Archive for March 2010


Volvo Cars, a unit of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.

31.03.2010

I haven’t missed the sale of Volvo to Geely, but it wasn’t as momentous as the rebirth of Saab. We knew the deal was coming and the rest were formalities.
   The company has said there will be no Geelys badged as Volvos and vice versa. It recognizes the Volvo brand is too valuable to tinker with—something Ford did, too, even if it starved the company of smaller models that could have helped kept its market share strong in Sweden.
   Important for Geely is the innovative technology that Volvo possesses that could make the younger company a world-class player. It’s common knowledge that Volvo provided Ford with some of its better present platforms, and that as a centre of excellence, it worked on safety systems for all Ford units.
   Geely gets access to the lot, which improves its own product—while arguably helping Volvo realize economies of scale in the Red Chinese market. It only sells a seventh of what Audi does in the growing market, and Geely could instantly help improve that.
   The deal makes sense. One only needs to take a look at how quickly Geely has grown in China—without pirating others’ designs—to know that it’s not in the business of asset-stripping or ripping off its Swedish unit. Of the Chinese firms, it’s operated far more ethically than, say, BYD, with its too-close-to-Toyota designs.
   And will we see Geely outside China? You bet we will—but only when the cars are up to snuff. If Ford can build a Taurus on a Volvo S80 platform, then look out for world-class small- to mid-sized Geelys hitting international markets on future Volvo ones.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, design, marketing, Sweden, USA | 1 Comment »


On Wellywood, Murdoch and English accents

31.03.2010

The good news today is that Wellington Airport is officially in two minds about what type of sign it will put up on the Miramar cutting, which means that the ‘Wellywood’ sign protest has had a victory of sorts.
   I’m thrilled at the news because it shows people power—especially people like Anthony Lander who set up the largest of the anti-sign Facebook groups, and the 15,000-plus who joined there—came through.
   The issue was always, and still is, transparency: how the council was prepared to say, ‘This is not our problem. It’s on airport land,’ without giving a toss about how the rest of us felt.
   The speed with which resource consent was granted was also questionable.
   But the people of Wellington showed that we still have what it takes to make politicians back down, even if it is to cement their own power base.
   This year, we’re discovering our own power and that we can keep politicians honest.
   Hopefully in the election this year Wellingtonians will decide that it should not be “politics as usual”. The important thing is that we vote, so we don’t have the usually pathetic 30-something per cent turnout. And let’s start talking about even bigger issues.

Of some interest this week is the media giving a tad more coverage to the Murdoch Press’s desire to charge for access in the UK. Websites for The Times, The Sun and News of the World will charge from June, something which was raised today on Radio New Zealand National.
   This is not new: I spoke out against it back in November during an address I gave at CPIT, because I could not see how it could be workable.
   According to the discussion on Afternoons with Jim Mora, the Murdoch Press is banking on its UK newspaper competitors following suit.
   No one doubts that a lot of the work being done by the press is valuable and deserves compensation. But this doesn’t ring true to me as a workable model.
   What it will initially do is drive people to non-Murdoch websites for UK news.
   Assuming other qualities and national tabloids follow suit, then we can watch the UK’s influence on global dialogue disappear. No one will care what the British people think on any issue, if their media are inaccessible.
   It won’t get that bad, because I believe The Daily Telegraph will always be around in a free format, since it was one of the internet pioneers—it celebrated its 15th anniversary online last year. Thanks to the website, its international influence has grown.
   The Murdoch plan also provides a wonderful opportunity for regional newspapers to become the national digital media of record if they are willing to provide their information freely.
   I am quite happy to pay for some news services. But it does not come from charging for the raw articles. It might come from a value-added service: who will be the first to lay out a PDFed newspaper that is automatically generated from international sources that I can read, whether on screen or on an Ipad? In 2010, there has to be something beyond the words and a low-res pic, because a lot of news has, predictably, become commodified. (An internal newsletter we had here in the early 1990s predicted as much; meanwhile, this is a good academic paper on the issues.)
   Some American publishers are getting the idea, and I have heard from an Australian company that is planning to do something similarly innovative. Therefore, I think Murdochs may have misread this one (as it has on climate change, according to one group): it is not akin to the BSkyB set-top box or other media it has encountered in the past.

