Monday, December 26, 2005

"fuckadoodledo"

It never rains but it pours.

Haven't written diddley for squat and now I can't shut up.

Boxing Day is such a curious, anticlimactic holiday. The streets of Auckland were busier than yesterday, but still the tumbleweed tumbleweeded down Queen Street.

I find myself watching 'Four Weddings and a funeral. The only reason I can think of is: because it's Boxing Day, the holiday with no point. So pointless excercises in media consumption suddenly make sense.

I do feel slightly awkward by some of the film's insights. The girl who corners Hugh Grant in the corridor of an hotel at one of the eponymous weddings with the accusation that he is a serial monogamist makes me squirm. And the death of the old fruit who's lover reads the WH Auden poem is a poinant moment that stops my clock:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


The reason I watch at all, in truth, is to hear that rendition. (Who was it that said New Zealands national pastime is not reading poetry?)

It makes me sad. For a couple of reasons.

First of all: change the gender to "She was my North, My South, my East, my West...." and away we go. I think of Megan, my first wife and am guaranteed to well with remorse and sadness.

Ironically I had never seen the film before I was sorting Meg's things immediately after her death. The film soundtrack was among her treasures. The monologue is featured on the playlist but, at the time, I couldn't hear it through. It was consigned and sealed in the box with her answerphone message tape and a cassette of a clairvoyant reading (apparently Megan would live a long and happy life. Pretty sure it was a happy life for the best part, so that, at least, was accurate).

The second cause for remorse is the loss of my Scottishness, ipso cultural self. In the immortal words of Hugh Grant in his whatsisname character…"fuckadoodledo".

My heart turned black when Megan died and I have had trouble experiencing joy on anything more than an intellectual level since--when I struggled in the first place. The Scottish trait I never lost.

I miss her terribly at times like these and feel cheated by the speed with which her illness overtook us all.

Let that be a lesson to you.

Movie marathons

Got through another Christmas. I am not prone to cheap sentiment at this time of year. While I am not cynical about the holiday - I appreciate the idea of refocusing on some of the more pleasant aspects of human character as much as anyone - I do find the pressure to spend money and offer gifts has become something of a burden.

Of the gifts I received the DVD of a television programme The Long Way Round (from my son) was my favourite. It follows a couple of soft actors - Euan McGregor (Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge, Star Wars) and Charlie Boorman (?) as they traverse the planet from London to New York - across Europe, through Russia, Khazakstan, Mongolia, Siberia etc, across to Alaska, Canada and the USA. The seven episodes are riveting. It shows the planning to the completion of the journey with hand held cameras and cameras mounted on the bikes (big BMW enduro machines). There are moments during their trip when I wondered how I would have dealt the hardships they endured. Imagine being bogged down in the Siberian wilderness or your bike's frame snapping in half in the middle of nowhere. I have to admit to getting a little annoyed by the two travellers from time to time - but only in the same good natured way they became annoyed with each other, in frustration with being in one another's company without interruption for such a stretch (yes, I watched the whole seven hours in a marathon sitting).

It occurs to me that this simple style of film making can be as compelling and as epic as blockbusters like King Kong - which I took my son along to watch on the day before Christmas eve. It, too, is quite a spectacle and I was thoroughly entertained. Kong is much better than The Lord of the Rings . My main criticism of Peter Jackson's latest his his inclination to fall into a sense of cloying sentimentality with big strings. By that I don't mean the central proposition of two lonely or misplaced souls finding they can relate improbably across species and scale is tenuous - that is the Kong story, after all. But there are moments when Jackson's films fall into a syrupy bog with symphonic accompaniment. And am I alone in wondering if the music in Kong is almost the same as that in LoTR?.
Final thought on Kong: what happened to the scary Skull Islanders? After a fierce resistance they simply vanish? Expedience I suppose. I overheard someone telling a friend that they felt parts of King Kong didn't seem real. Aherm...

Idealog got a mention in this weekend's Herald Time Out section What We Are Reading - "Pretty hip for a business magazine." Maybe it is. But we have work to do to make issue two better than issue one.

So I better crack on with it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Odd sized shoes

My shoes are different sizes. I came to this realisation in a curious way. When I took my beloved RM Williams boots in for repair I noticed that the left was bigger than the right. "These can't be mine." I pronounced with absolute certainty. The welt of one seemed to protrude further out the other. I was more stressed than I should have been and insisted that the matching boot be found. It couldn't. As things transpired I was given a new pair of boots. But even then I was unhappy and gave them away. I've learned to live with my odd boots. Noone else has noticed. Perhaps I'm just picky. Or obsessive compulsive. Or both. Anything is possible. If truth be told, I have become rather fond of my idiosyncratic footwear. I like that they are unlike and take great pleasure in massaging leather cream into the cracks. I make no distinction between left and right. I don't even know which is the original and which is the adopted sole.

I'm learning to let things slide. I never know what will happen next when I allow a little randomness into the frame. After all do I want a realisitic picture at the end of my life, or an expressionst one?

The latter I think.

This morning I was on Breakfast TV. Thought, perhaps, that noone would have seen me - with the exception of desperate housewives (the segment aired at 8.45, when all diligient workaholics were stuck in traffic).

But the phone has been ringing all day with compliments from friends and colleagues. It's gratifying to receive positive feedback. Likewise with the magazine. People seem to like it.

I like that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Birth of an idea.

The launch of Idealog magazine is next week, December 5. On the stands on Monday, launch party Tuesday.
It has been quite a journey so far. Almost a year to the day since I first met Vincent Heeringa and Martin Bell.
We began with a trade magazine in mind but have ended up with something a little more visionary.
The idealists of Idealog. I like where we have arrived but there is a long way to go in terms of storytelling and design ideas.
RIght now I'm just glad that the delivery is pending. I think I can understand how a woman feels late in a pregnancy when the charm is over and she just wants the darned thing out!

Puuuush....wh...wh....wh! and puuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuush.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Go figure

Took my daughter shopping tonight.
We had dinner out.
Got back home late.
She laid her new clothes out
in neat rows
so she could choose what to wear for tomorrow.
She's 5.
I see her just every second weekend.

How can such incredible errors of judgement (marrying my daughter's mother) result in such a wonderful little human being?

Go figure

Thursday, September 22, 2005

ThoughtSpurs 2

"We all agree that your theory is crazy, but is it crazy enough?"
Neils Bohr to Wolfgang Pauli


"Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it"
Jane Wagner


"Delusions of grandeur make me feel a lot better about myself."
Jane Wagner


"I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific."
Jane Wagner (and Lily Tomlin)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Idealog is Go




The magazine I have been working with HB Media to develop is GO! We have had confirmation of sponsorship from Auckland University of Technology, Microsoft, New Zealand Telecom, Balwins (The IP Lawyers) and Image Centre (who will be printing the magazine). It has been quite a journey to get to this stage. But now the real business of generating great articles and packaging them up for the creative community begins.

Visit the Idealog site

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

O.K. Einstein

"For an idea that does not , at first, seem insane - there is no hope"
Albert Einstein

Do you realise how much is involved in developing a paper and ink magazine? It is an enormous undertaking. I am creative director and co-publisher of the forthcoming Idealog(tm) (in conjunction with HB Media and AUT press). It is a thrilling and terrifying prospect at the same time. My greatest anxiety comes from the likely willingness of advertising agency media planners and buyers to book space in the book. In the past I have heard (time and again), 'we love the idea, but we will support you in issue two'.

In many ways it is a familiar scenario to the launch of Family Health Diary (FHD). Though my partners and I had a significant underwriting commitment from a large international pharmaceutical marketer other brands seemed sceptical.

At first.

Now FHD is the biggest single advertiser on TVONE, the biggest channel in the country. The product is the benchmark, not only for the pharmaceutical category, but also in the area known as masthead marketing - a term coined by the current owners of BrandWorld (I sold my stake some years ago and now work as consulting creative director on other properties being developed by the company).

It doesn't take a genius to realise that without innovation you will be eaten alive by competitors - and not necessarily in large, quickly fatal chunks either. The process might well be subtle, but being overrun by parasites has the same ultimate affect as being jumped by a great white shark.

In fact the need to innovate is the foundation of Idealog - the knowledge economy is dead - welcome to the creative economy. More on this follows.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

ThoughtSpurs™

"It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart: the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you."
The One & Only - Mark Twain

I collect quotes. Some I drop into conversation, like a drop of vanilla essense into pancake mix. It's fun.

Here's a bonus:

"Reason informed by emotion…expressed in beauty…elevated by earnestness…lightened by humour…that is the ideal that should guide all artists."

