27 December 2009

ABC brand name policy runs aground on Etihad Stadium

I have written before on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's policy of refusing to use brand names in the titles of sporting stadiums and the like.

At one level, this is obviously laughable - intelligent, adult, ABC announcers are forced to use silly euphemisms like "the Scottish hamburger company" for McDonald's or generic terms like "the domestic 4-day cricket competition" when they weren't allowed to say "Pura Cup".

At another level, it's unworkable. Seriously - how can you discuss modern Western life without mentioning brand names at least sometimes? Apple, Google, Windows, iPhone. Several times I've been lined up to be interviewed on-air by the ABC on aspects of consumer behaviour - once on the subject of whether consumers have too many choices - and been asked by the producer: "Oh, and please don't mention any brand names."

But never was the sheer idiocy of the "no brand names" policy exposed more clearly than on ABC Local Radio this post-Christmas sporting weekend.

For every AFL season since it opened, the ABC has referred to "Docklands Stadium" or just "the Docklands", refusing to acknowledge successive "commercial" names: Colonial Stadium, Telstra Dome and - commencing in 2009 - Etihad Stadium. Yet, after Supermaxi yacht "Wild Thing" raffled its naming rights, ABC Radio coverage of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race yesterday was happy to call the boat by the name of its sponsor... Etihad Stadium.

As it happens, Etihad Stadium - the sponsor - probably got more than its fair share of early media coverage on ABC Radio on Boxing Day, as Etihad Stadium - the boat - was the first high-profile retirement from the Sydney-Hobart race.

So why is "Etihad Stadium" unacceptable to the ABC as the name of a stadium but perfectly OK as the name of a boat?

I agree that the ABC should remain free of advertising. But saying a brand name on air isn't advertising if they didn't pay you to say it!

It's time the ABC gave up this bloody-minded charade. The brand name "policy" is unworkable, hypocritical and makes absolutely no sense at all.

Ineffective "retractions": How to make false claims and get away with it

During the past week, bemused TV viewers in Australia may have noticed a brief TV commercial relating to a retraction by EASE-a-Cold.

I say "bemused" because it's an ad you could easily "see" several times without taking in much of it and certainly without understanding the context.

In my view, that's perfectly understandable. I think it's an ad that has been deliberately designed NOT to be effective.

First, the TVC features a single screen of tiny writing in red on white - one of the most difficult colour combinations to read on TV. Even on a 46-inch, high-definition screen, I could not read the text, especially not in the time for which it remained on screen. Second, it has a voice-over delivered in the least engaging way possible - monotonous, emotionless and perfunctory, the same way the disclaimers are read at the end of political advertising.

The whole impression is of an ad designed to meet the minimum requirements to comply with some kind of external order... and nothing more.

The facts are that Pharmacare Laboratories has been found by the relevant tribunal to have made an unlawful, misleading and unverified claim about the therapeutic benefits of EASE-a-Cold. The company was ordered not only to withdraw the false and misleading claims, but also to publish a retraction.

But the EASE-a-Cold case is actually a great illustration of how easy it is to make false and misleading claims about therapeutic effects in Australia and, effectively, get away with it. It is especially disturbing, as the product had been the subject of a previous adverse finding when earlier claims about its ingredients - zinc, echinacea and vitamin C - were also ordered withdrawn.

Problem is, although Tribunals and Courts sometimes specify that misleading claims should be "retracted", in my experience they rarely specify the form of that retraction. Even if they do make some stipulation about the content, quantity and scheduling of "corrective" ads in print or on websites (as it has done in this case), tribunals don't usually get into specifying the executional style of TV ads.

In TV advertising or advertorials, claims about health or weight loss benefits of non-prescription products are never presented in an unemotional and disengaged style. Rather, they use tactics designed to maximise attention, appeal and persuasion: attractive presenters, compelling images and carefully-chosen language.

That's what makes these mandated retractions so farcical. They set out to attract minimal attention, to go unnoticed, to leave no lasting impression in the mind of those exposed to them. So they stand little or no chance of "undoing" the effects of the original false representations.

It's time for tribunals like the Therapeutic Products Advertising Complaints Resolution Panel - and even the Federal Court - to get serious about retractions and do much, much more to specify the style and context in which the corrective messages should be delivered.

14 November 2009

Remind me again... who won MasterChef Australia?

It's four months this week since the MasterChef Australia phenomenon reached its zenith. There's been much discussion about just why the show became such a hit: it's been called "an antidote for cynicism" and "a marker of the social, political and cultural times".

Yeah, yeah, sure. But it's a commercial TV program on a commercial network, so it's also relevant to reflect from a marketing perspective on what has happened to the most prominent contestants, the judges, and the MasterChef franchise since the show's finale.

And, frankly, much of it has been very disappointing.

First, the franchise. With the next full MasterChef competition not scheduled to begin until 2010, Network Ten and producers FremantleMedia tried to sustain the extraordinary momentum by launching a Celebrity MasterChef spin-off immediately the main series finished in July. But with no episodes to screen before late September, they relied on the appeal of the judges to keep things sizzling with what (I gather) were supposed to be quirky teasers.

This was a recipe for disaster. Calombaris, Preston and Mehigan may be able to whip up world-class dishes but they aren't comedic talent, especially not when given some of the most contrived and lame promo scripts imaginable. I don't think anyone could make a line like "more celebrities than you can poke a caramelised carrot stick at" sound funny. Still, it's not a good move to undermine the credibility and dignity of your judges and hosts by having them deliver bad lines.

It's obvious that Celebrity MasterChef hasn't generated anything like the same buzz as the original. Is that a problem? Not in itself, no. It clearly doesn't have the same set of ingredients as the original. But, just as any poorly-performing brand extension can damage its parent brand, it would be a pity if a hastily-developed, underwhelming celebrity spin-off were to undermine the MasterChef brand.

What about the contestants? Do you remember who actually won? Yes, it was "regular housewife and Mum" Julie Goodwin, who overcame her own self-esteem issues and tendency to self-destruct, or so the story went.

I suggested in an interview with MX newspaper immediately after the final that, despite being beaten, Poh Ling Yeow was likely to achieve much greater media and marketing success than Julie.

Hate to say "I told you so", but so far, Julie has secured endorsements for the very common-or-garden Fountain sauces in two ads described by a media analyst as "atrocious" and for Glad cling wrap and garbage bags, via another appallingly ill-conceived, unfunny and un-engaging ad.

And check out the two kitchens! Both Fountain and Glad want us to believe that we are seeing Julie - a regular suburban Mum who happens to be a great cook - in her own kitchen. Clearly at least one of them is telling porkies! Is anyone advising Julie about which endorsements to take and how to maintain some authenticity about her image?

Meanwhile, production begins this month on Poh's cooking show for the ABC and she has fronted a quirky and amusing campaign for cookware retailer Matchbox that seems to be a good match for her personality and appeal.

Poh certainly continues to look like a winner to me.

12 November 2009

Three years on, Nestle makes its first rebranding play with Uncle Tobys

Global food giant Nestlé acquired the cereal and snackfoods brand Uncle Tobys in May 2006. The background to the purchase was that Nestlé had very limited presence in the breakfast cereal category In Australia at the time. Its Milo and Nesquik brands of sugary cereals competed with Kellogg's Coco Pops, and it had recently brought the US cereal brand Cheerios to the Australian market through its international partnership with General Mills. But Cheerios (as shown here in the Nestlé archive) didn't exactly set the local market on fire, either.

