Posts tagged ‘globalization’


Thinking to the future as Lucire turns 15

21.10.2012

I’ve written so many editorials about Lucire’s history for our various anniversaries that now we’ve turned 15, I feel like I’d just be going over old ground. Again. I’d do it maybe for the 20th or 21st, but the story has been told online and in print many times.
   But 15 is a bit more of an occasion than, say, the ninth—so it deserves some recognition. The biggie this week is not so much that we have turned 15, but that we have officially announced a print-on-demand edition to complement our others in print and online, one that sees Lucire printed off as it’s ordered. It combines what we know—the digital world—with an analogue medium that everyone understands. It also gets around that sad reality that for every 1,000 copies printed, 500 usually wind up getting returned due to being unsold and pulped. In publishing, two-thirds sold qualifies as having “sold out”. And that’s not really that great for the first fashion magazine that the United Nations Environment Programme calls an industry partner.
   We’re also celebrating the Ipad and Android editions, which actually launched in August but we didn’t get an announcement out till September. We also débuted a PDF download via Scopalto in France, and there’s one more edition that we’ll announce before the year is out.
   So rather than look back—which is what we found ourselves doing at the 10th anniversary, at a time when the recession was about to bite and there was just an inkling of a fear that our best days were behind us—we’re now looking forward with some relish and wondering just how these new editions will play out.
   If I were to take a look back to 1997, it would be to remark that being the first (at least for New Zealand) does not necessarily translate to being the most profitable. You carve out a niche that no one else had done before, prove a point, and someone else makes it work a bit better. So is the lesson in commerce.
   It used to bug me but no more; we have a good record of doing things in a pioneering fashion, and when you look at Lucire, it’s one of the very few fashion titles from the original dot-com era that’s still being published today, and in more forms than we had imagined. We were always happy to put value labels right next to pricier ones in coverage or in editorials, because that is how real people dress, and because we based our coverage on merit rather than advertising budgets. We looked at the advertising market at a global, rather than regional, level, something which we see some agencies taking advantage of as greater convergence happens in that market.
   I like to think that some day, all magazines will be printed as we’re doing them, but from more bases around the world, to alleviate the burden on our resources. They’ll be, as I predicted many years back, mini, softcover coffee-table books, publications to covet, and be less temporary. (I also said newspapers will become more like news magazines, but I live in a city where dailies are still printed as broadsheets, which reminds me that predictions can often take a lot longer to be realized.) Features will dominate ahead of short-term, flash-in-the-pan news, a path which the 28th New Zealand-produced Lucire issue takes, and something foreshadowed by Twinpalms Lucire in Thailand five years ago.
   We’re also in a very enviable position with a cohesive team. You could say it’s taken us 15 years to find them. At 1 p.m. local time on October 20—15 years and one hour after we launched—our London team met to toast our 15th anniversary, while fashion editor Sopheak Seng, Louise Hatton, Michael Beel and Natalie Fisher worked on a photo shoot today in New Zealand for issue 29. Around the world, our team continues to deliver regular content, and I hope they’ll forgive me for not naming everyone as I fear accidental omissions. Just as I felt a little uncertain but excited about where things would lead with Lucire on October 21, 1997–the 20th in the US—I have a similar feeling today. And that’s a good thing, because if we’ve managed to get on the radars of millions in those last 15 years, I’m hopeful of the changes we can effect in the next 15.


Above: Lucire copies get finished at Vertia Print in Lower Hutt.

Also published in Lucire.

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Global experience trumps education—Anna Tavis, Brown Brothers Harriman

05.07.2012

Every now and then, the Harvard Business Review comes up with some gems. This video, from Anna Tavis, head of talent and development at Brown Brothers Harriman, says that global experience is more important than education if you wish to be successful in business.
   She also hints at the importance of differentiation, which I often apply to brands. Since many of us have created personal brands to some degree or another, in a world where MBAs are a dime a dozen, what extra attribute do you offer? What is your differentiating factor?
   Leadership, too, comes from having that international edge: if you have an understanding across cultures, you are more open to best practices from all sources, rather than relying on insular thinking. Too many organizations slip on this front: they see their main competitor as the next biggest city in their own country, for instance, when there’s not much excuse, in an interconnected world, to not set (or exceed) a benchmark with the best in the world.

