Posts tagged ‘national image’


How can we help those fooled into believing what their local brands are?

06.01.2016

How interesting to see a silly Tweet of mine make the Murdoch Press and lead an opinion column—I’m told it even hit the news.com.au home page.
   It’s a very old joke that I’ve told since 2002, when I walked along Bay Road in Kilbirnie and saw a locksmith sign in Futura. Back then, Dick Smith Electronics had its logotype set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic. I really thought it was a Dick Smith sign at a first, fleeting glance, seeing CKSMITH. The joke was born.
   Most in my social media streams got it except a couple of Australians who had likely come across it via Murdochs a day late, one calling me ignorant (not sure how you can get that from one Tweet), and another ‘ahole’ (is this a misspelling of aloha?). As the funniest guy in their media is John Clarke, who was born in New Zealand, maybe humour doesn’t reach a couple of households there if it has to be imported. And the number of times John’s taken the piss about us, to my thorough enjoyment, means that some of us can take a joke. Perhaps we just have a sense of humour. We have to: it was the only way we could deal with our PM appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. It is, to quote the man, ‘a bit of banter. No drama.’
   The false indignation “on behalf of others” is always a comical one, because it’s usually founded on a misplaced and unjustified sense of superiority. During a political campaign, they’re the ones I find the most humorous and least authoritative. Thick skin came with that territory.
   Neither deserves a response beyond what I said on Twitter, but the second one (with a fresh new account to troll from, always a good sign of someone who won’t stand by their words) highlights a point that I have made on this blog before.
   “Ruby Pond” notes, ‘The guy is pure Oz and started when you were in nappies and tried! Stick to your foreign companies, they really help Oz.’ I’m not sure what I was tried about, not having been to court while I was in nappies, but maybe she’s depending on the fact that not everyone remembers back to their infancy.
   Well done. She got this from an American-owned newspaper website (remember, Rupert’s no longer an Australian, nor is the HQ in Australia and hasn’t been for a long, long time), and, for the record, I’m not as old as the business that Dick founded. There’s also a suggestion that I must be Australian, because, after all, everyone on the planet must be. No other countries exist. I didn’t want to get into trans-Tasman rivalry in such a situation, nor was it appropriate to give a list of Australian corporate misdeeds in New Zealand. The term off-topic springs to mind.
   I told her, ‘Stick to your foreign media, they really help Oz.’
   Hers is that simplistic thinking that gets people supporting foreign-owned businesses when they believe they are supporting local ones.
   Dick’s been one of my personal heroes since his solo helicopter flight and I’ve been a customer of the chain he founded since I was old enough to buy my own tech gear. Entrepreneurs like him are the ones I’ve always encouraged, through mentoring and through my policies. However, the sad story of the company, no longer owned by Dick, is one of corporate greed—which the founder himself has been critical of. We haven’t learned the lessons of so many economic crises: Gordon Gecko’s mantra of ‘greed is good’ continues to drive the corporate world.
   The reason so many multinationals buy local brands is to fool the public into thinking they’re supporting their own. We’re guilty of it ourselves, and I recall using the examples of Just Juice and most of our local newspapers on this blog. People closed accounts at the National Bank when it became ANZ here, because of a suspicion of, dislike of, or rivalry with Australia, perceiving National to be a local bank. The problem there: ANZ had owned the National Bank for years before the rebranding of its own subsidiary, and prior to that it was part of Lloyds TSB in the UK. A lot of Australians think Ford and Holden are domestic players (though, oddly, not Toyota, which probably builds as many, if not more, cars there), just as many Britons still think they are buying British when they shop at Ford and Vauxhall.
   The situation with news.com.au differs slightly in that that business was started in Australia by Rupert Murdoch’s Dad, and it has grown from there—but the fact remains that its HQ is overseas and that’s where it pays its tax. Help to Australians: not a lot. The Murdoch Press’s globalization agenda won’t be one that the “buy Australian” crowd would support for the most part.
