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, was there in person to introduce the "F015 Luxury in Motion". This beautiful machine looks sculpted and inside it has four comfortable swivel armchairs that can be turned to face each other. "The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space," said Dr Zetsche. In other words it's another room for your house or another office for your business.

Don't worry about the driver - the car will do that. Or, using a floating control console, any of the passengers can take over the driving duties. You a back-seat driver? Here's the steering wheel. Fortunately the car has its own anti-accident technology.

The endless display halls were also filled with robots. Some giving directions. Some serving on the stands. Others demonstrating how they can pick products in a warehouse or clean the floor of your house. There were pet dinosaur robots that loved being stroked or tickled, and another bot that will rock your baby to sleep. No doubt you have already noticed the appearance of numerous vacuum cleaner robots in Harvey Norman or Myer. Well brace yourself, there are many more robots on the immediate horizon.

Smart homes are well and truly on their way. Many new devices are built for remote control from your iPhone or Android phone. Cookers, washing machines, house lighting, music systems, security - all controllable from far away when you need it.
The Cicret bracelet looks purely decorative - till you turn it on. It then projects a smartphone screen onto your wrist which you can touch, drag, pinch, select in the same way you control your phone. I wouldn't recommend it if you have hairy arms, though.

The much-discussed Apple Watch is expected to arrive this autumn, meanwhile Google's Android Wear software keeps launching new apps, powering smartwatches from Samsung, LG and Motorola. Like the Moto 360 which can play games, run note-taking app Evernote, and take voice commands.

So thousands of inventions and gadgets are primed to come your way. At least you'll have no shortage of choice by Christmas time.

22 January, 2015

Some of the best ads are phoney

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday January 22, 2015

For nine years the makers of Doritos corn chips, Frito-Lay, have invited members of the public to create their own Doritos commercial. This year the winner will see their ad played in Super Bowl time (the most expensive advertising time in America, on February 1st) and receive a million dollars prize. Already there is an Australian finalist, Armand De Saint-Salvy from Sydney.
But there is another Doritos commercial doing the rounds, also from Australia. It's the jolly, musical story of an attractive couple who meet, court and marry through their mutual passion for Doritos. They decide to honeymoon "at the beginning" - back in the tropics where the oil comes from. Only to find the rainforest has been devastated to allow the planting of huge palm oil plantations.

The ad, it turns out, comes from an environmental group Sum Of Us, connected with the Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, and Union of Concerned Scientists. The objective is to pressure the parent, PepsiCo, to be more insistent in its policing of the habitat management practised by its third-world suppliers.

There are a lot of these spoof ads around if you search. They make popular subjects for final-year photography, art or cinema students, so they can be very polished and professional.

I particularly like the Yves Saint Laurant perfume ad with a beautifully shot bottle proudly named "Cocaine". Much like Dior's product "Opium". What betrays this as a spoof are the two neat lines of white powder in the photo foreground.
As you'll recall, I keep complaining about the lack of creativity in much of today's advertising. In fact some of the best ads are either spoofs, or very close to being send-ups.

One current ad is called a "content video" - think of it as a long tv commercial on YouTube. It features that dreaded figure - the fitness bore. Working his abs and pecs around a gym he talks lengthily about "the palaeo diet" (don't eat anything a caveman couldn't get); "the space diet" which you eat hanging upside down breathing from an oxygen tank; the hachuchu berry that turns fat into muscle overnight. You've met the type. The payoff though is right at the end when you see the sponsor. Grill'd Hamburgers with their low carb super bun. It sure doesn't look like a Hungry Jack's commercial.

But because it's so unexpected, you'll laugh and remember it longer.

YouTube is currently creating a raft of ads which spoof the extravagant Super Bowl ads coming up. American advertisers spend millions on commercials to launch between the game's first and second half. YouTube (i.e. parent Google) want to see whether their ads can pull viewers away from the network. When they are paying $5 million for a 30-second spot, the advertisers will not be pleased if too many viewers are lured away by the fake commercials.