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Small is beautiful, whether it’s a company or a country

07.04.2012

My friend Summer Rayne Oakes at Source4Style put me on to an article in The Guardian by Ilaria Pasquinelli, on how small firms drive innovation. If the fashion industry is to survive, she says, it must team up with the small players where innovation takes place, thanks to the visionaries who drive those firms.
   She’s right, of course:

The small scale allows companies to be flexible, this is crucial in order to adapt to very diverse market conditions and economic turbulence.
   In addition, small companies have no other option than to take risk in order to leave their mark, notably if they are start-ups. Small companies habitually lack financial resources though, and it is precisely here where larger organisations can decide to take on a calculated risk and allocate some of their funds, in order to outsource processes, products or development.

   Therefore, it’s important not just to foster the growth of small creative businesses, but entire networks where they can come into contact with the larger ones. And the successful cities of the 21st century are those that can do that through clusters, clever place branding, and a real understanding of what it takes to compete at a global level.
   We’re still largely hampered by politicians who cannot see past their own national boundaries or, at best, look at competing solely with a neighbouring nation, when that has not been the reality for at least 20 years.
   There are exceptions where companies themselves have done the environmental scanning and found organizations to collaborate with—such as the ones Ilaria mentions in her article. But there’s no practical reason other than a lack of vision that they are the exception rather than the rule.
   She gives three examples: Tesco collaborated with upcycle fashion brand, From Somewhere, to use textile waste, which has seen three collections produced; Levi’s is refitting vintage 501s with Reformation, so customers know their old jeans aren’t going to a landfill; and Worn Again, partnering with Virgin, Royal Mail and Eurostar, is making bags out of the likes of postal workers’ decommissioned storm jackets.
   The innovations, of course, need not be in fashion or even sustainability. Look back through the last generation of innovations and many have come from smaller companies that needed the right leg up. Google, too, was started in someone’s home.
   I’ve been pushing the “think global” aspect of my own businesses, as well as encouraging others, for a lot of the 25 years Jack Yan & Associates has existed. It’s why most of our ventures have looked outside our own borders for sales. When we went on to bulletin boards for the first time at the turn of the 1990s, it was like a godsend for a kid who marvelled at the telex machine at my Dad’s work. It’s second-nature for anyone my age and younger to see this planet as one that exists independently of national borders, whether for trade or for personal friendships.
   As this generation makes its mark, I am getting more excited—though I remain cautious of institutions that keep our thinking so locally focused because that is simply what the establishment is used to. Yet it’s having the courage to take the leap forward that will make this country great: small nations, like small companies, should be, and can be, hotbeds of innovation.
   Create those clusters, and create some wonderful champions—and the sort of independent thinking Kiwis are known for can go far beyond our borders.

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A farewell to Sir Paul Callaghan, and the next step for our innovators

24.03.2012

When I attended Sir Paul Callaghan’s talk at the Wellington Town Hall last September, I felt vindicated. Here was a man who was much better qualified than me to talk about economic development, effectively endorsing the policies I ran on in 2010. But not being political, he was a great deal more persuasive. Since then, I’ve noticed more New Zealanders become convinced by Sir Paul’s passion—and wake us up to the potential that we have in this nation.
   This great communicator, this wonderful patriot, this sharpest of minds, passed away today after a battle with colon cancer.
   I wrote on Facebook when I heard the news that the best thing we can do to honour Sir Paul was to carry on his legacy, and to carry out the dream he had for making New Zealand a better, more innovative nation.
   Sir Paul wasn’t afraid of tall poppies. He knew Kiwis punched above their weight, and wanted to see more of that happen.
   All those tributes today saying his passing is a great loss to the nation are so very accurate—and I hope we’ll continue to see his dream realized.

Sir Paul Callaghan had a vision, but at the more micro level, it’s important to get a grasp on what the market will bear. There is a fine line, of course, between testing a market and relying too much on a rear-view mirror, and Jenny Douché’s new book, Fool Proof, addresses that, with case studies featuring some very successful New Zealand businesses, including No. 8 Ventures, Phil & Ted’s, Cultureflow and Xero. She stresses dialogue and engagement as useful tools in market validation, and she’s so passionate about the importance of her work that she’s donated copies to 200 organizations, including business incubators, economic development agencies, business schools and chambers of commerce nationally. Find out more at foolproofbook.com.