As I said here at the time, I thought it was most unlikely that Nestlé would add any obvious Nestlé parent branding to Uncle Tobys products, given that the Uncle Tobys brand equity and consumer loyalty owed so much to associations with "Australian" and "healthy", an image strongly supported by its sponsorships of swimming and surf lifesaving.

Interesting now to see Nestlé recognising that brand extension is a two-way street. The company is now leveraging the "healthy" and "Australian" associations by relaunching Cheerios under the Uncle Tobys brand name. The product now has less sugar, "90% more fibre" and the Heart Foundation tick (whatever that's worth).

But how to downplay the American-ness of Cheerios? They are, after all, the quintessential American cereal brand... as seen on TV. Easy - use the home-grown talent. The new Cheerios ad campaign features good, honest Aussie workers, real country folk from the Uncle Tobys factory in Wahgunyah on the Murray River in Northern Victoria, welcoming Cheerios to the Uncle Tobys family.

28 September 2009

Vegemite iSnack 2.0: Who is being trolled?

Thousands of words have already been tweeted, blogged and otherwise published about Kraft's announcement on Saturday of the new name for its Vegemite cream cheese blend brand extension: Vegemite iSnack 2.0.

As the immediate twitstorm begins to abate, some interesting and thoughtful analysis is emerging. Much of the latest thinking seems to settle around the theme of "It’s so bad, it must be a deliberate publicity stunt".

There certainly is a funny smell about all of this, and it's not yeast extract. Given that the name is supposed to conjure up associations of the internet, I think we should turn to the web for a better and more current term than "publicity stunt" – I reckon it’s a giant troll. Problem is, at this stage, I’m still not sure who's being trolled.

Are consumers the victims? Is our riled-up response on social media playing into Kraft's hands?

The thought that Kraft might risk a valuable, iconic brand with such deep cultural connections in Australia for the sake of some very dubious publicity makes me Vege-mighty uncomfortable. And yet it does seem one plausible explanation.

And not everyone thinks the controversy about the name is a bad thing. Marketing academic Kenneth Miller of the University of Technology, Sydney, says "it's good PR" and "it won’t damage the parent brand".

The idea that "any publicity is good publicity" may have some validity in the case of some up-and-coming brands that consumers have never heard of. Think Paris Hilton.

But it simply doesn’t hold true for a mature brand that’s a household name, especially not in the internet age.

And ugly brand extensions may not cannibalise sales of the parent brand but they sure as hell can damage the image of the parent brand and the reputation of its owner. It's clear that many consumers are feeling a lot less warm and fuzzy about the Vegemite brand and Kraft today than they were last week.

Alternatively, has Kraft been trolled?

The winner of the contest, Western Australian web designer Dean Robbins, admits "it was all a bit tongue-in-cheek, really". In his post hoc explanation, Robbins says the "i" phenomenon and web 2.0 "have been recent revolutions" (my emphasis).

Ahem. Not exactly "recent". The iMac was launched in 1998 – that’s 10 years ago – and the iPod in 2001. Putting an "i" in front of a name has long since had its day as a legitimate "cool" branding strategy.

So for a web designer to be suggesting a name using clichés like "i" and "2.0" smacks of a giant piss-take.

Kraft hasn’t shared with us just how many of the 48,000 entries from 35,000 individuals it received were, to put it kindly, "tongue in cheek", but I’d be willing to bet it was a fair percentage.

The likelihood of getting a great name from a public contest was always low. Seriously, anyone from a smart brand identity agency – or anyone who aspires to work in one – would have run a mile from a half-arsed crowd-sourcing exercise like this.

And it's impossible to imagine that Kraft didn't have a "What if we run a contest and only get crap names?" strategy. So did they have a few ideas already up their sleeves? Was "iSnack 2.0" one of them?

Still, it’s hard to believe one of the world’s biggest FMCG companies would make a strategic branding decision – putting its faith and brand equity on the line with a name like this – without taking some expert branding advice and/or doing some decent consumer research. So who is advising Kraft, anyway, and have they led Kraft astray? Or is this mess all of Kraft's own making?

Kraft might well be inclined to dismiss the almost universally negative views expressed on Twitter and the blogosphere as coming from an irrelevant Gen Y elite, and not reflective of the views of the heartland of Australian consumers. In which case, why did they go with a hipster, pseudo-Gen Y name like iSnack 2.0, as suggested by a Gen Y web designer?

Ultimately, it may turn out that Kraft have tried to be too smart for their own good. Trolled themselves.

14 September 2009

Agency replies to post on Solo pavement stencils with warning and insult... but misses the point

I received an email today (reproduced in full below*) in response to my recent post on the use of pavement stencils in a suburban Melbourne shopping strip as part of Schweppes’ Solo brand’s “Game On” promotion.

Apparently the substance used to produce the intrusive yellow stencils was chalk, not paint.

Fine. Maybe I should have sent the stencils down to forensics before commenting, but I just described what I saw. I stand corrected.

So it was chalk that dripped and splattered, was walked through by pedestrians and was dumped in adjacent gutters, as my previous pics clearly showed.

And it was chalk that – as today’s photo shows – someone has tried damn hard to remove over the weekend without success. The footpaths and gutters now have residual yellow stains.

The point of my blog – as I think was perfectly clear – was to ask whether pavement graffiti was a legal, legitimate and appropriate tactic for a prominent consumer brand like Solo to adopt. I must now add to that the question of whether it’s a good look for an agency apparently working on behalf of Solo to send antagonistic emails to a blogger with no vested interest who simply comments from a consumer’s point of view.

Glenferrie Road shoppers and shopkeepers to whom I have spoken found it intrusive and galling to have these uninvited bright yellow eyesores in front of stores, especially when traders must get a Council permit for a sandwich board or any other form of street signage or furniture.

As for the warning that not checking facts “could get you in hot water” and the insult – “such dribble (sic)” – I’m happy to take my chances.

* NOTE: Email removed on request of Mike Akers of Foot Traffic Media

Posted via web from qbrand's posterous

13 September 2009

Breast cancer campaign confusion: Time for another self-examination?

This afternoon, a man wearing an ID badge with a pink ribbon rang our doorbell collecting money for “breast cancer”. I don’t know which breast cancer cause or organisation he represented – I didn’t even open my security door. Rather than giving him the following explanation, I simply told him that we were not in a position to assist. I felt some regret, but also some anger.


Australian consumers have been thoroughly trained over the past few years to recognize that pink and/or a pink ribbon means “breast cancer” and that fundraising for breast cancer awareness and research is a “good thing”. But conventional wisdom tells us too that you can have too much of a good thing.


As someone who has taken a close professional interest in this subject for several years (see my previous pieces in Crikey) I am probably better informed than many. Yet, if I am confused and cynical about the “pinkwash”, where does that leave the average consumer?


No breast cancer organisation has sole rights to the use of the colour pink or the pink ribbon motif, although many have trademarked specific design configurations and slogans. But some seem content to allow consumers to be guided and reassured by the general impressions and emotions conveyed by pink and the pink ribbon without getting specific about their causes.


