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August 24, 2005

The future’s bright like a rotten Orange 

My friend and colleague Johnnie Moore had this experience with mobile: it claimed he managed to download 13 Mbyte in 11 hours one night (and he was asleep for half the time) and has charged him for it. When Johnnie queried it, the Orange rep told him that she could not elaborate on how he managed to do this for ‘data protection’ reasons. What a load of bollocks.
   Consumers today are no longer impressed with technobabble-sounding cobblers. And Orange, a company I covered positively in 1995 and 1996, would not have lost Johnnie as a if it simply told him, ‘Mr Moore, I’m a lazy f***, and I can’t be bothered getting this file out.’
   For this blog, I can say that Orange is certainly not a beyond-, and I urge others never to try them when Orange enters their country—or be on alert for these charges. Given the failure of Orange to provide Johnnie, in its oldest market, any evidence or basis to make this charge, then one likely conclusion is that Orange fakes its charges. Not saying it does, but it’s a reasonable conclusion when you hear the story.
   Nonetheless, it exhibits a behaviour so already hated of telcos, and if a ’s tasks include that of differentiation, then Orange has just failed through its customer service. Apparently, if the matter were ‘escalated’ (what, the first person doesn’t have the authority to solve problems?), Johnnie has been told that he’s going to get the same answer.
   But let’s talk about some English law. In England, as in many parts of the Commonwealth, there is a Sale of Goods Act 1979. Johnnie has the right to know what he is buying under a contract. Orange seems to think he doesn’t have that right. In England, there are that expressly state that he has a right to know, too. Orange seems to think he doesn’t have that right. Now, say Johnnie’s cellphone was compromised by a hacker. He should have a right to sue for trespass or some other law. Orange seems to think he doesn’t have that right.
   What if he was being hacked? And what if his cellphone was not alone? Well, Orange doesn’t care if its network is compromised, obviously. And surely Johnnie has the right to see private information about himself? What is ‘data protection’ meant to protect? Users’ privacy. Isn’t Johnnie a user?
   So the conclusion I have to make is, whatever Orange is, the choice is either that of (a) a false-charging company; (b) one that does not respect or even care about English law or (c) one that does not take any responsibility for hackers on its own network—which, given the connectivity of the networks, applies to anyone else’s. In any case, it is a bad, bad firm, based on this experience.
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August 15, 2005

Top Gear Down Under 

I remember when Angela Rippon fronted the first and tested the Mk II Capri. Or Selena Scott at Motorfair ’84. Or Noel Edmonds, for that matter. I remember when Andy Wilman was involved in Siamese banger racing. Like Nigel Havers, I thought Vicki Butler-Henderson had a nice, um, well. Many years before it became The Show and got six million viewers a week.
   I used to be a sceptic to spawned off TV shows, not unlike the sceptics who felt a web title couldn’t jump to print. And for years, Top Gear did operate in a nice little niche of its own: while some publishers were forbidden to leap to telly, the could operate a nice little earner with a show-based magazine, building it up to be one of the country’s top sellers.
   But it has not been till this year that Top Gear had the right look to complement its editorial; until recently it played second-fiddle to Car or the slightly sycophantic Autocar, still a favourite of mine.
   To illustrate the strength of its brand, Top Gear spawns a issue next Monday, a development I am looking forward to. There are a few reasons: it is the first time, to my knowledge, that a British TV show has spawned a uniquely local edition here. It will end the kiss-ass editorial that the other car magazines in New Zealand put out. And we can find out just how effective translating a television audience to print is—because it ain’t easy from the web.
   It will also prove a point: if Top Gear is driven by viewer feedback, as it appears to be these days, then it will work more effectively than one that is in a single medium. It may show a real picture of the New Zealand motoring consumer, which has not been seen till now.
   Apart from the main magazine that I am involved in, I haven’t been this excited about a New Zealand-produced title. And it may prove me right on a lot of counts: that a market orientation, generally, works.
Well, it’s launched. I won’t go into depth here yet because I would rather tell the managing editor, who is a friend of mine, first. Good points: broad appeal, differentiation, approachable for either gender. Less than stellar points: I am meaner on cars than they are. Sum-up: kicks the domestic competition. If it does not become number one in its sector, it is at least a strong number two.  
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August 14, 2005

Today’s “conspiracy theory”: PM Lange assassinated for marketing? 