A Reuter story today talks about Sweden’s growing inequality in the last 15 years—something I’ve certainly noticed first-hand in the eight-year period between 2002 and 2010.
   We often aspire to be like Sweden, but much of that aspiration was based on a nation image of equality and social stability. Certainly since the mid-2000s, that hasn’t been true, as Sweden embarked on reforms that we had done in the 1980s, with selling state assets and cutting taxes.
   Inequality, according to the think-tank quoted in the article, has risen at a rate four times greater than that of the US.
   The other sobering statistic that came out earlier this year was that Sweden has the worst-performing economy in Scandinavia.
   None of this is particularly aspirational any more, and perhaps it brings me back to the opening of this blog entry: Sir Paul Callaghan.
   Given that we had the 1980s’ economic reforms, but we have scarcely seen the level playing-field promised us by the Labour government of that era, our best hope is to innovate in order to create high-value jobs. On that Sir Paul and I were in accord. Let’s play in those niches and beat the establishment with smart, clever New Zealand-owned businesses—and steadily achieve that that level playing field that we’re meant to have.
   It’s about cities creating environments that foster innovation and understand the climate needed for it to grow, which includes formally recognizing clusters, identifying and funding them, and having mechanisms that can ensure ideas don’t get lost beyond a mere discussion stage—including incubator and educational programmes. The best ideas need to be grown and taken to a global level.
   Ah, I hear, many of these agencies already exist—and that’s great. Now for the next step.
   It’s also about cities not letting politics get in their way and understanding that the growth of a region is healthy—which means cooperation between civic leaders and an ability to move rapidly, seizing innovation opportunities. It means a reduction in bureaucracy and the realization that much of the technology exists so that time spent on admin can be kept to a minimum (and plenty of case studies exist in states more advanced than us). Right-brained people thrive when they create, not when they are filling in forms. The streamlining of the Igovt websites by the New Zealand Government is move in the right direction.
   We know what has to be done—especially given how far down we are based on the following graph from the New Zealand Institute:

   As the Institute points out, many of the right moves are being made, and have been made, at the national level. But it is also aware that an internationalization strategy is part of the mix—the very sort of policy I have lived by in my own businesses. And this begs the question of why there have not been policies that help those who desire to go global and commercialize their ideas at a greater level. That’s the one area where we need to champion those Kiwis who have made it—Massey’s Hall of Fame dinners over the last two years celebrate such New Zealanders in a small way—and to let those who are at school now know that, when they get into the workforce, that it’s OK to think globally.
   If we’re wondering where the gap is, especially in a nation of very clever thinkers, it’s right there: we need to create a means for the best to go global, and make use of our million-strong diaspora, in very high positions, that Sir Paul pointed out in his address. Engagement with those who have made it, and having internationalization experts in our agencies who can call on their own entrepreneurial experiences, would be a perfect start.

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Optimism marks out the Indian decade

17.01.2012

Jack Yan at SIMCUG
Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication

I’ve had a wonderful time in Pune and Mumbai, two cities to which I had wanted to go for some years. Like some New Agers say: be careful what you put out into the universe. It can come true.
   My main reason for going was to address the Knowledge Globalization Conference at FLAME in Pune. FLAME’s campus is remarkable: 1,000 acres, near a fancy golf course, and completely teetotal (which actually suits a social-only drinker like me). The scenery in the valley is stunning, and the sound of the water trickling down the mountain during the winter was particularly relaxing.
   But as with any place one visits, it’s never the scenery that makes it: it’s the people. And in Pune I found a sense of optimism from all people from all walks of life, one which I hadn’t seen for quite some time.
   I also ran into Deo Sharma from Sweden, whom I first met in 2002 in København. When there are coincidences like that, you know you’re on to a good thing.
   Equally inspirational was addressing the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication. This talk, arranged through my friend Nishit Kumar—who learned I got a bigger buzz sharing knowledge than sitting on a beach relaxing—was attended by 600 students at different year levels. When you see a school like that, and students prepared to ask tough questions (both in person and later on Twitter), you feel encouraged that Pune has an incredible future ahead.
   And before I advance to my next point, Mumbai was just as fantastic, and I need to acknowledge my old friend Parmesh Shahani, who let me stay with him in a home that beats some of the art galleries I have seen.
   Everywhere you go in Pune, you see schools. A lot of tertiary institutions. Like so many Asian families, Indians place education highly. I had two parents who never seemed to go out on the town because we weren’t made of money, and everything they had went to my private schooling. I can well comprehend this mentality.
   Which, of course, begs the question: why isn’t our country doing more in this sector with India?
   I realize things are gradually changing as we incorporate more air routes directly to India and the government begins focusing on our fellow Commonwealth nation, but, as with capitalizing on the wave of Hong Kong emigration in the 1990s, I fear we might be too slow. Again.
   This is nothing new. I’ve been saying it since the mid-2000s, on this blog and elsewhere. Privately I’ve probably been uttering it for even longer, before we nominated Infosys of Bangalore as one of our Brands with a Conscience at the Medinge Group.
   And yet in the quest to get a free-trade deal with Beijing, we brushed aside India, a country with whom we have a shared heritage, a lingua franca, and a lot of games of cricket.
   When I first went to India in 2008, one Indore businessman asked me: why on earth did New Zealand pursue the Chinese deal ahead of the Indian deal?
   ‘Follow the money,’ I swiftly answered, a response to which I got a round of applause.
   I know the numbers may well have been in China’s favour, but sometimes, there is something to be said for understanding what is behind those numbers. And there is also something to be said for looking at old friendships and valuing them.
   We can’t turn the clock back, nor might we want to, but it seems greater tie-ups with Indian education could be a great way to expose the next generation to more cultural sharing.
   While in Pune, there was news of two Indian student murders in Manchester, which won’t have done the British national image a great deal of good. Australia already suffers from a tarnished image of racism toward Indian students, one which the Gillard government is hurriedly addressing with advertising campaigns featuring Indian Australians. It strikes me that there is an opportunity here in New Zealand, now that I have apologized for Paul Henry. Only kidding. I don’t think that I had much influence doing so unofficially, but I felt I had to get it off my chest, and I did apologize.
   I was frank about it. I was frank about Henry, and I don’t mean Benny Hawkins off Crossroads. I was frank about the Indian immigrant who had to change his Christian name to something sounding more occidental before he got job interviews—prior to that he did not get a single response. But, I also noted, none of this would be out in the open in the mainstream media if New Zealanders, deep down, were not caring, decent people. The incidents would have been covered up.
   Despite what we might think, most folks didn’t realize that we had a decent high-tech industry, that we are the home of Weta, and that Tintin, The Lord of the Rings and King Kong were local efforts. Although Players had only been out for three days by that point—and not to particularly good reviews, either—few realized a third of it was filmed in New Zealand.
   They still think of sheep.
   But there is a generation which, despite a huge domestic market and the optimism in their own country, wants an overseas experience, and the occident is still regarded as the place to do it in.
   When they heard there was the possibility of high-tech jobs in a beautiful land, ears pricked up.
   I realize the OECD stats say we’re average when it comes to innovation, but I know it’s there, under the radar, growing. People like Prof Sir Paul Callaghan reckon it’s the realistic way forward for our nation. Interestingly, this message sounds an awful lot like the one I communicated during my 2010 mayoral campaign.
   And if we are to grow it, then maybe working with our Indian brothers and sisters is the exactly the direction we need to follow.

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Source4Style launches today, seeking to revolutionize the business of fashion

19.12.2011

[Cross-posted] Summer Rayne Oakes and Benita Singh’s Cartier award-winning venture, Source4Style, which helps designers source sustainable fabric through a well designed, transparent website, launches its second version today. Lucire has the low-down in the main part of the site, and this story forms part of some of our next 2012 print and other non-web editions.
   We believe this will revolutionize the way the business of fashion is conducted. Think about it: consumers demand sustainability and the trend has no signs of stopping. Yet, according to Singh, suppliers are spending up to 43 per cent of their marketing budgets just on trade shows. ‘It’s a huge up-front time and financial commitment with no guarantee of a return,’ she says. On the other end of the scale, Cornell University research shows that designers are spending up to 85 per cent of their time visiting those same shows, going through online directories, or wading through sample folders.
   Source4Style uses the internet to bridge the divide, and has obvious positive implications for smaller suppliers, who are on a level playing field with the big names. Some of these suppliers are in third-world countries, so it’s not hard to see the financial benefit that Source4Style can have for them and their communities.
   It’s in line with the ideas in Simon Anholt’s Brand New Justice, where Anholt posited that good brands helped third-world communities find greater profits and margins. Source4Style doesn’t quite give these companies brands per se, but through the site, it allows them to be the equal of businesses that are operating in the first world, and levels the playing field.
   It is the solidity behind this venture that sees us devote two web pages and the cover to it. We encourage readers to take a look, as this may well be the moment when fashion changes for good—in more than one sense of the word.

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Occupy, the brand

27.11.2011

Serious! "Occupy Wall St"
VBlessNYC, under Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

It was in the fourth quarter of the year that Occupy became a brand. Just capitalize it, and everyone knows what you mean. The original geographical indicator of Wall Street disappeared—to be fair, it began disappearing when similar protests began happening across the United States and then, the world—but I’ve only noticed in the last few weeks that the simple utterance of the word Occupy brought with it a multitude of values. That’s what a brand does: it’s shorthand or code for a range of associations.
   But what associations? If one believes some of the media, then Occupy is unfocused, with its protesters simply upset at the status quo. Others see it as an attack on the technocratic agenda and the multiple facets they possess, whether it’s the financial system being broken (something Chris Macrae brought up at my first Medinge meeting back in 2002) or corruption in politics.
   The truth, at least initially, was probably somewhere in between. I never believed Occupy was one where there was some “protester class” (at least one media outlet believed that), and that its members came from a cross-section of society, even if a few of the international protests brought out a few of the usual suspects from antiestablishment groups. It was clear, early on, certainly from the social networks that brought more direct news than the mainstream corporate media, that everyday people were involved. To me, the most poignant images were probably that of retired cop Capt Ray Lewis getting cuffed by the NYPD.
   However, there were so many conflicting emotions at Occupy that it would be hard to sum up just what people opposed. Maybe it was very hard to voice because there are so many parts to the system that they see is broken. I know when we did our post-Enron session at Medinge, we probably had three dozen Post-It notes on a whiteboard summarizing what we thought was wrong with the business system. They were then synthesized into eight points, not without some effort.
   As the protests wore on, the synthesis has taken place. It’s not an unusual phenomenon: gatherings of people can take time to figure out, through dialogue, what their common grounds are. Better doing it this way, codifying through dialogue, than having a set of values imposed on you from above: it’s a way to preserve authenticity in the movement. A good set of values that represents an organization, in a formal, corporate setting, is usually the result of in-depth research into staff, channel members and external audiences. In the branding world, especially with social networks empowering communications, it makes more sense to harness people’s thoughts through the technology we have at our disposal.
   It was interesting reading what Naomi Wolf had to say about Occupy in The Guardian. The crux of her article is not about brand whatsoever—she highlights potentially dangerous patterns as crackdowns take place and their implication for the US—but read on and she finds out there are certain things that Occupy wants through simply asking its supporters online:

  • get the money out of politics (e.g. ‘legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process’);
  • ‘reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act … This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks’;
  • ‘draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.’

       No doubt there will be variations of these with Occupy movements in other parts of the planet.
       I don’t know Ms Wolf’s processes, or how academic this Q&A was, but perhaps that is not the question here. What we should realize is that the movement is taking a more defined shape, and the media’s contention that this is something unfocused is getting weaker by the day.

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    The Murdoch apology does not let us off the hook

    16.07.2011

    News International full-page apology

    Above is Rupert Murdoch’s apology for the actions of the News of the World, to run in the UK in the wake of the resignations of Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton.
       They’re great words, and they’re straight out of the PR 101 playbook.
       Some might say they’re a trifle too late, as was Mr Murdoch’s meeting with the parents and sister of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
       Some might question whether this apology would even have been issued if the Murdoch Press could have kept a lid on the scandal, if the Metropolitan Police had not rediscovered its bottle, and if The Guardian had not been persistent.
       More telling about this apology’s sincerity is whether real steps will be taken to change the culture within the Murdoch Press.
       We still have an organization with nearly half a century’s worth of bullying tactics, skirting the boundaries of the law and allegedly breaking them, and a culture of the ends justify the means.
       Shifting that culture is going to be a tough call, not while so much of the behaviour has been institutionalized.
       It is going to take some effort on Rupert Murdoch’s own behalf, because, like all organizations where the boss’s personality is so strong, it’s going to rest on him to lead a cultural change. Allowing an insider who has always tolerated such behaviour to take the helm is not going to do an awful lot: you don’t get change by reinventing the past.
       I remain sceptical when I think back to all the scandals that the Murdoch Press not only uncovered, but had a hand in generating.
       I remain sceptical when I think back to the victories Murdoch has had over earlier controversies, and whether he believes he can weather this one simply with the passage of time.
       The world is a different place, and he may just be compelled to see this out.
       He may be 80, but he still has young kids by his third wife. Let’s hope he understands that he needs to do right by the 21st century, when people in the occident are more alert to corporate moves and their unsavoury hand in our daily lives. Given that his youngest children won’t have him around for as long as his oldest ones, what he has is his legacy—and unlike Prudence, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James, Grace and Chloe will spend more of their lives hearing about their Dad second-hand than first-hand.
       I think back to when we wrote Beyond Branding, and how we forecast that consumers would drive integrity and transparency through their demand. It looks like this is being played out now.
       The question I have is this: is this merely the first salvo in everyday people taking back their power, and will we sink back into disinterest in a month or two?
       Rupert Murdoch would not be in this position if we didn’t have a love of the gossip in The Sun and News of the World. We, the people, made this man rich.
       If the Murdoch that critics write about is the real man, he’s betting the farm on disinterest being the order of the day come the autumn.
       In my own world, I recall that last September, when the Fairfax Press reported on the possibility of the resurrection of the Wellywood sign, the silence on even the anti-sign Facebook group was deafening. One person even said he would vote for my rival and eventual winner, Celia Wade-Brown, because I did not do enough to fight the sign.
       All it took was five months for one man to forget that I was the only mayoral candidate who actively fought it. I am not picking on him alone, because I don’t believe he was the only one to suffer from a short memory. We all do it.
       Instead, this one issue alone, trivial by the standards of the Murdoch story, took 14 months before anger subsided enough for it to resurface in force with a new news report.
       This is the defence of the bully boss and the pompous politician: the hope people forget, thanks to our lives being harder during a recession. The tougher the economy gets, the more they think they can get away with, since they hope our attention will be swayed. Without a comfortable life, will we have the luxury of monitoring those in power?
       It’s up to us to get wiser and realize there’s more important news than what the tabloid press tells us is interesting.
       It’s up to us to realize that celebrity news really does not affect us, unless it’s truly inspirational. And 99 per cent of it isn’t.
       It’s up to us to understand that ‘sources close to’ do not constitute the truth, nor are those sources capable of the mind-reading of their subjects.
       And it’s up to us to remember the past, rather than look fondly on it with rose-coloured glasses.
       Corporate misbehaviour alone can fill a newspaper, as can the incompetence of our leaders. Yet we see little of either since advertising is affected by blowing the lid on the first, and a power base is affected by blowing the lid on the second.
       The first is what killed the News of the World, not a sudden crisis of confidence by James Murdoch, who put his name to the announcement of its closure.
       The second contributed to the delay in a Murdoch apology, in the hope that the Murdoch Press’s close ties to the Conservative government would be sufficient to weather it through the scandal.
       Look around, especially in this election year in New Zealand, and you see very similar forces at work.
       Regardless of what Murdoch does, real change starts with us.

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    Chloé chief sees China moving to more understated luxury—or is it?

    28.02.2011

    Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye of Chloé believes the mainland Chinese market is moving toward more understated luxury.
       I believe there’ll always be a mixture. The understated buyer is emerging probably because of saturation by more extrovert brands—and often, buyers want to get something different, rather than conform.
       And the top-end luxury brands have probably been devalued in any case.
       With the affluent Chinese already buying, say, cars with a grille, it wasn’t a surprise to find some brands ape that æsthetic. Who hasn’t been copied? There are downmarket cars from Chinese manufacturers with Mercedes-style grilles from a variety of manufacturers, for example.
       Don’t laugh too loudly in the west: it wasn’t that long ago that the 1975 US-market Ford Granada looked like a Mercedes pastiche. Even Ford’s own advertising sold it as a Mercedes rival. Hindsight tells us it was not.
       I say it’s sometimes differentiation, or the consumer desire for it, that drives trends—so what de la Bourdonnaye observes is one such trend in motion in China.
       The consumer knows that just because something has a luxury æsthetic doesn’t make it well built—which is why we’re seeing improvements in quality in Chinese products. It also explains the relatively restrained looks of Chery’s Riich car range: it’s meant to be premium, but it hasn’t gone too far overboard. (The G5 may be derivative, but it’s also not outlandish.)
       While the theory of market homogeneity has had plenty of critiques over the years, there is some truth in saying that the Chinese market is reflecting others as the practice of branding matures. It’s not as though the Chinese consumer is behind—even while the Bamboo Curtain was a few layers thicker, people within the mainland’s borders were able to discern one brand from another—but the world market is globalizing even further with China’s input.
       Chinese tastes will drive more of the global consumer market. We’re already seeing it with the US—the Buick LaCrosse is a joint US–Chinese design–and it’s bound to influence other sectors.
       A number of forces are at work, and Chloé seems to be a beneficiary. But it needs to be aware that it’s not just this shift to understatement—and, like all brands, it will have to continue moving with the times.

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    Posted in branding, business, cars, China, design, France, marketing, USA | No Comments »


    Even as Liu Xiaobo gets a Nobel prize, Beijing can be smug

    12.12.2010

    As I watched actress Liv Ullmann read Liu Xiaobo’s address, ‘I Have No Enemies’, on BBC World, I was quite moved.
       The address is what the Nobel Prize-winning author and intellectual delivered prior to his sentencing by a Red Chinese court for subversion.
       What is fascinating is the dignity with which the words are written, showing respect even to his prosecutors.
       Liu even discusses how the human rights in the prison at which he is held have greatly improved since the first time he was locked up there, saying that the ‘enemy mentality’ that Red China once held is disappearing in favour of a more humanist approach.
       Given that he knew he would be found guilty just before Christmas 2009, the address is remarkable for the hints of optimism he holds for his country.
       Liu Xiaobo will not, by himself, see through a wholesale change in the way the Communist Party is running mainland China, but he is representative of many forces which will, some day, make the country freer and more open.
       He is also representative of the area with occident and orient disagree: human rights. While those campaigning for Liu’s release should not stop, his address puts a lot of things into context.
       Mainland China, as it opens up, has tried to find a balance between governmental intervention and the market-place. Even Confucius has been partially recognized by the Politburo as a way to reinforce the state’s position, somehow reinterpreted along the lines of: we bring you prosperity, you give us your loyalty.
       As much as the internet is patrolled, there is a tendency for people to wish to be more free, and blacking out TV screens behind the Bamboo Curtain or resorting to censorship simply makes people wonder what they are missing.
       Where the country might yet succeed, however, is keeping a firm hand on change. Instead of the rush that saw to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing is being pragmatic. As unbridled globalization and a corrupt, conspiratorial financial system has seen to two economic downturns in the last decade, and as the US’s politics move to extremes, the occident is giving fuel to Beijing’s methods. That’s not something that we should feel happy about, nor should we tolerate our commerce being run to further class structures in our societies.
       Liu has been likened to Nelson Mandela by Nobel committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland. Mandela made a similar speech on the eve of being sentenced to treason in 1964. While Liu has his supporters, and I do not proclaim to be any expert on South African history, my feeling is that the former president was known to far more of his own people. There are also other differences to the other Nobel winners who have not been able to attend, be they Carl von Ossietzky, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa and Aung San Suu Kyi.
       The chief difference is that fewer of us living in the occident in 2010 can be as smug or as preachy. While I support calls for Liu Xiaobo to be released—the jailing of a man exercising the same rights you and I do in criticizing our governments shows, in my mind, the weakness and insecurity of the critiqued régime—there is a real lesson for the rest of us.
       We cannot be in a position to insist on change if we keep supporting governments that weaken our own approaches to human rights. If we vote in a government that widens the distance between rich and poor—and history has more than often shown us which do—then we are letting down our most downtrodden citizens. If we fail to tidy up the mess our business sectors have left in their wake, then we are simply allowing their mistakes to recur.
       For every failure we chalk up because we let things remain the way they are, the more Beijing’s politicians can sit back and accuse us of hypocrisy.

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    Posted in China, culture, internet, media, politics | 17 Comments »