And marketers that produce special pink products on the back of claims that they support breast cancer causes also rely on general consumer goodwill. The potential for exploitation is obvious: in the US, growing concern about consumer confusion and the potential for marketers to make misleading claims about funding provided through sales of pink products led to a community campaign by Breast Cancer Action called “Think Before You Pink”.

Now it seems Australia’s breast cancer organisations are themselves acknowledging the potential for consumer confusion and recognising the need to compete for share of voice, share of the consumer's mind and the discretionary breast cancer dollar.

For example, the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) now describes itself as "the leading (my emphasis) community-funded organisation in Australia raising money for research into the prevention, detection and treatment of breast cancer". Use of the word "leading" points clearly to competition – if you don’t have competitors, then “leading” is meaningless and pointless.

Breast Cancer Network Australia, which calls itself “the peak (my emphasis) national organisation for Australians personally affected by breast cancer” has been up-front about the risks of confusion for some time. In March 2008, BCNA convened a collaborative meeting between what it calls Australia’s “big three” breast cancer organisations – the NBCF, the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (NBOCC) and the BCNA – “to discuss ways we can best work together to support each other”.


Of course, identifying a “big three” naturally consigns other organisations to some kind of second tier, although the basis for this classification isn’t clear. High-profile omissions from this list include the McGrath Foundation, which raises money “to place breast care nurses in hospitals and to educate young women to become breast aware”, and the Breast Cancer Institute of Australia (BCIA) which “supports collaborative clinical trial research” in breast cancer treatment and prevention and is sponsored by cosmetics company Avon.


But you can’t expect consumers to get their heads around this hierarchy or to understand how the different organizations might complement each other (if indeed they do).


Eighteen months after the BCNA-led pow-wow, the situation is no clearer. Here it is mid-September and someone is doorknocking for “breast cancer” funds, yet I read on the NBCF website a call for volunteers for October which is “Breast Cancer Month”. BCNA’s “Pink Lady” and “pink bun” campaign takes place in April-May, with a focus on Mother’s Day (second Sunday in May). But Michel’s Patisserie will probably once again roll out the Pink Ribbon cupcakes this October in support of NBCF.

As the BCNA website still says “We all know there is confusion in the community about the roles of the three major national breast cancer organizations”. Yeah, and the rest…

That confusion can only continue to grow and, with it, the very real risk of consumer cynicism, mistrust and disinterest in what remains a vital endeavour.

Posted via web from qbrand's posterous

11 September 2009

Is Woolworths spending $500,000 to promote a $5000 donation?

Motorists using busy major roads in Melbourne and Brisbane have recently noticed large billboards advertising a $5000 grant from Woolworths to the Somerton Park Sea Scouts.

Some, not recognising the name Somerton Park, have eventually found that it is neither in Queensland nor Victoria but in South Australia. It’s likely that the same ad is gracing billboards around the country.

And there’s a TV commercial too, featuring the Sea Scouts carrying canoes and other equipment funded by the grant through the bush in awkward and comical fashion, to the sound of the Woolies’ banjo and harmonica-tinged jingle.

So why is Woolworths undertaking a national campaign to promote a small grant to a local South Australian community group?

Somerton Park Sea Scouts are just one of 1900 community organisations that have received grants of up to $5000 – to a total of around $2 million – in the 2009 Woolworths Fresh Food Kids Community Grants program.

But, perhaps unaware of the size of the overall grants program, some consumers have observed that the $5000 given to the Sea Scouts must compare very unfavourably with the amount spent on just a single billboard supersite.

And this highlights a classic dilemma for any marketer that undertakes sponsorship of community programs – how much should they spend telling people how much they have spent?

Woolworths have been coy about exactly how much they are spending to advertise the awarding of the community grants. They declined to answer specific questions about the number of billboards, the reach and frequency of TV ads, production budgets and overall media spend on the campaign.

Media Relations Manager Benedict Brook would say only that “a limited amount of our marketing mix has been used to publicise winners” and that “in terms of our overall spend on community projects, any marketing costs are both necessary and negligible”.

Large billboard posters cost up to $5000 each to print and renting space on a “supersite” can cost between $10,000 and $20,000 per month. Even assuming a conservative 10 sites nationally, that’s $150,000 on outdoor alone, not counting the initial costs of photography and design.

A 30-second TV commercial involving a full-day location shoot on high-quality media generally carries a production budget of $100,000. And there is a second TVC for the 2009 grants, featuring the Picton Magpies Junior Cricket Club, southwest of Sydney. So add perhaps another $100,000. It would be most unusual to spend $200,000 on production of two TVCs and then not spend at least that much buying media time to show them.

Ad industry people with whom I have canvassed the issue this week agree that, even on very conservative estimates, the total cost of the outdoor and TV campaigns to promote the grants must therefore be in excess of $500,000, and probably much more. But is this what Woolworths has actually paid?

“Much of our community support marketing utilises media partnerships and free advertising space given to us” by major media organizations, said Mr Brook. This “massively reduces the cost”, he claimed, but he could not provide further details. “How we use our media spend is commercially sensitive information,” he told us.

Just like the proverbial lunch, “free media” is never really free to an organisation like Woolworths. It is based on their total spend and has an opportunity cost, as Mr Brook acknowledged: “We could have used this space to advertise products.”

When you look at the big picture, Woolworths is spending at least half a million dollars to tell us about the $2 million they have spent. This is not at all out of line with what experts tell us sponsors should spend to promote or “activate” the value of a sponsorship. And Woolworths says feedback from its customers “has told us that they are keen to know what support we give to the wider community”.

However, while styled as a community support program, ad industry observers see the Fresh Food Kids Community Grants Program – which is explicitly linked by name to the supermarket chain’s broader advertising (as the “fresh food people”) – as being more about brand positioning than it is about philanthropy.

Posted via email from qbrand's posterous

10 September 2009

Schweppes Solo: Are public pavements fair game for marketers?

Looks like the members of a Schweppes “street marketing” team are taking the term literally when it comes to the Solo brand’s “Game On” football (soccer) promotion. A series of bright yellow stenciled logos appeared this week on the pavement in the busy Glenferrie Road shopping strip in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn, frequented by thousands of students from Swinburne University and nearby secondary schools.

Just as the original “Solo Man” in the iconic 1980s TV commercials dribbled lemon drink down his chin and chest as he “cracked a Solo”, the corporate graffitists have dribbled yellow paint along the footpath and even cleared the nozzles of their spray cans in the gutters in multiple locations.

Are footpaths and pavements “fair game” for advertisers? What if one of Solo’s competitors (e.g. the Coca-Cola Company’s Lift brand) decided to come along and spray over the Solo stencils? Or tried to outgun them by spraying two or three times the number of Lift logos in the same stretch of the shopping strip? Where might it all end?

And what about the effect on consumer sentiment towards the Solo brand?

My immediate reaction makes me think that the sloppiness and intrusiveness of the stenciling work does the Solo brand no favours.

Posted via email from qbrand's posterous

08 September 2009

THE EMPEROR'S NEW PROSE: Why someone must confront Kevin Rudd about his writing

The TV series The West Wing gave viewers the not unreasonable impression that great political leaders surround themselves with the best writers available. The hot-shots writing for President Jed Bartlet had honed their writing skills in the law, academia, management, journalism and even TV sitcoms.

