Posts tagged ‘trends’


Too many white cars make fake news

17.09.2017


A photo taken in Wellington with a test car I had for Lucire. White cars aren’t the over-represented colour in New Zealand: guess from this photo what is.

A friend of mine put me on to this Fairfax Press Stuff article, entitled ‘Silly Car Question #16: Why are there so many white cars?’. It’s a silly question all right, because I haven’t noticed this phenomenon in New Zealand at all, and if any colour is over-represented, it’s the silver–grey tones. It seems like “fake news”, and if you read on, then there’s more to support that assertion.
   ‘It’s because every second car imported from Asia is white – literally. Latest research tells us that 48 per cent of all vehicles manufactured in Asia, particularly Japan, are painted white.’ (My friend, of Chinese descent, summarized jokingly, ‘It’s our fault,’ and my thought was, ‘Not again.’)
   Let’s break this one sentence down. The author says that we source a lot of our used cars from Japan, hence this 48 per cent figure is reflected in the New Zealand fleet. But you only need to ask yourself a simple question here: how many of those white cars made in Japan (or Korea, or India, or Thailand) stay in those countries to become used imports to New Zealand? These nations are net exporters of cars, so whatever trickles on to the Japanese home market will be a smaller percentage of that 48. How many are white—we don’t have that statistic, but, as I noted, it’s certainly not reflected in the cars on our roads. Now, if we’re talking Tahiti, where there are a lot of white cars, then that’s another story—and that is likely to do with white reflecting light in a hot climate. As this is a foreign-owned newspaper group, then perhaps the author does not live in New Zealand, or if he does, maybe he hangs around taxi ranks a lot.
   Let’s go a bit further: ‘Statistics gathered by Axalta Coating Sytems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, showed that worldwide 37 per cent of all new vehicles built during 2016 were painted white, which was up two percentage points on 2015’ and ‘All this leads to the next obvious question: why are all these cars painted white? / It may be because that’s what the manufacturers want.’
   From what I can tell, this article was cobbled together from two sets of statistics. A bit of research wouldn’t have been remiss. However, it is a sign of the times, and even we’re guilty of taking a release at face value to get news out. But the result on Stuff just doesn’t make much sense.
   James Newburrie, a car enthusiast and IT security specialist, has a far more reasonable answer to the high number of silver (and dull-coloured, which includes white) cars, which he gave me permission to quote in May 2016:

Car colours are fairly well correlated with consumer confidence. In an environment where consumer confidence is high, regular cars are likely to be available in all sorts of bright and lurid colours (purple, green, yellow, etc). As consumer confidence tanks, people start to think more about resale value and they chose more “universal” colours (the kind of colours no one hates: Silver, conservative blues, etc).
   Cars directed at young people tend to be cheaper and maintain strong colours throughout the cycle – but to keep costs down they tend to stay around red, black, white, blue and silver, perhaps with one “girly” colour if it is a small car. Cars directed to financially secure people as second cars, like sports cars for instance, tend to be more vibrantly coloured, because your buying into the dream.
   So, in the 1950s while the economy was good, people bought cars in bright colours with lots of colours, the oil crisis comes along and they go to white and beige, the 80s come along and we all vomit from car colours, the recession we had to have leads to boredom, then everything is awesome again and you can buy a metallic purple Falcon, or a metallic orange commodore – then the great recession and we’re all bored to death again.
   Consumer confidence probably is just starting to recover now. If history is any indication, there will be a point where people just go “oh screw worrying” and then they will see that other people aren’t worried anymore and they’ll say “screw worrying” etc … and we will snap back.

   Follow that up with what car dealers are now selling, and bingo, you might have a serviceable article.