For the social media, though, it is an audacious act, pitting themselves against the might of the networks on the biggest TV event of the year. If they do make a dent on the program's viewing numbers, they can then turn to the advertisers and show they have the same pulling power as the expensive stations.

The digitals - YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and the rest - are now looking to build themselves broadcast empires too. And fuelled by their enormous income streams, there's no doubt that there is nothing phoney in that ambition.

15 January, 2015

On movies and TV, we face long-distance censorship

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday January 15, 2015

In the old days of the Hays Office, Hollywood movies were tightly restricted on what sex could be shown. Remember the old I Love Lucy and Bewitched sitcoms? Ever noticed that the parents always had twin beds in their rooms? I wondered about my parents sharing a double bed when no-one on TV or in the movies seemed to do so. But that was censorship maintaining rigid boundaries between couples and coupling.

Sex on screen has come a long way in our liberated age. But the Hays Office may be raising its head again - this time through economic muscle. 2013 saw the film business turn over $44 billion world-wide. And a substantial percentage of these receipts were from China, with an industry now bigger than America's.

Add the movie-devouring of India and the Middle East, and you are talking very big bikkies. Enough to make a blockbuster movie financially feasible or dead in the pending tray.

So if the Chinese censors demand less cleavage; or the Indian distributors are unhappy with the blatant sex...well it can be solved with a simple cut-away shot.

Currently in China the hot topic on social media is a very lush and expensive serial drama The Empress of China, about history's only female Chinese ruler. After the first episode played - to a record audience - the series mysteriously went off-air. Four weeks later it returned. All the decolletage shots (the fashion was popular at the time) had been re-edited to head-only framing. The court ladies lost their boobs.

Late last year the board that administers censorship issued a string of prohibitions. And funny enough they are very like the list issued by Will H. Hays in 1930 - you know, the usual: nudity, partner-swapping, rape, incest, prostitution - even flirtation. So now everybody is wondering how a show like Game of Thrones, which features all of the above, is going to fare. The pilot having just been shown on CCTV, an experienced fan reported: "I guess it's okay if all you want to watch is a medieval European castle documentary.” The Chinese version has lost 11 minutes.
But of actually greater importance in China is the political message. In 1984 a movie called Red Dawn was released to poor reviews and moderate multiplex success. It featured Russians and Cubans invading the US. Then in 2009 it was remade with invading Chinese. But wait a minute... it was not released till four years later, and the Chinese had changed to North Koreans. All done through editing and computer graphics in post-production. I mean, the Chinese audience would not want to see themselves as the villains, would they?

The Chinese giggle, online, at an obvious piece of product placement in the new Transformers:
The Age of Extinction movie. As a robot tears its way through Hong Kong there is an unexplained cut to a Communist official who sternly declares: "The central government will protect Hong Kong at all costs!" That's called "And now a word from our sponsor..."

Even the North Koreans have clout, as when they hacked Sony's computers last year and forced the re-scheduling of The Interview, the comedy about an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-un.

Perhaps we'll end up making two versions of every film. As it is, they shoot several endings, don't they? And then choose the one that most appeals to the test market audience. Well here that test market is a small committee in far away Beijing.

08 January, 2015

It's a new year in cargo cult land

Melbourne Herald Sun, January 8, 2015

Every new year, for eight years, I have visited the primitive society where our happy nation of simple folk live, enjoying the gifts of their our magical cargo cult.

Just like the natives of New Guinea who believed their wartime prosperity with plane loads of food, machines, trinkets and clothes arriving from across the sea, would continue for ever, we believe the same story.

It's our cargo cult economy. The world gives us more and more - cars, stores full of beautiful clothes; stoves, pots and pans and fancy goods; container loads of food, phones, TVs, trinkets and mirrors. We just sit back and receive, signing the chits. We don't have to do anything for these gifts, just let the donors take whatever they want.

Last year, though, the tribe became dissatisfied with the gifts. There was too much fighting within the old chief's family. So as always, we executed the old chief, and responded to the new chief's aggressive prayers.

He told us gifts of cargo were being wasted on medicine men, the unproductive young, and in feeding the old. They were pushed to the edges of the tribe to beg for scraps.