Speaking of Brits, I have had three people this week say I have an English accent. One of them is Irish. Feel free to take a look at this old clip on Sunrise. I can’t hear it. I sound nothing like Leslie Grantham or Michael Parkinson.

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Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, UK, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Metro gives thumbs-up to Stefan Engeseth’s Unplugged Speeches

21.03.2010

This is rather heartening to see, from the Metro freebie in Stockholm (the below is copied from the online edition):

Metro

   What’s in: Stefan Engeseth’s Unplugged Speeches series at the Regina Stockholms Operamathus (where yours truly gave the first edition).
   What’s out: the growing mounds of paper (rather appropriate in an eco-conscious nation).
   I hear his second edition, with Dr Farida Rasulzada, was a huge success as well. My wholehearted congratulations to Stefan for an excellent concept.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, marketing, media, Sweden | 1 Comment »


Didn’t take long to find Sonico’s limits

21.03.2010

I seem to be on a lot of social networks (Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, Vkontakte), so I thought I’d look in to Sonico. I can see why it’s not as big as the others.
   For a start, there seems to be insufficient globalization of its features. Try entering a Chinese film in to the favourite movies, and it’s a no-go:

Sonico

   And while you select New Zealand as your country, it’s too bad if you’re from Wellington:

Sonico

   Maybe these jokers hate the Wellywood sign as much as we do?

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Posted in humour, internet, New Zealand, Wellington | 2 Comments »


A tribute to Mission: Impossible’s nice guy

19.03.2010

Maybe I plain did not watch the news on the 15th—goodness knows what I was doing to have missed that Peter Graves, best known for his portrayal of Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible, passed away, after suffering a heart attack. Today would have been his 84th birthday.
   I am a huge fan of Mission: Impossible, and no, I do not mean the Tom Cruise movies. I recalled that Mr Graves himself was not a fan of the first one and was incredibly diplomatic about it, as men of his generation were.
   Graves might not have been the best actor in the ensemble cast (I would give that honour to the late Greg Morris) but what always impressed me was what I knew of his off-screen life. You never heard anything bad about this guy, not even when there were disputes on the set of Mission: Impossible. He had strong values and ethics, a passion for acting (which he continued to do well into his 80s), and was one of the few Hollywood stars who led a normal family life. He married his college sweetheart, Joan, in 1950, and they stuck together for the last 60 years, with three children and six grandchildren.
   It’s little wonder Graves found work throughout his career. I’m sure he would have been a great and dependable guy to work with. RIP, and, ‘Good luck, Jim.’
   Other cast members who have passed on include Greg Morris and, at a very young age, Tony Hamilton.

Thanks to Demian Rosenblatt for sharing the news.

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Posted in interests, TV, USA | No Comments »


Vista was just a duo today

18.03.2010

Due to others’ appointments, the Vista Group meeting today was a mere duo: myself and Jim Donovan, Esq., who will give up blogging in 10 days. It meant it was the second-least well attended meeting in our history. Jim has never let us forget the least well attended one.
   I have always said that one should blog when one wants to. If one feels pressured to do so, then stop. Blogging should be a fun activity and, for me, it’s cathartic. With a new venture on the horizon for Jim (from where he will likely blog again), time is at a premium, and I can fully appreciate that he needs to take a step back.
   Of course we will not bid farewell to Jim just because he stops blogging, principally, as Natalie wrote in our emails arranging today’s meeting, we are too incompetent to organize the monthly meetings without him. And he got us in to the Wellington Club for the end-of-2009 edition where we took over the Deputy Mayor’s table. (Albeit on a day that the Deputy Mayor was not there, which made for a less comical time.)
   The Club (the luncheon at which should have been chronicled at the time) has its own gym. Apparently, Club members often talked about how our gym’ll fix it. That is, however, another story.
   There were some in-depth discussions about my mayoral campaign and the Wellington City Council, the fact that Anouska Hempel, a.k.a. Lady Weinberg, is a Wellingtonian and how she is important to anyone who watched various Hammer Horrors, and the Y2K episode of Family Guy and its homage to Dallas—things that we would not have digressed to had Natalie and Mark been there. (Jim had brought up ‘Who shot J. R.?’* on his blog a few days before.)
   However, we covered the boiler-plate approach of some IP law firms, the bad customer service we received from Vodafone and Sky TV, and the lack of clarity over some WCC charges over which Jim got three different figures for the same thing. From what I could make out, the charge varied depending on the person he spoke to, the day of the week, and the flutter of a butterfly’s wings over the Shetland Islands. Need I push transparency again?


