Posts tagged ‘transparency’


The religiosity of the superbrands

10.02.2014


Another friend asked the Windows laptop v. Macbook question on her Facebook today.
   You can predict what happens next. The cult came by. As with the last time a friend asked the same question.
   The cult always comes and proclaims the superiority of the Apple Macintosh. And it is a blinding proclamation, of messianic proportions, where one must behold the perfection and divinity of said technology. There is always one person who posts multiple times in an effort to convert you—bit like how one religion’s missionaries do those ten visits in an effort to get you to join. I think they might operate on a similar counting system.
   As someone who uses Mac, Windows and Linux regularly (Mac and Windows daily, Ubuntu twice weekly) and usually enters into the conversation with ‘At the end of the day, it’s just a computer,’ I find it unsettling.
   How unsettling?
   Basically, as unsettling as my atheist friends would find someone imposing religion on them. Their stance usually is: hey, good on you if it works for you. If it makes you a better person, great. But I’d rather you not preach about it to me.
   The proclamations are usually so one-sided that they leave holes for attack. ‘They are better’ is not really good evidence, and ‘a six-year-old machine can still run the latest OS’ is only dependent on the RAM. The existence of Windows crapware and a clogged-up registry are more the function of the user rather than the platform. I also level a lot of the blame on Windows’ clunkiness on Microsoft Office: I don’t use it, and I am happier for it. (In fact, Office may be the worst thing to happen to the more Windows OSs, as they let down what I regard as a pretty stable platform.)
   I don’t dislike the Mac ecosystem. I use it daily, though the hard grunt I’ll do on my Windows 7 machine. I love the way the Mac handles graphics and sound. Without speccing up my Windows machine, I wouldn’t have the same quality. Apple’s handling of type is better than Microsoft’s Cleartype, in my opinion.
   I like how the platforms now communicate readily with each other.
   But I have problems with the wifi dropping out on a Mac, though this happens less often after Mavericks came out. However, it’s on the Mac forums as one of those unsolved issues that’s been going on for four years without a resolution. InDesign, at least for us, crashes more often on Mac than on Windows. (Your mileage may vary.) Some programs update more easily on Windows—take my 79-year-old Dad, who would prefer clicking ‘Update’ when a new Flash arrives more than downloading a DMG file, opening it, and dragging an icon to the Applications. It’s harder to learn this stuff when you are nearly 80. And don’t get me started on the IBM PC Jr-style children’s keyboards. They sucked in the 1980s and there’s not much reason they don’t suck today. (I replace the Imac chiclet keyboards with after-market ones, though of course that’s not a realistic option if you are getting a Macbook.)
   Sure, these are minor issues. For each one of these I can name you Windows drawbacks, too, not least how the tech can date if you don’t buy expensively enough to begin with, and how you can still find innovations on an older Mac that Microsoft simply hasn’t caught up with. And even with some of the newer monitor-and-computer desktop units out there, none of them are as neatly designed and beautifully modernist as an Imac.
   The biggest problem I have with the Mac world is this. As I told my friend: ‘Any time I post about Windows going wrong, the Mac cult always surfaces and cries, “You should buy a Mac!” as though they were stalking my social networks. Any time I post about Macs going wrong 
 the cult hides away. You see, you are shattering the illusion that the machines are perfect.’ It’s been like this for years.
   It is and it isn’t a problem. It doesn’t sway me when I use the technology. But it’s hard for me, or anyone who sees through the fact that these are just computers, to want to be associated with that behaviour.
   The more level-headed Mac users—a few have helped me on social networks when I raise an issue, though they are far fewer than the ‘Buy a Mac!’ crowd—probably don’t want to be seen to be part of some Ă©lite, either.
   I should be more tolerant of this given my qualifications in branding. Good on Apple for creating such fervour. This is held up to us as something we should achieve with our own brands, with the traditional agencies usually naming Apple at number one. Kevin Roberts and Saatchi used to go on about ‘lovemarks’. It’s great that people see a bunch of bits as something so personal, so emotionally involved. Google is in the same boat—go to the forums and tell the senior support people there that their by-the-book, Google-is-right, you-must-be-doing-something-wrong answer is incorrect. You will simply be ignored, because it doesn’t fit into their world and their belief system.
   In both cases, I wonder if there is such a thing as overbranding: where consumers love something so much that it goes beyond comprehension, into the creepy stage. Some might call these ‘superbrands’, but there is an uncomfortable element of religiosity to it. I’m not so sure whether this is the function of branding—and we thus come back to what we wrote at the Medinge Group in 2003, where we proposed in Beyond Branding that brands really centred around humanism, integrity and transparency.
   I don’t recall anything about fervour.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, marketing, technology, typography, USA | 3 Comments »