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MG SUV soon a reality: good

06.02.2014

I have to admit I get a bit bored of those crying foul now that MG will launch an SUV, one which seems to have some parallels with the Ssangyong Korando C (left).
   They say that MG should have made sports cars as part of its revival, and that the brand should not adorn a bunch of Chinese-made saloons and an upcoming SUV.
   Let’s look at a few hard facts.
   MG did make a sports car when NAC, and later SAIC, took over. It was the British TF design. And they sold fewer than 100 cars per year in the 2007–11 period, despite it being the cheapest roadster on the market in China. It wasn’t just Chinese buyers who ignored them: the TF was the first model revived at Longbridge, with very keen pricing, and hardly any Britons touched them, either.
   So if you were a business and you were confronted with decent sales of your saloon cars and dismal sales of your sports car (after building a whole new factory for them), where do you place your efforts?
   You give the people what they want.
   What’s surprising is that this is hardly unprecedented in MG history. There have been MG saloons for a good part of its existence, but right now, there are parallels with the 1980s. Then, the MGB had died in 1980, and Austin Rover decided it would launch a range of sporting saloons based on the humble Metro, Maestro and Montego. That’s no different to today’s MG range of the 3, 5 and 6—there’s even a 7, based on the old MG ZT.
   And globally, but more importantly, in MG’s domestic and key export markets, SUVs are selling strongly.
   Again: you give the people what they want.
   I was one of the very few people who wrote that I believed the Porsche Cayenne would be a huge hit at the turn of the century, and that the Porsche brand could survive such an extension. I was right.
   MG’s brand can easily be extended, given that it has had a less focused history than Porsche. At two points during its British ownership, it sold estates, for goodness’ sake—once in New Zealand, with the Montego-based MG 2·0 SL, and toward the end of the Phoenix Four era, with the MG ZT-T.
   A good deal of estate buyers now eye up SUVs, and that is simply a trend that SAIC is following.
   A sports car may follow in time. There will be a fastback based on the Auris-like MG 5, and not a moment too soon. A “proper” sports car could come if the rest of the range does well. SAIC isn’t run by mugs, and they know the heritage of the MG brand.
   MG sister brand Roewe has been voted the best in service and customer satisfaction among car dealerships, beating even the foreign-branded competition in China, while the Roewe 350 topped its class for customer satisfaction, according to the China Quality Association. The MG 3 came second in its segment.
   We’re talking about the most competitive car market on earth, and the Chinese equivalent (as far as I can make out) of the J. D. Power survey.
   Those accolades are things that BMC, BL, Austin Rover, Rover Group and MG Rover could only dream about, especially through the 1970s.
   I’d rather people give SAIC the acclaim it deserves for giving MG a decent go where the British and the Germans had failed—and for putting money where its mouth is.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, UK | No Comments »


It’s still wise to bet against Facebook

26.01.2014

A non-peer-reviewed academic article from Princeton predicts Facebook will be toast by ’17, and Facebook has very cleverly responded using similar methodology to say that Princeton will have no students by 2021. The lack of review on the former left it wide open for the Facebook attack.
   However, it’s not unwise betting against Facebook. I’ve been saying it for years—on the basis that even Altavista could not survive Google—and the only question has been: when?
   This weekend, I spent more time on our company’s websites working on internal projects. I’ve spent precious little time compared with three years ago on the social networks because it no longer suits me.
   Facebook, by breaking its own algorithm for sharing company posts, doesn’t offer me sufficient numbers. It benefits me more to work on business and check our publications’ content than to put up links in Facebook. If I want to share with a smaller group, I have Instagram, where I tend to follow those closer to me plus a few interests. I’m even on Snapchat and Wechat. I’ll go where there is engagement if I want to be social. It’s summer so there’s also the prospect of spending time in real life with your friends. With the positive developments happening at work, I’m getting rewarding engagement even on old-fashioned email. I’m less worried about privacy there, too, since I’ve never used Gmail. (I had an Excite Mail account once in 1999 and, without ever giving out my address, it filled with spam. I’ve been webmail-sceptic ever since.)
   Facebook feeds have become glorified Digg feeds for me, and we all know what happened to Digg. You might think that I’m being contradictory: in one paragraph I bemoan how company posts don’t get shared, while in this one, I’m unhappy at the external links I see. There is a distinction, however: the people I have who are fans want to see the company posts—they signed up for them. What we didn’t sign up to, even if they fascinate us, are comic strips or Buzzfeed trivia. I might have clicked through, but I can’t tell you what the last five Buzzfeed pages were. So now I’m wondering what’s the point.
   I’m far from quitting Facebook but the lack of innovation there reminds me of where Yahoo! was at some years back. It reminds me, too, of Vox, in its dying days, with all the fake accounts that I see—sometimes I only go on to manage a few groups and to clear the queue of the fakes. It’s stagnating rapidly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if 2014 will see some form of tipping point where there are noticeable departures from some formerly heavy users. Already two good friends have gone during 2013, concerned either with Facebook’s copyright policy (one is a professional photographer) or its privacy intrusions. I don’t think Google Plus is the answer, either, because Google simply has too much baggage, and its Doubleclick ads, which are used as tracking tools, are all over the ’net. I’m now beginning to think that the next big thing isn’t around yet because our behaviours are shifting, to wanting something that can handle our work and play more ably.
   It’s rather interesting to note in our election year that the tools that have been used to gather information for governments might now render the social media campaigns of political parties less effective than they would have been.
   These new media have become old media because they no longer hold the promise of the new: they are no freer when it comes to self-expression.
   Unless companies can come up with privacy policies that people can live with, they may find their sites drop in visitor numbers and engagement even further. There’s a lot counting against the traditional social networks.