The One & Only - Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Monday, August 01, 2005

It's not about the bike



I tried to read Lance Armstrong's book It's not about the bike but had to give up. It was agonising. While I have enormous respect for Armstrong's achievements his ego build up in my mind like lactic acid in the thighss of a lesser athlete on a hill stage of the Tour de France. Still, Mr Armstrong qualifies as The One & Only. I doubt we'll every see another cyclist as accomplished anytime soon. Overcoming cancer alone would be a personal achievement enough, but winning the Tour seven times is incredible.

The media property I created called Eating Well won a marketing award on Thursday night. I was very proud of the efforts of the team at BrandWorld who have sold the product so well and that the judges suggested we enter all of the products in our portfolio next year.

Development of Idealog, the magazine I am working with HB Media to have live by December is progressing very well. It has been well received by sponsors and advertisers. The core concept of cross-pollination is working well for us. More follows.

How about this (from an article on 60 minutes):

Monday, July 11, 2005

A reason for peace.

I wrote an article, published in the New Zealand Herald , about the value of reason in advertising. The news from England demonstrates, again, that the very reasonable expectation we co-exist and value tolerance over violence and hate is harder to come by that one might expect. Even here in remote, pacific New Zealand the backlash against the muslim community is disappointing.

Perhaps I am an idealist (and I hope I always will be) but I still hope that reason can prevail. Acts of terror do nothing to positively affect perceptions. The west also needs to take responsiblity for its behaviour.

I'm no analyst but I wonder if reducing demand for oil products would defuse the molotov cocktail the Middle East seems to be. That way we can leave them to it and get on with our own ways of life and enjoy the differences instead of hating them.

Just an idea....whaddyareckon?

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

Big week ahead.

I have agreed to spend half my time working for BrandWorld, the company I formed in 1996, at which I created the hugely successful Family Health Diary format. I kind of made myself redundant when the FHD property took over the focus of the business like khudzu. Given that I focus on concept, prototype and initial implementation and that the product is something of a template there wasn't much productive work to be done. All of our energy and resources were directed to selling and producing the TV and magazine properties. I sold my stake in 2000. I've come back now that there are more resources and much bigger set of goals to achieve. SInce I left I have remained in touch with the company, developing other properties like Eating Well and IN2IT as a consultant- with many more in the pipeline.

I have also agreed to lecture at Massey University in the design faculty. I'll be covering marketing communications design and design research. I'm looking forward to working with students and hope to bring the topics alive for them (and me in the process).

I have been working with Vincent Heeringa and Martin Bell of HB Media (and formerly of the successful business magazine Unlimited) to develop and launch a magazine and media brand that I am hoping will connect with the Intellectual Capital community - people who think for a living and create wealth. I was reading some treasury papers that utterly clicked with my thoughts in this area about the importance of geting ideas realised that will make a difference on the the world stage.

And then, there are my pet projects Personal Best - an online resource for men and WellSpring, both in various stages of development.

I'm also signed on to learn how to be a creative coach through a network in the States formed by the author and specialist creative catalyst Eric Maisel.

Busy times. But I have bought a bike and intent to balance my work with some activity. I know you're all worried that all work and no play makes David a dull blogger.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Celebrity Roast

There is something about modern celebrity that I wonder about.

What exactly are the talents of Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson?

Am I being unfair?

Yes they are very attractive women. Well, Simpson is. Not convinced by Britney.

Am I asking too much?

Celebrity is quite different from talent.

Take Paris Hilton. She certainly has a talent for publicity, it seems she can hardly engage in an intimate moment without it appearing on the internet or the front page of every tabloid magazine and newspaper on the planet - and now an Osbourne's style TV show.

I watched Paris' TV road trip show a couple of times. Can't fairly comment on modern media if I don't consume it. To be fair to Paris; the publicity is usually unwanted, isn't it (Yeah right - to coin a phrase.

What was I thinking? A momentary lapse.

My real issue with bimbo celebrity (and I am using that as a blanket term) is that the media/publicity machine churns blonde, beautiful girls with the same intensity as the porn industry.

Young men and women are consumed for their superficial appeals. watching the Australian talk show host Rove McManus on TV last night pressed the point home. He spoke with Lindsay Lohan (the star - or should I say supporting actress to Herbie) in the Love Bug remake. Poor wee thing. She seemed care worn and world weary about the effect of being pursued by the paprazzi and being vilified for her lack of obvious talent - other than her obvious talents*. The girl is 19 years old for crying out loud! Give her a break.

On the other hand I have discovered a very modern perfomer. David Bowie, perhaps you've heard of him. Listen to Aladdin Sane sometime. It is unbeleiveable. When I was younger I thought it was tosh. Now I find it interesting and challenging. But imagine someone blogging back then in the early 70's (what do you mean they didn't blog in the 70's?)

'It will never last...
you can't whistle to it...
Whatever happened to Vera Lynne?..."


I'm going to rack my brains and spend time with a very big pile of magazines.

Let's figure out what's goin' on here and develop a unifying theory of contemporary celebrity.

A celebration of celebrity. Comin' up...on The One & Only.


*Which Disney reduced using computer generated imaging (CGI) to be more appealing to a family audience. By the way, you may have heard it here first Lohan is set to play opposite Tom Cruise in the next thrilling installment of Mission Impossible 3. I'm aquiver.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Kisses aren't contracts

I recently learned that the woman I loved and lived with for three years had been carrying on an affair behind my back for who knows how long before I ended our relationship.

Oddly, I don't mind the betrayal (we'd both been married twice before and had many lovers before we even met; fidelity in that respect seems a quaint abstract - medieval ideas about virginity or 'purity' come to mind), but the deception is a different thing…I could have chosen a different course - had I known - and I like to choose my own path.

It serves to remind me of the misunderstood and certainly overestimated concept of loyalty in marketing - as if we can truly expect fidelity from people in a world filled with infinite choices.

It doesn't matter that people might behave in a fickle way and choose the next brightly coloured thing. More power to them.

Don't simper, don't run after them. Be true to yourself. Enjoy what you do. And adapt.

If you make hand crafted guitars but teenagers want Japanese knock-offs of Gibson Les Pauls, ...so what?

Change how your story gets told, but stay true to your talent and authentic self. Don't assume the problem is what you do.

Who knows, maybe they'll come back, and maybe, if they do, your prices will have changed.

In case you're wondering, I have new love and it brings me a different kind of experience than I wouldn't have had, had I stayed in my previous relationship.

The constant is me and I trust myself.

I came across some thing randomly in cyberspace (the poem below), it reminds me about the power of the self and the need to understand what is and what is not right for you.

Your own truth.

I am, after all, The One and Only (as are you).


After a while you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn
that love doesn't mean leaning
and company doesn't mean security

And you begin to learn
that kisses aren't contracts
and presents aren't promises
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes open
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child
and you learn
to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow's ground is
too uncertain for plans

After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns
if you get too much
so plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone
to bring you flowers

And you learn that you really can endure
you really are strong
you really do have worth

Veronica A. Shoffstall

P.S: I believe love is something you give - not something you feel or receive (another reason I am at odds with the concept of Lovemarks)


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Much to admire. Little to enjoy.

How bizarre. The British Lions are here in New Zealand. So far it has been terribly dull, Other than the advertising frenzy, led by the likes of Telecom - leveraging their sponsorship investment. And isn't that the point? Money and marketing is far more interesting than the thing itself.

The media has taken the opportunity to wax lyrical about how things have changed since the Lions last toured New Zealand, and further back when the Lions were ambassadors for the Old Country and spent time actually mixing with people in local host communitities - in rugby clubs and RSAs. Back then rugby was still an amateur sport. The Lions touring New Zealand now are an altogether different animal.

Sir Clive Woodward's shadow looms over the team. The puppetmaster. If he could secure the World Cup of Rugby for England, why wouldn't he be able to work the magic for the Lions?

The team has a over 100 personnel. Bear in mind that there are 15 players in a rugby football team. I heard a report that back in the good old days there were three roadies to support the team, coach and manager.
I guess that hair and makeup alone makes up a significant percentage of the crew? PR people and minders must make up a chunk of the rest. A psychologlst or two? Psychic..? Who knows. They obviously take it seriously. There is much at stake and I am not just talking about wins, loses and draws. I'm talking media coverage and exposure for sponsors.

It's a shame that the fans have been sidelined. I heard a report that guests staying in the same hotel as the touring team have been asked not to approach the players, speak to them or even ask for an autograph.
Can you hear the alarm bells ringing? It's rugby. It's a game. Players are not royalty. Royalty is not a good thing (where's my guillotine? Vive la Republique). Players used to be heroes of the young. I don't think my son wants access via Hello magazine.