The statistics back up my manifesto: we need to help young Wellingtonians

06.07.2013

One of the things I hear when campaigning is that one should not focus too much on youth, because young people do not vote as much. I think the first part of that is bollocks.
   While it’s true that the youth vote has never been strong, no one can claim to represent a city without getting a sense of where young people are at. They have the most to lose if political leaders mess things up. And being the youngest candidate (at 40), I have the most to lose among those running—because I’ll want to keep living in Wellington and I want to make sure everything’s right the next generation.
   It’s why my manifesto contained policies for younger Wellingtonians as well as other groups. You can’t shun one for another. Published in April, I allowed people to give me feedback on it, to discuss and enhance the policies in there. While I technically authored it, it’s really one that you’ve written—through my interacting with you in person and on the social networks for the past six or more years.
   And it’s lucky I did. One of the policies, about providing internship programmes, was one that came out of my own experience with them at my company. Dozens have come through Jack Yan & Associates and Lucire. Many continue to live in Wellington and establish careers here, and become ratepayers or, in some cases, business owners. Some go off on their OEs but come back here. When Mayor Dave Cull of Dunedin told me about the DCC’s one, I thought: it is doable within a city’s budget. It can help with companies’ recruitment, encourage young people to stay in the city, equip them with skills, and show them that the industries they want to work in have a future that includes them. Of course, we would need to look at the ROI more closely, but there are few down sides from helping younger Wellingtonians starting out in their adult lives.
   Of course we’ll need to get the other parts of the economy right, too, which my manifesto addresses.
   Six weeks after my manifesto was released, this has become vital, with statistics showing that unemployment for 15- to 19-year-olds is 25 per cent. That’s what the aggregate figure of 7·5 per cent across Wellington hides. When you look at pre-loading and the other issues relating to alcohol policy, it’s not impossible to see a connection: there’s a sense of hopelessness for some of our young people, that we have to get right.
   As I said time and time again: it cannot be politics as usual.
   If the creative sector is one where we can have high-value jobs, then maybe we need to elect someone from that very sector with a history of entrepreneurship.
   In April, I noted, under the section on ‘Uniting Wellingtonians’:

There have been relatively few programmes to help younger Wellingtonians. Probably because politicians don’t see them as big voters. It shouldn’t matter: mayoral policies should look to future voters because the brain drain to Auckland, Australia, and the UK is doing us little good.
   Not only will I advocate internship and apprenticeship programmes such as Media Lab, which will see young people placed with our tech and creative firms with the city supporting the venture. It will be a priority for the programme to meet a high conversion rate to real jobs—something I have practised in my own firm.
   Young people should rightly participate in our city’s decisions, because they have more to lose if we mess things up. That means opening the city up to greater participation online and encouraging input from them in every area, from the arts to commerce, including a city branding campaign where they can have their say over Wellington’s direction.
   In 2010, I was the most connected candidate, and I promise to remain accessible through major social networks in this one, and after getting office.
   I believe some minor crimes such as tagging stem from a sense of hopelessness, something that should not be happening in a first-world country. By giving youth a say, we can reverse their pessimism and let them know that the system is working for their futures.

   I know: of that group, only 40 per cent can vote. But as we are voting for the future of our city, then we need to consider those who are going to be affected for the long term.
   As the only Wellington-bred candidate who did all his schooling here, I know that we ignore younger Wellingtonians’ demands and participation in our society at our peril.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | No Comments »


It’s official today: I am running for Mayor of Wellington again

16.04.2013

It’s probably the worst-kept secret among some of the political circles, but I am running for Mayor of Wellington.