Now the cargo would be just for the deserving. But what's this - the gods don't want so much of our rocks and dirt any more. They're digging up less and in turn they have reduced the amount of cargo they'll send us. Calamity!

The mood of the tribe is turning angry. Where are all the plane loads of booty our new leader promised us? He hastily consulted the gods on his coconut shell telephone and responded: To appease the gods they demand we make them more infrastructure. They want to see our sincerity by how much we can build.

So teams of tribesmen will carve new tracks through the forest. A banana plantation will be chopped down to create a new landing strip. Hundreds of grass huts will be built.

Groups of manmeri (men and women) had been making stone axes and ceremonial clothes for the tribe, for generations, but they were pushed away to make room for the new giant straw and bamboo towers that will soon dominate the skyline. Any clothes or implements we need will arrive amongst the abundance of booty that the cargo will bring.

The Tribal Drumbeating Corporation is also being cut back, it makes the natives too restless and asks silly questions like "is there really a Cargo God?". So the tribe had a great feast on a few hundred of their drummers, leaving yet more booty for the rest of us.
In any case, the containers have thousands of discs to view and the plastic masks from Disney are much lighter than the old ones of wood and cowrie shells.

Of course there are always grumblers in the tribe. Complaining that we are cutting back too much of the jungle, digging the wrong holes or making too much smoke with the burning-off.

They even say, one day the gifts will end. But we know that the gods will always bring new cargo to our island. We'll just make sure that no canoes from the other islands ever make it onto our beaches. Turn back or be barbecued, this is Cargo Cult Land. Here's wishing a Happy New Cult to you all.

18 December, 2014

Opera makes the most memorable TV commercials

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday December 18, 2014

Mazda likes to portray itself as a good corporate citizen, and thanks its many customers by sponsoring the annual Opera in the Bowl concert, as it did last weekend.

Of course in such a popular event the opera needs to be light, short and digestible, with lots of songs that everyone knows - even if they believe they know nothing about opera. So it was that the warm summer night was filled with Opera Australia's orchestra and finest young singers entertaining the crowd with two hours of delightful, er, TV commercials.

I don't think it was deliberate, but more than two-thirds I could remember back to a TV soundtrack. It's just that a great operatic tune is so memorable, and so made for words, that advertisers have always found them irresistible.
So when the orchestra opened with Bizet's Carmen, B&D's Roll-a-Door opened in my mind. Then Carmina Burana by Carl Orff conjured hundreds of men racing across a field chasing a beer.

The great Verdi of course was there with the Anvil Chorus (Yellow Pages), and Nabucco's Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves which caused a row in Italy when a bank used it for a TV commercial.

There is a financial reason for this resurgence of opera, far more mundane than its great beauty. Most of our favourite operas were written more than a century ago and so are out of copyright. So although you have to pay the record company or singers - you don't pay hefty original music costs or residuals. So when you can get the world's greatest music for nothing - why not?

And marketers have been filching opera tracks since before the Marx Brothers. They're all snapped up and replayed, fortunately only 30 seconds at a time. So La Donna E Mobile becomes "pasta from Leggo's". Rossini's Figaro becomes Vittoria Coffee and in an earlier commercial Doritos Chips. Pachelbel's Canon takes you to Tasmania, and Wagner's Valkyries fetch the Reflex copy paper.

Cars love the smooth ride of classical music: Debussy's Clair de Lune for Honda Accord, Rachmaninoff's Pictures at an Exhibition is Mitsubishi's Magna. Honda Legend uses the dreamlike atmosphere of Cantaloube's Songs of the Auvergne; Holden Statesman used Mozart's Piano Concerto 21; and for their Calibre, Holst's The Planets. Of course the grouind-shaker of them all was when the Army Reserve blew its trainees through the smoke bombs with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
There is actually give and take in this process - Stanley Kubrick turned Richard Strauss into a hit composer when he ran Also Sprach Zarathustra as the soundtrack for his 2001. It was scarcely known then. And Delibes was yet another obscure, little known 19th century opera composer - there are thousands of them - until his Flower Duet was played through the cabin of a British Airways commercial. It was then that the dust was blown off the volumes of Lakme and it is now in the world's frequent opera repertoire.