At the end of the day he wants to see a great game of rugby - he's a fan. But wouldn't it be great if he could encounter a player and score an autograph. I'll never forget the effect it had on his own passion for playing when he was invited to a training session with the All Blacks where players coached the kids. The players who shone that day were the one's who engaged with their most committed fans. Byron Kelleher 's franchise increased dramatically. It was obvious he enjoyed the experience, while other, higher profile players treated it like Princess Diana on walkabout - a photo opportunity, not truly engaged, one eye on the exit, the other on the mirror.

Great brands are owned by their fans. One of the reasons nobody I've encountered seems to care about the Lions is that they have put themselves into a hermetically sealed bubble. They even refuse to call the All Blacks the All Blacks - preferring to use the term: The New Zealanders. Oh, please...give us a break. Show the fans some respect and stop acting like Pommie plonkers.

All Blacks Lion's tour pages

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

King of Poop



Well Michael Jackson is found innocent of every charge levelled against him. I heard it on the radio just moments ago.
Not unexpected. Even casually noticing, rather than watching the news of the trial I kind of got the vibe that the single minded proposition (if I can borrow advertising parlance for a moment) was that it was Jackson himself who was the victim. The victim of avaricious people willing to exploit Jackson's weirdness, declining fame and the generally accepted meme that he is a child molester (on the grounds that there is no smoke without fire and funny looking people must be baddies - thanks to Hollywood and the Borthers Grimm ).

The problem with being The One & Only is that, by being iconoclastic and setting yourself apart from the norm, is that you are going to either find acceptance or not. And that acceptance can be fleeting. Jackson once stood astride the world of pop music. His fortune was collossal, his repertoire rightly feted as an important cultural contribution. And, while there are still a cadre of intensely loyal Jackson fans it is unlikely that his career will ever recover from the negative effects of this trial.

While I don't think the trial itself was a witch hunt it is hard not see the parrallels - Michael Jackson looks weird. He doesn't behave like us (at least I hope not). He has a talent that is mercurial - and artistic gifts are often viewed as 'supernatural' - given by the muses rather than earned through the application of skill and hard work.

What will be left for Jackson? Who knows, but I suspect the man/boy who was once the King of Pop is now left to rule over a pile of poop. I'm not a big fan - but I find that a shame.

Maybe he should be remembered for his music and the pleasure that gave kids all around the world and not his self inflicted pain.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Mentioned in Dispatches



Squeeze would have been delighted to be honoured by his peers at this year's Axis Awards. Not only because of the accolade, but because he was usually actively involved in the creation of ads and didn't like being billed as part of the support team. Paul wasn't a frustrated creative person, like so many 'suits', he saw his role as to create fertile ground for clients to accept work that was challenging. He liked to build trust with his affable demeanor and boyish charm. He made the process fun.

I've written about Paul before (Sorrow's Gift) and, as the time passes since his death I've thought about him often. Paul tended to consume...objects, food and drink, substances...people. I look at pictures of him socialising with my family when my son was born and feel a certain nostalgia for the time we spent working together. It was often fraught. We walked out of an ad agency together, convinced we had their largest client in the bag. We didn't, as it turned out. While the marketing manager was with us, the owner of the company was terribly old fashioned and vetoed the move at the eleventh hour.

MacGregor Jeffreys and Company had little to show for itself other than beautiful stationery and our intention to shake the cage and have a laugh.

We ended up with a business that tended to focus on our own interests - music and entertainment. Luckily Squeeze and I both had friends in the business and we had the spectrum covered - from Rock (Polygram), Retail (Truetone Records) Classical (Naxos), Budget (Metro marketing), Performance (Auckland Opera) and the industry itself (the Record Industry Association of New Zealand).

The death knell of our association came when we fell foul of RIANZ - they had granted us license to turn the Top50 chart into a product. We negotiated a deal with Philips to sponsor the gig. Long story short: Philips pulled out, we sued them (stupidly turning down a fair and substantial settlement) and lost. Of course Philips owned PolyGram and the sh*t hit the fan.

By then Paul had jumped ship - leaving me to deal the the chaos of legal action that went all the way to the High Court. having gone so far I couldn't turn back without incurring huge costs (Of course Squeeze insisted that he would share in the proceeds of our certain victory). MacGregor Jeffreys turned into David & Goliath. Goliath won that time round.

I incurred huge costs. Mr Jeffreys was nowhere to be seen with his half.

I have forgiven him. Life, as Pauls own sojourn on the planet proves, is too short.

Congratulations on your award Squeeze, you deserved it.

Read the citation from the Axis awards

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Under the influence

I vaguely remember Geoff Ross, the guy who started 42 below Vodka, from an agency we both worked at - though he worked in the Wellington office and I was in Auckland. He seemed a decent enough chap. Quiet, unassuming…Who'd have thought he'd go on to be the founder of one of the most interesting brands in the world - and certainly THE most interesting in New Zealand. I mean, who'd have thought that Vodka would become a hip drink again (it sort of smacks of James Bond and martinis), let alone that New Zealand would become the source of a serious brand contender in a cluttered category.

I've worked on Vodka accounts. It's a tough product to differentiate. Colourless and pretty much tasteless. Sales of vodka used to experience a spike just before closing time (when there was a closing time). Spike being then operative word. Vodka was the great 'leg-opener'. Vulgar concept, but we're all adults here, aren't we? Mix it in with orange (a screwdriver, I believe) and you pretty much might as well be drinking the orange juice by itself.

So, the point is: the real point of difference when marketing vodka is, well, …the marketing.

Oh, sure there are some people who can discern subtle differences in Vodkas, but, in the main - in a dark club say, (with the presence of cranberries or the hint of fragrance from one's companion and maybe some cigarette smoke) I'm not sure anyone can really tell the difference. But that's just my opinion. Or maybe not. I lauched Pepsi and its associated brands (7up, Mirinda, Canadian Dry,) and saw the head of Pepsi undertake the 'Pepsi Challenge' on camera for a news crew. Stupid guy, stupid thing to do. He was flavour-challenged and chose the Coca-Cola. Oops.

While I'm labouring this point I can also tell you that most people can't even choose their favourite beer from a selection of like brands (and yet swear loyalty to their preferred brand erring on devotional).

Let's assume that 42 Below is actually ok. It is certainly well packaged. The marketing is energetic and they've adopted a provocative positioning that not only lampoons it's 'origins' but also the people who believe marketing stories about liquor origins.

It's called, if you'll pardon the pun and the shocking use of the vernacular 'taking the piss'. And it seems to work.

The media fuss over an offensive response by the U.S. based marketing guy for 42 Below to a gay bar owner who found their approach offensive is a classic case of rising to the bait. TV One's Sunday programme covered the story - or should I say re-covered it, fuelling interest in the brand (watch NZ sales increase this week).

42 Below executives will be sniggering all the way the the bank.

I'm going to grant The One & Only status to 42 Below Vodka . Because it's hard to differentiate bathtub booze and because the plonker who markets it in New York is so offensive that watching the news article was hilarious - like watching a train wreck and knowing that we're all being played - because it's not really a train wreck, but a staged event (ever see Wag The Dog). More power to them.

I might buy some 42 Below shares - wouldn't surpise me if Seagrams or United Distillers or somebody big buys them out, either to shut them down or to get some of their perceived mojo.

The crippling cost of going national in the U.S - which you have to wonder how long 42 Below can fund out of New Zealand investor's pockets - even with clever, lucky and shameless tactical marketing. My guess is that would make the brand as insipid, colourless and flavourless as the product itself.




All Marketers Are Liars Check out Seth Godin's Latest book The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-trust world.


42 Below's web site

Friday, June 10, 2005

Old Dog, New Tricks

Blimey, what am I thinking? I have decided to fulfill my lifelong ambition of playing the guitar. Even signed up for some lessons with the very patient Danny McCrum (who is also teaching my son).

What I wasn't prepared for is how much it hurts your fingers. Ever seen the photo of Pete Townsend with blood running down his hands. Well, that's how it feels. I'm told you get used to it. I hope so.

Maybe I'll start a band. Is it too soon to get a manager? Will there be groupies?

And will I need a garage? (for cred).

Danny McCrum's website

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What's Up Doc?



I have just returned from a charity fundraising lunch. My client Dr Tom Mulholland was the keynote speaker. I have worked with Tom for several years now, off and on, but had never seen him in action.

Tom is a living and breathing example of The One & Only. While his message may not be especially 'original' (Turning life's lemons into lemonade) his personal style and story make the critical difference between being a successful speaker and author and being an also-ran.

When I first met Tom he was the founder of the web start up - DoctorGlobal.com. His vision was to create an online medical consultation service. It mutated into being a powerful database of secure, private health records used by large corporations and institutions. Tom got to the point so many entrepreneurs reach when the time comes to hire a professional manager to run the company. Long story short Tom lost control of his gig and his shareholding in the company he founded was diluted. His wife left.
Things weren't going well for the good doctor.

