Archive for September 2021


Contextual targeting worked, so why abandon it?

27.09.2021

Didn’t I already say this?

   Contextual targeting worked for so long on the web, although for some time I’ve noticed ads not displaying on sites where I’ve blocked trackers or had third-party cookies turned off. That means there are ad networks that would rather do their clients, publishers and themselves out of income when they can’t track. Where’s the wisdom in that?
   I can’t believe it took Apple’s change in favour of privacy for the online advertising mob to take notice.
   This is how I expect it to work (and it’s a real screenshot from Autocade).

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Spacing in French: figuring out how to punctuate professionally

22.09.2021

With the French edition of Lucire KSA now out, we’ve been hard at work on the second issue. The first was typeset by our colleagues in Cairo (with the copy subbed by me), but this time it falls on us, and I had to do a lot of research on French composition.
   There are pages all over the web on this, but nothing that seems to gather it all into one location. I guess I’m adding to the din, but at least it’s somewhere where I can find it.
   The issue we had today was spacing punctuation. I always knew the French space out question marks, exclamation marks, colons, and semicolons; as well as their guillemets. But by how much? And what happens to guillemets when you have a speaker who you are quoting for more than one paragraph?
   The following, which will appear in the next issue of Lucire KSA in French, and also online, is demonstrative:

   In online forums, it appears the spaces after opening guillemets and before closing guillemets, question marks, exclamation marks and semicolons are eighth ones. The one before the colon, however, is a full space, but a non-breaking one.
   I should note that the 1938 edition of Hart’s Rules, which was my first one, suggests a full space around the guillemets.
   When quoting a large passage of text, rather than put guillemets at the start of each line (which would be hard to set), the French do something similar to us. However, if a quotation continues on to a new paragraph, it doesn’t start with the usual opening guillemets («), but with the closing ones (»). That 1938 Hart’s disagrees, and doesn’t make this point, other than one should begin the new paragraph with guillemets, which I deduce are opening ones.
   If the full stop is part of the quotation then it appears within the guillemets; the full stop is suppressed if a comma follows in the sentence, e.g. (Hart’s example):

« C’est par le sang et par le fer que les États grandissent », a dit Bismarck.

   Sadly for us, newer Hart’s Rules (e.g. 2010) don’t go into any depth for non-English settings.
   Hart’s in 1938 also says there apparently is no space before the points de suspension (ellipses), which I notice French writers observe.
   Looking at competitors’ magazines gives no clarity. I happened to have two Vogue Paris issues in the office, from 1990 and 1995. The former adopts the same quotation marks as English, while the latter appears to have been typeset by different people who disagree on the house style.
   This is my fourth language so I’m happy to read corrections from more experienced professional compositors.

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Have you driven a Ford … lately? Probably not

13.09.2021


Ford’s Brazilian line-up, 2021. Once upon a time, there were locally developed Corcels and Mavericks; even the EcoSport was a Brazilian development. Today, it’s Mustang, a couple of trucks, and a rebadged Chinese crossover.