I'll bet that a lot of my readers are now surprised to discover they are so familiar with the works of opera and classical symphonies. You may not know the names but the music is right inside you. Maybe you might use this holiday break to explore the world of classics, if you haven't been into it before. You'll be amazed at what you find, and you don't have to buy any products.

Have a very merry Christmas!

11 December, 2014

All the world's top chefs have planned your Christmas dinner

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday December 11, 2014

It has pride of place on the bench of so many a young family's kitchen. The cook book rack where the Margaret Fulton tome would sit open at that day's planned recipe. Only now it's not a book in its place but an iPad, or its clone. The recipe would be displayed as before, with bright coloured photo of what (hopefully) it will eventually look like.

It may be an actual Margaret Fulton recipe, or Jamie Oliver, or Nigella Lawson - or any of your favourite TV chefs, they all seem to have their own sites including the various Master Chef winners and their judges.

World wide there are hundreds of recipe sites, somewhere there's one for every taste and every nationality from gnocchi to spare ribs to Peking duck.

To this you can add the thousands of enthusiastic bloggers. Some have as much skill and character as the professionals; large numbers of them leave much to be desired and a queasy feeling in the tum.

But Australians appreciate their home cooking and are doing a lot of it, even if they also consume large quantities of take-away. But we are fortunate in having very affordable food. Our incomes have risen faster than prices. So the Department of Agriculture was able to report in 2012 that over the previous 20 years, while our incomes rose by 36 per cent, the spending on food only went up 13 per cent.

This is corroborated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics which reported that households spent 20 per cent of their cash on food and drink in 1984, yet 25 years later it was only 16.5 per cent. The popularity of eating certainly hasn't declined so it must be price. And that's even excluding alcohol.

Of course clever marketing joins the dots and you'll find a helluva lot of doodling in the recipe pages. I've talked before about the work Coles and Woolworths have done to develop their home delivery services.

Now Coles have taken it a step further, with the announcement of a new Recipe to Cart service. It's a marriage made in supermarket heaven: the blushing bride is Taste.com.au, the country's biggest recipe deliverer, claiming a reach of 6,277,000 readers and clickers per month between its website, magazine and newspaper lift-outs.

You choose your recipes, click the ingredients, they pass into the digital shopping basket and the next day they get delivered to your door. I wonder if there's another button you can click to deliver Curtis Stone or Heston Blumenthal to cook it up for you.

Christmas of course is a time when the nation goes extravagantly mad in its food buying. So it's an ideal time for Taste and Coles to launch this service. They have constructed a Christmas Menu Planner with lots of seasonal dishes based around products on Coles shelves.

Woolworths are fighting back with Jamie Oliver Christmas recipes, while Aldi and IGA have had their home economists toiling for months to deliver acres of appetising meals on their web sites.

So if you are one of our millions of keen on-line recipe hunters, rest assured that a very well catered Christmas has been laid out for you.

04 December, 2014

To police the TPP we need WikiLeaks

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday December 4, 2014

Australia's future as a trading nation is the subject of intense discussion. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an agreement being hammered out between Australia and our 11 trading neighbours including America, Canada, Japan, Chile, Mexico, Malaysia and Vietnam. But not including China or India.

How do we know about it? Certainly not through the trust of our government, which keeps the details under heavy security - as did the previous Labor government - so any information we have is thanks to WikiLeaks.
Consequently we are working on a jigsaw puzzle with 80 per cent of the pieces missing. But we do get to understand the picture.

Detractors have stormed over one of the chapters that we have seen, on intellectual property. Howls of protest have been heard from music and movie lovers at the planned tightening of copyright laws and the cutting of online piracy.

I would regard separating freedom from theft as a primary task.

Of more concern are the moves which could see Australia paying more for drugs, medicine, and health care. We are used to our PBS and generic drugs, they have made our good health affordable.

We can also expect to see Australia's already-low tariff walls descend even further on items like machines, cars and technology.

But the question will inevitable arise: will Americans free up their agriculture markets, or the Japanese permit Australian rice?