He fell into a deep depression.

And then one day Tom realised something that changed his life. You'll have to read his book to find out how Dr Tom turned his life around. Now he has a bestselling book, he is a professional, full time speaker, motivator and author. he consults to major corporations and stars in his own daytime show - Dr Tom - The Attitude Doctor.

Tom's genuine, personal character is the thing that sets him apart. He explores the edges of what possible for him and, in the face of apparent disaster draws on a fundamental strength and that carries him through adversity.

It all sounds terribly cheesy, but it is the truth. This Vampire jet flying, tsunami surfing iconoclast is, without any doubt whatsoever The One & Only.

Visit Tom's Web site

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Where art imitates 'art'

There has been a furor. The popular TradeMe auction site has banned some painters from listing their works on the site.

Their reasoning: the paintings are not the artist’s own work. They, it has been argued, breach the copyright of a photographer.

This raises an interesting question about the nature of copyright and what constitutes art. There are other issues relating to trade descriptions of the work, but for the purpose of this discussion I will set that aside.

Here's the bully: Painter sources an image published on the internet he models an oil painting on the photo, making little or no alteration to the composition of the image. At first glance you might think the images were the same. But only at first glance. One, you see, is a record of a landscape created using a scientific instrument and some chemical processes. The other is a painting. There is little artistry in the work that is, in fact, the photographer's own. He has made a record of a scene. One might argue that he has composed the image - that by placing the camera in a certain position that he has created a work of art that is particular to him.

Following that argument a photographer who takes a picture of Uluru (Ayer's Rock) at sunset from a particular vantage point becomes the 'owner' of the right to photograph that scene and any photographer who subsequently placed her camera in that same position and photographed the same scene would be in breach of the copyright in the original work.

That, of course is absurd. The argument would follow that each image was unique; that the setting itself was in the public domain and that there was nothing particular to the image that was introduced by the photographer. There is a clause in patent registration law that demands that the object, system or practice being patented must not contain elements that would be obvious - that is - might easily be observed or claimed by anyone under the same circumstances. This applies to the images in question, there is nothing particular to the photograph introduced by the photographer - the image of pohutakawa flowers in the foreground and ocean view in the background is remarkable for its mundane ordinariness. There is nothing especially original and if you were to go the same spot with your disposable camera you might compose the same scene. If you were to do so, would you be accused of breaching a copyright?

Is success in photography a matter of showing up with a camera?

On the other hand there is the dynamic that an oil painting is not like a photograph. The artistry of the image lies in the skill and experience of the painter to mix and apply paints and media in a way that is directly affected by his experience and skill. If you look closely at a painting the hand of the creator is evident, it is not a chemical reaction. A reasonable person would not think that the painting was a photograph, or, importantly, the photograph in question.

There is a long history of using photographic references in art. And that is just what they are in this case, reference points. I cannot see how the photographer's livelihood is in any way affected by the creation of the painting.

On the other hand, if someone were to photograph the painting and claim it as his or her own work I would take issue with that.

That the whole ridiculous storm in a teacup was prompted by an organisation called 'ScamBusters' is telling. What is the scam exactly? Was the buyer unhappy? Anyone who buys a chocolate box image of some pohutakawas and an ordinary composition would, one would assume, have low expectations and were probably quite happy to have some art-craft in their rumpus room.

It seems the only real victim in the process is common sense. Though, perhaps, the mischief is simply part of the PR offensive being mounted by Trademe itself. Seems there is a TV news item every second day (could their be a listing on the stock market on the horizon?)

Click to visit TradeMe


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Down so long it looks like up to me

I've just watched a terrific DVD. Eric Clapton talking about and performing the music on his tribute to Robert Johnson.
Click Here to find out more

All of my life I've loved the blues as a musical genre. I've never really understood why it it made me feel better. Until recently that is. I mean, when you're down you have to have some way of releasing it or it's just going to burst a seam somewhere.
For some people excercise works, other find solace in meditation (which I have just begun to try with results ranging from falling asleep to something nearing an ecstatic release. Just learning to quiten down the chatter in my head without distraction is something of a mission).

Clapton's music has given me an idea which I'll be pursuing through this week. I'll keep you posted.

If you're interested in the blues you might also like to check out the music of John Hammond, I have been listening to his album - featuring the songs of Tom Waits Wicked Grin (also produced by Waits). It's hard to believe this guy is white.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Well, Well, Well

Let me tell you now that I have never felt worse, and that is why my blog has been erratic. My health seems at a low ebb and, ironically I am becoming more and more involved in the rather strange world of Integrative Medicine (IM). Ok, holistic, dammit. I would rather avoid that term because it conjures associations that are somewhat misleading.

As the publisher of Wellspring, a project I rather fell into, I have had a great deal of contact with practitioners involved in anything from Aura Soma to Zero Balancing and have, by and large, been impressed with their professionalism and commitment to making a difference in the lives of their clients.

The problem is this: the entire category of wellness and complementary medicine is fraught with misconception, mistrust and a lack of common ground between conventional or alopathic medicine and everybody else.

I have found that, just as you cannot separate out the body / mind connection from the complete picture of an individual's health and wellbeing, neither can you take away the socio economic connection. The truth is that people with less money are less able to pay for fresh, nutricious food, they have less access to education and consequentially find themselves trapped in bodies that become subject to easily avoidable, but unbelieveably prevalent conditions like diabetes (of course I am refering to Pacific Islanders and Maori).

Working with a commited group of General Practitioners and wellness practitioners in many associated areas I hope to help shape a manifesto for a future in New Zealand that not only people at the centre of health and wellness, but the whole person.

Not the first time I have embarked on a quixotic quest, but it is something I have come to feel quite passionately about and something I also believe can become a hallmark of life in New Zealand - a dynamic of our national One and Onliness.

There is a sensational book about this whole whole health business that I can recommend to you with confidence. I have just read it - it is brilliant and very readable - unlike a lot of other titles I have seen (I can't abide the msytical mumbo jumbo approach - I personally can't do dream catchers and crystals): Manifesto for a New Medicine: Your Guide to Healing Partnerships and the Wise Use of Alternative Therapies by James S. Gordon

Read an excerpt from the book

Friday, May 13, 2005

All marketers are liars


This week two new media properties I have been developing go to air.

The first is IN2IT, an infomerical along the lines of Family Health Diary and Eating Well, both concepts I developed for brandWorld - the company I co-founded in 1996 and sold in 2000. I continue to work with the company helping develop these innovative media solutions. It's not high art, but it is my art.

The second is TXT2TASTE, which I didn't conceive, but have been consulting with the agency, Publicis Mojo to help steer the project. I like the innovation of the Mojo idea. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays to consumers - teaching them to behave in new ways.

I have also been working on some truly weird permutations of the infomercial concept - I'll share more with you later. But for now I'm just playing with some ideas that should be very different in this category. I'm beginning to wonder how many of the genre can run before consumers become immune or resistant.

Time will tell.


I'm reading Seth Godin's book (remember Permission marketing?) Free Prize Inside. It is thought provoking. I like his concept of EdgeCraft - taking ideas away from the boring centre. Not such an innovative thought, but he practices what he preaches by making something fairly mundane seem fresh. The first pressings of this book were despatched in Cereal Boxes.


But the one I'm really looking forward to is the provocatively titled All Marketers Are Liars. What I like is the subtitle: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-trust world. Seems to gel with my own thinking. I am being struck by the synchronicity of some of the ideas I am stumbling across.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Integrity

Tomorrow I am speaking at a conference on the subject of integrative health - I guess in may capacity as the creator of the Family Health Diary and publisher of WellSpring. It will be an interesting day, attended by a spectrum of wellness professionals from general practitioners and chiropractors to pharmacists and naturopaths. Should be fun. I have prepared some material that should put the cat amongst the pigeons.

I guess one of my greatest concerns about the concept of integration is that human nature always has a negative effect. Rather than a harmonious, homogeneous whole forming, there tends to be territorialism and power plays. In the mid 90s I sold my business to a larger agency that promoted an integrated model. "We can", they said"take care of all of your communications requirements." At which point they would reveal an organisational chart that, for all intent and purpose, looked like a multi -tentacled kraaken grasping at every budget morsel that was available. While many clients like the idea of a one-stop-shop, the reality is that most could see little advantage in asking a generalist agency to perform specialist tasks. In addition, by eliminating competition for their projects from, say, designers or direct marketing specialists they ran the risk of having only very ordinary materials prepared. The input of many creative talents, from many different sources was seen as a stimulus for their business. Arguing that consolidating their budgets with one agency would offer cost advantages had little effect. Most marketing people actual want to spend their budgets in order to have them increased the following year. Sad but true.