Yet the evidence of our own eyes and ears suggests otherwise in the case of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. We want leaders whose words can inspire, but Rudd’s most important speeches as PM have often left us feeling flat and befuddled or, worse still, have attracted ridicule. Sadly, they seem to be the work of the man himself and not communication professionals.

Now, The Age reports that an essay by Rudd has been rejected by the American journal Foreign Affairs. The Age’s diplomatic editor Daniel Flitton cited “dense descriptions” (read gobbledygook) and “runs of clichés” in the essay and wondered whether these might have brought the PM undone.

It’s worth reading the full version of the paper obtained by The Age under Freedom of Information, to identify examples that point to systemic problems with the PM's writing.

Firstly, his prose style, and indeed his spoken remarks in interviews (remember “fair shake of the sauce bottle”?), suffer badly from mixed and murky metaphors. The essay is thick with them.

“...weaknesses in the institutions that underpin the globalization juggernaut”

A juggernaut is an unstoppable force and carries clear imagery of movement. But you don't underpin something that’s moving – in fact, "underpinning" is about securing a structure from beneath so that it doesn’t shift or collapse.

“A G20 structure... bridges the strategic and economic weight of the present and the future.”

A structure can't bridge a weight. A structure can bridge a gap, a gulf or a divide. Alternatively, if Rudd means to convey the idea of bridging the present and the future, then the sentence is not properly constructed.

“…the G20 should act as the lightning rod for global leadership: articulating principles, defining broad objectives and crafting the political consensus…”

Dictionaries define the metaphorical use of lightning rod in terms of a person (or organization) that attracts, or is a target of, criticism or controversy, especially when this diverts attention from other issues. This is clearly not Rudd’s intended meaning – there is no suggestion of attracting negative sentiment or diverting attention – so lightning rod is wrong.

“The largest gap in the current global system is the absence of a driving centre.”

Just what is a driving centre? It sounds like somewhere you might go to learn to drive. But if it’s supposed to be a mechanical metaphor, then what kind of machine has a driving centre? In the end, it’s not clear whether “driving” is meant in the sense of steering, accelerating and braking (as in “driving” a car or a train), or in the sense of propulsion (as in a “driving force”).

Taking issue with mixed metaphors isn’t just a matter of grammatical pedantry. Metaphors are supposed to enhance the communication of ideas by tapping into existing knowledge structures and imagery in the reader’s mind. But ill-chosen metaphors often obscure the writer’s intended meaning.

Kevin Rudd also has a recurring problem with sentences that head off in one direction but take a strange turn or lose their way.

“There is a yawning gap between the capacity of existing global institutions designed to deal with the challenges of the past, but insufficiently mandated, resourced or representative of emerging power realities to deal with the challenges of the future.”

This sentence teases the reader by setting out to describe a yawning gap, but the two sides of the gap or comparison introduced by the word between are never identified. Hence, a yawning gap remains in Rudd’s meaning.

“But this in turn misses the point because in China… the way in which China formally conceives of its role in the world is of practical importance in shaping the terms in which China might be profitably engaged in a dialogue about its future participation in the international order.”

Shortening this unfeasibly long sentence helps to reveal why it is problematic: the writer’s perspective moves from internal (in China…) to external and objective (the way in which China…) and finally to a decidedly subjective and strategic view from the West (the terms in which China might be profitably engaged in a dialogue…). The shifting perspective makes the reader uncomfortable and obscures the writer’s point of view.

Not surprisingly, the Rudd essay contains numerous empty phrases that, rather than adding meaning or gravitas, simply make the writing less accessible. For example, Rudd’s vision for the G20 should be a crucial point of clarity in the essay. Instead, the vision is obscured by fog:

…an enabling agency capable of constructing the political momentum necessary to cut through layers of national and international bureaucracy that at present impede real progress on fundamental global reform that is now urgent.

Yes, there is more mixed metaphor (e.g. you can’t construct momentum) and awkward structure, but many of the words in this sentence are unnecessary or just poorly chosen. For example, a combination like an enabling agency capable is difficult and unpleasant to read.

Overall, this essay illustrates the kind of writing that Don Watson – former speechwriter for Labor Premier John Cain and Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating – railed against in his books Death Sentence and Weasel Words.

Dozens of weasels – and possibly some stoats and ferrets too – appear to have taken up residence in the PM’s word processor. Furthermore, the presence of spelling and punctuation errors in the manuscript suggests that it wasn’t even properly proof-read prior to submission.

That it reached a prestigious journal in this sorry state is embarrassing. It cries out for the assistance of a professional writer and editor.

But perhaps of greatest concern is the inference we must draw that there is no-one in the Prime Minister’s staff willing or able to confront him about these obvious shortcomings in his writing style.

Posted via web from qbrand's posterous

Amnesty International confirms repression in Fiji. So why do Aussies turn a blind eye?

It's getting harder and harder to understand the attitudes of many Australians to our island neighbour Fiji. Despite clear evidence of the repressive nature of the Bainimarama regime, most of the talk I hear about Fiji is about how cheap the airfares are and which resort is the best.

From a branding perspective, what are the forces that perpetuate our view of Fiji as a sleepy, friendly tropical paradise when we get worked up about human rights in Burma and Zimbabwe, or about media censorship in China?

Is it just proximity? Or is it that so many Australians and Australian enterprises with commercial interests in Fiji are willing to be apologists for Bainimarama and his military government?

Posted via web from qbrand's posterous

07 September 2009

Facebook 'enhances intelligence' but Twitter 'diminishes it', claims psychologist - Telegraph

Facebook 'enhances intelligence' but Twitter 'diminishes it'

This looks like a ridiculously superficial approach to comparing the effects of two different social networking sites on human intelligence.

"Working memory" may be a relevant issue. But many other factors could easily outweigh effects on working memory. The nature of the content posted and the conversations in which one engages on Twitter as compared to Facebook must surely be far more important.

On Twitter, I have engaged in deep conversations and spirited and thoughtful debates on complex issues. And via Twitter, I have been alerted to thousands of articles like this one.

Excuse me a second... What's that Facebook? You want me to do another quiz? Pick 5 foods I hate?

How about I pick 5 reasons why i think this article is crap?

Posted via web from qbrand's posterous

27 August 2009

Country Road: More long copy failure at the highest level

As I've mentioned on this blog several times before, I am increasingly distressed by the declining quality of long copy in ads and brochures... and by the inability of those who supervise writers and sign off copy to detect glaringly obvious problems with grammar and clarity.

I have learned to expect poor writing in things like local tourism brochures, but I'm still gobsmacked to see it at the very highest level.

And arguably there is no higher level in Australian corporate communications than the Annual Report of an ASX-listed company like fashion/lifestyle retailer Country Road.

The picture above shows the key scene-setting page in the 2008 Country Road Annual Report.

Here are the first two sentences:
The Australian way of life is unique and highly desirable. It is a country that is both incredibly old but very new.

But just in case you're having trouble seeing what's wrong, let's dissect it.

Nothing wrong with the first sentence:
The Australian way of life is unique and highly desirable.
It's a simple sentence, with "The Australian way of life" as the subject. Now let's look at the second sentence. In context, the first word "It" unequivocally indicates the same subject as the first sentence, i.e. "The Australian way of life". But the rest of the sentence is now talking about a different subject. "The Australian way of life" is NOT a "country".