Even behind curtains, our negotiators are being scrutinised very closely and will have to justify any concessions they make to a suspicious public.

If there is anyone with a broad-ranging view of this country's economic future, it's Phil Ruthven, the chairman of Ibisworld market researchers. How did he view the TPP?

To my surprise, he was not very concerned about it. "Any treaty is always healthy," he said, "But our trade and tourism relationships are in the Asian region, not the Pacific. 80 per cent of our trade is now focussed on Asia. Two thirds of our tourists are coming from Asia.

"We're one of the fastest growing countries, mainly from immigrants, and two-thirds of those are from Asia. Any treaty with Asia is probably more valuable to us than America. In reality our future is Asian rather than Pacific orientated."

All of which makes you wonder at the treaty being so drawn-out. Are we sure we are sitting on the right side of the fence? China already has its treaty, signed last month, and India is not too far away, we are told.

Once he warmed to his theme, Phil of course was a trove of information and statistics.

"By 2016 China will be bigger than America, economically. But they won't become a power so quickly." Which leave us in between two giants.
"We are pretty tiny," muses Phil, "and we need friends everywhere."

So he advises that while we make our new accommodation with China and India, we must never neglect to stay close friends with America.

Does that mean paying more for software? "I think you'll find IP is one of the most valuable assets they have got. Look at the expense of developing drugs. I would have some sympathy for them wanting to be paid for that."

However, we still expect our negotiators to be tough nuts - and we have WikiLeaks to spy on them for us.

28 November, 2014

Bespoke and mass production will no longer be contradictions.

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday November 27, 2014

Once upon a time a son of gentry would visit the family shoemaker in Jermyn Street, London, to have his feet lasted. Perfect models would be made of his feet, carved out of hard wood, which from then on would be used to make his shoes.

Then later, while serving in India's North-West Frontier, he may decide it was time for a few new pairs. A letter to Jermyn Street would see the beautiful new, perfectly fitting shoes delivered by the next tea clipper.

This bespoke shoe making is still available in a few stores around the world, if you have about $5000 for a pair of shoes. But rapid innovations may make it available for us non-gentry, and not a very long time away.

Already there is technology that can scan your foot, digitise it, and rebuild a perfect model - the last - with a 3D printer. There are a number of companies around the world working to create just such a system. Some of the sports shoe companies already have "design your own style".

Management consultants McKinsey & Co point to a huge new marketing wave coming at us in the shape of custom choice and fitting. A lot of the software has already been written, many of the machines have already been built.

Ford and General Motors have invested heavily on interchangeable robotics - so when you order your car, details, specifications, features and colours can all be programmed into your order on-line.

We're already used to our computers being customised to the smallest details of memory, screen definition, networking capacity, inbuilt radio and TV - there seems to be no function that can't be specified when we make the purchase.

Clothing is another area where the computer comes into its own. Like the shoemaker's last, your whole body could be recorded and filed. So long as you were managing your weight, you could order your perfectly-fitting outfits from wherever you were in the world. The computer image would even show you how you will look with that particular blouse and skirt or trousers and jacket.

Of course this sounds like magical marketing but it will all depend on the ability to supply and respond. By all accounts it took our supermarkets over two years to develop a system reliable enough that now they can advertise computer shopping with home delivery.

McKinsey instruct that the first step is to identify opportunities that create value for the consumer and are supported by smooth, swift, and inexpensive transactions for both customer and producer.

The second is the tricky part - keeping costs controlled even when numbers and manufacturing complexity increase. This is why the customising of goods is still in the hands of small start-ups or separate divisions of large companies.
But now, they say, "We believe the time for widespread, profitable mass customisation may finally have come, the result of emerging or improved technologies."

They foretell it has the potential to increase a company's revenue and beat competitors, improve cash flow and reduce waste. You only make what has been ordered - and usually paid for. The customer's loyalty is guaranteed - they know you will always supply the perfect fit. You'll also gather data that can help you develop the range of standard products for the off-the-peg customers.

Customising is mass production - but one at a time. It creates a radical new marketplace.