Another distortion in the integration lens is professional jealousy - rivalry for the dominant position. Who decides how much of the budget should go into brand advertising and how much should go to the web? Let's face it, if you go to a design specialist and ask for a solution to a marketing problem there is a better than average chance that you will get a design recommendation. As Emerson said " If all you have is a hammer, every problem likes like a nail." Not only that, and perhaps this isn't quite so true today as it once was, but advertising people despise direct marketing, brand people hate retail advertising...Just kidding, on reflection it's just as true today as it always was.

In the realm of wellness I know one thing is for sure. Unless the person is placed squarely in the centre of our thinking then, despite the best intentions in the world, the infighting and back biting will erupt as inevitably as a pimple on the night before the prom. We have to empower the consumer, offer them choices and support their choice. The framework has to loose/tight (was that a Tom Petersism back in the 80's?). People respect being treated as human beings, not economic units.
There will need to a clear manifesto that binds the members together in a shared cause. We will have to have a common language and way of interpreting things that are a mystery to us (accepting that some practitioners will oppose immunisation while others will advocate for it - and other dilemmas). Without unity on the things that can be agreed then integration will soon become disintegration. Time will tell. Tomorrow I will be the devil's advocate. What is the worst that can happen - I've been tarred and feathered before.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

O, Canada...

I don't revel in the misery of others. I watched the footage of Caroline Marcil on TV One's late night news broadcast. Caroline was asked to sing the national anthems at an exhibition game between the Canadian and U.S. national teams in Quebec City. Two lines into The Star Spangled Banner, Marcil appeared to forget the lyrics and left the ice briefly. When she returned with a lyric sheet in her hand, she slipped on the ice and fell hard. By then the crowd was booing loudly. Totally humiliated, she gave up on the performance. The game went ahead without the singing of anthems.

I felt bad that we subject someone who obviously has talent to international humiliation by media. The sniggering of the show's minor talent hosts was worse than the item. I felt embarrassed for them. I fail to see how Kate Hawkesby's talent for reading from an autocue and being a fashion manque would ever work with The One & Only framework. Perhaps the Brazilian channel Globo have got it right by introducing computer generated news readers.

Caroline Marcil went on to perform the anthem perfectly on live U.S. national TV (Good Morning America). I hope she can convert her slip into a positive outcome.

It shocks me that New Zealand media take such pleasure in constantly reducing our culture to some low common denominator.

Open Source Marketing

It has been a slow week for blog posts. I've been distracted with real world matters - moving house, school holidays.

Going through my inbox this morning I found a regular mail that spots consumer trends. The latest issue talk about Generation C - consumers who want to have direct influence on what companies develop and produce for them.

Access to media ranging from the ability to send stills and movies from a humble PXT phone to sophisticated movie making with digital video and PC based editing software gives anyone with access to quite low cost technology the ability to create and transmit ideas with no friction at all. The web gives us all an audience.

Some of the most popular expressions of access and creativity have been where consumers create advertising for companies - such as the Converse movie gallery.

The big question this raises is, what does the future hold for ad agency creatives when literally everyone and anyone has access to both the medium and the message? Brand owners who are savvy will be wondering how to harness the force and truly acknowledge the symbiosis that is inherent in the much flouted idea that 'the consumer owns the brand'.

The risk, one might argue is, that by handing over the responsibility for creating brand messages to consumers you lose control over your brand and its presentation. But, then again, by handing the keys to agency creatives, isn't that what you've always done.

The symbiosis also extends into the very heart of marketing. The products and services we create can now be co-created by consumers. Harnessing the creative power and experiences of consumers makes the outcome far more likely to be relevant.

Where does The One & Only theory fit into the puzzle?

Like a performer we have to create authentic expressions - unique ideas and representations of the idea that marry with the expectations of fans.

In the world of music there is a conundrum:when we buy the music of our favourite band we like it to be recognisably them, but we also want the artistic boundaries to be pushed out a little further. Few performers succeed over the long term by simply reproducing their greatest hits. Fans engage with their favourites through live performance, which is a test bed for new material as well as to maintain the thread with the past.

I guess that, in the future, or today - whichever you prefer - you will have to brief the segment of your market who are most likely to want to play with your brand.

The key, as in all good briefing, is for you to communicate the brand essence, the thing that makes you The One & Only, and then let them express their creativity.

In a way it is open source marketing instead of the hermetically sealed code that marketers have clung to in the past.

LINKS

The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Friendship

As my personal relationship with my partner and lover came to its end over these last few weeks and months I have been contemplating the nature of relationships, intimacy and how we engage with the world. I've referred to Kevin Roberts Lovemarks in other posts and have expressed concern about the wholesale application of human characteristics onto products and services.

I think we must take care not to make blithe assumptions about people and trivialise ideals that go beyond importance and extend into the essence of who we are. I worry about unhealthy ideas of 'love' projected onto brands in a needy, greedy way.

My own thinking about the nature of brands as The One & Only, like all branding theories must, at some point consider the perceptual relationship with the product and the people who consume it. I believe that issues such as intimacy, as expressed in Lovemarks, don't properly address what intimacy is and its significance to us as humans. Intimacy begins with self knowledge and self love. The ability to be solitary (although alone with one's self) and also to be able to engage openly with others.

Since Lisa left I have also been thinking about friendship and its role in our lives, and found this by accident in a library book I had randomly picked up:

Cicero was one of the most famous politicians of the Roman age. He placed enormous significance on friendship. So the importance he gave to friendship should be part of the secret of his success.

1. Friendship is a priority.
"I just can ask you (my friends) to put friendship before the rest of the human things. For nothing else is so balanced with nature, nothing else is so accurate to things, be they good, be bad".

2. Friendship is powerful.
"Friends are more valuable than relatives because relatives and goodness can be separated but friends and goodness cannot. Once you separate friendship from goodness, the name of friendship disappears, the link among relatives persists".

3. Friendship depends on you, not on chance.
"Some people say richness is better than friendship, others say health is better, others prefer power, some like honors and many, also prefer pleasures. But those things are uncertain and depend on chance and luck rather than on your will and determination".

4. Friendship is (very) useful, in good times and in bad times.
"Does anything provide more pleasure than having someone to whom you can talk as if you were talking with yourself?
The satisfaction you get in victory, would it be the same if you had not someone who enjoyed them as much as you do?
To overcome adversity is extremely difficult if you don´t find someone who feels them as much as you do".

5. Friendship is empowering.
"One of the best advantages of friendship is that it communicates a light of hope for the future, and does not allow weakness and hopelessness of souls. If you look at a friend, you will watch an image of you in her. In friendship, absents are present, weaks feel strong and even deads are felt as alive, for that is the kind of memory and longing of friends".

Full Circle

This blogging business is fascinating. Actually, I'll qualify that, this whole internet business is fascinating.

I was following some links from my blog to people who had left a message, and on from there to other connected sources, I made the mental leap between the trail we leave on the web via hyperlinks and the project to track the migration of humans across the planet using DNA.

It's like a mirror image - the connection between the DNA project - looking for the origins of human beings and being able to follow chains of thought around the world.

Kind of cool.

Apparently we all came from Africa - and more recently than you'd think.

National Geographic genographic project

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Do what you do do well

The One & Only approach to brands and marketing is a humanisitic view, applied to both organsiations and individuals. At it's core lies the elimination of practices and expressions that do not fit or are not authentic to the entity.

I read a sports story once (I can't remember where, who the protagonist was or the actual team involved - except that it was a famous American baseball coach and team - I'll do my best to be faithful, if not accurate); a new coach had been hired to work with a team that had been performing badly. The owner and had sunk millions into his team after making billions in some entrepreneurial venture; now he had the time and cash to indulge in his lifelong passion. It troubled him that the team was in such a slump.

The first thing the new coach did was to interview all of his players. He paid particular attention to the pitchers. He believed pitchers won games. If batters couldn't hit the ball then they couldn't score home runs, let alone steal third.

The players were tense about the meetings and were either eager to please or defensive about their performance in the season so far. All feared spending time on the bench.

"Tell me your top five pitches" the coach demanded of each of his pitchers.
The players would rank their specialty throws in descending order.
"Curve ball, spit ball, knuckle ball, fast ball, screw ball, slider..." Every pitcher had his specialty armoury.
"So what are you going to work on?"
Without exception the players dutifully replied they would spend more time on the pitches they were less competant with.
"Forget it!" the new coach drawled "Work on your best pitch, forget the rest. Spend all of your time on your best shot. Forget the rest."

The team went on to win far more reliably than others in the league and while they didn't win the championship that year they hit their previous lacklustre performance out of the ballpark.