On July 30, 2005, I wrote the following at the Yahoo! group:

Labour will probably win. [Prime Minister] Helen [Clark] will take the advantage of in the hospital, have him assassinated, and get sympathy votes in time for the [on September 17] as we look misty to the 1980s and how good we had it then.

With Mr Lange’s passing today at age 63, I’m saddened I predicted his death, though I probably didn’t predict the cause as far as non- are concerned. But the reaction may well be the same for Prime Minister ’s government. Neither major party dares bring up the past, neither major party has a vision for the future, so the only way for them to (and they fail to differentiate in doing so) is to make hints. It’s a shameful state of affairs for the parties, and an example of meaningless, wasteful marketing that doesn’t sway a single soul.
   Mr Lange’s passing is a godsend in the realm of subtle branding for Labour, giving them a chance to say, ‘We’re not bringing up this PR. We have nothing to do with it.’
   Sometimes, you just can’t buy this sort of publicity. Call me a cynic.
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August 10, 2005

Hell Pizza is evil 

I saw a billboard, reported at,,5007-4636532,00.html, today.
   I like to think I have a pretty developed sense of humour, but this was plain disgusting.
   Americans: some might not agree with your nation’s policy, but please know this sort of advertisement does not reflect our sentiments about you. It has been put up by some ill-educated, liberal extremists, and I refer not only to the client, but its agency and a city council that should know better.
   The hypocrisy is that if someone in the US put up a billboard calling our Prime Minister ugly (and she photographs poorly), they’d be the same SOBs jumping up and down about decency. Or, how about a billboard saying, ‘Hell Pizza loves terrorism. Screw London.’ See guys, it doesn’t feel very nice, does it? But politically, it’s the same treatment you gave the 43rd President of the .
   Just in case it was me, I asked some liberal friends their opinions. They are identical to mine. Decency is not the sole preserve of liberals or conservatives, or centrists like me.
   If anyone thinks the City Council is corrupt, then they have just received more armament.
   If you are reading this blog, then you are probably sick of advertising agencies operating as though it were 1955. Here is more evidence to support your viewpoint.
   Our cynicism about advertising is justified. If ads like this are meant to grab attention, then they are probably covering up for something. My immediate thought was that the client must have an inferior product. If I discover the agency’s name, I will post it.
While the billboard doesn’t help the image of Wellington, I am told that it is on private land and not the responsibility of the City Council. I apologize for the error above.  
Interesting billboard. I saw one recently promoting PORK. It had a couple next to a barbecue and the headline said "Pork the one you love". I wonder how well they thought it through.  
I got to say, I like the sound of the pork one. Cheeky.  
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August 05, 2005

Life on the back of a business card 

There is a links’ page for this site, hosted at my company. But on the blog itself, I put up three links at right. One of them is for Hugh MacLeod at Gaping Void, whose cartoons on the backs of business cards sum up some of the things happening in the profession. (The above is my tribute to him.) When you’re down in the southern hemisphere, you sometimes feel a bit detached from the progress made in the profession in some faster-moving market-places. He’s one that keeps me connected.
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August 04, 2005

Spielberg and Zemeckis may have been right 

This is what I mean by advancement: the flying car. A lot of the antipathy out there comes from me-too, same-again products. A brand’s duty is to differentiate, and they have to work harder and harder because products are more homogenized. Brands can regain their respect if products, similarly, do something distinctive. Here’s potential for the next great brand, but I frankly believe the story would have greater verisimilitude if it talked about an , not an American. If anyone’s going to do a flying car, it’s likely to be someone subcontinental.
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August 03, 2005