   Wellington is a world-class city, with generous, creative, industrious, innovative and independent people who punch above their weight. And it’s time, I believe, for some leadership and some 21st-century thinking, to bring the right people to the fore.
   We’re part of a global economy now, and Wellington needs to be promoted to a global level.
   And, frankly, Wellington needs an advocate and a new face that can reflect our modern values.
   In my last campaign, I was blessed to have 12 per cent vote for me, and I’ve had a steady stream of people encouraging me to stand again.
   I’m glad to announce this morning that I will.
   This is an inclusive, citizen-focused campaign. Just like last time, I want to hear from Wellingtonians. While I’ve outlined a manifesto at this website, I want to hear from you on how we can build these ideas even more. I’m here to represent Wellingtonians and to move us forward—not hold us back with same-again thinking.
   The three overlapping themes we’ve identified are: growing our economy, keeping a lid on our rates, and uniting Wellingtonians. I am looking to the you to give me your feedback on the issues and ideas that matter most to you.
   We’ll be chatting about a lot of this at my Facebook page, and we can have a focused discussion at my Facebook group. I look forward to seeing you there.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Wellington | 3 Comments »


How brands fool us

13.04.2013

The Google experience over the last week—and I can say ‘week’ because there were still a few browsers showing blocks yesterday—reminds me of how brands can be resilient.
   First, I know it’s hard for most people to believe that Google is so incompetent—or even downright corrupt, when it came to its bypassing Safari users’ preferences and using Doubleclick to do it (but we already know how Doubleclick bypassed every browser a couple of years ago). People rely on Google, Google Docs, Google Image Search, or any of its other products. But there’s something to be said for a well communicated slogan, ‘Don’t be evil.’ Those who work in computing, or those who have experienced the negative side of the company, know otherwise. But, to most people, guys like me documenting the bad side are shit-stirrers—until they begin experiencing the same.
   Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s OK for a small publication to get blacklisted, or people tracked on the internet despite their requests not to be. But I don’t think we can let these companies off quite so easily, because there is something rotten in a lot of its conduct.
   By the same token, maybe it doesn’t matter that we can’t easily buy a regularly priced orange juice from a New Zealand-owned company in our own supermarkets. Most, if not all, of that sector is owned by the Japanese or the Americans. We haven’t encouraged domestic enterprises to be global players, excepting the obvious ones such as Fonterra.
   However, most people don’t notice it, because brands have shielded it. The ones we buy most started in this country, by the Apple and Pear Marketing Board.
   And like the National Bank, which hasn’t been New Zealand-owned for decades, people are happy to believe they are local. It was only when the National Bank changed its name to ANZ, the parent company, that some consumers balked and left—even though it was owned and run by ANZ for the good part of the past decade.
   Or we like to think that Holden is Australian when a good part of the range is designed and built in Korea by what used to be Daewoo—and brand that died out here in 2003. Holden hasn’t been Australian since the 1930s, when it became part of GM—an American company. However, for years it had the slogan, ‘Australia’s own car,’ but even the 48-215, the ur-Holden, was American-financed and developed along Oldsmobile lines.
   Similarly, Lemon & Paeroa has been, for a generation, American.
   Maybe it’s my own biases here, but I like seeing a strong New Zealand, with strong, Kiwi-owned firms having the nous and the strength to take on the big players at a global level.
   We can out-think the competition, so while we might not have the finances, we often have the know-how, that can grow if we are given the right opportunities and the right exposure. And, as we’ve seen, the right brands that can enter other markets and be aspirational, whether they play on their country of origin or not.
   Stripping away one of the layers when it comes to ownership might get us thinking about which are the locally owned firms—and which ones we want to support if we, too, agree that our own lot are better and should be stronger.
   And when it came to Google, it’s important to know that it has it in for the little guy. It’s less responsive, and it will fence with you until you can bring a bigger party to the table who might risk damaging its informal, well maintained and largely illusionary corporate motto.
   We only had Blogger doing the right thing when we piggy-backed off John Hempton having his blog unjustifiably deleted by Google, and the bad press it got via Reuter’s Felix Salmon on that occasion.
   We only had Google’s Ads Preferences Manager doing the right thing when we had the Network Advertising Initiative involved.
   Google only stopped tracking Iphone users using a hack via Doubleclick (I would classify it malware, thank you) on Safari when the Murdoch Press busted it.
   That’s the hat-trick right there. Something about the culture needs to change. It’s obviously not transparent.
   I don’t know what had Google lift the boycott after six days but we know it cleans itself up considerably more quickly when it has accidentally blacklisted The New York Times or its own YouTube. One thought I had is that the notion that Google re-evaluates your site in five hours is false. Even on the last analysis it did after I resubmitted Lucire took at least 16 hours, and that the whole matter took six days.
   But it should be a matter of concern for small businesses, especially in a country with a lot of SMEs, because Google will ride rough-shod over them based on its own faulty analyses. Reality shows that it happens, and when it does happen, you haven’t much recourse—unless you can find a lever to give it really bad publicity.
   We weren’t far off from issuing a press statement, and the one-week mark was the trigger. Others might not be so patient.
   If we had done that, I wonder if it would help people see more of the reality.
   Or should we support other search engines such as Duck Duck Go instead, and help the little guy out-think the big guys? Should there be a Kiwi search engine that actually doesn’t do evil?
   Or do we need to grow or work with some bigger firms here to prevent us being bullied by Google’s, and others’, incompetence?