The moral? Do what you do best. Play to strength. What is the point in trying to divide your energy and resources into such tiny parcels that they they have no effect, or worse, allow your weaknesses to be dilute your strengths?

In a similar vein, playing to strength and developing it into a signature, I found this quote on the web

“The voice is the focus of so much comment on Welles’s performances, early and late, that it is worth observing that any huge natural endowment is a double-edged sword for a performer. The greatest artists — Olivier and Margot Fonteyn spring to mind — are those of modest natural endowments who have worked and worked to extend them, thus developing in themselves disciplines and hard-won strength which open up worlds of expression and imagination unknown to those who had it all for nothing.”


Orson Wells - The Road to Xanadu

This book, which has received rave reviews is written by English actor Simon Callow (the funeral from Four Weddings and a Funeral.)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Friday Night Miscellany


Watching Nightline this evening I am left wondering about justice and activism.

Farming couple successfully prosecuted for not moving stock to higher ground in the face of a bad weather report.
All survived (just as they would, had nature been left to run its course)

Meanwhile thousands of animals (cows, chickens, pigs) are butchered everyday to provide life threatening calories to people who don't need them.

I love a great big juicy steak. My son and I have our 'steak out' on Wednesday evenings. I like mine medium rare.

Recently I had a discussion with the marketing guy from SAFE, the animal rights activist. They wanted a campaign to promote the plight of battery chickens to the public. My suggestion was to promote a moderate view. Encourage consumers to simply eliminate one chicken meal every week. It's strange thing, but -in my observation - people are so used to seeing other PEOPLE eviscerated and dissected on CSI (the murder franchise: Las Vegas, Miami, and New York) that images of chickens in little cages fail to shock.

Let's do some math. Say chicken, in in all its forms, was worth $100 million dollars a year (and, if you've seen chicken prices at the supermarket there's no reason to think that's high) then simply choosing to eliminate one chicken meal every week is going to make a serious dent in profits. Nothing too radical. Simply eat fish fingers on a day you'd normally eat chicken.

Shock doesn't seem to shock any more. It would be kind of shocking for radical activists to be moderate. By being gently reasonable they would, I proposed, send a message to battery farmers that, while you enjoy chicken meals, you don' t appreciate the way they are farmed. One less chicken meal per week. That's all it takes. Take ownership of the consumer behaviour and let Neilsen track the results.

I would have thought it would work rather well. I guess it would be less fun than throwing blood on fur coat wearers. And what is the point being an activist if you can't conduct commando operations and feel like a misunderstood outsider?

As for the farming couple prosecuted for not herding their cattle to higher ground. Do we have nothing better for the justice system to do?

LINKS

The Meatrix
a very well produced flash animated movie site that parodies the Matrix to illustrate the effect of factory farming in the U.S.

New Zealand Herald article about Cow case
The SPCA brought this ridiculous action. No one seems to care much about the plight of New Zealand's native wildlife - including birds and lizards being slaughtered for sport by domestic cats (let alone for food by feral cats). How many cows and sheep are butchered every year to sustain cats and dogs?

It has been a tough week - can you tell?

A rose by any other name



Kevin Roberts calls brands Lovemarks and says that brands are dead. Lovemarks, it would seem, are the last word in branding.

This has been bugging me for some time and, while I admire the way he has marshaled his resources to promote his brand, sorry Lovemark, I'm not convinced.

I guess, in a way it would be like me coming home to my wife - if I had still had one - and saying "I'm not your husband any more I am your Lovinman," - and for good measure putting a trademark symbol on the end of it. Yes, I can be your Lovinman but I will also be your husband. Seems the two need not be mutually exclusive.

Are Lovemarks anything more than a hi-jacking of the marketplace's attention? A re-branding of Saatchi & Saatchi? Something to be as carelessly applied as the received wisdom of the 1960's concept of The Single Minded Proposition.

Make up your own mind: Order your copy of Lovemarks from Amazon

My former partners at BrandWorld and I applied the strap line to our business: Building Brands People Love - in 1996 - predating Lovemarks by a considerable (trade) mark. Our promotional materials posited the idea that it was crucial for people to have a stronger attachment to a product than acceptance, fondness or liking. Since then I have become wary of the anthropomorphism of branding - assigning properties to brands that are more a case of wishful thinking than is evidenced in people's behaviours. For example, it might well be that Mr Roberts assigns the values of mystery, sensuality and intimacy to Nivea creams and lotions, but I am unconvinced they are values that are necessarily shared by its users, rather than wishfully projected by the advertiser.

I wonder if all of the brands featured in Mr Roberts book consider themselves not to be brands?

Where the flaw in the Lovemarks argument really resides is in the positioning chart where love and respect are the x and y axes. Robert's places 'brands' in the high respect, low love quadrant. While that may be true of some individual brands, I find the placement spurious. To prove his point, but not based on any evidence.

Brands? - Lovemarks? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet (or rank). I'm afraid it's something to judged on a case by case basis.

Kevin Robert's Website is here


Bloggeral

While I am on topic of nomenclature I have coined a new phrase. Bloggeral.

Since I have begun this venture into the freewheeling exchange of ideas I have been introduced to a number of other people all around the world who have done the same. While I am an advocate of free expression I think blogging has created a phenomenal volume of what can only be described as really bad writing. Toe curlingly bad writing. Bloggeral.
Which is not to say that I haven't also found rich veins of very interesting material that I enjoy reading. Either way: I love it.

You heard it here first folks.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The top is the half way mark



Mt Everest holds a special place in New Zealand 's consciousness. Ed Hillary climbed it with Tenzing Norgay and actually got to the summit and back in 1953.

It may be that the English climber Mallory made it to the summit before the New Zealand beekeeper. But Mallory didn't make it home to tell the tale.

Ed Hillary is widely regarded as a great New Zealander. One of the greatest. I agree, but not for the reasons most people do.

Climbing Everest for the first time must have been challenging for him and I'm glad he 'knocked the bugger off' for himself - because 'conquering' a very small point at the top of the world seems to me to have very little real point or consequence other than as a personal challenge.

Isn't it ironic that Hillary's real qualification as The One & Only is not for 'conquering' Everest and, literally, being on top of the world, but for his SERVICE to the community. He put aside the very ego that drove him to the summit and got under the people he aims to serve.
See my earlier post: You gotta serve someboby

In Nepal Sir Ed is regarded as a living God not because of his 'conquest' of Everest, but because of his humble service to the people, building schools and medical facilities.

The same is true for brands.

It's not enough to make it to the top - promoting your brand into the consciouness.
You have to make it down the mountain - then get on with your life. What will you do for your constituents? (I don't like to call them consumers). Great brands are Sisyphian in their labours.

The corollary to the idea that consumers 'own the brand' is that brands have a duty to serve.
Brands that reciprocate and become a part of the community they serve are the brands that will enjoy the greatest value.

Brand karma.

I'm just thinking through the implications of this idea (which occured to me while watching a documentary on television about Everest). So, it's a little raw.

I'll get back to you.

LINKS

I read a book some time ago about Rob Hall's final ascent of Everest (from which he did not descend). It is a frighteningly good read...

Into Thin Air - By Jon Krakauer

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Why Led Zeppelin, Why Now?

Ok, so, a quiet night in, alone at home - for a change.
I decided to have a Led Zep revival fiesta. On the weekend I hired film The Song Remains The Same - Tuesday now, been saving it.

I wrote the other day about growing up with the music of the Clash. Well, Led Zep was probably more significant to me than all of the punk and post punk bands I enjoyed put together.

I discovered the joy of headphones and stereophonic sound with Led Zep. Lying in bed at night with the lights off listening to the wailing guitar and sound of Robert Plant's voice oscillating from one side of my brain to the other. Now, I have to confess at this point that drugs never played a part in my enjoyment of the music. Not because I'm a stiff - (I don't care if you enjoy using drugs - it's entirely up to you), it’s just that I was never introduced to drugs. Never even held a lit cigarette, let alone tried to find a vein that hadn't collapsed. I've managed to live my adult life without anything more exciting than alcohol (although I should confess that I've had an exciting ride with booze in the past - maybe more about that when we know each other better).

Watching the movie as I write brings back so many memories. Every Sunday night you could be pretty sure The Song Remains The Same would be playing as a double feature at either the Capitol in Balmoral, The Bridgeway in Northcote, The Tudor in Takapuna or the Academy in the city.

I must have been pretty clueless as kid. It only occurred to me years later the meaning of the lyric 'The way you squeeze my lemon makes me want to fall right out of bed'. The appeal to me was to be as cool as Jimmy Page and as sexy to girls as Robert Plant (I could never understand what was going on with John Paul Jones' pudding bowl haircut).