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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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The land beyond Facebook

14.06.2011

Stowe Boyd wrote (and I re-Tumbled) the big drop in US and Canadian Facebook traffic this week:

Most prominently, the United States lost nearly 6 million users, falling from 155.2 million at the start of May to 149.4 million at the end of it. This is the first time the country has lost users in the past year. Canada also fell significantly, by 1.52 million down to 16.6 million, although it has been fluctuating around that number for the past year. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Norway and Russia all posted losses of more than 100,000.

Stowe’s a lot more philosophical than me and puts this down to:

The moral of this story is that you can make a business out of simplifying what is chaotic and confusing, but only at the outset. As people become habituated to what at first was scary and headache-inducing, they will move away from controlled experience to more personally managed negotiation of the world.

   I don’t think anyone will lose money betting against Facebook’s rise, since history has told us that no enterprise lasts forever. The question is only when. While Stowe makes the comparison with AOL, those of us outside the US can’t make the same connection. However, I have always drawn the comparison with Altavista, which, 12 years ago, was the number-one website in the world. Even we played a tiny part, licensing Lucire content to the Altavista Entertainment Zone.
   The organizational point he makes is an excellent one, but I have always felt that Facebook would decline somewhere along the line due to its callous approach to privacy and its lack of transparency. Of course, we see things through our own constructs, and my bag has been about how modern brands are built through transparency and connecting to audiences. Stop doing that, and audiences might get tired.
   So we come to the fatigue that sets in with consumers. It’s the only explanation I have for Quora, which experienced that wave of sign-ups in January. It reached the tipping point, but, honestly, have any of you who sent me an invitation a few months back returned? I haven’t, because I can’t see a point to it.
   People flocked to it in case it was the next big thing, where their friends would ultimately wind up. We have a need to socialize as people, and if they are leaving Facebook in droves—and six million Americans qualify as droves—then where are they going?
   Facebook has become a great place to campaign—as I found last year—but it is getting either more commercial or cause-oriented. My Facebook feed, for more than the last year, has been filled with the stuff that was once on Digg; and the most time I have spent on Facebook this year was over that blasted Wellywood sign, cataloguing the flip-flops of Wellington Airport’s “leadership”.
   As a social tool, I wonder. Many years ago, I had my laptop open on my desk, solely on Facebook, while I worked away on my desktop machine. We have become used to it, we realize our networks are largely the same as they were pre-Facebook, and we might as well keep things off the site since we get concerned about privacy. With the change to the Facebook groups, we’ve been losing people—my old school group is in the one hundreds because I chose to start a new one for fear of Facebook deleting the old; the others were set to spam by default by Facebook, and lost more. Facebook itself is driving users away.
   My last few social events were all organized on that wonderful medium called email, so for social things, it seems old-tech is the way to go.