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, USA | 5 Comments »


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 ïŹnancial 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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Posted in branding, business, design, France, India, internet, leadership, marketing, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | No Comments »


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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Posted in business, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Google organized the web, Facebook our social networks; what does Plus do?

01.07.2011

I see the Google press machine has been switched on as the company pursues the Facebook social-networking market with Plus. Google, I’m betting, must hope that history will repeat itself. It wasn’t the first search engine, it simply did it better. Plus, in Googleland, it is a better proverbial mousetrap than Facebook.
   I might have been on Google’s case in the last few years, though I should remind folks that if they didn’t keep painting big red targets on all their properties, after drawing attention to the company through incompetent support people, I would have no complaints.
   Maybe it’s the anti-Google blinkers I don, but I’ve been thinking about something Stowe Boyd said recently. He recently blogged that Google succeeded with the original search engine because, at that time, someone needed to step in and organize the web. I’ve been around long enough to recall just what a revelation it was when it came out. And it’s the best organizer, according to Stowe, that can earn a few bob.
   Facebook was certainly not the first social network, to use the modern terminology, but it did things better than Bebo and the like. It had a wider targeted audience than LinkedIn, even if it started with a narrower one at Harvard. Facebook organized our social circles, so we can more easily find that tribe of 150 that we like associating with. Even for those of us with “friend” numbers in the four figures, Facebook has allowed us, quite easily, to set up different groups for them.
   Facebook isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. A browse of this blog itself would reveal that it’s severely lacking in many areas. Changing users’ preferences without their permission is one of a long line of Facebook errors over the years. So Google, I read, bets on the fact that it can do privacy better—a position which I found laughable, from the company that failed to put up a privacy policy for Buzz or hid from the public the futility of opting out of its Ads Preferences Manager (both since resolved). There just seems to be a pervading culture by these large Californian corporations of being callous with privacy, which not only reflects badly on them, but their entire sector, and even their country.
   As the brand has been damaged time and time again in my eyes, I began noticing a pattern recently. Nothing that Google has introduced in the last half-decade, or acquired in that period, really matters to me. I don’t use any that appear in my Google account:


Above: The Google services I don’t need are marked in red, though in some cases, I have to retain them due to clients or the Medinge Group. The ones that I was signed up to without my consent are marked in black, though Google Reader received a sneaky implied consent in the small print via Blogger.