Above One of Anouska Hempel’s creations, the self-named Hempel hotel, in London. I believe they want a definite article in the official name, but I can’t be brought to capitalize it in the middle of a sentence. I will only make an exception for residents of The Terrace in Wellington.

* It was, of course, Kristin, Sue Ellen’s sister. Everyone remembers the hype, no one remembers the answer. Back in those days, we found out a year later in New Zealand, and there were no internet spoilers.—JY

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Posted in business, humour, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Google Docs doesn’t want bad news

18.03.2010

Google survey

This is a bit odd. I was asked to fill out a survey regarding Google Docs, which I promptly did. I didn’t give it very high marks, and after clicking submit, the response was ‘You have indicated that you do not use Google Docs.’
   I beg your pardon?
   I indicated that I had used Google Docs, because Google defines the service as follows: ‘Consider Google Docs products including Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Forms, and its homepage.’ I have indeed opened Google documents and I have been to the home page. I have outputted documents from there—I know that because I did that tonight.
   However, it seems Google does not want to hear bad news from its survey respondents, so those of us who give it a low score are classed as people who have not used the service. Otherwise, the logic must go, why on earth would you rank it so poorly? Everyone here, from Eric Schmidt downwards, knows that Google Docs deserves a high rating! You are obviously inexperienced!
   This prompted me to do a bit of surfing about the survey. I was interested, in my “I have it in for Google” (thanks, Nigel!) mode, that deleting a Google Docs file does not mean that associated images are also wiped. Those who use the service might wish to take heed.
   In 2007, Ralf Scharnetzki created a private, unpublished Google Docs document, with an image. He deleted the document. However, three years on, you can still access the image here (at a docs.google.com link).
   I realize that in 99 per cent of cases, the image will be secure. No one other than the author—and not every author, either—will know the location of an image. But on the internet, stranger things have happened. Obviously those with confidential data would not use Google Docs to assemble their work—but we are only human: you never know when you might let your guard down.
   Just be careful out there. ‘Deleted’ does not mean, well, deleted.

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Posted in business, internet | 2 Comments »


The rise of the city brand

17.03.2010

I don’t have the other writers’ permission to show their side of this Facebook dialogue, but we had been chatting about growing the creative clusters here in Wellington as one of my mayoral policies.
   I wrote:

Mostly by focusing on growing creative clusters and taking a bigger slice of the cake. So it is not from technocratic ideas or the notion that we are liberating more of the economy, but by growing entrepreneurship. The city will take the most socially responsible, entrepreneurial start-ups and act as an agent to grow them (with an agreement that they remain in Wellington, of course) and create the capital flows to get them funded. I realize there is Grow Wellington already, but their ambit will be shifted.
   So, it’s economic growth from the bottom–up.

Then (italics added for this post):

The clusters have naturally formed but they can get so much stronger. If the city is being them, then there is no reason Wellington cannot become internationally known for them. I think in this last week I have shown that borders mean very little to me, and anyone who wants to be mayor in the 2010s needs to have a similar mindset. We are not competing just for national resources, but global ones; and by being part of the global community, we might start bridging more communities and getting some greater global understanding. The nation–state as it was understood in the 20th century is dying as a concept, and governments have only themselves to blame. Things are shifting to the individual–community level, and you are right, real things happen when it is people acting at the coal face. Those who distance themselves will not be equipped for this century.