The throb of John Bonham's drumming, the pulse of the bass. It all carried me through my adolescence.

When I said I was having a 'quiet night', I was lying. I may be doing permanent damage to my hearing. All in all it makes me wish I had a Norton Dominator motorcycle again and that I could take it for a night ride as soon as the show is over, then come home and listen to it all over again - like I did when I was a dumbass, skinny little kid.

I'm looking forward to the drum solo, so that I can go to the toilet. Just like the old days. Though the fantasy footage of Bonzo looks like he had the most fun.

I have no idea what it was about Led Zep but they were definitely The One & Only - 'The Biggest band In The World'.

Read the Wikipeadia entry for the band



Monday, April 11, 2005

Getting to know me

I read a little poem the other day - and while most poetry leaves me baffled I rather liked this one.

"Come sit down beside me"
I said to myself.
And although it doesn't make sense,
I held my own hand
As a small sign of trust
And together I sat on the fence.

Michael Leunig - 'Sitting on the Fence'

I return to the idea that: until we know ourselves and our own brand identity in rather more intimate ways than most people and organisations are currently comfortable with, then all we will be left with are projections of archetypes, cliches and rather pointless templates that fall, uncared for on deaf ears.

If you are to be The One & Only then becoming comfortable with who you really, are is a significant challenge with implications throughout the marketing process from pricing to trade relationships?

How can you charge a premium for your brand if your understanding of why it is worth more is faulty.

How can you charge a premium if you do not have an utter and unshakeable belief in the value of the thing you produce?

How can you not command a premium if you have the confidence in your brand and every atom of effort that goes into it?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Melting Pot , Not.

I'm talking at a conference on integrative health on next month. I have been wary of the concept of integration in the context marketing communication since the early 1990s. It has always seemed to me that integration, when one person or organisation controls it, becomes a semantic exercise - a Trojan Horse for an agency that wants to control the client's budget.

In my experience what is best for the client is less important than what is best for the customer.

The motivation to 'integrate' has to be considered very carefully. Responsibility lies with the client - whether they are the patient of a medical centre or client of a multinational advertising agency.

Something important has changed since 1994. Consumers have been given the most important tool in the history of economics. The commercial Internet made its impact felt in 1995. It has become a cliche but, since then, nothing has been the same.

The web has refuted the economic principle that 'the consumer cannot have perfect knowledge of the market' and turned it on its ear. Today we all have access to a mind-boggling amount of information, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I can check the web to find the best price for a product. I can find alternative suppliers. I can usually contact then directly, with no difference in the time of response based on geography. If I am the patient in a medical situation I can get a second opinion or formulate a second opinion of my own based on information sourced from the Internet - from both 'reputable' sources and patient peer experiences.

Of course the concept of 'perfect' knowledge will always be moot. Within the context of informed choice the choice dynamic is always going to weigh heavily on the person making the choice. That is a burden of responsibility that goes with the territory.

In many ways the Internet presents us with a conundrum. It is a powerful connective tool that can be wielded to great effect. Paul Weinburger, in his book 'Small Pieces Loosely Joined' sums it up with the title. The fragments make up a much larger picture. But the picture can never be viewed as a whole, or integrated impression. The web is chaotic and even anarchic. It is uncontrolled and owned by no one individual or organisation. The views of a lone blogger might carry as much, or more weight as those of a multinational corporation - and both can be accessed as easily by anyone wishing to consume the information.

Going back to the idea of integration I believe we need to have a purer, less ambiguous definition of the term 'integrated'. What does it mean.? Together? Cohesive? Homogenised? Does it mean there is an integral component that runs through a concept or set of practices?

I rather hope it doesn't mean homogenised. Evenly blending usually means blanding - whether we are talking about milk or the recipe for a multi-ethnic society.

It is probably more productive to use the multi-ethnic community metaphor of integration to consider the way forward for integration. Large-scale migration and comparative freedom to travel has turned the world into something of a melting pot. Perhaps you remember the lyrics of the song with the same name, suggesting that 'what we need is a great big melting pot - to take the world and all it’s got'. I can never remember lyrics to songs very well, but I do recall that the conclusion of the song was that we'd all be better off if we turned out 'coffee coloured people by the score.'

Coffee coloured people might be aesthetically pleasing in principle but it is a fairly unappealing idea to me in practice. It smacks of the blanding of society where we are all reduced to the common mean.

Is there another way? One of the aspects of New Zealand life that has been so interesting and dynamic is the influx of people from many different cultures. Migrants from Asia and Eastern Europe, parts of Africa and the Middle East have come here and, I believe, given an infusion to our society that it sorely needed.

When I was growing up it was rare to meet a child in school who came from any place more exotic than my own suburb. Sometimes there would be a Scottish kid (like me) or one from England. I once had the novelty of having a friend from Canada. But it was rare. Even Maori children were uncommon where I lived and I soon learned to speak without my Scottish accent with my friends - to fit in and not sound like Billy Connolly. In my own children's class it is common to have kids from all over the world - Korea, Russia, Somalia, South Africa, Australia, the United States...It is amazing the shift in demographics over the past 30 or 40 years.

Would I want all of those people to eat the same food as my family and me? Share the same faith? Enjoy the same music and entertainment? Not in a million years. The diversity is stimulating. Does it make me feel threatened? Not in the least (any more than the spectacular renaissance of Maori in New Zealand does) . Which, I suppose, brings me to a conclusion that cohesion is the most critical component for integration.

What tools do we have to develop cohesion? Perhaps language (and by extension communication) is the most critical element. To have a shared vocabulary promotes understanding. Understanding promotes tolerance. Tolerance allows parts to move freely and cohesively (if your car's engine wasn't designed with tolerances in the measurements +/- x%, it would be unable to turn over - it would seize).

The integrative medical model needs a common language that is understood by all of the practitioners who participate and their patients. Allopathic practitioners must develop a tolerance for other modes of practice (and, dare I say it, many of people who practice forms of care that have been called alternative or complementary, will need to develop a trust for the intentions of medical doctors).

As I said in the beginning of this post, integration cannot be viewed as a means of controlling the patient's budget - or husbanding people as though there were an economic unit, like cattle. The key is to place the consumer, or patient at the centre of the equation and make a genuine commitment to the concept of informed choice (with all of the imperfections that emanate from that). Both the practitioner and the patient base integrative health on better understanding of the choices that is available.

Can it be done? I would hope so.

Is there a clear and easily expressed benefit for all of the parties? I believe so.

Would it be a world first if we could pull it off? Without a doubt.

Could designing a new model with application throughout the world make New Zealand a One & Only brand?
You bet.

Will it be easy? I have my doubts. There is a lot at stake.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Does my bum look big in this ?

"How we experience ouselves is reflected in the way we can experience other people: we cannot know other people better than we know our own selves; we cannot trust other people more than we trust our own selves. When we avoid knowing how we feel or what we think, we cannot learn to empathise with other people and take their feelings and thoughts seriously."

Stephanie Dowrick - Intimacy and Solitude

I have learned so much from Stephanie Dowrick. Her work as a psychotherapist and author has been profoundly important to me. I find her thinking refreshing. Her writing is clear and engaging. The two combined make a difference.

There is something about market research, the opposite to Ms Dowrick's concept of humanity, that I find cold and disective. The only problem with dissection is that it is, usually, fatal or performed post mortem.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that marketing research is an utter waste of time. You can ask consumers in a focus group what their intention to buy your product is and they will tell you unanimously that they have every intention to give it a whirl. But do they?

Obviously not.

Intention to buy is all you can ask. Given a promising or even acceptible quotient , the risk quotient diminishes.

But the risk doesn't.

Most new products bomb regardless of the research (stop blaming your advertising). Even beautifully conceived and designed products bomb.

It is nothing to do with 'absolutes'. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, if your lover asks you "Does my bum look big in this?" what do you say? Be honest now...

Exactly. Most people are socialised to tell 'white lies' . They are like a tolerance factor that allows the moving parts of society to slide past each other without getting stuck.

Which brings me back to The One & Only Concept.

Until you figure yourself out - every disection of your audience is a pointless distraction, usually resulting in death.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Pining for the Fjords

Because New Zealand (and I use the term loosely) has a fascination with everything Scandanavian See my earlier story I thought I'd paste in some news that may have slipped under your radar.

As of 1 January 2004 the new state owned company: Innovation Norway has replaced the following four organisations: The Norwegian Trade Council, The Norwegian Industrial and Regional Development Fund, The Norwegian Tourist Board and The Government Consultative Office for Inventors. Innovation Norway promotes nationwide industrial development profitable to both the business economy and Norway´s national economy, and helps release the potential of different districts and regions by contributing towards innovation, internationalisation and promotion.