Google is, instead, something that helps organize my information. I use Alerts, News and Webmaster Tools, all tied in to things that the company developed in the 1990s and early 2000s. Google does these things well. Google Translate one exception to all of this; and, of course, I have watched YouTube videos. I realize our sites carry some Doubleclick advertising—a consequence of whom our ad networks chose to deal with. (Because of that, we have been relegating those networks to a lower status.) If any of these disappeared overnight, there are substitutes.
   I’m willing to bet that Stowe is right, because Google is still tied to its original offerings, where it has at least been (on the surface) respectful of user privacy. As my colleagues and I wrote in Beyond Branding, people are going to continue demanding transparency—that much is not going to change. Brands that offer it, and aren’t hypocritical about it, will do better. Outside of search and a few other places, Google hasn’t played nice. In fact, I even have my doubts about Google search, despite having Web History turned off.
   Google Plus does not do anything new, and it does not (based solely on reviews I have read, though I do have a Plus invitation) offer greater organization beyond what I already have with Facebook. It has been introduced at a time when I already experience social-networking fatigue with both Facebook and Twitter (Tumblr is visually more stimulating and expressive for me, at the moment). Plus might be able to reignite an interest in social networking for some, especially with Facebook’s declines in membership in certain countries, but I think we’re on the tail end of this fad.
   Question: despite all this, do I go on it? It may not be unwise, for purely commercial reasons: to consider a potential market-place. Google’s marketing machine will draw some people, though my bet is that they will find their social networks are already sufficiently organized. It will last longer than the brief, early-2011 fascination with Quora, especially when it steps out of beta.
   I was on LinkedIn in 2003, Facebook in 2006, Twitter and Tumblr in 2007. But this time, if I join—and it is a big if—it would be a cold, calculated, almost soulless decision. I don’t, and wouldn’t, trust the bastards. It might prove to have all the allure of my MySpace account. I have no desire to see another Google product in my dashboard—I still have to delete a Buzz follower five times a week, despite not having a Buzz account.
   I have justifiably low expectations from this tarnished tech brand. I can just foresee contacts being visible to people who shouldn’t be able to see them. We already know that Buzz and YouTube have messed up, making things visible to people that users might not have expected. I could not willingly subject friends to privacy leaks like that, and Google has demonstrated time and time again that it’s as watertight as the Titanic.
   Who knows? Using it might bring so many disappointments and push me over the edge, after which I’ll write to clients to inform them that I can no longer be the host of Google products that they use, and close the whole bloody account. Sadly, that would include the 400 of you getting this blog through Feedburner. The silver lining, at the moment, is the faint possibility that it would encourage Facebook to be less of a closed system.

Note: Stowe actually likes Google Plus, calling it ‘a giant step forwards’, but for different reasons.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


Opel is not a snob brand

19.01.2011
George Cole as Arthur Daley
Arthur Daley, Opel’s last New Zealand spokesman: ‘Never mind the Capri, Tel: I sell Opels now.’