We heard a lot about the demise of Holden as GM retreats from continents at a time, seemingly in a quest to be a Sino-American player rather than a global one. We’ve heard less about Ford shrinking as well, though the phenomenon is similar.
   Ford’s Brazilian range is now the Mustang, Ranger, Territory (which is fundamentally a badge-engineered Yusheng S330 from China with a Fordized interior), and Bronco. It’s beating a retreat from Brazil, at the cost of tens of thousands of jobs (its own, plus associated industries’) in a country that already has 15 per cent unemployment.
   Their reasoning is that electrification and technological change are driving restructuring, which seems plausible, till you realize that in other markets, including Thailand where there’s still a plant making Fords, the company is fielding essentially trucks, the truck-based Everest, and the Mustang.
   Ford warned us that this would be its course of action a few years ago, but now it’s happening, it makes even less sense.
   Say it’s all about (eventual) electrification. You’d want vehicles in your portfolio now that lend themselves to energy efficiency, so that people begin associating your brand with it. Trucks and pony cars don’t fit with this long-term. And I still believe that at some point, even before trucks commonly have electric powertrains, someone is going to say, ‘These tall bodies with massive frontal areas are using up way more of the juice I’m paying for. We don’t need something this big.’
   Let’s say Ford quickly pivots. It sticks a conventional saloon body on the Mustang Mach-E platform (which, let’s be honest, started off as a Focus crossover—the product code, CX727, tells us as much) in record time. Would anyone buy it? Probably not before they see what the Asians, who don’t abandon segments because they can’t be bothered working hard, have in their showrooms. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, and countless Chinese marques, have been building their goodwill in the meantime.
   It’s why two decades ago, I warned against DaimlerChrysler killing off its price-leading brand, Plymouth. You never know when recessionary times come and you want an entry-level brand. Before the decade was out, that time came, and Chrysler didn’t have much it could use without diluting its existing brands’ market perceptions to have some price leaders.
   Ford retreating from B- and C-segment family cars, even CD- and E-segment ones, means it’ll find it difficult to get back into those markets later on. A good example would be the French, who don’t find much success in the large saloon market generally, and would find it very hard to re-enter in a lot of places.
   I realize the action isn’t in regular passenger cars these days, but the fact that Fiat, Chevrolet and Volkswagen still manage to field broad lines in Brazil suggests that the market still exists and they can still eke out some money from their sales.
   It’s as though the US car firms are giving up, ceding territory. And on this note, Ford has form.
   In the 1990s, Ford’s US arm under-marketed the Contour and Mystique Stateside, cars based on the original European Mondeo. I saw precious little advertising for them in US motoring press. As far as I can tell, they wanted to bury it because they didn’t like the fact it wasn’t developed by them, but by Ford’s German-based team in Köln. ‘See, told you those Europeans wouldn’t know how to engineer a CD-segment car for the US.’ The fiefdom in Dearborn got its own way and later developed the Mazda-based Fusion, while the Europeans did two more generations of Mondeo.
   In the 2000s, it decided to flush the goodwill of the Taurus name down the toilet, before then-new CEO Alan Mulally saw what was happening and hurriedly renamed the Five Hundred to Taurus.
   It under-marketed the last generation of Falcon—you seldom saw them on forecourts—and that looked like a pretext for closing the Australian plant (‘See, no one wants big cars’) even though by this point the Falcon was smaller than the Mondeo in most measures other than overall length, and plenty of people were buying similarly sized rear-wheel-drive saloons over at BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
   The Mondeo hybrid has been another model that you barely hear of, even though the Fusion Hybrid, the American version of the car, had been on sale years before.
   Think about what they gave up. Here, Ford once owned the taxi market. It doesn’t any more as cabbies ultimately wound up in Priuses and Camrys. Had Ford fielded a big hybrid saloon earlier, Toyota might not have made inroads into the taxi market to the same extent. Ford almost seems apologetic for being in segments where others come to, and when challenging the market leaders, doesn’t put much effort in any more.
   Objectively, I would rather have a Mondeo Hybrid than a Camry, but good luck seeing one in a Ford showroom.
   Maybe Ford’s smart to be putting all its resources into growth areas like trucks and crossovers. Puma and Escape have appeal in the B- and C-segment crossover markets in places like New Zealand. They’re fairly car-like now, too. But to me that’s putting all your eggs into one basket. In countries like Brazil and Thailand, where Ford doesn’t sell well resolved crossovers in these segments, it’s treading a fine line. I look at the market leadership it once had in cars, in so many places, and in 2021 that looks like a thing of the past. More’s the pity.

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My first tech post in a while: how I use my social-computing time

