Archive for the ‘business’ category


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


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.

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Baseless threats

27.08.2021

A couple of years ago, friends in Wellington, who own a business—let’s call it X—were approached by a US company with the same name, though in a slightly different industry.
   They wanted my friends to give up their page name facebook.com/x to them, and suggested that they should be facebook.com/xnz.
   No suggestion of payment, just a “you should consider”, and if I recall correctly, something to do with how much bigger they were.
   This was a really strange argument from someone in the US where their culture’s often based around the plucky individual taking on bigger players.
   How many myriads or even millions did Condé Nast pay to get style.com from Express all those years ago? If you’re that much bigger, maybe you could have afforded it? Or maybe you were just being cheeky, thinking you could get something for nothing. Well, not quite nothing. A little bit of bullying.
   Basically, taking away all the legalese and wank designed to make my friends hesitate, the Americans were upset that someone got in there with a Facebook page name years (nine years, if I recall correctly) before they did. How dare these Kiwis!
   ‘How should we respond?’ asked my friends.
   ‘You can either (a) ignore them or (b) tell them to go to hell,’ I advised. I think they chose (a). After all, there’s no point replying to one-sided rudeness.
   I’m reminded of this story because of emails from another US company recently and, again, stripping away the rudeness and implying I was a liar, boils down to them not really liking their First Amendment. Not when someone else exercises it fairly.
   Americans aren’t alone in being dicks about something but these particular two companies sure don’t like other people doing things that they can equally do. They trotted out a level of rudeness from the outset that you seldom see from their country, where regular Americans try their best to be nice.
   A third case was from the UK, where we received a threat from the agent of a fading celebrity whose crowning achievements were probably some soap opera and shooting for FHM in the 1990s. I don’t recall the circumstances in depth but I can tell you that that woman has not had much coverage since, by us or any other publication. Choose the wrong people, and you flush your goodwill down the toilet. Who’d touch you now, when there are plenty more stories that we can pursue with fewer headaches?
   I don’t know where the rudeness comes from, but I presume it’s a superiority complex that hides the fact that their arguments bear little merit. The result is that they damage their brands or their client’s reputations in the process.
   If you encounter it in business, then it’s a cinch that they don’t really have much to stand on. They feel bullying is their only means, because if they argued it rationally or faced the issue honestly they wouldn’t get what they want. It’s worth keeping an eye out for, and not waste your time on.

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August 2021 gallery

11.08.2021

Here are August 2021’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month.

 
Sources
Volkswagen Gol G4—more at Autocade.
   The fake friends of social media being the junk food equivalent of real friendships, from this post by Umair Haque.
   Stay at home, wear a mask—geek humour shared from Twitter.
   Thaikila swimwear—seems to have an interesting history.
   More on the Fiat 124 Sport Spider here at Autocade.
   Jerry Inzerillo, first male on the cover of an issue of Lucire anywhere in the world, in this case the August 2021 issue of Lucire KSA. The story can be found here on our website.

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The pathetic snowflakes of Big Tech

10.08.2021

We all know what will happen. This is one of two fakes who have sent me a Facebook friend request this week. The first was given the all-clear despite having spam links; and no doubt this will be judged to be perfectly acceptable by Facebook. (In the meantime, a post from Lucire that featured the latest PETA ‘would rather go naked’ campaign was instantly removed.)
   What isn’t acceptable, is, of course, criticizing them. Bob Hoffman writes (original emphases):

According to Vice, recently the Cybersecurity for Democracy project “has revealed major flaws in Facebook political ad transparency tools and highlighted how Facebook’s algorithms were amplifying (COVID vaccine) misinformation.” This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been conscious for the past few years …
   This week Facebook, in an act of abject unscrupulousness, suspended the accounts of several of the researchers from NYU who are leading the Cybersecurity for Democracy project and need to access Facebook to do their work. One of the researchers called Facebook’s action “‘disgraceful’ at a time when the disinformation around COVID-19 and vaccines is literally costing lives.”

   This is how weak and pathetic Facebook is. Instead of doing better (which they claim they try to do), they’d rather shut down criticism. A bit like a dictatorship.
   They’re not alone, of course. In the news recently were the snowflakes of Ebay, who also can’t take a bit of criticism.
   Ina and David Steiner publish a news website about ecommerce and were critical of Ebay in its latest incarnation. The CEO wasn’t happy, nor was Ebay’s head of global security, James Baugh, who began a campaign to terrorize the Steiners.
   The Steiners found their fence tagged, then Ebay’s staff began sending ordering items to be sent to them, including a fœtal pig, a mask of a bloody pig face (witnessed by a police officer), a book on surviving the death of a spouse, a package of live spiders and fly larvæ, and a sympathy wreath, among others. Then Ebay’s employees went to Boston, near where the Steiners lived, and planned to plant a tracking device on their car. The Steiners spotted the rental vehicles stalking them. Understandably, they couldn’t sleep properly, and even slept separately fearing they would be physically attacked.
   It was thanks to the Steiners’ own efforts that they managed to get the number plate of one of the vehicles tailing them, which was then referred to police, who finally managed to figure out what was going on.
   One person has been sentenced in all this mess to 18 months in prison, and there have been other arrests, though as this is the US, the CEO gets off scot free with a US$57 million golden handshake.
   This isn’t that out of the ordinary, and entirely predictable for anyone who has followed this blog. Or the news, for that matter.
   A few years ago, I blogged about how Elon Musk and Tesla tried to get one of its whistleblowing employees killed by telling the police that he was planning a mass shooting. According to Bloomberg Businessweek:

Many chief executive officers would try to ignore somebody like Tripp. Instead, as accounts from police, former employees, and documents produced by Tesla’s own internal investigation reveal, Musk set out to destroy him.

   The employee, Martin Tripp, allegedly was hacked and followed before the attempt to have him swatted.
   Former Gigafactory security manager, Sean Gouthro, said Tripp never sabotaged Tesla or hacked anything, and Musk knew this, but still wanted to damage Tripp’s reputation.
   You can read more directly at the source.
   My negative encounters with Big Tech, which I put down more to shoddy programming or incompetence than malice, are pretty tame.
   Put together, the pattern of IP theft, censorship, inciting genocide and misinformation, and targeting individuals, is very obvious. It’s part of their culture these days, since the US keeps letting these companies do what they wish with impunity, and to heck with what anyone would reasonably think the laws actually say. And it’s not just the US: when has our Blairite government or its predecessor moved against Big Tech in any meaningful way, on taxation, or on apportioning some responsibility for their part in COVID-19 misinformation?

Meanwhile, I was amused to see this under Arthur Turnure’s entry in Wikipedia:

   So Turnure starts Vogue but decides to work under an 18-year-old in another city.
   The reference linked doesn’t back this up at all.
   I know Wikipedia is full of crap that we can all go and correct, but as we’ve seen, shit sticks and on the internet, bullshit sticks, including one item that I’ve blogged about before that remained for over a decade.
   What gets me is why someone who doesn’t know a subject would deem themselves sufficiently knowledgeable to write about it. Because I just wouldn’t dare.
   As detailed before, you don’t see as many inaccuracies in the Japanese or German versions of Wikipedia, and you have to conclude, especially now with politicians doing the same thing, that the Anglosphere is increasingly an anti-intellectual place to be. ‘The fundamental problem with the English-speaking world is that ignorance is not considered a vice,’ said the brother of my friend, Prof Catherine Churchman. My earlier post from 2018 stands now more than ever.

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Admiral doesn’t understand that I’m not blocking ads, only trackers

21.07.2021

It’s pretty bad that Admiral, which detects whether you are using an ad blocker or not, now advises this with Privacy Badger.
   Let me make this very clear: I am not against advertising on websites. I have advertising on our websites.
   I am against tracking by people such as Google. And that is all I am blocking: the tracking part. There is a difference.
   Frankly, if you need to track in order for your ads to work, then there is something deeply wrong with your model. You’re actually doing your clients out of exposure.
   This goes for the ad networks that work with us, too. If you have Privacy Badger installed and both you and I miss out on ads on our sites, then so be it.
   What is so wrong about using the context of the page and delivering ads to suit? Everyone still wins with this model and we don’t feel as violated.
   So I won’t be disabling Privacy Badger, thanks.
   It also means I’ll be happy to charge a premium on advertisers who want to appear on our site because the content is relevant—and because the non-tracked stuff will at least get seen by an engaged public.

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It feels like half of Facebook is bot

21.07.2021

Here’s a screenshot from the new members of one of my Facebook groups—actually the only public one I still have. Since Facebook lets spammers join now, we have to block them manually. Their posts don’t make it through to the group as we have safeguards there, too. But I’m not going to let them inflate, falsely, the member count, which in turn will make it harder for posts to reach group members.
   A lot of these bots—they hunt for large groups and their scripts join them—seem to hide under the guise of role-playing for the Pinoy TV series Halik, and they all chat to each other in automated fashion. As Facebook is stupid enough not to recognize the bot activity, you’d think that at least they could see the script at play here, as these accounts are often new, and they set to work joining large groups and pages.
   They don’t recognize them, or, they do recognize them and allow the bot activity to carry on with their blessing. Each one of these blocked accounts was reported, and as usual they were found to be perfectly fine.
   In this screenshot, there were five legitimate accounts. We used to keep the numbers well down because potential members had to answer basic questions, and even some legit people are too lazy to do that. Back then we would see one legit account joining after weeks or months. I think I preferred that, because it kept the spammers and bots away.
   It certainly gives the impression that bots, based on this sample (and others like it since Facebook’s pro-bot policy change arrived with this group), are running at about 50 per cent of the total, which gels with recent research that Instagram is 46 per cent fake (that is, 46 per cent of all accounts are not legit). Nevertheless, I still see far more bots than humans overall: just get yourself into the fake Halik accounts of the Smiths and Montefalcos, and now they’re branching out into other surnames like Montenegro and Buenavista. Thousands, untouched, the only consistent activity on the wasteland that is Facebook.

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