In the Fairfax Press, General Motors has apparently confirmed it will bring in Opel-branded cars to sell alongside Holden-branded ones.
   It’s an obvious move. For years, a good part of Holden’s range was Opel-designed. Like Vauxhall, the model name was the same as the Opels on the Continent, but with Holden in front, with the exception of the Opel Corsa (called Holden Barina).
   In fact, New Zealand fielded the Holden Vectra before Australia introduced this model with the B series. The two markets have often differed—those old enough might remember the Holden-badged version of the Isuzu Aska, assembled locally as the Camira in favour of the Australian model.
   Australia, which I believe still has tariffs on motor cars, found the Opel-made product increasingly expensive, especially against Hyundai, which has carved huge inroads into the market.
   In the mid-2000s, the Opels began disappearing in favour of Daewoos. The Opel Corsa C gave way to the inferior Daewoo Kalos. The Opel Vectra C, never facelifted, gave way to the Daewoo Tosca. The Daewoo Lacetti was inserted below the Opel Astra G and H, though the latest Lacetti PremiĂšre, badged Holden Cruze, has supplanted both the former Lacetti and the Astra.
   In other words, Holden’s product was outclassed at every level by its principal rival Ford—certainly on this side of the Tasman, where CD-segment vehicles sell particularly well. Maybe Holden had Ford licked on price, but in terms of brand equity, it was falling fast. Perceived quality? Forget it. Brand loyalty? Don’t think it’s going to happen. There is very little that’s desirable about a Daewoo, though I admit to appreciating the Winstorm SUV’s styling. The car as a commodity? That’ll be the Daewoo.
   The Astra still has a lot of fans in Australia, so the plan is to bring in that model at least—and as affordable, European cars, positioning roughly where Volkswagen is. Corsa, Insignia and others will come in as well, with both a new dealer network and some Holden dealers.
   The analysts have found that in Europe, Chevrolet (Eurospeak for Daewoo) has not cannibalized Opel sales. No surprises there. Take me: an Opel customer. I wrote to Holden some years ago, when they threatened to bring in the Daewoo Tosca, that there was no way in heck I would get one of their cars. I’m willing to bet that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way, and the fact the Tosca looks like a Seoul taxicab helps my argument.
   Why not, I said, bring in Opels and pursue a unique model strategy, as GMNZ did in the 1980s and 1990s?
   The question now is price. Opels were sold here in the 1980s at a premium and found few customers. It was only with the 1989 introduction of the Vectra A, at a reasonable price, that GM began clawing back market share in that segment. New Zealanders didn’t seem to mind whether the car was branded Opel or Holden, but when it did become a Holden in 1994, it made marketing a great deal easier.
   Fairfax hints that Opels will carry a premium in Australia. But it rightly points out that Ford has European-sourced models that are competitive. However, I can make one thing very clear for New Zealand: if GM decides to reintroduce Opel into this market, where there are no tariffs on cars, it’ll have to be positioned against a lot of the competition from Ford. I have a feeling most Kiwis know they are buying German engineering when they head to the blue oval, with the exception of the Falcon, and Ford’s marketing has said as much.
   We’ve had a different history from the Australians, and the brand has different connotations. It’s certainly not premium, and there’s very little reason for it to be. Ford might have had Dennis Waterman as Terry McCann singing the Minder “feem toon” do a dealer ad here in New Zealand, but, remember, GM had George Cole, as Arthur Daley, sell the Opel.
   George Cole is not premium.
   Mainstream European brands have failed time and again with premium pricing here. Peugeot lost sales when it began having ideas above its station. Renault has consistently got its pricing wrong and missed plenty of opportunities.
   I have a feeling some of this is due to New Zealanders being world travellers. In a small country, we have to look outward. And that brings us exposure to international brands very readily.
   We’ve also had plenty of used Japanese imports—including ex-Japan Opel Astra Gs.
   It may account for why we don’t fall for the fake snobbery that automakers have tried to slap us with for many years. We seem to adopt best practice on so many things because I believe we’re an accepting people.
   Transparency will be the order of the day. GM can’t afford to have Kiwis reject a brand for having ideas above its station should it go ahead with a similar effort over here. It has to balance (our relatively small) volume carefully with cannibalization. It has to consider whether it would like to have Holden’s brand equity continue to dip.
   Mind you, we could have avoided all this if in 1992 GM did what I suggested then: badge the whole lot as Opel.* It would have ruined the blokeyness of the Holden brand, but it would have had products that appealed to buyers of B-, C- and CD-segment cars. In 1992, a big Opel Commodore, VP series, wouldn’t have been too bad, would it? And we’d have hopefully avoided this Daewoo experiment that has made ‘Australia’s own’ synonymous with ‘Made in Korea’.

* I know, with hindsight, this would have been a rotten idea, especially with New Zealanders embracing the VT Commodore in 1997. It’s hard to imagine that model having greater success here with a non-Holden badge.—JY

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We like links, but does Google?

07.01.2011

JY&A links' section

For the majority of the years that we’ve been on the web (coming up to 20 years), we’ve maintained a links’ directory. It was disappointing, sometimes, to note that those whom we exchanged links with at the dawn of the web no longer link back. We’ve kept our outward links largely the way they were, updating them whenever we’re alerted to a site moving.
   However, some people may have been scared off linking by none other than Google, and I can’t blame them. Its policy:

Your site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity. However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.