And there's something else horribly wrong with the second sentence. Whether we're talking about a country or a way of life, it can't be "both (something) but (something else)".

When you use "both", you must use "and":
The bathroom has both hot and cold running water.
Both John and Betty went to school.

Sentence 3 continues on about the country (presumably Australia, although it never says so): its light, landscape and colour. Then sentence 4 introduces the lifestyle of the country. All right, but didn't we start out talking about "the Australian way of life"? So are the "way of life" and the "lifestyle" the same thing or different concepts?

In sentence 5, the compound adjective "free-spirited" needs a hyphen. And by sentence 6, the subject switches away from Australia the country to "this modern Australian lifestyle".

What self-indulgent crap on the part of the agency responsible. If you're going to wax lyrical, you must be able to write grammatically or the effect is completely undermined and, with it, the client's credibility.

And shame on Country Road's corporate affairs and investor relations team for signing it off. What a shocking way to begin a piece that is intended to be the pinnacle of the company's communication with the market and its shareholders.

Let's hope their clothing isn't so poorly made.

18 August 2009

For the Lexus hybrid, economy and quality should begin with the brochure

Last weekend, I picked up a 38-page brochure for the Lexus RX line of "luxury SUV" motor vehicles - the RX350 and the RX450h, the only luxury SUV with a hybrid petrol/electric engine.

That's an awful lot of brochure for just two models and variants. OK, it's printed on "green" paper, but it sure does use a lot of it.

As you'd expect, the brochure has lots of lovely pictures of shiny Lexuses (Lexi?).

But the brochure's worst excesses can be found in its overblown, amateurish long copy. It tries way too hard, to the point of being nauseating:
The first luxury SUV opened the way to new lifestyle opportunities...
Being socially responsible never felt so remarkable
In doing so, Lexus has created a new relevance...
On steep climbs, the relentless torque lifts you effortlessly from deep valleys to the crests of the hills...
Unfortunately the copy is far from effortless. But it is relentless.

Far worse than the over-inflated (and often meaningless) prose is the grammar. Or rather, the lack of it. Try these:
To look at the RX450h, it gives little away that this is a vehicle that is...
Unlike certain hybrids which are optimised purely for economy, Lexus Hybrid Power achieves both.
"Both"? Both of what?

It's bad enough that the copywriter at (I believe) Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney has been allowed to indulge him- or herself at the expense of efficient and effective communication. But it's absolutely appalling that no-one has stepped in and corrected the grammatical howlers that flow directly from those indulgences.

The father of modern advertising, David Ogilvy, famously sold the original luxury car brand, Rolls-Royce, to Americans using understatement. The ad that carried his most celebrated headline is a masterpiece of letting the facts speak for themselves and the target's imagination and emotions fill in the rest:
At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.
You'd think young copywriters would be brought up to speed on this example before being let loose on a luxury car account.

28 July 2009

Whaddaya mean it's wrong? It's a poll!

There's been strong reaction to radio Triple J's Hottest 100 of All Time, as blogged about here previously.

That reaction hasn't been uniformly critical. In fact, there's been a considerable backlash, much of it based on the erroneous belief that if a poll is large enough - and this one had 500,000 entries - it must be right.


Any poll is only ever as good as the sample, the questions asked and how the results are gathered and analysed.

And the findings of this one don't have what researchers call 'face validity'. The problem isn't with any of the individual songs on the final list - each no doubt has its proponents. It's the big picture statistics that don't lie. When even Triple J announcers and fans are surprised and dismayed that not one of the supposed 100 greatest songs of all time is by a female artist, it suggests some pretty significant errors.

"Errors?!!" I hear you say. "But it can't be wrong - it's a poll. It's about people's opinions, so it must be right!"

People's opinions are never wrong. Absolutely never. But opinion polls often have errors that render their findings wrong. I'm using the word "error" here in the sense used by researchers and statisticians to describe problems in research design, analysis and interpretation. Let me explain.

If we accept that a TRUE Hottest 100 songs of all time exists out there in the minds of Triple J listeners, then the idea of the poll is - within practical limitations - to capture that collective mindset with an acceptable level of accuracy.

"Error" refers to any problem with the methodology that could contribute to the end result of the poll not being a reasonable reflection of what's actually in the collective mindset of our population of interest.

First and foremost is "sampling error". In any voluntary poll, the findings are only representative of those who actually vote. That naturally means that people who are particularly passionate about the cause (in this case, a particular song or artist) will vote. In other words, they aren't representative of the whole population - statisticians call this a biased sample. But people who didn't vote can't complain, as they only have themselves to blame.

In any case, what we have read about the scale of the Triple J poll (some 500,000 votes) and the spread of age and gender means you'd be hard-pressed to blame sampling error for the complete absence of female artists in the Hottest 100. So it's back to the methodology...

The next type of error is to do with the survey itself. We know what we were looking to find, but did we ask the right questions?

Triple J could have asked everyone who voted to nominate his or her top 100 songs in order, and then counted every vote and applied some kind of weighting based on that order.

But that's not what happened. In fact, Triple J asked listeners to nominate only their top 10 greatest songs of all time. You can well appreciate why Triple J would do this for practical reasons, but it introduces some significant sources of error.

Firstly, there's what I will call the Tenacious D effect. The instructions and the task are likely to have suggested to many people (consciously or unconsciously) that if they had to choose the 10 "greatest songs in the world" then these must be truly "awesome" songs.

Not surprisingly, the final list of the Hottest 100 was heavy on anthemic, epic, deep and meaningful power ballads - the kind of things that get played at funerals (yes, even Heath Ledger's). There are very few "feel good" dancefloor-fillers. And it appears to have helped a song considerably if the artist died in tragic circumstances.

Secondly, compiling a Top 100 out of thousands of 10-song samples introduces a very significant statistical problem. What you end up with is a sampling distribution of people's Top 10s, and NOT a true list of the Hottest 100. And that produces very unrealistic results, as per the following example - the figures are made up, but they illustrate the problem.

Let's put the Tenacious D effect aside for now and assume we asked a large group of people to list their Top 100 songs in order.
10% said Aretha Franklin's "Respect" was one of the 100 greatest songs of all time, and 0.5% of people had it in their Top 10
50% of people agreed that Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is one of the 100 greatest songs of all time, and 10% of people had it in their Top 10
Around a third of our sample said they'd never even heard of "Chop Suey" by System of a Down but 5% said it was one of the 100 greatest songs of all time and half of those (2.5%) had it in their Top 10.
So now we compile our list.

If we use all the votes to compile the Top 100, then Nirvana ranks above Aretha, with System of a Down lower down the list.

But when we only count people's Top 10s, Nirvana still - rightly - ranks high in the Hottest 100 and System of a Down makes it in towards the bottom but Aretha Franklin doesn't show up at all.

Without having access to any of the specific figures from the Triple J poll, the number of songs in the final Hottest 100 that could be considered relatively obscure - even for a Triple J audience - strongly suggests that these kind of survey and statistical errors are to blame for the lack of diversity that has bothered so many people.

How can Triple J design a poll that does a better job of finding the TRUE Hottest 100 of all time? Well, talk to some market researchers and statisticians to begin with.

27 July 2009

Who says online publishing leads to a decline in standards? Fairfax does!