Speaking of old-tech, the New Zealand Government says terrestrial TV will disappear from the lower North Island (te Ika a Maui still sounds better) on September 29, 2013. I found myself thinking, ‘Who cares?’
   I am not on Freeview, and I do not have Sky. I can’t get one of the network on-demand services due to their antiquated geo-targeting (I forget which, since I have little reason to use it). I estimate I consume seven hours’ television programming a month—as a kid I would have managed that in two days. That means I listen to the wireless a lot more than I watch TV, something I have in common with a gentleman I know in his 70s. Keep trending these figures and by 2013 TV mightn’t even merit a mention on this blog.
   Even if a Freeview box drops further in price, I would have to question why on earth I should spend money on something I do not use. I was, after all, one of those idiots who paid to have a 750 Mbyte Zip drive installed on a PC in 2002. In the words of President Bush (43), ‘Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.’
   When I Tweeted that I did not care about the demise of TV, I had a number of people, on Twitter and Facebook, tell me they were in the same boat. Television, it seems, is a thing of the past. It should be little surprise, for the television networks themselves have been complicit in killing it, with increasingly poorer programming. If only the broadband internet here was not stuck in the early 2000s.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, technology, TV, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »


And now, Ben Heck makes an ‘Atari’ Xbox 360 ‘1977 edition’

21.03.2011

A while back, I came across Benjamin J. Heckendorn (a.k.a. Ben Heck) and his Commodore 64 laptop. This is a quite a fascinating machine, considering the actual “portable” 64 Executive was a heavy beast that could kill if hurled at you. While Ben took the 64’s odd colour, keyboard and 64C’s motherboard, his is structured more like a modern laptop with a fold-down screen.
   Looks like Ben’s at it again with his Xbox 360 1977 Edition, thanks to Element14:

Ben Heck and his Xbox 360 1977 Edition

   This is on The Ben Heck Show, a bi-weekly online TV series.
   According to Element14: ‘In this episode, Ben works on a custom mod for Atari to create an Xbox 360 portable laptop with the look and feel of a 1970s Atari console to help support the debut of new games based on iconic titles, including Yar’s Revenge and Star Raiders.’
   As those of us observing trends know, the late 1970s are chic again, and have been for a few years.
   I remember this when one of our university interns remarked to me at the close of the last decade that she thought the Ford Taunus II was cool because it was so boxy. Give things long enough, and their omission from everyday æsthetics—because those of us who lived through them tried to rid society of all memory of them—actually sparks interest in a new generation.
   Ben’s 1977 Xbox has wood panelling and metal switches, though, as with the 64 laptop, it combines some modern æsthetics with the “classic” look.
   Atari’s pretty happy, too. ‘Ben clearly had a lot of fun and it’s great to see how the classic, retro Atari design is incorporated,’ says Lee Jacobson, SVP of Licensing and Digital Publishing, Atari. ‘The system completely exceeded our expectations and we’re sure that any Atari enthusiast would be thrilled to use this unique system.’

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Posted in design, humour, internet, media, technology, TV, USA | 2 Comments »


Replacing a social network near you: real life

19.07.2010

As news emerges that teenagers have spent less time on Facebook, and there are more profiles getting closed on the social network, Sony has released its newest trailer for The Social Network.

After 9-11, it’s time to tell the “other” story of the ’noughties. And if Facebook is the topic of a Hollywood film, then this could mean it has jumped the shark.
   What’s next? A new social network where privacy is respected? Or, something more radical?
   Modern kids in the first and second world might want that newfangled “real life” next, because to them, the internet is ubiquitous, not special. So why not balance what was once a novelty to us with what we once found to be normal? As we once said: try it now, do it more, things you’ve never done before. The mainstreaming of extreme sports, if you will, simplified to basic exercise and enjoying the outdoors. It almost seems new.
   Simplicity seems to be “in” in so many facets of life, whether it’s a netbook without bells and whistles, or the old-shape Audi A4 with SEAT Exeo badging. Somewhere along the line, practicality finally found its place ahead of wank. It can happen in some economic recessions.
   Real life: more valuable to the teenagers of the 2010s than we thought. It’s back in vogue.

PS.: Thanks to Stefan Engeseth for inspiring part of this post.—JY

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