This is a footnote to the home page of the Innotown 05 Conference to be held in the picturesque Norwegian village of Ålesund on the coast, 45 minutes north-west of the capital Oslo (as the Valkyrie fly). Apparently Ålesund is an Art Nouveau treasure, rebuilt after the great fire of 1902. It is on a Fjord, of course.

Joking aside; I like the sound of Innotown 05. The programme has topics like:

"Weird Ideas that Work" presented by Prof Robert Sutton from Stanford University;

"Changing Volvo: From Rational to Emotional” by Robert Malm, Brand Competence Manager, Volvo ;

"Why executives say they love innovation, but ... "Charles Leadbeater from the UK shares his experience (yup, we've all heard those 'buts...');

and loads more.

Innotown looks great. But it's a little bit oudatown.
(If there are any philanthropic sponsors out there I'd be more than happy to fly to Norway and take notes in every session...)

Ok. Is there a point to this?
Yes, I'm afraid there is.

Norway seems to me to be something of a mirror image of what New Zealand must seem like to people on the other side of the world.

Norwegian Pop Quiz 1:
Norway is famous for...?

Anybody? Come on you lot...

Herrings.
Yes.
Heavy water factories.
Hmmm, did I read too many Commando comics when I was a kid?*
Vikings.
Yes
North Sea Oil...

And...I'm running out of steam.

Ok, scenic beauty, 'nice' people who drink a lot and fjords.

Remind you of anyone?

Norwegian Pop Quiz 2
Name a Norwegian consumer product (Wotan Herring Fillets don't count)

It's true. Norway is New Zealand upside down.

I'm going to push the long boat out here and guess that part of the Norwegian tourist industry involves Viking re-enactments. Their ancient arts and crafts are probably of interest, feature loads of Celtic or Nordic spirals and whorls and big canoes. I'll wager the vikings aslo had characteristic tattooing.

There is one difference. They are on Europe's doorstep and - in case you haven't noticed - we... are not.

It makes a difference, believe me.

Take another look at the announcement from the Norwegian government. Look carefully. This is important for New Zealand.

The following offices are being integrated:

•The Norwegian Trade Council,
•The Norwegian Industrial and Regional Development Fund,
The Norwegian Tourist Board
•The Government Consultative Office for Inventors.

I think it is instructive to note that the tourist board is in there. Don't you?
Can we learn something from that?

Foot note

An act of sabotage which became famous and possibly had an effect on the outcome of the World War 2, was the attack on the heavy water plant at Vemark. Norwegian soldiers, trained in the UK, were sent into action to destroy a plant producing heavy water, a liquid chemical which the Germans needed for the development of an atomic bomb. The production facilities were destroyed. Heavy water en route to Germany was also destroyed, at the cost of many Norwegian civilian lives. The outcome of the war could have been significantly different without the courage of the Norwegians. (I hope this makes up for my Norwegian jokes).

Footnote to the footnote

Please feel free to share this weblog with friends and colleagues. Don't be shy.

Crazy as anyplace else.


There is a line in the Wild One when Marlon Brando's character is asked "What are you rebelling against Johnny?" With a dismissive curl of his lip Brando/Johnny sneers:

"Waddya got?"

That's the famous line. The one I prefer is when one of the rebel biker gang asks a local in the bar:

"What do you hicks do around here for kicks?"
"Oh,…The roses grow. People get married. Crazy as anyplace else."

Crazy as anyplace else. Now there's the rub.

Often I meet with clients who agree with everything I say about being authentic; being The One & Only™. They nod and agree. "Yup, that's what we're all about. We're The One & Only™ alright. That's us…yessiree Bob"

Then they tell me what they are doing to promote themselves to make the most of their distinctive qualities. "Well, we kind of match our competition because that's how things are done in this category." Lockstep. It is then I realise that our paths have come to a parting ways.

The roses grow. People get married, Crazy as anyplace else.

Now, I'm not suggesting that my clients don black leather jackets and start cruising around causing trouble on vintage Harleys and Triumphs. Well, not necessarily. Unless that is exactly who they are.

The problem is fear.

One of the most irrational fears I have encountered is the fear of being judged by competitors.

Why on Earth should you care about what your competitors think of you? Believe me, this anxiety is very real. I have seen it in all kinds of businesses. Chiropractors and health providers fear sticking their heads above the parapet. Manufacturers worry that trade customers will isolate them. Advertising creative people fear they will not be cool enough to fit in at the next agency they work in.

The anxiety of industries and market categories is the product of an unspoken oligopoly. The dominant brand in the category sets the tone and the rest fall in line and pick up the scraps.

It is a self defeating, self limiting perception that the order of the day will remain the order of the day.
So long as this belief is accepted as the norm, then innovation is stifled, risk taking is non existent. The status quo might as well gift a virtual, self fulfilling monopoly to the Alpha brand.

I don't advocate reckless practices. On the contrary. Brando's character may have been a rebel without a cause, but you have to be a rebel with a cause.

The risk of truly being yourself and taking the time to understand how you can break free of the conventions of the market is quite a mission. It never ends. The rewards are distinctive products and services that competitors cannot emulate and, if they do, they seem like frauds (and consume their resources trying to be you).

Honesty and authenticity are highly prized by audiences. Watch American Idol and see how many talented Mariah Carey soundalikes fall by the wayside (there is already a Mariah Carey) - Fantasia Barrino won the last series. She wasn't the prettiest or even the most technically excellent performer in the competition - but she was far and away the most distinctive. That much was obvious from the moment she began singing the Gershwin tune Summertime from Porgy & Bess. " Schhummertime...". One of the undeniable truths of the Idol shows is: that making a warm, human connection with the audience, having a great story is just as important and being able to sing. Doing things well is just what kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi calls 'table stakes'.

By virtue of the experience curve the processes get easier and grant your organisation more freedom and flexibility to perform without anxiety about what competitors think.

Or you can hide yourself away, pick at the scraps, grow roses - be as crazy as the next guy.

That distant, rolling thunder you hear. It might be distant rolling thunder or it might be your introduction to what Tom Peters calls 'A brawl with no rules'. Business in the 21st Century. Are you ready to rumble?

Links

: : The One & Only™ web site
: : Tom Peters' web site
: : Kevin Roberts' web site


What?…You haven't seen the Wild One?

"This is the original motorcycle movie, starring Marlon Brando as the brooding leader of a biker gang that invades a small town. The film always looked like one of those synthetic Hollywood ideas of subculture life in the 1950s, which means it looks even more artificial today. But it is an actor's piece more than anything, and toward that end Brando's performance really is an important one in the context of his revolutionary reinvention of film acting during that decade."
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Check out Fantasia Barrino's singles on Amazon (you can listen using either Real Player or Windows Media Player)
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Monday, April 04, 2005

Branded or brain dead.

Sometimes I am just appalled by the expectations of my clients.
It's not that they want too much. It is that they want too little.
The following is based on a real converstation with a client. I have pixellated his face to preserve his privacy.

"What about Big Hairy Audacious Goals" I flip in to the conversation, casually - as if to suggest some collegial affinity with Jim Collins (academic and author of Built to Last), "You know - what's your BHAG".
"What, like that book by Roald Dahl?"
"No, you're thinking about the BFG. …BHAG - Big Hairy Audacious Goals."
He looks back at me. Actually he looks over my shoulder, avoiding eye contact, as if to see whether my mind, which I have clearly lost, is running naked out towards the carpark.
He fidgets nervously.
"Look, I can't handle acronyms. If your going to use consultant-speak then I prefer metaphors, OK, …do this one thing for me and I'll be happy."
"What, like 'Low Hanging Fruit'?"
"Low Hanging Fruit I can handle - it's nicer, friendlier. Reminds me of James and the Giant Peach."
"That's a Roald Dahl book isn't it?" I'm seeing a pattern emerge.
"Really? I thought it was a movie." Pattern vanishes in the randomness of the moment.
"Listen, I'm really quite busy, If we can't set out some, shall we say, 'ambitious' goals then I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"But I have told my receptionist that I'm here and will be gone from my office for two hours."
"I'm sorry, then I have to go."
"Do you mind if I stay here? Can I read one of your books?"
"I don't have any Roald Dahl"
"Funky Business looks good."
"It's not what it sounds like. It's by some Swedish Economists. They try to be hip but only succeed in shaving their heads, which isn't very sensible in sub-arctic climates"
"Oh, …does it have pictures?"
"I have to go. I have some low hanging fruit to crush to pulp "

Remind me never to use a cliche with a client again.

Reading List - The Classics

Built to last by Jim Collins - Management Classic
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The BFG by Roald Dahl - Storytelling Classic
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Funky Business by Jonas Ridderstrale and Kjell Nordström - Actually it is very worthwhile.
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