09.09.2021

Refreshingly, I’ve noticed that my more recent blog posts haven’t been about Big Tech as often. I haven’t changed my views: the ones I’ve stated earlier still stand, and Google and Facebook in particular continue to be a blight on democracy and even individual mental health.
   A lot of the posts were inspired by real-world usage of those websites, if you look back over the last decade. As I use them irregularly, and wish others were in the same boat, then there’s little to report, unless I come across new revelations that I might have a say about.
   Google is the search of last resort though it has a great translator; now that the news alerts don’t even work, that’s one fewer contact point with the online advertising monopolist. Facebook is good for monitoring who has breached my privacy by uploading my private data to the platform, and to delete off-Facebook activity (Facebook serves these pages at a ridiculously slow speed, you wonder if you’re on dial-up). Beyond that neither site has much utility.
   My Instagram usage is down to once every two months, which means it’s halved since 2020, though I still keep an eye on Lucire’s account, which isn’t automated.
   I stay in touch with some friends on email and there’s much to be said about a long-form composition versus a status update. It’s the difference between a home-cooked meal and a fast food snack. And, of course, I have this blog to record things that might pique my interest.
   Go back far enough—as this blog’s been around 15 years—and I shared my musings on the media and branding. My blog’s roots were an offshoot of the old Beyond Branding blog, but I wanted to branch into my own space. A lot of my views on branding haven’t changed, so I haven’t reblogged about them. Each time someone introduced another platform, be it Vox or Tumblr, I found a use for it, but ultimately came back here. Just last week I realized that the blog gallery, which came into being because NewTumbl’s moderators started believing in the Republic of Gilead, was really my substitute for Pinterest. It might even be my substitute for Instagram, if I can be bothered getting the photos off my phone.
   I must say it’s a relief to have everything on my own domain, and while it’s not “social”, I have to ask myself how much of Instagramming and social media updating ever was. Twitter, yes, to an extent. But oftentimes with Instagram I posted because I got joy from doing so, over trying to please an audience. It’s why I never got that many followers, because it wasn’t a themed account. And if doing what suits me at the time is the motive, then there’s no real detriment to doing so in my own spaces. These posts still get hundreds of viewers each, probably more than what I got on Facebook or Instagram.
   I don’t know if this is a trend, since setting up your own space takes far more time than using someone else’s. Paying for it is another burden others may wish to avoid. Nor do I have the latest stats on Facebook engagement, but when I did track it, it was heading south year on year. I do know that the average reach for an organic post continues to fall there, which is hardly a surprise with all the bots. Instagram just seems full of ads.
   But in my opinion, fewer contact points with Big Tech is a good thing, and may they get fewer still.

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The return of Van der Valk

08.09.2021

I came across an old post of mine on Euston Films remakes, at the time the American version of Widows hit the big screen. My last question, after going through Minder, The Sweeney and Widows reboots, sequels and remakes: ‘Now, who’ll star in a new Van der Valk?’
   Since local TV programmers and I have entirely different tastes, I only happened across the new Van der Valk from 2020 recently thanks to a French reviewer on Twitter. I wish I knew earlier: I rate Marc Warren as an actor, it has a great ensemble cast, and for those of us who are older, the theme tune is based on the original (Jack Trombey still gets a credit in each episode, though it should be noted that it’s a pseudonym for the Dutch composer Jan Stoeckart).
   As far as I know, few (if any?) of the Van der Valk episodes with Barry Foster were based on the Nicolas Freeling stories, so I didn’t really mind the absence of Samson and Arlette. Mentally I treated it as a prequel, pre-Arlette, till I found out that showrunner Chris Murray had killed her off in a flashback sequence in episode 3 (giving stuntwoman Wendy Vrijenhoek the least screen time of the four actresses who have played her in the British versions). Which is, of course, the opposite to how Freeling had it, since he had killed off van der Valk and had Arlette star in two novels.
   I read that one reviewer noted that the stories weren’t particularly Dutch, but then, were they ever? I didn’t really get into Broen or Wallander because of how Scandinavian the storylines were (though it must be said, I enjoyed Zen for its Italianness). I do, however, appreciate the change of scene from London or Los Angeles, which seem to be the home of so many cop shows. I even welcomed Brighton with Grace, starring John Simm, and produced by Kieran Murray-Smith (of the Murray-Smiths), or, for that matter, Sheffield with Doctor Who.
   But a Van der Valk sans Arlette does mean the heart of the old stories is gone, and we have yet another emotionally broken TV detective, a ploy that we’ve all seen before. But the casting is solid, and the very likeable Marc Warren shows he can lead a series ably.
   Of the Euston Films shows I followed as a youngster, it does appear they have all now been revisited in my lifetime, except for one: Special Branch. Bring back Craven!

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Nostalgia: Money for Nothing

06.09.2021


Money for Nothing—image from Amazon Prime, where, as of yesterday, you can watch a presumably cleaner copy than what’s on YouTube.