   But this is how brands work, because they encourage us to make mental shortcuts for the products and services we consume. I’ve devoted a good deal of my professional life to it. Some should encourage scrutiny because of the power they have (Wally Olins noted, many years ago, how some brands need to adopt notions that were once reserved for states), and it was hoped that, post-No Logo, we would be more inquisitive about the backgrounds to the organizations we support.
   Even though it’s our money and time, the sad thing is that this level of inquiry remains the province of the few, those people who are willing to scrutinize their own behaviour and practise what they preach. Social media have helped spread news of corporate misbehaviours (Volkswagen will attest to that) and more people are aware; but to counter that we get more information than we ever used to, and unless something resonates, will we just forget it?
   Therefore, it can only be something where people who have done the proper investigation get to have a say. And like all human endeavours, it can be scammed, so safeguards have to be built in.
   One of the reasons the Medinge Group awarded its Brands with a Conscience accolades for close to a decade was to champion the organizations that were getting it right, inviting transparency and scrutiny, championing good corporate citizenship, and engaging in socially responsible programmes. Among them were companies devoted to doing things right by the communities they were present in, whether it was Dilmah Tea, Tata Steel or Hennes & Mauritz.
   By our championing them, selected by a think-tank of leading brand professionals, we would be able to highlight shining examples of branding, as well as give them the sort of boost they deserved. If positive companies could increase their custom, and if positive non-profits could increase their influence, then we can do some good in the world.
   As people rightly want shortcuts in their busy daily lives, then the work at Medinge, if seen as an endorsement, would help them make a decision about whether to deal with that organization or not.
   It’s nice to be in that bubble, which makes me ever-grateful to get reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. If you’re genuinely desirous of helping your own, then we need to help create more ways of reminding people which organizations do just that. The Brands with a Conscience programme was definitely a very good way of doing it. What shall we do, in the post-peak-Facebook world of the second part of this decade, to get word out? Is it through video, thanks to greater bandwidth, that allows us to experience and understand more? Is this the coming of age of some form of virtual reality? Or, as we did when we first started exploring bulletin boards and email, time again for us to reach out to people in communities very foreign and different to ours through video chats—something like Google Hangouts but actually with people? (Yes, I know, Google fans, I was taking the piss.) Is Skype the service on which this can be built?
   I would have said that technology is the great democratizer, and maybe more of us should be giving out awards to truly deserving organizations, voted on by more of the public. But we come across the issue of quality versus quantity again: the Reputation Institute surveyed 60,000 people in 15 countries and still wound up with Nestlé among the most reputable firms in the world. Nestlé may do very good things in some quarters, but it hasn’t been able to avoid a lawsuit by environmental and public interests groups in California over its water-bottling operation there, or accusations by activists who believe the company wants to privatize water at the expense of public health. Volkswagen was there in the 2014 survey. We decide on image, and that image is the very thing that gets us making bad choices.
   The next innovators are already on to it, and we don’t even know that we seek it. But, in order to self-actualize, maybe organizing us—individuals, not corporations—into global communities is the next stage. We have seen Kiva work so positively, so how about making it more interactive? Naturally we will tend to choose to help those in our own countries first—crowdfunding campaigns show us that—but allowing us to understand another human being’s situation could be the challenge in a time when governments pursue their austerity agenda. Somehow, we can restore, at least to some degree, the optimism we had when we in the first world accessed the World Wide Web for the first time.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, globalization, humour, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Paul Henry is only the tip of the redneck iceberg