   I wish I could claim I had some vision of the death of the nation–state years ago, but I hadn’t. It was something that dawned on me fairly recently, given the scepticism many people (not just in New Zealand) are having toward their national governments. There are many factors, from governmental misbehaviour to the simple fact of a very divergent population, but very importantly we have the rise of technologies that give rise to people power. We want to know that political leaders are one with the public, prepared to do their bidding.
   People are reclaiming their voices, prepared to tell those in authority what they think. Even without the authority, a few of you have told me what you think—good and bad. That’s the way it should be in a democracy—and if we truly believe people are equal. Finally, we are organizing ourselves into active groups more rapidly than before.
   Nation brands are harder to pull off because some marketers are failing to grasp the overall philosophy underlying their people. In New Zealand, we might accept the “100 per cent pure” ideal of our destination-branding campaign, but surely being a New Zealander is something far less clear—is the Kiwi spirit not in independence, innovation, team spirit and, once that team is formed, taking a punt? Very seldom do we see such unified efforts as the successful ‘Incredible India’, which must have changed perceptions of that Asian country more effectively than any nation branding campaign from the continent. It is, however, easier to understand the concept behind a city, and to gain agreement on its meaning.
   The other thing that is emerging in the 2010s is the rise of one-to-one communications across the planet. We might argue we have had this since the internet first dawned, and we can even trace this back to the first satellite TV links, but this is the decade that these ideas are mainstreaming and available to more people than ever before. Twitter is a wonderful example of the awareness of individuals and the death of national borders (which is why it is feared by certain dictatorial régimes): suddenly we are in a community together, fighting everything from copyright law to commemorating the death of a woman during the Iranian election’s bloody aftermath.
   I am reminded of a seminal moment on the Phil Donahue show, where he linked his 1980s, Cold War-era audience via satellite with a similar group in the USSR, hosted by Vladimir Posner. There was a tense, icy moment till one of the Russians stated that if he could reach out across the airwaves and give his American counterpart a hug, he would. Humanity came through.
   Anti-Americanism is a very interesting concept, because the American national image has leaned regularly toward the negative. No more so than during the Cold War, in the USSR. Certain American corporations and lobby groups have a lot to answer for, so you don’t even need to travel back in time to find that hatred. How many times have we heard during the 2000–8 period, outside the United States, ‘I don’t mind the Americans, but I hate Bush’?
   I get plenty of strange looks for my preferring the -ize ending, being told that it was ‘American’ and, therefore, inferior and unsuitable for consumption in New Zealand. I simply point them to the authority I trained with in my work: the Concise Oxford Dictionary. For as long as I can remember, -ize is English and the first variant in that publication. My father’s 1950s’ edition and my 1989 one agree on this point. The use of -ise is French, and it only began coming in to English as a knee-jerk reaction against ‘American English’. But the “wisdom” prevails: if the Yanks (a term that some of my American friends find humorous, since in the US it only applies to a certain part of the population) use it, it must be bad. Look at the Ford Taurus.
   It is a trivial thing to argue about, but it is an example of how silly things get. I get dissed while half the population believe their Microsoft Word default spellcheck and write jewelry. By all means, oppose the technocratic abuse of workers wherever it comes from; oppose those lobby groups trying to wreak havoc on our private lives. If they happen to be in the US, direct your wrath at those groups via email or whatever means you have. On those areas the nation–state is not dead yet—not when we need central governments to safeguard our rights. Or when we need someone to root for in a football match. But for everyday matters, being against any one nation—and I have been accused of Japan-bashing (which, incidentally, I deny)—is futile, because we are now so much more aware of how much individuals in other countries are like us, thanks to all these social media.
   Once we start reducing the arguments down to individuals and groups, we begin taking the nation brand out of it. We begin liaising as a global community. For all the hard times I give Facebook, it has probably done more to give us a glimpse in to foreign countries as “just another place my friend lives in” than any travel show on TV. We begin understanding theirs are lives just like our own. We realize that not all Japanese eat whale meat or even care about it. We realize that many Iranians do not believe that their government has a mandate to govern. We realize some Sri Lankans believe their recent election was unfair. (It is, for instance, hard to imagine things getting more personal than when an arrested opposition leader’s daughter starts blogging.) When we reach out, we reach out to people, not to countries.
   Where is, then, our pride about where we live? I argue—as this whole ‘Wellywood’ sign débâcle has shown—that it resides at the city level. We have a far more homogeneous idea of what our cities stand for, and as we come together and choose to live in any one place, we take into our regard what we believe that city’s assets and image to be. Over time, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. New Wellingtonians choose to make this their home because they see it either as the most creative city in the nation or they are fed up with the excesses of a more northern location. It is, as two of my friends who have left their Auckland home this year put it, ‘more cerebral’. While there have been city campaigns that have been botched—‘I Am Dunedin’ was met by plenty of criticism by Dunedinites—there is at least some understanding among citizens, who feel they need no slogan to unite them. (In Wellington, who has uttered ‘Absolutely positively’ in recent years?)
   So the 2010s are the time of city brands. At Medinge, my friend and colleague Philippe Mihailovich stressed that while ‘Made in China’ was naff, ‘Made in Shanghai’ had cachet. Over the weekend, I joked with one friend over poor French workmanship on the Citroën SM—though ‘Made in Paris’ would probably do quite well for fashion and fragrance (Philippe has more on this, too). Wellington deserves to be alongside the great cities of this world if we can show technological and creative leadership—and we get willing leadership prepared to understand just how we compare and compete at a global level. We already have the unity as we all understand who we are; we now need the voice.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, India, internet, leadership, marketing, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA, Wellington | 5 Comments »