Every day we read (on the internet, of course) of another old and revered print newspaper in a US city being read the last rites. The old business model just doesn't work any more. Advertising has moved to the web, printing costs are exorbitant, etc. etc. Fair enough.

But you don't have to go far to see some of the negative implications of this. A daily glance at headlines, links and copy in the online versions of many newspapers - including the so-called "quality press" - illustrates how publishing processes and priorities have changed.

It seems likely that news organisations are replacing sub-editors - people who knew how to get words to work - with IT types whose skills lie elsewhere and who are tasked with getting the words they are given up on screen as quickly as possible.

Consider the recent reporting of the Tour de France by Fairfax cycling correspondent Rupert Guinness (pictured above). You may have seen Rupert in a succession of gaudy Hawaiian shirts serving as a guest commentator on SBS Television at the end of several stages of the race.

But Rupert's print work, as presented online, often looked as scruffy and unprofessional as his attire. This, from his report after Stage 14 to Besançon on 19 July, is just one of several howlers he produced over the 23 days of le Tour:
However, within minutes of the stage finishing, the sparks began to fly between the Columbia team for which Australian riders Michael Rogers and Mark Renshaw are signed with, and the rival Garmin team who has Australian Matt White as one of their sports directors and had one of their riders in the 12-man breakaway.
What the...?

Firstly, when did so-called journalists cease to be able to write grammatical and readable copy? Producing acceptable clean copy used to be one of the basic rules of journalism - if you were a sports type who couldn't write, then you had a ghost writer or a sub-editor to clean up your copy for publication.

Second, how can a reputable "quality" news organisation allow such amateurish material to be published... and, worse, to sit there, uncorrected, more than a week later (as I write this). Clearly no-one literate at Fairfax has actually read the story.

OK, perhaps Rupe was under some pressure to file quickly. But the Besançon stage was over by 2am Sydney time and the byline on the story says 6:28am - surely plenty of time for a professional like Rupert to file something half-decent and enough to allow a sub-editor to make some sense of his mess (and to call/email him back to say "clean up your act").

Grammar and spelling are critical for ease, clarity and accuracy of communication. They DO matter - online as well as in print.

13 July 2009

How many of these belong in the REAL Hottest 100 of all time?

I compiled this list of 100 great songs from female artists and black artists. All of them appear on multiple online lists of "100 greatest songs..." (of all time, different genres, different decades, etc.). Sources include VH1, Billboard, Mojo magazine, Grammy winners.

It's just a starting point, but I defy anyone NOT to find at least a few songs here worthy of displacing some of the anthemic, epic, angry and emo white boy rock that dominated Triple J's list. (Note: Alphabetical order, not order of merit). Nominations and challenges welcome - it's all in the interests of diversity.

And let's face it - if Elton John's Tiny Dancer could get in, then nothing's off-limits!

(Sittin’On) The Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman – Carole King / Aretha Franklin
7 Seconds – Youssou N'dour and Neneh Cherry
A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
A Fairytale of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross
Ain't No Sunshine – Bill Withers
All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow
At Last – Etta James
Birthday – Sugarcubes
California Dreamin' – The Mamas & the Papas
Close to You – The Carpenters
Constant Craving – k. d. lang
Crazy – Gnarls Barkly
Crazy – Patsy Cline
Crazy in Love – Beyonce featuring Jay-Z
Crazy On You – Heart
Cult of Personality – Living Colour
Dancing in the Street – Martha and the Vandellas
Dancing Queen – ABBA
Don’t Speak – No Doubt
Don't Know Why – Norah Jones
Echo Beach – Martha And The Muffins
Fight the Power - Public Enemy
Finally – Ce Ce Peniston
Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac
God Bless the Child – Billie Holiday
Gold Digger – Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx
Got a Thing on My Mind – Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Groove is in the Heart – Deee-Lite
Heart of Glass – Blondie
I Can't Stand the Rain – Ann Peebles
I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown
I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself – Dusty Springfield
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
I’m Coming Out – Diana Ross
If I Ain’t Got You – Alicia Keys
If You Don't Know Me By Now – Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
In the Midnight Hour – Wilson Pickett
Independent Women – Destiny’s Child
Into The Groove – Madonna
It’s Too Late – Carole King
Jolene – Dolly Parton
Lady Marmalade – Labelle
Le Freak – Chic
Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
Like a Virgin – Madonna
Linger – The Cranberries
Living For the City – Stevie Wonder
Love and Happiness – Al Green
Love is a Battlefield – Pat Benatar
Love Rears its Ugly Head – Living Colour
Many Rivers to Cross – Jimmy Cliff
Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight & The Pips
My Immortal – Evanescence
No One – Alicia Keys
Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O'Connor
Our Lips Are Sealed – The Go-Go's
Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone – The Temptations
Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – James Brown
Protection – Massive Attack with Tracy Thorn
Push It – Salt ‘N’ Pepa
Ray of Light – Madonna
Real Love – Mary J. Blige
Respect Yourself – The Staple Singers
River Deep, Mountain High – Ike and Tina Turner
Run-D.M.C. – Walk This Way
Say My Name – Destiny’s Child
Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane
Something to Talk About – Bonnie Raitt
Sour Times – Portishead
Stand By Me – Ben E. King
Stop! In The Name Of Love – The Supremes
Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Eurythmics
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – Roberta Flack
The Look of Love – Dusty Springfield
The Message – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
The Power – SNAP!
The Tracks of My Tears – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper
To Be Young, Gifted & Black – Nina Simone
Venus As A Boy – Bjork
Vogue – Madonna
Walk Like an Egyptian – The Bangles
Walk on By – Dionne Warwick
Waterfalls – TLC
We Are Family – Sister Sledge
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
When a Man Loves a Woman – Percy Sledge
When Doves Cry – Prince
Where Did Our Love Go? – The Supremes
White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
Woodstock – Joni Mitchell
Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush
You Keep Me Hangin’ On – The Supremes
You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
Zombie – The Cranberries

"Hottest 100" very uncool for Triple J's brand

Yesterday, the ABC's national youth radio network Triple J revealed the final results of its listener poll of the Hottest 100 (songs/records) of All Time.

The Hottest 100 brand has become extremely important for Triple J since the poll began in the late 1980s. The annual Hottest 100 CD compilations, which began in 1993, sell by the hundreds of thousands. The annual listener poll for the year's best releases and the accompanying CD and events are a central and vital part of the station's promotion and merchandising.

But the results of this year's poll make disturbing reading for Triple J management and its ultimate masters higher up in the ABC and the Federal Government.

The concern won't be about any individual song or artist - whether a particular song is worthy of inclusion in the best 100 of all time will always be subject to personal taste and passing fads, and will be a subject for robust and enjoyable debate.

But it's the overall picture painted by some basic stats from the Hottest 100 that should have Triple J management worried.

Firstly, only five black artists or acts are represented in the entire Top 100: Michael Jackson (whose recent untimely death no doubt gave him a boost in the poll), Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder and (maybe) English band Bloc Party (fronted by a man born in the UK to Nigerian parents).

It is inconceivable that any reasonable poll of the "Hottest 100 songs of all time" could so glaringly exclude any and all black artists and music since 1982. This is especially disturbing when one considers how culturally important, if not dominant, essentially black musical forms like soul, funk, hip-hop and R&B have been in Western popular music since the 1960s. Triple J (in)famously began its national broadcasts in 1989 by being the only radio station in the world to play the song "F@#* Tha Police" by NWA (Niggaz With Attitude). Yet there is not a single black hip-hop act in this Hottest 100.