   I also can’t blame Google for having such a policy because, in the last half-decade or so, there have been many automated requests for link exchanges. I remember spending a good part of one Saturday 12 years ago just sending, manually, requests for link exchanges, so I balk at these automated ones. Back in the 1990s, reciprocal linking was de rigueur. If they are penalizing automated link pages, then good for them.
   It’s very easy to misinterpret the policy if you’re reading very quickly. Google doesn’t say that linking is bad—after all, its logarithm is in part built on how many people link to your site—but that excessive linking without regard to quality is bad.
   My issue is trust: can I trust Google to determine whether the links’ pages we have, which date back to the 1990s, are not of the automated variety? (I couldn’t trust them to determine whether a blog was a splog, and I couldn’t trust them on certain privacy matters, so the Google brand has been tarnished badly in my book.) How many links are considered ‘excessive’, because if you’ve been building a section of your favourite ones, it’s bound to grow? (There’s some site out there called Yahoo! that started this way; maybe Google has heard of it.) Is a link exchange ‘scheme’ one of those automated ones that I, too, hate, or is a weekend of finding compatible sites and requesting link exchanges considered bad? I’ve certainly built ‘partner pages’, long before there was such a thing as Google, with the links hand-selected for relevance.
   Of course, Google provides a solution to all of this: if you want to link to someone, join ‘the buzzing blogger community’. Call me cynical, but I wonder why it’s used the word blogger, even though it’s lowercase, and not blog or blogging. Sometimes, I just want to put up a link with a one-sentence description—and a blog post is not the way to go for that, with a massive headline and a bit too much spectacle.
   Like many things at Google, where the lines lie are shrouded in a bit of mystery. On transparency, it does well on some matters, but others—where it can be scammed—it plays its cards close to its chest. Speaking for myself, I like links’ pages—at least the ones that are manually done, endorsing sites where you’ve had a good relationship or dialogue with their webmasters. Dialogue is a good thing. And sometimes you get this dialogue from companies that are very unrelated to your own and you want to give them props.
   It’d be a pity if some links’ pages had a negative effect on their parent sites, just because the Googlebot has made yet another random, wrongful decision that can’t be appealed. But I’m not about to give up our links’ pages—we’ve put sweat into those and we still want to endorse so many of those people.

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Wikileaks’ brand of transparency is the enemy of the establishment

10.12.2010

There are probably two things, chiefly, that fuel support for Julian Assange.
   First, the idea that the mainstream media are not independent, but merely mouthpieces for the establishment. There’s some truth to this.
   Secondly, the fact that Wikileaks is revealing, this time, things that we already knew: that governments are two-faced.
   While I have posted my reservations about Wikileaks elsewhere, the latest news—that the US and Red China collaborated on ensuring that COP15 would fail—shows that governments are quite happy to follow the money, and be complicit with corporations who wish to continue polluting.
   Creating transparency—something I harped on about since joining the Medinge Group and writing in Beyond Branding with my colleagues—is something I believe in, so knocking down a few walls and having certain suspicions confirmed are good things.
   In the 2000s, the processes in our systems revealed that the Emperor had no clothes over at Enron—which prompted, in some respects, Beyond Branding—and, more recently, that the sub-prime mortgage market was a crock.
   Maybe it is about time that the processes revealed a few truths about government, and the very reasons so many of us mistrust them, or give politicians such a low rating in surveys.
   The fact that despite the democratic ideal, many are not working for us.
   On the 8th, Stefan Engeseth cheekily suggested on his blog that Wikileaks should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yesterday, Russia suggested that Julian Assange could receive its nomination.
   Although Russia itself has come under fire, it rather likes having the two-faced nature of NATO confirmed by Wikileaks: on the one hand, saying that Russia is a strategic partner, while on the other, planning to defend the Baltic states and Poland from a Russian attack.
   A Peace Prize for a website or a founder who put certain anti-Taliban informants at risk would not get my vote, but the underlying sentiment of no more secrets does.
   The sad thing is that it might not, single-handedly, usher in an era where governments level with us more—but it is one of many moves that might.
   I say this as the establishment, including financial institutions, closes in on the website. As pointed out to me by Daniel Spector, PayPal and Mastercard are quite happy to accept your donations to the Ku Klux Klan, but will decline those to Wikileaks.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, media, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »