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30.4.08

The sex-obsessed world of the Miley Cyrus photographs 

[Cross-posted] It’s not that we haven’t kept up with the row over the taken by for , which the star, but I have to draw the line somewhere when it comes to news coverage.
   There are quarters in which would deem these photographs appropriate and artistic, just as Leibovitz claimed, and we ourselves have featured teens in and even on the cover of Lucire, looking probably older than they really are.
   But if a subject comes to me and tells me that she is embarrassed by a series of photographs, and for a cover decision she may well be in the know, then that’s good enough reason for me to have a meeting or a big office poll about it.
   And that’s just what Cyrus, star of the beloved series, has said of her half-naked bedroom shot.
   In normal circumstances, this matter would be worked out privately between the Cyrus family and Vanity Fair’s publishers.
   Which makes this all rather odd: has the crisis surrounding these images been manufactured? One commenter on a Murdoch Press website seems to think so and, knowing how cover decisions are made, especially those that are potentially controversial, I am seriously tempted to agree.
   Reports suggest that Cyrus’s father, singer , was present through most of the shoot.
   What I do know is that the agencies we would work with are protective of their talent and we agree on many aspects of the shoot prior to starting when it involves a young girl—and that means overt sexualization is out.

For once many of the have taken a moral high ground and that is, at least, pleasing to see, even if I have questions on their consistency. The Fairfax Press noted:

Every artist wants to subvert hypocrisy and artifice. And childhood, after all, is the ultimate artificial construction. It exists only because responsible adults deliberately set out to protect children from predators and situations their young brains are not yet wired to deal with.
   But in an era in which all taboos must be broken, the reigning philosophy is that every truth must be told, every emotion liberated, no matter how destructive, or unreasonable, because there is nothing worse than repression.
   Well—news flash—yes, there are worse things: child neglect, sexual abuse, childhoods cut short, depression, eating disorders, academic failure, violence against women, and all other manifestations of the premature sexualisation and objectification of girls in our culture.


   Interestingly, the op-ed in the Fairfax Press touches on similar subjects to a blog comment that I wrote in discussion with William Shepherd, a marketing expert based in California—one of those smart netizens who reminds me of the days in the 1990s when most people on the ’net were of a certain intellectual level.
   He wrote, on the topic of pornography in Brazil:

However, I find it hard to imagine that Brazil has an issue with porn. They should have a concern with AIDS, the cheap and underage labor that Brazil offers to Sex Industry. …
   [W]ill blocking wordpress sites stop white slavery, sexual abuse towards young children, men from going to Brazil to engage in power driven sex events that hurt the fiber of global culture, and humanity? …
   Sex is what it has always been. Yet, the online media has tried to make porn a staple of global culture and economics.


   When I think about these words today, it’s not just the online, as Vanity Fair and others have shown us.
   I do, after all, see the irony of citing the Murdoch Press when it popularized the page-three girl and stories founded in sex.
   At the risk of offending fans of certain shows, I responded:

The sex economy, the fixation on sex, are not good things for us to be so focused on, yet I don’t like it being constantly propagated even through prime-time shows such as the old Friends or Desperate Housewives.
   I do not regard myself a prude but you are right: there are more pressing things to be concerned about, and I’m far too busy to find double-entendres in every sitcom appealing.


   While sex is as woven in to Desperate Housewives as it was into Benny Hill, and those watching it at its late hour (past the watershed?) know what to expect, it gets an awful lot of publicity in TV promos with their share of suggestive imagery at other times. OK, it wasn’t the best example of a TV show (which I watched at one point), but the old Friends certainly was. I think it’s difficult to disagree that we have become too obsessed with sex in our and those early seasons of Friends depended less on characterization and more on innuendo, not often that subtle.
   At the idealistic level there is nothing wrong with this when it comes to showing behaviour between consenting adults—it’s less objectionable than seeing the extreme violence that has now made it on to prime-time television—but we now face the danger of it going further and further into promoting promiscuity among the young. Expand sex’s reach, and you arouse greater curiosity in our youngest citizens at an earlier age. It’s like lowering the drinking age to 18, as had happened in New Zealand: now it’s not 17-year-olds sneaking in three years before they are legal, but 14-year-olds with fake IDs.
   That curiosity around sex has always been there with those who are 11 or 12, as any of you reading this will know, but the signals are telling us that as adults we need to give more guidance, and we need to take a stand against that encourages sex at a time when mentally, young people are not prepared for the consequences.
   And it was interesting to read that I am not alone in my assessment; in fact mine seems ill-educated alongside that of an author who has devoted a book to the subject. Fairfax again:

[Melbourne child psychologist, Michael Carr-Gregg] said internet porn, with hardcore sites available to children at a mouseclick, “has completely changed the sexual behaviour of young women, [particularly] the obsession with oral sex.” Young girls, he said, have been encouraged to behave “almost as predators, as if [a boy] is some sort of game animal they want to bag”.
   Again, he blamed parents for creating “a culture of entitlement and indulgence [in which they] are hesitant to set limits around sleep or internet use. Democracy doesn’t work in families. You have to have a benign dictatorship.”
   In a new book, Prude: How The Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls, Carol Platt Liebau writes that “an incremental but aggressive sexualising of [our] culture … [has created] a status quo in which almost everything seems focused on what’s going on ‘below the waist’.”


   As long as we sit back, tut-tut when the items make the news but fall back on not caring at other times, then we have lost yet another value. Add that to a huge list in the west—and the east—since the end of World War II.
   If certain institutions are being so aggressive as Liebau writes, then adults need to be as aggressive. ‘Benign dictatorship’, in the words of Carr-Gregg, probably describes the families many of us had—and we turned out all right.
   It was a sort-of democracy in my household because my parents involved me in every family-affecting major decision and I earned their trust so I never had a curfew. But that was earned—and I was probably lucky I had a good conscience or spirit guide, or something directing me.
   Not everyone is so fortunate, and in this day and age, it’s not a bad idea to be strongly involved in our children’s lives because that no longer comes from those cohesive, homogeneous communities of old, nor does it come from the media, at least not regularly or consistently. We, the regular people, are the last and possibly only resort in our respective families.
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29.4.08

ANZ loses the plot: everyday Kiwis targeted to boost profits 

I closed the last Jack Yan & Associates account at the today. If you’ve followed my Vox blog, you’ll know that I am now a happy client of the Taranaki Savings Bank. The last straw was when ANZ insisted on charging $5 per foreign cheque deposit, effective March 1.
   My attitude is this: a deposit is a customer loan to the . Unless I can start charging the bank for making a loan to me (call it the ‘Loaning to Jack Privilege Charge’), then they cannot charge me for loaning to them.
   Not that Sir Johnny Anderson and his fellow directors really understand from the regular Joe’s viewpoint. I think they have been fat cats for too long that they don’t remember. I remember leaving the National Bank when Sir Spencer Russell retired, Sir John took over, and almost instantly put in some ridiculous bank charges.
   Fact: banks are already making enough money on .
   By changing to I already save over $200 per annum on base charges alone. And my foreign currency accounts now are interest-bearing.
   The bank officer who closed my account maintains that it costs the bank money to retrieve foreign funds and the charges must be passed on to the customer.
   I said, ‘Cobblers.’
   There was even a direct debit for a bank set up since 1995 (!), not that I would be so dumb as to get a credit card from a bank.
   I am happy for to make money the way they always did: on reinvesting, on gaining interest on the days they cheat us by saying that the cheques have not cleared (it takes 24 hours in New Zealand, according to when I studied banking law, and I doubt the process has slowed since then), and on actual commercial transactions such as opening letters of credit and telegraphic transfers.
   But for everyday transactions, I don’t buy that there are suddenly these huge charges at banks. Neither should you. Because it is a lie.
   I can accept that this is how cons its staff, especially the bank-fee-hungry people like Sir John (who, I understand, is actually a very nice man on a personal level).
   We are not idiots. We know that banks have sacked staff left, right and centre, trimming operations. We know entire branches have disappeared, replaced by Starbucks cafés. We know that banks have computerized and automated more of their operations, including ATMs that take the personalization out of the . We know that most banks have removed direct-dial access to employees and even whole branches, centralizing telephone operations to . We know that they have done this across the board, globally.
   So their costs have come down, big time, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
   As these customer charges go up, of course their profits improve. They need to rob from us.
   That daylight robbery, which we legally contract them to do, has netted banks $3·23 billion in profits in 2007. Eighty-nine per cent of that is accounted for by Australian-owned operations: ANZ National, Commonwealth Bank of Australia (which owns ASB, the Auckland Savings Bank) and National Australia Bank (owners of BNZ).
   That’s just over 10 per cent up on 2006’s figure, which was itself 11 per cent up on 2005’s.
   And our economy isn’t exactly booming to fuel these, so where are the profits coming from?
   That’s right: ordinary people like you and me.
   I urge New Zealanders to re-examine their banking. Do 89 per cent of you really want all these profits and bank fees to go to a bunch of Australians anyway?
   Even at the Bank of , that is where they are going.
   We only have a select few domestically owned choices left, such as TSB, Kiwibank and some building and investment societies, that will keep the money onshore and invest prudently—as banks are supposed to do.
   They know they are answerable to us in the same country and they don’t put in ridiculous charges.
   That’s not the case for a bunch of foreigners who don’t, in my book, deserve our charity, who seem to go all too regularly, ‘Oops, you are right. We weren’t meant to charge you that. Let me reverse it.’
   I hear that story all too often, from over four parties now. Call me a conspiracy theorist but I think it’s bank policy to make “accidental” charges. Therefore, I’m happy to trust my money to a bunch of folks from the Taranaki—who know I can easily fly to the chairman’s house if the bank pisses me off. Yes, I take banking way too seriously, but I earned those dollars, and I need to be able to look the bloke in the eye if I ever need to.
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25.4.08

OGC logo brief sounds like a bunch of wank—so the result is appropriate 

After saying there was less to blog because I had the principles down pat, here’s one that deserves an airing.
   The Office of Government Commerce, part of HM Treasury in the UK, unveiled its new , which cost British taxpayers £14,000.

OGC logo


And it didn’t take long after the unveiling for employees to see the problem:

OGC logo


   I am sure it is possible for all of us to be caught out from time to time, because we didn’t study all the angles (ahem) to a problem.
   But one principle I do abide by in logo development is internal review—not just to see if the client can identify problems, but to cover our own rear ends.
   The Daily Telegraph reports that staff have removed items with the logo and expects a rush on to Ebay.
   It states, ‘The logo … was intended to signify a bold commitment to the body’s aim of “improving value for money by driving up standards and capability in procurement”.’
   That sounds like a bunch of wank, even if I didn’t see the logo—though one professional thinks, as quoted in the Telegraph, ‘They’re going to get more column inches than they could ever have expected before. If I were them, I would be pretty pleased.’
   Please, let’s not bring inches into this.
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Samantha Powell best expresses the Miss New Zealand brand 

Miss New Zealand 2008 contestants
Above: Samantha Powell (Miss New Zealand 2008), Rebecca Connor (Miss Wellington), Rhonda Grant (second runner-up) and Kylie Anderson (sponsored by C. R. Johnson Ltd., and second runner-up to Miss New Zealand 2006).

I suppose judging was technically work. My last trip to was a full-on one, with clients during the day and, on most nights, spending time with the contestants. Saturday and Sunday were almost spent entirely with the 12 young ladies vying for the title, with the latter attending rehearsals. I do not envy pageant organizer Val Lott in coordinating every aspect of the event.
   Some of the reports are at the Lucire blog, but what I didn’t discuss here this year—which I did in 2007—were the principles behind selecting , Miss Horowhenua, as the winner.
   It was a case of repeating the ideas I had last time around, with finding someone who could represent the New Zealand successfully. won in 2007 partly because of her cosmopolitanism. When it came to ‘the Laural Barrett ’, she had that, and her musical talent, as her differentiating factors.
   What about a year where we had not only girls who were well travelled (e.g. Pamela Day, for instance, was in Oyster Bay, New York right after 9-11; Michelle Kleinsmith found herself emigrating from Africa) but a bunch who was career-minded (Rhonda Grant is a nutritionist, and two contestants are pursuing legal studies)? If Laural was in this group she would have had a harder fight.
   Specifically, however, Sam was not only a fresh-faced Kiwi girl-next-door born in , but she showed leadership skills from her work at the Auckland Savings Bank. I believe that helped her tremendously even on her first night of judging, coupled with fluent answers. (I had to bite my tongue a little when I raised a question about bank charges being immoral.) Throughout she had an infectious X-factor: on the final night, I think few could argue that during the Lucie Boshier fashion parade segment, she raised the mood of the audience the minute she came out on stage.
   There is a less clear ‘Samantha Powell brand’: Laural’s had already been partially set pre-pageant last year through her musical work. However, Samantha Powell fits in to what we want Miss New Zealand to express this year at Miss Universe in Vietnam: an infectious, positive mood on top of a firm grasp of fair dinkum Kiwi values.
   It’s like picking an actor to be : you don’t know what it is going in to the casting process, but you know once the decision is made. It is not post-rationalization, but during the hours you are there, you begin to see what qualities each contestant presents, and just which ones will hold firm and be strong to a grander audience.
   Now I know just how hard each year is—and for the two judges who have been there for longer than me (Yvonne Brownlie and May Davis), I take my hat off to them for consistency when it comes to standards, and flexibility when it comes to considering what the whole group of contestants offers. It additionally confirms that returning contestants have no inside edge.
   Sam has had largely positive so far—we have not had Australian-owned newspapers do a tabloid hatchet job—and that is a relief for Val and for Sam herself. I’ll be interested to see how she does in Vietnam and whether that X-factor will wow the judges there. I believe she is steadfast enough to remain “being Sam” and keeping it real.
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The postman might knock twice, but this blogger does not 

I was discussing blogging with Natalie Ferguson a few nights ago, and how I haven’t kept up the frequency here. I remember hitting the 600 mark in 2006, but these days, it’s down to roughly weekly, at least here.
   As those who follow my know, I began as a quarterly blogger in 2003 with Beyond Branding (Google Blogger never fixed our blog’s home page despite numerous complaints over the last year), and it was really Johnnie Moore who led the charge on that site. I did the template, and then Johnnie really took it to a strong position.
   By 2005 I began heading there weekly, then almost daily, before branching off to this blog in 2006.
   When Vox invited me to beta-test its service in 2006, I began by dividing my blogging. Initially, I put the TV-related stuff on Vox and kept the rest here, but as 2007 unfolded it became clear that this was my work blog and Vox was my personal one. All the trivia winds up at Vox, all the stuff winds up there (where the ‘Insider’ blog has really taken off), and the brand work here.
   For the last three years, I’ve blogged about my , rather than my daily business practices. Clients, for example, shouldn’t expect me to blog about them without their permission, for example. And those theories, really, haven’t changed: I still hold the same ideas about branding and marketing strategy as I did in 2003, albeit evolved slightly.
   I don’t want to sound like a rerun so I don’t reblog my principles, when this site (and Beyond Branding) are good records of them.
   There are some new things under the sun, here and there—my next paper for the Medinge Group summit in August, for example, might be previewed here in draft form. So I won’t stop blogging because I do have a few new things—but the fundamentals shouldn’t change.
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15.4.08

Vista Group April ’08: remember when it was sunny? 

Last week’s lunch was brought ahead a week because of my commitments to the Miss (Universe) New Zealand this week, and I was saddened to learn it was the final (for now) that we’ll have with Jim Donovan. Jim’s off to Great Britain in about three weeks’ time, and by the time the Vista Group reconvenes he’ll be enjoying ever-longer days and the bright grey of the British summer sky rather than the dark grey of the winter one. (Yes, I am taking the mick.)
   Jim and I arrived early and chatted about the pageant, and after the arrival of Mark Di Somma (who relayed a comment his Italian father had about immigrants) and Natalie Ferguson (to whom we stared each time we made a comment that we chauvinistically felt could only be addressed by a woman) we did get down to discussing the opposition about the proposed graphic New York City—you know, the Big Apple—wants to use. The opposition came from Computer, and older readers in Wellington might now think that the old Apple Driving School is now in serious trouble. (Are they still around? You used to see that green ’79 Corolla scooting about.) Jim summarizes our points on his blog.
   We also covered -proofing and pricing, as I discussed how the recent Post price rises have affected us. Magazines such as Lucire used to cost 90¢ to post. Then last year it went up to $1. On March 28 it went up 100 per cent to $2. I believe that we have to eventually pass that extra dollar on to the consumer as we can’t realistically absorb it. One blog says we should blame for the added demand on NZ Post parcel services. I will blame away, as I have neither sold anything nor bought anything via the Australian-owned company.
    issues are important for the thinker and it is probably time we re-examined our latest reader stats to see where we should be positioning Lucire in the market-place. In my mind, with rising in New Zealand (3·4 per cent) the artificial $10 barrier to the price of a magazine probably no longer exists.
   I must apologize to regular readers for blogging a tad less here. I’m afraid Blogger has been harder to use in comparison to Wordpress and Vox, and a few of my recent posts have been a bit more fashion-specific, hence they appeared at Lucire. I am still alive, I assure you! (I even was a “special guest appearance” on Natalie’s blog.)
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A free Lucire supplement, downloadable now 

[Cross-posted] Each time we put out a Lucire in print, regardless of country, I wonder: do the folks in the countries (such as the UK) where the magazine is not available know what some of the layouts look like?
   This time around, Laura and I decided we would do a 52 pp. downloadable PDF, containing some of the pages, for those who can’t get where they are. And for those who can, such as in , the downloadable contains some extra pages, and even an article that we’ve earmarked for issue 26. There are two more pages for a shoot; in fact, there’s one shoot in there by Hannah Richards that you won’t have seen at all.
   It’s almost full circle: I remember putting together a 52 pp. PDF in 2003 as a L’Oréal New Zealand Week special in the pre-print days. It was hugely successful, and was used extensively by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise to market Kiwi designers offshore.
   Readers unaccustomed to the print Lucire might know we have pretty outstanding journalists among our team based on the longer articles that appear online. But you don’t get to see the fun we have with the look, and the PDF addresses that.
   We also thought we’d champion some of our advertisers as an extra thank-you.
   Since the book is 200 dpi and 13 Mbyte, it was better stored on a free service. Head over to Rapidshare, where you can download the issue 25 supplement, as we call it, free. There may be a small delay for the free service but we think it’s well worth it.
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Entries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
   With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.


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