However, far more glaring than the relative lack of black artists is the total absence of female artists.

At best, I can see two songs that even feature female voices - Teardrop by Massive Attack (with "vocals by Elizabeth Fraser", i.e. not a full artist credit) and vocals by Kim Deal on the Pixies' Where is My Mind.

Again, it is utterly inconceivable that any list of the 100 greatest songs of all time could totally exclude female artists.

I know Triple J's own playlist and announcers don't reflect this shocking lack of diversity, and I'm not suggesting an editorial hand at work here. But if you do as I did and Google "greatest 100 songs" (of all time, by genre, by decade, etc.), you'll find all kinds of takes on this - polls, subjective lists, critics' choices. Yet you won't find a single list that completely excludes females and all but the most white-acceptable performers of colour. Indeed, from just some of these lists, and in the space of an hour or two, I easily compiled this list of songs by black and female artists.

Some people - including Triple J on-air personnel - have defended the Hottest 100 over the last 24 hours using what I call "the Logies excuse", i.e. that it's a popularity contest and it's not about merit.

Problem is, Triple J has successfully leveraged its listeners' musical tastes for years in the form of the Hottest 100 brand. And half a million votes sounds like great level of audience engagement. But previous annual polls and compilations have never reflected such an overall narrowness of musical style and audience appeal.

The top 20 especially was dominated by anthemic, epic, heavy, "message" songs in minor keys. And if the singer died tragically and prematurely, the song placed even higher. No "feel good" songs. And definitely no dance.

All of this makes this Hottest 100 of All Time a poison chalice for those whose job is to try to promote the station on the back of it, and for those who would defend Triple J's taxpayer funding on the basis that the national youth broadcaster has an important role in promoting cultural diversity.

Unfortunately, the data suggest that Triple J - intended to break down the sameness associated for so long with commercial Top 40 radio - may simply have subsituted a new kind of (white male) sameness.

30 June 2009

ABC News: Not just wrong but misleading on Yemenia Air crash

An introductory headline in ABC Radio News at 5:00pm (as heard on 774 ABC Melbourne) said:
Another Airbus A330 crashes into the ocean...
The actual report later in the news noted - correctly (as reported elsewhere) - that the aircraft type involved is an Airbus A310, which is an older plane of completely different design to the A330.

The wording of the headline - specifically the reference to "another A330..." and "crashes into the ocean..." - was clearly designed to evoke recall of the tragic Air France AF447 crash in the Atlantic earlier in June.

I rang the ABC Radio newsroom immediately (while the bulletin was still running). The person to whom I spoke acknowledged that the headline had been incorrect and agreed with me that it should be corrected. However, five minutes later, the headlines in the "recap" at the end of the news once again made the misleading claim that "another Airbus A330 has crashed into the ocean".

OK, I may be a plane-spotting nerd, but this was not merely a matter of having the facts wrong. This was clearly an attempt by someone in ABC News to sensationalise the news by implying this was "yet another" incident involving the A330, regardless of the fact that this crash involves a completely different aircraft type. Furthermore, reports to this point suggest that this crash occurred while the plane was makiing its approach to land in the Comoros, and not (more worryingly and much less explicably) at cruise altitude in mid-flight, as was the case with Air France 447.

Given that there are a number of A330s in the Qantas fleet, that kind of misleading and sensationalist reporting has serious implications for Australian consumers.

29 June 2009

Wilkins: Not just gullible but culpable in Goldblum death rumour

There's already been a lot written about Nine Network entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins and rumours of actor Jeff Goldblum's death, which spread at the same time as the world was learning that Michael Jackson had died of an apparent heart attack last Friday morning, Melbourne time.

Wilkins' conduct - mentioned as far afield as the Daily Mail in London and exploited for humour by Rove McManus last night - looks more appalling than comical when one examines the timelines involved and considers the resources he has available to him as a highly-paid and apparently well-connected correspondent.

I watched it unfold on Twitter, and there is no doubt in my mind that Wilkins himself fuelled the rumour by:
(a) picking it up from Twitter and not from any reliable news source
(b) broadcasting it and repeating it without apparently making any attempt to check it
(c) worst of all by far, giving the rumour credence by – falsely – attributing the report directly to New Zealand police as though he had spoken to them, and not to the hoax website (which claimed NZ police as a source).

The video clip raises a number of significant issues. Wilkins clearly stated (around 0:52):
New Zealand police are saying that that is a correct story.
Wilkins and colleagues then went on (over a "highlights" or obituary reel of Goldblum's acting) to discuss his career achievements while speaking of him in the past tense.

Some Australian Twitter users then began repeating Wilkins' report on the basis that he had confirmed the truth of the rumour. Indeed, overseas Twitter users began identifying "TV news in Australia" as having verified Goldblum's death; thanks to Wilkins' confirmation, many like this even had the actor dying IN Australia. It wasn’t long before celebrity users like Demi Moore – with millions of followers on Twitter – repeated the rumour and expressed their concern.

Meanwhile, back on the Today show, the time clock in the bottom right indicates that Wilkins was reporting this "correct story" at 9.42 am Eastern Australian time. New Zealand is two hours ahead of Eastern Australia, so it was already late morning in New Zealand, and there should have been no difficulty in getting NZ police media sources on the line to check the story before simply repeating a rumour from Twitter.

Furthermore, Wilkins is a "showbiz" reporter of many years' experience. Viewers could reasonably expect Wilkins to have links to "insiders" (e.g. artists' management and publicists, etc.) not accessible to the general public and to have checked with some of his supposed Hollywood connections, again, before treating the rumour as essentially being fact.

The links to the "story" as it was being posted on Twitter soon after 9 am on Friday all traced back to a single hoax website – there was no great difficulty establishing that it was a hoax. Indeed, Twitter users were already identifying it as a probable hoax as early as 9.31 am (see my own tweet and re-tweet. That is, 10 minutes before Wilkins made the statement that "New Zealand police are saying that that is a correct story", numerous average Twitter users had already exposed it as a likely or definite hoax.

When the likelihood of the report being a hoax was mentioned on Nine (at 9.55 am), the Today hosts and Wilkins did not apologise but rather blamed the nasty, exploitative hoax website for spreading the rumour ("that’s sick").

To add insult to injury, in Nine's main Friday evening news bulletin, as a "footnote" to the Michael Jackson coverage, it was noted that "a rumour spread online" about the death of Goldblum. There was no mention of Nine’s role or of "Dickie" Wilkins' significant contribution to the rumour via his lazy, shoddy journalism.

15 June 2009

Misleading use of the word "exclusive"? There's no other store...

Recently, on the same day, two envelopes from David Jones arrived in our letterbox at home.

One was addressed to my wife, who has had a David Jones store account since before I met her 20 years ago. It contained a letter, addressed to her by name, and carrying a bold red headline that said "AN EXCLUSIVE INVITATION FOR DAVID JONES CARDMEMBERS TO OUR PRE-CLEARANCE SHOPPING NIGHT". The body of the letter read:
As a valued David Jones Cardmember, you and your family are invited to the David Jones Pre-Clearance Shopping Night on Tuesday 2nd June 2009 from 5pm to 10pm at all stores... This is an exclusive invitation for our David Jones American Express Cardmembers and David Jones Storecard holders...

The second envelope, which looked almost identical, was addressed simply to "the Householder". It contained a letter with a similar bold red headline, and read:
Dear Householder... You and your family are invited to the David Jones Pre-Clearance Shopping Night on Tuesday 2nd June 2009 from 5pm to 10pm at David Jones Doncaster store... Whilst usually reserved for David Jones Cardmembers... we are giving you the opportunity to enjoy great offers...

Over the years, my wife has sometimes attended "exclusive" shopping nights for David Jones Cardmembers. But our assumption has always been that an "exclusive invitation for cardmembers" means only cardmembers are invited.

Yet on this occasion, DJs clearly also letterbox dropped thousands of households in the northeastern suburbs of Melbourne.

On the night, there was nothing "exclusive" about entry to David Jones' Doncaster store. If you showed an invitation - any invitation - you got in. And no roped-off VIP area for cardmembers.

So how was my wife's personalised invitation in any sense "exclusive"?

This isn't about whether cardmembers are forced to mingle with the riff-raff on a promotional shopping night. It's about stupid and disingenuous - and possibly misleading and deceptive - promotion on the part of David Jones.

Discovering that a trusted brand has engaged in such behaviour can be a powerful influence in undermining customer loyalty. And isn't brand loyalty the reason why stores like DJs have store credit and cardmember programs in the first place?

04 June 2009

Is Kraft putting its Nuts on the line?

Noticed at the supermarket this week: Kraft appears to be re-configuring its peanut butter product range under the name KRAFT Nuts.
First to appear was the "smooth" variety, fomerly called simply KRAFT smooth peanut butter. Under the new brand architecture, the same product is now KRAFT nuts peanut butter - smooth. Only a minor change, and the overall look and colour scheme are the same. So why bother going to the expense of rebranding?
Well, while "Kraft Peanut butter" probably carries significant brand equity with Australian consumers, the word "smooth" and the phrase "peanut butter" are both highly descriptive and not distinctive. Hence, Kraft could only ever claim Trade Mark protection for the word Kraft itself and not for any combination.
However, a search of the IP Australia Trade Marks register shows that a composite mark including the word KRAFT in its familiar hexagonal red border combined with the word nuts on a peanut-shaped graphic device was lodged in April 2009. Kraft and its lawyers obviously believe that "KRAFT nuts" with a specific graphic device is sufficiently distinctive to be granted a trade mark monopoly. This would mean convincing IP Australia that, in combination with KRAFT, "nuts" is an unsual name for a peanut butter or other spread (even though it's a highly descriptive word if applied to nuts).
Strategically, this gives Kraft the opportunity to build equity in something it can own beyond the KRAFT corporate brand name, but in a way that probably won't confuse consumers.
Given that I can find nothing about it anywhere on the web, this rebranding seems to be getting a very "soft" launch. But I would expect to see some new advertising featuring, and possibly explaining, the revised architecture before long.

31 May 2009

Fyna takes the fun out of Wizz Fizz

Wizz Fizz - the sugary sherbet treat that comes in single serve packets, each with a little spoon - has undergone a bizarre package redesign that makes it far more conservative and wussy.
Yes, believe it or not, that's the OLD pack on the left and the NEW pack on the right.

In my experience, kids loved the freaky monster graphics of the most recent packaging. But the new look is tame - the colour scheme is muted, the fonts and graphic elements far less interesting, and the monsters are replaced with lame-looking kids.

Why would brand owner Fyna Foods make their product apparently less interesting and exciting for kids?

To me, all the clues add up to a ridiculous effort by Fyna to be seen as more "responsible", perhaps under pressure from nutritionists and those who would censor all marketing communications aimed at children (including product packaging).

The most telling of these clues is the amount of pack "real estate" - somewhere near 50% - now given over to "health claims". We are now told that Wizz Fizz is 100% fat free, gluten free, dairy free and contains no artificial flavours or colours.

Huh? Did anyone ever imagine that Wizz Fizz sherbet contained anything other than sugar, bicarb and citric acid? Do parents really need to be reassured that it contains no fat? Parents of kids with allergies and intolerances to dairy and gluten would already be checking the ingredients list, so why make these claims so prominent?

This whole thing smacks of the same "strategy" that has brought Coca-Cola unstuck through its ridiculous and misleading (that's the ACCC, not me) "Mythbusting" advertorials last year featuring Kerry Armstrong. I've still seen nothing that justified Coke's defensive stance in the first place - it was all wrong strategically.

Nor can I see any reason why Fyna should be taking the fun out of Wizz Fizz.

13 March 2009

Red Bull advertising gets a harder edge

A new TV ad for Red Bull screening in Australia appears to be explicitly linking the guarana and caffeine-laced beverage to a claim of enhanced male sexual performance.

Red Bull’s long-running ad campaign featuring hand-drawn cartoons has consistently communicated the product promise that Red Bull “gives you wiiings”. Often this idea has been depicted literally, as the cartoon protagonists sprout wings allowing them to fly out of trouble or perform at higher levels.

Leading marketing academic Professor Kevin Lane Keller, in a comprehensive case study of the brand, writes that Red Bull’s ads were very effective “because they clearly communicated product benefits without promising specific physiological results”. However, although it looks similar, Red Bull’s new ad – which I saw for the first time this week – goes way beyond this well-established advertising formula.

The setting is a nude beach. A young woman is lying, presumably naked, reading a newspaper. A man arrives and asks her if it’s OK if he sets up next to her (his genitals are obscured by a horizontal black rectangle). They have a brief conversation and she offers him a can of Red Bull. He has a drink and immediately develops an erection, depicted by a change in angle of the black rectangle. While he appears to be embarrassed, she clearly approves. The ad is tagged in the usual manner: “Red Bull gives you wiiings”.

Why will this ad cause problems for Red Bull?

It’s not that the subject matter of the ad could cause offence – it’s a cartoon, after all, and the erection is implied (although there’s nothing equivocal about it). It’s not even that the tone is creepy and sleazy – erections on a nude beach are a bit Benny Hill-ish at the best of times.

The real problem here is that this ad makes no bones about what physiological benefit is being promised. It cannot be interpreted other than as a literal claim that Red Bull causes or enhances erection.

While medical opinion would suggest the opposite if anything (excessive caffeine intake is sometimes listed as contributing to erectile dysfunction), the internet is full of anecdotes, opinions and myths linking Red Bull to sexual performance. There are even YouTube testimonials to its power (WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT AND LANGUAGE. DEFINITELY NOT SAFE FOR WORK, KIDS, etc.).

Is Red Bull seeking to exploit internet rumours and gossip? That would be dicey strategy for any well-established brand.

But there are more serious legal issues here. What looks like an unequivocal and explicit claim for beneficial effects on male sexual function – or any physiological effect for that matter – would normally need to be validated by evidence, or Red Bull could be found to have breached regulations around the promotion of therapeutic goods.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration defines as a "therapeutic good" any product which is represented in any way to be, or is likely to be taken to be, for use... in connection with preventing, diagnosing, curing or alleviating a disease, ailment, defect or injury... (or) influencing inhibiting or modifying a physiological process".

In other words, would the Red Bull ad stand up in court?