08.10.2010

Yesterday, I began watching the Indian media get hold of the Paul Henry story. Indians are, rightly, up in arms with the TV host’s insult of Chief Minister Smt. Sheila Dikshit’s name—this, plus the incident questioning whether Governor-General HE Sir Anand Satyanand was a New Zealander, shows a pattern where Henry thinks poorly of people with Indian ethnicity.
   The Indian people might want to know that the insults to their people are not restricted to Mr Henry: his colleague Paul Holmes has been rubbishing New Delhi and India in the weeks leading up to the Commonwealth Games, using the fact that few New Zealanders have been there, and pushing unfair stereotypes about hygiene. Mr Henry is also not alone in making fun of Chief Minister Dikshit’s name, with sportscasters giggling about it like children.
   Henry has received the flak because he perhaps had more of a profile, and is already down after the comments about Sir Anand. Isolated incidents we can probably forgive. But, collectively, it shows our media still have plenty of representatives from the redneck sections of our society—and I am happy to tar those members with the same brush as the one I have used on Henry. Right now, I hope there are many broadcasters feeling at least a little shame for joking about the Chief Minister’s name.
   And we wonder why politics is under-represented in New Zealand by minorities, how Parliament—or even the local body elections that I contested—do not reflect our rich cultural mixture. This week, we did not have to look very far: one of our institutions, the fourth estate, is quite prepared to treat Chief Minister Dikshit with little respect; and one of its members is willing to imply that a Governor-General, who speaks with a New Zealand accent, does not sound ‘like a New Zealander’ because he has Indian roots.
   It’s not as though we begin on the best footing when we go to India. When I spoke in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, two years ago, one question asked of me by a member of the local business community was why New Zealand had cooperated with China over free trade prior to considering India as a trading partner. I answered him frankly, ‘Follow the money.’ To me, even being someone of Chinese ethnicity, I see benefits working with India, with its proficiency in English, its common law heritage, and its respect for intellectual property. Of course China is important—but not at the exclusion of a fellow Commonwealth country. The gentleman justifiably felt India had been sold out.
   The Indian Government has rightly summoned our High Commissioner asking for an explanation. Our nation has had to apologize to India for Paul Henry. Yet one thing remains very clear to the Indians: Paul Henry is a civil servant working for state television. Words are not going to mean an awful lot to Indians, if they are not backed up by action by our government. Read between the lines of the Ministry of External Affairs’ official protest: they want him fired. Their words:

It is hoped that the government of New Zealand would take immediate demonstrative action against the said individual to send out a clear signal that such behaviour is totally unacceptable.

They mean that a 14-day suspension isn’t going to cut it. And that was for the Sir Anand issue, not for the Sheila Dikshit humiliation.
   Having been to India, I know the industry of the Indian people—and I know that they can do whatever they put their minds to. If they begin crying boycott, we are in such trouble that even a smile from the Prime Minister cannot cover.
   Paul Henry has done one good thing: expose some of the unacceptable thinking that he and others harbour. But just as Sir Peter Jackson strengthened our national image, one man has now weakened our country’s image as a progressive, multicultural and embracing nation.
   TVNZ, which has flip-flopped between defending Henry and giving him a light slap on the wrist, needs to do more soul-searching than CEO Rick Ellis, or Henry sympathizer and spokeswoman Andi Brotherston, has done so far. Does the network truly condone this sort of behaviour? A mere suspension, and the use of the Dikshit clip for days after the Sir Anand affair, are saying that it does. And in such a case, Paul Henry is being unfairly targeted as the sole offender: the circumstantial evidence is that TVNZ has a far sicker culture than even I had imagined.
   To think: usually, I go abroad holding my head up high because I come from New Zealand. People are willing to help me out because they respect our nation. I’m going to brace myself for a much harder time when next working in India, because some of our country’s less palatable members have been able to get away with pushing their agenda for too long.
   I initially thought that the Facebook page demanding a TVNZ boycott was going too far, given that there are responsible TVNZ staff, too. However, I have not watched a single second of TVNZ programming this week, as an unconscious decision. (Commonwealth Games coverage on Prime has helped.) Maybe the supporters of that Facebook page have a point, because as the days pass, and there continues to be inaction from TVNZ, it is becoming apparent that more heads need to roll. My idea of getting Henry to meet with the New Zealand Indian Central Association is looking more meaningless by the day.

Image credit: Map of India by Umesh Rai.

PS.: TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston has tendered her resignation.JY

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Posted in business, culture, India, media, New Zealand, politics, TV | 5 Comments »