Tale of three Trees 

Bought three bottles of Citrus Tree from Pak ’n’ Save in June. Two of them are off, despite expiry dates of February 2006. I know this is more trivial than the posts that my fellow authors have made here, but it makes me wonder: where are the oranges from? What safety processes are there? What can Citrus Tree do to reassure me that this won’t happen again? My immediate action is to take back the juice, but whether word will ever get back to Citrus Tree is another matter. I will write, but for those who say that there’s a level of product homogeneity and quality today, I say, ‘Cobblers.’ At this rate, some commodities won’t need brands. Just open the top and smell which ones pong.
   Incidentally, the last bottle I took back leaked on to my car seat. I’m surprising myself as to my calmness.
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August 02, 2005

Cellphones are evil 

I still can’t see the point of s. I honestly can’t. I run a global business in 11 countries without one. The only reason for a man owning a cellphone is saving money on a vasectomy. Shove a Nokia down your pants and have your testicles irradiated.
   And text messaging? What the hell is that? The equivalent would be, ‘Hey, buy this Ford Focus, for $3,000,000.’ That’s the level of rip-off that users are experiencing. Morse Code is only slightly less primitive, but not much more.
   Cameras on cellphones? Why? Can anyone actually make out what the heck the photos are of?
   The human race is not progressing technologically, and the cellphone and the iPod are perfect examples of humanity’s retrograde. They both offer a service that is poorer, albeit more portable, than existing technologies.
   It’s amazing to see so-called cutting-edge research that takes you back to the 1950s—or before.
   Next innovation that comes along, really ask yourself: do I need this piece of crap, or is my life all right without it? Is this item really better than what is currently on offer? By accepting plain junk—the pet rock, slime, the Tamagotchi, cellphones, iPods—companies are not forced to innovate, and stagnates. Can the companies provide a camera inside a cellphone that is actually good? Yes, but while we accept low-grade junk, what incentive is there? Can the companies provide text messaging for free? Yes, but why should they?
Primarily, Jack, my answer to 'why cellphones?' is that the most effective communication is person to person, not from place to place. I don't want to call your office from my office, I want to call *you*. And why do we put up with text messaging (sure, I'm biased:, because it is convenient. My mobile is always on - I use it as my alarm clock. So colleagues in San Francisco, New York and London can, and do, text me to keep in touch. Why? Because I'm not always in front of a PC, or at a desk, or walking past a phone booth. And as for innovation, well we've found that all those people who don't know whether they can afford their next round at the bar love the fact that they can quietly text their bank under the table and get back a balance statement instantly. No walking to an ATM, logging into their online bank, or waiting on hold for an IVR system. You'll come round, everyone I know generally has.  
But why would you want people to be able to reach you all the time? I can’t understand that; it’s a foreign concept to me. What about time to yourself, to collect your thoughts, to plan the next step in your life? How about meditation?
   The things go off at the wrong times, usually in socially unacceptable situations. More and more people tell me that I am wise to be cellphone-free. Cities like San Francisco ban them from council meetings. I’m beginning to meet people who have abandoned their cellphones: two or three this year alone.
   Text messaging has such a mark-up on it from the telcos that I just don’t like getting ripped off: the oil companies are already doing that to me. What’s the profit margin on text for telcos? About 85 per cent? Now, I don’t use ATMs, either, and as for what an IVR system is, you’ve lost me. Is it not more convenient to call, and leave a voice mail, than tap away in a language vaguely above Morse code? (Not my example, I have to admit, but that of author Jonar Nader.) I can’t understand why text-messaging is convenient, and I see people tapping away, taking three times as long as a regular voicemail. I organize my life, so if colleagues want to reach me, I get their emails in the morning—since I get 3,000 emails a week, I would hate for those to start going to a cellphone at all hours of the day.
   I can’t imagine going to a bar if I wasn’t sure whether I could afford it; if my income was on such tenterhooks it would be a wiser decision not to go out. The example you give is valid for some, I’m sure, but again it is totally foreign as a concept to me.
   Sorry, no sale here. I totally respect what you do, Jon, and I believe you are among the top 5 per cent at it. I admire that you work in this field and are making something out of it. And from where you are, you are right to defend its usage: I would be surprised if you did not believe in the cellular world, otherwise your products wouldn’t be so good.
   To suggest I’ll ‘come round’ suggests there’s something wrong with me. Mate, it is not for me, it so far has not been in 18 years of business, and probably never will be. I stick by my post that we are not advancing technologically, and that we are being asked to put up with inferior technologies because not enough of us ask: do I need this? If we seriously asked ourselves this, life might be a lot less stressful.  
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August 01, 2005

To SAIC: look, sunshine, war’s over, you lost 

The Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. is taunting its other state-owned rival, Nanjing Automotive, saying it will build Rovers before Nanjing does; and continues to cry foul over losing the bid to buy . Comrades, you have a lot to learn about business in the west.
   First, if you are going to make a bid for a company and expect it to be successful, don’t put so many conditions on it. A lack of transparency makes things questionable, and you won’t be favoured.
   Secondly, if you are the party that caused the company to collapse in the first place, by not being able to secure sufficient political favours with the mergers’ committee (the NDRC) back home, then don’t try to ruin it for a competitor that won the bid fair and square.
   Thirdly, you might do well to remember the Chinese concept of “face”, which you’ve obviously forgotten in the confusion Mao created. You lost face when you forced MG Rover to make a fire sale. Your actions afterwards pegged you as corporate raiders, trying to make an easy deal while putting 6,000 Britons out of work. That loss of face is going to cost a lot more than a few million pounds to restore.
   And people ask me why I find dealing with Red Chinese organizations questionable. Here is your highest-profile example of why working in is not what it is cracked up to be, and why you should rely on growth figures put out by the Politburo with the same scepticism PricewaterhouseCoopers had over SAIC’s bid.
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Hokonui 1, Wellington 0 

Lucire’s editor-in-chief, Nicola Brockie, ventured to ’s region over the weekend. Folks there were supportive of the magazine, and the businesses, tourism companies and local government agencies spoke highly of it. The hotel where she stayed, hearing she was coming, bought its own copy. Now, that’s impressive. To top it off, the Design Awards were a world-class affair.
   Contrast this with , where we are based. Nicola wrote to the tourism group here, since it’s our home city, and suggested it may be a good idea to do things together. No reply. In fact, when we ran in to the people at that government agency, they claimed they got her email but didn’t know was a print magazine. Frankly, you have to be living in a hole not to know in this town. They thought it was just a web site. No reason not to respond, as the web site reaches 40,000 people each week and is good for the place. And they still haven’t responded, despite receiving the complaint from her in person.
   Talk about contrasts and patriotism, and how it varies between Southlanders and Wellingtonians. We have a broadsheet that is so scared of us that it apparently has boycotted me from its social pages, a tourism body that is ignorant and misguided (you should see its latest TV campaign, which must have been done by people who neither understand destination nor strategy), and evidently petty people in positions of influence. I now know how must have felt when they told him he was a looney for making his films. God only knows why he and I stay here and insist on promoting this city, when we get more respect in other places.
   I just can’t help but feel the city is lying when it does its destination branding. First sign of bad branding: when the body behind the marketing does not care whether its constituents live or die. At this rate, there may be no businesses to promote, because there will be no businesses bothered to stay here, especially with the comparisons we can so readily make.
Perhaps it's all got something to do with the slating you have given Wellington over the Gold awards? Beware the civil servant with a grudge.
I have a feeling, my friend, that they don’t even know of this blog. But I have told Agenda of my displeasure, so no one can accuse me of acting behind their backs. Not my style.
   Some of this also extends well before the Gold Awards.  
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