As a young lad, I enjoyed the Screen One TV movie Money for Nothing (1993), which aired on the BBC in the UK and TV1 here. Not to be confused with the John Cusack movie Money for Nothing (1993).
   As someone who started my career very young, I could identify with the lead character, Gary Worrall (played by Christien Anholt), a teenager who finds himself in the adult world—and in the TV film, well out of his depth in a massive property deal that takes him to New York. It’s one film where Martin Short plays it straight (and is really good), Jayne Ashbourne does a cute Scots accent, Julian Glover is his usual brilliant self, and there’s a fantastic Johnny Dankworth score, with his wife Cleo Laine singing. I had the good fortune to see them both perform in Aotearoa in 1994.
   Because it’s television, of course the deals that Worrall does at the start of the TV movie work out. And he’s audacious. It was a little easier to believe as a 20-something (Anholt and I are about the same age), not so much in middle age!
   I’m still a romantic at heart and the love story that screenwriter Tim Firth added for Anholt and Ashbourne’s characters comes across nicely and innocently.
   There’s a line, however, between actually having made something or being able to do something, then proving to the doubters that you’re capable (which is where real life is, at least for me); and BSing your way forward not having done the hard yards. As it’s fiction, Worrall falls into the latter group. You wouldn’t want to be in the latter in real life—that’s where the Elizabeth Holmeses of this world wind up.
   I hadn’t seen Money for Nothing for over 25 years, but on a whim, I looked it up on July 27, and there it was on YouTube. Enjoy this far more innocent, post-Thatcher time.

PS.: Only today did I realize that Christien is the late Tony Anholt’s (The Protectors) son.

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On publishing in 2021, as told to Business Desk

03.09.2021


Above: Coverage in Business Desk, with me pictured with Lucire fashion and beauty editor Sopheak Seng.

Big thanks to Daniel Dunkley, who wrote this piece about me and my publishing work in Business Desk, well worth subscribing to (coincidentally, I spotted an article about my friend and classmate Hamish Edwards today, too).
   I had a lengthy chat with Daniel because he asked great questions—the fact he got a lot out of me shows how good a journalist he is. And he reveals some of our more recent developments, as well as my thoughts on the industry in general—things I hadn’t really got on to record often to a journalist, certainly not in the last few years.
   I had my Business Desk alerts switched off so I didn’t know he had already written his story (on the day of our interview) till another friend and classmate told me earlier this week. It also shows that Google’s News Alerts are totally useless, something that I realized recently when it took them three weeks to send the alert (the time between its original spidering of the article and the email being sent out). Those had been worsening over the years and I had seen them be one or two days behind, but now they rarely arrive. Three weeks is plain unacceptable for one of the last services on Google I still used.
   Back to Daniel’s story. It’s a great read, and I’m glad someone here in Aotearoa looked me up. I realize most of our readers are abroad and we earn most from exports, but a lot of what we’ve done is to promote just how good our country is. I’m proud of what we’re able to achieve from our part of the world.



Above: Google News Alerts take an awfully long time to arrive, if at all. I hadn’t seen one for weeks, then this one arrives, three weeks after Google News spidered and indexed the article. Google feels like another site that now fails to get the basics right.

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September 2021 gallery

02.09.2021

Here are September 2021’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month. It sure beats having a Pinterest.

 
Sources
The 2016 Dodge Neon sold in México. More at Autocade.
   IKCO Peugeot 207. More at Autocade.
   Double standards in New Zealand media, reposted from Twitter.
   The cover of the novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Nice work on the use of Americana, which does take me back to the period, but I’m not convinced by this cut of Italian Old Style. I just don’t remember it being used that much.
   Daktari’s Cheryl Miller as the new Dodge model, in her second year, promoting the 1971 Dodge Demon. This was a 1960s idea that was being carried over with minor tweaks into the new decade, and it didn’t work quite as well as the earlier Joan Parker ‘Dodge Fever’ advertisements (also shown here in this gallery).
   House Beautiful cover, January 1970, before all the garishness of the decade really hit. This is still a clean, nicely designed cover. I looked at some from the years that followed on House Beautiful’s website, and they never hit this graphic design high mark again.
   That’s the Car and Driver cover for my birth month? How disappointing, a Colonnade Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
   French typesetting, as posted on the typography.guru forums.
   Read books, humorous graphic reposted from Twitter.
   My reply in the comments at Business Desk, on why it made more sense for me to have run for mayor in 2010 and 2013 than it would in 2022.
   Seven years before its launch, Marcello Gandini had already styled the Innocenti Mini. This is his 1967 proposal at Bertone.
   JAC Jiayue A5. More at Autocade.
   Phil McCann reporting for the BBC, reposted from Twitter.
   Car and Driver February 1970 cover. As a concept, this could still work.

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