Toyota’s recent “30-degree” scandal in China

16.03.2010

Sam Flemming in Advertising Age mentioned the scandal that Toyota has been embroiled in inside China, before a lot of the bad press it received in the occident over “unintended acceleration”.
   This involved a netizen, an owner of a Toyota Highlander Sport, filming that his SUV was unable to get up a 30-degree incline, something which “lesser” models such as the Korean-built Renault Koleos, and even the subcompact Chery QQ—one of the cheapest cars around in China—could manage.
   The following news item reveals more. It’s in Mandarin and dates from December 22, 2009.   The news investigators show that even a Daewoo Lacetti (Buick Excelle in China) and a Chery van could manage the same slope, and confirm that the Highlander could not do it.
   They are not alone. Jitendra Patel filmed this with his 2009 Highlander earlier last year:

   As Sam says, this issue has brewed thanks to the Chinese internet which, while not as free as it is in most countries, still seems to create active consumers’ groups. People will rally as individuals if the cause is right—and consumers seem to be rediscovering their power, online.

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Posted in business, cars, China, culture, internet, media, TV | No Comments »


I need to listen to some Fred Dagg before I go on

11.03.2010

To be confirmed is an interview with the BBC, in my politician guise. I have not been on radio in the other hemisphere for something like seven years, and that time it went to some of the most way-out places (it was UN Radio). I have one reservation only: my accent goes all over the place. Remember how the Rt Hon Jim Bolger went funny with his when foreign dignitaries came and he sounded like he was mocking the foreigners? Or, a few years before, Michael Fay during the America’s Cup lawsuits and his Americanized pronunciation of water?
   Yeah, I do that. And even more disturbingly, I know I do it while I’m doing it, and cannot stop it.
   It’s going to be hell if a northerner interviews me and I start sounding like Jimmy Nail. I am told that I do a very good Lily Savage when I have the ’flu. And if I get a southerner, you will think I was trying to impress Keeley Hawes (which I try to do, anyway, never mind Matthew). Not one is sufficiently “Kiwi” for Wellington voters. Though I might find that British expatriates based in Wellington might suddenly vote for me. Because in any case I will sound better than Harold Wilson.

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Posted in humour, media, New Zealand, politics, UK, Wellington | No Comments »